I May Destroy You
Adele and I agree: This half-hour series from the prodigiously talented Michaela Coel is one of the best shows on TV right now, a devastating, but also funny and unpredictable examination of sexual trauma and the nuances of consent.
Coel, who also wrote and executive produced the show, plays Arabella, a carefree millennial Londoner who is on deadline to write her second book. Suffering from writer’s block, she impulsively decides to go out with friends where she does some coke and drinks too much or so she thinks. When she returns to work the next morning, she’s disoriented with a cut on her forehead and a ghastly image she can’t seem to escape of a man thrusting into something. The mystery unfolds from there.
The show is so effective in part because of how natural and realistic it feels; the chemistry Arabella has with her two best friends — Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a queer fitness instructor, and Terry (Werruche Opia), a struggling actress — is palpable. And as much as the show explores the hazy aftermath of sexual assault, it also depicts other gray areas of modern dating, from the act of stealthing, when a guy removes the condom without letting his partner know, to a threesome that a woman thought was impulsive, but turned out to be planned.
I’ve been a big fan of Coel’s ever since her 2015 show Chewing Gum (do yourself a favor and watch both seasons on Netflix right now). That series, a zany, gross-out comedy about a 24-year-old woman who lives in a council estate with her mom and sister and is desperate to lose her virginity, established Coel as a fearless performer, with a knack for exaggerated comedy that really works. I May Destroy You, also loosely based on Coel’s own experience, is a radical tonal departure from Chewing Gum. But it’s poised to be her breakthrough, and here’s hoping she gets all the awards. —Tomi Obaro
Where to watch: HBO Max
The Twilight Zone
The first season of the Jordan Peele–led Twilight Zone was kind of a disappointment — not that scary, not that interesting, and frankly, too long. Season 2, which premiered in late June, still tends to be hit or miss, but this time, it’s a lot more fun to watch. (That is, if you consider the pit in your stomach you get from watching a Peele production “fun.”) I’m still thinking about the first episode: A man and woman, who have never met, realize they’re connected, and can communicate telepathically. It ends like most Twilight Zones: bleak as shit. Though we’re in a time too sad for even a new Black Mirror season, I find old-school terror actually comforting. Worried about a pandemic that could kill you? Here’s a show that’ll make you worried about a thousand other things for 30 to 40 minutes instead. —Scaachi Koul
Where to watch: CBS All Access
Netflix has carved a real niche for itself with true crime documentaries. Some have been clumsy, sensationalistic, and pointless. But others have been more thoughtful. The streaming service’s reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, unveiled Wednesday, is perfectly designed for the sleuthing true crime era.
The show, which originally aired on network TV in the ’80s, has sometimes been associated with UFOs and paranormal nonsense — and there is one UFO story here. But the rest of the episodes are deep dives into crime mysteries, not the most sensational ones, but just deaths and disappearances that are genuinely unexplained.
In one episode about a French case, a count methodically murders and buries his entire family, then goes on a road trip to the south of France, waves goodbye to a security camera, and has never been seen since. In another perplexing case, Baltimore writer and freelance videographer Rey Rivera is found dead in an abandoned room of the Belvedere hotel building, having crashed through the roof. The police ruled it a suicide, but his wife believes there was foul play. In the final episode, 23-year old Alonzo Brooks, who is Afro-Latinx, goes to a party with some white friends in rural Kansas and never comes home. His body was found later, but it’s unclear what the manner of death was. There were reports of racist comments made at the party and his family is certain a hate crime occurred.
The show sensitively centers and renders the surviving relatives’ pain. Rivera’s mother says when someone dies that young, you die with them. Brooks’ mom lays out her sons’ belongings, and her anger and sadness that he wasn’t protected by friends is palpable.
It’s not easy to find compelling crime stories now that every case has been podcasted ad nauseam. But this Unsolved Mysteries found the right mix of mysteries that will leave viewers (and Redditors) pondering for days. —Alessa Dominguez
Where to watch: Netflix
The Chi (Season 3)
This show, which tells the story of Black Chicago natives and the ways in which their worlds collide against a backdrop of the city’s headline-making violence, is creator Lena Waithe’s best work. From its layered characters to the well-curated soundtrack, you don’t just watch The Chi, you feel it.
The third season returned June 21 and the writers wasted no time writing off Jason Mitchell’s character Brandon after Mitchell was accused of sexual misconduct in May last year.
His exit provides the perfect springboard for his onscreen mother, Laverne Johnson (Sonja Sohn), to give a powerful eulogy where she acknowledges how trauma shaped her mothering, telling the congregation: “I had no right to bring those boys into the world.”
Her parting words cast a shadow for the remainder of the season and speaks to the fear of a black mother who has lost not one, but two sons to the violence of Chicago’s streets, “If I was you, I’d get the fuck outta Dodge. Chicago don’t love you, this city don’t love no damn body.”
New characters and storylines make their way into this season including singer-songwriter Luke James as Victor "Trig" Taylor, Jake’s estranged brother. Comedian Lil Rel Howery appears as landlord Zeke Remnick, Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss plays Roselyn Perry, the wife of gangster-turned-politician Douda (Curtiss Cook), and Waithe herself joins the cast as a Chicago mayoral candidate.
But the heart of this show remains the precocious trio of Kevin (Alex R. Hibbert), Jake (Michael Epps), and Papa (Shamon Brown Jr.). These young boys are all grown up, or at least think they are, though trouble always seems to find them and they bravely rise to the occasion time and time again. The beauty of The Chi is in its storytelling and the way in which Black characters are written with care. —Ade Onibada
Where to watch: Showtime
If you’re looking for a good, wholesome cry, I heartily recommend bingeing HBO’s We’re Here, a Queer Eye–style reality show in which three RuPaul’s Drag Race alum — Bob, Shangela, and Eureka — travel to different small towns throughout the country and help the local residents put on their own drag show. I’d avoided it even after hearing the good reviews because I’d soured so much on Queer Eye’s particularly insidious brand of neoliberal self-help; the Fab 4 congratulate themselves for parachuting into people’s lives and buying them trendy crap when what they could really use most of the time is straight-up cash (as well as, you know, systemic change).
But We’re Here avoids the worst of Queer Eye’s impulses. Every episode opens with the queens arriving on the scene in full drag, which lends itself to plenty of funny interactions with the gobsmacked locals, as well as some scary and sad ones — they’re kicked off public sidewalks; threatened with cops. Every queen is paired in each town with a different local — straight, gay, or trans; there’s a healthy mix — who’s struggling in some way with their sexuality, or their gender presentation, or just their confidence. Like any reality TV tearjerker, there are plenty of corny moments, but also some genuinely moving ones. Though We’re Here can slightly oversell its impact on the communities the queens visit, the focus remains tightly on the transformational power of drag (which, thankfully, doesn’t always mean “cross-dressing” in the most literal sense, but encompasses a variety of different performances). The production values are high, which means every episode ends in a fun, splashy number. And the queens, in particular longtime fan favorites Bob and Shangela, are just so funny and fun and charismatic that you can stick out any overly contrived or cringey moments for their one-liners. It isn’t Pride month anymore, but We’re Here will make you proud anytime. —Shannon Keating
Where to watch: HBO Max ●