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My Brilliant Friend

HBO’s Elena Ferrante adaptation is one of the best shows of the year.

My Brilliant Friend HBO
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels — four books that tell the story of two women from girlhood well into adulthood — have inspired the sort of fevered devotion among their fans that you might typically expect from more popular fantasy and sci-fi series. So it’s somewhat fitting that HBO, the home of Game of Thrones, is broadcasting My Brilliant Friend, a four-season adaptation of the books.

Directed by Saverio Costanzo and written by a team that includes Ferrante herself, the series is a sumptuous journey to a long-lost Italy, where Elena and Lila meet as schoolgirls, become fast friends, then have to live in a world that keeps throwing impediments in front of both their ambitions and their friendship.

Costanzo’s elegant eye for beautiful images gives the series an almost instant hit of nostalgia — even if you’ve never been to 1950s Naples (guilty as charged) — and the series has both the epic sweep and the world-building power of TV’s best shows. It’s a highlight of the year.

“Every face and body is credible as one that might actually have lived in that period. The performances are alert and sensitive without seeming studied. ... This is a late-breaking candidate for show of the year, a drama about the place where aspiration and reality intersect.” Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture

Metacritic score: 86 out of 100

Where to watch: New episodes air Sundays and Mondays on HBO at 9 pm Eastern. Previous episodes are available on the network’s streaming platforms.

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