If 2020 were a thriller, then November would’ve been its climax—the part when a year’s worth of unbelievable plot twists came together to yield a record-breaking explosion of COVID cases, some of the first truly promising updates on vaccine development, the loneliest Thanksgiving of our lifetimes and a Presidential election that the current White House occupant, in defiance of facts as well as democratic norms, simply won’t allow to end. Too many of us spent the month glued to the Boschian hellscape that is cable news, desperate for the elusive tidbit that would help us sleep at night. So maybe it’s inevitable that when we finally changed the channel, it was (with the exception of the harrowing A Teacher) in search of something to soothe and distract rather than challenge our poor, exhausted brains. Among my favorite shows of November, you’ll find a teen holiday rom-com, a steamy finance drama, an uproarious celebrity satire and even a standout edition of a certain Bravo reality franchise. For more recommendations, here’s my list of the year’s very best TV.
A Teacher (FX on Hulu)
In lean, half-hour episodes, this series functions as a haunting thought experiment for a culture whose collective understanding of sexual misconduct has evolved quickly over the past three years. Yes, some industries have been purging themselves of their Kevin Spaceys and Matt Lauers. Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly and Bill Cosby are in prison. Concepts once mocked as feminist hysteria, from rape culture to affirmative consent, have gone mainstream. Yet A Teacher shines light on areas of the Me Too discourse that remain murky. What if the criminal happens to be a tiny, pretty woman and her ostensible victim is a strapping male athlete? What if he’s past the age of consent and about to turn 18? What if he kisses her first? What if she’s not a master manipulator but an emotional wreck? What if they’re in love? [Read TIME’s full review.]
Dash & Lily (Netflix)
Adapted from the YA book series Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan—the co-authors of millennial rom-com touchstone Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist—this Gen Z teen romance is set during the holiday season in New York City. A scowling, persnickety Holden Caulfield type who hates Christmas because his divorced parents treat him as an afterthought, Dash (Austin Abrams of Euphoria) finds a mysterious red journal shelved in the Salinger section of Manhattan’s famous Strand Bookstore. The notebook contains clues to tracking down an equally bookish girl who might be his soulmate: upbeat outcast Lily (Good Boys’ Midori Francis), who loves her big, multiethnic family’s Christmas celebrations. But first, each is going to have to prove to the other that it’s worth meeting. [Read the full review.]
I Hate Suzie (HBO Max)
It’s a cliché that child stars wind up in arrested development, forever (or at least until they’ve gone through enough therapy) stuck at the age when they first tasted fame. But, as Taylor Swift noted in her Netflix doc Miss Americana, that doesn’t mean there isn’t often some truth to it. Suzie Pickles, the protagonist of this British-import black comedy, is one such case—a teen pop idol turned actor who, 20 years into her career, has settled into life as a wife, a mother and a regular on a silly zombie show. In the premiere of I Hate Suzie, co-created by its star Billie Piper with her Secret Diary of a Call Girl collaborator Lucy Prebble, it takes a single morning to disrupt this stability. First, Suzie gets word that Disney has cast her in a coveted “aging princess” role; then, she finds out that photos of her in flagrante have leaked on the internet. And before she can assess the damage, she has to get through an extremely intrusive professional photo shoot. With titles like “Denial” and “Shame,” the seven episodes that follow take Suzie on an emotional roller-coaster through her past, present and prospects for the future, tempering raunchy cringe humor with bracing introspection. Prebble’s dialogue is studded with the kind of perfectly composed one-liners that define British comedy. And Piper—whose character clearly draws on her own experiences as a former teen singer who was eventually better known for her role on Doctor Who—moves seamlessly between slapstick and pathos to give one of the year’s most visceral, fearless performances.
The finance guy has been a stock character ever since Gordon Gekko slithered onto the screen in 1987, with his slicked-back hair and suspenders, preaching the gospel of greed. Yet neither this Type-A personality nor the noisy, overstimulated, testosterone-poisoned genre has evolved much over the course of two generations during which public opinion toward big banks has shifted. Until now. A smart and contemporary, if almost comically libidinous, take on London high finance, Industry follows a cohort of post-collegiate recruits at the fictional Pierpoint & Co. The prestigious firm’s so-called “graduate” program pits the entry-level workers against one another for permanent job offers, in a competition made extra awkward and stressful by the fact that they’re also the center of each other’s social lives. Amid an atmosphere thick with performative confidence, where a tiny mistake could end a career before it’s properly begun, new hires must not only prove their mettle, but also calculate how their race, class, gender and sexuality might influence their prospects in a field that isn’t exactly known for its tolerance. [Read the full review.]
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (Bravo)
The Real Housewives have never much appealed to me. Though I can usually stomach a lot of silliness for the sake of a campy laugh, I don’t get what’s so enthralling about watching grown women in skintight sequined dresses insult each other. (For that matter, I’m also confused as to why these characters are still called housewives when many have high-powered jobs and others aren’t even married.) So I was pleasantly surprised to get sucked in by this newest addition to the franchise, whose very title sounds like a South Park joke. Yes, it has all the manufactured conflict fans have come to expect. As far as the series’ trademark “huh?” moments go, well, one of the cast members turns out to be married to her step-grandfather—with her late grandma’s blessing. But the Salt Lake City setting also brings a pretty fascinating focus on faith; along with Mormons of all varieties, we meet a Pentecostal church leader and a woman who converted to Islam, her Black husband’s religion, after learning about LDS’ racist history. Admittedly, part of the fun is in watching people who see themselves as virtuous justify various acts of hypocrisy. And it’s interesting to hear casual discussion of the vices endemic to this outwardly pious world; one “housewife” reports that, though polygamy is a thing of the past, swinging is relatively common. Yet there are some genuinely illuminating story lines here as well, from the way some characters have suffered from the community’s divorce taboo to the way in which the Mormon pursuit of spiritual perfection fuels many Mormon women’s quests to achieve outward perfection.