It’s a strange time for television, there’s no doubt about that. While many productions have halted to slow the spread of the coronavirus, new spring series that had already finished filming are still rolling out as planned, and social distancing has left all of us with more time than we might like to peruse the seemingly endless number of streaming titles. What’s a discerning viewer to do?
For one, stay tuned to The Times, which will be bringing you guides to everything from children’s TV to free streaming trials to help you navigate being housebound in the coming days and weeks, in addition to regularly scheduled programming. For another, use the following poll of more than 40 (!) TV critics and journalists to plan your binge-watching. From socially relevant dramas to escapist, feel-good comedies, this is a to-do list worth tackling between bouts of fresh air.
“Survivor” (CBS, CBS All Access, Hulu) / “Hoarding: Buried Alive” (TLC, Amazon Prime Video)
Lorraine Ali, Times TV critic
These are trying times. Feel-good shows fill a purpose — please see Yvonne Villarreal’s “I Love Lucy” suggestion below — but so do multiple seasons of feel-bad reality series that focus on the worst aspects of human behavior.
They’re competitions and docuseries that drop the bar so low it makes recent stories of Costco shoppers fighting one another for hand sanitizer sound downright civilized. The contestants on “Survivor” never had toilet paper either. On Hulu alone there are 34 seasons of them scrapping it out for supplies, practically drowning one another in a mad dash for goods as they’re dropped off the boat. (They also wear banana tree fronds in lieu of underpants.)
The subjects across multiple seasons of TLC’s “Hoarders: Buried Alive” often have too much toilet paper. They stockpile essentials and everything else — hand puppets, floppy disks, Snapple bottle caps — amassing so much it becomes a barrier between them and the rest of society in a self-imposed isolation.
Nothing like reality TV extremes to make our pandemic panic feel sane. There’s no better way to feel superior and well-adjusted while sharing your living room with a Cal King-size stash of Charmin two-ply.
“Call the Midwife” (PBS, Netflix)
Meredith Blake, Times staff writer
At a time when a global pandemic is exposing the vulnerabilities of the American healthcare system as well as the dedication of medical professionals across the country, “Call the Midwife” is a series about — among other things — how socialized medicine can change people’s lives for the better. Not that it clobbers you over the head with politics: This period drama, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, follows a group of hard-working nurse-midwives, some of them nuns, in the poverty-stricken East End of London in the 1950s and ‘60s. The midwives, who live together in a convent called Nonnatus House, travel by bicycle, capes flapping behind them as they check in with expectant mothers around the neighborhood, often encountering families in dire or tragic circumstances. Gritty but not graphic, tear-jerking but not sentimental, “Call the Midwife” is particularly sensitive to the plight of working-class women in midcentury Britain. Over nine seasons — eight of which are currently available to stream — it has never shied from social realism, featuring storylines about illegal abortions, thalidomide babies and domestic abuse. And while not every episode ends happily — sometimes quite the opposite — it is ultimately a show about kind, competent people doing their best to provide healthcare to those in need. And at the moment, that’s something to celebrate.
“The Walking Dead” (AMC, Netflix)
Greg Braxton, Times staff writer
Yes, the gore is an acquired taste — it’s often stomach-churning. The brutality can be upsetting. And the series has had more than its share of ups and downs creatively, particularly in recent seasons. But at its best, AMC’s long-running “zombie” drama is an well-written, slickly produced and superbly acted thrill ride that grapples with the themes of survival and human nature we will all soon be confronting. The show has never really gotten its due as a well-done genre series. If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to discover it.
“Mad Men” (AMC, Netflix)
Matt Brennan, Times TV editor
By my lights (and some others) the finest entry in TV’s recent Golden Age, “Mad Men” — lusciously appointed, historically resonant, darkly funny and just generally exceptional — is, unlike certain other “prestige” dramas, a series that lends itself to watching and re-watching. I must have seen the note-perfect “Waterloo,” set in the summer of 1969, dozens of times, and every time its message — and “Mad Men’s” — grabs me as hard as it did the first time around: “Sitting in this room, we can still feel the pleasure of that connection,” brilliant ad woman Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) says of watching the lunar landing on live TV. “Because, I realize now, we were starved for it.” Amen.
“Infinity Train” (Cartoon Network)
Tracy Brown, Times staff writer
A whimsical, mystery/sci-fi anthology series, the first 10-episode “Book” of “Infinity Train” follows Tulip, an aspiring game designer who gets trapped on a big, weird train that comprises cars containing completely unique worlds. The less you know about Tulip’s emotional journey the better, but the cartoon beautifully captures the unsettling feeling of waking up in a place you don’t recognize and the frustrations of working through things you can’t understand. It’s a fleeting escape from the unrelenting news cycle, but at least there’s a whole different adventure in “Book 2” to check out too.
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” (Disney+)
Christi Carras, Times staff writer
Desperate to get “Frozen 2" songs out of your head? Equally catchy tunes from family-friendly “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” — also on Disney+ — should do the trick. And for some bonus binge-worthy content, consider starting with its slightly less mature namesake: the original “High School Musical” movie trilogy. After all, we’re all in this coronavirus shut-in together.
“Younger” (TV Land, Hulu)
Ashley Lee, Times staff writer
Everyone at the paper knows I’m a “Younger” stan. But in a time of forced isolation — when we might miss putting on bold makeup, statement necklaces and fun outfits, and hanging out with friends at bars and restaurants — this TV Land gem will pacify those cravings. Plus, it’s a clever, glossy comedy: a perfect escape from the dread of news headlines. All six seasons are available on Hulu. That’s 72 half-hour episodes of living vicariously and hilariously through Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff and Miriam Shor, all from the comfort of your own home.
“Doc Martin” (Acorn TV)
Robert Lloyd, Times TV critic
This beautifully written, expertly played, durable British comedy — 70 episodes across nine seasons over 15 years — has found its way into American homes through various public TV and streaming channels, though it is mainly the province of Acorn TV, where it is available in its entirety. Martin Clunes stars as a highly skilled London surgeon who develops an aversion to blood and winds up as the GP in the eccentric Cornish fishing village where he spent summers as a child. He’s a man with no bedside manner, but dedicated to his work. Many episodes include currently relevant themes of personal responsibility, of listening to the science rather than to what you think you know, and the dangers of self-diagnosis; typically, patients who don’t listen to Martin’s advice must be rescued from more dire straits, but rescued they reassuringly will be. As a comedy about incompatible companionship — it is also an unusual sort of love story, with Caroline Catz’s Louisa the object of Martin’s stiff-necked affection — it speaks to present challenges of heightened domestic proximity, while the sunniness of the seaside location is in itself a great tonic in a time of self-enclosure.
“Scott & Bailey” (Amazon Prime) / “Foyle’s War” (Acorn TV)
Mary McNamara, Times culture columnist and critic
Suranne Jones (“Gentleman Jack”) and Lesley Sharp (“The Full Monty”) star as two police detectives in Manchester, England, who are each brilliant and flawed in wonderfully realistic ways. Created by Diane Taylor and Sally Wainwright, “Scott & Bailey” is a female-centric police procedural (still a rare thing) that is not about how tough it is to make it in a man’s world (though sometimes that does come up). It’s just a terrific detective show that also happens to revolve around women. With fabulous northern accents.
Oh, and in the spirit of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” there’s also the wonderful WWII-set “Foyle’s War.” Not that anyone should need an excuse to watch one of the best television shows in the history of television. But if you felt you did, you have one now.
“Parks and Recreation” (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)
Glenn Whipp, Times entertainment columnist
No hugging, no learning? Forget that. Right now, we need to tuck into a TV series that’s humane and hopeful. We need “Parks and Recreation.” It’s a superb comedy, to be sure, but its real value comes from the way it demonstrates how empathy and engagement can make the world a better place. Also: breakfast foods. Don’t forget the breakfast foods.
“I Love Lucy” (CBS All Access, Hulu)
Yvonne Villarreal, Times staff writer
Recent days have definitely left me in desperate need for a TV hug. And that means I’ve been watching a fair amount of “I Love Lucy” on Hulu. It goes without saying that Lucille Ball’s comedic timing is unmatched — don’t @ me, you’ll be wrong. But for me the calm in this anxious time has less to do with the cast’s ability to workout my jaw through their harebrained bits. The comfort is in the memories of watching reruns with my grandma when she came to visit. It didn’t matter that she didn’t speak English — the funny translated. And we laughed a lot. Together. Side by side. In this time when so many of us are isolated from people near and dear to us, lean into the nostalgia.
“Columbo” (IMDb TV)
Jacob Oller, Paste Magazine
Peter Falk’s ratty, humble, ultra-underdog sedan of a detective is the best possible screen companion to partner up with over a long isolation. His mysteries, like the trenchcoat-sporting cop himself, are charming and intriguing, with the killer’s identity its main piece of exposition. Always pleasant, often artistically rewarding, and full of quaint goodness, “Columbo” won’t punish you if you nod off during a mystery or clean the dishes while he cleans the streets — and he’ll always have “one more thing” to pull you back in.
Kevin O’Keeffe, Xtra Magazine
In uncertain times, it’s the most surprising pleasures that we need most. Disney+'s docuseries, which reunites the casts of high school musicals years later — as recently as eight or nine; as long ago as 40 — to put on one reunion performance. The series is genuinely charming, filled with heartwarming moments from the novice actors and enough low-stakes drama from high school rearing its head to keep your interest piqued. Start with the “Beauty and the Beast” episode for maximum impact; it’s the episode that best understands and explains what the show is.
“Getting On” (HBO)
Chris Harnick, E! News
Watching a dark comedy that highlights the shortcomings of the American healthcare system may not be comforting for all, but “Getting On” is one of the finest written and acted shows to ever grace TV. Niecy Nash, Laurie Metcalf and Alex Borstein are at the top of their respective games, delivering hilarious and moving performances as the beleaguered caregivers at a geriatric extended care facility. Come for the mystery piece of feces on the chair, stay for tears you’re sure to cry by the series finale.
Lewis Beale, freelance
Not only a brilliantly acted and directed series (and a multi-Emmy Award winner), but an object lesson in what happens when a government in denial refuses to get control of a dangerous situation that can affect millions of people. Sound familiar? The Chernobyl nuclear disaster may have happened 34 years ago, but its lessons are as relevant today as they were back in the 1980s.
“Taskmaster,” U.K. edition (YouTube)
Whitney Friedlander, freelance
Has minimal contact to the outside world zapped your attention span so you can no longer focus on things like “plot” and “character arc”? Need a chance to watch silly (usually British) people competing in irrational challenges like “paint a picture of a horse while riding a horse,” “make a Swedish person blush” and “take a picture of yourself while camouflaged to see if anyone can spot you”? Then please consider the British comedy hit “Taskmaster.” Created by comedian Alex Horne, who stars along with fellow comic Greg Davies, the show features a panel of contestants that rotates each season (“Shrill’s” Lolly Adefope, “My Dad Wrote a Porno’s” Alice Levine, and “The Great British Bake Off’s” Noel Fielding have all been on). The first four seasons are available on YouTube, but there’s no rule saying you have to watch them in any particular order or in one long binge.
“My Name Is Earl” (Hulu)
Liz Shannon Miller, freelance
I picked something easily available (streaming on Hulu!) that would maybe slip under the radar; there is a very specific odd charm to Greg Garcia’s comedy about a true scumbum deciding to seek out redemption. Jason Lee is low-key delightful as the reformed criminal on a quest to fix his karma, and the general theme — trying to be nice to others — definitely has power in these uncertain days. While there are only four seasons (albeit adding to a total of 96 episodes), a great chaser is Garcia’s subsequent series “Raising Hope,” which features the same celebration of blue-collar life, but with the added bonus of Cloris Leachman and a cute baby.
“The Knick” (Cinemax)
Nate Rogers, freelance
“Contagion” isn’t the only Steven Soderbergh production worth revisiting in the face of a collective medical catastrophe. Set in New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital at the turn of the 20th century, “The Knick” is a show meant to emphasize the bafflingly crude history of the American healthcare system while at the same time praise the brilliance of those who brought — or really dragged — that system into the modern era. It’s a sobering, stylish two-season portal into a recent past that we like to cast off as being another world altogether. We’ve come so far, after all. Right?
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (Netflix)
Maureen Ryan, freelance
During a scary time, what could be better than escaping through song and dance? As it happens, that’s how the protagonist of this deft show avoids her problems — and processes them too. If you want to be distracted by the kind of light entertainment provided by classic Hollywood musicals, but you also want to sink into satisfyingly complex character journeys and emotionally nuanced storytelling that contains many witty quips, this four-season CW gem is the show for you. Singing, dancing, jokes, heart, memorable characters and thoughtful examinations of friendship, aspiration and mental-health challenges — this show truly has it all.
“The O.C.” (Hulu)
Ilana Kaplan, freelance
While “The O.C.” was only four seasons long, the first two were an example of what a perfect teen soap could look like. Plus, there were around 30 hour-long episodes in the first two seasons, so you’ll be watching for a while. There’s comedy, ridiculous drama and a ton of nostalgic music from the early aughts. You’ll easily get lost in the characters and find yourself Team Ryan or Team Seth (or Team Marissa or Team Summer).
“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop TV, Netflix)
Emma Fraser, freelance
Kindness is woven into the fabric of “Schitt’s Creek,” which deftly avoids overly sentimental or saccharine material. With plenty of laughs (and some tears), watching the Rose family adjust to non-extravagant living in close quarters to one another is ideal for these self-isolating and anxiety-inducing times. Not only will you learn some valuable cooking tips (like how to fold in the cheese), but the costumes also offer a cornucopia of ideas for how to jazz up your lounge attire (think vests adorned with brooches and matching silk pajamas as bedwear).
Emily Zemler, freelance
In a time when we all feel stuck and isolated, why not journey to far-off countries with Sydney Bristow, a spy who seems to be able to solve any problem and handle any adverse situation. The show is compelling, borderline ridiculous and the sort of escapism we all need right now. Plus, there’s an episode in Season 2 where Sydney saves the world from a horrible virus, so maybe we can learn something.
“Twin Peaks” (Netflix, Hulu, Showtime)
Rae Nudson, freelance
There isn’t any escaping my anxiety right now, but “Twin Peaks” offers a way to externalize it, examine it and find solace in the beauty that remains in the world. Push through the off-the-rails second season to get to “Twin Peaks: The Return.” It’s both a daydream and a nightmare, but to sink wholly into another world for a while is a gift.
“Moone Boy” (Hulu)
Alexis Gunderson, freelance
Comedian Chris O’Dowd’s coming-of-age comedy about a pre-teen boy and his adult imaginary friend in late-'80s Ireland is an ideal binge for this intensely isolated global moment for all kinds of reasons, not least because Martin Moone (David Rawle) is holding on to his goofy imaginary friend (O’Dowd) in part to cope with the social distancing he constantly has foisted upon him as the youngest and only boy in his big, distracted family. Sharp and sweet, it handily scratches a retro “Calvin and Hobbes"/"Pete & Pete"/"Freaks and Geeks” itch while still feeling thematically modern. Plus, at three seasons, there’s just enough of it to satisfy without being overwhelming.
“Pushing Daisies” (CW Seed)
Manuel Betancourt, Remezcla
What better show to binge during these trying times than this candy-colored neo-noir about a couple who can’t touch each other, which also features a pair of characters who have been practicing social distancing for the better part of their lives? Bryan Fuller’s morbid romantic dramedy about a piemaker who can bring people back from the dead is the best kind of comfort food TV, a sweet and tart confection made all the better by the occasional Kristin Chenoweth musical number.
“The Good Place” (Hulu)
Kim Renfro, Insider
Few shows have successfully imparted life-changing philosophies the way Michael Schur’s “The Good Place” did during its four-season run. At a point in history when we could all use a little extra guidance on how to be better people — and what we owe to one another during our time on this planet — I can’t think of a more inspiring and uplifting show to binge.
“One Day at a Time” (Netflix, Pop TV)
Monica Castillo, freelance
No other show has brought me more joy and comfort over the past few years like “One Day at a Time.” It’s a family show that’s hilarious yet moving, touching on topics like cultural identity, discrimination, LGBTQ issues, wealth disparity and mental health. The way it melts together drama with comedy is practically flawless — it’s a great show if you’re looking for a feel-good cathartic cry. I’ve binged an entire season in a day, but if you spread them out, its three seasons on Netflix should last you for a bit. As a bonus: Season 4 premieres Tuesday on Pop TV, so you’ll have more to watch in the coming weeks.
“The Great Interior Design Challenge” (Netflix, Amazon Prime)
Andy Dehnart, Reality Blurred
“The Great British Bake-Off” made it clear to American audiences that reality television can be warm and welcoming, a tent full of sweetness and puns under which we can gather from the storms outside. “The Great Interior Design Challenge” carries on that tradition with a cozy, calming competition. Amateur designers spruce up rooms in neighboring homes across Britain, guided by homeowners, while the show’s historian host walks us through neighborhoods and explains how the distinctive architecture was informed by the preferences, needs and challenges of its time. It’s a reminder of our history and adaptability, but mostly an inviting diversion.
“Lodge 49" (Hulu)
Steve Greene, IndieWire
What better way to spend this time than with people figuring out what they need to do to get by? Against the backdrop of the lives of Dud, Ernie, Connie, Liz, Blaise and the rest of the greater Lynx family, there’s a dash of the surreal and an ongoing tussle between those who see hope as frivolous and those who see it as the only thing to help us get through. It’s a show built on everyone having innate value, despite our mistakes and our regrets — perfect for a time when the greatest resource we have is still each other.
Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture
There are two qualities to a pitch-perfect TV comfort binge. The show should be propulsive so it pulls you forward through the story, but it should also be rhythmic, with a drumbeat of regular storytelling patterns. “Justified” epitomizes both of these qualities and it has the added bonus of being both tense and hilarious. It’s a tonal blend that really hits the spot when you’re that awful combination of bored and anxious.
“Breaking Bad” (Netflix)
Jim Halterman, TV Guide Magazine
Great series have good and bad seasons, some episodes that are amazing, some that are the opposite of amazing ... but “Breaking Bad” is the only show that didn’t miss a beat from start to finish. If you have watched it, watch again! If you have never watched, shame on you. Drop everything and start NOW. You’ll thank me later.
“Grey’s Anatomy” (Netflix, Hulu)
Philiana Ng, Entertainment Tonight
“Grey’s Anatomy” is comfort television at its best. It’s the perfect antidote to a weeks-long, in-home quarantine: attractive doctors, messy romances, enviable friendships, memorable quotes (“Pick me, choose me, love me”), grand speeches, iconic storylines (who cut the LVAD wire?!) and kooky medical cases. There’s 16 seasons worth of episodes to plow through, so there’s more than enough drama to keep interests piqued and boredom levels low. Who wouldn’t want to watch Meredith Grey as she navigates life, love and work — all while saving lives?
“Happy Endings” (Hulu)
Hunter Ingram, Wilmington StarNews
Admittedly, I binge ABC’s late, great comedy quite often. But as we hibernate away from the coronavirus and the onslaught of news, spending three seasons with Max, Penny, Jane, Brad, Alex and David just hits a little harder these days. If I had to self-quarantine with any fictional friend group, it would be this a-mah-zing party of six.
“Ken Burns’ Baseball” (PBS)
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com/Vulture
Even before Ken Burns himself announced that his massive docuseries about the history of America’s sport was going to be available for free on PBS, it just seemed like a logical choice for those of us dreading months without sports. Let’s be honest, it could be a long time before anyone plays baseball again, which should mean you have just enough of this comprehensive 18.5-hour history of the game.
Caroline Siede, the A.V. Club
There’s no better time to watch a sci-fi series all about people across the globe connecting through the power of their minds. The trippy, slow-building “Sense8" really benefits from a binge-watch. Give it until the fourth episode to see if it fully clicks for you. If it does, you’re in for an empathetic, international, sex-positive, wholly original treat courtesy of the creators behind “The Matrix.”
“The Prisoner” (Amazon Prime)
Judy Berman, Time
Now that we’re all on house arrest, it’s the perfect time to watch “The Prisoner” — a British cult classic from the ‘60s that was hard to find for years but is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Co-creator Patrick McGoohan stars as a secret agent who, soon after handing in his resignation, awakens in what appears to be a quaint seaside resort town. It quickly becomes clear that he’s being held captive in this idyllic place, his every attempt at escape foiled by villagers who are disconcertingly obedient to authority. The show looks beautiful, and there’s more than enough spy-thriller action to keep you entertained. But its real brilliance is in the questions it raises about individual freedom versus majority rule, which make it both a forerunner to philosophically ambitious dramas like “Twin Peaks” and “The Young Pope” and ideal food for thought at a moment when the line separating community cooperation from dangerous groupthink can be precariously thin.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
Bonnie Stiernberg, InsideHook
There’s definitely something to be said for seeing our struggles reflected on-screen, but in trying times like these, I tend to gravitate toward comedy to get my mind off of things. And in a world that feels like it’s changing by the minute, there’s nothing more comforting than the steady absurdity of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Nothing ever changes for Larry David — no personal growth, no lessons learned, just another hilarious instance of the “social assassin” taking a stand against ills of society like room-temperature coffee and people who say “LOL” out loud instead of laughing — and that’s pretty, pretttttayyyy good.
“Joe Pera Talks With You” (Adult Swim, Hulu)
Erik Adams, the A.V. Club
These times call for a calming presence in your entertainment diet. These times call for someone like Joe Pera — or the someone he plays on basic cable: Joe Pera, an extremely mild-mannered middle-school choir teacher and endless font of practical know-how. “Joe Pera Talks With You” positions itself as an informational program, but like Pera’s tranquil stand-up, the areas of his interest — breakfast, gardening, the Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada — are more often than not the stepping-off point for slice-of-small-town-life meanderings and the star’s ability to drill (and drill, and drill, and drill) into a perfectly told and written joke. When the mundane stuff of life starts to look like a horror movie, turn to a guy who views grocery shopping as an immersive theatrical spectacular — and the show that delivers on that vision.
“Cheers” (Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access)
Jean Bentley, freelance
Even if you can’t physically go anywhere right now, you can still go to the place where everybody knows your name. As a millennial working her way through the series for the first time (I’m sorry it took this long!), I can think of nothing more comforting than seeing this group of familiar faces in my living room as I self-isolate. It’s been fascinating to see which storylines hold up — the performances all do — and which storylines don’t, but in general I feel really lucky to be able to watch something so legendary through fresh eyes while I’m cooped up all alone.
“Slings & Arrows” (Acorn TV)
Allison Shoemaker, RogerEbert.com
Confident in the knowledge that surely someone else will recommend “Schitt’s Creek,” I’d like to suggest another emotionally complex, oddly soothing, optimistic critique of capitalism and our tendency to pigeonhole others — and like “Schitt’s,” it also happens to be Canadian. Created by Susan Coyne, Bob Martin and “Superstore’s” Mark McKinney (all also members of the cast), “Slings & Arrows” follows the ups and downs of the fictional New Burbage Shakespeare Festival, a cultural institution that, like so many others, is struggling to balance artistic integrity with financial stability. But it’s also much more than that. Each of its three seasons takes one of Shakespeare’s plays as its thematic touchstone, allowing for explorations of grief, romance, mental illness and betrayal in a grounded but very funny way, thanks in no small part to the terrific performances from the likes of Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Luke Kirby and a pre-"Mean Girls” Rachel McAdams. And it’s available through Acorn, which also boasts “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” — another great, soothing stuck-at-home binge.
“High Maintenance” (HBO)
Chris Barton, freelance
This naturalistic comedy-drama series from Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair covers enough ground to be about a lot of things, and they don’t fit so tidily under the heading of “Oh yeah, that pot dealer show.” And sure, most every episode involves a transaction, but what “High Maintenance” really traffics in is connection, and a gentle shared humanity among the sometimes quirky, sometimes down-to-Earth New York City customers in the orbit of Sinclair’s bike messenger/drug courier. Now midway through a fourth season (or fifth if you count the show’s eccentric and intimate early life as shorts on Vimeo —and you most certainly do), a “High Maintenance” marathon feels like a balm for this isolated moment, one that offers a hope that as divided and different as we are, we share enough to get through most anything.
“The Magicians” (Syfy, Netflix)
Damian Holbrook, TV Guide Magazine
Syfy’s adaptation of Lev Grossman’s fantasy novels is an endlessly creative, often vulgar and terrifically acted drama that, on the surface, reads like a typical “genre” show: Gifted millennials at a sort of grad-school Hogwarts trying to save magic. But what lies within its mythical lands, corrupt gods and frequently botched quests is a deeply felt exploration of mental illness, trauma and our universal search for belonging. It’s — and I am not sorry for this — spellbinding.
“Web Therapy” (Showtime)
Lili Loofbourow, Slate
I hope someone said “Web Therapy” — the perfect show for the Zoom pandemic age. And everyone and their mother is in it, improvising.
“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” (Netflix)
Caroline Framke, Variety
If you’re in need of a (relatively) quick shot of joy, Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” is a truly lovely way to spend four hours. The series sees the delightful Nosrat travel across the world to, like Nosrat’s cookbook of the same name, explore the four most important basics of food and act as a practical how-to guide for how home chefs can use salt, fat, acid and heat to bring their dishes to the next level. Right now, nothing could be more comforting, or relevant, than that.
“The Eric Andre Show” (Adult Swim, Hulu)
Sean Malin, Vulture / LAist
Rough times call for easy laughs, and no one makes them easier than Eric Andre. His faux talk show, with its Dadaist man-on-the-street gags (“Ranch me, brotendo!”) and body-horror pranks, plays like an episode of “Jackass” if David Lynch directed it. Cerebral, peculiar, grotesque and inordinately entertaining, it’s the guiltiest of pleasures — and Hannibal Buress co-stars as Eric’s Andy Richter-style frenemy sidekick.
Liam Mathews, TV Guide
Maybe Deadwood is on your list of “I’ll get to that someday, but I don’t have the time or energy for something that requires that much attention.” Well, how about now? David Milch’s unfathomably profane, lyrical Western about how America’s frontier got civilized is immersive enough to transport you to another time and place but not so escapist that you wish you could stay there — which is good, because it’s important to stay grounded in reality right now. And thanks to the 13-years-in-the-making TV movie that came out last year, your binge will have a satisfactory ending.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC, Hulu)
Diane Gordon, freelance
My pick for social-distance bingeing is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — all seven seasons of the feel-good comedy are available on Hulu. It’s got one of the best comedic ensembles on TV, featuring Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Joe LoTruglio and the insanely wonderful deadpan stylings of Andre Braugher. In addition, Dan Goor and Mike Schur created a show that’s packed with so many jokes per episode it rivals the heyday of “30 Rock.” Best of all, there’s a humanity and sweetness to the show that’s never saccharine and always relatable. Once you visit the Nine-Nine, you won’t want to leave.
“12 Monkeys” (Hulu)
Trent Moore, Syfy Wire
This recent under-the-radar sci-fi story of a future ruined by pandemic wasn’t the biggest ratings hit, but it’s certainly worth a second look while living the quarantine life. It’s a clever, twisty, funny time-travel adventure framed around trying to go back and avert a world-ending plague. And, most importantly, its four-season run is compelling enough to suck you in and keep you distracted for a couple of weeks while you’re on the verge of going stir crazy.
Danette Chavez, The A.V. Club
While the desire for something with an extensive catalog is understandable, a short-but-sweet series like “Undeclared” is the ideal watch for these dire times. Judd Apatow’s coming-of-age comedy has an extraordinarily high ratio of laughs per episode, real heart and an absurdly talented cast, including Charlie Hunnam before he fell in with the wrong crowd at FX.