Scary monsters. Murder mysteries. A psychological thriller based on an incredibly creepy true story. Vampires on top of vampires with a side of vampires. Angsty teen girls in the ’90s. Yup, it’s October, and this year TV pulled out all the spooky-season stops. Not that everything it tried worked; enough with the horror-movie adaptations (that aren’t Interview with the Vampire) already. But all of the month’s best new shows, from Guillermo del Toro’s Netflix horror anthology to the latest installment of Masterpiece Mystery, had a bit of an eerie edge to them. Yes, even the teen drama.
Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (AMC)
The TV adaptation of the late horror icon Anne Rice’s most famous novel, from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul executive producer Mark Johnson (who is overseeing the network’s multi-series Rice franchise) and creator Rolin Jones (Friday Night Lights, Perry Mason), arrives with a good deal of baggage. Along with the challenge of satisfying an engaged fandom that is sure to push back if the show doesn’t meet expectations, AMC has to contend with the divisive legacy of director Neil Jordan’s 1994 Interview with the Vampire film. An extremely-of-its-time hunkfest starring Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, and Tom Cruise in a Nicole Kidman wig, the movie has become a touchstone of ’90s nostalgia. But its two-hour runtime compressed Rice’s vampire picaresque in a way that undermined the book’s languid, Southern gothic pace. Thanks largely to a ridiculous portrayal of Lestat from the miscast Cruise, it’s also campy to the point of self-mockery—and I say this as someone who has a lot of affection for it.
Jones and Johnson wisely avoid repeating those mistakes, as well as forcing direct comparisons to a predecessor that still has a cult of its own, by making a few simple yet fundamental changes. Like the novel and the movie, AMC’s Interview is framed as a conversation between Louis and a reporter eager to break his unbelievable life story. In previous tellings, that journalist was a naive 20-something who is so oblivious to the loss, pain, and guilt that underlies Louis’ tale that he ends up begging his subject to turn him into a vampire. (The request doesn’t go over well.) But the TV series takes place 49 years after that catastrophic interview, between the ageless Louis—who’s hiding in plain sight in a high-tech Dubai compound that keeps him shielded from the sun—and Eric Bogosian’s Daniel Molloy, now an author of some renown and many regrets who is facing a Parkinson’s diagnosis as he approaches retirement age. [Read the full review.]
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is an episodic anthology conceived, curated, and hosted by the Shape of Water Oscar winner. Tied together by a thin thematic thread—”that there is another reality underneath the one that we know,” according to Del Toro—the eight hour-long tales go hard on the filmmaker’s well-documented obsessions: elaborate monsters, vividly human characters, H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft is far from the only boldface name in the Cabinet. On top of contributing two of his own stories for adaptation, Del Toro recruited directors ranging from genre stalwarts like Catherine Hardwicke and Vincenzo Natali to indie-horror sensations like Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), and Panos Cosmatos (Mandy). The cast is equally notable; Tim Blake Nelson, F. Murray Abraham, Crispin Glover, Dan Stevens, Charlyne Yi, Glynn Turman, Kate Micucci, Eric André, Rupert Grint, and Rings of Power breakout Ismael Cruz Córdova are only the beginning. Thanks, perhaps, to Del Toro’s famously exacting aesthetic standards, the production values are unusually high. [Read the full review.]
High School (Freevee)
Unless you’re an ardent follower of Judge Judy, Luke Bryan, or Bosch, you probably haven’t had much reason to explore the original series on the free, ad-supported Amazon streaming service formerly known as IMDb TV. But don’t let your totally reasonable resistance to acquainting yourself with yet another platform stop you from watching High School, a refreshingly lean half-hour drama adapted from twin-sister indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara’s 2019 memoir. Created by actor turned director Clea DuVall and featuring the wonderful Cobie Smulders as the girls’ mom, the show thrives on emotionally complex performances by its leads, 21-year-old TikTok breakouts Railey and Seazynn Gilliland. Against the backdrop of mid-’90s Calgary, they play identical, flannel-clad, alt-rock-obsessed sad girls struggling to avoid bullies at a new school. Sara (Seazynn Gilliland), both the wilder and the more taciturn of the two, is secretly dating their shared best friend, Phoebe (Olivia Rouyre). All sensitive, responsible Tegan (Railey Gilliland) knows is that they’ve abandoned her.
With its cold, dark setting and depressive characters, High School takes a while to generate momentum. By midway through the short season, though, it evolves into a celebration of how music-making, friendship, and the first awkward stirrings of romance lend purpose to the kind of bored, aimless adolescence that was still possible at the end of the 20th century. The confused intensity of the relationships DuVall and her young cast create, between outsider girls who’ve yet to discover where they fall on the gay-straight spectrum, feels like something new on TV. But the show is also notable for the attention and compassion it devotes to Smulders’ protective Simone and the other adults in Tegan and Sara’s life.
Magpie Murders (PBS)
The season for cozy mysteries is upon us, and Magpie Murders offers two of them in one miniseries. The recently ubiquitous Lesley Manville (who also headlines Starz’s Dangerous Liaisons adaptation and takes over the role of Princess Margaret on season 5 of The Crown, both out in November) plays Susan Ryeland, a successful London book editor who’s eyeing a major promotion when her publisher’s marquee author, Alan Conway (Conleth Hill), delivers a manuscript that suggests he’s about to kill off the hero of his beloved, 1950s-set detective novels, Atticus Pünd. Then Alan, who’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer, jumps or falls or is pushed off the roof of his country estate, to his death. Only after that unfortunate incident does Susan discover that the draft he submitted was missing a final chapter. If she can’t track it down, the book will be unpublishable—and if the book is unpublishable, the lost revenue could put her company in jeopardy.
As Susan lights out to the country in search of those crucial pages her amateur sleuthing is interspersed with scenes from a final novel that she becomes convinced is the key to untangling Alan’s mysterious demise. While the author was a thorn in her side, his character Atticus (portrayed by Tim McMullan) proves to be a great imaginary mentor. Along with Manville’s typically excellent performance and a script, adapted from Anthony Horowitz’s acclaimed 2016 novel, that fleshes out Susan’s personal life and modernizes some timeworn whodunit tropes, it’s the clever braiding of the two stories that sets Magpie Murders apart from the standard Masterpiece Mystery.
The Watcher (Netflix)
The Watcher does what good psychological thrillers do: it takes everyday fears to nightmarish extremes. One disconcerting aspect of the article it’s based on is that, rather than uncovering too few suspects in a town that prides itself on safety, it finds too many. The show magnifies that sense of community dysfunction. Protagonists Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) and their kids, 16-year-old Ellie (Isabel Gravitt) and her little brother Carter (Luke David Blumm), are surrounded by weirdos. The prickly couple next door, Mitch and Mo (Richard Kind and Margo Martindale, a match made in TV heaven), wear absurd matching outfits, orient their lawn chairs so that they’re staring directly at the Brannocks’ house, and brazenly harvest arugula on the family’s property. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, historical-preservation control freak Pearl (Mia Farrow) takes the Brannocks’ interior design choices personally, while her emotionally disturbed brother Jasper (Terry Kinney) hides in their disused dumbwaiter. Then there’s real-estate agent Karen (Jennifer Coolidge, maintaining her post-White Lotus Jenaissance momentum), an old classmate of Nora’s who espouses a sort of demented-girlboss wealth gospel and seems overly eager to earn a second commission by reselling the house. [Read the full—and spoiler-packed—review.]