If fear of an impending theocracy has haunted your dreamscape in 2021, the fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu was there to give you reassurance, not comfort. The show has long since moved past the storylines of Margaret Atwood’s great dystopian novel, and this year it has regained some narrative weight and logic that is happening here. If you deviated from the show during seasons two and three, now is the time to make up for it and prepare for a time when we all, like the servants, may say “under his eyes”.
Escape is possible!
Comedy is where we usually turn to escapism, a la “Ted Lasso” – which was ultimately okay in its second season in 2021, although it is far from its peak. But several shows this season brought not only laughter but wisdom and understanding to marginalized communities.
“We Are Lady Parts” on Peacock presented the Muslim culture in London with the surprising vehicle of an all-female Muslim punk band. Perhaps the most realistic Chicago series ever made, South Side gave HBO Max viewers the life of two hire-purchase employees negotiating economic challenges in their mostly Black Englewood neighborhood. And Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu) shows four indigenous teenagers desperately trying to escape their surroundings on the Oklahoma Reservation with realism from both the dictionary and the magical version of Gabriel García Márquez.
Wandavision on Disney + took viewers on a joyful journey through bygone TV genres as it reminded us that things have gotten much more complicated since Ozzie and Harriet (and that Marvel Universe entertainment can aim higher than the high School). “Hacks” on HBO, which featured the glorious Jean Smart as a one-time standup superstar turned Vegas star, said, Uh, no, what seemed easy at the time was sometimes just the privilege of white men, which was widespread was.
Oh right – there’s still a pandemic going on
But in terms of tackling the pachyderms in the room – the pandemic that promised to go away but still mutating – two series hit the bull’s eye.
“Staged” on Hulu brought us a second season of British thespians Michael Sheen and David Tennant as versions of themselves who barely held their sanity together through a learned, controversial, oh-so-acting, and ultimately loving Zoom friendship.
Season 2 of 2021 initially looked like a stumbling block when the show-in-a-show they did in the first year of the pandemic was picked up for American television. But before long, exploring the leading cast’s fears of being cast aside for more famous actors became our fears, and the show once again became a perfect pandemic evening tonic. Expanding zoom encourages us to do something else, to ask ourselves if we still matter in the three-dimensional world, to whine if this will ever end – this is what the past two years have often felt like. “Staged” reflected this anomie and fear to us – but focused and fizzy and full of belly laughs at the absurd predicament of our species.
The Morning Show on Apple TV + is by no means a great TV series. His intense focus on the activity of a morning television show on the network makes it seem like a relic from a time when Katie Couric was a colossus astride the media, just as Jennifer Aniston’s character is supposed to be here. In an era of sophisticated adult television drama, it’s a little too close to soap opera too.
But his cast, which includes Steve Carell as the former co-host of Aniston, who fell out of favor due to #MeToo allegations, is outstanding. And the show achieves something human in Aniston’s efforts to understand and perhaps forgive her ex-husband and close friend from the TV show.