How did you spend your first post-vax (or, for pessimists, pre-omicron) Thanksgiving? Did you baste the turkey as Baby Yoda floated by in the first Macy’s parade since 2019 or coo over the precious National Dog Show contestants while tearing up stale bread for stuffing? Did your full-bellied family gorge on a heaping helping of pro football? Or did you hole up and binge Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+, like just about everyone on my Twitter timeline?
While the latter doc might just be the ultimate “your mileage may vary” experience—heaven for Fab Four fanatics, overkill for everyone else—in my extremely humble opinion, the following five new shows represent the very best TV had to offer in November 2021. For more recommendations, here are my favorites from last month and the first half of the year.
I’m not particularly excited about the convergence of TV and video games—a development whose inevitability has manifested in everything from the gamification of fandom and Netflix’s megahit video-game adaptation The Witcher to the same platform’s interactive experiments, like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and newly launched mobile gaming hub. Which is to say that I approached Arcane, an adult animated series set in the League of Legends universe, with some skepticism. Well, I was wrong. And I didn’t even have to slog through a 5,000-word Wikipedia entry on the franchise to appreciate what I was missing.
Divided into three discrete “acts,” the nine-episode season chronicles rising tensions between the prosperous city of Piltover and the (literally) underground demimonde of Zaun, as magic and science begin to collide in ways both hopeful and terrifying. While the themes are heady, the characters—a ragtag crew of street kids in Zaun, a pair of young scientists in Piltover—are grounded. But what really elevates the show’s solid storytelling is its transcendent animation. Characters’ faces register every flicker of emotion. A hybrid of steampunk, cyberpunk and punk-rock aesthetics make Zaun the perfect contrast to the gilded opulence of Piltover. Flashes of brilliant neon light endow Arcane‘s supernatural elements with a true sense of magic. So beautiful and intricately detailed are these visuals that they’re liable to distract you from the movements of the plot. But is that such a bad thing?
Black and Missing (HBO)
Gwen Ifill called it missing white woman syndrome: the media’s tendency to fixate on the disappearances of (generally beautiful, relatively wealthy) white women at the expense of paying any attention at all to people of color who vanish under similar circumstances. The Black and Missing Foundation, which is profiled in this essential four-part documentary from Soledad O’Brien and Geeta Gandbhir (Why We Hate), endeavors to counteract such prejudice. The series’ heroes are the organization’s co-founders, sisters-in-law Derrica and Natalie Wilson, who work tirelessly with Black victims’ families, law enforcement and media contacts to make headway in cases that have suffered from a lack of institutional support.
As they follow the Wilsons from flyer drops in communities to meetings with government task forces, O’Brien and Gandbhir profile the devastated yet determined families of missing people, drawing out patterns in structural injustice and tracking developments in a few of the foundation’s toughest cases. If Black and Missing‘s choice to emphasize victims’ humanity over the salacious details of their ordeals might frustrate true-crime addicts in search of their next binge, it also makes the project a shining example of what more compassionate and inclusive storytelling in this genre might look like.
The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO Max)
Premiering Nov. 18, this warm, observant and often gleefully raunchy show follows four very different freshman suitemates through their first months outside the nest at Vermont’s prestigious, fictional Essex College. As a creator, Kaling has historically struggled to rework, rather than just recycle, the clichés of genres that she knows inside and out (see: her rom-com series The Mindy Project and Four Weddings and a Funeral). But, taken together with her Netflix teen hit Never Have I Ever, College Girls suggests that coming-of-age stories might be her forte. [Read TIME‘s full review.]
Sort Of (HBO Max)
Sabi Mehboob is floating through liminal space. A gender-fluid young adult in Toronto, Sabi (played by co-creator Bilal Baig) has a cisgender boyfriend who shrinks from them in public and a traditional Pakistani Muslim mother who’s in denial about who her child is. Sabi works as a nanny and a bartender but has yet to decide what they really want out of life. After missing an opportunity to soul-search in Berlin, this gentle, self-effacing character must find the courage to fuse the pieces of their fragmented life without leaving home. The aptly titled Sort Of, a Canadian import that debuted this week on HBO Max, traces this awkward yet poignant evolution. And Baig, an affable performer as well as a keen observer of human behavior, is one of the most intriguing new voices I’ve encountered on TV this year.
Created by Narcos alums Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, this updated Lord of the Flies swaps out the schoolboys in favor of a women’s varsity soccer team on its way to nationals. It’s 1996, alt rock rules the radio, and the girls are traveling in style because (get ready to suspend your disbelief) a rich dad has lent them his private plane. When it falls out of the sky and into the wilderness, the traumatized players wait for a rescue that never happens. They’ll ultimately spend 19 months fending for themselves out there, so you know things are bound to get weird. [Read the full review.]
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