We’ve made it. It’s the middle of January, the month I affectionately refer to as the armpit of the year (November is the other one).
In this semi-regular series, Free Press arts writers tell you what you should be watching.
Many of you are in full-on hibernation mode, which means you need things to watch.
The latest instalment of Don’t Sleep on This — a semi-regular series in which the Free Press Arts & Life department provides (spoiler-free) recommendations of the TV shows you should watch — is brought to you by the letter S. We look at a soapy figure skating drama, a life-affirming comedy and a banter-filled crime drama.
The dialogue veers into melodrama. It’s trope-y and soapy. There’s entirely too much going on at any given moment. And yet, Netflix’s Spinning Out is so addictive, I crushed the entire first season in two days after it arrived on the streaming platform on Jan. 1. The key to enjoyment is accepting the tone of this show. This is Nashville or The O.C. on ice.
Spinning Out follows Kat Baker (Skins Kaya Scodelario), a solo figure skater from Idaho whose dreams of going to the Olympics are dashed when she suffers a head injury as the result of a fall during a competition. She lives with bipolar disorder, the same condition her emotionally abusive momager Carol (Mad Men’s January Jones) struggles to manage. Her scrappy baby sister Serena (Willow Shields) is the Tonya Harding to Kat’s Nancy Kerrigan — right down to their respective hair colours. And that’s just a small sampling of the drama faced by this family and everyone in their orbit.
Despite its tone, the drama does have some substance, especially when it comes to unpacking the stoicism expected in a highly competitive, physically rigorous sport that demands perfection. (It also has some bona fides: Canadian choreographer and former skater Sarah Kawahara did the choreography for the show, and a host of Canadian skaters double for the actors on the ice.)
Keep an eye out for all the visual homages to Canada’s own ice-skating queen, Tessa Virtue, to whom Scodelario bears an uncanny resemblance, as well as two extremely good figure-skating cameos. And Svetlana Efremova is perfectly cast as a no-nonsense Russian skating coach, right down to the fur coat and red bob.
Wednesdays, 9 p.m., CTV
Based on the acclaimed graphic novel series of the same name, this addictive drama follows Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders), a U.S. army veteran-turned-private investigator trying to make ends meet in Portland, Ore. Dex grapples with PTSD and her mouth often gets her in trouble — but she has a younger brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus), to care for and gambling debt to pay off.
In addition to being a compelling drama with a smart, snappy script, Stumptown boasts one of the most diverse casts on network television, proving that if there’s a will, there’s plenty of talent out there from all genders, races and abilities. The casting of breakout star Sibus as a character with Down syndrome, in particular, is significant in terms of representation; Sibus also has Down syndrome. "Stumptown focuses on what I can do, not what I can’t do. The role is about Ansel’s heart and personality, not his disability," Sibus said in an interview for the Special Olympics, with which he’s been a longtime athlete. It’s true. He’s the heart of the show.
Smulders, too, is excellent as Dex — magnetic, smart, flawed. Though undeniably badass, she’s not a stock Strong Female Lead. She brings her illustrated counterpart to life with aplomb. And her soundtrack is killer.
Season 2 premières Jan. 24, Crave
Last March, a six-episode streaming sitcom stole critics’ hearts. Finally, a show about a fat woman who doesn’t actively hate or is trying to change her body.
Now, less than a year later, Shrill is back on Crave for a second season.
Based on the 2016 memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by American writer, feminist and activist Lindy West, the half-hour comedy follows Annie (Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant), a young writer living in Portland, Ore., who is navigating bad bosses and bad boyfriends on a journey to find her full-throated voice.
When I spoke to West for the Free Press back in September, she mentioned that the writers were really able to stretch out over Season 2. As West put it, there’s a lot of housekeeping to get through in the first season of any show; you need to establish these characters and the world they inhabit. Now, they are more free to explore.
Season 2 will find Annie feeling pretty good for finally standing up for herself, whether that’s to her worst troll or her condescending boss — but she learns quitting a job in a blaze isn’t always as satisfying as it is in one’s fantasy, and sometimes getting what you want isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.