Given that this Netflix breakout limited series is such an in-your-face commentary on the dangers of unchecked powers and influence, it’s hard to even call it horror. Yes, there is blood, death, suspense, and a really cool-looking monster. But packed into this seven-episode series by creator Mike Flanagan is an unending flogging of the viewer — don’t forget, religious zealotry can be weaponized for sinister agendas!
We get it.
But beyond the force-fed social commentary, Flanagan — fresh off the successes of The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) — delivers a beautifully shot, moody world centered on a struggling fishing town on Crockett Island, about an hour from the mainland. It’s an unsettling and, with a population of under 200, isolating setting.
After a mysterious priest named Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) suddenly arrives to lead the town’s struggling Catholic church, strange “miracles” start happening, breathing new life into the town. But it doesn’t take long to realize these are no acts of God. The island soon bears witness to a sinister plan for control — fervently carried out by the local Catholic Karen (Samantha Sloyan) — which unravels into near-complete destruction of the town and the people after a cannibalistic murder spree.
But not all is lost. Along the way, we get deeply empathetic performances from Zach Gilford, of Friday Night Lights fame, and Kate Siegel, whose characters embark on journeys of redemption literally as their world burns.
Despite some annoying plot holes and unanswered questions — one of which might lead to a second season — don’t turn on Midnight Mass for a show about a monster. Turns out, Crockett Island already had about 120 of them. —Jason Wells
Where to watch: Netflix
Only Murders in the Building
I love Martin Short and I love Steve Martin and tolerate Selena Gomez, which means that this Hulu series about a trio of Manhattan neighbors trying to solve a murder in their building and launch a podcast about it at the same time is endearingly cute and funny. Created by Steve Martin, Dan Fogelman, and John Hoffman, the show centers on a former TV actor named Charles (Martin) and his neighbors: the extravagant but penniless theater director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and the mysterious Mabel (Gomez). They live in the Arconia, a tony building with famous residents like Sting. When a young Japanese American man named Tim Kono is found dead, the trio, who meet at a nearby diner when the building’s fire alarm goes off and discover that they’re all fans of the same true crime podcast, All Is Not Okay in Oklahoma, decide to take matters into their own hands. The writing is sharp (with just the right amount of millennial vs. Boomer jokes) and there are a lot of fun cameos. But the real charm lies in watching two comedy masters (and Gomez) appear to have the time of their lives. —Tomi Obaro
Where to watch: Hulu
The Problem With Jon Stewart
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Jon Stewart. The man who expanded the role of comedic news analysis wrapped up his iconic run as host of The Daily Show in late 2015, a year before Trump was elected. In the intervening years, a lot has changed. For one, Last Week Tonight, hosted by former Stewart protege John Oliver, picked up the baton and ran with it, aiming for the same mantle of scathing analysis and clear-eyed moral assessment of the issues of the week. Then other spinoffs arrived, all from the Daily Show School of Political Comedy: Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show in 2015, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal in 2016, and 2018’s Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj.
Any return for Stewart would have to contend with the fact that he is returning to a TV landscape where his students have surpassed him. He can’t exactly get away with doing the same thing again. And so, he does not. This month, Stewart returned with a new show, The Problem With Jon Stewart. It’s a biweekly show where each episode focuses on a single issue, and it offers meaningful tweaks to the expected Stewart format.
The Problem begins as you’d imagine a Stewart show to begin: with a monologue peppered with jokes. But about a third of the way through the pilot, it pivots: Instead of Stewart proclaiming from the mountain top, he invites people who’ve been affected firsthand by the issue he is raising. Their accounts are moving, and at times Stewart himself looks tearful. But he does not stop there — Stewart takes the show a step further, entering an arena he had long avoided: the accountability interview. For years, Stewart would remind audiences that he is not a journalist, but rather a comedian asking questions. In The Problem, he reluctantly steps into a journalist’s shoes, publicly reckoning with a role he’d been given but was reluctant to embrace. It works to great effect and offers insight into what the next phase of Stewart’s career might look like. —Elamin Abdelmahmoud
Where to watch: Apple TV+
I really didn’t know what to expect when I pressed play on Maid last weekend, the new Netflix drama series starring Margaret Qualley. In it, Qualley plays Alex, a single mother who, after leaving her emotionally abusive boyfriend, experiences the pitfalls of trying to survive on her own. Based on the New York Times bestselling memoir by author Stephanie Land, Maid is an unflinching portrayal of poverty — from the ridiculous red tape one must navigate to secure assistance from government programs to the condescension from people with more money. The 10-episode series is riveting and honest. It also tackles family trauma, including mental illness and domestic violence. Though there are heavy themes, the show does have moments of levity to balance out the gloom. Qualley gives a terrific performance alongside Andie MacDowell, who is the star’s real-life mother. Unsurprisingly, the two performers have a natural chemistry that comes across onscreen. And Anika Noni Rose, who plays a wealthy attorney, gives a beautifully devastating performance as Regina. Rose seamlessly oscillates between being steely and cold to vulnerable and hilariously funny, too. Her monologue in Episode 4 is one of the best television performances of the year, hands down. So if you’re looking for a great show that satisfies on virtually every level, check out Maid. You won’t be disappointed. —Michael Blackmon
Where to watch: Netflix
The Other Two (Season 2)
When a friend told me she was watching a show on Comedy Central about the two older siblings of a tween pop star, it sounded appealingly random. And The Other Two, now in its second season on HBO Max, is one of the funniest pop culture commentary shows since Julie Klausner’s Difficult People.
Like that dark comedy, which zeroed in on the absurdity of Klausner and Billy Eichner’s hijinks as aspiring actors on the make, Two exploits the indignities of Dubek siblings Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorke) as they struggle in the lower rungs of entertainment while their young brother finds viral fame as the Bieber-like star Chase Dreams.
It’s Cary, though, who really anchors the show’s themes. The writing is refreshingly specific in its parodies both of queer culture and the sentimentality of the straight gaze. From the commodification of gay melodrama (Chase does a song about the gay brother) to intergenerational gay dating to the Instagay economy, everything goes. The new season continues to feature some increasingly zany twists, from mom Pat (played by Molly Shannon) becoming a top-rated Rachel Ray–like talk show host, to a Hillsong subplot, to the weirdness of Bachelor Nation. But the show is also not afraid of some earnestness with family drama. For those looking for witty writing with old-school sitcom-y appeal, The Other Two will fill a niche you might not even know you had been missing. —Alessa Dominguez
Where to watch: HBO Max ●