Whether you’re planning to watch the returns live on your TV news outlet of choice, turn off your devices and hide under the covers, or somewhere in between, we know that election day — and beyond — can be stressful in the best of circumstances. And this being 2020, the conclusion of this interminable campaign comes in concert with a spiking pandemic, a hamstrung economy, widespread voter suppression efforts and residual edginess from 2016. It’s a lot.
But we’re here to help by doing what we do best: recommending TV shows. (We’ve also made a list of great election-themed episodes, if you’re in the mood to steer into the skid.) Here are eight series to check out when your eyes have blurred from staring at electoral college maps, according to The Times TV team:
We polled more than 40 TV critics and journalists, inside and outside The Times, on the best TV show to binge while stuck at home.
‘I May Destroy You’
Topical without being political, this comedy-drama about Arabella, an energetic writer and influencer (Michaela Coel) struggling with the aftermath of a sexual assault, was one of the buzziest shows of the year. The episodes reward repeat viewings as the show explores a group of Black millennials indulging in drugs, kinky sex and London’s exciting night life. The show puts viewers through a torrent of emotions — pain, loss, revelation, joy and healing — through its inventive 12 episodes: Enough to keep you engaged into the wee hours, should you need it. (Available on: HBO Max)
‘How to With John Wilson’
To say too much about this unpredictable, empathetic and strangely heartbreaking show might diminish its impact, so I’ll keep it simple. In each episode, filmmaker John Wilson combines video shot on the streets of New York City (and elsewhere) with deadpan voice-over to create darkly humorous, surprisingly poignant video essays about subjects such as small talk and scaffolding (yes, scaffolding). “How to With John Wilson.” shares the same off-kilter sensibility as the cult favorite “Nathan for You” (whose star, Nathan Fielder, is an executive producer) but the series also feels like a funnier, more self-aware version of the autobiographical documentaries made by Ross McElwee (“Sherman’s March”).
Alas, only two episodes of “How to With John Wilson” have been released so far, but in lieu of listening to pundits parse exit polls early on Tuesday night I’d recommend watching them both, back to back. The show is almost entirely devoid of politics — except for fleeting glimpses of anti-Trump graffiti on New York City streets — and goes in such unexpected directions it is guaranteed to distract you for a good hour, even on the most consequential election night of our lives. At a time when many of the spontaneous joys of urban life, like eavesdropping on strangers in a bustling coffee shop or striking up a conversation in a cramped elevator, are out of reach, it’s also a portal into the Before Times that might leave you a bit verklempt. (Available on HBO, HBO Max)
Since your anxiety will already be high — whatever your political leanings — why not kick up your feet and relax by trying to crack a few decades-old cold cases? If you haven’t already curled up with the newly rebooted true crime series, consider this the perfect spooky distraction to the doomscrolling likely to ensue as electoral vote projections come in. There are 12 episodes to take you well into the wee hours — and plenty of Reddit threads to occupy your time after that. It beats having most of your night haunted by interactive TV map forecasts. (Available on: Netflix)
‘The Great British Baking Show’
I strategically saved this season’s six episodes so far specifically for tonight. Because rather than stressing about who the future leader of the United States will be, I plan on mentally escaping to that English countryside and inside that massive tent, where the situation’s biggest obstacles are limited to the size of a baking sheet. It’s where competitors encourage each other to be better because they don’t compete for money or power, but for the love of the thing. And it’s the only place to see the unique peace that rinses over some bakers once their work is in the oven: Like the presidential election, it’s at the point where you’ve done all you can do, you have no control over this part of the process, and all that’s left is to wait and pray that it’ll come out OK. (Available on: Netflix, PBS Passport)
Sure, this stream-anywhere-anytime service is made for our four-legged companions, but it’s been a tough year and our brains need a break. Escape chattering humans and their nerve-shattering election with DogTV, a platform that boasts programming “scientifically designed to enrich your dog’s environment.” Now it’s your turn to sit and stare mindlessly at the screen. You earned it! Replace Tuesday’s nonstop polling data, breaking news banners and ALL CAPS tirades with ample video of other dogs and “episodes” created for the canine attention span of three to five minutes. Wait, what was I saying? (Available on: DogTV)
One might expect a TV series inspired by a promotional gimmick for the English Premier League to wear thin almost immediately. Think again: “Ted Lasso” is an optimistic antidote to compound anxieties, a piece of driftwood to cling to in an ocean of despair. Starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach hired to manage a struggling soccer club, and set in a fairy tale town closer to “Notting Hill” than “Years and Years,” Apple’s finest scripted series to date leans on — and brilliantly executes — every expectation of the inspirational sports story, from the grizzled veteran (Brett Goldstein) who warms to leadership on the pitch to the “kit man” (Nick Mohammed) who makes good under Coach Lasso’s guidance. And yet, as anchored by Sudeikis’ expertly calibrated performance, always just this side of saccharine, “Ted Lasso” never sets a foot wrong or sounds a false note. It simply imagines a more wholesome, kind and supportive world than the one we inhabit: “I’m sorry,” as Ted says at one point, “I have a real tricky time hearing people who don’t believe in themselves.” (Available on: Apple TV+)
When I think about television that is the opposite of all of the feelings brought on by this fraught election, I think about gentle, comforting and funny all-ages cartoons. “The Fungies!” does one better by transporting you into a completely different world — a prehistoric one inhabited by mushroom people.
The show follows Seth, a 10-year-old Fungie kid who is all about science and learning about how his world works. He lives with his mother, who is a doctor, his artsy older brother and his sometimes-conjoined-twin younger siblings. Among his friends are a talking dinosaur and a heroic tree stump. Seth’s enthusiasm for science is particularly refreshing at a time when adults in the real world seem more skeptical than ever about science and scientific experts. And while the show is geared toward kids, there are plenty of smart moments that can be appreciated by the adults who are tuning in.
I could keep singing the show’s praises, but “The Fungies!” theme song does it best: “If you’re inclusive, inquisitive, respectful and kind, you can be a Fungie too!” (Available on: HBO Max)
‘Joe Pera Talks With You’
First aired on Adult Swim, this cartoon-length live-action series centered on a small-town music teacher (like the creator-star, named Joe Pera) is as far from the polarized politics of 2020 as might be imagined. There is a hint of educational intention — episodes have titles like “Joe Pera Takes You on a Hike,” “Joe Pera Shows You How to Pack a Lunch,” and “Joe Pera Talks to You About the Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada, 1950 – Present Day” — but all are ultimately concerned with human society, and how to live together and live better. (The social world muddles Joe a bit, but he is an indomitable participant within it.) If on the surface Pera’s small-town, multi-ethnic neighborhood can seem as idealized as Mr. Rogers’ — or Frank Capra’s or Preston Sturges’ — that is not a bad place to visit, after all. And though any episode might grow dark and go deep, the trip is always back to the light. (Available on: HBO Max)