“You’re not exactly Joyce Kulhawik,” my husband told me when I mentioned to him that I was recommending TV shows to watch this week. He wasn’t sure I was qualified to be a critic.
No, I’m not exactly (or even a little bit) a critic. I get my credentials solely as a dedicated couch potato and very patient patient. For the last several months as I’ve been recovering from surgery, then chemo, and I’ve watched an embarrassing amount of TV. I have started more than a few series and let them go (I’m probably the only one on the east coast that couldn’t get through more than a few episodes of How To Make A Murderer or Sherlock, and I hated Man in the High Castle.)
So, while I may not be an expert, I am experienced and I know what I like and I know what captured my attention and what was good for distracting me. From comedies to docu-series to dramas, here’s my list of what you might want to binge on, in ABC order, because other than Downton Abbey (my favorite) I don’t think I could tell you which ones I like best—they are all so different:
- 11.22.63 Hulu.com. This is an eight-part event series (currently being rolled out), based off Stephen King’s book of the same name. I loved the book, and in true Stephen King style, it is so suspenseful I often have to hide my head in the pillow and cover my ears. Hulu.com describes the series this way: “…This eight–part event series follows Jake Epping (James Franco), an ordinary high school teacher, who is presented with the unthinkable mission of traveling back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963… As Jake tries to rewrite history, he discovers that the past does not want to be changed and will do anything to stop him.”
- The Affair: Showtime, 3 seasons so far. Noah Solloway (played by Dominic West) is “happily” married with four kids (his wife Helen is played by Maura Tierny) when he has an affair on a family vacation in Montauk, Long Island, with young waitress Alison Lockhart (played by Ruth Wilson.) All hell breaks loose—fabulous sex scenes, drugs, murder, legal battles—this show has it all. I love that the story of the affair is depicted from different characters’ perspectives, with their own memory biases. If you were a fan of the BBC TV psychological crime drama Luther (a fabulous series from a few years back) you will love that creepy Ruth Wilson (who played psychopath Alice Morgan) is back again.
- The Americans: FX, 3 seasons so far. This series was created by former CIA agent-turned-author Joe Weisberg. How often do you find a show where you root for the KGB spies? You can’t help but love Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, who pose as a young married couple in suburban Washington, D.C., during the Reagan presidency. I love their complicated relationship, their family life with their two pre-teen kids, and their relationship with Stan Beeman, the FBI agent who lives next door. The plot lines are really complicated, I often have no idea what is going on, and I love it anyway.
- Billions: Showtime, first season. I didn’t expect to like this, but I did. It got me from the kinky opening scene. Enter the world of wealth and influence on Wall Street, and it is high stakes when the U.S. Attorney (played by Paul Giamatti) goes after hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod (played by Damian Lewis from Homeland.) You quickly become invested in all the characters, and their marriages as well.
- Broad City: Comedy Central, currently in its third season. Watch this because sometimes you just need something short (1/2 hour episodes), crazy and sweet. Amy Poehler is the executive producer of the show, and it was created by and stars Abbi Jacabson and Ilana Glazer, 20-something best friends navigating life in New York City. Their friendship is the best, their escapades totally nuts, and they will keep you laughing.
- Casual: Hulu original, Season 1 available, renewed for a second Season. Hulu describes this show: “From the Academy Award Nominated Director of “Up in the Air” and “Juno” comes Casual, a new comedy series about a bachelor brother and his newly divorced sister living under one roof again. Together, they coach each other through the crazy world of dating while raising her teenage daughter…” Everyone loves a little dysfunction, and there is plenty here to spare, but the brother/sister relationship and the mother/daughter relationship in this show will break your heart.
- Cooked. Netflix, 4 Episode Documentary series. The documentary is based on Michael Pollan’s best selling book of the same name, which I tried to read, but had a hard time getting through. Forget the book, watch the series, and you’ll get a little taste of some serious food porn, and you will still have time to cook up a meal, which is the message of the series: “we all spend way too much time watching people cook and not enough time actually cooking.” Here’s a sneak preview:
- Downton Abbey. PBS, Masterpiece Theatre. 6 Seasons, just ended, and what a satisfying ending! I don’t think I need to tell you about Downton, you all watch it anyway. I just couldn’t keep it off the list in case there is a BA50 out there that hasn’t caught Downton fever.
- Girls: HBO, currently in 5th season. Edgy TV, created and starring Lena Dunham. Despite the innocent name, you should not watch this with small, medium, or even grown up kids, because there is way too much cringe-worthy graphic sex. I liked this series from the very first episode, when aspiring writer Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) is shocked when her parents announce they will no longer financially support her living in NYC while she attempts to make it as a writer. I have fallen in love with Hannah and all her friends, fabulous cast including Allison Williams,Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky.
- House of Cards. Netflix original series. Season 4 just released. Frank Underwood (played by the magnificent Kevin Spacey) would no doubt give Trump a run for his money. Frank and his wife Claire (played by Robin Wright) are ruthless, brutal, manipulative politicians who will stop at nothing for power. The acting is phenomenal, and I love seeing what Frank and Claire will do (and what Claire will wear) next. I haven’t started the latest season, but no doubt when I start, I won’t be able to stop.
- Master of None. Netflix. One Season so far, with more to come. Really fun comedy about 30-year-old Dev (Aziz Ansari) who is a New York actor trying to figure his life out (30 is the new 20, right?) Dev is funny, endearing and altogether wonderful. Another series to put on your radar if you are looking for short and sweet (1/2 hour episodes).
- Masters of Sex. Showtime, 3 seasons. From Showtime: This is a smart and sexy show “based on William Masters and Virginia Johnson, pioneers of the science of human sexuality. Masters is a brilliant scientist who is out of touch with his own feelings. Johnson is a divorced mother who is ahead of her time. The pair’s relationship isn’t just professional, as it evolves into a three-way “marriage” with Masters’ wife, Libby.”
- Mozart in the Jungle, Amazon Prime, two seasons available, renewed for a third season. The show is like the Glee of Classical music, but a hell of a lot better. It also reminds me of the children’s book, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, because the series is all about the lives of the members of the New York Symphony. The Symphony’s talented, quirky and flamboyant conductor, Rodrigo, is played by Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, stars a young female oboist, played by Lola Kirke (the sister of Jemima Kirke from “Girls,”) and stars Bernadette Peters as the orchestra’s manager. It’s fast, smart, and the music is fabulous.
- Ray Donovan: Showtime. 3 seasons, Season 4 coming in 2016. Despite the pathetic Boston accents, I love this show. You call Ray Donovan to make your problems disappear—he is a “fixer” for Hollywood’s elite, with a difficult, complicated past. Ray is played by Liev Schrieber, devoid of normal emotion. You will both love and hate Ray and his family, including Ray’s wife and Ray’s father, Mickey, played brilliantly by Jon Voight.
- Shameless. Showtime. In it’s 6th season. This show is really outrageous, and sick/funny—you laugh even as you cringe. As their official home page states, “Oscar®-nominated William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum star in this fiercely engaging and fearlessly twisted series. Chicagoan Frank Gallagher is the proud single dad of six smart, industrious, independent kids, who without him would be…perhaps better off. When Frank’s not at the bar spending what little money they have, he’s passed out on the floor. But the kids have found ways to grow up in spite of him. They may not be like any family you know, but they make no apologies for being exactly who they are.”
- Transparent: Amazon. Two seasons so far. Jeffrey Tambor is fabulous as Maura, nee Mort, head of dysfunctional family with three self-absorbed but lovable adult children. The show is produced by Jill Salloway, whose own father came out as transgender late in life, and offers a touching, sometimes sad, but more often very funny portrayal of what it is like to make such difficult and definitive change in your life, and how it can effect all family members.
Have I missed one? What series are you binge watching?