November isn’t the last month of the year, obviously, but it is pretty much the last month of new TV shows that don’t involve people in garishly patterned sweaters discovering the true meaning of Christmas. And you know what? Television is finishing up 2023 strong, with a range of solid-to-excellent premieres for every imaginable taste profile. There’s a comforting family melodrama and the most uncomfortable Nathan Fielder project to date (which is really saying something); a dead-serious murder mystery set at the world’s most exclusive retreat, and a murder dramedy that unfolds in small-town Ireland; and a handful of great Anglophone imports, including, as a bonus, yet another not-exactly-new show about the dearly departed.
Black Cake (Hulu)
Sweet, dense, intoxicating, island-spiced, painstakingly assembled, and culturally hybrid, Caribbean black cake is a fitting avatar for the character at the center of Hulu’s epic adaptation of Charmaine Wilkerson’s best-selling novel. Although she dies just a few scenes into the eight-episode series, it is Eleanor Bennett—a loving mother who kept a lifetime’s worth of secrets from her children—who grounds this globe-spanning family drama. Cast as the young Eleanor in flashbacks, Not Okay star Mia Isaac skillfully plays against her own Disney-fresh effervescence, endowing the teenage girl with grit and maturity beyond her years. On the fairly frequent occasions when the script errs toward blandness or treacle, Eleanor sets it ablaze, burning off the excess sugar to uncover another layer of richness. [Read the full review.]
Colin From Accounts (Paramount+)
It sounds like a What We Do in the Shadows spinoff that follows corporate-coded energy vampire Colin Robinson to work, and as amusing as that might be, I doubt it could top the pleasures of what is actually an offbeat Australian romantic comedy. One morning, Ashley (Harriet Dyer), a medical student flailing in the aftermath of a breakup, impulsively flashes a silver-fox brewery owner (Patrick Brammall’s Gordon), and the resulting car crash critically injures a sweet little dog. The two strangers take him to the vet and decide they can’t bear to see him euthanized. From then on they’re in each other’s lives as the co-parents of a special-needs pet with wheels for back legs. While Gordon is more than a decade older than Ashley, and each has plenty of baggage, their banter reveals undeniable chemistry. “Colin from accounts” turns out to be the identity they bestow upon the dog in one of their charming riffs.
This is all pretty adorable. But Dyer (American Auto) and Brammall (Evil), who also created the series, are careful not to overload the scripts with saccharine tropes. There’s a lot of messy behavior and raunchy humor here, and the show is smart about the way it addresses the age gap between Ashley and Gordon. Fans of rom-coms about charmingly imperfect couples, like Catastrophe and Starstruck, will surely find another favorite in Colin From Accounts.
The Curse (Showtime)
In the third episode of Showtime’s strange, riveting, and often hilarious new scripted series The Curse, the married co-hosts of an in-development reality show watch a focus group respond to the pilot.. “I like the lady,” says one woman. “I do wish that he had a sense of humor or a personality.” “There’s zero sexual tension,” another participant complains. The final verdict: “There was just something off about him. Like I said, either be hot or funny. He wasn’t either to me.”
The character in question, Asher Siegel, is played by co-creator Nathan Fielder, of the high-concept reality comedies The Rehearsal and Nathan for You. And the persona he adopts here shares much with the fictionalized versions of himself that he’s portrayed in those series: awkward, pushy, disconcertingly affectless. Genre-wise, The Curse is a different kind of show; what begins as a scripted satire of HGTV’s ample real-estate porn builds tension until it becomes, of all things, a Hitchcockian psychological thriller. Fielder’s inscrutable presence is as pivotal to building suspense as it was in setting the offbeat tone for his past projects. [Read the full review.]
A Murder at the End of the World (FX on Hulu)
A Murder at the End of the World is a tricky title. It might refer to a murder in a remote location or a murder amid the literal End Times. In the case of FX’s smart, stylish new drama, it’s a true double entendre. The plot works on multiple levels, too. Set up as a classic cozy mystery, the detective story grounds an investigation of technology and enterprise in the age of climate apocalypse. Are the world’s wealthiest innovators saving humanity or hastening our demise?
This combination of thematic ambition and narrative complexity will be familiar to fans of creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s previous TV project, Netflix’s spiritual sci-fi puzzle box The OA. Murder is a more grounded show, trading heady speculation for terrifying reality. [Read the full review.]
Speaking of murder shows, how is it possible that TV creators have yet to run out of ideas for them? See also: Irish import Obituary, which mixes elements of crime drama and dark comedy to tell the wicked tale of Elvira Clancy (Siobhán Cullen), a morbid, depressive young writer who lands her dream job penning obituaries for her small hometown’s newspaper. She isn’t on the job long when an editor looking to cut costs demotes her from staff writer to freelancer, a gig that certainly won’t sustain her when deaths in the sparsely populated community are few and far between. So Elvira does what any quietly unhinged person in her predicament might do: she starts killing the worst people she can find. Meanwhile, the paper hires a handsome crime reporter (Ronan Raftery) whose investigation into a five-year-old murder gives the series an element of mystery. Imagine Dexter meets Bad Sisters, with a chilling yet somehow quite likable lead performance from Cullen, and you won’t be far off.
Bonus: Ghosts UK (CBS)
Abbott Elementary may get more media attention, but CBS’s Ghosts has, by many metrics, been the most popular comedy on network TV since it premiered in the fall of 2021. It’s fine—an innocuous ensemble sitcom about a young couple who move into a historic mansion that the wife inherits, hoping to convert it into a B&B, only to discover that it’s haunted by a millennium’s worth of ghosts. But the British show it’s based on is a lot funnier. And although that series isn’t entirely new to US audiences—it used to stream on Max—it premiered this month on CBS and Paramount+, presumably thanks to the strikes that decimated the fall broadcast schedule.
While the premise is the same, and some of the plots will be familiar to viewers who’ve seen them repurposed in the American version, the UK cast is sharper, the seasons are refreshingly brief, and the jokes are just better coming from a culture that’s more educated about its long, weird history. (A Guardian review of the stateside remake ran with the mean but accurate headline: “remove the original sitcom’s best bits and you have… this.”) Standout ghosts include a Romantic poet (Mathew Baynton) who swoons over the new owner, Alison (Charlotte Richie); a 17th-century witch-trial victim (Katy Wix); a decapitated Tudor nobleman (Laurence Rickard); and a literal caveman (also Rickard). Frankly, though, everyone in this cast is a big improvement over Ghosts US’s dire hippie and finance bro spirits. Enjoy this gem in prime-time while you can.