I live in New York and love going out here. But lately, my sofa beckons and my boots face stiff competition from my slippers as dozens of engaging TV shows become available through streaming. Here are some of my favorite reasons to stay home:
14 Comedies (most of these shows run 23 – 30 minutes)
1. Master of None (produced by and streaming on Netflix). The set up is familiar: The show’s creator ̶ in this case, Aziz Ansari ̶ plays plays a comedic version of himself. But everything else about “Master of None” is fresh. Funny, sharp-edged stories take on modern issues of racism, sexism, relationships and adulting. The show is generous toward its characters, and the “Parents” episode is an instant classic. Cinematic filming, to boot.
2. Catastrophe (produced by UK Channel 4; season 1 streaming on Amazon, season 2 not yet available in the US). Boston businessman (Rob Delaney) and London schoolteacher (Sharon Horgan) have a two-night stand in London, and she gets pregnant. The characters are both about 40, so the sane thing to do would be have an abortion and accidentally run across each other on Facebook for the next decade. Instead, Horgan decides to go through with the pregnancy and Delaney moves to London to be part of it. This show avoids cheap, sitcom-y takes while bringing great wit to situations both weird and relatable. Bonus: Carrie Fisher crackles as Delaney’s mom, and it looks like her own dogs appear with her.
3. Awkward Black Girl (awkwardblackgirl.com). Before I saw this, I had no idea a web series could be so good. The writing is howlingly funny, the acting terrific. Created by and starring Issa Rae, who now has a development deal with HBO, it’s the antidote to everything “Girls” has been fairly criticized for.
4. Gavin & Stacey (BBC; Hulu). A towering hit in the UK, this show is all but unknown in the U.S. That’s worse than a shame because the astonishingly good writing and acting make it among the best and funniest character-driven TV shows ever created. It first aired in 2007, and there are just 20 episodes; as a whole, the series is a gem. “Late Late Show” (and Carpool Karaoke) host James Corden is a star and co-creator.
5. You’re the Worst (FXX; season 1 on Hulu; seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon). An old theme̶ two people committed to not committing to each other̶ reinvigorated with surprising charisma. Lead Aya Cash is a particular standout.
6. Broad City (Comedy Central; Amazon). Pretty much exactly what it’s like to be young, broke, career-less and female in NYC. Also: brutally funny and slyly feminist. Starring co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, and with Hannibal Buress as Glazer’s part-time boyfriend.
7. Veep (HBO; Amazon). Less a vehicle for Julia Louis-Dreyfus than a great ensemble show. Ridiculous situations held very taught by funny characters and strong acting.
8. Grace and Frankie (Netflix). Opens with Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston breaking up with their wives, played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, in order to move in together. While the comedy can veer into predictability, the show offers great pleasure in watching accomplished, older actors go deep and tender on relationships.
9. The Mindy Project (Hulu). The show moved from Fox to Hulu in 2015 and got better, and edgier, for it. If you gave up in the earlier seasons, try again with season four. You won’t regret it.
10. Casual (Hulu). Think of this show as the Mr. Potatohead of TV, bearing parts snagged from other shows. The adult-sibling relationship from Weeds, the wildly self-involved LA parents from Transparent and the teacher-student relationship from Pretty Little Liars. And yet, it manages to entertain.
11. Party Down (Starz; Hulu). A 2009 show about a group of aspiring actors and writers working catering gigs. Well-drawn characters and loads of chemistry among them make the absurd situations hilarious rather than cringey.
12. Scrotal Recall (UK Channel 4; Netflix). Terrible name, sweet characters. Light, amusing.
13. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central; Hulu). Hit its stride with season three. If seasons one and two didn’t move you, give it another whirl.
14. Louie (FX; Hulu). Starts comedic, but, over the seasons, gets dark as a windowless basement. But Louis CK is complex enough to go along wherever he takes us.
5 Dramadies (most of these shows run 45 minutes)
1. Unreal (Lifetime; Amazon). Holy wow, this is good TV. Conceived by a former producer for “The Bachelor”, it’s a fictional show about the backstage maneuvering on a reality show very much like “The Bachelor”. Although everyone in this world is somehow manipulating everyone else, the show gets remarkably close to several characters, especially the two women who run the show-inside-the-show. A great watch, even if, like me, you don’t groove on “The Bachelor” and its spawn.
2. Jane the Virgin (CW; Hulu). Ignore the off-putting premise (Jane, played winningly by Gina Rodriguez, is artificially and accidentally inseminated with a near-stranger’s sperm *and decides to have the baby*) and give this modern telenovela a chance because everything else about it is terrific. The characters are funny and flawed, and the show loves them for it. You will, too. (Special shout-out to the knowing narration.)
3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW; Hulu). Again, the premise is seriously annoying (smart, accomplished woman drops everything to chase an ex-boyfriend across the country), and the lead and her crush have absolutely no chemistry. But! The show has amazingly good (and often subversive) musical numbers, and the side characters are getting more interesting as the first season goes on. Created by and starring Rachel Bloom.
4. Transparent (Amazon). A divorced father in his 60s (with three adult children) transitions from male to female, and the show centers on his family of upper-middle-class LA Jews. None of the main characters is likable, but they’re remarkably sympathetic and the show is enormously engaging.
5. Orange is the New Black (Netflix). If you haven’t yet watched this show (all two of you), now is the time. Set in a women’s prison, this show is getting hokier and more like summer camp with each season. But it’s worth watching for the array of characters rarely seen on TV, particularly sympathetic black and Latina women, supremely well acted.
8 Dramas (these shows run 45 – 60 minutes)
1. The Affair (Showtime; Hulu). Unfolds like a delicious novel about marriages̶ with so. Much. Tension. Notably, almost every episode is split in half with each half told from the point of view of a different character. A new and welcome approach to serious TV.
2. The Americans (FX; Amazon). Set in the Reagan years, two KGB spies, married to each other, pose convincingly as Americans for decades. Occasionally reminiscent of Mission Impossible, the show shines when it plumbs the conflict between working as spies and living among friends and family.
3. The Great British Baking Show (AKA., “The Great British Bake Off”) (BBC2; seasons variously on Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, PBS…honestly, this show is a pain to find). It’s a delight to watch bakers test their skills and knowledge with appealingly goofy hosts and stern judges. Reality TV so free of machinations, the contestants actually help each other.
4. Call the Midwife (BBC; Netflix). A group of nurse-midwives working in post-war London. Personal challenges, ethical dilemmas and atmosphere abound.
5. Downton Abbey (UK ITV; Amazon). Although often over-plotted, the show highlights challenges that upper-class women in particular faced during the changing times of the early 20th century. Tart dialog keeps the stories moving, and the whole thing is gorgeous to look at.
6. The Good Wife (CBS; Amazon). There’s a reason this show has been on the air for seven seasons. It’s compelling, and the main character especially (played by Julianna Margulies) stays interesting as she grows over time.
7. The Wire (HBO; Amazon). If you’ve never watched, get on it now. It will seem dated soon, and you don’t want to be distracted by that.
8. Friday Night Lights (NBC; Netflix, Amazon). Among the best network dramas of the past decade. Season two was weak, but power through for a great payoff.
Clear eyes, full hearts, stream on.
(Photo credit: Stocksy.com)