7) AMERICAN VANDAL
Someone has spray painted dicks on 27 of the teacher’s cars and Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) is the prime suspect. After all, he loves drawing dicks. But did he really do it? High school student and wannabe filmmaker Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alverez) to discover the truth in this dead-on send-up to true crime documentary shows like Making a Murderer.
From the fake opening credits (“Executive Producer: Mr. Baxter”), the series has you laughing your ass off while keeping you hooked into the mystery. Through it’s melodramatic music and tricky editing, the series perfectly captures the narrative tricks crime documentaries use to sensationalize the real-life story. The fact that the show takes this small crime so serious leads to many hilarious moments. You’ve seen many of these shows use CGI models to reenact a crime scene, but how many do you see a CGI model give another a blow job.
That’s not even getting into the storyline, which incorporates every story element you see here. A sympathetic suspect you wish were innocent? Check. A suspected conspiracy led by authority figures out to make the suspect look guilty? Check. A sudden appearance of evidence changing the outcome? Check. You name it, they got it. Seeing these elements applied to a high school setting makes these plot elements look so ridiculous. The fact that Peter takes them so seriously makes these scenes all the more hilarious when a revelation involves pubic hairs.
And yet, you are still able to take the case seriously, wanting Dylan to be proven innocent. Each revelation keeps you more hooked into the story, anxious to see more. It helps that this series has so many great characters, from the “too-cool-for-school” teacher Mr. Kraz (Ryan O’Flanagan) to school dweeb Alex Trimboli (Calum Worthy). But it’s the leads who shine the most. Alvarez plays it so serious you can’t help but be pulled in. Griffin Gluck serves as the perfect straight man in his performance of Peter’s friend/partner Sam. Once you get over his baritone voice, Tatro brings a goofball charm to Dylan.
6) THE GOOD PLACE
The few who watched the series were placed under the spell of this side splitting series with it’s unforgettable characters, creative set pieces and surprising plot twists. Creator Michael Schur has kept the charm going through to last year, bringing many unforgettable moments. The first season restarted ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper) being forced to choose between “fake” Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and “real Eleanor” (Tiya Sirar). It’s a challenge for a guy so indecisive he couldn’t even pick a team for gym class. Then we were introduced to “the middle place”, an isolated home in a desert where Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe) is subject between extreme good and bad. And then the season ended with one of the best plot twists in tv history.
Warning: For those who don’t want spoilers, Check out my review for first season.
Season two came with concerns about whether the show would live up to the first season after we found out the Good Place is the bad place in disguise. At first, it seemed to be repeating itself and brought into question whether Michael’s (Ted Danson) plan would have ever worked in the first place. But once Michael plotted to go the actual Good Place, the show got its groove back. As reforming troublemaker Eleanor (Kristin Bell) and the gang attempt to rehabilitate the devilish Michael, we get many hilarious moments, from Michael suffering his first existential crisis to him subjecting Chidi to a real-life version of the Trolley Problem. And whenever they bring back old gags, it’s done in a way more creative manner.
This year sees the series take more risks with their storytelling.
Ducktales is the perfect example of a reboot done right. Against the odds, developers Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones have found that perfect balance of capturing what made the original source material so special while updating it for a modern audience. It was no small feat considering the original series is considered one of the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of all time.
Like the iconic cartoon, this series centres on the grand adventures of lovable tycoon Scrooge McDuck (Voiced by David Tennant) and his nephews Huey(Danny Pudi), Duey(Ben Schwartz) and Louie(Bobby Moynihan). From the deepest dive into Atlantis to the top of the highest mountains, this series perfectly captures the fun and wonder the previous series put into each episode. But what these series so special is the creative environments our heroes find themselves. In one episode, Scrooge and the boys will try to escape a casino run by a stone god and in another, they will try to climb up a mountain full of invisible portals.
The environments certainly look stunning thanks to the unique animation style. Literally drawing inspiration from the comic books that inspired the original series, the animation bears resemblance to the art style of Carl Banks. They even paint dots on some backgrounds like a Lichtenstein painting. With these styles, the animators take typical environments associated with adventure stories and bring a creative spin to them.
Just as beloved are the characters. The show brings back many beloved characters, from quirky inventor Gyro Geerloose to reoccurring villains the Beagle Boys. Some characters stick close to the series, especially Launchpad, Scrooge’s pilot/compulsive crasher. Beck Bennett had big shoes to fill for this role, and he matches Terence McGovern’s previous performance to perfection with a hilarious delivery. The series also introduces some great characters like Webby’s new friend Lena (Kimiko Glenn)
For the most part, characters are updated in all the right ways. Pudi, Schwartz and Moynihan give each of the nephews’ individual personalities. Huey is now a camp-obsessed geek. Duey is now a reckless thrill seeker. Louie is now a freeloading conman. Ma Beakley (Margo Martindale) is given a much bigger role and it’s glorious. But the greatest improvement is Webby (Kate Micucci), who is as far from the annoying stereotypical girl character from the previous show. Now she’s an adorkable fangirl who idolizes the adventures of Donald and Scrooge. Sure, she bears too close a resemblance to Mabel from Gravity Falls, but you can’t help but love her when she swings on chandeliers while playing laser tag.
4) BIG LITTLE LIES
After years out of the spotlight, creator David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, the Practice) returns with his best series yet. Teaming up with acclaimed director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild), Kelley adapts Liane Moriarty’s acclaimed novel of three “perfect” mothers involved in a murder and creates seven compelling episodes of the women who form a bond.
Each of the three main characters would be worthy of their own movie. Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) is a powerhouse mother whose dominating personality puts at odds with other women. Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) may to be living the perfect life but is in a toxic relationship with her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) moves into the neighborhood to escape an abusive husband, only to find herself at odds with tough housewife Renata Klein (Laura Dern), whose daughter accuses Jane’s son of attacking her. Together, these characters bring a character study of how women bond with each other. There’s also a murder investigation the series flashes forward to.
At the show’s core is the idea of a perfect life and the lengths each character goes to achieve it. Madeline believes she needs to take charge of everything. Celeste is blind to the abuse Perry puts her through. Jane tries to keep her head down to avoid reminders of the abuse she went through. Through each other, they loosen their defenses and realize how harmful their ideas of perfection are.
What’s perfection is their performances. Witherspoon, Kidman and Woodley share excellent chemistry with each other. The supporting character match their quality. Dern is excellent of a strong willed, protective mother whose aware of how hated she is. Skarsgard brings a complicated range to the abusive husband, one minute being a good father to his son, the next an intense lover for his wife, and then a vicious control freak.
The one problem I have is when they cut to interviews with locals about the eventual murder. These come off as a distraction to the main storyline. If they took those out, this show would have been near perfection.
3) RICK & MORTY
With Rick being arrested by intergalactic Authorities, fans waited for over a year to see more misadventures of a drunken asshole scientist (voiced by co-creator Justin Roiland) and his put-upon, sexually frustrated grandson (also Roiland) of C-137. They didn’t disappoint.
The first episode set a high standard for later seasons by rekindling interest in McDonalds’ Szechuan McNugget sauce. But the season didn’t disappoint, delivering the gory violence, deliciously cynical humour and existential storytelling subversion that made Rick and Morty so beloved.
From the first episode, Rick and Morty has introduced one episode after another as memorable as the Simpsons in it prime. This season alone has Rick battling the President (Keith David), slaughtering a superhero team ala Saw and turning himself into a pickle. There are many memorable lines worthy of a t-shirt especially “I’m Pickle Rick!” And the show has plenty of world building introducing us the daily lives of multiple Ricks and Mortys within the Citadel.
While it shares many strengths of the Simpsons, it also has many traits that makes it stand out from the rest. The show seizes every opportunity to blend the mundane with the fantastical in their world building, creating a Post-Apocalypse version of suburban life and an intergalactic version of Chuck-E-Cheez. This is just a hint of the show’s subversion of classic tropes, exposing the mundane within the fantastical and forcing a cynical side to the innocent adventure. Not only does this lead to many hilarious scenes, but it also keeps the audience more engaged in the storyline.
On top of that, the introduction of infinite universes had introduced enough existential questions to fill a book of essays. Is there anything unique about you if there are infinite versions of you? What place does morality have in a world with no god? What defines toxic behavior? Roiland and Harmon plays with these ideas and more while delivering big laughs.
Looking back on the season, a common theme I’ve noticed running throughout was characters confronting their choices and responsibilities. Beth (Sarah Chalke) and Jerry’s (Chris Parnell) divorce sets off a chain of events that forces the Rick and the Smith family to confront their worst traits. In these moments, we see how each character reacts to these issues. Jerry avoids making decisions, expecting others to make decisions for him. Beth goes to unsettling extremes to feed her attachment issues. Rick is the worst, wiping Morty’s memories to avoid handling traumatic issues and turning himself into a pickle to avoid therapy.
But they can’t hide from their problems forever. But in the end, they are all responsible for their own actions and the power to change their lives. Therapist Dr. Wong (guest star Susan Sarandon) sums up the season’s theme when she tells Rick “It’s your mind within your control.” It’s a concept too hard for a family that uses genius to justify sickness.
2) THE HANDMAID’S TALE
When a series sparks a protest movement, attention must be paid. Attention was much deserved for The Handmaid’s Tale, an unsettling sci- fi series based on the classic novel by Margaret Atwood. Following the struggles of Handmaid Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss, series developer Bruce Miller brings us into a dystopian future run by fundamentalist theocrats who strip women of their basic right and enslave the few who can still procreate. Living as a Handmaid to General Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), June finds herself walking on eggshells between Fred’s envious wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and the Handmaid’s tyrannical fundamentalist leader Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd).
The first stand out of the series is the visuals. The Handmaid’s red dresses and white bonnets have become so iconic that women’s rights activists started wearing them at protests. That’s not even getting into the haunting cinematography, with blurred colours and misty sunlight conveying the sterilization of humanity.
This future was already creepy as it is, the flashbacks make it all the more terrifying. Said flashbacks shows a past resembling current times, with June living happily with her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenie) and their daughter Hannah. But when humanity becomes infertile, they find their country descend into religious fanaticism. Watching June and her friend Moira (Samira Wiley) stripped of their basic rights to education and employment reminds us how quickly a moderate society can descend into religious fundamentalism and how easily our rights can be taken away from us.
This series leaves us in awe with one unforgettable image after another. The psychological destruction of defiant Janine/Of warren (Madeline Brewer) with the loss of her right eye. The uncomfortable sexual positions of June and the Waterfords. The Handmaids dropping stones in defiance of one of their own being sentenced to stoning.
Marvel killing the X-Men comics is probably the best thing to have ever happened to the franchise. While the comics are no more, the X-Men universe is changing the way superheroes are portrayed in other forms of media. Deadpool has proven there is a huge audience for hard R-rated superhero movies. Logan took it a step further to prove R-Rated superhero movies can be thoughtful and mature. Just when you think they couldn’t top this, they also take over television with the arthouse psychological thriller Legion.
All his life, David Haller (Dan Stevens) has believed the voices in his head are the result of paranoid schizophrenia. Along comes, and he finds out he’s not only a mutant, but probably one of the most powerful mutants. With the help of a few mutant rebel, David must uncover a Government conspiracy while battling his own demons, which takes the form of a giant blob.
From the opening montage of David growing up to a man screaming at the voices in his head, creator Noah Hallaway hypnotizes us with surreal, awe inspiring visuals. From the bright white mental institution to Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) icy prison, every scene captures the eye with original set pieces. Hallaway goes further by applying every visual trick in the book, from telling David’s origins via animated chalkboard drawings to filming David’s nightmare like a silent film. It’s not done for visual sake. Each style serves a purpose the inner workings of David’s mind.
Just as creative is the storytelling. As Bryan Muller did with Hannibal, Hallaway uses an abstract storytelling style that pulls the audience into David’s psychological turmoil. Throughout the series, you’re wondering where his powers end and his schizophrenia begins. In a way, this gives us an idea of what it’s like for someone to live with such a mental illness.
For this style to work, actors need to ground the story to make it believable. Stevens delivers an excellent performance as a troubled man slowly discovering his powers. Audrey Plaza creeps you out as Lenny Busker, a fellow asylum patient who becomes the devil on David’s shoulder. But what grounds the film is Rachel Keller’s performance as Syd Barrett, a body-swapping mutant who becomes David’s closest companion. Keller not only brings a weight of reality to the universe, but also gives the series its heart.
I can’t wat to see what mind trip Hallaway has in store for Season 2.
 Literally in one episode where a visit at an intergalactic spa splits Rick and Morty from their toxic behavior, who wreak havoc on their world.