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The Ascendance of Hulu's Original Programming




Reeya’s Best of 2022 in TV and Film




The gang at Story Screen usually does their yearly "Best of" lists about their favorite movies of the year. My partner and I currently live in a part of New York where the closest movie theater to us is a small one in Bennington, VT that doesn't get many major releases, forcing us to go to Saratoga Springs or Albany for anything else. Consequently, we have seen a lot more TV in the past year than we have films - but we're not complaining, because 2022 had some exceptional television programming this year, especially from the multitudes of streaming services available for us all. This was a year where it's become very clear that network TV needs to work hard to keep up with the superior output from their streaming competitors and trust me, we are here for it.


That said, I did manage to see some films this year, and three of them rose to the top for me, so let's get those out of the way first before I go into my 2022 TV Roundup:




The Good Nurse


A true crime story, The Good Nurse follows Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren, a night nurse who begins to suspect that her colleague and best friend Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) is a serial killer, murdering patients at random. It depicts her efforts to discover the truth and assist the detectives in looking into a series of suspicious deaths at hospitals where Cullen worked in the past. Chastain is always a delight to watch, and Redmayne does an eerily good job at portraying the seemingly kind-hearted and gentle Cullen, hiding a vicious and horrendous secret. Noah Emmerich, a reliable favorite of mine, also gives a great performance as Tim Braun, one of the detectives investigating Cullen, and manages to bring some nuance into what might have been a fairly rote police character.




The Menu


I wrote about this for Story Screen and I don't need to rehash it here. This is a fantastic, unsettling black comedy about restaurant kitchen culture and the cult of celebrity chefs, with great performances from Ralph Fiennes as Chef Julian Slowik, who has lost his way after becoming a chef of world-renown, and Anya Taylor-Joy as a skeptical dinner guest, Margot, who figures out his true motivations during a private dinner seating. You can read my piece analyzing it further, or better yet, just watch it.




The Banshees of Inisherin


Yet another black comedy film I wrote about for Story Screen (in fact, I literally JUST wrote about it last month). Again, I won't rehash it here. Career-best work from Colin Farrell as Pádraic Súilleabháin. Wonderful work from Brendan Gleeson as his foil, Colm Doherty. A heartwarming performance from Kerry Condon as Pádraic's sister, Siobhán. And the cutest co-star of the year: Jenny, the miniature donkey. Watch it. Seriously. Colin Farrell is going to win so many awards for playing Pádraic, and you need to see why.



 

Now that we've gone over my (admittedly) paltry list of 2022 movie favorites, on to the meat of my entertainment in 2022: an excellent year of television.




Severance


This drama series from Apple TV+ has a deep, thorny premise that on its face might sound appealing for any of us sick of the grind of corporate work - if we don't think it through too much. Lumen is a company that facilitates the separation of their workers' consciousness from their “work selves” and their “out-of-work selves”) via a technology that surgically divides their memories. Their work lives are known as "Innies," and their home lives are "Outies." Lumen has strict regulations to prevent the Innies from knowing anything about their Outies (and vice versa). This is ostensibly to promote a healthy work-life balance but in reality, has deep psychic implications for the characters within Lumen. Lumen itself is revealed to be a dystopian organization, where the work its employees do is vague (and perhaps nefarious?). They have created a workforce that adheres to company policies with vigorous compliance, and those who rebel against the protocols (like the new employee, Helly) are subjected to extreme and inhumane punishment. Over the course of this exhilarating first season, Helly slowly convinces her colleagues that living this way is not normal, and they begin to fight back against the strange work rules they are forced to abide by, resulting in a nail-biting season finale with a cliffhanger for the ages. The cast is helmed by Adam Scott as Mark, a previously compliant worker whose own suspicions about a former co-worker's passing allow him to be swayed by Helly's arguments about the bizarre nature of their work lives. Britt Lower does amazing work as the rebellious Helly. They are joined by Zach Cherry as Dylan, a colleague who really enjoys Lumen's company perks until he inadvertently learns that his Outie has a young son, and he is profoundly disturbed by how much he doesn't know about his life. John Turturro plays Irving, a long-time Lumen employee who is a stickler for company policy but finds himself drawn romantically to Burt (Christopher Walken, for once not Walken-ing through a role), the head of another Lumen department. Patricia Arquette is their unsevered boss, Harmony Cobel, who has a fierce, cult-like devotion to Lumen's founder, and Tramell Tillman plays Seth Milchick, the unsevered supervisor of the severed employees who are there to dole out the upsetting punishments for non-compliance to company rules but also the strange (but sort of fun?) rewards for good performance. This is by far the best program on Apple TV+ after Ted Lasso, and I am eagerly awaiting Season 2 to see what happens to the severed Lumen gang.




Dopesick


With a huge cast that includes: Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Hoogenakker, Will Poulter, Rosario Dawson, Mare Winningham, Kaitlyn Dever, and Michael Keaton, Dopesick is an ambitious, sprawling structure spanning nearly two decades, cutting back and forth between the past and the present. It gives a thorough unpacking of America's struggle with opioid addiction, especially in poorer areas of the country like Appalachia. This was a wonderful show. We get to see the corruption of Purdue Pharma, the company that develops OxyContin, and how go to any length to improve their profits, convince doctors that the drug isn't addictive while selling larger and larger doses, and ignore the very real consequences of their actions. We also explore the story of a DEA investigator working to take down Purdue, two US attorneys trying to build a legal case against Purdue, and two characters struggling with their own addictions to the drug. Michael Keaton, as Dr. Samuel Finnix, an Appalachian small-town doctor, is the beating heart of this show and he has racked up several awards in the process. The time-jumping show structure makes it hard to follow at times, but the exceptional performances by Keaton and the rest of the cast make this an absolutely gripping and devastating miniseries and well worth watching. Hulu has had a fantastic year in the streaming arena, and this was its first major achievement in 2022. I'll have more to say about other Hulu programming in this roundup, so keep reading...




The Dropout


The Dropout is another Hulu program, based mostly on the podcast of the same name, produced by ABC News, and also, partly on the Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou's book, Bad Blood, along with his companion podcast, which explores the rise and fall of Silicon Valley health technology startup, Theranos, as well as its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, and her boyfriend and colleague (and co-conspirator?), Sunny Balwani. This show also features a sprawling cast (including Elizabeth Marvel, Laurie Metcalf, Bill Irwin, William H. Macy, Stephen Fry, Alan Ruck, Josh Pais, Rich Sommer, and Sam Waterston), and a plotline that spans several years of Holmes' life, from her preteen years to her exposure in her adult life as a fraud, peddling unsafe and unreliable technology to healthcare providers and patients all for profitable gain. Amanda Seyfried gives a riveting performance as the (quite frankly bizarre) Holmes, and Naveen Andrews proves to be a fantastic foil as Balwani. This show unfolded shortly after the real-life Holmes was found guilty of defrauding Theranos investors and was awaiting sentencing, and shortly before the real-life Balwani faced similar charges in court. (The real-life Holmes was sentenced to 11 years in prison and was recently revealed to have bought a one-way ticket to Mexico after her conviction, thus proving that she has not learned a single thing from her experiences.) I've written about The Dropout for Story Screen previously, in my article, “Grifter Horror and the Problem of Startup Culture,” so if you want a deeper dive into the show, feel free to check that out.




Under the Banner of Heaven


Hulu delivers again! This miniseries covers the backstory of a real-life brutal crime connected to a prominent Mormon family in East Rockwell, Utah, based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. Andrew Garfield gives the best performance of his career as Jeb Pyre, a Mormon police detective who struggles with his faith as he gets deeper into the investigation of the murder of a Latter-day Saint mother, Brenda Lafferty, and her baby daughter. While Jeb Pyre and his partner Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham, as one of the few non-Mormons in the community) are fictional characters, they are used as an entry point into the world of Mormonism and its fundamentalist offshoots. The show itself is an ambitious deep dive into the history of the Morman religion, the rise of religious extremists, and the crime itself, all without becoming dry and didactic. Daisy Edgar-Jones gives a strong performance as the murder victim, and Wyatt Russell, as Brenda's power-mad fundamentalist brother-in-law Dan, is outright terrifying. This can be a hard show to watch given its subject matter. Still, Garfield's performance anchors it so well, depicting a complicated man who is gentle in nature, but extremely passionate about justice.




The Offer


This miniseries, released by Paramount+, about Hollywood producer Albert S. Ruddy's experiences producing The Godfather, has been criticized for being self-indulgent (The Godfather was a Paramount film), overly pandering, and didactic in its analysis of the film's true meaning, and why it struck a chord with audiences. The parts where Ruddy (played here by Miles Teller - who replaced Armie Hammer in the role once that whole cannibalism and sexual abuse stuff came out) works with director Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler), screenwriter Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo), who wrote the book the film was based on, actors Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers), and Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) - seen here as a young, self-conscious, sensitive young man who barely speaks above a whisper, a far cry from the bombastic performer he has since become - are honestly, not that interesting. Any narrative tension around the making of the film (Oh no! Paramount thinks Pacino is too short and weird to play Michael Corleone and won't approve of his casting! Paramount thinks Brando is washed-up and a pain in the ass and doesn't want him to play the Don! Paramount thinks filming in New York and Sicily will be too expensive! Paramount thinks the script is too long! Paramount has no faith in Coppola! Paramount thinks that Puzo won't be able to write an adaptation of his novel!) is completely undercut by our knowledge that of course, Brando and Pacino were in the film. Of course, Coppola was heralded as pioneering a new take on the traditional gangster film, and of course, Puzo wrote a great script, and of course, they filmed it in New York and made it to Sicily too. It significantly bogs down the plot. That said, the really interesting stuff in the series makes up for the silly manufactured tension of the pre-production and production of the film by seeing how far Ruddy went to fulfill Coppola's vision and deliver a great film for Paramount, with support from his assistant Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple), and an unlikely alliance with the real-life leader of one of the Five Families, Joe Columbo (Giovani Ribisi, almost unrecognizable), flamboyant Paramount studio head, Bob Evans (Matthew Goode, having the time of his life in the role), and Burn Gorman as head of Paramount's parent company Gulf-Western (also having the time of his life in the role), with Colin Hanks as Gulf-Western accountant, Barry Lapidus, who hates Evans and wants Ruddy to fail. Teller does a great job of making Ruddy warm, likable, and someone to root for, and I honestly cannot imagine this series working with Armie Hammer in the role (regardless of his questionable offscreen proclivities, the man has always been a cold fish on screen). If you're a movie geek like me (I am a lapsed film student after all), you'll enjoy the parts of the miniseries that depict the complicated process of being a producer. And you may feel inspired to watch The Godfather (again? for the first time?) afterward too.




Better Call Saul - Season 6


I've already written a fairly comprehensive exploration of Better Call Saul as a whole in the form of a listicle about villains in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe, so I don't know how much more I can say about this except that, unlike Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stuck the landing of their series finale perfectly, and in the process showcased already exceptional actors Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and the sublime Tony Dalton really going above and beyond to bring this sordid simultaneous prequel/sequel story of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman embracing his true nature and taking accountability for his bad acts (unlike a certain Walter White) to a terrific and satisfying end. The final scene between Saul (Odenkirk) and Kim Wexler (Seahorn) is a beautiful homage to classic film noir and made me so sad that we will never see these wonderful characters again. If you haven't seen Better Call Saul yet, what are you waiting for? You don't even have to have watched Breaking Bad to understand it (though if you have, you'll have a deeper appreciation for a lot of what you see). This is one of the few network shows on my list, proving that despite several blunders after the end of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, AMC is still capable of delivering really compelling Prestige TV.




The Outlaws - Season 2


This Amazon Prime series, produced in association with the BBC, probably slipped under your radar when season one was released in 2021. I know it did mine. The first season covered the antics of seven strangers from different walks of life in Bristol, who have run into various forms of trouble with the law, coming together to complete England's version of community service. They stumble upon a bag of money hidden in the community center they are working to restore, and their luck seems to change (though not necessarily for the better, as they are unaware that the money belongs to a dangerous drug-dealing criminal syndicate based in London). The series is co-created and written by Stephen Merchant, which should give you an idea of the brand of humor on display in this series - with strong performances by Rhianne Barreto as Rani Rekowski (an Oxford-bound student arrested for compulsive shoplifting), Eleanor Tomlinson as Lady Gabriella Penrose-Howe (a member of the landed gentry and social media influencer with a history of anger management and substance abuse issues), Jessica Gunning as Diane Pemberley (the community service supervisor with an overblown sense of her own authority), Christopher Walken (yes, really,) as Frank Sheldon (an American former conman living with his estranged daughter), and Merchant himself as Greg Dillard (a socially awkward lawyer trying to move beyond his grief over his recent divorce). The first season was a fun romp. But that was in 2021. The second season, airing last year, took a darker turn, as the characters' theft of the found money sucked into the world of drug dealing in order to pay back “The Dean,” the terrifying leader of the London criminal outfit. While there is still a hefty dose of the usual Merchant fare of cringe-comedy, season two delves deeper into the backstory of all seven community service workers and we see Rani abandon her Oxford scholarship and essentially "break bad" as she discovers she's quite good at running a drug dealing operation, much to the dismay of her boyfriend Ben Eastfield (Gamba Cole), who grew up in squalor with a drug addict mother. Christopher Walken definitely Walkens his way through season one but shows some admirable depth in season two as he begins to come to terms with how badly he mistreated his family during his younger conman days. This show deserves more recognition and you should watch it. That's all I gotta say about that.




The Patient


I've also already written a fairly comprehensive deep dive into this miniseries (also from Hulu) a while back on how Steve Carell cements his transformation into a serious actor with believable and heartbreaking gravitas in this series with his performance as therapist Alan Strauss. The Patient also features a quirky and unsettling performance by Domhnall Gleeson as Sam Fortner, the serial killer who takes Strauss hostage, and a surprisingly poignant performance by none other than David Alan Grier as Charlie Addison, Strauss' former therapist, and mentor. This is a series full of tension and I'm pretty sure my blood pressure was through the roof during the climax of its final episode, but it's great stuff. Well done everyone (and Hulu).




The White Lotus - Season 2


One of my biggest regrets is that due to a logistically complicated year (as my boyfriend and I relocated from the Hudson Valley to the Capital District), I was unable to write a piece for Story Screen about the first season of The White Lotus in 2021. Originally intended as a miniseries, it proved to be so popular that it evolved into an actual drama series. I especially wanted to analyze the character of White Lotus General Manager, Armond (a brilliant performance by Murray Bartlett, finally getting recognition after years of amazing work as a character actor). This is also one of the few programs on network television (well, HBO is a premium subscription, but you know what I mean) on my list, but both seasons are available to stream on HBOMax if you missed either (or both). While the first season of The White Lotus, set in Hawaii, focused on money and white privilege, the second season, set in Sicily, focuses on money, sex, and sexual politics, with yet another huge cast. Rising to the top of this list of formidable actors are Aubrey Plaza as Harper Spiller, dealing with her troubled marriage, Meghann Fahy as Daphne Sullivan, who has found a way to manage her own secretly troubled marriage, Simona Tabasco as Lucia Greco, a feisty and intelligent hustler and sex worker, Beatrice Grannò as Mia, an aspiring musician who gets pulled into sex work by Lucia, Jennifer Coolidge, reprising her role as the hapless and clueless billionaire Tanya McQuoid from season one, and Tom Hollander as Quentin, a wealthy ex-pat with nefarious plans for Tanya. There is A LOT going on in this season, and I don't want to give away anything, so you should go check it out when you get a chance. But watch season one first, if only for Murray Bartlett.




Welcome to Chippendales


Chippendales is yet ANOTHER wonderful Hulu miniseries. While this show technically aired its last few episodes in January 2023, it premiered in November 2022 and the bulk of the show took place last year. This story features the rise and fall (and continued existence) of the male-stripping franchise Chippendales, and the corruption and greed of Somen "Steve" Banerjee (NO RELATION TO ME!!!), the owner and founder of Chippendales, as he becomes more and more wealthy from his sensationalist creation. Kumail Nanjiani does a terrific job in his first real dramatic role as Steve, and the show features great performances by Annaleigh Ashford as Irene, Steve's wife and the club's accountant, Juliette Lewis as costume designer Denise, and of course, the genius that is Murray Bartlett as choreographer Nick De Noia. Who knew that Chippendales had such a turbulent and violent origin? Not I! The show began to run out of steam during its last two episodes, but it did stick the landing in the end and the rest of the run - especially its first two episodes - are close to perfect and a pleasure to watch. This is an awfully fun show despite it being a true crime story, and worth it for Nanjiani and Bartlett's friendship-turned-bitter rivalry alone.



Overall, as I mentioned, 2022 was a great year for Hulu, who as far as I'm concerned is giving all of the other streaming services a major run for their money. If you aren't a subscriber yet, I strongly urge you to sign up NOW and catch up on these shows I mentioned. I'm super excited to see what Hulu gives us this year and to see if any of the other streamers can catch up to them.



 

Reeya Banerjee

Staff Writer

Reeya is a musician and writer based in NY's Capital District. Her debut album The Way Up was released on January 27, 2022. She can frequently be seen in her car on the NYS Thruway cursing traffic on her way to the Hudson Valley for band rehearsals or to Brooklyn for recording sessions. In her other life, she works as a staff accountant for a management company that oversees veterinary practices nationwide, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU returns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use.


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