If you had told me before that an animated adaptation of a horror video game about Dracula would be one of my all-time favorite TV shows, I’d probably believe you. If you had told me it would also be queer and heartbreaking, you would have lost me. But, here we are with Castlevania, a Netflix original series that proves video game adaptations can in fact be done right. Season three of the series released this year and pushed Castlevania to new emotional heights. After the death of Dracula in season two, Castlevania showcased that it could be both violent and affecting. But season three delves even deeper as Trevor and Sypha fall in love, as Alucard combats loneliness, and as the villain vampires are shown as complex creatures who can also experience love. This season is not afraid of being absolutely heart-breaking as it shows the humanity of our protagonists, even if they aren’t necessarily human. Just as with the previous two seasons, Castlevania’s action sequences are beautifully animated, creating jaw-dropping moments that are both disgusting and phenomenal to behold. In case you needed any more convincing, Castlevania shows that animation is not just for kids. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
For the cheerleading team at Navarro College — a North Texas community college that boasts its fair share of professional athletes among its alumni — it is an inescapable fact that there is no career in their sport waiting for them upon graduation. Cheerleading, as it exists up to the college level, ends at the college level. Such is one of the unavoidable realities captured in the rapturous (and clearly award-worthy) Netflix docuseries, Cheer. Following the team and their resilient, admirable, bull-dog of a head coach, Monica Aldama, in the months leading up the cheerleading championship held in Daytona, the series showcases a side of sports not commonly featured on the small screen. Cheer weaves together footage from practices, which demand blood, sweat, and tears from all involved, with interviews from the participants. Over the course of six episodes, we get to know the coaches, the cheerleaders, and the emotional paths that brought them all to Navarro.
Created by Greg Whiteley, Cheer understands that its participants are fighters and depicts this with a perfect balance of personal details and showstopping athletic footage, culminating with the championship routine, an event that couldn’t have been scripted if they tried. The series is often nail-bitingly tense, frequently emotional, and a miraculous example of how a skilled documentary team with the right subject can catch lightning in a bottle. Among the many rich details of this series and its participants — many who have overcome incredible adversity, fought tooth and nail to earn their place, and who perform death-defying stunts with smiles on their faces — there is the bittersweet fact that for most, cheerleading will end after Daytona. Cheer is not a series about athletes destined to all become household names. It is a show about a group of wonderfully nuanced and complicated people, united not by a goal of wealth or individual glory, but by a desire to do what they love for the brief few years that they’re able to do it. (Anna Swanson)
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Ten seasons and Larry David hasn’t learned a damn thing. Once an asshole, always an asshole, but he is, at least, our asshole. The co-creator of Seinfeld acts as an avatar for our basest and most deplorable desires. We know there is a darkness in our souls, and we can only contain it by observing a raw nerve like Larry unleash his foulness upon the foolish mortals of Los Angeles. We take glee in watching Larry attempt to control his sexual harassment case knowing full-well that only his privilege and absurd stubborn determination will get him out of this season’s awkward bind. You would think the formula would be tired by now, but miraculously, there is no end to the entertainment value of such a letch. (Brad Gullickson)
Director Alex Garland is known for his cerebral works of science fiction that pull into question what it means to be human. Both his feature films, Ex Machina and Annihilation, are contemplative yet violent as they examine the fragility of humankind in the face of the new. Garland brings these themes in spades in his FX on Hulu series, Devs, starring Garland favorite Sonoya Mizuno, who plays young software developer Lily. She lives in San Francisco with her software developer boyfriend, Sergei (Karl Glusman), and they both work for Amaya, a massive tech company led by Forest, played by a grizzly-looking Nick Offerman. But the death of Sergei sends Lily down a bizarre rabbit hole about quantum technology and predicting the future. To put it simply, Devs is a perfect example of bold television, a show that takes risks and pushes the boundaries of episodic storytelling. It may be a slow burn for some, but it is controlled in its pacing, creating room for both contemplation and action. It is the embodiment of the tension between existential dread and hope when we may just need it most. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay
I’d be lying if I said I knew what Freeform was or where it’s found, but I still thank them for producing this absolute gem of a show about an atypical family unit trying to make their way in the world (and I thank Hulu for picking it up). The premise involves a dying man’s request that his twentysomething son from a previous marriage take care of his current daughters after he dies, and the results are some of the funniest, sweetest, most tear-worthy beats you’ll find across ten episodes. Josh Thomas’ Nicholas is a young gay Australian as confident in himself as he is doubtful of his ability to raise two girls. His half-sisters are a handful as Matilda is autistic (and played by Kayla Cromer, who is herself on the autism spectrum) and Genevieve (an amazing Maeve Press) is a bundle of preteen worries and concerns. Their characters and interactions never feel forced, and instead, we’re gifted with conversations and observations that flow with effortless humanity and honesty. It’s beautiful in every way, but it’s also hilarious, and that’s a combination this world can use now more than ever. (Rob Hunter)