There’s a battle brewing, and it’s being fought by streaming services, cable TV and primetime television. If you’re too weak to resist, UnBinged is here to help, telling you what to hate, what to love and what to love to hate. This week: 2020 will bring a new slew of network, cable and streamed content, but a few biggies from the end of last year are still available and if you never got to them, now is the time. Here’s why.
The Witcher | Netflix
Since the fall of Daenerys Targaryen and those who created her, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, fantasy-loving fans have searched for a new series in which to replace their precious Thrones. From Carnival Row to His Dark Materials to See, many new series have tried and failed. Now Netflix takes a turn with the expansive and expensive world of The Witcher. And the debut season succeeds. Thank you, sweet baby Jesus.
Geralt of Rivia has been wandering the world since the ‘80s — first in Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series, then in his own video game franchise and a poorly-received feature film and series (The Hexer). As a Netflix property, Geralt has the opportunity to reach new audiences as his world continues to grow.
Played by Superman’s Henry Cavill, Geralt has come to life in a new way. A mutant monster killer who explores the realm looking for new things to kill, the world of The Witcher is as sculpted as Cavill’s abs. And it succeeds because it doesn’t assume its audience can’t handle the complexity of the story or the world it lives within; exposition is given, but it’s not jammed down our throats. The story is cleverly executed and paced, albeit with a lot of setup for the second season. And while a large array of characters are introduced, the important ones have carefully crafted backstories infused with sorcery, bravery or the occasional catchy tune.
It should be noted that the women of The Witcher world are exceptionally written. They are given meaty story arcs in which to feast. From Yennefer to Calanthe Fiona Riannon of Cintra, each is given as much to do as the menfolk, with storylines essential to the alchemy of the series. Witcher is the cure for the common epic, and judging from its fan base on the web, a contender for the fantasy TV throne.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel | Amazon Prime
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel returns in a high-spirited third season as Midge takes her show on the road to share her comic gift of gab. Along the way she makes a few friends, saves her less than deserving parents from homelessness, faces the ire of her former fiancee, continues a complicated relationship with her ex, and has a steamy night with Lenny Bruce in a Cuban nightclub. Oh, and she makes us laugh.
Rachel Brosnahan continues to play Midge Maisel as a woman ahead of her time, much like the comedians she is based upon. As she progresses in her career, her personal life continues to writhe in chaos.
Maisel is terrible in relationships, and she lacks boundaries, which makes her great on stage but not so much in terms of intimacy. She is an absentee mother to her almost non-existent children who she occasionally remembers, but she’s a good person and it is her flaws, of which there are many, that make her relatable. If she was the perfect performer in a perfect relationship with perfect kids in a perfect classic-six apartment in New York, she wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
When she’s on the screen it’s hard to take your eyes off of her, and that’s not just because of the show’s gorgeous, spot-on retro wardrobe. Midge is wonderfully, beautifully, woefully flawed and even when her standup isn’t all that funny, it’s refreshing to watch. This character is careless with her words and other people’s time — selfish even — she can be vain and at times even cruel, but she is never malicious and it’s pretty obvious she is trying to find herself. Given the era depicted, this isn’t so easy for a gal who refuses to shut up.
From its feminist subtext to its depiction of Jewish culture to its exquisite supporting cast (Alex Borstein, Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Pollack, Jane Lynch) and director (Amy Sherman-Palladino), this show takes the bite of Gilmore Girls (Palladino’s former female-driven TV gem), pushes the envelope and goes for the kill. With each season, the show just gets better too. Even when Mrs. Maisel stumbles, it seems to find stronger footing because of it. It is this growth that we want to keep watching and it’s what makes the show so marvelous.
You | Netflix and Lifetime
The second season of You welcomes back Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), the deranged dreamboat who won’t take no for an answer. This time around, Joe moves to Los Angeles, a city where a great-looking sociopath can easily blend in with the sea of narcissists on the hunt for fame and fortune.
Posing as Will, Joe finds himself drawn once again to the love of his life, aptly named Love. But like past loves, this Love is in need of Joe’s “help.” A young widow with an unstable, egotistical brother, Joe is set on fixing her life, much like the way he “fixed” Beck and Candace.
The catch with this one is that Joe is an unreliable narrator to the greatest degree. He isn’t lying or attempting to fool people, as he fully believes his own deceptions. He casts himself as the protagonist of the tale, but in truth, he is the villain, and it’s of his own making. It is never his fault that he has to kill or maim the people in his way, because his love story is the greatest ever told.
If it isn’t completely clear early on watching You, Joe is pure evil. He is a devil, a scoundrel, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And like the devil, he is charming as fuck. That’s his appeal. We shouldn’t root for him, but we do. He’s the BF who constantly lies but promises to do better, and we the audience are his whipped partner, falling for his charms despite his aptitude for malevolence. His good intentions are rooted within a psychosis that he acknowledges at times, but refuses to fix.
Watching You one can be conflicting, and it’s meant to be. It’s horror show that wants to be a rom-com, much like Joe himself. The WTF moments keep viewers on their toes while Badgley’s performance continues to charm and keeps audiences stalking Netflix for a third season.
Dollface | Hulu
In the last couple of years, more and more women have taken the lead in critically acclaimed series, raising the bar for television as a whole. Shows such as Maisel, Fleabag, Unbelievable and Watchmen all featured powerful women in the lead role, signaling an inspiring new era of television.
And then there is Dollface.
Kat Dennings stars as Jules, a woman who spent years buried in a relationship. When it ends, she goes running back to the friends she ghosted with the hope they will support her in her time of need. In the universe of Dollface, women are incapable of being single and independent.
This one actually counters the strides made by better femme-driven shows, featuring a character so dependent on her beau that she fails as a person. And while the show can be clever with its use of exaggerated fantasy sequences, it doesn’t excuse the awful messaging. Even Charlotte from Sex and the City found the occasional joy without a dude, and she was the worst.
The women who populate Dollface are horrible caricatures set against the occasional CGI background. They’re a bunch of petty assholes who traded in their personalities for looks, Instagram followers and snark, i.e. vapid millennial stereotypes. Unless you are one too, you’ll find them and the show itself pretty loathsome. Put it this way — Dollface does for women what Cats did for cats. Let that one marinate.