What to watch: We Are Sweet Hacks
Hey there! The Pop Culture Brain newsletter is currently on holiday hiatus. It’ll be back soon with regular news, trailers, and recommendation emails — but for now please enjoy highlights from the what to watch segment! And watch any of these if you missed ‘em!
We Are Lady Parts, now on Peacock, is like a perfect punk anthem. It hooks you in fast, keeps you on your toes with just-off-center energy, pushes through big ideas with sharp wit, and then it’s over before you even know what happened — and yet somehow, you’re still humming its chorus. Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, this British musical sitcom about a punk band made up of London Muslim women is a revelation. Funny, heartfelt, and melodic, Lady Parts brings a powerful dose of representation with stunning ease. Manzoor trojan horses intersectional feminist ideals and varied, nuanced portrayals of life as a modern Muslim woman in the West without ever bashing the audience over the head. She does it all through her hero’s journey into self actualization. Anjana Vasan anchors the show with quirky, awkward charm, but it’s Sarah Kameela Impey who absolutely blew me away with a career-making turn as the rough and guarded Saira. In just 3 hours (yep, season one is only 6 half-hour eps), Manzoor will have you deeply in love with all of her characters — and then she tops it off with a cathartic climax unmatched on TV this year. This show alone is worth the price of Peacock.
Hacks is magic. It’s what every 2021 comedy wishes it could be: An engrossing character study pumped with incredible jokes, grounded stakes, a clear point of view, and a gooey beating heart. Creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky walk an impressively thin line, balancing sardonic wit with knock-you-back emotion. Their exploration of women in comedy, life in Las Vegas, and the woes of show biz feels fresh and yet warmly familiar. Jean Smart, just off Fargo (!), Legion (!!), Watchmen (!!!), and Mare of Easttown (!!!!), is giving a career-best performance that only someone perfectly versed in both drama and comedy could do. I’m not sure how she loses the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy, to be honest. With Deborah Vance, Aniello, Downs, Statsky, and Smart have created a comedy character for the ages, but they didn’t stop there. They cast relative newcomer Hannah Einbinder as Ava, Smart’s foil and scene partner. I don’t really believe in on-screen chemistry (it’s just good acting), but these two pop and crackle together — even in scenes when they’re not sharing the same physical space! In her first major role, Einbinder soars and matches wit with Jean Smart. Like the rest of the series, she too toes a line: the one between lovable and loathsome. The supporting cast is also fantastic. The series is outrageously funny and surprising. There’s absolutely nothing hacky about Hacks, 10 half-hour episodes on HBO Max now.
I quit apocalypse shows a long time ago. The real world is bleak enough, I didn’t need anymore of that post-civilization darkness in my life. Falling Skies and the early seasons of The Walking Dead were enough. So you’d think I’d stay far away from Netflix’s Sweet Tooth. It centers around a virus, for heaven’s sake! (This is what we call escapism in 2021, apparently.) But then I saw the sumptuous trailer and devoured every episode — and all of a sudden, the apocalypse felt fresh again.
Sweet Tooth, developed by Jim Mickle off the Jeff Lemire graphic novel, takes a different approach to the end of the world. A deadly virus rises at the same time as human-animal hybrid babies, causing all kids of paranoia, hatred, and isolation. These dueling sci-fi concepts work magically together to dive into those heady themes. Yet, it all comes off with a light touch because the series’ hero is a 10-year-old deerboy and its tone is that of a dark fairytale. The same amount of expense seen on screen in Netflix’s other recent fantasy hit Shadow and Bone is visible here. The art department and VFX nailed it.
I’m not about to head down a rabbit hole of apocalypse shows, but I'm glad I took the journey to Colorado.