In this edition of my recurring movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I take a look back at the first half of the year to discuss some of the new shows that I’ve really enjoyed this year, but that I didn’t have the time to review. I think all of the shows in this article are good, but which of these shows do you absolutely have to put on your watchlist? Well, let’s have a look.
- What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
– My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select new films, new shows, or even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
- Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
– In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.
Severance: Season One | Series | Created by Dan Erickson | Release Year: 2022 | Season Length: 9 Episodes | Seen on: Apple TV+ | Recommended?: YES.
I want to start off by recommending what may very well end up as the best new show of the year. Created by Dan Erickson (and directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle), Severance is this strange blend of psychological mystery-thriller and dark humor that has the same spellbinding mystery-box allure as Lost once had. It is inventive and puzzling in the very best ways. The production design for the most part has this minimalist corporate aesthetic whenever the show is at the workplace. Everything is so clean and precise, and on the outside everything feels so muted.
A fantastic workplace dystopian series, Severance mostly takes place at this vaguely described technological corporation known as Lumon Industries. Its employees talk about the corporation and its creator as if they are members of a cult, but these employees have no idea what happens when they aren’t at work. Why, you ask? Well, the employees have agreed to take part in this so-called ‘severance’ medical procedure, which separates non-work memories from their workplace memories. But this also essentially splits personalities. The corporation doesn’t let work-you just quit your job, and if work-you were to find Lumon Industries torturous then there still is no getting out unless non-work-you found out about that severed desire and agreed to quit, which is unlikely. The premise sounds complex, and it is at first, but you quickly get the hang of things.
If you stick with the show (and I know the first episode’s tone and pace can be challenging, to some), then you are treated to the best mystery-box show since Westworld: Season One. It is both incredibly creative and fascinating, as well as wildly entertaining. The show also features career-best work from its lead Adam Scott, and memorable performances from Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Zack Cherry, and Britt Lower. To add to all of this, the final episode of the first season is one of the very best and most tense episodes of television that I’ve seen all year.
This is absolutely a must-watch streaming or television show. It is the kind of strange storytelling that pulls you in and hooks you, and it is one of the best first seasons of any Apple TV+ show thus far. Apple TV+’s content library is getting fairly impressive. I couldn’t recommend this one enough.
Shining Girls | Series | Created by Silka Luisa | Release Year: 2022 | Season Length: 8 Episodes | Seen on: Apple TV+ | Recommended?: Yes.
Based on the Lauren Beukes novel The Shining Girls, this Apple TV+ thriller took me by surprise. On the surface, it looks like a standard investigative serial killer thriller series from the perspective of a newspaper, but it is so much more than that. It follows Kirby Mazrachi (played by Elisabeth Moss, who is in terrific here), a traumatized archivist at the Chicago Sun-Times, as she teams up with Dan Velazquez (played by Wagner Moura), a Sun-Times reporter, in an attempt to hunt down this mysterious serial killer who has existed for decades and who, once, attacked Kirby viciously. But here’s the thing. Kirby has a difficult time making sense of her experiences. Day by day, she has to remind herself of who she is and where she lives and so on and so forth. Reality keeps on changing for our protagonist. And as for our antagonist (played by Jamie Bell, who is really menacing in this show)? Well, somehow, it looks like he isn’t really aging.
The premise is interesting in loads of ways, including the fact that Kirby’s colleague is unable to properly vet her story because her reality keeps changing. This is a really neat visual gimmick, as characters, locations, and looks change, but I suspect it will also be a somewhat confusing show to some people, especially because things happen out of sequence. These types of shows rely not just on performances — and Moss, Moura, and Bell are all very strong here — but also on whether or not the somewhat confusing and surprisingly wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey concept is wrapped up and explained in a satisfying way. And while I really do think the ending is narratively satisfying, I, honestly, don’t think the show’s explanation for the ‘how’ of the time-hopping is particularly satisfying.
So, is it must-watch television? I don’t think it is because there are other great crime shows out there that may hook you in more successfully. With that having been said, though, I think Shining Girls‘ central gimmick is inventive and exciting, and it does keep you interested. I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.
Tokyo Vice: Season One | Series | Created by J. T. Rogers | Release Year: 2022 | Season Length: 8 Episodes | Seen on: HBO Max | Recommended?: Yes.
Another show that I want to spotlight here is J. T. Rogers’ Tokyo Vice, which is based on the Jake Adelstein memoir of the same name. Set entirely in Japan in the late 90s, this crime series follows Jake Adelstein (played by Ansel Elgort), an ambitious and young American reporter who is trying to succeed in Tokyo. He struggles to make a name for himself as the only foreign staff member with the Japanese newspaper he works at, but he isn’t going down without a fight. In the show, you see him trying to establish himself as a reporter, while navigating complications like corruption and tricky police relationships. His ambition eventually becomes a problem, when the Japanese yakuza takes notice of him.
This is the kind of show that is occasionally absorbing, but which also has a subplot that doesn’t entirely work. There is a romance and hostess subplot in this show that just never worked for me, but otherwise this is a relatively strong show. Ken Watanabe’s presence as a veteran police detective lends the show an invaluable gravitas. I hung onto pretty much every word he said. Ansel Elgort and Rinko Kikuchi are also fairly good. The only other minor problem I had with the show is that the first episode’s flash forward is never resolved this season. That flash forward also robs certain scenes of tension.
If you are fascinated by Japanese culture, crime shows, and culture clashes in general, then this is the show for you. However, it isn’t for everybody and I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a must-watch show, in part because the first season’s ending is somewhat anti-climactic.
Under the Banner of Heaven | Limited Series | Created by Dustin Lance Black | Release Year: 2022 | Season Length: 7 Episodes | Seen on: Disney+ | Recommended?: Yes.
One of the best shows of the year, Under the Banner of Heaven is definitely a must-watch show. It’s the closest thing to True Detective that I’ve seen this year. Based on Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book of the same name, Under the Banner of Heaven follows police detective Jeb Pyre (played by Andrew Garfield), himself a Mormon, as he investigates a double murder that is related to fundamentalist Mormonism.
It is a fascinating true crime drama series that should satisfy the true crime crowd but it is much more than that. The show is, ultimately, an examination of Mormon beliefs — and the history of the Mormon church — as the events challenge the protagonist’s personal beliefs in the process. It is a show about a police detective who starts to question his, and his family’s, decision to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. So, it doubles as a show about a crisis of faith and an edge-of-your-seat homicide investigation.
The series will jump from the investigation to the bloody history of the Mormon church. Back and forth. And that juxtaposition just works for the show, even though these flashes back can get a little tiring after a while.
Performance-wise the cast is uniformly excellent with Andrew Garfield delivering one of his best and richest performances. His character’s crisis of faith is communicated perfectly by his nuanced but also sometimes quite emotional delivery. He looks tortured at times. I also want to highlight Daisy Edgar-Jones, whose character tries to bring her family out of the danger that they suddenly find themselves in, as well as Sam Worthington and Gil Birmingham who are all also exceptional. Don’t miss this one.
– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.