The Underground Railroad

In adapting Colson Whitehead's novel about a young enslaved woman's [Thuso Mbedu] slightly fantastical journey north, Berry Jenkins improved upon a masterpiece, expanding a minimal prose into an immersive audiovisual and moral landscape.

While his insightful direction yielded indelible performances, bespoke music and production design made each episode a discrete allegorical world.

Although it would have been a breathtaking achievement at any time, in a year when racists revolted at the Capitol and in the classroom, it felt as essential as any work of art could.

The White Lotus

Asked to pitch a series that could be shot in a single location, for COVID-19 reasons, creator Mike White cannily picked a Hawaiian resort.

Well, he earned both the trip and a surprise second season, with this perfectly cast pseudo-mystery that made rich people on vacation avatars for a mess of social ills.

Yet White's script left room for empathy. Instead of diluting his critique, that controversial choice reinforced it, insisting that these overindulged clowns were not so different from ourselves.

Work in progress

This deeply underappreciated traumedy is a portrait of a co-creator and star Abby McEnany as a self described ''fat, queer dyke'' battling suicidal ideation.

In a second season that improved upon an excellent debut, our hero stared down demons that had tormented her since childhood.

What might sound like a downer is buoyed by scenes of tenderness, wonder and expertly deployed cringe comedy.

Exterminate All The Brutes

In a big year for nonfiction's TV, Raoul Peck's four-part essay raised the bar for serious art, and serious political engagement, in the genre.

Brutes approaches inequality from the broadest possible perspective, tracing capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy and genocide around the world and through the centuries.

He gets personal too, illustrating how global power dynamics can shape a life.

Not every stylistic choice works, but that's to be expected when a creator is experimenting this boldly.

Reservation Dogs

Creators Sterlin Hargo and Taiki Waitti have given TV something it desperately needed : a show by and about Indigenous people.

Set on an Oklahoma reservation, this dramedy follows four teens mourning a friend as they scam and save the honor of his dream of moving to California.

Like many great recent shows [ Atlanta, Betty ], it has a hazy surreal-meets-DIY vibe, moving fluidly between hijinks, gallows humor and earnest emotion.

Add stars who disappear into their roles and writers' refusal to dilute indigenous culture - or anger - for non-Native audiences, and the result is as uncompromising as it is groundbreaking.

The World Students Society thanks author Judy Berman.


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