|Darla Contois in Little Bird Steve Ackerman—PBS|
|After a few scant months, TV has, to a great extent, rebounded in October 2023. Horror stalwart Mike Flanagan returned with a devilishly fun Poe update that might be his final Netflix series before moving to Amazon. Showtime’s Fellow Travelers gave us the rare prestige period drama that earns its self-seriousness. And as the SAG-AFTRA strike continues, outstanding international imports—a heart-wrenching Canadian drama, a gritty Korean thriller, a wildly offbeat family sitcom from the UK—continued to fill holes in a release schedule pocked with production delays. Here are the best new shows I had the pleasure of watching this month.|
In a dimly lit hotel room in the middle of nowhere, a teenager (Jeon Jong-Seo) meets the grown man (Jin Sun-kyu) to whom she’s promised to sell her virginity. But before the $1000 transaction can be completed, he wants to make sure he’s going to get exactly what he’s paying for. As creepy as his interrogation quickly becomes, he’s right to be suspicious. Nothing about this girl or this place is what it seems.
There are plenty of reviews out there that will give you a more thorough summary of this grimy, violent Korean thriller from creator Jeon Woo-sung. Personally—with the caveat that squeamish viewers should steer clear—I think you should go into Bargain knowing as little as possible about the plot, which shifts tectonically within the premiere. Suffice to say that if you appreciate the lurid thrills, dark humor, and caustic social commentary that define many of the Korean entertainment industry’s most celebrated exports, from the films of Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook to Squid Game, you’re sure to be riveted by this six-part series that laments the sad state of a society that (much like our own) reduces human bodies to their market value.
Everyone Else Burns (The CW)
From its many abrasive characters to its working-class Manchester setting, Everyone Else Burns couldn’t be more different from its wealthier, saccharine family-sitcom counterparts on American TV. At the show’s center is the Lewis family, an unhappy foursome who belong to a radical Christian sect that believes the End Times are upon us. When we meet patriarch David, a self-important prig with an absurd bowl haircut played by The Inbetweeners alum Simon Bird, he’s rousing his long-suffering wife, Fiona (Kate O’Flynn from Landscapers), and kids at four in the morning with the news that Armageddon is upon them. “Finally!” exclaims his preteen son Aaron (Harry Connor), a fire-and-brimstone true believer. When he realizes it’s only a drill, he draws a picture of David burning for eternity in a Dante-esque tar pit. Meanwhile, poor, sheltered 17-year-old Rachel (Amy James-Kelly) just wants to parlay her straight A’s into a college education. [Read the full review.]
The Fall of the House of Usher (Netflix)
Mike Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher opens in much the same way as the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name: A man arrives at a decrepit home, summoned by an old acquaintance who is deathly ill. But from there, the series expands in directions both typical and wildly unexpected. Like Flanagan’s other adaptations, it riffs on plots and motifs from the author’s most famous works—“The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
Yet House of Usher also dares to bring Poe into the most contemporary of contexts, reimagining the unfortunate Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) as the patriarch of an opioid empire in the mold of the Sacklers’ Purdue Pharma. A series of what appear to be tragic coincidences has just befallen the family: Roderick’s six adult children (by five different mothers) have all died, gorily, one after the other. Now afflicted with nightmarish delusions, he has promised a confession to the attorney, Carl Lumbly’s C. Auguste Dupin, who has spent decades laboring to catch the Ushers, whose drugs have killed hundreds of thousands, engaged in illegal activities. [Read the full ranking of Flanagan’s five Netflix horror series.]
Fellow Travelers (Showtime)
It’s just months before President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the 1953 executive order that authorized a witch hunt for queer government employees that the sometime lovers at the center of Showtime’s lively, insightful, and often devastating historical drama Fellow Travelers, adapted from Thomas Mallon’s acclaimed 2007 novel, first meet. Hawkins Fuller (Matt Bomer) is a shrewd D.C. operative with a surrogate father in the high-minded senator Wesley Smith (Linus Roache) and a potential match in Smith’s daughter, Lucy (Allison Williams). It doesn’t bother Hawk that he has to hide his anonymous encounters with other men. For him, life is a performance in which the ends justify the means. “I’m a registered Republican, but I don’t vote because I don’t see the point,” Hawk explains, adding that he feels the same way about religion.
He doesn’t believe in much of anything until Tim Laughlin, a young, fresh-off-the-bus transplant played by Bridgerton breakout Jonathan Bailey, comes into his life. (Even then, the word love isn’t in Hawk’s vocabulary.) Bursting with Irish Catholic earnestness, Tim dreams of helping his idol Joe McCarthy (Chris Bauer) save the world from the scourge of Soviet communism. At the same time, he’s desperate to overcome his queerness, in which he once guiltily dabbled, having been raised to believe that gay sex is a mortal sin. As a tryst evolves into something more, against both men’s better judgment, Hawk gets Tim—whom he nicknames Skippy, for his floppy-haired ingenuousness—a job in McCarthy’s office. There, he has a front-row seat to the audaciously hypocritical machinations of the senator and his deputy, Roy Cohn (a wonderfully weaselly Will Brill), as their assault on “un-American activities” invades the bedroom. [Read the full review.]
Little Bird (PBS)
The Canadian drama Little Bird introduces two parallel stories. On Saskatchewan’s Long Pine Reserve in 1968, police and social workers wrench Indigenous girl named Bezhig Little Bird (Keris Hope Hill) and two of her siblings from their poor but loving parents and place them in an orphanage. Seventeen years later, in Montreal, a young Jewish law student named Esther Rosenblum (Darla Contois) is celebrating her engagement to a nice boy from her family’s congregation. What could these two protagonists possibly have in common? They’re actually the same person. And an ugly incident at Esther’s engagement party inspires her to chase what little information she has about her adoption in hopes of reconnecting with her birth family.
Created by Jennifer Podemski, whom Reservation Dogs fans will recognize as Wille Jack’s mom, and Hannah Moscovitch (Interview With the Vampire), Little Bird recounts a painful moment in Canadian history known as the Sixties Scoop, when social workers swept through Indigenous communities and removed some 20,000 children from their parents. Unflinching in its indictment of a system that treated these families as less than human, the series makes a poignant companion to Rez Dogs and Dark Winds, which have revisited the brutal re-education of Native American youth at boarding schools. It also forges generous connections. A more simplistic story would frame Bezhig’s adoptive parents as villains. Instead, Podemski and Moscovitch subtly link her abduction with the experiences of her adoptive mother (Lisa Edelstein), a Holocaust survivor. Among other things, Little Bird is a reminder amid the carnage in Israel and Palestine of the solidarity that should—but so rarely does—exist between oppressed peoples.
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