Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Some more recently watched TV shows

Man, can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I wrote that last post about catching up on recent(ish) TV shows. Since last fall, I worked my way through some more shows and I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few of the stand-outs (with one exception).

Avenue 5

First, though, I wanted to give this one – which I’d already written about in that preceding post – another look, because back then I said that I’d found the first season a bit disappointing (despite the many things this show has going for it). Well, the second season is far better – or, at least, it gelled for me in a way the first one didn’t, so that now I have a greater appreciation for the series overall. I still think it could be better, but it’s worth watching.

White Lotus

I kept seeing this show get talked up online, mainly with positive assessments, so I decided to give it a watch and see what all the fuss is about. And – I’m still wondering what all of the fuss is about. Even before I did a little digging and found a few less than glowing reviews about the show, I swear one of the first thoughts that popped through my head when I got finished watching the first season was: ‘This is kind of like dark and gritty Love Boat.’ I was gratified to see that at least a few reviewers shared my assessment (i.e., they either compared it to Love Boat or Fantasy Island.) I also got a laugh when I saw the two call girls in the second season referred to as ‘Laverne & Shirley’ by one reviewer.

Anyway, I just don’t see the point of it; it’s all very cynical, full of mostly unlikable characters (with a few exceptions) being miserable and, well, unlikable.

Station Eleven

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Station Eleven is a dystopian SF series that is just completely engrossing, with an eponymous and rather mysterious graphic novel at its heart that drives much of the plot. The story begins in early 2020, when a new strain of virulent, highly infectious swine flu spreads across the globe like wildfire and pretty much wipes out humanity (those initial scenes in the first episode in particular are very unsettling to watch in the post-COVID 19 world). The main character is a girl/woman named Kirsten, who at the start is a child actress appearing in a production of King Lear in Chicago on the night the pandemic hits the US. The play gets cancelled because the main actor, a famous movie star, dies of a heart attack on stage. In this chaotic situation, she eventually gets taken in my a man named Jeevan, who was attending the play, and they end up stocking up on a few months of food and going to stay with his reclusive brother in his high-rise apartment as the world falls apart around them. Over the course of the series, the story shifts back and forth from different periods, i.e., pre-pandemic and  immediate post-pandemic periods and twenty years in the future, when Miranda is a young woman who is a member of an itinerant theater troupe that travels around Lake Michigan staging Shakespeare plays for the remnants of humanity. It has ten episodes, tells a complete story and is really quite good across the board: very well-written (it’s based on a novel by Emily St. John Mandel, which I’m really interested in reading now), beautifully filmed and edited, with an outstanding cast, esp. Mackenzie Davis and Matilda Lawler as the adult and young Kirsten, respectively and Himish Patel as Jeevan.

Mrs. Davis

Of all of these shows that I’ve managed to watch over the past year, I think this one is my favorite. It’s kind of hard to pin down the genre, as it sort of straddles the line between SF and urban fantasy – with a healthy dose of sitcom mixed in (in a good way, though). Also hard to summarize without writing a whole page of text, but I’ll try: set in the present, the entire world seems to be at peace and harmony because everyone is taking advice from an AI phone app called ‘Mrs. Davis’. One of the few hold-outs, who refuses to have anything to do with Mrs. Davis, is the main character, Sister Simone. However, in the first episode, after her convent gets sold and shut down, Simone strikes a deal with Mrs. Davis (who has to speak to her through human proxies) to go find the Holy Grail, and in exchange Mrs. Davis promises to delete herself. What follows is a wild series of (mis)adventures, with conflicting secret societies (including one attached to the Catholic Church) alternately helping or trying to stop Simone. The series was created by Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, and it’s very intelligently written, fun and funny, but with a lot of heart and emotional depth. And the cast is great, mainly Betty Gilpin as Sister Simone, Jake McDorman as her ex-boyfriend Wiley, Elizabeth Marvel as Simone’s estranged mother and Andy McQueen (who has a small role in Station Eleven, by the way) as Simone’s husband – remember, nuns are all brides of Christ…

(Another great thing about this one is that – like Station Eleven – it tells a complete, satisfying story in its eight episodes.)


If you happened to watch this movie from about a decade ago called Julie and Julia, and, like me, pretty much only liked the parts of it featuring the flashbacks of  Julia and Paul Child (wonderfully portrayed by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci) in Paris in the 1950s, then this show is for you. This first 8 episode season covers the period in the early 1960s when Child first started appearing on television and eventually got her own show. It’s a really, really well-made and entertaining series with a fantastic cast: Sarah Lancashire does a bang-up job portraying Child, and David Hyde Pierce as Paul Child and Bebe Neuwirth as her best friend Avis DeVoto are similarly brilliant. One thing you should be aware of is that this isn’t an entirely faithful biographical series: I think some details have been fictionalized, and there is one character in particular – a TV producer named Alice Naman – who is fictional.

I’ll just close by making brief recommendations for two shows I liked way more than I thought I would – and take us back to the world of comics. To wit:

a) Peacemaker

Brutal, often over-the-top violent, but incredibly funny and entertaining. John Cena is brilliant in the title role.

b) Harley Quinn

Generally I’m not a fan of the trashy, baseball bat wielding Harley, and yes, like Peacemaker, it’s often over-the-top violent (and full of f-bombs -like that trailer above) but this really won me over with genuinely funny stories and great characters portrayed by an amazing cast of voice actors, e.g., Kaley Cuoco as Harley, Lake Bell as Poison Ivy, and Alan Tudyk in multiple roles, but especially Clayface, who’s probably my favorite character.

And that’s it. This post would have been a lot longer, because I thought I’d include a few more shows that I didn’t like as much, but – with the exception of White Lotus – I decided to keep this one more positive and give everyone recommendations for things I genuinely liked, or least thought were pretty good. Also, fellow Junk Shopper Greg Burgas saved me the trouble of writing about one of those that I didn’t like as much, The Last of Us, as he covered it quite thoroughly a few months ago (and I left my own thoughts about it in a comment there).


  1. Greg Burgas

    We’re a few episodes into the second season of The White Lotus and, I mean, it’s location porn. That’s all. Although there’s something to be said for really good actors doing their thing, even if in this case “their thing” means playing horrible, horrible people.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      I suppose you may have a point about actors doing their thing, but in most cases I just found it a waste of talent (esp., say, F. Murray Abraham or Aubrey Plaza) for such a – at best – middling overall product.

  2. IIRC, Station Eleven is 10 episodes. But yes, it’s brilliant. And available on disc, for those physical media acolytes like myself.

    I think I got two eps into Mrs. Davis. I should get back to it.

    Currently four episodes into Severance, which I heard a lot of raves about. Still waiting for it to hook me.

    Recently finished The Afterparty (can you tell I’m blazing through a free Apple+ trial?) and loved it. Whodunnit + Rashomon + a different genre every episode + a lot of attention to detail + comic actors I like + only eight episodes.

  3. Peter

    I ended up really liking Mrs. Davis. Pretty unpredictable and wacky, but kind of exactly what I hope for from Lindelof at this point. Betty Gilpin was great. Pretty nuanced take on religion and AI.

    I also liked Harley Quinn so much more than I expected. It truly hit my funny bone in a way the comics never did.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Julia was quite good and I was especially surprised by Judith Light, as publisher Blanche Knopf. I always liked her as an actress, going back to her soap opera days, but she really brought her A-game. Lancashire, Pierce and Neuwirth make a great combo and I also enjoy the team from the station. In many ways, I kind of felt Lancashire inhabited Julia Child more than Streep did (and she did a phenomenal job with the role). I especially enjoy the episode at the banquet, where she meets Betty Friedan and has the night saved by Fred Rogers.

    I’m looking forward to a second series, provided Warner doesn’t either dump it or destroy it, with the mess they are in.

    I’d add one not mentioned, which is well worth checking out, if you enjoy history or swashbuckling characters: SAS-Rogue Heroes. Based on the exploits of David Stirling and Paddy Mayne, in North Africa, and the birth of the SAS. The series is based on the book by Ben McIntyre and developed for tv by the creator of Peaky Blinders. It is largely faithful to the real story of how Stirling formed the SAS and then carried out daring raids on Axis airfields and supply depots, attacking out of the desert, on jeeps, trucks and land rovers, then disappearing back into the desert, hiding from air patrols until they get back to their lines. The series mixes in actual people, like Dudley Clarke, who headed the British deception efforts in North Africa, where he created a fake airborne regiment, on paper, which then becomes the cover for Stirling’s unit. Then, there is a female French agent, who helps with intel and has a romance with Stirling (this part is the most fictional). The series mixes in classic heavy rock music with scenes of mayhem and destruction, but it never strays too far from how extraordinary these soldiers were, even if they are played by pretty boy actors. It’s like a reincarnation of The Rat Patrol (which was inspired by the SAS and the Long Range desert Group), but with greater historical accuracy and better actors..

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, the confrontation between Child and Friedan in Julia is an interesting bit – I’m glad the show’s creators decided to include the criticism of Child by the early 2nd Wave feminists like Friedan. However, that’s one of the places where creative liberties were taken, as I’m pretty sure Child and Friedan never actually met in real life.

  6. Sarah Lancashire is probably not familiar to many Stateside, but is well known in the UK for various television roles including popular soap Coronation Street – IIRC our longest running TV show which began in 1960!
    Other recommended shows she appears in that US viewers may recognise, and no doubt are on streaming services, are Broadchurch (with David Tennant, Olivia Colman) and Happy Valley.

  7. I enjoyed Avenue 5 a lot. You couldn’t think about the science of it too much because it would all just fall apart, but the jokes never let up. I particularly liked when they were all waiting to hear the name of the first baby born in space, and when it’s ‘Caden’ they collectively berate the choice.

    I’ve read Station Eleven but not seen the show. From what I’ve heard it’s pretty faithful so I don’t know if you’d gain much by reading the book … except the enjoyment of reading a book! It’s very good. I blitzed through it. (I’m a slow reader).

    Mrs Davis was a blast. Completely wacky. I was recommending it to everyone but I doubt anyone took me up on it. When asked what it was about I found it easy enough to summarize: “It’s about a nun who makes a deal with an AI algorithm to destroy the Holy Grail.” If they have to ask me any more questions after that, yeah… they’re not gonna watch it.

    Another good Peacock Original was The Resort. Mysteries. Flashbacks. Personal tragedy. One truly stand out character you could a hang a show on (and if there’s a second season, I think that’s their plan). And time travel. Time travel, people!!

    I also recommend The Big Door Prize on Apple. It’s funny, and it’s low-key sci-fi that makes you think. It’s kinda like a full season Twilight Zone episode (it ends on a cliffhanger so I hope there’s more),

    Also, anyone watching I’m A Virgo on Amazon? Very different take on superheroes. Only watched two episodes so far but it’s funny and heartwarming with social/racial issues and a larger conspiracy going on. It’s about a 13 foot tall 19 year old who’s tired of hiding so he goes out into the world and becomes an instant celebrity. There’s a superhero he’s obsessed with and the girl he likes seems to have some kind of super speed. Anyway. It’s not your typical superhero thing.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      I just got through reading the book; yes, it’s quite good. And I have to say, the story in the TV show diverges significantly from the book in several key aspects. You should really watch the show if you get a chance – at this point I’m not sure which I like better.

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