It doesn’t always pay to believe the hype, as the best new shows of August 2022 illustrate. With the exception of Netflix’s enchanting Sandman adaptation (more about that below), the month’s buzziest premieres didn’t do a whole lot for me. Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon? It’s fine! Amazon’s A League of Their Own reboot? Well-intentioned but overly dutiful. FX’s The Patient, a psychological thriller that teamed Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson with the writer-producers of The Americans? A gorgeously acted mess of themes that never quite come together. Hulu’s Tyson docudrama Mike? Yikes.
Thankfully, there was plenty more TV on offer, as there always is these days. Late summer calls for some light viewing, and I found that character-driven comedy and romance—plus a darkly funny crime drama about four sisters pushed to their limit by an obnoxious brother-in-law—hit the spot. Want more recommendations? Here are my favorite shows from the first half of the year.
Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)
They call him the Prick, and that’s putting it nicely. John Paul “JP” Williams (Claes Bang, fresh off The Northman) is an objectively terrible person. He throws elbows at work, pokes at family members’ psychic wounds, spies on people for blackmail purposes. He’s racist, homophobic, virulently misogynistic—you name it, he hates it. “I think they dipped him in vinegar before they handed him over” at birth, his elderly mother muses. No one suffers more from his acidic temper than his wife, Grace (Sex Education’s Anne-Marie Duff), a meek woman who absorbs constant physical and emotional abuse in the name of love. His revolting pet name for her: Mammy.
Lucky for Grace, she has four fiercely devoted—and seriously charming—Irish sisters who’d go to great lengths to liberate her. They even fantasize about killing him. So, when JP perishes under bizarre circumstances and his death is nonetheless ruled an accident, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to wonder if they might secretly be responsible. Bad Sisters, a wickedly funny, genuinely poignant new Apple TV+ dramedy created by Catastrophe alum Sharon Horgan, takes its time recounting what really happened. [Read the full review.]
Everything I Know About Love (Peacock)
I can’t believe I still have the capacity to be charmed by a show about young women seeking love and success in a big, glamorous city, but here we are. Created and adapted by Dolly Alderton from her memoir of the same name, Everything I Know About Love follows 24-year-old Maggie (saucer-eyed Emma Appleton), a romance-obsessed party girl with dreams of becoming a writer; her timid childhood best friend Birdy (Bel Powley, great as always); and their two pals from university, Amara (Aliyah Odoffin) and Nell (Marli Siu) as they move into a London house share and fumble towards genuine adulthood.
While the setup is generic, the show comes into its own through specifics grounded in Alderton’s real-life experiences. The year is 2012—as Groupon deals at bars, parents who marvel over the magic of Siri, and the low-stakes interpersonal drama of pre-Brexit, pre-COVID, pre-Trump youth underscore. Maggie falls for a painfully cool musician, Street (Connor Finch), and convinces herself she’s OK with their casual arrangement… until Birdy winds up on a date with Street’s square roommate Nathan (Ryan Bown) and their instant connection yields a sincere, committed relationship that robs Maggie of her constant companion. I wish Everything I Know spent more time fleshing out story lines for Maggie and Birdy’s roommates. But Appleton and Powley are irresistible as mutually adoring friends, and the escapist pleasures of 20-something life a mere decade ago make for an ideal vacation from the grim realities of 2022.
When refugees and undocumented immigrants appear on television, it’s usually in the context of a somber epic or crusading documentary. But Mohammed “Mo” Amer is a stand-up comedian whose Palestinian-refugee family fled to the U.S. from their adoptive home of Kuwait during the Gulf War, so it makes sense that his semi-autobiographical series Mo dispenses with the sweeping political statements and digs into the realities of daily life as a person whose asylum case remains unresolved after more than two decades. While Amer’s alter ego Mo Najjar waits in Houston, along with his homesick mother Yusra (Farah Bsieso) and nebbishy younger brother Sameer (Omar Elba), he takes on the kind of gigs that are open to non-citizens: DJing at a strip club, selling fake Rolexes out of the trunk of his car, picking olives on a farm that reminds him of his childhood half a world away. There are culture clashes, not just between the Najjars and an American borderland that can be hostile to outsiders, but also between the family’s Islamic traditions and those of Mo’s Mexican-American Catholic girlfriend, Maria (Teresa Ruiz).
Fans of Hulu’s Ramy will recognize Amer from that show, whose creator and star Ramy Youssef helped create Mo. A slice-of-life series focused on a particular variety of Muslim-American experience, it’s similar in tone to Youssef’s personal project—very funny except for when it’s sincerely, unapologetically dead serious. While Mo’s mourning of a father who stayed behind in the Middle East and his family’s yearning for a home to which they cannot return give the story emotional stakes, the humor that suffuses each episode is a reminder that refugees are, despite all they’ve endured in the name of survival, regular people.
The Sandman (Netflix)
The 10-episode Sandman series is here at last, following a 2019 deal that brought the property to Netflix, shepherded by executive producers Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer (Foundation), and showrunner Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman). And, with the caveat that there will probably be no pleasing some sectors of a vocal fandom that has spent decades in a state of anticipation, the show turns out to be well worth the wait. From smart casting and strong writing to exquisitely eerie, noir-meets-horror production design that makes thoughtful use of digital effects, this is easily one of the best small-screen comic adaptations ever made. [Read the full review.]
This Fool (Hulu)
It can be a dismissal, a joke, or a term of grudging endearment, but regardless of context, the phrase “this fool” always connotes a certain intimacy. Which makes it the perfect title for this breezy comedy about a pair of mismatched cousins. At 30, Julio Lopez (creator Chris Estrada) is stable yet directionless, living at home in home in South Central L.A., working at a non-profit called Hugs Not Thugs that rehabilitates former gang members, and struggling to move on from a long, rocky relationship with his ex-girlfriend Maggie (Michelle Ortiz). His circumscribed life is shaken up when his older cousin Luis (Frankie Quinones), who used bully Julio when they were kids, gets released from prison, moves in with the family, and starts coming to Hugs Not Thugs.
Estrada isn’t reinventing the genre with This Fool, an odd-couple sitcom that harkens, refreshingly, back to a time before dramedy overtook comedy as the dominant half-hour TV format. But the characters are great—assertive Maggie and Julio’s anti-Establishment boss, played by the wonderful Michael Imperioli, even more so than the two leads. The physical humor is on point. And the show’s grounding in a neighborhood and a culture, with dialogue shifting fluidly between English and Spanish, keeps it from ever feeling like something we’ve seen before. I was hooked by episode 2, which has Luis trying to round up some old cohorts for a showdown with his pre-prison nemesis, only to find they’ve all sold out, died, gotten married, or acquired too many physical ailments to fight.
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