Ramy (Season 2)
When Ramy premiered on Hulu back in 2019, it got a lot of press coverage for merely existing. Created by and starring Muslim stand-up comic Ramy Youssef, the show was praised for centering the story of a bumbling Egyptian American millennial and his family and friends in New Jersey, in stark contrast to TV shows that depict Arabs and — Arabs Muslims in particular — as “threats and problems.”
But the appeal of the show for me lies not in any of its historical firsts, but in its specificity, and willingness to depict characters in all their unvarnished, sometimes prejudiced glory. The first season of Ramy primarily focused on Ramy’s search of self, as an underemployed twentysomething, toggling between wanting to have sex and drink alcohol and adhering to a stricter interpretation of his faith. In the second season, Ramy, back from a vacation in Egypt, where he may or may not have slept with his cousin is trying to get his life back in order. He starts attending a Sufi mosque where he quickly becomes obsessed with the teachings of Sheikh Ali played by an excellent Mahershala Ali. The decisions Ramy makes this season are deeply cringe-inducing, possibly baffling, but the best episodes aren’t actually about him. In “Them,” Maysa, Ramy’s mother, (played by the wonderful Hiam Abbass; yes, she’s also in Succession) is close to becoming an American citizen until an anonymous Lyft rider reports Maysa for being abusive, forcing her to reckon with her penchant for saying what’s on her mind without thinking. And in the standout “Uncle Naseem,” Ramy’s uncle (played by Laith Nakli), a bellicose and hypermasculine bigot, is given some explanation for his behavior in a moving and revealing way. Funny, honest, humane — give Ramy a try this weekend. —Tomi Obaro
Where to watch: Hulu
Real Housewives of New York (Season 12)
Last season, Real Housewives titan Bethenny Frankel left the New York franchise, and many fans wondered how the show would sustain itself without her. A great season depends on the chemistry among the women and cast shuffles can alter that.
But it turns out Frankel’s absence has reinvigorated the franchise. It opened up space for an amazing new castmate, Leah McSweeney. She’s already made her mark — claiming that she invented streetwear, making the other ladies go to a weird spa where shirtless men attack-massaged them with tree branches, and getting completely wasted at two parties, including one at Ramona’s Hamptons house where she uprooted tiki torches and screamed about their “socialite shit.” (Prompting Sonja’s iconic retort: “When did this become Occupy Hamptons?”)
Frankel’s exit has also given the other castmates an opportunity to be their messy selves and indulge in their trademark maximalist pettiness. They’ve pearl-clutched about the propriety of Leah’s tattoos, meditated on the sonic discomfort of Tinsley’s screechy voice, considered the ethics of relegating Luann to a basement room, and debated the definition of a trophy wife. (Sonja won that squabble, screaming halfway through a party: “I’m not a trophy wife! I don’t shave my pussy!”)
And yet, at the same time, the show has a more serious side: We can already see that Dorinda is struggling with residual repressed grief almost a decade after her husband’s death; Luann is grappling with sobriety; Ramona wants to find a man to hold her (as she cried out in the middle of a bar). It’s rare to see portraits of women over 35 just living their lives, and this season provides the right mix of sitcom hijinks and soap opera melodrama that makes the franchise great. —Pier Dominguez
Where to watch: Bravo on Thursdays or streaming on Hulu Plus
Insecure (Season 4)
Like millions of other people across the country, I’ve come to the conclusion that summer 2020 won’t look the way I imagined — beach trips, crowded, sweaty house parties, large outdoor brunches with the company of friends. But thankfully, watching Season 4 of Insecure, a show set in the seemingly always sunny Los Angeles, has been a satisfying replacement for my thwarted plans. By the end of the show’s third season, I’d felt like I’d grown cold on the series, mainly because it seemed like the writers had no interest in the deeper development of the series’ characters. But with limited activities to participate in due to the ongoing pandemic, I decided to check it out. Series co-creator Issa Rae has more than delivered this season, providing raunchy, fun, size-inclusive sex scenes (shoutout to HBO giving love to men on the thicker side), riveting relationship drama, both among romantic partners and friends, and a generous dose of ‘90s nostalgia (Black TV icons Kyla Pratt and Terri J. Vaughn have made cute guest appearances this season). Also, the show’s soundtrack is always reliably, consistently good.
In these chaotic times, it feels nice to have a show that helps me take my mind off, uh — *gestures broadly* — our crumbling republic, and it’s been an excellent provider of heated conversations with friends over FaceTime each week, because the drama is so good you must debrief with a close pal. —Michael Blackmon
Where to watch: HBO NOW, HBO Max
Hulu’s new 10-part miniseries starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great, the 18th-century Russian empress, is way more fun than I expected it to be. Created by The Favourite screenwriter Tony McNamara, the show has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek while still dishing out incisive class and feminist social commentary. We first meet Catherine before she takes her place as Russia’s longest-reigning woman leader, when she’s just a wide-eyed teenager heavily influenced by philosophers like Rousseau and Voltaire. She quickly marries Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), whom she realizes is “Peter the not-quite-adequate” and is immediately disavowed of any notions of love in their betrothal, or even respect or kindness. This is a show about power — who has it and who wants it. And though it’s based on historical events, McNamara isn’t interested in sticking to the script of history.
I couldn’t help tapping into my “eat the rich” feelings as Catherine enters a royal court of the ignorant and powerful who aren’t interested in doing much more than partying when they aren’t pillaging. She’s hell-bent on creating a modern, progressive Russia, and she just might do it. The lush world of wealth and power brings to mind Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, but the satire here goes much farther, with irreverent humor, crackling dialogue, and social commentary that never feels heavy-handed. Though I’ve only just settled in, I can tell it’s exactly the kind of escape that I need. —Karolina Waclawiak
Where to watch: Hulu
Making the Cut
Amazon’s take on Project Runway, with the iconic duo Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum reprising their respective mentor and judging roles, is a bit of a mess. It feels bloated and has an overly complicated system in which judges can change their minds after contestants — all established designers vying for exposure and a $1 million cash prize — plead for their life. But I still recommend the show for one reason only: judge Naomi Campbell.
The supermodel has a history of not holding back, which makes her every move delicious. In response to one runway look, she scolds, “What is this? Oh, no, no, no, no.” In a judging session, she cuts off a contestant’s defense to say the design is what “a lot of people would interpret as not doing your job properly.” And when contestant Martha Gottwald simply pins a couture design instead of hand-sewing it, Campbell goes in, telling her the craft “goes back centuries, and I feel like you disrespected the whole entire world and this assignment because we can all pin and wrap.”
Blistering comments like that are expected, and certainly what the showrunners are hoping for, but it’s the way Campbell occupies the judge’s seat in other ways that are just as fun. Like when she goes against the panel to go to advocate for designers of color, or tearfully hugs a contestant goodbye, or offers practical design and business insights to the contestants, or pushes back on other judges for being out of touch. Making the Cut may have its own design problems, but in Campbell, the show found its star. —Jason Wells
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
The Good Wife
Because I’m working from home while watching a 10-month-old, my workday is kind of formless — it just kind of starts and stops until my son’s bedtime, at which point I get to “stop working”' and by that I mean “work while watching The Good Wife.” This is — no exaggeration — something I look forward to every day. The show, which ran on CBS from 2009 to 2016, is formulaic enough that I can fade in and out attentionwise, but I also genuinely care about the stories and characters. I am emotionally invested in Alicia (sometimes), Diane (usually), and Kalinda (always). And it’s surprisingly funny? Like, laugh-out-loud funny, usually at the expense of the judges, who, in The Good Wife universe, are delightful weirdos. (Is this a stereotype I didn’t know about? Are judges just kind of goofy?) And it’s the perfect mix of case-of-the-week and ongoing narrative arcs — though, I’ll be honest, the short-term storylines are much more compelling. It brings me joy in a joyless time, and every time I’m sad about nearing its end, I remember there’s something waiting for me on the other side: The Good Fight. —Arianna Rebolini ●
Where to watch: Hulu