9. “Dead Ringers” (Prime Video)
“Dead Ringers” is one of the most disturbing television series in recent memory, featuring scintillating performances by some of the best in the business. In a riveting double performance, Rachel Weisz is terrific as both the softer, kinder, sadder Beverly, and the rambunctious, mischievous, and possibly murderous Eliot Mantle. Credit must also be given to the costume and hair departments for cementing the differences between the two (Beverly wears delicate jewelry and her hair is neat, while Eliot’s hair, like her personality, hangs loose). Giving birth is a grisly horror, and “Dead Ringers” makes sure to document this reality with a bevy of nightmarish visuals. But the most frightening person in the ensemble cast, which also includes the ever-terrific Poppy Liu as the Mantle twins’ mysterious housekeeper Greta, is Jennifer Ehle as the scene-stealing Rebecca Parker, the billionaire funding the Mantle Center. Every syllable she utters is poison, and when she is silent the venom continues to seep from her pores and unblinking stare. She’s a one-woman horror film, and the series is worth watching just for her.
Scary content on TV isn’t new, but few shows have managed to achieve the maddening depths of terror as “Dead Ringers.” The production design, costumes, and overall chilled-to-the-bone atmosphere never let up on feeding the viewer’s anxieties, so six episodes of existential terror is just enough. Ryan Murphy, eat your heart out. – NB
8. “I’m a Virgo” (Prime Video)
If anyone can be trusted to scrutinize America’s many ills, it’s Boots Riley. Best known for his hit debut feature “Sorry to Bother You,” the writer/director returned to critiquing American norms with “I’m A Virgo.” Jharrel Jerome stars as Oakland resident Cootie, a 13-foot-tall man raised in secrecy by his aunt (Carmen Ejogo) and uncle (Mike Epps). He longs to explore the world outside his window, and his largeness, both metaphorical and literal, is reinforced through a specific, arresting visual style reminiscent of Adult Swim. Accidentally revealed to the neighborhood (and world at large), Cootie becomes an instant symbol, objectified and labelled by white people, some who want to use him for money, others who think he’s their cult’s prophesied messiah.
Riley has no shortage of ideas, and almost all are explored insightfully: he uses Jay Whittle (Walton Goggins), a billionaire who moonlights as a superhero targeting Black people, to critique the worship of the mega rich; he urges workers across industries to fight with, rather than against, each other. And Riley questions the proud, grotesque American traditions of exceptionalism, individualism, and blind devotion to capitalism, all while frequently making the audience laugh and wonder at the series’ extraordinary production design. “I’m A Virgo” is a perfect continuation of the pro-worker, anti-ruling class ethos of “Sorry to Bother You” and his hip-hop group The Coup, but it feels like Riley is flexing his imaginative muscles even more here, using forced perspective, animation, and puppetry to help us question our stark realities. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is. – NB