You- Season 3
I t’s an irresistible premise: a handsome, brooding, bookish romantic turns out to be a psycho killer. But once Penn Badgley’s pretentious predator Joe Goldberg added his ostensible true love to the pile of bodies, at the end of season 1, it was fair to wonder what this insanely popular rom-com satire had left to say about the genre’s creepiest tropes. Happily, instead of repeating itself, the show has continued to find worthy new targets for its addictive brand of social thriller. This year’s third—and best—season sent Joe and his equally unhinged bride (Victoria Pedretti) to a ritzy California town to raise their baby son, and took on everything from momfluencers to male bonding to swingers in a searing sendup of pop culture’s obsession with suburbia.
Netflix’s international mega-hit was hard to avoid in 2021. Images from the South Korean series about a of deadly children’s games, played by desperate debtors for the amusement of rich patrons, saturated social and mainstream media this year, spawning a seemingly infinite wave of analysis, parodies, and knock-offs. As with so much viral content, the nonstop gags and memes formed a kind of cloud around the series, obscuring how mesmerizing, painful, and well-crafted it actually is. Writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk intended the nine-episode miniseries as a scathing indictment of capitalism, and it certainly is that, garbed in the robes of a gripping series of competitions where the losers are summarily murdered.
Only Murders in the Building
Simultaneously a wonderful modern showcase for one of the most enduring comedy pairings in Hollywood and an affectionate lambasting of (white) podcast culture, Only Murders in The Building is one of the years best debuts. Steve Martin and Martin Short pair up once more, joined by Selena Gomez as a trio of true crime podcast fans who start a podcast of their own when someone in their well-to-do New York City apartment building dies, and foul play is suspected. Only Murders in the Building uses its central trio to do remarkably funny generational comedy (Martin and Short are extremely good as bumbling Boomers) while also building out its very small world into a surprising strong and diverse cast of compelling characters enveloped in a mystery that’s just as engrossing to viewers as it is to its characters.
W andaVision cracked through the culture in a way none of Marvel’s Disney Plus shows have done since, despite their steady drumbeat of release throughout 2021. It was still captivating. The mystery was enticing, the Brief History of the American Sitcom framing was clever, the production design was inviting both from a visual and How-Many-Nerdy-Details-Can-I-Find perspective. Pinning it all together were Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, perennially sidelined in Marvel’s feature films, crackling with chemistry for the audience and each other.
HBO’s darkly comic, Murdochian King Lear became a breakout hit in its first two seasons, simultaneously satirizing, challenging and capitalizing on a polarized nation’s obsession with our billionaire elite. Well, as this fall’s third season has made apparent, the show was just getting started. In the aftermath of patriarch Logan’s (Brian Cox) public betrayal at the hands of his love-starved, try-hard son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the Roy clan has devolved into a civil war conducted mostly through some of the most elaborately uncivil dialogue on television.