Ozark, Season 4: Part 2, 2022 (Netflix)
The story of a middle class accountant-turned-money-launderer, Ozark was a solid but sleeper hit in its first two years. Slowly building a dedicated following since 2017, the exploits of Marty and Wendy Byrd - the everyday American family under the thumb of a dangerous Mexican drug cartel - became mandatory viewing in the early lockdowns of pandemic 2020.
Since that year's third season, creators Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams have been hurtling towards the explosive final chapter of the Netflix show. We pick up from the midway point of season four (which dropped in January) with a vengeful Ruth Langmore giving chase to Javier Elizondro - the man who has just killed her cousin Wyatt. This pursuit kicks off these final 7 episodes of Ozark and it's a gripping and worthy conclusion to one of the better shows to come from the streaming era.
Marty and Wendy Byrd have always been a case study in power, greed and the pursuit of the American Dream. The years of careful calculations and manipulative manoeuvring have taken their toll - on their mental health, on their strained relationships with their kids, and with the profit margins expected of their employers. All of those delicate connections come undone and it's addictive to watch these two characters scramble to pull off a last-ditch attempt to start afresh, above criminality.
The cast are insanely good all round, with Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner all likely to repeat their Emmy nomination success this time out. Each of them plunge to new depths as their characters shoot for resolution and respite. The somewhat ambiguous ending might leave some questions unanswered but the brutal plot of these last episodes leaves one point certain: The Byrds won't go down without a fight.
Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, 2022 (Marvel/Disney)
Fresh from wiping the memory of Peter Parker, Stephen Strange is pulled into the multiverse to save a new young hero, and to prevent an old ally from causing carnage many times over. And thanks to the visual style of director Sam Raimi, Dr Strange 2 has a distinct personality amongst the MCU canon, helping the film to stand out from a crowded source of stories.
Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness marks Benedict Cumberbatch's sixth appearances as the Master of the Dark Arts and despite a promising first entry in 2016, his follow up does him the dishonour of being a supporting character in his own film. Not that it's Cumberbatch's fault at all; he gives in to Stephen Strange fully, presenting pathos and humour, and deepening our experience of him. Its just that this film pitches him against Wanda Maximoff, a character who the MCU fandom have elevated to Top Tier status since her appearance in Avenger's Infinity War.
For her part, Elizabeth Olsen is magnetically watchable. Fresh from her WandaVision series of 2021, she leans in to different versions of her character and makes it all appear effortless. The character motivation is a little lacking in this - especially given her considerable arc in the series - and the Darkhold magic used more as an at-will plot device than to deepen her story, but you gotta give it to her: she steals the show here.
Elsewhere, several other bit players come along to pull focus. Whether its the lead of the X-Men, reimagined Captains or a Fantastic new Marvel character, the film does a great job of fan service in Act II, no doubt testing the waters for further franchises and crossovers. One substantial new character, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), is unfortunately used as a macguffin, expositing backstory where needed, instead of having much agency or story of her own. A cool set of powers, here's hoping the MCU can find a worthwhile story to include her in.
All in all, Dr Strange 2 is a bold, interesting movie. It takes big swings and suffers a few misses in the course of its runtime, but regardless, it's a fun entry into the franchise, even if it will likely be remembered for anything other than its namesake hero.
RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, Season 7, 2022 (Paramount+/WOW Presents)
Debuting in 2009 on a small cable network (and with the barest of budgets), RuPaul's Drag Race has become one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of the past decade. With over twenty seasons of its regular format - 14 in the US, and at least 7 local spin offs - it's hard to deny the ubiquity and ferocity of which the franchise continues to deliver. And that's just the regular format. Since 2012, an All Stars version has seen already-competed Queens return to the show, showing off their Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent once again and upping the ante on the competition.
In what feels like some sort of queer fever dream, the latest instalment landed on Paramount+ last week. Drag Race All Stars 7 is here, and for the first time ever, features contestants who've not only been here before, but have taken out the title.
It is the Olympics of Drag. On crack. And glitter. And if the first two episodes are any indication, it might be the ultimate season ever made.
The cast is made up of regular series winners Jaida Essence Hall (12), Yvie Oddly (11), Jinkx Monsoon (5), and Raja (3) alongside All Stars winners Shea Coulee (AS 5), Trinity the Tuck (AS 4) and Monet X Change (AS 4). The Vivienne completes the cast, and is the only non-American Winner (UK 1). She is, as Shea says, this season's "diversity hire."
A major change to the format this time though is the lack of weekly eliminations, a staple of the show and catalyst for its most dramatic moments. Instead, each contestant earns stars from their weekly challenges and the four with the most will battle in the show's final episode. This gives the Queens ample opportunity to flaunt their creativity even more fearlessly than before and in just two episodes, we've seen arguably some of the strongest runways, the best Snatch Game in herstory, and a rumix girl group challenge on par with the best of them.
At it's foundation, Drag Race was a love letter to queer people; an opportunity to give talented minority folk a stage to show the world who they were, unapologetically. After 13 years, it's freakin' joyful to watch some of our favourite competitors return to RuPaul's runway with heightened confidence, elevated aesthetics and moves, jokes and looks that make Drag Race one of the most compelling TV shows in history.
Abbott Elementary, Season 1, 2021 (ABC/Disney+)
Quinta Brunson, the First Lady of Abbott Elementary, has a multi-faceted comedic resume. This here is her first foray into network television, and the talented auteur rotates the hats of creator, executive producer, episode writer and leading actress. That a young black woman has been given such control and influence of a new series is a strong indication of diversifying tides in the mainstream. The fact that Abbott just happens to be one of the most charming and consistently funny new sitcoms is a laugh-out-loud bonus.
A documentary film crew has moved into an inner-city Philadelphia elementary school and we're treated to an Office-esque peak into the lives of the faculty, who are doing their best to educate their young students. Brunson plays Janine Teagues, an idealistic 25-year-old teacher in her second year at Abbott. She Loves Learning (capital Ls) and her attempts to better herself and her young charges is played to hilarious effect.
The cast have great chemistry and over the show's first season of 13 episodes, we're treated to arcs and twists that keep the characters interesting and investment-worthy. Industry icon Sheryl Lee Ralph (Moesha, Sister Act 2) and Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) lend familiar faces and comic timing to Barbara and Gregory. In the role of Principal Ava Coleman, comic Janelle James is often questionable and frequently side-splitting, offering up the bulk of the show's greatest lines.
Debuting in December to great reviews and ratings, season 2 was greenlit in March so the doors of Abbott Elementary will be open for another year, at least. If you haven't already registered, its best you check it now.