If your mood is for acrid, make-you-think comedy, I’ve got a list.
W1A (Netflix) comes from five years ago. It’s a brilliant BBC mockumentary series (four seasons of four episodes each) that mocks the BBC relentlessly. The great thing about W1A – the title is the BBC HQ’s postal code – is that it portrays an organization that is just batty and yet entirely plausible. It will also make some viewers ruefully nostalgic for pre-COVID-19 office life.
It is set in the new BBC HQ building where there are no offices, really, just a bunch of meeting rooms. So staff wander around looking for a place to work or talk in peace. Sometimes senior executives have to squeeze into a space around a crowded table and get to work on their laptop. But it is office life as it might be in a large company: There are people with grand titles who seem to have no function; being rude to others is a perk of power; and a gift for spouting inanity is a route to that power.
The point of the fake documentary, narrated with deadpan relish by David Tennant, is to track Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville, best known as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham on Downton Abbey) who has been appointed as “head of values” at the BBC. This involves dealing with the “way ahead task force,” defined as the “Where have we been, where are we going and how do we get there?” task force.
This is a BBC that airs such hit programs as Britain’s Tastiest Village and How Big is your Dog? All of them are described as “brilliant! brilliant!” by executives and as “cool” by the interns. Do all public broadcasters – such as the CBC – function this way? Probably.
Love (Netflix) is Judd Apatow (the movies Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) let loose on a TV series about finding and nourishing love, with a lot of hiccups along the way. It starts with some wobbly scenes – I didn’t like it at first – but it settles into a smart and hilarious groove in which many clichés about romantic comedy are deflated or scorned. One critic’s summary was this: “Rom-com about a hot mess redeemed by the affections of a nice nerd.”
That’s not quite fair. It meanders away from expectations. It’s about Gus (Paul Rust, one of the co-creators) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs). They are both just out of a relationship when they meet. They become friends. Will they become a couple? That’s the gist. Gus is an early Woody Allen type. He works as the on-set tutor on a TV sitcom coping with a bratty child star (she’s played by Apatow’s daughter). Mickey works at a satellite radio station. She drinks too much, does too many pills and is attracted to losers.
As the obstacle-strewn course of Gus and Mickey’s journey toward love unfolds, there are sirens to tempt Gus in another direction. There is Mickey’s roommate, played by Australian comic Claudia O’Doherty, who is wonderfully bonkers. Some scenes in the three seasons of Love are classics – a scene in which Gus buys air freshener for his car (the episode is directed by Steve Buscemi) from a mystified clerk is beautifully done.
Imposters (Netflix) makes the viewer question who is worth cheering for: the streetwise con artist or her nice-guy victims. We meet Ava (Inbar Lavi), a winsome Belgian who just walked out on her husband, nice guy Ezra. Thing is, Ezra is coming to a major realization: Ava is probably a con artist who dupes, marries and fleeces nice guys like him. He’s correct. But is she all bad, this strange woman?
She’s an amoral, streetwise anti-heroine who is very complicated. Do you root for her or for the guys she’s fleeced? That’s an intriguing question and it’s what propels this captivating black comedy/drama series. Ava is actually named Maddie, as she does her thing, a persona-shifting genius who can seem very benign. It becomes easy to read a subtext into the basic plot line – the men she dupes are not really victims. They were seduced by their own vanity, believing that this wondrous, exotic and super-smart woman could actually fall for them.
The whole concoction – two seasons, originally made for Bravo in the United States – is no masterpiece of serious-minded drama. But the comedy is sometimes dark, sometimes cynical. And it is emphatically about the foolishness of men. As Ava/Maddie sizes up one potential victim, she says, “This guy would fall for a slug if it was wearing a dress and push-up bra.” And you root for her.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.