Critic Thinking

ROXANA HADADI ’09 portrait

Roxana Hadadi ’09, television and film critic for Vulture, keeps an (almost entirely) open mind about what’s worth watching.

Fall 2022 Post-Grad

Vulture Writer Makes Sharp Points on Popular Culture

Theorizing about the goings-on in “Severance’s” eerie office building, probing the dysfunction of the filthy-rich Roys on “Succession,” appraising the many Viking hairdos on display in “The Northman”—they’re all part of the pop culture territory that television and film critic Roxana Hadadi ’09 trawls for a living.

A writer at New York Magazine’s Vulture, an influential culture website, Hadadi spends her days looking for storylines she hasn’t seen before, fresh concepts in format and plain old fun. Her sweep extends from the latest blockbuster Marvel project to tiny independent movies that nobody has heard of—yet.

“It’s nice to be able to have the freedom to swing in both directions,” she says.

Hadadi’s determined path toward the critic’s life got its first big boost at UMD. After growing up in Silver Spring, Md., with a love of “Friends” reruns and classic movies on PBS, she eventually became editor of The Diamondback’s Diversions section, writing regularly about movies, music and TV and gaining confidence in her ability to analyze art.

“She was always citing books and talking about TV shows and movies,” says Josh Madden ’05, assistant dean of undergraduate studies in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, who got to know Hadadi largely through his now-wife, who at the time worked at The Diamondback. “It was just a real passion that she had.”

After graduating from college and earning a master’s degree in American literature from American University, Hadadi began working as associate director of annual giving and special projects at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a job she kept for eight years while building her freelance career, contributing to outlets like The A.V. Club and Roger Ebert’s eponymous website. After writing for Vulture for about a year, she got a full-time offer last fall. She also makes regular appearances on NPR’s signature entertainment podcast, “Pop Culture Happy Hour.”

Hadadi’s own taste, she says, leans toward “movies about guys being dudes”—Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” or “Heat,” for example. An Iranian American, she’s also interested in “the different global perspectives” offered by international cinema. But being a critic demands open-mindedness. “There’s very rarely anything that I’m like, ‘No, I won’t watch that,’” she says. “Aside from, like, reality TV.”

Some of Hadadi’s recent favorite TV shows—“Reservation Dogs” and “Bust Down”—dig into life on an Oklahoma reservation and in Gary, Ind., respectively, a refreshing shift from the New York City- or Los Angeles-centric series that have long been de rigueur.

Other trends irk Hadadi. The flashback setup, in which a series starts at a certain time and place and then jumps backward to show how the characters got there, has worn out its welcome, she says. Like any inquisitive journalist, “I find it very annoying to be told where the story is going to go.”

Stream of the Crop

Overwhelmed by so many new streaming shows? Roxana Hadadi did the work for us and suggests a few recent gems you may have missed:

"Abbott Elementary" screengrab

Photo by Scott Everett White /ABC

Season One (ABC and Hulu)

Quinta Brunson’s workplace comedy about the teachers and staff at a Philadelphia elementary school is honest about the shameful underfunding of our public schools, exuberant about what can be achieved through teamwork and camaraderie, and skillful in its use of documentary-style cutaways.

"The Righteous Gemstones" screengrab

Photo by Fred Norris/HBO

Season Two (HBO and HBO Max)

Danny McBride thrives in the overlap between grotesque masculinity and genuine sentimentality, and his latest series about a family of megachurch televangelists is alternately jarringly hilarious and hilariously jarring.

(HBO and HBO Max)

The work of two University of Maryland alumni—journalist Justin Fenton and journalist-turned-TV-creator David Simon—the miniseries serves as a kind of sequel to Simon’s legendary show “The Wire.” Simon gives Fenton’s same-named book about Baltimore’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force a faithful, discomfiting adaptation.

"The Bear" screengrab

Photo by Frank Ockenfels/FX

Season One (Hulu)

Is “The Bear” a comedy, a drama, or both? However you interpret it, this series about an up-and-coming chef returning to his family’s Chicago sandwich shop to take over after his brother dies by suicide is tense, bittersweet and anchored by a strong ensemble.


Fifty years after Watergate, the miniseries “Gaslit” looks back on the circle of enablers around President Nixon, and shares the shocking true story of how those yes-men authorized the kidnapping and abuse of Martha Mitchell, wife to Nixon attorney general John. Julia Roberts is fantastic as the wronged, and never fully redeemed, Martha.


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