Choose your fighter
What's the best thing you watched in 2023? Plus, 'Fellow Travelers,' an Apple price increase, and a temporary programming surge
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I tell you what the money is for…
Thanks for reading What's Alan Watching?! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
That’s all there is?
You may recall in a newsletter back in mid-July, I mentioned that my editors have started publishing most of my reviews either on the day a show premieres, or very close to that. There are many complicated and mostly boring reasons for this, but the easiest part to explain is that, outside of really big shows like The Last of Us or Stranger Things, people are much more likely to read reviews of shows that are either available already or a day at most in advance.
I bring this up because it means that I only have one new Rolling Stone review since last week’s newsletter, though it’s not the only review I wrote this week. The one you can read right now is my take on Showtime’s new miniseries Fellow Travelers, starring Matt Bomer as a closeted gay man in the McCarthy era, and following him and his on-again, off-again lover (played by Jonathan Bailey) over the next few decades. It has many imperfections. But Bomer is very good at playing a Don Draper-esque character, which inspired me to imagine a world where he was a few years older and could have played the actual Draper when Mad Men debuted in 2007.
The other review I wrote, of Season Two of The Gilded Age, will be running on Sunday, hours before the premiere. I only mention it now because I was halfway into outlining both reviews before I realized that the first was going to cite Mad Men a bunch, while the second was going to draw parallels between The Gilded Age and… Breaking Bad? I swear it makes sense, at least in my head. But we can talk more about that in next week’s newsletter. In the meantime, I have to figure out whether I can somehow contort the next 10 reviews I write to each draw comparisons to the other shows featured in The Revolution Was Televised.
Peak TV is back! (Briefly!)
The AMPTP finally came back to the negotiating table with SAG-AFTRA this week. By the time you read this, the actors’ strike may have ended. But whether it has or not, we’re still months away from television returning to pre-strike content levels.
November, though, is going to be a surprisingly busy TV month — and not just because Welcome to The O.C. is publishing on November 28. (Have I reminded you that if you preorder the book, you get a free bonus chapter immediately? I feel like I should have mentioned that by now.)
While the quantity won’t be anywhere close to how a normal November would look, especially on the broadcast networks, there’s a whole lot of high-profile TV coming in terms of stars, creators, and/or source material. Hulu, Netflix, and Apple all have big literary adaptations (respectively, Black Cake, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Buccaneers.) Paramount has a new Taylor Sheridan show (Lawman: Bass Reeves, starring David Oyelowo). FX-on-Hulu has a new show from the creators of The OA (A Murder at the End of the World). Netflix has the Scott Pilgrim Takes Off anime, while Apple has the Godzilla universe show Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. There are also new seasons of Netflix’s The Crown, FX’s Fargo (with Juno Temple and Jon Hamm), Apple’s For All Mankind, Max’s Julia, and Amazon’s Invincible. And Showtime has The Curse, a miniseries co-created by Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, and starring the two of them and Emma Stone, in what could be a singularity of discomfort.
(I’ll be recapping one of these shows weekly for Rolling Stone, and more briefly recapping one and possibly two of them over here on the newsletter. It’s a busy time!)
A Murder at the End of the World was originally scheduled for late August. And I’d heard rumblings that some of these other shows might have debuted earlier in the fall if not for the SAG strike, which is preventing actors from promoting their work. It’s too late to move any of them now, even if that means Hamm can’t do the talk show circuit to discuss Fargo. But then, Apple was willing to bring back The Morning Show earlier this fall, even though Hamm, Jennifer Aniston, and the others were also unavailable to plug that.
There are still a few notable premieres coming in early 2024, like the Jodie Foster season of True Detective, or FX’s new Shogun adaptation. But you may want to parcel out these November shows like you’re Jimmy McGill making a money transfer in the middle of the desert and you only have a small canteen of water to drink from.
Earlier this week, Apple announced a price increase for Apple TV+, from $6.99 per month to $9.99. This still leaves it as among the cheapest of all streaming services, especially for one that is, at the moment, ad-free. But it’s a fascinating test of exactly what people are looking for when they subscribe to a streamer: original content, library content, or both? Apple TV+ has a lot of original shows and films, including Emmy juggernaut Ted Lasso and Oscar-winning Best Picture Coda. But it includes no pre-existing shows or movies that you can revisit in the way that you can binge Seinfeld on Netflix, or watch every MCU film in order on Disney+. Apple does have some exclusive live sports content, too. But on the whole, you can’t spend nearly as much time watching everything the service has to offer as you can with nearly all of its competitors.
Every streamer has been raising its prices lately. (Or, in many cases, charging more to continue watching shows without commercials, while keeping the old price for anyone who is okay sitting through ad breaks.) But the $3 per month jump here seems significant, since the old argument for Apple TV+ was, “There’s not a lot there, but it’s pretty cheap for what you do get.” Maybe The Morning Show, other originals, and sports are enough, and Apple can succeed as a funhouse mirror of Disney+, which has notable originals but seems buoyed much more by parents who want their kids to have easy access to every Disney and Pixar film ever made. But this is the first of the recent price increases that caused me to lift an eyebrow.
Wisdom of the crowd?
Finally, in the past around this time of the fall, I’ve used different social media platforms to ask people the following question: What is the best show you’ve watched this year? I am always adamant that people only name one thing. I do it in part to help crowdsource my annual best of the year list, since I will occasionally forget about something I loved, and also because occasionally a show will come up that I didn’t watch and might want to take a look at. But it’s also a fun thought experiment, because people find it really hard to only name one thing, and I’m always fascinated to see what shows wind up getting a lot of votes under that rule.
This year, I’m going to expand the idea a bit — not by allowing people to pick more shows, but by adding categories. I may be doing several different lists this year, and these may not be the exact ones, but let’s start here:
1)What is the single best TV show of 2023?
2)What is the best new TV show of 2023?
3)What is the best episode of a TV show from 2023?
4)What is the best scene in a TV show from 2023? (You could also answer with the best TV line of dialogue from 2023 if you prefer.)
5)What is the best performance in a TV show from 2023?
Remember: all of these have to have been released this year, as opposed to you watching I, Claudius for the first time and wanting to pick Derek Jacobi. If it helps you remember stuff that aired a while back, here’s my June list of Poker Face, The Last of Us, and other examples of the best TV of 2023 to that point. (Written shortly before I saw any of The Bear Season Two, as you may recall.)
You don’t have to answer all 5, but again, you can only pick one per category.
That’s it for me! What did everybody else think?