It’s a Sin
Streaming on HBO Max (miniseries; 5 episodes)
The British television import It’s a Sin follows a group of friends — four gay boys and a girl, Jill, whose sexuality is never specified — living in a flat in London during the first decade of AIDS. The miniseries is from producer Russell T Davies, best known for Queer as Folk. This time around, Davies is not force-feeding a feel-good narrative about LGBTQ people. In It’s a Sin, the sparkly atmosphere of liberation that precedes the epidemic serves as a stark contrast to the devastation to come.
The first episode takes place in the early ’80s and follows Ritchie (Olly Alexander), a flamboyant twink; Colin (Callum Scott Howells), a wide-eyed naïf; and Roscoe (Omari Douglas), the cross-dressing child of Nigerian immigrants, as they flee their home towns and step into London’s queer scene. Their faces light up every time they enter a gay bar, always astounded by the fact that there’s a place for them in this world.
AIDS lingers on the margins; most characters believe it to be a homophobic rumor. “What about bisexuals?” Ritchie says. “Do they only get sick every other day?”
In a later episode, Jill (Lydia West) tucks one of her dying flatmates into bed and administers his AZT. “Bedtime,” she says. “It’s late — nearly half past seven.” On the soundtrack is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”: “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God,” Bush sings. “And I’d get him to swap our places.”
One of the roommates develops dementia at age 24. The flat, which had once hosted amateur drag shows and orgies, has been transformed into a makeshift hospice. It’s a Sin is as dedicated to depicting the trauma that AIDS introduced as it is to the joy that AIDS interrupted. “That’s what people will forget,” one character says on his deathbed. “That it was so much fun.” —Paul Sullivan
Streaming on Netflix (2 seasons; 19 episodes)
Few shows have made me wish the day away so I can spend the night on my couch intently watching them. Mindhunter is one of them.
It’s set in the 1970s, as two fictionalized FBI agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), travel the country interviewing men convicted of murdering multiple people. They establish profiles of these men and coin the term “serial killer.”
Unlike the agents, the murderers they interview — Ed Kemper, David Berkowitz, and Charles Manson, among them — are named and portrayed as the actual criminals.
Being completely unfamiliar with this aspect of forensic science history made Mindhunter a revelatory experience for me. Listening to a serial killer calmly acknowledge his behavior as if it were just another day at the office is morbid but weirdly intriguing.
The series leaves much for viewers to figure out, over time and on their own. For example, the opening scene of almost every episode involves a quick clip of a man’s daily life in Wichita, Kan. From episode to episode, these scenes become stranger. It took a while to understand that he’s the legendary “BTK Killer,” whom agents begin tracking in the second season.
Mindhunter received great reviews, but, because of its high cost and executive producer David Fincher’s other commitments and exhaustion, Netflix put a third season on indefinite hold. I really hope we get at least one more season because many questions remain unanswered. —Ryan Fitzgerald
Streaming on Netflix (4 seasons; 41 episodes; season 5 episodes now airing)
Who would imagine that bathroom humor could be so elevating?
Big Mouth is a cartoon sprint through all of the worst years of your life — brilliantly written to make you laugh till you cry and feel better about humankind. It’s built around the key contradiction of puberty: that while a lifetime’s worth of humiliations is happening to you, it’s also happening to everybody else.
The show’s pubescent leads are justly horrified. In addition to the gross things they endure, there’s the physical presence of their “hormone monsters” — giant, hairy, loud creatures that generate repellent ideas, especially Maury (voiced by co-creator Nick Kroll) and Connie (voiced by Maya Rudolph). They are tornadoes of energy and comedy, kind and well-meaning, but usually guiding their young charges into disaster.
Connie, in particular, is a work of art. She guides her human not only into sexuality, but also moodiness, spitefulness, schoolgirl popularity contests, and other regrettable novelties. Unruly as they are, the hormone monsters are also the kids’ only defense against the story’s true villains, such as the Shame Wizard (voiced delightfully by David Thewlis) and the Depression Kitty (voiced by Jean Smart), who sits on your chest and offers infomercials and ice cream.
But in the end, the shame that feels hopelessly isolating is indeed shared. That’s the alchemy that lets Big Mouth take life’s grossest moments and tell a story that’s not just hysterically funny but really joyful as well. —Paul Benson
Streaming on Netflix (debut season; 8 episodes)
Over the holiday season, I found myself spending more time trying to escape reality than embrace it. A Bridgerton binge was just what the doctor ordered. Produced by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy; How to Get Away With Murder), the series is based on Julia Quinn’s novels about the romantic entanglements of aristocrats in Regency-era London.
But unlike in Quinn’s books, the characters in Bridgerton are exactly what you’d expect from Rhimes — diverse and glorious. The show, which has attracted Netflix’s highest ratings, has sparked conversations over what it means to have Black people in roles that are historically white. Is accuracy more important than representation?
The lure of escape ushered in some embarrassing situations. My mother and I began watching Bridgerton the day after Christmas. What I didn’t plan on was the amount of sex onscreen. It reminded me of going with my mother to Titanic when I was younger and putting a bag of popcorn in front of my eyes.
This time, I sat quietly with my parents flanking me, watching Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), Duchess of Hastings, learn how to masturbate for the first time. My dad’s jokes about foreplay and my older brother’s protest that “they honestly had a man explain female masturbation?” sent me over the edge. Perhaps the history police can take on the female masturbation issue…. —Emma Doyle