Wang doesn’t resort to tawdry tricks or baiting accusations. She instead centers smart investigative techniques and sturdy filmmaking while never losing the intensity that makes such tragic stories primed for consumption. “Mind Over Murder” is the newest peak reached by a filmmaker who somehow continues to find new heights. – RD
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You may know him from his career as a stand-up, or as the diner owner on “Ramy,” but Mo Amer’s self-titled Netflix show—yet another scripted series that defies the simple labels of drama and comedy—was a wholly unique enterprise. Set in Houston, the story guided us through the joys and ignominies of being an immigrant in America, something I found myself immediately familiar with. Indeed, much of “Mo” was pleasantly recognizable to any immigrant: a judgmental, perpetually worried mother (Farah Bsieso); family members who are by turns cruel and doting; and most importantly, physically and psychologically juggling one’s own culture (Mo always has on his person a bottle of homemade olive oil; can you imagine how good that must taste?) while also trying to fit in with a hegemonic culture.
The writing in the first season of Netflix’s best show was loving and funny, dealing out jokes at a rapid-fire clip, gently satirizing America and immigrant communities, while also urging the audience to consider the impact that gun violence, poverty, and racism have on the most vulnerable members of society. It helped that Amer’s onscreen presence is immensely relatable: his frustration, his sorrow, and his hustle combined to create an arresting narrative.
Teresa Ruiz was a stand-out as Mo’s Hispanic and Catholic girlfriend Maria, her own de-facto immigrant status as a new arrival in Mo’s close-knit Muslim family a source of conflict and humor. I’m especially appreciative of the series’ near-constant subtitles, for both Arabic and Spanish; normalizing them is one of the ways that pop culture can increase the reach of marginalized voices. “Mo” has already been renewed for a second season, and I’m hopeful that it will feature even richer explorations of Mo’s family and friends’ lives. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to make my own olive oil. – NB
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“The Old Man” (FX)
In one of the year’s biggest surprises, Jeff Bridges took on the hallowed role of the older male vigilante in “The Old Man,” an FX series based on the book by Thomas Perry. But this form of the archetype was considerably more thoughtful than a “Taken” movie, or less driven by pure star power as with Tom Cruise’s two “Jack Reacher” projects.
Across its episodes, which often featured bone-crunching action that featured Bridges in shots for as long as possible, “The Old Man” carried on the themes of these previous stories about regret, the peacefulness of a secret past, and the relationships that one remains connected to even when a mission is long over. Bridges’ entirely grounded portrayal of Dan Chase was at the center and helped create a striking history with John Lithgow; the two go way back, farther than they want to look. It’s a complicated, gray history that only became more interesting as the series continued to demystify one of Bridges’ best roles yet. – NA