Watching television has always been a favorite pastime of mine. A pastime that has never been more helpful than the last year. Many of us spent more time inside than usual and television shows were one way that I coped with everything else going on. Many nights after a long day spent working, sanitizing, and parenting all inside I would escape into another world with different shows. While I explored the world of television there are a few shows I came across that I completely fell in love with and I thought I would share them here.
Of all the shows I enjoyed in the last year, I decided to start with Apple TV’s criminally underrated Dickinson. The show created by Alena Smith, is made for introverted book nerds like myself. If you have ever exaggerated just to have time alone to read or write, trust me this show will speak to you. Watching the show felt both familiar and fresh. Shocking me with its wild trips into Emily’s imagination and in the same breath echoing the memorable feelings of growing pains or first love. The delicate dance between genre bending explorations and the relatable is perfectly displayed in Episode 3 of Season 1. “Wild Nights” sees Emily dance with a giant bee (yes, you read that right) and in another scene she cries, “Life is an endless sea of pain!” after inconveniently getting her period (relatable). The episode has 19th Century Americans twerking, yet it ends with the well-known love triangle trope. The show both pushes the boundaries and leans into what we all know and love about TV. Part of why it succeeds at this is because of the actors who bring it to life.
One of the show’s largest assets is its leading lady. Hailee Steinfeld’s Emily is a troubled artist with more potential than opportunity. Steinfeld portrays Emily in such an endearing manner that the audience invests in her every move, even the most outlandish ones. Creator Smith leans into Steinfeld’s talent and it pays off. Dickinson’s Emily might be the truest version of a struggling writer on TV. Not the white guy walking around New York with a satchel type of poet, instead a woman who sees the world differently and builds worlds with her words. Steinfeld impeccably portrays Emily with both the immaturity of her youth and the boldness of an artist talented beyond her years. Emily’s counterpart Sue Gilbert portrayed by Ella Hunt also delivers, especially in season 2. While Steinfeld and Hunt do an impeccable job selling the tense dynamic between Emily and Sue, the show also stands out because of its ability to surprise the audience with its limited parameters.
Dickinson is a show about a poet who died in the same house she spent most of her life in. It could have easily been a melodrama, but instead it goes wild. While the show is labeled a comedy, it constantly blends genres. In its two seasons the show made me laugh, cry, and scratch my head wondering what the hell just happened? What makes the show stands out is the way Smith does not shy away from taking risks. Some risks pay off in a huge way. Season 2 Episode 8 “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?”, might be one of the riskiest episodes of television I have watched in recent years, and it pays off. Other risks take a minute to get used to like, Wiz Khalifa playing Death or the use of modern music (Lizzo and Emily Dickinson? It works!) Of course, other risks miss the mark completely. That is what makes the show so exciting, it is unpredictable. The show turns left when you are looking right and the result is a wild ride that makes the life of a woman who spent decades in one house seem absolutely thrilling.
Dickinson’s Emily is young, dramatic, confused, and a prodigy. In the first season Steinfeld does an impeccable job capturing the feeling of Emily’s restlessness. Emily is stifled by her patriarchal society, unrelenting father, and overbearing mother. She is a genius without an outlet, yet the show also balances that with light hearted fun. Just as the show tracks Emily’s growing pains the show itself also grows. If Season 1 is high school, Season 2 is Freshman year of college for Dickinson. Season 2 is still growing but it is also much bolder. By the end of Season 2’s powerhouse finale “You Cannot Put a Fire Out", each character knows what they want and the timing is perfect because war is coming to Dickinson and it wont be civil. It seems Dickinson is heading into a more important and mature Season 3 and I hope more come along for the ride.
You can catch Season 1 & Season 2 of Dickinson on Apple TV and look out for Season 3 coming soon.
Autumn Andersen is an editor for Penumbra Online and grad student at CSU Stanislaus. She enjoys reading, writing, and talking about her favorite shows.