As we all adjust to a new, temporary reality without sports, live music, theater, or any kind of social gatherings, we here at Amazin’ Avenue have been looking for recommendations of things to keep ourselves entertained over the coming days/weeks/months, and we thought it would be good to collect some of our own recommendations and share them with this great community. We’ll do a post each for a variety of things, but we’ll start with the easy, big one: streaming television shows. The format here is simple, as we’ll run down each participating AA writer or editor and his or her picks. And whenever this is all over and it’s safe to gather again, we’ll definitely put together the best AARGH ever.
Letterkenny (Hulu): My wife and I had friends independently recommend this brilliant show to us within the span of three days over the winter, and we got hooked on it immediately. If you want to come out of the other side of this pandemic speaking in a lingo understood only by fellow fans of the show, well, get started. Whatever you think the fastest comedy you’ve ever seen before this is, it’s probably not as fast. There are no big-name cast members here, but you’ll love the whole cast in short order. We could all use some laughter right now, and Letterkenny will provide that in spades.
Get Shorty (EPIX): Based on the same book as the film, the series has nothing to do with the film itself and stars Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano, both of whom are brilliant in it. There’s an element of Breaking Bad in here, but there’s more to Get Shorty than just that comparison. If you don’t have or have never heard of EPIX, their streaming service is well worth the few bucks per month, especially if you plan on blowing through all three seasons of this show within the first month.
Barry (HBO): I’ll admit that I was never a huge Bill Hader fan before this show. It’s not that I actively dislike him or anything, but he was kind of just there—on SNL, sometimes in roles of other things I enjoyed. Turns out that guy can really act. Barry can get dark—really dark at times—but is funny and keeps you hooked. Henry Winkler and Stephen Root are fantastic in it, and there’s a character called NoHo Hank, played by Anthony Carrigan, who just might be your new favorite comedic relief of any recent show on TV.
The IT Crowd (Netflix): If you somehow missed this British series up to this point, there’s no need to wait any longer. This is the second series on my list here to star Chris O’Dowd, so I guess you could say I’m a fan of his. Katherine Parkinson and Richard Ayoade are the other two fantastic co-stars in this series about a small, underappreciated IT division of a large corporation that’s situated in the basement. Before long, you’ll be asking “have you tried turning it off and on again?” in your sleep.
The Mandalorian (Disney+): I’m a fan of pretty much all of the new Star Wars movies and this show, but the show might take the cake among all of that. Some folks were saying that an episode or two into the first season, and I was a little skeptical. Turns out they were right, as this series not only ruled the first time through but has proven to be thoroughly enjoyable in rewatching, too. And with an appearance as a droid in the series, Richard Ayoade joins Chris O’Dowd in making this short list twice.
Six Feet Under (HBO): Look, no one likes to be sad. But when we are, we strip away some of the bullshit that we put on to attempt to fit in or ‘be normal.’ Six Feet Under is a show that reveals people at their most real moments, masks off, and allows us a glimpse at the ‘real’ them. It does this for both the featured characters you see every week, but also for all the one and done characters who go to Fisher and Sons to bury one of their loved ones.
But the show is more than just visual truth serum. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s groundbreaking, it has a great soundtrack, and it has the most realistic portrayal of siblings I’ve ever seen on television. I’m currently re-watching it for the third time and, after a major loss in my life last year, it hits home more than ever.
The Leftovers (HBO): Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” We are currently living through our society getting punched in the mouth, and The Leftovers shows what society would look like if it wasn’t just punched in the mouth, but lost a limb. 2% of the world’s population just disappears one day, and no one knows why.
But the show isn’t about the why of it; it’s about how we live after that happens. Some people react by joining cults. Some people become nihilists. Some people pay prostitutes to shoot them while they are wearing bulletproof vests. Some spend thousands of dollars to be sent to where the 2% went. Some lie. Some fall in love.
The Leftovers is about survival, even when survival seems like the worst option there is.
Top Chef (Bravo/Hulu): Reality television is a blight on the world and invariably makes us dumber as a culture. That said, Top Chef is the best, you guys.
A reality show built upon talent, not drama, Top Chef shows incredibly talented chefs put through the ringer of absurd challenges based on time, ingredients, usual settings, and imposed handicaps. Each season, inevitably, unveils heroes and villains, like all reality shows, but more than any other I’ve ever seen, it also celebrates the natural talent of its contestants.
Top Chef is currently airing an All-Star season, and the dishes they prepare will awe you with their skill, challenge your perceived likes and dislikes, and make you very, very hungry.
Medical Police (Netflix): Childrens Hospital was, perhaps, the minute by minute funniest show of the 21st century. Unfortuantely, that show is not streaming anywhere right now. But its sequel series, Medical Police, just dropped a season on Netflix. It is exactly the same show, with the same cast, just a new name and a slightly different premise. But the jokes are still there, the absurdity is just as present, and, yes, the show is still set at a hospital named after someone named Childrens and that hospital, despite everyone speaking English, is in Brazil.
The Simpsons, Seasons 3-7 (Disney+): There has never been better television than seasons 3-7 of The Simpsons. The combination of heart and humor is unmatched, and these 5 seasons don’t have a single real clunker within them.
I can watch “Duffless” every single day for the rest of my life and still find laughs at Homer’s escape from the Power Plant, and have my heart strings tugged at by the final bicycle ride. Floreda, Gamblor, and Robert Goulet hitting Milhouse in the face with a microphone in “$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)” will never not amuse me. The Bee-Sharps, Lyle Lanley, Homer getting punched over a fire hydrant, the Thompsons, TGI McScratchy’s, tramapolines, the Yahoo Recovering Alcoholic Jug Band, Two Guys from Kabul, the Leftorium, “Have the Rolling Stones Killed,” Malibu Stacy’s new hat, come ON people!
The Wire (HBO/Amazon Prime Video): This is a show that even if you haven’t watched it, you’ve heard of it. It catapulted the careers of the likes of Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan, among others. Some argue it is the greatest show in the history of American television and I would put myself among them. It’s a masterpiece, pure and simple. On its face, it seems like a cop show, but it isn’t really a cop show. It’s the story of how issues of class, race, politics, and money poison an American city. I watched The Wire when I was living in Baltimore during graduate school and so it also has a special place in my heart for that reason. To me, its great strength is that every season tells a different story with new characters with the show still maintaining a larger narrative arc. If you haven’t taken the time to watch it yet, now is as good a time as any.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix): BoJack Horseman just finished its final season and it surpassed The Wire as my personal favorite TV show ever. Seriously, it’s that good. This is another show that isn’t exactly what it appears to be on its face—an animated show about a washed up celebrity horse who turns to drugs and alcohol to numb his self-loathing. The first season is fun and wacky, but the second season is where the show really hits the ground running and it never looks back. It masterfully weaves together comedy, social commentary, and devastatingly poignant drama to tell the story of how mental illness affects relationships. There are so many episodes of this show that stayed with me for weeks after I watched them and I’m still not really over the finale, which came out in January. There is no show that manages to be as deeply affecting as this one, while also still being absolutely hilarious. I gush about this show to anyone who will listen and I know this is one I’ll go back to again and again.
Big Mouth (Netflix): If you like pure, unadulterated, raunchy, laugh till you can’t breath comedy, this show is for you. Cut from the same cloth as South Park, Big Mouth is an animated show about middle schoolers going through puberty and all it entails. It’s a show that can make you cover your face with your hands sometimes, not because you’re clutching your pearls (although it may make you do that sometimes too), but because it instantly transports you back to the most awkward years of your life you may not want to relive. The voice acting in this show is absolutely brilliant. Maya Rudolph in particular shines as Connie the Hormone Monstress—a character that seems like she was made for Maya Rudolph’s voice to bring to life.
The Great British Bake Off (Netflix): In times like these, we need comfort TV more than ever and The Great British Bake Off is the textbook definition. It is essentially a warm hug in television form. What sets The Great British Bake Off apart from other reality TV shows (particularly American reality TV shows) is that, despite the fact that it is a competition, everyone is just nice to each other. The contestants cheer each other on and the judges seem to genuinely want everyone to do well. It is refreshing to watch. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend watching this one on an empty stomach, though.
Queer Eye (Netflix): In the same vein as The Great British Bake Off, Queer Eye is comfort TV. A reboot of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which aired from 2003-2007, the new Queer Eye goes far beyond simply overhauling the subjects’ wardrobes. The Fab Five perform an entire life and outlook overhaul, making the subject examine the things in his or her life that are weighing them down and tackle them in an effort to love themselves a little more. That’s right—it’s not just straight men that get makeovers in the new Queer Eye. This show also goes much further than its predecessor in addressing societal issues of sexuality, gender, and race. At its core, it is a show about love and acceptance and I can think of no better antidote to quarantine-related anxiety and sadness than that.
Dark (Netflix): The elevator pitch for this show is “darker, more mature Stranger Things”, but that hardly does Dark justice. If you like complex, mysterious, but still grounded science fiction stories, then this is about the best show out there for you. I’d go so far as to argue it’s the single best show that Netflix has produced, though Bojack Horseman has a case. Set in a small German town adjacent to a Nuclear power plant in the present day, the mystery starts when a young boy goes missing. It looks early on like this might be some sort of monster-snuff film, but it evolves past that quickly to something much more. Fair warning, you might need to get out the bulletin board and red-string in order to stay on top of the unraveling mystery, but the rewards are well worth it. Just make sure you watch in the original German because the English dub is terrible.
Avatar - The Last Airbender / The Legend of Korra: Arguably the greatest American animated show ever, Avatar doesn’t need much of an introduction. Yes, Last Airbender was originally geared towards kids and has some filler, but the story, character development, animation, and life lessons (yes I’m serious) all still shine through. The followup series, Legend of Korra, isn’t quite the masterpiece in terms of story that the original was, but it’s damn good in its own right and aimed at a more mature audience, plus the fight choreography gets even better. Both also do a fantastic job of grounding their world with well crafted representations of the cultures and martial arts they’re trying to emulate. Just make sure you avoid the live action, M. Night Shyamalan version like the plague (no pun intended).
Broadchurch (Netflix): My opinion of Doctor Who has not aged well, but my love of David Tennant sure has. Watch him at arguably his dramatic best, as DI Alec Hardy solves a child murder in the small British town of Broadchurch. It’s a masterfully written and acted show that really does the murder-mystery story extraordinarily well. Executive producer Chris Chibnall does a fantastic job of maintaining the suspense, going so far as to only reveal the identity of the murderer to the actors hours before the reveal was filmed, and the genuine emotional shock comes out in their performances. Note that while season 1 (or Series 1, since this is a British show) is superb, season 2 doesn’t quite live up to the billing.
Futurama (Hulu): The Simpsons is still running, but Futurama is and was Matt Gorening’s superior show (fight me Simpsons’ fans). Hot takes aside, Futurama is an incredible show, striking a great balance between thoughtful, insightful comedy and the sort of low brow humor we all subconsciously crave. Join Phillip J. Fry as he accidentally freezes himself only to awake in the year 3000, where he finds that everything is different but also the same. It’s also a good non-continuous option, a casual break from the complex, continuous story lines you’ll find in a lot of our other recs.
Full Metal Alchemist - Brotherhood (Netflix): At the risk of being labeled a weeb, let’s my last rec dips into the realm of anime. Full Metal Alchemist, or FMA for short, is often regarded as one of the best anime’s ever. The setting is a early-industrial world where some portion of the population has the power to transmute elements, with each alchemist having their own power. This leads to a world filled with both magic and some degree of technology, folky country stories and intricate political intrigue, great story and dialogue but also some incredible fight choreography. Make sure you’re watching the ‘Brotherhood’ version (the other diverges from the manga and isn’t quite as good) and watch with subs rather than dubs for the full authentic experience. Be warned, you’ll go on several feels trips along the way.
LOST (Hulu): I could write a dissertation-length defense of the LOST finale, which, in my opinion, perfectly ended a flawed but terrific television series. Defending the LOST finale has become my #brand, and the show itself remains my all-time favorite. Sure, the show some liberties on addressing certain mysteries, but it was a drama that kept you hooked every week. I’d argue it might be a show that loses some of what made it special in the binge-watching era, since ingesting it week-to-week and trying to answer the questions with friends and on message boards was part of its charm. Still, the characters were unique and interesting, the plot was enthralling, the jokes almost always landed, and it features some of the most unforgettable episodes of television history (The Constant, anyone?)
Fringe (Amazon Prime Video, Youtube): Fringe is a show that not enough people watched. Part of that might be due to people’s attention being paid to LOST, which aired at the same time. I’d argue that this J.J. Abrams creation is as good, if not better, than his previous endeavor. After a rough first half of a first season, the show pulled off a tonal shift that resulted in perhaps the best two-and-a-half season run of any sci-fi series in history. Aside from the captivating plot and the interesting science behind it, the relationships between the characters, particularly the father/son bond explored between Walter and Peter Bishop, gives the show the emotional core that carries it above its competitors. John Noble’s performance as the scientist Walter Bishop specifically did not receive nearly enough attention during the show’s five-year run. Having just finished a rewatch about a month ago, Fringe holds up really well.
Parks and Recreation (Netflix, Hulu): Parks and Recreation seemed to live in the shadow of The Office and 30 Rock, but the show was miles ahead of its counterparts in both humor and heart. It featured one of the most underappreciated casts in TV history, led by Amy Poehler as the tenacious Leslie Knope. She gave the show the strong lead it needed, and she was complimented perfectly by a legendary group including Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt, and Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate. The show wasn’t afraid to tackle bigger political topics, but always stayed true to its small town roots and made the town of Pawnee a central character much in the same way The Simpsons did with Springfield. One of the greatest joys of the show is meeting the various people who called Pawnee home, which gave us some great secondary characters that made as much of a mark as the main crew (Ben Schwartz’ Jean-Ralphio Saperstein is a stand out). But above even the quotable comedy, the show’s heart made it stand out. I have shed my fair share of tears over the course of the show’s seven seasons, and I’m willing to bet you will too.
The Good Place (Netflix, Hulu): The Good Place is the second of three Michael Schur shows to appear on my list. It’s his shortest, but, arguably, his most impactful. The show wrestled with some of the greatest questions life has to offer, including what makes a person good and whether the idea of an afterlife is inherently fair when humans are constantly evolving and capable of change. Employing ethics and philosophy as a central core of a show doesn’t seem like a great set-up for a laugh-out-loud series, but the writers expertly used the comedy to lure fans in before bringing in the heavier moral dilemmas it felt like wresting with. The show benefited greatly from the showrunners having a plan in mind from the start, and the show’s 52-episode run was a perfect amount of time to spend on it, as it never felt like it got stale. Jeremy Bearimy, baby!
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Hulu): All anyone needs to know about Brooklyn Nine-Nine is that, just 24 hours after it was canceled by FOX, fan reaction was so passionate that it resulted in NBC reviving it. One of the hallmarks of Schur’s shows is that he puts together a dynamic cast that works well together and gives audiences a number of memorable characters to latch on to. What appeared to start as an Andy Samburg project following his run on SNL gave us Andre Braugher as the delightfully-dry Captain Raymond Holt, Terry Crews as the muscular and big-hearted Terry Jeffords, Stephanie Beatriz as the fierce Rosa Diaz, and Joe Lo Truglio as the overbearing but well-meaning Charles Boyle. In addition to having one of the most diverse casts on television and giving a voice to underrepresented groups, Brooklyn Nine-Nine also helped shine a light on problems in society ranging from racial profiling by the NYPD to issues facing the LGBTQ community. If that’s not enough, the show features some truly terrific Mets references, like this and this and this. Nine Nine!
Succession (HBO): Imagine if Game of Thrones and Arrested Development had a baby and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Succession. The show, which is not too subtly inspired by the Murdoch family, depicts some truly awful characters engaging in some truly awful behavior. And yet, like the many other classic HBO shows about truly awful characters before it, one can’t help but be drawn to them all. With Game of Thrones having ended, HBO is in need of a new signature show. Succession should be it.
Watchmen (HBO): The idea of following up Alan Moore’s classic superhero story 30+ years later initially seemed way too audacious for it to actually work. And yet somehow, Damon Lindelof—fresh off making another masterpiece in The Leftovers—managed to craft an incredibly poignant and topical season of television that, just like the graphic novel before it, fully upends our notion of what a superhero narrative can and should be. Also, there is a character named Lube Man.
When They See Us (Netflix): In one of the very best shows to be released in 2019, writer/director Ava DuVernay told the story of five men whose stories had previously been stolen from them for so long. Her recounting of the case of the Central Park Five is deeply, deeply disturbing in showing the injustices that were done to these men when they were just children, and it may indeed be too dark for some viewers, especially in these times. But those who are willing to face it will be rewarded with a remarkably well-crafted piece of filmmaking.
Firefly (Hulu): This space western about a lovable gang of outlaws is Joss Whedon at his absolute Joss Whedon-est. While it was tragically cancelled after just one season (a slight for which most nerds will never forgive Fox), the fourteen episodes we did get offers more action, laughs, tears, and heart than most shows can provide in ten seasons. And on the bright side, it did at least get a follow-up movie which effectively ties up most of the loose ends in the narrative and which is also worth watching.
The Shield (FX+, Hulu): Shows like The Sopranos and The Wire typically get the lion’s share of the credit for beginning the golden age of television drama, but The Shield was airing at the same time and reached the same creative heights that those other shows reached. It follows a group of corrupt cops in Los Angeles headed by Detective Vic Mackey, who is every bit as engaging an anti-hero as Tony Soprano and Walter White. And if there’s a television show that had a better final season, I have yet to discover it.
The Sopranos (HBO, Amazon Prime Video): Many have probably watched The Sopranos by now, but as someone who recently worked his way through it for the first time, I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who hasn’t seen it. The story is centered around Tony Soprano, one of the most layered characters in TV history, and tells an incredibly in-depth story about mental health, family conflict, morals, and, most importantly: gabagool. You’ll learn all types of Italian-American slang, open yourself up to a whole new world of memes you didn’t even know existed, and bask in the laughably outdated pop culture/news references made throughout the show’s run. It’s a commitment to watch for sure—86 episodes that all are nearly an hour long—but hey, what else are you gonna do?
Breaking Bad (Netflix): So I totally cheated and took two of what many people consider to be the best shows ever, but I’m not exactly a TV savant, so cut me some slack. If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, you seriously need to. You may have to power through a fairly sluggish first season, but it lays important groundwork for Seasons 2-5 that pay it off tremendously. The fifth and final season is one of the most intense seasons of television you’ll ever watch, and the whole show is just a perfectly executed story arc. It’s my personal favorite.
Better Call Saul (Netflix, AMC): Naturally, the Breaking Bad spin-off is a great follow-up show. A must-watch for any Breaking Bad fan, Better Call Saul is the prequel that fills in the gaps that Vince Gilligan initially left up to your imagination. The show is named after the catchphrase of Saul Goodman, the central character, but it explores the backstories of several other important secondary characters from the Breaking Bad universe as well, like Mike Ehrmantraut, Gus Fring, and Hector Salamanca. It’s not as intense or action-packed as Breaking Bad, but if you like consistent, Point A-to-Point B storytelling, this show is for you.
Dexter (Seasons 1-4) (Netflix): When I finally delved into the streaming world about a year ago, Dexter was the first show I chose to watch, and I didn’t regret it. The show sucks you in from the first episode, and you’re left jaw-dropped nearly every time you watch. It’s the harrowing story of a serial killer trying to blend in with the world around him while hiding in plain sight at his job in the Miami police department. Just a tip, though: once you finish Season 4, immediately stop. From Season 5 on, you’ll feel like you’re still watching the Mets with how quickly this show spirals out of control and leaves you disappointed. Do what I did instead, and just look up the episode summaries for the last four seasons instead of wasting your quarantine time watching the last 48 episodes of this show.
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix, POP TV) - I’m not a big sitcom person, but Schitt’s Creek is one of the few sitcoms I’ve enjoyed. It follows the story of a rich, celebrity family that loses everything after trusting their money with a crook, (remind you of anyone?) and the only asset they have left to their name is a little rural town called Schitt’s Creek, which they once purchased as a joke. They are forced to move into the small town and live in a motel with essentially no possessions. The show very poignantly depicts the disconnect between the exorbitantly wealthy and the rest of the world while coating it all with the perfect amount wittiness and sarcasm. It’s heavy on character development, as these obnoxious, formerly rich people try to adjust to life as poor people who actually have to care about others. So if that’s your cup of tea, check this one out.
Justified (Hulu): Though its critical acclaim was on par with the other beloved prestige dramas of the era, FX’s neo-western never quite garnered the mainstream following it deserved. A perfect blend of crime drama and dark comedy, Justified’s greatest strength lies in its memorable characters and their witty banter; I cannot think of a single show that features better dialogue than Justified. Charismatic performances by Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are worth the price of admission by themselves, so guest spots like the Emmy-winning performances from character actress Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies are icing on the metaphorical apple pie moonshine. Add in top-notch world-building, slow-burn storytelling, explosive violence and a laughs-per-minute rate that rivals most comedies, and you have the perfect binge show.
The Magicians (Netflix): The elevator pitch is “Harry Potter meets The Chronicles of Narnia, but for adults.” What sets it apart from the spate of other similar-seeming fantasy shows (aside from the fact that it’s actually good) is its sense of humor: it’s really, genuinely funny. It is also miles ahead of most fantasy shows in terms of LGBTQ representation, and the diverse ensemble cast is as good as any currently on television. SyFy was thickheaded enough to cancel their only good remaining show, so the current fifth season will serve as the show’s swan song.
American Vandal (Netflix): An anthology mockumentary that combines goofy humor and a surprising amount of heart, American Vandal is an absolute gem. In this parody of true crime documentaries like Making a Murderer and The Jinx, two amateur documentarians set out to uncover who was responsible for a high school prank that went too far. If you’re not above laughing at poop jokes (but, like, smart poop jokes), this is the show for you.
Counterpart (Amazon): Be forewarned that the premise of this show features a global virus that kills hundreds of millions of people. But those people live on an alternate version of Earth that is currently in the midst of a cold war with our Earth. Think of it as a sort of mix between The Americans and Fringe, with two distinct, award-worthy performances from the great JK Simmons. Along with Party Down, Counterpart is probably the best show Starz has ever made...so of course, both were cancelled after two seasons. Both shows are still very much worth watching.
Nathan For You (Hulu): If you are a fan of dry, cringey humor, Comedy Central’s Nathan For You is a must-watch. The show follows business school graduate (with really good grades) Nathan Fielder as he sets out to help real-life businesses with his wacky, absurd marketing schemes. Think Bar Rescue...if Jon Taffer were an awkward introvert who suggested things like smuggling chili inside of a self-heating fatsuit to allow an unauthorized vendor to covertly sell his food during a hockey game. Additionally, the two-hour series finale Finding Frances was one of 2017’s best movies.
Arrested Development, Seasons 1-3 (Netflix): If you need a break from everything that is going on in the world right now, Arrested Development is the perfect antidote. There are some episodes where your sides will genuinely hurt from laughing. It is even worth multiple watches because you will have missed sly jokes while you were laughing plus there are nuances and layers to it that might be missed on the first watch. Don’t bother with seasons 4 and 5. Season 3 ends perfectly and their signature wit ends up missing in the later seasons. If you need a show that is good for quotes, memes, and gifs look no further. There’s always money in the banana stand.
Pushing Daisies (Amazon Prime Video): Pushing Daisies deserved a better fate and was cancelled after just two seasons, however it is still well worth your attention. It’s become a bit of a cult favorite starring Lee Pace, Anna Friel, and the always delightful Kristin Chenoweth. The story follows pie maker Ned who can bring the dead back to life with a single touch. Part crime procedural and part comedy, the writing is brilliant, unique, and genuine. It is beautifully shot but the true standout are the characters, both their chemistry and their heart.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Hulu): Buffy might have been originally aimed at a teen audience in the late ‘90s but it is absolutely watchable for current adults as well. It goes well beyond vampires and deals with deeper issues that almost anyone can relate to. Buffy herself was kick ass but also relatable as a hero, especially for women and girls. Joss Whedon was a visionary in many regards but especially when it came to musical episodes. He created one that made sense and actually moved the story and not just used as a gimmick. Hankies will be needed on multiple occasions and the episode “Hush” is one of the single greatest episodes of television that will also give you nightmares. You’ve been warned. Grr. Argh.
Batman: The Animated Series (Amazon Prime Video): While there is a debate over whether Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or Val Kilmer is the best Batman (we’ll just forget about George Clooney for a second), the correct answer is actually Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman in this show. If you are a Batman fan, and even if you aren’t, you won’t be disappointed. Harley Quinn can trace her origins back to this show and Mark Hamill is brilliant as the voice of the Joker. After watching I will gladly continue the debate over which actor is the best Batman. Hint: It’s not George Clooney.
Deadwood (HBO GO/Amazon Prime): Based on historical events in the town of Deadwood, SD, the ensemble cast led by Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, and Ian McShane brings together all of David Milch’s often vulgar, gritty writing in a way that will charm, shock, and (at times) sicken. McShane is the real star here, playing salty bar owner Al Swearangen, but it’s hard to find a dull spot in the cast who bring the lawlessness and attempting taming of a frontier town to life. Throughout its three seasons, Deadwood develops from frontier camp being buoyed by the presence of Wild Bill Hickock, to town dealing with the creep of modernization and the fading of the cowboy lifestyle. It’s an all-time classic in every respect, and bonus points too, because once you finish the show, you can watch the excellent Deadwood film on HBO Go.
Rome (HBO GO/Amazon Prime): Maybe the saddest series in my list, not for content, but because it ended way too soon. Over its two seasons, Rome dove into the bloody and complex Roman Republic’s transition into Empire with its brilliant ensemble cast led by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson as Roman legionaries trying to find their morals in a post-war Rome, and Ciaran Hinds as the plotting and mysterious Cesar. The battle scenes are fierce, but the show really shines in its portrayal of day-to-day Roman life, and the timeless portrayal of conflict over personal gain and familial security. Unfortunately budget cuts forced the writers to compress the planned remainder of the series into the second season, but despite its pacing, the story manages to resolve itself in an impactful fashion.
Narcos (Netflix): Many people are familiar with the Colombian cartels and the name Pablo Escobar, but the depth Narcos goes into to describe the man and his formation into drug kingpin and one of the world’s richest men, will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions. Wagner Moura brilliantly plays the brooding, reactionary Escobar, who evolves and then devolves from Robin Hood figure to political leader to scheming mass-murderer. Pedro Pascal leads up the DEA’s efforts to investigate the cartel after they start to make their presence known in the US, despite complexities coming from high above his pay grade. The third season really shines, where it goes on to the post-Escobar world and where other cartels jockey to filled Escobar’s void, and lays the groundwork for Narcos:Mexico. The show is, at times, a little too sympathetic for Escobar and the cartels, but the brilliant Colombian scenery and frustrating depiction of government red-tape make it an engrossing watch.
The Blue Planet (Amazon Prime): If you like natural history, you’ll love the Sir David Attenborough narrated series which explores the mysteries of the ocean and all that live in it and above it. Its revolutionary footage of the bottom of the ocean, angler fish, and sperm whales diving to massive depths made it a phenomenon, but it really shines in its depiction of arctic polar bears, emperor penguins, and coastal seals in the Southern US. Produced before the Climate Crisis became set in the public consciousness, a sequel series, Blue Planet II, dives into the issues facing our oceans today.
John Adams (HBO GO/Amazon Prime): Although the HBO miniseries revolves around the complex life and often-frustrating disposition of John Adams, it’s really a story about America’s formative years. We get to see the call to Revolution in all of its gritty glory, the sleepy confines of the Continental Congress, and affable and hedonistic Benjamin Franklin yukking his way through his ambassadorship in Paris. Paul Giammati plays the traditionalistic and often-inflexible John Adams, and Laura Linney stars as his wise and concerned wife Abigail, who serves as his guide and confidant despite their marital challenges. David Morse takes on the reluctant George Washington, who simply “wishes to go back to his country”, and Tom Wilkinson shines as the charming Franklin. The series is way better than any history book for its depiction of the messy political world of the day, and puts some personality behind the challenges and compromises that built the American political system.
Grace & Frankie (Netflix): The eponymous characters, played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, respectively, have their lives turned upside down when their husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, announce they’re leaving their wives and marrying each other.
There are moments clearly inspired by its spiritual predecessor, The Golden Girls, but with a fresh perspective. In addition, G&F covers women’s (especially senior women’s) sexuality and dating, homosexuality and LGBT+ life, alcholism and drug addiction, health care, and so much more in the most outrageous and hilarious of ways. But above all, Grace and Frankie’s womance (the female equivalent of bromance) is the foundation, walls, and roof that elevates this show above usual sitcom fare. Do you want a raucous, laugh-out-loud, sometimes raunchy, hopeful show that can be downright serious and completely silly simultaneously? Then this is the show for you.
Golden Girls (streaming - Hulu; cable - Hallmark, TV Land): This groundbreaking series that remains relevant to this day (save a few dated references) follows the lives of Blanche (Rue McClanahan), Rose (Betty White), Dorothy (Bea Arthur), and Dorothy’s mother, Sophia (Estelle Getty), four senior women who live together in Miami, Florida. This is my comfort show. I can watch it at any point and still laugh out loud, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. The dynamics between the four women are delightful and even though their personalities and lifestyles are different, they are all best friends, sisters, and family.
Seven Worlds, One Planet (BBC/BBC America): Narrated by the ever-wondrous Sir David Attenborough, Seven Worlds, One Planet is a nature documentary about animal life on the seven continents and how the modern world affects them today. I’ll confess to not having finished this series yet, but the cinematography is absolutely stunning. Humanity does not realize the full impact it has on the world and this brings awareness to the forefront in a sobering gorgeous way (at least, so far). Still not sure you want to watch? This trailer featuring Sir David Attenborough and a collaboration by Hans Zimmer (who scores the documentary) and Sia should convince you.
Angel (available to rent/buy on Amazon): A certain galactic film that came out last December disappointed me very, very deeply so I turned to the series that looked at the life of a person (well, vampire, in this case) that has committed numerous atrocities, but now spends his days attempting to atone for all of them. Angel is a vampire cursed with a soul after spending around 150 years committing mischief, mayhem, murders, and massacres galore and is now forced to live with the guilt and the memories of his actions. The series, which is a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, begins after Angel (David Boreanaz) leaves Sunnydale, coming to Los Angeles to continue making amends for all that he has done in the past. One of the show’s central, overarching questions - can he ever? Maybe not, but that’s not going to stop the brooding Angel from trying to help the helpless. Angel is darker than its better-known sister show, but it offers complexity, conflicts, and emotional drama that almost never falls on the scale of black and white mortality simply because of the title character’s bloodied past and ever-challenging present. While the acting is sometimes rough (Boreanaz cannot do an Irish accent to save his life), and a few storylines that will make you tear your hair out (looking at you, season four), Angel demonstrates that great, complicated, dramatic, non-death redemption arcs can be written about villainous characters. (So yeah. Screw you, Disney, JJ Abrams, and Chris Terrio.)
Good Omens (Amazon Prime): Based on the hilarious collaborative genius novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens follows the journeys of Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), an angel, and Crowley (David Tennant), a demon as they attempt to circumvent the end times. Of course, God (voiced by Frances McDormand), a chattering order of satanic nuns, free will, and kids being, well, kids means divine and devilish hilarity ensues. Oh, and Aziraphale owns an old bookshop, so if you know me at all, you know how this absolutely tickles me. Sheen and Tennant transcendently ham it up and clearly enjoy themselves in these roles. It’s blasphemously, angelically funny and features marvelous supporting performances from Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Jon Hamm and a pip of a cameo by Nick Offerman.