The five TV shows we can’t get enough of this week
And that’s just the beginning of the list of wide-ranging topics we’ve covered in the last week, including anti-Trump political ads and his conservative media supporters; Netflix’s new spin on Arthurian legend; comedian Esther Povitsky’s debut stand-up special; Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking HBO series; and the launch of yet another streaming service, NBCUniversal’s Peacock.
And, as we do every week, we’ve rounded up five recommendations from The Times TV team to clue you in on what we’re watching. Think of it as your office watercooler, where we bring the watercooler to you.
“American Experience: The Vote,” about the fight for women’s suffrage, joins Amazon Prime’s “Hanna” and Netflix’s “Seven Seconds” in this week’s TV picks.
“United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell”
Available on: CNN, HBO Max
The fifth season of W. Kamau Bell’s witty, serious sociopolitical travelogue, a three-time Emmy winner for unstructured reality program — not “reality TV,” but real, in other words — began this week. The series has something of the flavor of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” with which it was paired when it premiered on CNN in 2016 as “a show where a Black guy goes either where he shouldn’t go or where you wouldn’t expect him to go.” Like Bourdain, Bell, a curious and sympathetic person with a streak of righteousness and a talent for openness, goes traveling to learn about people, the challenges they face and the change they’re trying to bring; often, there is food. A comedian by trade, he has a comic’s nose for what’s absurd, what’s universal and what needs fixing. “One thing I know for sure is that when people get to know each other, they can’t hate each other,” Bell’s mother, author and editor Janet Cheatham Bell, says at the end of the season opener, “Where Do We Even Stand With White Supremacy?,” summing up the hopeful premise of her son’s series, notwithstanding his sometimes skeptical view of human nature and institutions. Next Sunday finds him in Oklahoma, visiting with family farmers, Black and white; coming later this season are episodes on L.A.’s homeless crisis, the gig economy and the Iranian Americans of New York City.
— Robert Lloyd
Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime
I’m here to tell you that there is still something unbelievably addictive about watching people in high-waisted pleated slacks and bulky sweaters speed through grocery aisles chucking slabs of gourmet cheese, vats of cooking oil and packages of diapers into grocery carts. For the uninitiated, the retro game show was revived in the ’90s with host David Ruprecht and featured contestants putting their grocery/brand expertise to the test through various rounds of questions and grocery aisle sprinting challenges. As a kid, it was a battle of the minds with my dad to unscramble letters spelling out Ocean Spray or Fruity Pebbles. And listen, if the new season of “Unsolved Mysteries” sent you down a Google rabbit hole, just wait until you find yourself wanting to know whether Clint and Malinda (Episode 1 in Netflix’s collection) ever got married, and if Malinda ever became a professional actress —not to mention whatever happened to Pert shampoo, Dep gel and Kudos cereal bars.
— Yvonne Villarreal
Available on: Showtime, Netflix
Showtime’s drama about a forensic technician who has a secret life as a vigilante serial killer was a huge hit with fans during its eight-season run, which ended in 2013. The show still offers delights, both for newcomers and viewers who are familiar. Michael C. Hall’s knowing and complex performance as the conflicted antihero with “a code” was matched by a splendid supporting cast, including Jennifer Carpenter as a high-strung, foul-mouthed investigator; David Zayas as cool and calm detective Angel Bautista; C.S. Lee as the sex-obsessed forensics specialist Vince Masuka; and Julie Benz as Dexter’s love interest Rita Barrett. The series, set in Miami but mostly filmed in Los Angeles, had a breezy ambiance and look. And it boasted some of TV’s most colorful villains, none more so than “The Trinity Killer,” portrayed by John Lithgow, who engages in a dangerous battle of wits with Dexter and commits one of the most cold-blooded TV murders in memory. “Dexter” proved to be deft mix of character study, procedural and dark comedy.
— Greg Braxton
“The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”
Available on: HBO, HBO Max
Think of this 2008 HBO dramedy as “Murder She Wrote,” but filmed on location in Botswana, produced co-directed by Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”) and featuring an all-Black cast that includes Jill Scott, Idris Elba and David Oyelowo. Based on the bestselling novels by Alexander McCall Smith, the lighthearted detective story follows Precious Ramotswe (Scott), a determined single woman who founds the region’s first female-owned detective agency. She’s intent on becoming the area’s Sherlock Holmes from her modest headquarters on the outskirts of Gaborone, despite the community’s belief that it’s a man’s job. They soon learn not to trifle with this deceptively down-to-earth sleuth as she takes on cases of cheating husbands, missing sons and, of course, murder. The vibrant culture of Botswana and a dynamite cast make this series. Her sidekicks include the rigid, hyper-efficient Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose), a clerical assistant and recent graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College who serves as Precious’s Dr. Watson. Car mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni (Lucian Msamati) of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors garage and hairdresser BK (Desmond Dube) of the Last Chance Hair Salon also help in her investigations. The biggest mystery: why this fantastically entertaining series lasted only one season.
— Lorraine Ali
Available on: Instagram
Kudos to all the late-night hosts who have pivoted amid the pandemic, but the only talk show I’m watching these days is Ziwe Fumudoh’s Instagram Live on Thursday nights (5 p.m. Pacific time). The comedian, currently a writer on Showtime’s “Desus & Mero,” evolved her YouTube series “Baited” into interviews/roasts of guests like Alison Roman, Caroline Calloway, Nick Ciarelli, Jeremy O. Harris and Alyssa Milano. It’s a masterclass for any host who would rather, say, ruffle a presidential candidate’s hair than ask probing questions about race or politics.
The Instagram Live format elevates the show, as it simultaneously displays both an interviewee’s flummoxed face while struggling to name five Black people and Fumudoh’s perfectly deadpan reaction, directed to the lens of her smartphone camera. And the real-time emoji reactions and running commentary from viewers are better than the predictable beats of laughter from a live studio audience. If TV networks were in a bidding war for John Krasinski’s DIY venture, Hollywood better give Fumudoh her flowers in the form of her own talk show.
— Ashley Lee
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