COVID CHRONICLES 05/03/20
Binge-Worthy TV, Part 1
You’ve exhausted your list. You’re caught up on every show, bored of the others as you channel surf. Your “Stay at Home” plan is missing a key component. You’re at the end of your rope.
Never fear! I’m here to help. Between my list and a crowdsourced list spanning all genres, there is enough here to keep going long beyond the need to stay home all the time.
Today in Part 1 we focus on Lisa’s and my recommendations. Tuesday, in Part 2, I’ll share the list collected from others. There’s still time to nominate your favorites to my list — deadline is Monday 9pm EDT/6pm PDT.
Please note: I’ve provided a single link for each series. However, many are available through multiple sources. Check to see which is best for you.
OK, here we go…
THE PANTHEON (in order of personal preference)
The Wire, HBO
In the drug-ridden streets of West Baltimore, there are good guys and there are bad guys. Sometimes you need more than a badge to tell them apart.
Drama, Five Seasons. Each season focuses on a different institution: Police, Unions, Mayor’s office, Education, Press. The first two seasons introduce two of the most unique and fascinating characters ever presented on television: Stringer Bell (Edris Elba) and Omar Little (Michael K. Williams). The writing, acting, directing and editing are all top-notch. Not for children.
The Sopranos, HBO
Follows Tony Soprano: husband, father and mob boss whose professional and private strains land him in the office of his therapist.
Drama, Six Seasons. You never really knew where this series was headed. But you knew you wanted to ride along. What’s notable about all these series is the excellence in all phases of story-telling.
Mad Men, Netflix
Set in 1960s New York City, this award-winning series takes a peek inside an ad agency during an era when the cutthroat business had a glamorous lure.
Drama, Seven Seasons. Slower moving and more of a time commitment but ultimately rewarding. The story of Don Draper is a fascinating look at a man and his times. A period piece with exquisite attention to detail.
Breaking Bad, Netflix
A high school chemistry teacher dying of cancer teams with a former student to secure his family’s future by manufacturing and selling crystal meth.
Drama, Five Seasons. This is the only one of the four I haven’t seen. But it belongs here, several people mentioned it, and it’s in my queue.
WHAT WE’VE WATCHED SINCE 1/1/2020 (alphabetical order)
The Good Place, NBC
Follows Eleanor Shellstrop, an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife, and thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place (which is definitely where she belongs). While hiding in plain sight from Good Place Architect Michael, she’s determined to shed her old way of living and earn her spot.
- Comedy, Four Seasons. This show is a joy, from the delightful and magnetic Kristen Bell to the magnificent Ted Danson showing off his chops. The rest of the ensemble is excellent.
- You MUST WATCH THE ENTIRE FIRST SEASON before deciding whether to commit to this show. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.
- Where we are: Finished series
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon
Midge Maisel’s life is on track- husband, kids, and elegant Yom Kippur dinners in their Upper West Side apartment. But when her life takes a surprise turn, she has to quickly decide what else she’s good at — and going from housewife to stand-up comic is a wild choice to everyone but her.
- Comedy. There is certainly pathos here. But isn’t that where great comedy comes from? Unlike Mad Men, there is no real attempt at historical accuracy here, so you have to accept that from the beginning. Especially resonant for Jewish viewers.
- Where we are: Waiting for release of Season 4
Schitt’s Creek, Netfix
Suddenly broke, the formerly filthy-rich Rose family is reduced to living in a ramshackle motel in a town they once bought as a joke: Schitt’s Creek.
- Comedy. As the patriarch and matriarch of the Rose Clan, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara continue their collaboration dating back to SCTV, including films like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. But it’s Levy’s son Daniel — the show’s co-creator who plays David — that’s the true revelation here. And has anyone made more of a career playing the same guy as Chris Elliott? He’s at his best here.
- Another series that you should give time. It takes a little time to get on board with the quirkiness. And the series ends up taking the characters places you never imagined.
- Where we are: Middle of Season 5, with one more season to go.
Tracks the lives of the Roy family as they contemplate their future once their aging father begins to step back from the media and entertainment conglomerate they control.
- Drama. I will prepare you right now. This is a totally guilty pleasure. Why? Because there isn’t a SINGLE character you can root for on the face of it. This is one screwed up family and business (loosely based on Rupert Murdoch). But once you come to terms with that, a wonderful thing happens. Your loyalties shift constantly. And it’s sometimes uncomfortable finding yourself rooting for one person over another. The end of each season is a gut-punch.
- Waiting for release of Season 3
Based on a memoir of the same name, a Hasidic Jewish woman in Brooklyn flees to Berlin from an arranged marriage and is taken in by a group of classical music students— until her past comes calling.
- Drama. Four episodes. We watched in two sittings. A fascinating story and view inside an insular culture as we follow Esty push up against its boundaries. Heavy with moments of lightness, thought-provoking. It stuck with me for days.
- Where we are: Completed series.
Follow the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin in this dark odyssey that begins in a world where every human appetite can be indulged. The series explores questions about the nature of our reality, free will and what makes us human.
- Drama. This is one intense and mind-blowing series. We had to take a break after ending season 2 but are getting ready to start up on the new season which is moving to a new setting. Between the time shifting and other confusing factors inherent in the show, it takes some concentration and commitment.
- Where we are: Ready to start Season 3.
The West Wing Netflix or TV reruns
The story of the president we wish we had now, Josiah Edward “Jed” Bartlett. The pilot picks up the story half-way through Bartlett’s first term.
- Drama. Seven Seasons. I’ve watched every episode — especially the early seasons — multiple times. Lisa has never watched the entire series in order.
- Where we are: First season.
Lisa has some favorite shows she watches to decompress. She even has categories!
One of my favorite grooves in fiction, these series offer satisfying doses for episodic viewing.
Jane the Virgin Netflix
Fun, farcical, but also with all the feels, this series is based on the premise of the telenovela, so you need to just suspend your disbelief and hang on for the ride. Terrific (predominantly bilingual) cast, and Brooke Shields (as actress “River Fields” of the Lloyd of London insured eyebrows) is a revelation in her comic genius! One arc features a cameo by Isabel Allende — so meta!
My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Netflix
Rachel Bloom created a micro-verse where those of us living life on the emotional edge can feel enormously sane by comparison. Absurdist plot twists are heavily intertwined with the protagonist’s mental health challenges (those in part shared by the show’s creator/star), so it is daringly self-referential and sometimes (often?) pushes limits. Oh, and in each episode, characters break into spontaneous song and dance numbers reflecting their perspectives and emotional landscapes. So there’s that.
Eli Stone Amazon
Speaking of spontaneous song/dance numbers, come to Eli Stone for George Michael, stay for Eli’s evolution (courtesy of a brain anomaly) over the (too brief) two seasons.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist NBC
New network series, also of the “spontaneously breaking out into song & dance” variety with character evolution springing from brain anomaly (hmmm, sensing a theme in my viewing here). Didn’t want to like it as much as I do but apparently can’t help myself ;) And filmed in SF, so there are lots of fun location shots for Bay Area folks!
Being Erica Amazon
Brings some of my favorite themes together under one series-roof: magic realism, time travel, Jewishness, female friendships and life lessons via sex and romance. Based in Toronto, following the protagonist (Erica) through her time-travel-therapy catalyzed personal growth journey, with frequent thematic points of connections with Jewish traditions, rituals and observances (totally integrated with plot movement). Hooked me.
I love to laugh — and we need all the laughter we can get right now — these shows do the trick.
Trial and Error Amazon
I can only recommend the first of its two seasons but OMG, there are moments so hysterical that I had to pause to catch my breath — John Lithgow in the most disarmingly comical role he has played since 3rd Rock!
Gavin & Stacey Amazon
British/Welsh sitcom I fell utterly in love with, written by and starring James Cordon and Ruth Jones… her character is one of the most outrageously original you will find on network television (US or British). Manages to be both edgy and innocent, leaving you laughing and longing for a sweeter time, a feel good watch to be sure. LOVE!
I don’t know that any character in this hysterically funny series ever manages to be sympathetic, but I laughed so hard I didn’t care. And one of the last roles (if not the last) we have the pleasure of watching Carrie Fischer strut her stuff in.
Grace and Frankie Netflix
Netflix original series — love, love, LOVE Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as the latter day “odd couple”. Lily kills me — she only gets better with age. And love the SoCal/coastal setting, which is almost its own character.
Odd Mom Out Amazon
Rebel renegade Jewish mom dropped into an Upper East Side super-wealthy wasp family. Just. Too. Funny.
This is Us NBC
Get out your damn hankies! But don’t let the weltschmerz keep you away, this show is a feat of storytelling, with multiple timelines interweaving to create an elegant whole which continues to surprise as it unfolds. Superb acting embodying a myriad of experiences… obesity, anxiety, sobriety, war, drug abuse, multiculturalism, coming out, Alzheimer’s, loss, adoption, the power of music and memory, and what it means to be a family. Beautiful.
The Good Fight CBS
Spin off of “The Good Wife”. A fun watch, rife with current cultural-political references, worth it just for Christine Baranski in all her glory!
Dramedy to indulge your Sutton Foster obsession (calling all Broadway musical fans) in a great ensemble series.
Big Little Lies HBO
Limited series on the Liane Moriarty novel, can’t go wrong with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley… PLUS Meryl Streep!
Because it’s SO MUCH FUN!
My brother got me hooked on this one — a show that is also its own subculture, now in its’ 15th and final season…. forget all the ghoulish bells & whistles, this show is about relationships, and it rocks. CW network.
Stranger Things Netflix
For any child of the 80’s this is a much watch — so evocative of the zeitgeist of an era. Creepy, creative, addictive — Winona Rider reclaims her place on the screen accompanied by a badass group of child (and adult) actors.
Most of mine are reflected elsewhere on the lists. But this is the one that got me through two surgeries and a divorce.
Law and Order NBC, Amazon (some) or TV reruns
Drama. 20 Seasons. Blended police procedural and courtroom drama created a new breed of story, and a spin-off franchise. Only recommending the original and the first 14 seasons. Once Lenny is gone, the consistency turns spotty.
One of the most fun things about Law and Order is identifying all the actors who appeared on this show that eventually rose to stardom or appear consistently on TV and in films over the following decades.
For a year-old article about the lack of a streaming presence for this show, see Why Isn’t Law & Order Streaming Anywhere?