Best in Streaming: Severance, The Bear, Andor and more

Looking for something to binge on? Choose from our picks of the foreign shows that released this year at an OTT near you
Best in Streaming: Severance, The Bear, Andor and more

Two seasons of Slow Horses (available on Apple TV+) in one year; a 10-part retelling of how The Godfather was made (The Offer, available on Voot); a dramatic adaptation of Elizabeth Holmes’s story (The Dropout, on Disney+ Hotstar), Jesse Eisenberg and Lizzy Kaplan talking their way through relationship woes and identity crises in Fleishman is in Trouble (Disney+ Hotstar) — there was a wealth of good stories to binge on in 2022, and these are just a few of the less-than-perfect examples. Disney+ Hotstar held on to its title of being the best curator among Indian streamers and brought some of the best American shows to Indian audiences. Leaving aside the cringe-inducing adaptation of Shantaram, Apple TV+ continued to present the most unusual stories and lavish productions from around the world. Fittingly, these two platforms are home to the two best shows of the year: Severance and The Bear.

Severance (Apple TV+)

What better way to depict the idea of corporate America as mindless drones than to envision a job at which every employee has split their consciousness in half? Dan Erikson's Severance is a workplace thriller that was simultaneously dystopian in tone and a rich commentary on the current moment, having arrived at a time when the pandemic had taken a sledgehammer to the concept of a work-life balance and the idea of 'quiet quitting' began to pick up steam. Utterly absorbing and impeccably plotted, the show took a high-concept premise and made it all-too relatable to anyone who'd ever asked themselves if the drudgery of their job was worth it. The final episode was one of television's most harrowing, nail-biting and internal-screaming-worthy experiences this year, but Severance's real victory lay in crafting characters to root for, empathetic and real in their defiance of a culture that fought to define them as anything but.

The Bear (Disney+ Hotstar)

When Carmy’s brother dies by suicide, Carmy leaves the world of fine dining and tries to revive the fortunes of his brother’s sandwich shop in Chicago. The work is excruciating, but the long hours and many challenges come handy for Carmy who is determined to avoid dealing with his grief as well as the trauma of surviving a kitchen where the work culture was toxic. Within minutes of its first episode, Christopher Storer’s The Bear draws you deep into Carmy’s world. Strange, funny, intense and compelling, this eight-episode show is about friendship, tenderness, masculinity, the joy that comes from doing what you love, and the stress of working in the service industry. It’s powered by some terrific acting by Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri and Ebon Moss-Bachrach in particular. Look out for the dream sequences that go from hilarious to disturbing in a matter of seconds. Unlike The Menu (2022), which also featured a chef as a protagonist, Storer’s show is far more hopeful. For all the tension and tears, The Bear leaves you cheering for Carmy, Sydney (Edebiri) and the others who dare to pursue their dreams despite all the obstacles in their paths.

The Rehearsal (Disney+ Hotstar)

Nathan Fielder’s bizarre but brilliant show lies somewhere between reality TV and a social experiment. In The Rehearsal, Fielder and his retinue of actors and helpers (including a construction crew) help ordinary people prepare for real-life situations by ‘rehearsing’ with them in carefully-constructed simulations. For instance, when a subject wants to find the courage to admit they lied about their educational background to their friend, Fielder builds a replica of the bar in Brooklyn where the meeting will take place. He also hires an actor to play the friend and makes the actor meet the friend to make the rehearsal performance more authentic. On one hand, each rehearsal is a gift from Fielder to the subject. On the other, you realise how much of an exercise in narcissism this whole show is for Fielder, who guides this show down a spiral of uncomfortable self-awareness. The show ends up being unexpectedly revealing, honest and moving even as it strips away the gloss of reality tv and exposes its bare bones.    

Andor (Disney+ Hotstar)

A prequel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), Andor plays out like a slow-burn spy thriller as it follows the journey of Cassian (Diego Luna) and his evolution into a Rebellion leader. With Tony Gilroy — he wrote the Bourne films — as Andor’s showrunner, it’s not surprising that the show is set in a bleak, gritty world in which no one is safe and sacrifices are unavoidable. The worldbuilding is filled with satisfying details, making good use of flashbacks and establishing shots. While there are some excellent action sequences that also pack an emotional punch, it’s the quieter aspects of Andor that make it such a rewarding watch. Woven into a tale that celebrates resistance in face of fascism are unexpectedly moving sub-plots, like the explorations of people’s relationships with their parents. It’s also a fantastic reminder of how bureaucracy can normalise evil. There may not be any Jedi or Skywalkers in Andor, but this is one of the best things to come out of the Star Wars universe.

Pachinko (Apple TV+)

Based on Min Jin Lee’s sprawling novel and directed by Kogonada and Justin Chon, Pachinko follows four generations of a family whose fortunes show how Koreans were affected by the Japanese colonisation of Korea in the early 20th century. It’s a lavishly-produced show that shuttles between different countries and time periods, and is worth watching for the gorgeous production design alone. Every frame looks like a painting. From the clothes to the food, there’s a rich story layered into practically every inanimate detail. At the heart of Pachinko is Sunja — played by Yu-na Jeon, Min-ha Kim and Youn Yuh-jung. Unsurprisingly, when Youn takes on the role of the elderly Sunja who runs a pachinko parlour in Osaka, the show is at its best. While the pacing is a little uneven and might make you wish you’d read the book before watching the show, Pachinko is a beautiful examination of both the ugliness that humanity is capable of and its capacity to find joy.

Abbott Elementary (Disney+ Hotstar)

What happens if you take the aesthetic and storytelling of The Office, and use it to tell the story of a group of school teachers? Welcome to Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary. This delightful and deeply binge-able mockumentary is filled with rapid-fire punchlines, hilarious set-ups and pitch-perfect performances from Brunson, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter among others. Wrapped into the banal adventures of these elementary school teachers is an insightful critique of race, social inequality and other grave and serious issues. Even though it’s deeply rooted in American society, Abbott Elementary feels relatable and thoroughly addictive no matter where you are. Chances are, it will remind you of your school days and make you feel nostalgic about your old teachers. The show’s comic conflicts cover a range of topics, including the difficulty of picking a favourite pizza joint to the challenges of incorporating new-fangled technology into teaching routines. The everyday is the stuff of rib-tickling humour, thanks to fantastic writing and characters who are often ridiculous but never outlandish. This was one of the best feel-good shows of 2022.

The Patient (Disney+ Hotstar)

A serial killer wants to stop himself from giving in to his murderous instincts and so he kidnaps his psychotherapist. This is the outrageous and fascinating premise of Joel Fields and Joseph Weisberg’s thriller series starring Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson. Carell plays the bespectacled shrink Dr. Alan Strauss who unexpectedly finds himself chained to a bed in a stranger’s home, faced with Sam (Gleeson), a patient who demands Alan devote himself to treating Sam. The idea behind The Patient is to paint a portrait of a serial killer’s mind, but the scene-stealer is Carrell. Running alongside the main plot of Sam’s violent nature is Alan looking back on his life and relationships. Left on his own for long stretches, Alan looks back on different episodes from his own life, he thinks about his son who is now estranged from the family, the tension that followed when Alan’s wife passed away — only to be interrupted by the arrival of Sam, who brings with him takeout from some decidedly exotic sounding places. Although the resolution is less than satisfactory, in The Patient, the process makes for an excellent psychological thriller.

Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)

At the start of Bad Sisters, John Paul Williams (aka The Prick) is in a coffin and ostensibly, the point of the show is to figure out who killed him. Because someone definitely did. John Paul (played to villainous perfection by Claes Bang) had the distinction of having been uniformly repulsive to everyone, from his wife to his daughter to his neighbour to his four sisters in-law. He’s nosy, he’s rude, he’s petty and it is evident that he’s better off dead. And that’s what makes Bad Sisters such a special show — it’s entirely unapologetic about its stand that the only viable option for John Paul is death. Using his death as a launching pad, Bad Sisters explores the way trauma and suffering weaves into women’s lives and while doing this, it also delivers some of the year’s best comedic moments on screen. Also, the show has a fantastic soundtrack, which includes PJ Harvey’s haunting cover of “Who By Fire”.

Heartstopper (Netflix)

Based on a webcomic and graphic novel series, Heartstopper is about Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor), who go to the same grammar school. Charlie is the nerd who has the words “gay panic” as his cellphone’s wallpaper. Kit is the sports jock and captain of the school rugby team. They meet and in the middle of all the other things that make high school complicated for “borderline outcasts” (to quote one of Charlie’s friends), a romance blossoms between Charlie and Nick. Much of the show is about figuring out one’s identity and finds a way of dealing with difficult and painful subjects like bullying without feeling disheartening. Heartstopper is inevitably compared to Euphoria because both shows are about the swirling emotions of adolescence. While Euphoria feels riddled with nihilism, Heartstopper is all about earnestness. It’s very deliberately focused on being queer and teenaged, but also on being joyful. Whimsical — the show uses illustrations and doodles that are a fun hat-tip to the books on which it’s based — honest and charming, Heartstopper also feels relatable, like when Charlie googles “How do you know you’re bisexual?” Not surprising that the show won five awards at the Children’s and Family Emmy Awards.

The Staircase (Prime Video)

In December 2001, author Michael Peterson’s wife Kathleen died. Peterson claimed he’d found Kathleen at the foot of the stairs after she’d gotten drunk and fallen down. He was later arrested for first-degree murder. This is a case that has already been a subject of a documentary so it’s interesting to see how show creator Antonio Campos uses fiction to highlight aspects of the true-crime case that non-fiction couldn’t explore. Tense and taut, The Staircase recounts the events that led to Kathleen’s death and shows a family buckling under the pressure of this tragedy and its aftermath. It also scrutinises the American legal system. While Colin Firth delivers a brilliant performance as the slippery Peterson, The Staircase veers uncomfortably close to a homophobic take on bisexuality as a kind of deceit, but redeems itself by highlighting how queer men are often forced to pass as straight. Toni Collette as Kathleen and Parker Posey as the prosecutor Freda Black are also a treat to watch, even though not all its loose ends feel satisfactorily tied by the end.

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