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Watching more TV than ever? Here are 5 shows worth your time this week

Zoe Kazan in "The Plot Against America."
(Michele K. Short/HBO)

As a second month of social distancing to halt the spread of the coronavirus goes on, you may have moved past the comforts of a reality TV binge or become agitated by cartoon bears flaunting their access to toilet paper. That’s OK. We’re here for you.

Whether you’re the sort of viewer who’s fascinated by the real history behind “Mrs. America” or just wants the dishy details of Carmen Electra’s relationship with Dennis Rodman, we’re bound to be covering something to your taste. (And if not, well, here are 51 alternatives.) To that end, the TV team here at The Times has 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.

The Times TV team recommends the five TV shows we’re watching this week — and that you should be watching too.

“The Plot Against America”
Available on: HBO

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It took me an episode or two to warm to this adaptation of Philip Roth’s alternate history, told from the perspective of a working-class Jewish family, in which Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940 — keeping the United States out of World War II and enabling Hitler to continue his conquest of Europe unimpeded. Like most shows from David Simon, who created the series with Ed Burns, “The Plot Against America” is initially slow, devoted to establishing a world through quietly observed social realism rather than in-your-face action. But once Lindbergh, the famed aviator, xenophobe and Nazi apologist, lands in the White House, upending the lives of the Levins in 1940s Newark, the series moves with disorienting speed. It is difficult to miss the many implied parallels between present circumstances and this story of creeping fascism under a celebrity president swept into office on an isolationist message of “America First.” (Fair warning: The finale, which ran last week and includes an election set amid a national crisis, might give you preemptive panic attacks about November.) But what really makes it all worth watching is a quietly ferocious performance by Zoe Kazan as Bess, a housewife horrified by the insidious march of anti-Semitism in her country, community — and even her own family.

Meredith Blake

“American Crime”
Available on: Netflix

This critically acclaimed anthology series from Oscar winner John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) might have attracted a larger viewership during its three seasons if it had been on cable or a streaming service instead of ABC. The drama, which premiered in 2015, took provocative and uncompromising looks at racism, immigration, the difference between private and public education and other hot topics, performed by a top-notch cast including Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Lili Taylor and Regina King. The performers took on different roles each season, giving the drama an extra dose of intrigue. King won two supporting actress Emmys, an early barometer of her rise into Hollywood’s elite ranks in the following years when she would win an Oscar (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and land the starring role in HBO’s hit series “Watchmen.” One of the most important dramas of the last decade still has profound resonance today.

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Greg Braxton

Gemma Whelan as Kate, David Mitchell as William Shakespeare and Tim Downie as Christopher Marlowe in the Ben Elton sitcom "Upstart Crow."
(Britbox)

“Upstart Crow”
Available on: BritBox

Ben Elton (“Blackadder”) devised this excellent multicamera sitcom about William Shakespeare, whose 456th birthday it was last week. David Mitchell (“Peep Show,” “That Mitchell and Webb Look”), an actor skilled in peevishness, stars as the immortal Bard, convinced of the greatness toward which he accidentally stumbles. (His tragedies are usually first conceived as light comedies.) Though the references are undoubtedly funnier when you know something of the works and history, it’s a workable family cum workplace comedy, with scenes split between London and Stratford-Upon-Avon — this is the only Shakespeare fantasia I can think of that takes any interest in his home life. Current events are satirized, along with ancient and modern theatrical trends. (An episode on “The Merchant of Venice” takes on British nativism, comedy fundraisers and actor Mark Rylance.) Also, because this is high-class British humor, there are fart jokes.

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Robert Lloyd

“Reasonable Doubt”
Available on: ID (Investigation Discovery)

Confession: I’m an ID network addict... but that doesn’t mean I’ll watch any commonplace true crime fare. I generally forgo the terribly themed shows (“Man With a Van,” “Wives With Knives”) for detective and investigator narratives hosted by the sleuths themselves. Since “Homicide Hunter” Lt. Joe Kenda retired his show, my new go to is “Reasonable Doubt.” For three seasons and 28 episodes, defense attorney Fatima Silva and retired homicide detective Chris Anderson have re-examined controversial murder cases at the request of the families of the convicted. They deconstruct the crime, look at new and old evidence and speak with witnesses to help the family decide if it’s time to appeal or accept the guilty verdict. It’s an emotional journey, the results are never predictable and episodes often reveal painful truths about socioeconomics and American criminal justice.

Lorraine Ali

“The Last Man on Earth”
Available on: Hulu

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Long before we all began to shelter in place to curb the spread of a deadly virus, Fox aired a series about what happens after the spread of a deadly virus. (And if that’s not eerie enough, the half-hour show is set in 2020!) Thankfully, this 2015 comedy finds four seasons of humor in this dark — and, one hopes, only speculative — premise, which has plenty of small similarities to what’s become our new normal. Its episodes include solitary birthday celebrations, existential ponderings of society’s future and the mourning of lost loved ones from a safe but sad distance. And it’ll really make you thankful that your plumbing still runs, that grocery stores are open and that you aren’t quarantined with strangers.

Ashley Lee


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