Mindhunter (Netflix). This is my absolute favorite of everything I watched last year. I’ve seen it twice so far. It’s strong stuff, and probably not for everyone. The production is impeccable. I knew I was hooked when Talking Heads’ “Pyscho Killer” kicked in at the end of the second episode (which was typical of the show’s sharp use of music throughout). David Fincher is an executive producer of the series, and from what I’ve read, he acted as showrunner as well. Besides directing the first two and the last two episodes, he was reportedly involved in every aspect of the production, even on the episodes directed by others. Based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, this material is definitely perfect for someone like Fincher, whose past films have included Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007).
I think the following trailers are different enough to justify including both of them here.
Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime) The original series, created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, quickly achieved iconic status. This is impressive when you consider that it aired in only two seasons from 1990 to 1991. Hardly seems possible it was that long ago. After some fits and starts, the new series finally arrived last summer, comprised of 18 episodes written by Lynch and Frost, all directed by Lynch. One thing you can say about David Lynch is that he frequently shows you stuff you haven’t seen before. Even when I was lost, when I didn’t understand what the hell was happening, I had to keep watching. Though I was tempted to stop during the eighth episode, the one with the atomic explosion that releases the Evil that has permeated the series from the beginning (maybe). But I stayed with it, and then felt like I’d really been pulled through something by the end of the hour. The original Twin Peaks starts out in a fairly normal place and then gets weirder and weirder. This one is out there right from the start. It forces you to try to make sense of what you’re seeing, even when it seems impenetrable. Lynch isn’t one to provide tidy answers. This can be frustrating, but I never doubted that he knew what he was doing. As Joseph Yanick aptly put it in his review of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me Blu-ray release in the new issue of Cineaste, regarding the films of David Lynch, “…meaning may be opaque but the experience is worth the ride.” Indeed.
The Crown (Netflix) We didn’t start watching The Crown until the second season had been released, but we quickly burned through both. I don’t recall seeing Claire Foy before, but she’s wonderful as Queen Elizabeth. It was a bit of a disconnect seeing Matt Smith as the frequently loathsome Prince Philip, since I’d gotten to know him as the title character in Doctor Who (2010-2013), which was another thing entirely. It’s a great series, thoroughly engrossing. The next season will have a different cast, with Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch and The Night Manager) replacing Claire Foy as Elizabeth.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) This series, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, engaged us completely. Set in New York City in the late 1950s, the period detail and production design are perfect. Rachel Brosnahan plays Miriam “Midge” Maisel is a Jewish housewife who lives on the Upper West Side in apartment directly below her parents (the great Tony Shalhoub is her long-suffering father). Her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), is a business man who wants to be a standup comic. He performs at the Gaslight club in Greenwich Village, but it turns out that Midge is better at standup. In a nice touch, Midge is befriended by Lenny Bruce (played by Luke Kirby, who nails Bruce’s look and speech patterns). The Gaslight is more or less run by Susie Myerson, who reluctantly becomes Midge’s manager. The sarcastic Susie is wonderfully played by Alex Borstein. Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote or co-wrote six of the eight episodes. The writing is terrific. She previously wrote for Roseanne (1990-1994) and is probably best known for creating, writing and directing Gillmore Girls (2000-2007). Rachel Brosnahan, who we’d previously seen in House of Cards (2013-2015) and the underrated Manhattan (2014-2015), is great as Midge. We’re looking forward to season two, which begins production this month.
In the following clip, Susie gives Midge some advice on how to develop her act.
If you’d like to go deeper, here’s the complete first episode.
Big Little Lies (HBO) Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, this miniseries was created by David E. Kelley, who wrote every episode. Jean-Marc Vallée directed all of the episodes as well. As with Twin Peaks: The Return, having the same writer and director throughout ensures a unity of vision and purpose that’s difficult to attain otherwise. This was a class production all the way, especially in the casting. Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley have the lead roles, and they power the film. Alexander Skarsgård is frightening as Kidman’s abusive husband. Big Little Lies was very successful, both critically and with viewers. Production began this month on a second season, which will premiere next year. Everyone is returning, with Meryl Streep joining the cast. All it needs now is Tom Hanks.
The Wizard of Lies (HBO) This excellent production was based on the book about Bernie Madoff written by Dianne B. Henriques. It was directed by Barry Levinson. Anyone who doubts that Robert De Niro can still act should see this. He’s amazing as Madoff. It’s an extraordinary performance. Michelle Pfeiffer is equally good in the less flashy role of Ruth Madoff.
GLOW (Netflix) I realized only yesterday that I’d somehow left this show off my list. Not sure how that happened, because it’s really terrific and we liked it a lot. Based on Glorious Ladies of Wrestling, a syndicated women’s wrestling series that debuted in 1986, GLOW is a fictionalized version of how that show came to be. Alison Brie plays Ruth Wilder, an aspiring actress in Los Angeles who auditions for the show before realizing what it is, but eventually really gets into it. Marc Maron is great as Sam Sylvia, the director who’s trying to put the show together. He’s a hustler, sarcastic and verbally abusive, but his bark is worse than his bite, so to speak. He has a heart, though he’s loathe to admit it. GLOW is very funny, but more than that. It was renewed by Netflix for a second season of 10 episodes, which will probably premiere this June.
The following titles are carry-overs from previous years.
The Americans (FX) – The 6th & final season premieres 3/28/18. This truly excellent series comes to an end with this season. I’m especially looking forward to FBI agent Stan Beeman’s reaction when he realizes his next-door neighbors have been Russian agents all this time. At least I hope that happens.
Better Call Saul (AMC) – season 4 premieres 4/10/18. (Update: Season 4 will apparently not begin until sometime this September.) This Breaking Bad spin-off just gets better and better. Maybe this time around Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) will finally take the name Saul Goodman. I could only find short teaser trailers for the new season, but the season 3 trailer below gives a good sense of the series.
Billions (Showtime) – season 3 premieres 3/25/18.
Bosch (Amazon Prime) – season 4 premieres 4/13/18. This is a great series, one of my favorites. It’s especially nice seeing Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector, both veterans of The Wire, in this.
Fargo (FX) There’s no word yet on when the 4th season will be ready or what it will involve, but season 3 was great (though I still haven’t seen season 2, which I’ve heard is the best one so far).
Grantchester (PBS Masterpiece) From what I can find, a decision hasn’t yet been made on whether there will be a fourth season. I hope there is, because even though I didn’t think the third season was quite on the same level as the first two, it’s still a very good series. The interplay between James Norton as clergyman Sidney Chambers and Robson Green as Detective Inspector Geordie Keating is especially satisfying.
Homeland (Showtime) – season 7 premiered 2/11/18. The conflict is domestic this time around, though the most recent episode brought up the possibility of Russian interference in our politics and culture, so the show is making real-world connections. I hear season 8 will be the last. Homeland may not be quite as good as it once was, but it’s still compelling and we’re in for the whole ride. Though I miss Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn.
House of Cards (Netflix) — season 6 premiere TBA. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the departure of Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood. His counterpart in the original British series was assassinated, so I expect we’ll get something like that, though obviously off-screen. It’s been a good show with a great cast. I’m sure Robin Wright is more than capable of carrying on.
Humans (AMC) – season 3 premieres mid-to-late 2018.
Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime) – did not air in 2017; season 4 began on 2/16/18.
Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) – season 6 airdate TBA. Season 5 took place over the span of three days, picking up immediately after the end of season 4. It was brutal and intense. I don’t understand how this series could ever have been entered in the comedy category for the Golden Globes.
Silicon Valley (HBO) – season 5 premieres 3/25/18.
Veep (HBO) — 7th & final season delayed until 2019. Considering how absurd and bizarre the White House has been since the 2016 election, Veep seems almost like a documentary by comparison. It will be a challenge for the show to stay ahead of that curve. Whatever, we’ve loved it so far (the show, not the reality).
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS) — currently airing.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) — currently airing.
Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) — currently airing.
The Vietnam War (PBS) — Directors: Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. Writer: Geoffrey C. Ward. I’m sorry to say that I’ve only seen the first episode so far, which is weird, since I’ve always had an intense fascination with this war. I felt like it was “my” war, though the closest I got was being stationed in northeast Thailand in 1969 while I was in the air force. But based on the first episode and Ken Burns’ track record, I’m including the series here. I intend to catch up on this soon.
All episodes are currently available on YouTube and Amazon.
There are a lot of shows I haven’t seen yet that might otherwise be on this list, such as Stranger Things, Jessica Jones, Legion, Atlanta, and The Handmaid’s Tale. And these are just ones I know about. It’s not possible to see everything, but I do what I can. — Ted Hicks