With cinemas still finding their footing amidst the pandemic, TV has provided audiences a treasure trove of rich programs. Even as someone who isn’t as enveloped in the world of the small screen, I’ve still had the pleasure to watch a medley of intriguing shows. Let’s break them down!
What If…? (Season 1) – Available on Disney+
The MCU’s TV debut has been a mixed bag. WandaVision, Loki, and Falcon and Winter Soldier each showcased the properties big-screen charms in a refreshing new formula. However, each series endured its fair share of structural difficulties (Falcon and Winter Soldier was the biggest perpetrator of this issue, truncating a busy storyline into an all-too brisk six episodes). The MCU’s first anthology series, the imaginatively animated What If, endures a similar roller coaster ride.
Placing audiences in an altered timeline full of eccentric changes, What If showcases a deft balance of playfulness and surprising grit with its creative freedom. When the two tonalities congeal, the byproduct is an invigorating switch-up from the brand’s all-too conventional formula. From Shanon Carter becoming Captain Carter to the Avengers transforming into flesh-eating zombies, the show cleverly embraces its altered timeline while providing a strong reason to reinvest in familiar territory. The show’s comic book-esque animation style also fits the property like a glove. Head Animator Stephan Franck and his team vibrantly draw together setpieces that push the MCU’s creative limits to bold new heights.
What If always intrigues, but the show could certainly make some improvements ahead of Season 2. The episodes so far have been hit-and-miss in their execution of intriguing concepts, with their narratives often being too jam-packed for their tight 30-minute runtime. Episode 3 is perhaps the biggest perpetrator of this issue, presenting a world where the Avengers never existed without doing much creatively with it. Some episodes also build to a crescendo that’s never realized, often concluding in the heart of their dramatic climaxes.
That said, What If impresses as a visceral redux of the MCU’s well-trudged blueprint. I hope Disney takes more chances like this with their future programs.
Ted Lasso (Season 2) – Available on Apple+
Everyone’s favorite high-spirited football coach returns in Ted Lasso Season 2. While the follow-up season has endured some peculiar backlash on the internet (whenever something becomes extremely popular, the hatters are bound to come), the show has shown impressive growth from its inaugural season.
Ted and company still share the same sunny disposition, but this season intelligently delves beneath the surface of Ted’s bright ethos. The writing team challenges characters with authentic conflicts, delving into zeitgeist issues like mental health and athlete advocation without simplifying their dramatic weight. The decision to build upon the first season rather than sticking to the show’s strengths allows for a beautiful evolution to occur onscreen.
The ensemble also continues to be one of the best in TV. Jason Sudeikis showcases impressive dramatic touch on top of Ted’s humorous, pun-filled energy. Season 2’s more ambitious scope allows the supporting cast to gain more dimension with their roles. Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple continue to build upon their charismatic chemistry; Brett Goldstein is a scene-stealer as the lovably menacing Roy, and Phil Dunster does an impressive job digging at the core of Jamie Tartt’s ego. I could go on listing actors, as everyone in the ensemble is well-tuned into the show’s fast-flowing frequency.
Does everything about Season 2 work? Not quite. A few subplots, particularly one involving assistant coach Nathan’s inflated insecurities, don’t quite connect as well as they should. Those blemishes are minor dents in the show’s brilliant balance between humor and empathy. I already can’t wait for Season 3.
White Lotus (Season 1) – HBO Max
Writer/director Mike White’s satirical edge moves to the small-screen in White Lotus. By basking in the tranquil glow of his luxurious tropical setting, the show takes to task elitist privilege and humanity’s animalistic tendencies through its cast of superficial characters. White’s balance of broad gags and deft oneliners helps balance the comedic tonality, while the material’s garish array of personalities opens the door for some fantastic performances.
I am sure we will be hearing Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Barlett’s names come Emmy time next year. Coolidge’s ditsy comedic touch and child-like insecurity create a fascinating figure to follow. On the other hand, Barlett exists as the soul of the show, representing the depressing reality of working-class people suffocating under their oppressive environment. The always-excellent Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, and Jake Lacy all shine in their shallow roles – with Lacy making a notable impression as the equivalent of a male “Karen”.
White Lotus is wholly entertaining, but its waters aren’t as deep as they could have been. White lays out potent thematic ideals that humorously take our vapid culture to task. While the humorous barbs remain consistent, the writing struggles to flesh out nuanced perspectives – especially with its diverse cast of marginalized workers (Natasha Rothwell is great as the hotel’s massage consultant, but her character renders into a plot device at points).
Still, I enjoyed reveling in the mucky pit of emptiness that White Lotus presents to TV audiences. I am curious to see how White changes the formula up with Season 2.
Thanks for reading these TV reviews. I will be updating this article with reviews for Star Wars: Visions and The Morning Show soon!
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