With AMC’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” set to air its sixth and final season later this year, we’re looking back at the first five seasons of Vince Gilligan’s second masterpiece series over five Thursdays. Next up is Season 5 (2020):
Adding both cachet and pressure, “Clarice” (Thursdays, CBS) has the weight of “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) behind it as it chronicles Special Agent Starling’s 10-year period between the movie versions of “Lambs” and “Hannibal” (2001). If you watch the first episode, “The Silence is Over,” with a checklist in hand, it checks all the boxes, proving that creators Alex Kurtzman (recent “Star Trek” projects) and Jenny Lumet know those films and author Thomas Harris’ source material.
Igave decent marks to the previous seasons (which this series calls “parts”) of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” but in retrospect it was because I imagined its future upside. But now that the run is complete with the eight-episode Part 4 (December, Netflix), it’s clear that “Sabrina” doesn’t reach that upside. It’s always visually impressive – a simple Google Image search demonstrates that this looks like a good show – and Kiernan Shipka nails the self-centered-yet-likable lead character, but the scripts are never on par.
Cobra Kai,” which recently dropped its 10-episode third season on Netflix (after two years on YouTube Premium), has come along at a perfect cultural intersection where storytellers give fans what they want and actors don’t hesitate over small-screen roles. What was a pipe dream of “Karate Kid” fans a scant few years ago has become not only reality, but also one of the elite must-watch shows on TV. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
Like everything else, TV took a hit in this year of the pandemic, but networks felt the impact more so than streaming and premium. The latter categories put out several good short-form series or seasons, accelerating what had been a gradual shift to that format and making a tough year bearable. These were my 10 favorite TV series of 2020:
The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max) might not be the ideal binge show. Propelled by the piano and percussion of Blake Neely’s score, the eight-episode first season (which stands alone but also sets up threads for the future) chronicles titular hot mess Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) as she gets dragged into a worldwide caper that starts with a murder in her Bangkok hotel room. It rarely slows down for a reflective moment, even on those trans-oceanic flights, so you might want to take a deep breath between episodes.
David E. Kelley’s ascension from snarky network procedurals to the rarefied air of classy miniseries continues from “Big Little Lies” (2017-19) into the recently wrapped “The Undoing” (HBO). At its foundation, the courtroom-scene writing is the equivalent of a top-shelf arc on “The Practice,” but this not-boring-for-a-moment six-episode series reaches another level thanks to its additional trappings. Namely, Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman shine as a husband and wife, Jonathan and Grace Fraser, going through the titular “undoing” of their marriage after he’s accused of murder.
There’s no new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” this year, but “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) has us covered like a pawn wall protecting friendly pieces. The miniseries based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel takes us to the 1950s and 1960s in all their pastel and analog glory to tell a fictional story set against a real-world backdrop. Indeed, your only lament coming out of these seven episodes might be that there wasn’t a real Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) who took the chess world by storm.
With “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Netflix) – his spiritual (pun intended) sequel to 2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” — Mike Flanagan continues to solidify his status as a horror auteur tapped into the tragic beauty afforded by the genre. A damp, dark-haired, white-dressed, hidden-faced woman in a Flanagan work is more than a scary ghost: She symbolizes the bittersweet tragedy of a forgotten past. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
Not all October premieres have to be scary – although a lot of them are (see later in this post) – so let’s start off this look at first episodes of new streaming shows with “Emily in Paris” (Netflix). Well, I shouldn’t say it’s not at all scary. The story of Chicagoan Emily’s relocation to Paris for her job emphasizes her outsider status and loneliness even though she always puts on her delightfully Lily Collins face.