Ever feel like there’s too much to watch, and you don’t know where to start? Well don’t worry. Our Film & TV editor Hidzir Junaini will be rounding up only the very best things to hit your screens at the end of every month! Skip the mediocre and delve right into the good stuff.
My Brilliant Friend
Based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, the first season of My Brilliant Friend introduced us to Lila and Lenu, two dirt-poor but bright little girls in 1950s Naples, whose passionate friendship is challenged when opportunities lead to divergent paths. Now jumping ahead to the 1960s, this second season picks up with the vibrant Lila stuck in an abusive marriage, while the studious Lenu is a model student who moves to Pisa. Gorgeous and gripping, this complex portrait of female friendship continues to be a masterpiece of extraordinary depth and insight.
The Wire co-creators David Simon and Ed Burns re-team to adapt Philip Roth’s prescient novel. The Plot Against America takes place in an alternate history in which the United States turns toward fascism during World War II. Told through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey, we follow a country engulfed by anti-Semitism as aviation hero and xenophobic populist Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. This desensationalized, humanist and grounded cautionary fable feels intimate and scarily relevant.
Much like his films (Ex Machina, Annihilation), Alex Garland’s first foray into TV is a gorgeous and existential mind-bender. Set in a surreal near-future nightmare, Devs is a hard sci-fi deep dive exploring cutting-edge quantum computing and the nature of determinism within a tech company called Amaya. This series’s spiraling mystery uses experimental imagery and sound design to unnerve and disorient, even as it immerses into its phantasmagorical and paranoid vision of advancing technology. Devs is a hallucinatory enigma that’s as tense as it is deep.
After a year hiatus, hit German series Babylon Berlin is finally back for a third season! Set in the decadent Weimar-era of 1920s Germany, this lavish neo-noir detective thriller is a twisty ride through the criminal underworld and nightclubs of a city on the verge of political upheaval. This season, Gereon Rath and Charlotte Ritter delve into the dark side of that period’s film industry, as they investigate the murder of a movie star. But beyond the case, both are also swept up by the schemes of powerful mobsters, corrupt officials, Nazi conspirators and communist agitators.
Jason Segel’s trippy new conspiracy anthology is ingenious, confusing, wildly unpredictable and unlike anything else on TV right now. Ostensibly, the story revolves around a scientific group dedicated to bizarre technology, an elaborate roleplaying game that forces participants to comb the city for clues and interact with odd characters, a resistance group and an imprisoned woman named Clara. As opaque as this puzzle is, this series’ labyrinth of weirdness feels like such an invigorating journey, thanks to stylishly imaginative storytelling and richly developed characters.
Created, starring and directed by Pamela Adlon, Better Things has consistently been one of the most poignant and humane shows on television. Now in season four, this beautiful series about mothers and daughters remains a rare and precious gift, eschewing grand drama and cheap conflict in favour of patient observation. Adlon finds ephemeral profundity in the commonplace, quiet and mundane – evoking complex arcs of love, hurt, mortality, connection and yearning in ways more akin to poems than screen narratives. Better Things remains the best thing on TV.
Rebecca Sugar ends her kind, brave and profound cartoon with a remarkable epilogue that explores the emotional aftermath of heroic optimism and intergalactic peace. The sweet boy has grown into a teen, and with no villains to fight, Steven has to come to terms with his repressed trauma and anger at his mother’s legacy, and grapple with the idea that his friends are moving on. Steven Universe’s final season is a fun yet vital look at how a maturing Steven handles “happily ever after” – underpinned by the show’s lasting themes of compassion and empathy.
Netflix has made a lot of noise with unscripted programming, but it’s going to roar with this beyond-bizarre documentary by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin. This hard-to-believe series follows the outlandish true story of Joe Exotic, the self-proclaimed Tiger King, who ran a zoo in Oklahoma and plotted to kill animal activist Carole Baskin. Filled with strange twists, dark turns, corrosive vendettas and colourful real-life characters, it immerses viewers in a wild subculture and series of scandals that almost feels like an over-the-top Coen Brothers movie come to life.
Even for a show that’s successfully nailed several risky, game-changing twists with wit, ingenuity and humour – killing off its main character, Quentin Coldwater, in its shocking season four finale was a ballsy move. So how does The Magicians fare without its central protagonist? Quite wonderfully, as it turns out! Season five leans hard into grief, but it also creatively pivots into new quests, villains and mysteries for the show’s other compelling characters. From the influx of new magic to an impending apocalypse, The Magicians remains one of TV’s greatest pleasures.
Warren Ellis’ animated take on the classic Konami title remains the best video game adaptation ever made in it’s thrilling, 10-episode third season. Picking up after Dracula’s defeat, this season finds Europe in chaos as stray monsters run loose, while Dracula’s former allies plot to take advantage of the power vacuum. Castlevania continues to offer some of the most kinetic, dynamic and violently spectacular fight sequences in animation. But it’s true strength is its ability to balance action with philosophical discussions, ranging from theology to the politics of power.
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is the truest successor to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, and it returns not a moment too soon. Currently in its seventh season, Last Week Tonight continues to be not so much a comedy show, as a very funny deep dive into the urgent social, political and economic issues of the day. In an era of short attention spans, John Oliver has built a reputation on spending 20-30 minutes each week with exhaustively researched, intelligent breakdowns – before wrapping it all up with a cleverly pointed call to action, looking to effect tangible change.
After six long years, The Clone Wars, one of the most critically-acclaimed entries in the Star Wars saga, is finally back for its seventh and final season. Dave Filoni returns as showrunner for this outstanding cartoon, continuing the storylines introduced in the original run, which explore the events leading up to Revenge of the Sith. Thanks to technological advances, the animation has been significantly improved – but best of all, the show feels like it never missed a beat. From the Bad Batch arc to The Siege of Mandalore, The Clone Wars remains fantastic.
Taking place in medieval Korea during the Joseon dynasty, this zombie epic’s second season picks up where season one left off, with Crown Prince Lee Chang and his battalion setting up camp to ward off the horde of invading, flesh-eating undead. But upon learning that the zombies can now also appear in the daytime, the survivors head to one of the last few unaffected cities – Sangju. Although the series is filled with gruesome action, Kingdom is still driven by political intrigue and social strife, as corrupt politicians scheme to take power, while the poor suffer.
An anime of the manga of the same name by Paru Itagaki, Beastars is set in a civilized society where anthropomorphic herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores coexist. Focused on the students of Cherryton Academy’s drama club, we get a closeup of the dynamics of this fantasy world through each character’s thoughts and frustrations about speciesism, predator versus prey complexes, and sexual identity. Although it may seem like Zootopia, this is far hornier and more violent adult series tackling complex themes of nature vs nurture and instinct vs control.
Leigh Whannell’s (Upgrade, Insidious) ingenious reinvention of this classic sci-fi horror story is one of the year’s most tense and terrifying movies. Elisabeth Moss turns in a tour-de-force performance as a woman whose abusive, recently deceased (or so she thinks) boyfriend returns to torment her as the titular Invisible Man. A masterclass in mounting tension, this film isn’t just full of suspense – it’s also an emotionally visceral look at the psychological unraveling of a gaslighted woman. This tightly-wound, cleverly-shot thriller is a must-see, modern classic.
Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, The Platform takes place inside a vertical prison system where everyone has to share food from a single platform that lowers one floor at a time. Each inmate is assigned a floor (there are at least 200) with folks at the top getting first pick before sending the scraps further down. The lower you are, the more likely that you will starve. Built upon its capitalist allegory, this film is an imaginative and horrifying look at the ways the privileged prosper and the downtrodden devour each other when trapped in systemic inequity.
This new take on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale is beautifully grim indeed. Feeling like the young adult cousin of A24’s arthouse horror (think The Witch), this film thrives within a dream-logic unreality, especially in its gorgeous cinematography, and thick woodsy production design. Gretel & Hansel’s dark atmosphere places heavy visual emphasis on symmetrical framing, stark contrast, and lush use of yellows and blues, to evoke subliminal terror. This retelling eschews jump scares to let its audience stew in it’s macabre occult mood – and the result is mesmerizing.
Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in this kind-hearted film,based on the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and a cynical journalist named Tom Junod, who was assigned to profile him. As the jaded magazine writer overcomes his skepticism of a man he believes too good to be true – the film invites us into Rogers’ philosophy of kindness, decency and empathy. It gently coaxes the audience to filter some very adult emotions through the characters, songs and stories of Rogers’ world. The result feels like a balm for this era of mistrust. Read our full review.
Set in a suburban fantasy world where magic has been abandoned in favour of technology, Onward follows two teenage elf brothers attempting to resurrect their dead dad. Unfortunately, their spell goes awry and only brings back the lower half of their father. In true Pixar fashion, this animated film is both funny and heartfelt, telling an unusual coming-of-age adventure through the lens of youths wrestling with grief. While the world-building and sight gags offer exceptional comedic beats, it’s the emotional dynamic between the brothers that form the heart of this story.
Based on a famous Elseworlds story by Mark Millar, DC’s latest animated film envisions what would have happened if Kal-El’s rocket landed in Sovite Russia instead of the United States. Superman: Red Son is an epic tale spanning decades, tapping into Cold War history to probe the fundamental nature vs nurture question. Much like the comic, this film recontextualizes many DC icons like Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane and others – to explore how one’s ideals and values are shaped by the imperfect politics we grow up with.