One of the central functions of television journalists — editors, critics and reporters alike — is to sift through the seemingly infinite options now available to viewers through broadcast, cable, streaming and video-on-demand options. And as silly as it may sound, that function is more important than ever, thanks to the inauspicious confluence of a pandemic and “peak TV.”
To this end, we’ve already collected recommendations for the best TV shows to binge in quarantine and the top web videos made in response to the novel coronavirus, among other helpful guides. But the TV team here at The Times knows there are viewing options for any and every mood, so we’ve also launched this weekly recommendation engine — one based on what we’re watching ourselves. Think of it as your work-from-home water cooler, where we bring the water cooler to you.
“O.J.: Made in America”
Available on: Video on Demand
The arrival of “The Last Dance,” the ESPN/Netflix docuseries about the career of basketball legend Michael Jordan and his last championship run with the Chicago Bulls, should whet the appetite for a revisit to the landmark Oscar-winning documentary, “O.J.: Made in America.” Like the 10-part Jordan project, the 2016 film from director Ezra Edelman transcends its sports foundation to explore topics of even greater resonance. The centerpiece of the film is former football great O.J. Simpson and his murder trial, in which he was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The film uses Simpson and the trial to probe the racial tensions, obsession with celebrity and other societal issues which shadowed America during that period.
— Greg Braxton
“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”
Available on: Bravo, Hulu (past seasons)
The series is back for its 10th season at just the right time — to serve as a TV cocktail for the mind after a long day of “What the hell is going on in the world?” The season launched last week with an episode set in New York as the ladies attended Kyle Richards’ fashion show. “We were all so happy that day,” Richards narrates in the closing minutes of the episode. “It’s actually hard to even imagine how terrible things would soon become.” The show’s expert editors then gave viewers a montage — with some housewives breaking the fourth wall — that weeks of tabloid headlines had prepared us for: Newbie housewife Denise Richards (“Drop Dead Gorgeous,” “Wild Things”) would be exposed for allegedly having an affair with former housewife Brandi Glanville as the season played out. (Denise Richards stopped filming with the cast in December.) Don’t ask me to explain why this makes for good TV. Some things can’t be explained.
— Yvonne Villarreal
“Independent Lens: The Hottest August”
Available on: PBS
Brett Story’s 2019 documentary art film set at the beginning of the end of the world, maybe, comes to television Monday in an edition abridged to fit an hour as part of the series “Independent Lens.” Having never seen the theatrical cut, I can’t say what’s missing, but what’s here — something like a cross between Jean-Luc Godard and Frederick Wiseman — works well, given the film’s mosaic structure, lazy pace and the consistent beauty of its images. (Director of photography Derek Howard has an eye for the moving, often comic detail and a subtle way with color.) Filmed over a month across New York City in the typically miserable summer of 2017 — which looks pretty idyllic from here — it is presented as a sort of time capsule, a picture of how we lived then for future analysis, taking in race, class and climate. Ordinary and extraordinary people, richer and poorer, chat or philosophize, demonstrate, dance, skate, sculpt sand, drink beer, do laundry. Story gets out on the water, down into the subway, into the parks, onto the beaches, peers into storefronts; it adds up to something, in a fuzzy, quantum sort of way. Packets of arty narration edge the film toward pretentiousness here and there, but the rest of the film fights back. Whatever her purpose, “The Hottest August” loves us for the helpless, hopeful creatures we are.
— Robert Lloyd
Available on: Acorn TV
If you’re sick of scrounging up quarantine meals from the cans of chickpeas and tomato paste in your pantry, “1900 Island” will provide a healthy bit of perspective. In this documentary series, available to stream on Acorn TV, four families re-create life in a Welsh fishing village as it would have been in the late Victorian era. Filmed on the austerely beautiful island of Llanddwyn, off the coast of Wales, “1900 Island” follows participants as they learn to fish, build boats and wash clothes by hand — and make do with whatever meager provisions they can catch, grow or afford to buy. Watch as one childless couple, with a bunch of chickens who lay a dozen eggs or more a day, transform into the local equivalent of one-percenters while a mom of five subsists on apple cores so her kids don’t go hungry. It’s a little like “Survivor,” only there’s no prize and everyone is speaking Welsh. The series, produced by BBC Wales, is the latest in a long-established and irresistibly nerdy subgenre in British TV, the historical reenactment show. (See also: “Victorian Slum House,” “Manor House.”)
— Meredith Blake
“Line of Duty”
Available on: Acorn TV, Hulu, AMC
After years of needling from a friend in the U.K., AMC’s airing of the first three seasons finally drove me to sample Jed Mercurio’s exceptionally tense police procedural — and now I can’t take my mind off it. The “Bodyguard” creator honed his eye for suspense on “Line of Duty,” which follows tireless anti-corruption officers Stephen Arnott (Martin Compston) and Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and their superintendent, Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), as they chase the “bent coppers” of England’s East Midlands region. There’s much to say for the series, not least its canny structure — each season features a new object of suspicion, deftly blended into both ongoing subplots and episodic detours — and its unfussy style. But ultimately the series succeeds on the strength of its guest stars and those have been close to incomparable: Lennie James, Thandie Newton, Stephen Graham and, first among equals, Keeley Hawes, whose Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton is one of the most gloriously vexing TV characters I’ve encountered in a good, long while.
— Matt Brennan