Content warning: This article mentions addiction and substance abuse.
With winter break right around the corner and lockdowns still very much in the picture, this winter is the perfect time to catch up on all the great TV that has come out in the last few months. Whether you’re in the mood for an uplifting, lighthearted distraction show or something to suck you right down that binging rabbit hole (only to reemerge at 2 a.m.), the Arts & Pop Culture section of the Daily has you covered. Here are some of the best shows we reviewed this semester.
‘The Mandalorian’ (Disney+)
While Chris Panella reviewed only the first two episodes of the second season of “The Mandalorian” (2019–), Disney has continued to pump out fantastic chapters of this Western-inspired “Star Wars” spinoff series every Friday. More slow-paced than the bombastic, fate-of-the-galaxy-driven films, “The Mandalorian” offers a look into the smaller corners of the “Star Wars” world, from criminals to mechanics to villages in the middle of nowhere (Panella’s review, for example, focuses on the themes of parenthood introduced by Chapter 10’s Frog Lady, a mom just trying to get her eggs to safety). And, of course, Baby Yoda continues to steal the show.
‘The Queen’s Gambit’ (Netflix)
Everyone seems to be talking about Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” (2020), and Phoebe Wong’s review tells us exactly why. Following chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), “The Queen’s Gambit” not only depicts Harmon’s rise to mastery but also confronts gender biases and issues of substance abuse and addiction, addressing how these elements can be destructive to her career. Wong, like many of the show’s critics, has also drawn attention to the show’s sumptuous costuming in her review. All of these elements, Wong notes, make for a complex look into the world of competitive chess.
‘The Crown’ (Netflix)
Praised for its style and high production value, Netflix’s “The Crown” (2016–) portrays the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, starting with her marriage in 1947 and coronation in 1953. It’s able to jump years by systematically replacing its actors — Olivia Colman, for example, took over for Claire Foy in Season 3 as Queen Elizabeth. As Phoebe Yates notes in her review of Season 4, Princess Diana,in all her ’80s glory, takes center stage — Derin Savasan has even written an article discussing some of Princess Di’s iconic looks in the show. Though it’s definitely a time commitment, “The Crown” is a great watch for all the Anglophiles out there.
‘We Are Who We Are’ (HBO)
Fans of “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) will recognize Luca Guadagnino’s name on the new HBO series “We Are Who We Are” (2020), which Derin Savasan reviewed in October. Focusing on the self-discovery of a group of teenage friends on an American military base in Italy, Savasan notes that “We Are Who We Are” tackles issues not only central to adolescence but also issues of national identity and the friction — or bonds — between cultural worlds. As evident from “Call Me by Your Name,” Italy and Guadagnino’s film style is a match made in heaven, one that makes its presence known again in this series.
Alongside the success of shows like “Sex Education” (2019–) and “Big Mouth” (2017–), “PEN15” (2019–) makes its mark as a female-centric dive into the world of middle school and puberty. Dressed up as 13-year-old versions of themselves in the year 2000, and surrounded by actual teenage actors, creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle star in a show about the nuance and complexity of emotion that comes with being a teenage girl. Cringe-tastic, hilarious and sometimes achingly too true, “PEN15,” which released the first half of its second season in September, is here for all your 2000s nostalgia needs.
‘Dash & Lily’ (Netflix)
“Is the plot realistic? No. But it’s cute.” Annabel Xu’s statement from her review of Netflix’s “Dash & Lily” (2020) pithily sums up why it works so well this holiday season. The eight-episode “Dash & Lily” follows (you guessed it) Dash and Lily, two teenagers who fall in love through a scavenger hunt in a red notebook that Lily leaves in a bookstore. With enough storyline from the supporting characters to keep the plot feeling dynamic, and a romance between our protagonists that’s too adorable to be bothered by the cheesiness, Xu tells us that “Dash & Lily” is the perfect escapist binge for this holiday season.
‘Grand Army’ (Netflix)
Blending classic coming-of-age trials with more thoughtful explorations into systemic injustice, “Grand Army” (2020) takes us into the halls of a Brooklyn high school after a nearby bombing pulls five teenagers into its emotional wake. In her review, Phoebe Yates notes that “Grand Army” addresses many subtleties of activism that other coming-of-age stories don’t — specifically, she says, “‘Grand Army’s’ strongest asset is the shades of moral complexity it lends its teenage characters; just calling yourself ‘woke’ doesn’t mean you actually are.”
‘Ted Lasso’ (AppleTV+)
While not many titles from AppleTV+ have been successful enough to really enter the cultural conversation, “Ted Lasso” (2020) is perhaps the only one worth investing some time into this winter, if only for the feel-good vibes alone. “Ted Lasso” follows our titular character (Jason Sudeikis), a Kansas college football coach who goes across the pond to coach AFC Richmond, a soccer club that’s fallen out of its former glory. As I mentioned in my review, Sudeikis’ Lasso is a can-do, feel-good, dad-pun-making and khaki-pants-wearing protagonist who’s not going to let the fact that he doesn’t really understand soccer slow him down as he bonds with his team and the club’s owner, Rebecca. Good for some lighthearted sitcom energy, “Ted Lasso” is a great watch if you need an extra kick of good energy this winter.