Although the status of the COVID pandemic in the tri-state area is much better than it was when stay-at-home measures were implemented, we thought it would be good to do a second round of our series of recommendations of what the AA crew finds joy in while being home. At the moment, there’s still no certainty that MLB will have a 2020 season, and even if the framework of such a season is announced soon—and the virus remains relatively contained locally—most of us still have more much more downtime than we normally would.
With that, we begin our second round of recommendations with TV shows.
Atlanta (Hulu): If you’re a fan of Donald Glover, this show is a must-watch (even if you’re not, it’s still worth your time). Atlanta has landed on a number of lists for best show of the last decade, and with good reason thanks to Glover’s incredible vision and flawless execution of said vision. The show follows Glover’s Earnest Marks as he navigates life in Atlanta and tries to make a living managing his cousin Paper Boi’s budding rap career. The show expertly blends sharp comedy with drama, and the writing is especially top notch. It also provided a jumping-off point to a lot of terrific actors who give award-worthy performances, including Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz. It’s honestly worth watching this show just to experience the Season 2 episode “Teddy Perkins”, which is among the best singular episodes of television I’ve ever watched.
Brockmire (AMC, Hulu): Brockmire is a fun watch for baseball fans. Based on a character created by Hank Azaria (originally appearing in a Funny or Die skit), this show is raunchy and devilishly funny. It follows Brockmire’s journey as he tries to make it back to announcing in the major leagues after suffering a very public meltdown on air that costs him his job. There’s a lot of great baseball-related humor and references throughout, and it’s carried by Azaria’s commitment to his character along with some great performances from Amanda Peet and Tyrel Jackson Williams. Brockmire is a narcissistic mess, but his humanity and his shortcomings make him a sympathetic character that you can’t help rooting for. Baseball fans should get a kick out of recurring performances from Joe Buck, who is actually hilarious every time he appears, and George Brett, among others. Azaria (of Simpsons fame) is also a huge Mets fan (as highlighted by his incredible appearances to Citi Field here, and here, and here) so you get the added bonus of supporting one of our own. It’s also a quick watch, as the show’s run just ended in May after four seasons and 32 episodes.
Community (Netflix): I’ve noticed a lot of people on Twitter either discovering Community for the very first time or rewatching Community during this quarantine, and it’s made me nostalgic and considering my own rewatch. Community is not the show that invented meta-humor, but I’d argue Dan Harmon’s creation is the one that really perfected it and brought the style to the forefront for our generation. The highly conceptual stories were extremely memorable, most notably Season 1’s paintball episode that remains one of the best episodes of comedy I’ve ever seen. The ensemble cast, who attend Greendale Community College, brings us a number of quotable and lovable characters, including Donald Glover’s Troy and Dany Pudi’s Abed. The first two seasons rank near the top for me for any comedy show, although it does hit a rough patch later on when Harmon was fired. Despite that off-screen drama, the show brought us some very enjoyable and smart comedy.
Fleabag (Amazon Prime): It’s likely you’ve had somebody tell you to watch Fleabag over the past year, but believe me, they’ve got your best interest at heart. Honestly, there’s no reason not to watch. It’s two seasons of six half-hour episodes, which would allow most ambitious individuals to knock it out in one sitting. The character was created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and originated in a 2013 one-woman play. Fleabag is a free spirit who says what’s on her mind and has a snarky retort for just about every situation. The show isn’t afraid to touch upon taboo topics, but it addresses them with thoughtfulness and with biting humor. Your opinion on characters breaking the fourth wall, and how much you enjoy those moments, will likely dictate how you feel about Fleabag. The second season is a rare gem and deals with some really dark subjects, but the character remains charming and lovable, which makes it an easy show to get behind.
Scrubs (Hulu): It’s hard to believe Scrubs has been off the air for ten years now. Before the age of binge-watching, this was the first show I remember consuming in a short amount of time because a bunch of friends of mine in college kept talking about it. Despite being a comedy first and foremost, I’ve heard it referenced by many as one of the most realistic depictions of life for people working in a hospital with respect to how they handle grief and trauma. This is the first TV show that made me cry as an adult, or at least since I was a young child (fans are likely able to pinpoint the episode I’m talking about), and so many episodes were an emotional roller coaster. Zach Braff’s and Donald Faison’s real-life friendship comes through on screen, as their chemistry (and the cast’s chemistry overall) helps the audience connect with the cast. If you ignore the absolutely horrid ninth season (which I would highly recommend), this show also has one of the best series finale of all time.
Psych (Amazon Prime): Starring James Roday and Dule Hill, this dramedy follows Shawn and his partner Gus, who pretends he is a psychic to help the police solve crimes. The premise is ridiculous but the cast sells it to where it becomes highly entertaining. Come for show stay for all the pop culture references.
Big Little Lies (HBO): With an all-star cast comprised of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoe Kravitz the series is based on a book with the same title (which is also absolutely worth checking out). It starts with a murder and continues on with the secret lives of mothers in the upper middle class and the pressure of perfection and appearances. It’s not the most uplifting storytelling but brilliantly acted with some humor intertwined. It a faithful adaptation of the book so if you have read it, the show is worth your time.
Meerkat Manor (Amazon Prime): Meerkat Manor is a documentary that follows the lives of a family of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert in Africa. Led by their matriarch Flower, this documentary is part Shakespearean tragedy, part soap opera as they navigate the perils of the desert which includes rival families, predators, and extreme weather. Not to mention petty squabbles and in-fighting among the family. Warning, as you can imagine life is hard in this unforgiving environment, and a lot of hard lessons are learned which leads to many, many tissues being needed.
Planet Earth (Amazon Prime): While most of us are still staying at home until this pandemic passes, this documentary gives viewers the chance to explore this beautiful planet from home. Absolutely stunning visuals from all corners of the globe show the wild and wondrous variety of life we share this planet with.
Dark Side of the Ring: I have not been an active viewer of professional wrestling in quite some time, but I’ve always found the culture of ‘sports entertainment’ endlessly fascinating. Unfortunately, it is also endlessly bleak, and Vice TV’s Dark Side of the Ring does an outstanding job presenting stories from all eras of wrestling that highlight both the unique nature of the business and also the tragedy that is, seemingly, right around the corner.
The second season just wrapped up after telling stories about tragic deaths (Owen Hart, falling from the rafters of an arena in a botched stunt), cocaine-induced mania (the UWF’s Herb Abrams), and mafia execution over smuggled cigarettes (Dino Bravo), among many other tales that sound too bizarre to be real. But real they are, and each episode brings you deep into kayfabe to understand just how such things can happen. Engrossing and revolting, it certainly will make you never look at Vince McMahon the same way again.
Star Wars Rebels: For many people, Star Wars is 11 movies of varying quality. For others, those films are just the tip of the Lucasfilm iceberg, with novels, comic books, video games, and television series making up a large portion of their fandom. I am one of the latter folks, with a Star Wars bookshelf in my basement, and a deep love for the various Star Wars animated series.
I am particularly fond of Star Wars Rebels, the 2014-2018 series that was set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The series isn’t afraid to get weird, and digs into some pretty nutty Force stuff, such as space whales and the ‘World Beyond Worlds.’ But it also builds up a cast of folks from all over the galaxy, all of whom are given far more time to grow and change than anyone could expect in a couple of films.
The show is extra special if you watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and if you’ve got Disney+, you have no excuse not to watch both. The first seasons of each are a bit rough, but trust me, the investment of time is well worth it.
The State: Sketch comedy is something that, oftentimes, hits you at a certain age. Ask anyone what their favorite Saturday Night Live era is, and they’ll likely tell you it was the time when they were in middle school/early high school. While I loved SNL, my middle school years were spent quoting The State just as much, if not more.
The State was an eleven member comedy troupe with a show on MTV (and, for one episode, a special on CBS). More Monty Python’s Flying Circus than Saturday Night Live, the show was absurd and amazing, doing everything from musical numbers about porcupines to bizarre sketches about the horrors of a planet where all Hs are Ms to declaring, definitively, that beards cannot grow in space (despite, you know, seeing bearded astronauts).
It’s not streaming anywhere right now, because life isn’t fair, but if you can track down The State’s DVD set or pay $20ish bucks for the entire series on Amazon Prime (or find enough sketches posted to YouTube), you won’t be disappointed.
The Life and Times of Tim: Speaking of shows not available to stream anywhere, HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim makes Curb Your Enthusiasm look totally not cringey at all. The animated series features the titular Tim walking through life cluelessly, and getting himself into trouble at every turn.
The series featured some recurring characters like a ‘cool’ priest, his girlfriend’s horny grandmother, and his ever-frustrating friend Stu. The show used Hank Williams’s brilliant “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” as the theme song, and features maybe the most uncomfortable 3 minutes of television I’ve ever seen, where Tim tries to scat-sing.
Tuca & Bertie (Netflix): Featuring the voice talents of Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong and the animation of Bojack Horseman’s Lisa Hanawalt, Tuca & Bertie was canceled after one season, despite critical acclaim and a cult following. The fans revolted and the show will be revived for a second season on Adult Swim in 2021. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen the first season, you absolutely should. The two main characters couldn’t be more different, which makes the friendship dynamic between the bombastic, care-free Tuca and the anxious, reserved Bertie both hilarious and compelling. But even though this show is a comedy, deep down it is a story of the strength of friendship and how it changes and endures through life changes and personal development. It is funny, earnest, and well worth your time.
House (Amazon Prime): House was my favorite show as a nerdy teenager interested in science and medicine during the time it was on the air. I remember appreciating it as the only medical drama that actually made the cases and medical mysteries the center of the story rather than which doctor was sleeping with which other doctor (although there is certainly some of that too). It is a show that holds up well to a re-watch and of course Hugh Laurie was so wonderful and iconic in the lead role that when he speaks in his natural English accent, I still find it weird to this day. If you’re going to do a binge session though, I would focus on the earlier seasons before it jumped the shark.
The Plot Against America (HBO): The Plot Against America is an HBO miniseries based on Philip Roth’s 2004 novel featuring an alternative American history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated 1940 presidential election by the xenophobic war hero Charles Lindbergh, who leads the country down a path of acceptance of antisemitism. Even though the novel obviously predates current events, the miniseries just finished its run and felt unsettlingly timely. The acting in it is extraordinary all around, but I felt Zoe Kazan in particular shined as Elizabeth Levin, who must do everything she can to protect her Jewish family, including distancing herself from her own sister who is aiding and abetting the Lindbergh administration. At only six episodes, it’s a very quick binge and my favorite thing I’ve seen on TV in 2020.
South Park (Comedy Central): Everyone needs laughs right now and no show makes me laugh more than South Park. It has 23 seasons for a reason. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are constantly finding new ways to satirize anything and everything; the fact that they are equal opportunity satirists is a big part of what makes the show an enduring classic. Yes, the show is incredibly vulgar. But it’s incredibly witty too. And a huge library of relatively independent episodes to pick from means you can go back and pick from your favorites without having to commit to a full series re-watch.
Sherlock (Netflix): A contemporary spin on the Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories that first aired on PBS, Sherlock is totally addictive—smart, compelling, and sharp. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman excel in the lead roles and the dynamic between the two main characters is fantastic, with the sensitive, patient, and modest Watson acting as a foil to the obsessive and narcissistic Sherlock. The individual episodes are fun on their own, but the arch of the series also takes many twists and turns that will keep you guessing.
Last Man on Earth (Hulu): I was never much of a Will Forte fan, but having heard several good recommendations about this show and already being a fan of Kristen Schaal, I’m very happy to have given it a shot. Forte joins Andy Samberg and Bill Hader in having not really done it for me on SNL but going on to be one of the main characters in a show that I thoroughly enjoy. The basic premise here is that the vast majority of the world’s population has been wiped out, and Forte’s character goes on a search to find any other remaining people. It’s four seasons long and unfortunately did not get a second chance after it was canceled following the fourth, but it’s an entertaining ride.
Bob’s Burgers (Hulu): It’s hard to believe that this show has been on for ten seasons, but it’s still going strong, with some of its best episodes having taken place in the most recent season that wrapped up earlier this year. This makes back-to-back Kristen Schaal shows in my recommendations, and she’s part of a great cast and one of the most compelling cartoon families of all time. Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise are great, and the vast majority of the other regulars are very good, too.
Killing Eve (Hulu, AMC, BBC America): I started watching this show based on one friend’s recommendation in a social media post at a time when it seemed like there weren’t any good shows to watch. It’s been a fascinating ride ever since, with Season 3 having just aired. Sandra Oh, who plays Eve, and Jodie Comer, who plays Villanelle, are excellent leads, and the show has a unique feel and story.
Veep (HBO): Although it wasn’t in my first batch of recommendations in this series, Veep is up there as one of my favorite shows ever. Julia Louis-Dreyfus did what none of her Seinfeld peers has since that show ended, starring in a fantastic show that had a six-season run and playing the part of Selina Meyer. Watching her play that character felt truly distinct from her excellent portrayal of Elaine in Seinfeld, and that still feels true when re-watching episodes from either show. Veep is at times a very fast comedy, and it’s possible to miss some lines because you’re laughing so hard at other ones. That plus the overall writing style make it fun to view multiple times, whether that means picking up on things you missed or just enjoying certain jokes that you weren’t necessarily in on the first time you watched.
Show Me A Hero (HBO): Although it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as his longer-spanning endeavors, David Simon’s miniseries about the struggle to integrate housing in Yonkers, which borders New York City, is a masterpiece. It can be a tough show to watch at times, but it does a good job of telling the story of its characters while also reminding viewers that this sort of issue isn’t as distant—geographically or chronologically—as many people often think.
GLOW (Netflix): Knowledge of wrestling is not at all required to enjoy this fictional retelling of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Set in the 1980s, this half-hour comedy-drama stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron, but the fantastic ensemble cast allows the show to create a roster full of three-dimensional female characters. The fourth and final season has been delayed indefinitely due to the pandemic, but for now, the first 30 episodes are the perfect binge for anyone looking for an entertaining and surprisingly poignant sports-adjacent show.
Wainy Days (DavidWain.com): For those of us who loved David Wain’s masterpiece Wet Hot American Summer, but thought it could be even more absurdly outlandish, this web series is a revelation. Each five-ish minute episode follows fictional David Wain’s journey through New York city as he explores relatable topics such as love, death, and working in some kind of a sweat shop with your three best friends. The list of guest stars is impressive, including Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, and many more. Be forewarned, this brand of stupid, absurdist anti-humor is not for everyone and should probably not be watched by anyone with a functioning brain. I love it.
Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim): In this fifteen minute comedy series—and I call it a comedy because “nice” and “wholesome” are not recognized genres—Joe Pera talks to the audience about a different subject each episode while navigating his peculiar, provincial life in Michigan’s upper peninsula. It’s hard to describe because there just aren’t any shows like it, but Pera’s lovable grandpa-in-his-30s persona is an idiosyncratic character unlike any I’ve ever seen on television, and each episode leaves me feeling warm and happy.
Detroiters (Comedy Central): This off-beat comedy about two creatives at a Detroit advertising firm stars and was created by the hilarious duo of Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson. The fake, so-bad-they’re-good local ads are a delight, but the genuine friendship between the two leads is the heartbeat of the show. Comedy Central inexplicably cancelled the show after two seasons, which is most definitely a Chunky, but at least that cancellation made way for Netflix’s Emmy-winning sketch show I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson. If you enjoy that show, give Detroiters a shot.
Search Party (HBO Max): A half-hour mystery series that continues to reinvent itself, Search Party stars Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat as an unfulfilled young woman who takes obsessive interest in the missing person case of her former college acquaintance. Though some viewers will be irritated by the stereotypical, selfish millennial characters, the show is so outstandingly crafted that it’s easily worth it. Season three of the darkly comedic neo-noir starts on June 25.
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited: Instead of pining for the director’s cut of a terrible movie made by a terrible director, I would advise any superhero fans to instead check out this classic animated series featuring the definitive interpretation of several DC characters. In round one of our television recs, Linda recommended Batman: The Animated Series, the first entry in the DC Animated Universe. Justice League and its followup Justice League Unlimited is the sequel to that show and depicts Batman (still voiced by the great Kevin Conroy) teaming up with Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and plenty of other superheroes to protect the world from threats that none of them can handle on their own. Just like Batman: TAS before it, Justice League and JLA are not afraid to explore some pretty dark and complex storylines while still providing us with plenty of awesome action that is also child-friendly. It’s been fourteen years since the last episode aired, and it still remains one of the best animated shows ever made, and a great choice for viewers of all ages.
Friday Night Lights: If you like football, you’ll probably like Friday Night Lights. If you like high school dramas, you’ll probably like Friday Night Lights. And if you don’t like either of those two things, you’ll still probably like Friday Night Lights. It’s a show that transcends its subject matter and gives us a compelling and emotional look at a community defined by its passion for the sport. Sure, it’s kind of ridiculous to pretend that high school sophomores look like Tim Riggins, but you’ll nevertheless be ready to run through a brick wall the first time you hear Coach Taylor give one of his motivational speeches. (Note: season two is pretty bad, but watching it means you get to participate in the jokes that people in the fanbase make about it, so it’s still worth it.)
Stranger Things: Anyone who loves Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and feeling nostalgic about the 1980s has probably already seen and loved Stranger Things. If you haven’t, then now’s a good time to grab some Eggos and check it out. It’s a good blend of supernatural mystery, small-town drama, and childhood coming of age (and unlike other shows, the creators did themselves a favor and found some kids who can act). Three seasons in, it remains one of the best shows that Netflix has produced. Production on the fourth season has unfortunately been halted due to the pandemic, but that just means there’s more time to catch up on it before new episodes are released.
Enlightened: This show is an unheralded gem in HBO’s catalog. It is a half-hour dramedy that only lasted for two seasons, but it carried more emotional resonance in those two seasons than most shows could contain in ten. Fundamentally, Enlightened is about people who want to become better human beings and who struggle to figure out exactly how to overcome the parts of their nature that keep them from doing so. It can be a little hard to get into at first since the main character can be a bit grating in the early going (think Michael Scott levels of awkwardness and lack of self-awareness and multiply that by ten), but it just means that the tearjerker moments of the show will hit all the harder when they come.
Teen Titans: Starting with another ‘kids’ show this time around, the original Teen Titans remains excellent even once you’ve grown out of its target demo. It’s at times campy and is certainly kid friendly in terms of the animation style and some of the filler episodes, but the season-defining story arcs touch on plenty of mature themes, dealing with everything from abusive families to discrimination. The five main characters—Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Raven—all get their chance to shine, and their character development is extremely rewarding. Worth watching whether you’re in your 20s or if you have some kids you need to keep entertained. Note this is NOT the same as Teen Titans Go, which was made for an even younger audience after the cancellation of the original show.
Mindhunter (Netflix): If you’re the kind of person who enjoys true crime podcasts or shows, this is the Netflix show for you. Join Holden Ford, Bill Tench, and Dr. Wendy Carr as they explore the criminal psyche and define what a serial killer is for the first time. The story is based loosely on real events, and the casting and directing of the serial killers characters is truly incredible - and unsettling. Be warned, you’re going to see and hear about some very screwed up crimes that actually happened, but if you can handle that sort of material this show will hook you in a hurry.
Psycho Pass: Dipping back into the anime well now for a slightly less mainstream option. Psycho Pass is set in a futuristic Japan, where potential criminals can be detected by a scan of the brain. Law enforcement is tied to these scans, using weapons that will only fire at individuals with a ‘psycho-pass’ that passes the legal threshold, and those who the overriding Sibyl System approves of. It’s a similar starting spot to Total Recall, though with less reliance on an Oracle’s ability to see the future. This setting leads to a dark, gritty, psychological thriller, and the first season is critically acclaimed (the other seasons, not so much).
Fawlty Towers: If you love Monty Python and John Cleese, I cannot recommend this short show enough. It’s only two seasons, each with six 30 minute episodes, but you’ll be in stitches the entire time. Cleese plays Basil Fawlty, henpecked husband of Sybil, and owner of the titular dysfunctional hotel. They’re joined by a similarly inept staff, chambermaid Polly and Spanish-speaking waiter Manuel. Plenty of hijinks, rife with dry British humor, ensue. It’s been named the greatest ever British sitcom on a couple different lists, if you want an official endorsement as well.