DUBAI: From the Korean drama that got everyone talking to the inside story of The Beatles’ final album, here’s our pick of the year’s top television.
The wildly entertaining Korean survival drama was surely the year’s buzziest show, if not its best. Yes, the acting of the wealthy VIP observers was appalling, but the overall quality of the show was enough to outweigh the clumsiness of the rare English-language sections. The conceit — people in horrible debt risking their lives playing a series of children’s games for the chance to win more than $35 million — was simple-but-brilliant, and creator Hwang Dong-hyuk also mixed in dark humor and a scathing critique of capitalism and class divides.
Creator Jesse Armstrong’s critical darling returned for its third season and the story of the dysfunctional Roy family — owners of a media conglomerate — remained as horrific, hilarious and compelling as ever; a beautifully pitched blend of drama, political intrigue and dark comedy. The ensemble cast was in tremendous form throughout, and the addition of Adrien Brody as billionaire investor Josh Aaronson was inspired. HBO has already renewed the show for a fourth season, and on the strength of this year’s showing it’s easy to imagine a fifth and sixth will follow.
“Line of Duty”
There are many who would argue that Jed Mercurio’s gripping police procedural series about a team investigating corruption in the police force has now veered too far past the sublime into the ridiculous. It’s still not clear if the sixth season — which brought in the excellent Kelly MacDonald as this year’s cop-to-be-investigated DCI Jo Davidson — was the final one. If it was plenty of people will be dissatisfied with the ‘big reveal’ of the supposed mastermind hidden in the police force. But there’s also an argument to be made that the underwhelming nature of said villain was entirely in keeping with the show — proving that no one is really ever in control of anything.
This psychological thriller hung on a compelling central performance from Syrian actor Mahmoud Nasr as Adham, a hard-to-read psychiatrist who — it turned out — had his own mental disorder that made him extremely dangerous to women, including his patients. Egyptian actress Yasmine Rais also shone as Adham’s wife, who was driven to commit a crime by her husband’s actions. “Sixty Minutes” only consisted of nine episodes, but proved — in a region where bloated 30+-episode seasons are the norm — that’s more than enough to tell a good story well.
“The Beatles: Get Back”
An absorbing, intimate look at a month late in the life of probably the biggest pop band in history, lovingly compiled from hours and hours of old footage by director Peter Jackson. “Get Back” was a brilliantly constructed document of four old friends who had conquered the world trying to work out how to move forward now that their lives had changed in oh so many ways. Knowing they only managed to do so by splitting up made it all the more poignant, but the great thing about Jackson’s work was that it showed how, when the four Beatles were able to simply make music and forget about the commercial and personal pressures pulling them apart, they still had enormous fun together.
“Mare of Easttown”
2021 provided some fantastic mini-series — honorable mentions include two from the UK starring the brilliant Stephen Graham, the prison drama “Time” and the heartbreaking COVID drama “Help” — but the pick of the bunch starred another Brit, Kate Winslet, as an American cop in a run-down small town. Winslet was superb as DS Mare Sheehan, investigating the murder of a young woman while dealing with her wreck of a personal life — including a divorce, a son lost to suicide, a custody battle for her grandson, and the unwanted company of her mother. It was a slow-burn drama in which the entire cast shone without anyone being showy, and that said plenty, without being preachy, about grief, love, sexual politics and power.
Writer-director Tamer Mohsen delivered a gripping drama about Hana and Hazem — played by the excellent Mona Zaki and Mohamed Mamdouh — who decided to have their child born in the US, in the hope that US citizenship would grant him greater opportunity. Hana headed to America alone, and once there discovered some disturbing information about Hazem, including infidelity and his possible involvement in serious crimes. Mohsen’s writing was compelling throughout, the realism of the dialogue drew you in, and every episode left you eager to watch the next one.