Warning: spoilers for the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier!
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, played by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan respectively, quickly became a much-loved duo following the development of their on-screen friendship in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Sarcastic and seriously passive aggressive, they’re beyond entertaining to watch together, and trailers for the Disney+ miniseries starring the pair seem to suggest no different. The first episode of the series, titled ‘New World Order’, lets us catch up with Sam and Bucky as they adjust to their lives six months post-Blip-return and post-Steve. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is the second instalment of Phase 4 of the MCU, following Wanda Vision – the first Disney+ Marvel miniseries. The opening scenes are action-packed as we see Sam, in full Falcon-attire, working with the US Air Force to rescue one of their own in Tunisian airspace. But the action doesn’t take up the entirety of the fifty-minute episode, and we’re quickly brought up to speed about what Sam and Bucky (who are yet to reunite) have been up to in their personal lives.
One of the my favourite things about Marvel miniseries is that the episodic format allows for an unprecedented amount of personal and intimate depth that we never quite got from the movies. We’ve already seen it on WandaVision, with Elizabeth Olsen putting on a remarkable show as Wanda trying desperately to cope with Vision’s death… by subconsciously capturing and brainwashing an entire New Jersey town. Having returned from being snapped away by Thanos five years earlier, Sam is living with his sister Sarah (played by Adepero Oduye) and his young nephews in New Orleans, trying to help with her financial difficulties while facing some of his own. Meanwhile Bucky, having been pardoned and now under the supervision of his cynical and government-appointment therapist, is trying to amends with those he wronged while acting as The Winter Soldier. One of those people is Yori, a spirited old man living in Brooklyn who struggles to cope with the death of his son, as he doesn’t know the true circumstances under which he died. Later, we come to realise that Bucky knows how Yori’s son died because he was there, as the Winter Soldier, and, having to get rid of witnesses to his previous acts of violence, killed Yori’s son himself. Bucky’s guilt around his Winter Soldier days is certainly going to be an important and central theme in the show, let alone to the development of his character.
‘New World Order’ ends with the arrival of John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell) – the US government’s answer to the loss of Captain America and what he symbolised. Walker is holding Steve’s iconic vibranium shield, which Sam gave to the government earlier in the episode to be displayed in an exhibit dedicated to Steve. Even though Bucky and Sam have zero direct contact in this episode, though not for Sam’s lack of trying – Bucky’s therapist calls him out for ignoring Sam’s texts – it’s easy to see exactly how they’ll be brought together again. Walker’s sudden appearance isn’t going to bowl over well with either of them as Captain American’s two closest friends. As well as Walker, Sam’s new Air Force buddy Joaquin Torres (played by Danny Ramirez) is investigating the Flag-Smashers – a new terrorist group made of those who believe life was better during the Blip. They’re clearly in for a lot of action and adventure, in traditional Marvel-style, as they handle multiple enemies while reckoning with the personal and emotional aftermath of what happened in Avengers: Endgame.
Although The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has in-effect hit the ground running, setting up the storyline for future episodes with ease, it will be interesting to see how it measures up to WandaVision. Despite being entirely different in its premise, inspiration, and characterisation, WandaVision, with its slow burn and phenomenal storytelling, has undeniably left its mark on Marvel fans, meaning that despite any differences The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has some very tall orders to fill. Debuting so quickly after the finale of WandaVision also means that comparisons between the two are pretty much unavoidable. The series is also set to star Emily VanCamp, who will return as Sharon Carter – Peggy Carter’s niece, Steve’s brief love interest, and Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also starring is Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau, the leader of the Flag-Smashers; Don Cheadle reprising his role as Tony Stark’s best friend James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes; Georges St-Pierre as Goerges Batroc leader of criminal group LAF, and more.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is currently streaming on Disney+.
Warning: spoilers for The Loud House and The Casagrandes!
Nickelodeon’s animated series The Loud House has quickly become one of my favourite shows, despite only discovering it a few weeks ago. Being the middle child sounds difficult enough, and for eleven-year-old Lincoln Loud those trials and tribulations are worsened by being the only boy… with ten sisters. Inspired by creator Chris Savino’s own childhood growing up with five sisters, the show is set in the fictional suburb of Royal Woods, Michigan and provides a portrayal of said experience that is both entertaining and heartwarming. The four full seasons that have aired since the show’s premiere in 2016 have been met with critical success, so much so that The Loud House has been renewed for a sixth season (the fifth season is currently airing.) A feature film is also in development and is set to be released on Netflix sometime this year. The show has even spawned an equally successful spin-off, starring the supporting characters of the Casagrande Family. As well as the spin-off, the Loud Family have their own podcast (Listen Out Loud) on the Nickelodeon website and YouTube channel.
Lynn Sr. and Rita Loud have their fictional hands full with their eleven troublemakers. Lincoln’s sisters include 17-year-old phone addict Lori; 16-year-old ditzy fashionista Leni, whose character is named after Lenny from Of Mice and Men, 15-year-old rockstar Luna; 14-year-old jokester Luan; 13-year-old superstitious athlete Lynn Jr. (also known as LJ); 8-year-old poetic goth Lucy; 6-year-old identical twins: dirt-loving Lana and aggressive pageant princess Lola; 4-year-old child prodigy Lisa, and adorable 1-year-old Lily. With so many main characters, and a lengthy list of supporting ones, there is a lot to keep track of when watching the show.
One of the show’s star qualities is the variety of genuine representation it has, which all feels incredibly natural. Lincoln’s best friend is Clyde McBride, a young Black boy who has two comically overprotective gay fathers, Harold and Howie, who are also in an interracial relationship. The McBride’s are the first married gay couple to be significantly featured in an animated Nickelodeon series. In addition, Lincoln’s older sister Luna is openly bisexual, and is shown to have a girlfriend named Sam. Lynn Sr.’s best friend, band-mate, and employee is Kotaro, who is Japanese, and Lincoln and Clyde’s group of school friends includes Stella, a young Filipino girl.
Another major example of the show’s diverse representation is the Casagrande Family, the multigenerational Mexican-American family of Bobby and Ronnie Anne Santiago, the boyfriend and friend of Lori and Lincoln, respectively. CJ – the younger cousin of Bobby and Ronnie Anne – has Down’s Syndrome and is voiced by Jared Kozak, who also has Down’s Syndrome. Inclusion of disabled characters in children’s animation, or media in general, is very rare, which makes CJ so wonderful to see. After Bobby, Ronnie Anne, and their mother Maria move from Royal Woods to Great Lakes City, Ronnie Anne befriends Sid Chang, who is half white and half Chinese. People from all walks of life are included in The Loud House and The Casagrandes in a way that feels inherently natural.
The Casagrandes have been extremely successful as supporting characters in The Loud House, even having the first nine episodes of Season 4 focused on their lives in the city. The family also earned their own self-titled TV show in 2019, the first season of which has already aired. Film critic Carlos Aguilar highlighted how the show, powered by Latino writers, subverts long-standing stereotypes while interweaving ‘spiritual aspects of Latino culture with playful storylines that provide insight while entertaining viewers.’ The show’s second season is currently airing, hopefully with more to follow. The Louds feature in a few episodes of The Casagrandes as minor characters also, filling the screen with both families’ antics.
Neither The Loud House nor The Casagrandes make a big show and tell of this representation, and hardly any of these facts are mentioned explicitly. Despite the shows’ animated and fictional natures, the characters just simply exist as their true (albeit fictional) selves, which cultivates a sense of humble authenticity that is both meaningful and greatly appreciated. One of the best examples of this is in The Loud House episode ‘Singled Out’, when Lynn Jr. realises that all of her rollerskating teammates have romantic partners. One of the girls, Laney, casually mentions her girlfriend Alice. Neither of the girls’ sexualities is explicitly mentioned or even explored further, but it is obvious that they are queer. Laney and Alice, who are also an interracial couple, are even shown cosying up to each other and flirting at a restaurant in one scene. Given that they are friends of Lynn Jr., it can be assumed that the girls are around 13-years-old – the same age as LJ. LGBTQ+ representation among adult characters is already extremely limited in children’s shows and is routinely met with dismay – as demonstrated by the controversey surrounding a gay wedding in an episode of Arthur, which was even banned in Alabama because it was deemed ‘inappropriate’ for young viewers. This wider social context of blatant homophobia makes such representation among child characters in a children’s series all the more amazing to see.
The show is hilarious to watch, with main character Lincoln occasionally breaking the fourth wall to provide some context for the audience. The show’s several running gags constitute a large part of its comedy. Lola, who might be my favourite Loud, is mean-spirited and downright maniacal when things don’t go her way. When enraged, Lola is portrayed as being stronger than anyone she fights, no matter the age or size difference, including her eldest sister Lori. Genius Lisa is obsessed with science, to the point that she is scarily fascinated by excrement, so much so that she kept her very first ‘fecal sample’ in the attic, which sounds like a health risk to me. Another running gag is the nauseating behaviour of Lana, Lola’s twin sister. Lana is an absolute beast – she regularly eats the mouldy food she finds around the house and garbage pulled from bins. She is also a major animal lover – to the point that her best friend is a frog named Hops. Lana is also an expert handywoman and has fixed the family car – the affectionately-named ‘Vanzilla’ – on more than one occasion. Ths stark contrast between Lola and Lana alone makes for great television. In addition to those mentioned here, there are several other running gags for both the Loud Family and other characters around Royal Woods that make them all very unique and amusing to watch.
A central theme of the show is of course family and what comes with that – sacrifice, sharing, and teamwork. The Loud siblings tend to act selfishly at first, but upon realising how much their siblings mean to them they have a change of heart. As frustrating as life with ten siblings can be, the Loud children all love each other dearly and will go to ridiculous lengths for one another. The kids even have regular sibling meetings in Lori and Leni’s room to discuss any issues they have and come up with solutions, although this doesn’t always go smoothly. The Loud House is one of the greatest animated children’s series that I have seen in a while. From the diversity of the characters to their comedic quirks, and the heartwarming message each episode provides, The Loud House is a must-watch for anyone that enjoys witty humour, creative hijinks, and absolute pandemonium. For fellow binge-watchers, this series is wildly addictive – somehow I raced through all five seasons in just over a week!
The Loud House is available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and NowTV.
The Casagrandes is also available to stream on NowTV.
Trigger warning: discussion of parental death, addiction, domestic violence, pregnancy, and misscarriage
Full of anthropomorphic animals, hard-to-swallow self-truths, addiction, generational family trauma, and raunchy sex against the glitzy backdrop of Los Angeles, this unforgettable series was never for the lighthearted. BoJack Horseman ran for six seasons, between 2014 and 2020, and has continued to be a hugely important series for many – including myself. A few months ago I rewatched all six seasons, which prompted me to ask myself which episodes were my top five. It took a lot of re-rewatching and rearranging but I finally narrowed seventy-seven brilliant and unique episodes into a top five – plus a short but essential ‘Honourable Mentions’ section.
1. Free Churro
In this episode BoJack gives an awkwardly comical (but also profoundly depressing) eulogy at what he thinks is his late mother Beatrice’s funeral. BoJack’s cold relationship with his mother means that his eulogy is not one that a loving son would give his equally-loving mother. As someone with a deceased parent, to whom they were not very close, BoJack’s realisation that his mother’s death will hurt regardless of how well they got on is heartbreaking, and a hard truth to swallow. He expresses that he had always wanted Beatrice to show him that she loved him. Even as he stands beside her casket, BoJack, aged fifty-four, says that he is still waiting for proof of her love for him. But the death of a parent brings the certainty that you will never get the perfect relationship you wanted with them, and the realisation that you still had the tiniest speck of hope that it would be a reality one day makes it all the more painful. BoJack says that even though the unpredictability of death should make us ‘more adventurous, kind, and forgiving’, it has only made us ‘small, stupid, and petty’ – which is perhaps a subtle hint that he should forgive her posthumously, but as he puts it: ‘she was a bitch.’
This episode was the only complete no-brainer for me when making this list, because it’s one I can return to when certain feelings arise. It’s a comfort watch for me and has been for years now. Although several other episodes have touched me on an emotional level, none have done so quite as personally as ‘Free Churro’. At the end of his eulogy, BoJack finally realises that he is in the wrong funeral parlour after he opens the casket, and the viewer sees that the funeral-goers are all lizards. While his mistake is somewhat funny, and earns a chuckle from me, it doesn’t diminish the sincerity and significance of his words. In fact, I think it might make them all the more powerful.
2. A Quick One, While He’s Away
Paige Sinclair, also known as ‘Front Page Paige’, is a hog with flair. Paige’s way of speaking in old-fashioned riddles and rhymes, and her over-the-top personality, makes her one of the most unforgettable minor characters in the show’s history. In this episode Paige, and her equally old-fashioned journalist partner Maximillian Banks, begin to investigate the circumstances surrounding Sarah Lynn’s fatal overdose. At the same time, we get a glimpse at how some of the women previously in BoJack’s life are doing post-BoJack. Ex-girlfriend Gina, who now hates sudden changes and doing stunts, is traumatised after he assaulted her in a drug-induced haze in ‘The Showstopper.’ Meanwhile Kelsey can’t get any meaningful work as a director since she was fired from Secretariat after she and BoJack broke into the Nixon Museum together, but as she points out her career is the only one that has suffered as a result.
The ways in which BoJack has negatively impacted the lives of several women is the epicentre of this episode, and it makes for a very meaningful probe into the very real fact that women routinely suffer at the hands of men. I think that this episode makes a bold and thought-provoking statement about gendered issues and experiences within the wider context of patriarchy – making every single minute majorly important. This episode also sets up an arc in which BoJack must confront his past, as with Paige and Max on his tail his wrongdoings begin to catch up with him and make him sweat. This resurgence of the past is contrasted with the depressing present(s) and uncertain futures of Gina and Kelsey, who are just some of the women he has harmed. And with Max and Paige’s insistence on talking in convoluted metaphors and rhymes, the comedy in this episode is as consistent as always.
3. Fish Out of Water
BoJack spends almost the entire episode underwater at the Pacific Film Ocean Festival, where his movie Secretariat is premiering, so there is little to no dialogue, with BoJack only speaking in the opening scenes and at the very end of the episode. While underwater BoJack tries to work up the courage, and means, to apologise to Kelsey (the original director of Secretariat, who is also at the festival) but somehow he ends up stranded with a lost newborn seahorse (that he actually helps deliver on a bus) that has been seperated from it’s father. Together the pair rob a store, briefly get chased by a shark, dance through a neon seascape, and blow up a taffy factory all in pursuit of the baby seahorse’s dad.
In the final minute of the episode, after handing Kelsey an illegible handwritten apology note, BoJack discovers that his breathing helmet has a speaker option, a fact that would’ve made his day much easier. But the lack of dialogue actually says a lot here, and we get a visual story that is well-told and full-fledged. Body language and facial expressions do all the talking and BoJack’s look of awkward sadness as he feels jealous of the seahorse family, and waves goodbye to them, feels rather poignant. Also profound is how he looks at and acts around Kelsey as he longs to apologise to her. A lot is said in this episode without anyone actually saying anything at all.
The popular ‘Surprise Party Gone Wrong’ trope can feel pretty unoriginal after a while but this episode, with its’ own unique BoJack Horseman take on it, is anything but. At their own ‘surprise wedding’ orchestrated by Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles argue about him cheating (with his ex-wife Diane, unbeknownst to her) while the guests (including Diane) quite literally hide in plain sight (please see the above picture). Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn and Todd chase baby Ruthie around, and BoJack interrogates Diane about her decision to move to Chicago. In the midst of their arguing Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles also complain about their ‘well-hidden’ guests, and Pickles hilariously yells that she’s going to tell everyone about Mr. Peanutbutter cheating on her because ‘she’s a Gemini’, totally unaware that he’s already broken the news for her. To say that this episode is hectic is a serious understatement.
‘Surprise!’ is so full of jokes, both verbal and visual, that it’s probably one of the show’s funniest episodes ever. With main characters Diane, BoJack, Princess Carolyn, Ruthie, and Todd trapped with the unhappy couple they actually perform acrobatics just to stay in hiding. Although comedy makes up the vast majority of this episode, there are some fleeting tender moments: like when BoJack says that he wishes Diane could have seen him get his two-month sobriety chip, or when Diane says that she needs to know BoJack will be okay before she can leave LA, and he insists that he will be. ‘Surprise!’ is a masterclass in comedy, and gently weaving the occasional emotional moment into said comedy, making this episode one of the show’s best.
5. The Showstopper
This episode reminds me a lot of ‘That’s Too Much, Man!’, mainly because BoJack, in a drug-fuelled haze, plays a major role in the harm experienced by a woman close to him. While filming for his latest show Philbert with his co-star and girlfriend Gina Cazador, BoJack falls deeper and deeper into his addiction to painkillers. He soon starts to lose his grip on reality, and the line between Philbert and his real life starts to blur beyond recognition – the same way it does for the fictional character Philbert. At one point he mentions that he has a ‘rancid itch’ that something isn’t right, as if something is lurking beyond the horizon – he glimpses a giant balloon version of himself in the distance as he says this.
Eventually Gina confronts BoJack about his addiction, and he flashes between seeing Gina as his live-in girlfriend and seeing her as Sassy – her character on the show. Suddenly, as BoJack begins to strangle Gina, we realise that they’re actually on-set and filming an episode, and that Gina walked out on him once she found out about his addiction. There is a nauseating moment when the film crew delays helping Gina, for the sake of good TV, and we can hear her faintly choking in the background. It’s only a few seconds but it’s one of those moments where it feels like time stretches on without an end in sight. After he is pulled off of Gina by Mr. Peanutbutter and members of the film crew, in a scratchy and emotional voice, Gina asks BoJack “what the fuck is wrong with you?” Immediately after BoJack envisions himself staring up at the giant balloon of himself – indicating the very same thing that was lurking in the horizon, the thing that wasn’t quite right earlier in the episode, is him. This episode is an incredibly well-done exploration of addiction and the impact it has on people’s relationships with those closest to them. It’s honestly quite amazing that the show managed to cultivate such a raw and uncomfortable scene between an animated woman and an anthropomorphic horse.
The Amelia Earhart Story
Princess Carolyn (A.K.A. PC) is one of my favourite characters, so I love any episode where she’s the star. She’s a determined, career-focused gal who wants to have it all and this exploration of a younger and more vulnerable PC five-seasons-deep is pretty enlightening. PC goes to North Carolina, where she grew up in poverty, to meet Sadie – a pregnant teenager who is putting her unborn baby up for adoption. Although by the end of the episode Sadie decides to keep looking for adoptive parents. Through flashbacks we learn more about Princess Carolyn’s experiences with pregnancy, and that she had her first miscarriage as a teenager after she accidentally fell pregnant by Cooper, the son of the wealthy Wallace family. Cutie Cutie Cupcake (PC’s mother) is ecstatic at the prospect of them getting money as a result – despite PC’s unhappiness about it all. But before things can really progress, PC miscarries and Cutie initially blames her, telling her that she has blown their chances and that ‘miscarriages don’t just happen,’ though she soon retracts this and instead comforts her daughter.
This episode completely reframes Princess Carolyn’s previous experiences with pregnancy and miscarriage in the series – in ‘See Mr. Peanutbutter Run’ she told her then-boyfriend Ralph that she had a miscarriage, but some time after it had actually happened. PC later starts fertility treatment but even though she successfully gets pregnant, she sadly miscarries again in ‘Ruthie’. Cutie’s reaction alone in this episode highlights that PC has probably always felt pressured to pursue motherhood, as women often are. Despite the moments of humour and silliness, this episode realistically and thoughtfully addresses the delicate topic of miscarriage. Although Princess Carolyn is an animated, talking pink cat she feels intrinsically human and is so relatable that it’s both impressive and touching. The show’s exploration of miscarriage through Princess Carolyn has even been called ‘so realistic it hurts’ by Jezebel, making this episode a brilliant one for PC fans like myself.
That’s Too Much, Man!
During my rewatch a particular Sarah Lynn quote stood out to me. In Season 1 Episode 3, ‘Prickly-Muffin’, she says “I’m at a place right now where I never need to grow as a person or rise to an occasion because I can constantly just surround myself with sycophants and enablers until I die tragically young.” These words make the tragedy that is this episode sting even more. It starts with swelling, angelic music in the background as Sarah Lynn tries desperately hard to be a better, sober version of herself; from her balcony she even sings to the ‘buzzy bees’ and her gardeners. But all it takes is BoJack, with an invitation to party, for her to start downing alcohol first thing in the morning.
Over the course of a few months the pair go on an intense drug-fuelled bender, abusing cocaine, alcohol, and heroin, and blackout several times. As the viewer we blackout with BoJack – the screen suddenly flashes black and then they’re in a different room, or location entirely, having a completely different conversation. They drive under the influence, all the way to Ohio one point, eat doughnuts at an AA meeting, attempt to make amends to those they have wronged, and end up in a grimy motel. As they sit in that dingy motel watching the Oscars, Sarah Lynn is announced as an Oscar winner, which prompts her to realise that she doesn’t like anything about herself and wonders if she is doomed. In an attempt to console her BoJack takes her to the planetarium, which Sarah Lynn kept asking to go to, and they watch the stars together. As BoJack tells her that all that matters is the precious moment they are sharing together, she stops responding, with BoJack repeatedly asking “Sarah Lynn?” She never does respond. Her death is so unbearably sad, especially since it’s painfully obvious that had BoJack respected her sobriety, instead of capitalising on her vulnerability, it’s more than likely that she would have never died – and maybe she could have even become the architect she always wanted to be…
By chronicling the lives of five flatmates in 1980s London, It’s A Sin provides an incredibly powerful (yet deeply heartbreaking) insight into the little-known history of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK, which took place against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s hateful and homophobic policies. The series was written and created by Russell T. Davies – the same screenwriter and producer behind the iconic show Queer as Folk, which followed the lives of three gay men living in a gay village in Manchester and was also produced for Channel4.
This series is a tale of chosen family – an experience that is quintessentially queer. Given that homophobia continues to isolate people across the world, many queer people form distinctly close friendships, familial ties, and kinships with people to whom they are not biologically related, but by whom they are loved and accepted regardless. In a well-loved London flat, which is affectionately named The Pink Palace, Jill Baxter (played by Lydia West), Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander), Roscoe Babatunde (Omari Douglas), Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells), and Ash Mukherjee (Nathaniel Curtis) forge their own chosen family in 1981 – just a few short years before the HIV/AIDS crisis would have a devastating impact on queer communities this side of the Atlantic.
Over five episodes we watch as the lives of the Pink Palace family are shattered by the shame-inducing stigma of being gay, which is worsened by the epidemic, rampant ignorance, lack of information, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and, above all else, fear. Together these factors formed a violently homophobic social context that allowed for the disgusting mistreatment of so many LGBTQ+ people. There are so many scenes in which I could practically feel my heart breaking as I watched the events unfold on-screen, such as those involving Gregory (played by David Carlyle), a close friend of the Pink Palace family. After Gregory – who Jill lovingly calls Gloria – becomes ill with AIDS Jill begins to care for him in secret at his request, anticipating the shame and isolation that comes with a public AIDS diagnosis. In one scene Jill and Gregory try to figure out what the symptoms of the disease are but both are unsure of the actual facts, even though Gregory is already ill. At the end of Episode 2, after Gregory passes away in his hometown of Glasgow, his family reacts by burning every single one of his belongings. In their back garden, in broad daylight, his father and sister watch as his clothes, his furniture, and even his baby pictures turn to ash – a brutal indication of the fact that they were ashamed of how he lived and how he died.
Later, in Episode 3 (set in 1986) as quiet Welshman Colin battles AIDS himself, he is detained in a hospital – ‘justified’ by the provisions of the Public Health Act of 1984, under which he is labelled a “public menace.” Colin, who experiences rare neurological symptoms such as forgetfulness and poor impulse control, tragically passes away. Afterward, his mother struggles to arrange a funeral for him as funeral homes refuse to handle his ‘diseased’ body, which must be cremated, for fear of contamination. Her determination to do right by her son is both beautiful and agonising to watch. Mrs. Morris-Jones is the only parent of the four Pink Palace men who accepts their child’s sexuality and advocates on their behalf. In the first episode we watched Roscoe escape his conservative Nigerian parents who orchestrated his return to Nigeria in order to have his sexuality (which they call sodomy) ‘cured’ – an example that the experiences of queer people of colour would have been very different to those of their white counterparts.
The loss of Colin, who everyone assumed was a virgin, leaves the family devastated and reeling. Throughout the show the contemporary notion that only ‘sluts’ were diagnosed with AIDS is referred to, but this is proved wrong with Colin’s passing. In both life and death LGBTQ+ people were afforded no love, kindness, or respect as AIDS quickly became known as ‘the gay cancer.’ In fact, AIDS (which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) was initially called GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) until mid-1982. In the early stages of this public health crisis it was assumed that only gay men were affected – meaning it was their burden to bear and theirs alone.
As distressing as It’s A Sin is to watch at times, its portrayal of 1980s queer London culture is fascinating to watch. Although the shadow of the epidemic looms on the horizon, there are some wickedly risqué and uninhibited sex scenes that are so important and you just have to appreciate, especially given the context of casual hookup culture and a hectic nightlife on darkened dancefloors. Sex scenes in the show are often intense and sometimes hilarious (like Ritchie’s first encounter with Ash, in which he awkwardly tries to figure out the right term for Ash’s Indian heritage) in a way that feels both genuine and entertaining.
Ritchie, an aspiring Hollywood actor, is a real character of interest across all five episodes. Once the crisis really begins to take hold during the 80s, he and best friend Jill become increasingly polarised in their ideologies and approaches to the epidemic. Jill (who is based on real-life ally Jill Nalder, who actually plays her mother on-screen) is an extremely important ally and friend to gay men during this period, and she soon becomes aligned with a group that wants to spread information, fundraise, and offer support to those affected. Ritchie, on the other hand, does not want to take the illness as seriously at first, given the illogically homophobic overtones with which information was spread during that time. Ritchie even jokes that AIDS must only affect bisexual men part-time since it is ‘the gay cancer.’ His initial resistance gives a nauseating sense of foreboding as the plot progresses.
Ritchie soon becomes obsessed with preventing himself from contracting HIV (and then AIDS) – a whiplash reversal from his earlier stance. He goes to disturbing extremes, including drinking his own urine, but in Episode 4 in 1988 he is diagnosed with AIDS. After spending months refusing to tell his parents, as this would mean coming out as gay to them, his headstrong and homophobic mother Valerie (played by Keeley Hawes) brings him home to the Isle of Wight to care for him herself, refusing to let Jill and Roscoe see him. As days turn into weeks Valerie finally agrees to meet with Jill. As Jill asks after Ritchie, Valerie bluntly responds that “he died yesterday.” The sudden realisation that Ritchie died without his closest friends by his side is absolutely soul-crushing. As Jill tells her in an impassioned, thought-provoking, and deeply depressing speech: the ignorance like that of Valerie facilitated and permitted the preventable deaths of young boys and men just like Ritchie across the country, as they were forced to hide and live in shame.
It’s A Sin is impactful, intimate, educational, heartbreaking, raunchy, and hilarious. All five main characters are unbelievably well-developed; they are relatable, they are comical, they are unique, and they feel so richly authentic. This series will leave you grief-stricken and mourning for both the characters and the real people whose lives were lost due to ignorance and fear more than anything else. It’s A Sin is the kind of series that will haunt you for days, maybe even weeks, after you’ve watched it. To fully understand both the major themes and subtle references that make this show the masterpiece it is it must be watched.
It’s A Sin is available to stream on All 4. It will premiere in the U.S. on HBO Max on 18 February.
To say that last year was difficult is a painful understatement, but one of the few good things that happened in the hellscape that was 2020 is the brilliantly creative TV shows we were blessed with. Television often acts as an escape for me under normal circumstances, so as we were told to isolate and put under national lockdown I dove headfirst into binge-watching several different shows as a way to pass the long stretch of free time we had suddenly been given. You’ll notice that every show listed in this article (bar one) is available on Netflix – my obvious streaming service of choice – which means this list isn’t too varied in that respect unfortunately. Without any further ado, here are my top five shows of 2020.
Starring Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs, this post-apocalyptic series is a heavy-hitter. The show is based on the 2013 sci-fi action film of the same name, which starred Chris Evans and was adapted from the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. The series focuses on the passengers of Snowpiercer: a perpetually-moving train that roams the Earth in the aftermath of a failed attempt to halt global warming, which has turned the planet into an uninhabitable frozen wasteland. With the world desolate and barren around them, the train’s passengers are the remnants of humankind.
Set in 2021 (yikes) Snowpiercer begins seven years after ‘the freeze.’ Andre Layton (Diggs) is a former detective and corageous rebel that lives in the Tail: the squalid rear-end of the train. Following a string of murders in First Class at the train’s other end, Layton, as the world’s only surviving homicide detective, is recruited by Melanie Cavill (Connelly) to help solve them. As the train’s Head of Hospitality, and its voice over the PA system, Cavill is one of the highest authority figures on Snowpiercer and train relations are her specialty. As Layton and Cavill investigate the murders, issues surrounding class warfare, social and economic injustice, and politics emerge in full force. The contrast between the living conditions of the Tail and First Class, as well as the middling carriages, is central to the show’s events. In effect, Snowpiercer has become a microcosm of the world’s former society and injustices are both replicated and amplified within the train’s 1,001 carriages. While First Class enjoys seafood and other luxuries thought to no longer exist, the Tailies are subjected to eating blocks of a questionable brown sludge just to survive.
Layton’s investigation grows more and more complex as the show progresses and loved ones from both his past and his present are pulled into the dramatic events. Snowpiercer is exciting, wickedly thought-provoking, and occasionally springs an unexpected plot twist that forms a wonderful deviation from the 2013 film. With world-class acting, shocking storylines, and an exploration of important issues this series is an absolute must-watch.
Snowpiercer is available to stream on Netflix. Season 2 (which premieres on 26 January) sees Sean Bean and Rowan Blanchard join the main cast.
2. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts – a young adult animated series and DreamWorks-produced Netflix Original – comes next. The show follows teenager Kipo Oak, a confident girl raised in an underground burrow, as she searches for her father Lio on the surface of a post-apocalyptic world dominated by mutated animals. These animals (referred to as ‘mutes’) are just as intelligent as humans and able to talk. As she searches for Lio, Kipo is joined by new friends: humans Wolf and Benson and mutes Dave and Mando, forging their own little family in this great coming-of-age story. The show has received critical acclaim for its diverse range of characters, catchy music, exceptional worldbuilding, great voice acting, and amazing storytelling – all of which are more than deserved.
With just the right amount of science-fiction, comedy, drama, action, and suspense Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is absolutely phenomenal. Voiced by stars such as Karen Fukuhara (Kipo), Sydney Mikayla (Wolf), Coy Stewart (Benson), Deon Cole (Dave), and Sterling K. Brown (Lio), these animated characters feel incredibly authentic and more than well-developed. Adding to their authenticity, and to that of the show in general, is the great range of representation we see. Kipo’s parents, Lio and Song Oak, are Black and Korean respectively – which makes Kipo a character of mixed heritage, although her skin is a vibrant and unnatural shade of purple. Her two closest friends, tough girl Wolf and self-assured Benson, are also Black. Benson has been a primary talking point when discussing representation in Kipo because he is also openly gay. Benson’s sexuality is something that the writers clearly refused to shy away from as his love life becomes a cute and funny storyline in its own right. While both men and women star in the series, there is also a non-binary character that, although minor, is not to be missed. Asher Berdacs, twin sibling of Dahlia, is non-binary and voiced by non-binary actor Rhea Butcher. As one of Kipo’s friends from the underground burrow in which she was raised, we see Asher and their sister Dahlia at different points throughout the show’s three seasons.
While diversity and inclusion certainly plays a part in making Kipo a wonderful show, it’s actually the storytelling and visuals that do most of the job. The show’s worldbuilding has received a lot of praise – even from the likes of Forbes. Although set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia overrun by talking mutant animals, some of which are dangerously enormous in size and referred to as ‘Megas’, Kipo paints a stunning picture of it all. While the underground burrows that house most of the world’s humans are extensive structures with no natural light, the world above has a jungle-like landscape overrun with greenery. The mutated animals are also not as frightening as they may seem (except perhaps the Megas, which are unable to speak) as they have many human-like qualities that make each pack unique. The pack of Timbercats are lumberjacks that live in the forest and wear flannel, while the Scooter Skunks are an all-female biker gang that dons leather jackets. The Chèvre sisters are blind goat mutes that use cheese to peer into the future. There is even a K-Pop-singing pack of mutant narwhals. This kind of extensive worldbuilding establishes a uniquely imaginitive and immersive world within Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts and each episode pulls you in further.
When you add great storytelling to this you get a hit TV show. Kipo creates a sense of mystery and doesn’t give all of the answers away immediately, and that makes the viewer crave more. With all three seasons having been released shortly after each other in 2020 (in January, June, and October) we didn’t have to wait too long. By introducing both new allies and new enemies, and of course new problems to solve, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts remains exciting from beginning to end. The series even has some major plot twists throughout that keeps things fresh and fun. Kipo is a shining example of great animation – from the characters to the visuals, although it’s clear that its greatness goes far beyond these two aspects.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is available to stream on Netflix.
3. The Crown (Season 4)
Trigger warning: discussion of bulimia.
While The Crown originally premiered back in 2016, its incredible fourth season was released in 2020. A historical drama, the series details the on-going reign of Queen Elizabeth II. From Season 3 onwards Olivia Colman has starred as the Queen, having replaced Claire Foy, along with Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret.
The fourth season has received critical acclaim for the performances of Gillian Anderson and newcomer Emma Corrin as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana respectively. Corrin shines particularly bright in this season and delivers a breathtaking performance as the late Princess of Wales. In particular, The Crown’s decision to include Princess Diana’s struggle with bulimia is graphic and eye-opening. Diana is depicted as having developed bulimia as a coping mechanism to deal with the emotional turmoil and lack of control caused by her loveless marriage to Prince Charles. While distressing to watch at times, acknowledging Diana’s eating disorder is essential in any attempt to understand her and portray her with honesty. It cultivates a deep compassion and, for those of us that can unfortunately relate, a sense of understanding and relatability. We watch as Corrin takes Diana from being a fresh-faced schoolgirl to the beautiful but embittered wife of the Queen’s son. Corrin’s performance has understandably breathed new life into this country’s love for Lady Diana Spencer, the People’s Princess.
Gillian Anderson, with stiffened hair and cobalt skirt suits, does swimmingly as the Iron Lady. Most notably, she alters her voice so as to replicate Thatcher’s distinctively slow and strained manner of speaking. In addition to Anderson, Josh O’Connor does an excellent job as a young and difficult Prince Charles. In an episode on their 1983 Tour of Australia, Charles childishly berates Diana for being more popular than him, then locks himself in the bathroom. As their relationship becomes increasingly strained you cannot help but pity Diana and detest Charles for his treatment of her. Although the show has been criticised for historical inaccuracies, this is to be expected. It has certainly dramatised some events and downplayed others for the sake of entertainment, as television shows often do. The Crown is not a documentary and should not be treated as such. Despite this criticism, The Crown remains well-casted and with top tier acting, making it a show that everyone should add to their Netflix list.
The Crown is available to stream on Netflix.
4. Lovecraft Country
Warning: some spoilers for Lovecraft Country. Sorry!
This historical sci-fi horror seems to have it all: brilliant acting, a majority Black cast, tales of witchcraft, history lessons, and grotesque monsters. Set in 1950s America, the show is largely characterised by the violently racist social climate of the Jim Crow era. As Korean War vet Atticus Freeman (played by Jonathan Majors), his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), and his friend Letitia ‘Leti’ Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) embark on a dangerous road trip to find Atticus’ missing father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) they encounter more secrets and danger than they could have ever imagined. The series also stars Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Jada Harris, and Jamie Chung.
Lovecraft Country is based on the 2016 horror novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, which explores the intersection of racist author H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional horror and the real-life horror that was, and still is, homegrown American racism. The violent and overt racism in Lovecraft Country shows us that some people can be far more viscious and more cruel than any monster can, and perhaps it’s these people we should fear – not fictitious monsters of the night. With such authentic acting this series does a brilliant job of transporting the viewer to historical times and places which, as a history graduate, I greatly appreciated. In the penultimate episode on the Tulsa Massacre (entitled “Rewind 1921”) Montrose, who having survived the massacre himself, is deeply disturbed by being there again. He is disoriented, distressed, and often cries, which cultivates a real sadness and sympathy for his character by presenting him in an atypically vulnerable manner. We usually see Montrose as stubborn and headstrong, making Williams’ superb acting in “Rewind 1921” just one of many great performances we see in Lovecraft Country.
Alternatively, the show has received some criticism for how the character of Ruby Baptiste (Wumni Mosaku) is treated. Ruby, a plus-sized dark-skinned singer, is the older half-sister of Leti. Throughout the series, Ruby is often depicted as the voice of reason. She keeps Leti grounded by frequently calling her out on her bullshit but is there when she needs her. Without giving too much away, Ruby also allows the show to explore sexuality and and the concept of ‘race envy’ in an incredibly unique and unusual way. She is a multifaceted and dynamic character that brings so much to the show but by the season finale Ruby’s storyline reaches a disappointing end – one that perhaps constitutes the show’s biggest failing.
While this treatment of Ruby is very disheartening, Lovecraft Country does well in this historical and horrific probe of American racism during Jim Crow. Queer sexuality is also an important theme, especially how it intersects with race during a period of formal segregation. To find out more about exactly how Lovecraft Country explores this you’ll have to watch it – which you absolutely should!
Lovecraft Country is available to stream on HBO Max.
This Netflix Original stars the amazingly talented Sarah Paulson. Developed by Ryan Murphy, the creator of horror anthology series American Horror Story, which also stars Paulson, Ratched is a haunting psychological thriller. The series also stars Finn Wittrock, another AHS alumn, Cynthia Nixon, Jon Jon Briones, Judy Davis, Charlie Carver, and Sharon Stone. Based on Nurse Mildred Ratched from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the iconic 1975 film, the show acts as a prequel by detailing Nurse Ratched’s life before she became the oppressive head nurse we all know her as.
Arriving in 1940s California the stylish Nurse Ratched impressively cons her way into becoming a nurse at Lucia State mental hospital, which is run by Dr. Hanover (Briones). After violently murdering four priests, Ratched’s long-lost adopted brother Edmund Tolleson (Wittrock) becomes the newest patient at Lucia State. The show follows her as she watches over the hospital and its patients, including her brother, all while plotting behind closed doors. While Paulson is incredible as Mildred, the unexpected star of the series is without a doubt Sophie Okonedo as Charlotte Wells, a woman with dissociative identity disorder. In her first appearance as Charlotte, Okonedo puts on a wildly convincing performance – rotating through five separate identities at lightening speed. To each distinct identity, Okonedo gives her all and portrays distinctly unique characters in one body. Her performance is indisputably riveting, making it impossible to look away whenever she is on-screen, and has unsurprisingly received mass praise.
One of Ratched‘s most striking characteristics is its cinematography, which makes for a visual masterpiece. The show employs screen wipes, sliding split screens, and symbolic lighting – all of which are typically accompanied by suspensful music. The characters are often bathed in either green or red lighting and both colours have distinct meanings that reflect the nature of the scene. Green lighting, which corresponds with the overly green aesthetic of the hospital, indicates overwhelming lust or something of a sexual nature. In an interview with Fashionista, costume designer Rebecca Guzzi said that the heavy use of green in the show is also meant to symbolise violence, envy, greed, and evil. Red, on the other hand, represents a loss of control and the danger that accompanies this. When Mildred imagines Edmund’s possible execution the scene is covered with red lighting – highlighting the danger he is in and suggesting that his death could cause her to lose control. The use of such an intensely vibrant colour palette emphasises the show’s inherent terror and suspense.
At other times Ratched is visciously gory. Most notably, in a clear reference to the original novel, Mildred is utterly enchanted as she watches Dr. Hanover perform a lobotomy on a cadaver and is the only audience member that finds the procedure more fascinating than nauseating. With blood and gore making occasional yet impactful appearances, the show subtly leans into the genre of horror. If you enjoy suspense and psychological thrillers, Ratched is definitely the show for you. Even if you don’t, with phenomenal acting from Paulson and Okonedo, eye-catching cinematography, and a rather interesting plot, Ratched is one to watch.
Warning: spoilers for the first two episodes of WandaVision!
Disney+ has finally released the first two episodes of the long-awaited WandaVision miniseries. Set after the events of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the series follows Wanda Maximoff / The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) as they cycle through the decades and well-known TV tropes as a newlywed couple in the American suburb of Westview. Given that Vision died, at the hands of Wanda no less, during Avengers: Infinity War, his resurrection has certainly confused some. But if there’s one thing about WandaVision it’s that all is not as it seems…
With vintage clothing, outdated language (one character actually says “gee willikers”) and boisterous hairstyles, the first episode feels like it was taken right out of a 1950s sitcom. There’s also some great historical humour that makes the time period more than obvious – when Vision tells his boss that his wife is European, his boss responds by saying that he doesn’t break bread with Bolsheviks. Much of the show’s humour comes from Wanda and Vision’s inability to fit into their new surroundings as a majorly powerful superhero and a literal computer. We watch as the newlyweds step into the 50s suburban dream – complete with traditional gender roles and a white picket fence. In the first episode, after they spend the day trying to determine what a vague heart means on the kitchen calendar, they have a comedically chaotic dinner with Vision’s boss Mr. Hart and his ‘lovely lady wife’ Mrs. Hart. This episode immediately tells viewers that WandaVision is taking a radically different approach to the superhero-filled action that we usually associate with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But, although quirky and funny, we soon get the sense that something is not right.
For me, the instant giveaway was during the first few seconds of episode one. Instead of crediting Olsen and Bettany as the stars of the show, we see only Wanda Maximoff and Vision listed as the main stars. Later, we again get that nagging feeling that something is wrong during dinner with the Harts. Mr. Hart begins to hound the couple with questions on little details that they are unable to answer. Wanda and Vision can’t remember when they got married, why they moved to Westview or even where they lived before – possibly representing the questions that we have as the audience. In another hint that there is something else going on, Mrs. Hart tells her husband to leave them alone because “they’re setting up their story.”
As the credits roll at the end of the first episode, the camera zooms out to show us that we are not the only ones watching Wanda and Vision navigate the 50s – they are also being watched from a S.W.O.R.D. base in the present-day. We are watching a show-within-a-show. And this is where things get quite confusing, but also very fascinating. More than likely, the shows’ episodes are being created by Wanda herself as some sort of coping mechanism in the wake of Vision’s death while S.W.O.R.D. monitors her closely. S.W.O.R.D. (The Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division) is one of the many intelligence agencies that exists within the MCU and specifically monitors extraterrestrial threats to Earth. Those that have kept up with Marvel shows would have seen subtle references to S.W.O.R.D. in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D series finale a few months ago when Daisy, her sister Kora, and partner Daniel Sousa were seen travelling through space, with Daniel jokingly calling them the ‘Astro Ambassadors.’ Seems like an allusion to me!
The second episode tells us even more than the first by explicitly showing us that we are watching the actual mayhem that exists within Wanda’s mind. While talking to another woman from her neighbourhood, a voice suddenly blares through the radio and calls to Wanda – asking if she can hear them. Someone, most likely a S.W.O.R.D. agent, is trying to reach Wanda where she has retreated into her own mind. Towards the end of this episode, after Wanda suddenly becomes heavily pregnant in the blink of an eye, she and Vision watch frozen in horror as a beekeeper crawls out of a manhole in the middle of the night outside their home. Wanda, visibly distressed, simply says “no” and consciously rewinds time to mere moments before. This eery beekeeper further indicates that S.W.O.R.D. is heavily involved in the show’s events, as he dons the organisation’s logo on the back of his suit. Wanda’s ability to alter the present at will is a major sign that she is in control here.
While they add to the vintage feel of the episodes, the oddly intriguing commercial breaks that occur during the show also suggest this. In these two episodes we see old commercials for a Stark Industries toaster and a Hydra watch with the name Strücker on it. In the first advert the camera pointedly zooms in on a flashing red light on the toaster while the music creates suspense, deliberately creating an air of tension that makes you feel like something bad is on the horizon. The toaster is apparently meant to symbolise the Stark Industries bomb with which Wanda and her twin brother Pietro (also known as Quicksilver) were trapped after it fell on their home in Sokovia, killing their parents. Just in case you forgot, Wanda and Pietro (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) came storming into the MCU hell-bent on getting revenge against Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) for his family’s role in the death of their parents in Avengers: Age of Ultron – also the film in which Vision became a sentient being. The Hydra watch is a clear reference to Baron Von Strücker, the man that used the Mind Stone to give the Maximoff twins their unique abilities. Wanda’s personal history is definitely going to be central to the show’s future episodes and thus understanding exactly what the hell is going on.
As someone that is not a Marvel master, but still a big fan, I did have to do extensive Googling after watching these episodes in order to fully make sense of what I had just seen. For those that are even less into the MCU than I am, the show definitely has the potential to be far too confusing and in turn disappointing. While the first two episodes offer hints that there are big things (and some answers) to come, some people might not be patient enough to wait it out if they have to consult Google after each thirty-minute episode. So far WandaVision is an undeniably intriguing insight into the devastating chaos going on within Wanda’s mind. By employing a combination of bold symbolism, contemporary comedy, great acting, and intense visuals, Disney has formulated something insanely unique. WandaVision is an adventurous and striking addition to the MCU and marks the first installment of Phase 4 of the extensive franchise. With seven more episodes to come, WandaVision has time to establish even more intrigue before answering the many, many questions us viewers have.
The first two episodes of WandaVision are available to stream on Disney+. The next episode will be released on January 22.