Pick your favorites
Thoughts on 'Sort Of,' 'Willow,' the return of 'Slow Horses,' and a best-of-2022 request
It’s Friday, which means you’ve got a new edition of What’s Alan Watching? coming up just as soon as I have holes in my socks…
A decade ago, I bought the domain rights for AlanSepinwall.com, got a friend to set it up as a way to promote The Revolution Was Televised — which at the time, was still a self-published book — and then… did nothing else with it. Kept putting out books, changed jobs a couple of times, etc., while letting my self-titled website gather multiple layers of dust.
Well, as part of my ongoing plan to secure a berth in every potential online lifeboat while we wait to see what becomes of Twitter, I finally got my act together, with a full redesign of the site, including details on multiple books, a link to my Rolling Stone RSS feed, and more. Oh, and the shiny new logo you can also see above — which I was surprised to realize is a very easy meme template.
Still lots of remodeling to do there, but at least the bones of the place have been improved, in addition to the fresh coats of paint. Take a look when you have a minute, and feel free to drop any suggested additions/improvements here in the comments.
What’s Alan writing?
Two columns this week:
I reviewed Season Two of Sort Of, a wonderful Canadian dramedy (that streams in America on HBO Max) co-created by and starring Bilal Baig as Sabi, gender-fluid child of Pakistani immigrants struggling to find a place where they feel happy and content. It’s really good — empathetic but also ridiculous in nearly equal measure — and the new episodes lean even harder into the messiness that typifies the series. One thing the review doesn’t get into is how impossible the existence of a show like this would have felt 10 years ago, or even five. It is unabashedly queer, featuring a wide spectrum of sexualities and gender identities, and it never feels the need to stop and define them for straight/cis viewers. LGBTQ+ representation on TV still has a long way to go, but other shows like Orange Is the New Black and even Billions have held the audience’s hand enough that Sort Of feels free to immerse you in Sabi’s world and not worry so much about labels or pronouns. (Sabi’s best friend 7ven, played by Amanda Cordner, is described in the press notes as “beyond gender, beyond labels and pronouns,” and is pretty much only referred to by name.) It’s also part of an interesting stretch for Pakistani and/or Muslim stories on TV, where this year we’ve also had Ms. Marvel, Ramy, and Mo, all of which feel different, and none of them burdened with having to speak for the entire experience of an enormous group of people. They can each just feel free to tell the stories they find most interesting about their own characters. Which is cool, and fun to watch.
I also reviewed the Disney+ Willow sequel series, which has its moments but can’t seem to settle on a tone and/or a target audience. I also barely remember the movie, and chose not to watch it because I wanted to see if the show could work without it. Results are very mixed on that through seven episodes.
Also, this is not writing, but I once again guested on this week’s episode of TV’s Top 5 podcast with my friends from The Hollywood Reporter, Dan Fienberg and Lesley Goldberg. We mostly talked about Andor, but as always, lots of digressions.
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Stinker, failure, older spy
Yes, this is the headline we used for my review of Slow Horses Season One back in the spring, but I’m copying it to discuss Season Two (which premiered today on Apple TV+) for two reasons: 1)I almost never write my own headlines anymore, in part because I’m not very good at it, and I am excessively proud of coming up with this dumb one. 2)The episodes I’ve seen so far are so in line with the first batch — all of it adapted from a series of Mick Herron novels about a group of disgraced British spies (led by Gary Oldman’s amusingly grubby and rude Jackson Lamb) who keep proving surprisingly useful — that reviewing it again felt besides the point. I quite enjoy the show, with one unavoidable exception: each season is such a faithful adaptation of one of Herron’s books that if you’ve read them, it’s less fun in the early stages while you’re waiting for the story to really kick in. It’s not as big an issue as it is with, say, the first two Harry Potter films, which are so literally translated from the books that there’s barely any life in them. But it’s enough to make me even more eager to see the already-ordered third and fourth seasons, since I never got around to reading past book two.
Best of the best?
Finally, this week brought the deadline to finalize my list of the 20 best shows of the year. That will publish next week, and we can talk more about it in the next newsletter. But as always in this process, I am gripped with a crippling fear that I’ve forgotten about, or simply missed, something great. So out of curiosity, earlier this week I asked this question across all my socials:
At this writing on Thursday afternoon, the tweet alone had cruised past 11,000 replies and 7,000 quote-tweets. I very quickly muted the thread just so I’d be able to get anything else done, but have periodically gone in to check my mentions there and elsewhere, not just for any prompts regarding the back half of my list, but to see if there’s any kind of consensus on the year’s best TV. Without spoiling my actual list, I’ll say that there’s definitely some overlap between shows that came up repeatedly and things I may have ranked highly. But there’s also not been one overwhelming favorite, unless you count all the Warrior Nun fans who got pointed to the tweet somehow.
At the time you read this, my list has been locked in. But if you nonetheless want to answer the same question in the comments — and, remember, you can only name one show — by all means. Looking forward to discussing the actual list with you next week.