DUBAI: As we reach the halfway point of the year, here are the must-see series of the first six months.

‘The Last of Us’ 

Starring: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey 

Video-game adaptations don’t have much of a screen pedigree, and the post-apocalyptic “The Last of Us” franchise is one of the finest in gaming history, so there was considerable pressure on the creators of HBO’s show to deliver something that, at least, wasn’t a complete disaster. Fans’ initial concerns over the casting of Pascal and Ramsey as the main protagonists — smuggler Joel and his ‘cargo,’ a young girl called Ellie who is mysteriously immune to the fungal infection that has turned the majority of mankind into zombie-like monsters — proved to be unfounded: their chemistry was a major part of the show’s success. Another equally important part was HBO’s decision to make the game’s co-director Neil Druckmann the series’ co-runner, along with super-fan Craig Mazin. They barely put a foot wrong. There was plenty of monster-fighting/evading action, but the crux of the story was the growing father-daughter relationship between the two lost souls on a road trip across America. As we wrote at the time, Druckmann and Mazin “managed the almost-impossible; creating a show that will satisfy (most of) the game’s fans, but enthralling enough to pull you in even if you know nothing of the source material.” 


Starring: Ali Wong, Steven Yeun 

Korean director Lee Sung Jin’s comedy drama series was a delight from start to finish, with superb performances from both Wong and Yeun as struggling contractor Danny Cho and tightly wound small-business owner Amy Lau. The show starts from a simple enough road-rage incident that quickly escalates and begins to consume Danny’s and Amy’s lives. “Beef” was hilarious and moving, shocking and sad, and always enthralling. As our review said at the time: “what makes ‘Beef’ really sing is that Danny and Amy are both desperately trying to keep it together in ways that actually give them far more in common than they might like to admit.” 


Starring: Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin  

It’s still rare for a show to come to an end (without being cancelled) while still being relevant. And rarer still for a finale to not make people wish the show had been cancelled after all. But Jesse Armstrong’s “Succession” — a critical darling throughout its run — thankfully managed to become one of the exceptions to both those rules. In its fourth and final season, the black comedy satirizing the media industry and big business in general got even blacker as the Roy family continued to squabble and scrabble to become the successors to patriarch Logan’s global entertainment empire. The finale was bleak, yes, but a fitting end to a show that never really allowed its central characters to lose touch with their inner inhumanity. 


Starring: Saleh Abuamrh, Fahad Albutairi, Nawaf Alshbaili, Saad Aziz  

It’s hard for a remake to distinguish itself — let alone the 12th attempt at the same material. But “Al-Maktab,” MBC’s remake of the 2001 BBC hit “The Office,” brought with it all the irreverent joy and hilarious cringe of both the original and its much-heralded US remake, mixed with a flair and sense of humor that is distinctly Saudi. With Abuamrh as the bumbling boss of a mid-sized postal-service company, the show dutifully recreated many of the iconic moments of the Steve Carrell-led American version, but came into its own when it began to create original stories and situations, allowing its performances to grow out of their initial caricatures. As modern Saudi comedy continues its transition from youth-driven YouTube culture to mainstream media dominance, this was a gem hiding in plain sight that, as it went viral across the world, showed signs that the Kingdom’s humor could translate globally.   


Starring: Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler,  

Another show that managed to stick its landing. “Barry” — the darkly humorous crime drama about a conflicted hitman trying to become a professional actor — ended this year after four consistently excellent seasons that have surely cemented Hader as one of the best actors — comedic or dramatic — of his generation. Not only that, but this often-grim final series in particular also showed that Hader has some serious directing chops; his use of lighting (or lack of) was particularly striking. The ending was pretty much perfect too. This wasn’t an easy series to sell to people — there’s nothing to really compare it to and it was deliberately highbrow at times — but it deserves to be remembered as a truly great TV show. 

‘Somebody Somewhere’ 

Starring: Bridget Everett, Jeff Hiller, Mary Catherine Garrison 

It’s strange that one of the most understated shows on television has such an array of flamboyant characters in it, but the cast members of this lovely comedy drama about a lonely, somewhat lost, 40-something woman returning to her home town and struggling with grief after the death of her beloved sister, always play it true — never looking to ham it up and go for the broad laugh. Each episode can bring you to tears of laughter and sorrow within moments of each other. The lead character, Sam (brilliantly played by Everett), is foul-mouthed and uproarious, joyful, loyal, and doesn’t conform to our general idea of what you have to look like to be happy with yourself, but also quick to judge, sometimes blind to others’ needs 

‘High Desert’ 

Starring: Patricia Arquette, Brad Garrett, Rupert Friend 

Apple TV’s detective comedy might be the year’s most chaotic show. Peggy is a drug addict looking to make a fresh start and in desperate need of some cash. She decides to set up as a private investigator and believes that a local spiritual guru with links to the mafia might be her shot at a big payday. Arquette is on top form as the charismatic mess that is Peggy, and supporting cast members Garrett, Friend, and a hugely entertaining Matt Dillon manage to hold up their end of the bargain too, with, as our review said, “some brilliantly unlikeable performances.”  


Starring: Rebecca Ferguson, David Oyelowo, Common, Tim Robbins 

At the time of writing this dystopian sci-fi drama about a community living in an enormous underground 144-level silo, supposedly because the air outside is immediately fatal to humans, still has one episode left to run and we’re still not really sure what exactly is going on. While that might have been a frustrating situation with most shows, “Silo” is so tense and engaging that even with so much left unclear it’s been a hugely enjoyable watch. Ferguson is compelling as Juliette Nichols, an engineer who becomes the silo’s unwilling sheriff and is working to unravel the mystery of the silo’s origins and purpose. Robbins is also excellent as a manipulative mayor. “This is one dystopian world that you’ll want to revisit,” our review concluded. 

‘Black Mirror’ 

Starring: Aaron Paul, Zazie Beets, Annie Murphy, Salma Hayek 

The sixth season of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series that combines comedy, drama, horror and a frightening prescience was consistently satisfying, although, as our review acknowledged, it “lacks a stand-out episode to match the best of past seasons.” Its five episodes featured some stellar performances from the likes of Paul, Murphy, Josh Hartnett, Hayek and other A-listers, and some harrowing near-future storylines. Most entertaining of all, though, were Brooker’s constant attacks on/mockery of streaming platforms through the fictional Streamberry, designed to look a lot like Netflix, home to “Black Mirror.”  

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