The five TV shows we can’t get enough of this week
Much of our coverage in the past week has focused, and rightly so, on TV’s frequently problematic depictions of policing — from the heroic law enforcement officials of prolific producer Dick Wolf and the cancellation of “Cops” to what those tropes reveal about the American self-image.
We’ve also covered the response to real-life events, from Oprah’s town hall “Where Do We Go From Here?” to Dave Chappelle’s furious new “stand-up” set situating the killing of George Floyd within the United States’ long history of violence against Black people.
There’s more where that came from coming soon — and plenty else besides. In the meantime, whether you want to reconsider “The Shield,” bask in solidarity like that seen at Sunday’s All Black Lives Matter march or spend time with American cooks of all cultural backgrounds, our weekly recommendation engine has something for you. Read on.
“Watchmen,” “On My Block,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “America to Me” are among this week’s TV recommendations from the L.A. Times.
Available on: FX, Netflix
The FX series is a must-see for many reasons: In a historic first, a majority of its cast is made up of trans actors; it weaves delicate portraits of those affected by the AIDS epidemic; and it features brilliant performances by both legends like Billy Porter and Patti LuPone and breakouts like MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore. “Pose” is the perfect show to watch right now, at the intersection of Pride and Black Lives Matter, as it celebrates LGBTQ Black and brown communities.
In particular, I salute Season 2 for its re-creation of how Madonna’s 1990 hit “Vogue” briefly brought ball culture to the mainstream. That music video launched a phenomenon, and the show recounts how the dance style spread from the streets to the suburbs of the tri-state area (the death knell of any trend, of course). As the moves went out of style, the people who created them fell back to the fringes.
“Pose” challenges its viewers to reckon with their complicity in cultural appropriation — borrowing the aesthetics of a group without regard for the people behind it. You cannot cheer on ball culture’s lavish lip-sync performances without confronting the rising violence against black trans women; you cannot adopt “Yaass queen!” as a catchphrase without fighting to defend Black queer lives. I hope that any first-time binges of the second season are done actively, with thought given to how society benefits from the contributions of marginalized groups but does not band together to protect them.
Available on: Hulu
Protests over the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people by police have put a harsh spotlight on TV cop shows in recent weeks. Many advocates have claimed that most of the shows paint police in a heroic light, which in the current climate is regarded as inappropriate and and inaccurate. Some have even suggested that the cop drama may be in jeopardy, set to suffer the same fate as the reality shows “Cops” and “Live PD,” which were canceled last week.
That might mean the end of dramas such as “The Shield,” which was not only one of the top police shows ever produced but ranks as one of TV’s best dramas in the last 20 years. The series, about corrupt detective Lt. Vic Mackey, premiered in 2002 and helped put cable network FX on the map with its Emmy-winning performance by star Michael Chiklis. Mackey was a terror to his rivals on the force and any criminals who got in his way, but he was also the kind of figure you might want on your team if you got into trouble.
The show was one of the first cable series to attract major film stars — both Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker turned up for major storylines. The excellent supporting cast also included Walton Goggins (“Justified,” “The Hateful Eight”) in one of his first major roles. The pilot of the show had a climactic twist that is still chilling, and the series rarely had a weak episode during its seven-season run.
From ‘Law & Order’ to ‘Cops,’ we’re at a moment of reckoning for the depiction of police on TV. But change will require us to stop lionizing rogues and scamps.
“Prehistoric Road Trip”
Available on: PBS
In the three-part documentary series “Prehistoric Road Trip,” spunky science communicator Emily Graslie takes a break from the Anthropocene to tool around the Northern Great Plains, where dinosaurs were wont to roam, and the skies are not cloudy all day, to walk in their footsteps. (Literally, at one point.) Graslie, who bears the enviable title of chief curiosity correspondent at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History — and whom you may know from her entertaining and informative YouTube Channel, “The Brain Scoop” — is a sort of manic pixie nerd girl: enthusiastic, down-to-earth, articulate company as she surveys 2.5 billion-year-old boulders, abandoned bacteria hotels and various old fossils. And I’m not just talking about the paleontologists. (Nah, they’re all cool.) “What will future scientists think when they come across traces of our lives?” she wonders. How we survived as long as we did, I’m guessing.
“Taste the Nation”
Available on: Hulu
Food maven Padma Lakshmi, who has cut her culinary teeth as the host and judge of “Top Chef” and the author of numerous cookbooks, canvasses the country in an attempt to unpack what constitutes “American food.” Over the course of the 10-episode series, which premieres Thursday, Lakshmi visits various regions to spotlight different immigrant cuisines and explores their place in American food culture through the lens of the people who make it.
The series kicks off in the border city of El Paso to look at the burrito’s journey into the United States from nearby Ciudad Juarez — while considering the current political backdrop in the border town. Lakshmi also visited Arizona to eat food indigenous to the land, trying pack rat for the first time; went crabbing with the Gullah Geechee people in the waters of South Carolina; and ventured to Milwaukee to explore the origins of hot dogs and hamburgers, long staples of the American backyard barbecue, from German immigrants. The education will not be limited to food. Just make sure not to watch on an empty stomach.
Available on: Hulu
You don’t have to know — or, frankly, care — much about Russian history to enjoy “The Great,” an arch, bawdy comedy about the young Catherine the Great. Billing itself as “an occasionally true story,” the series stars Elle Fanning as the empress, who arrives in Russia as a wide-eyed romantic with unreasonably high expectations for her impending marriage to Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). When her would-be Prince Charming proves himself a louche dimwit and crass mama’s boy more interested in discussing his penis size than freeing the serfs, Catherine turns to Plan B: staging a coup.
Full of willfully anachronistic turns of phrase and cheeky nods to contemporary viewers, “The Great” may rankle sticklers for historical accuracy or anyone with limited tolerance for equine sex jokes, but it should delight just about everyone else. The 10-part series was written by Tony McNamara and, like “The Favourite,” which he also wrote, is a showcase for its superb and admirably game cast, including Fanning, who convincingly plays Catherine as a cunning innocent; Phoebe Fox as Marial, her tart-tongued lady’s maid; and Hoult, who has perfected his Hugh Gran-tian transformation from heartthrob to cad and is so hilariously awful you almost hope Catherine’s scheme to unseat him fails. (Almost.)
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