Aisha Harris

This essay contains major spoilers for Promising Young Woman and other works including the film Hard Candy and the series I May Destroy You, as well as discussion of sexual assault.

How do you like your revenge served on screen – via torture? In flames? A massive bloodbath?

How about ... via text message?

A year ago the official Twitter account of the Federal Bureau of Investigation tweeted, "Today, the FBI honors the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." It was accompanied by a photo of the FBI Academy's reflecting pool, where a quote from King is etched in stone: "The time is always right to do what is right."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are films that invite the viewer in by emanating an energy so lush and warm that you long to continue living in that world even after the runtime has ended. I get this feeling whenever I watch one of Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas that, despite holding up a mirror to serious themes like racism, classism and Puritanical social mores, offer a kind of comfort and splendor in their Technicolor richness and grounded translations of mid-century American pathos.

Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) wants her Coca-Cola, or she's not gonna sing. Never mind that this recording session during the sweltering Chicago summer of 1927 is already running behind because she and her mini-entourage arrived to the studio an hour late. No matter that tensions are already simmering among her four-piece band, and that her manager and music producer are at their wits' end trying to cut this blues record.

No Coca-Cola, no Ma Rainey's voice.

It has been a momentous year for everything we consider TV.

A pandemic, civil rights reckoning, streaming war and presidential election shook up the industry in a dozen different ways. It blurred lines between genres, platforms and story forms, while also encouraging us to develop our own, deep rabbit holes of favorite media. So when our team of four critics sat down to figure out what we liked most onscreen this year, we each had a lot of stuff on our lists no one else did.

A cardinal sin too many biopics indulge in is checking off the beat-by-beat life excerpts, ignoring a specified vision for depicting their real-life protagonists in favor of broad strokes. Mank, directed by David Fincher and based on a screenplay written by his late father Jack, is no such kind of biopic, thankfully. Inspired by Pauline Kael's spicy (and since widely discredited) New Yorker tome "Raising Kane," which argued Herman J.

There's nothing quite like an intricately designed Mariah Carey lyric. You know it when you hear it, because it involves a kind of vivid wordplay so utterly specific that you can't help but find yourself conjuring images in your own head of blissful romantic entanglements, earnest yearning or the doldrums of deep, intense heartache.

In the dreamy deep cut "Underneath the Stars," for example, she describes a rendezvous with a lover:

One summer night, we ran away for awhile

Laughing, we hurried beneath the sky

The most gripping moment in the HBO miniseries The Undoing involves the most natural of things. It happens in the first episode, between a bunch of wealthy Manhattan moms planning a fundraising event for their hoity-toity private school, and Elena (Matilda De Angelis), the noticeably younger and conventionally hot new mom whose fourth-grade son got in on a scholarship.

In the Hulu horror-comedy Bad Hair, a black woman's weave is more than just a weave. It's a status symbol. It's the key to a promotion. It's ... possessed by an evil spirit intent on sowing chaos?

Likewise, Bad Hair itself is more than a social satire. It's a visual and thematic pastiche of movies like The Fly and Rosemary's Baby. It's a loving sendup of black American pop music in the 1980s. It's a workplace comedy.

The opening credits sequence of Netflix's latest teen melodrama Grand Army is brief, but a perfect distillation of the show's modus operandi. During a montage depicting various young characters' faces, a moody, pulsating thump accompanies a siren's wail. From episode to episode, a different set of phrases flashes across the screen; in the second episode, those phrases are "F—k the f—ing patriarchy," "I'm scared" and "zero tolerance." Grand Army, it says in just a few seconds, is about existential fear in the face of institutional oppression.

Does it even matter that it's fall? We're stuck inside much of the time, anyway, and new TV shows come at us all year round. Well, yes, there's reason to celebrate precisely because of how the pandemic disrupted things. Broadcasters couldn't develop new material, thanks to production being halted. So, viewers watched more streaming services. Even HBO, FX and Showtime were forced to push back some of their best material to ensure they could get through the long summer.

On her 2001 album Britney, Britney Spears declared herself "not a girl, not yet a woman." In that sleepy ballad, the then-19-year-old pop star and sex symbol stressed her need for more time to grow up while cautioning you, the listener, against trying to protect her. "I've seen so much more than you know now/ So don't tell me to shut my eyes," she croons in her signature guttural, Britney-like way.