The love of TV was at one time generally considered a character flaw in someone, a reflection of laziness or of simply not having enough to do. However, with fewer movies being made, the quality of TV has improved so much that fans, like myself, almost have bragging rights when a select group of us can share our latest TV binge at a cocktail party. So, in case you find yourself with some extra downtime, or if you’re in need of conversation topics at your get together with friends, here are a few suggestions for great TV watching.
Shows to Watch with the Family
If you have young children, we recommend you stick to the safe zone — Sprout, PBS, Disney, Nick Jr., etc. But for the older kids, there are some great series you can indulge in as a family. I tend to be more liberal when recommending shows to watch with teens, but if you are concerned about show content for your family, there are several websites with information about show ratings. Commonsensemedia.org is a good resource with details of content and age appropriateness. If you have a tolerance for bad language and some sexual references (not nudity, but PG-13 type stuff), these are some good ones to gather around the tube and watch together.
“Stranger Things” — Netflix
It’s a craze, and a worthy one. It’s a sci-fi series, but like most good, modern sci-fi, you aren’t worn out by the unlikely science, but rather engaged with the characters in their search for truth. The kid actors are talented and feel like kids you knew in school. They are nerdy and they cuss, but they’re endearing and you root for them. Hang in there through episodes 2 and 3. My teens eventually disengaged, but I remained true and loved it.
“Sherlock” (the one with Benedict Cumberbatch) — Netflix
StyleBlueprint has recommended this series before, but in case you weren’t taking us seriously and haven’t seen it, start here. Every episode is an hour and a half, so settle in for a delicious twist on the beloved Mr. Holmes. The script is brilliant, and it’s really fun to watch. If you once thought that Cumberbatch was simply awkward and odd looking, after one season, you will better understand his many drooling female fans (myself, included). And, for the fans, the wait is over on Jan 1st with the beginning of Season 4 on PBS.
“Mr. Robot” — On Demand USA Network
I especially like the first season of this series. Set in modern day, it’s about a computer hacking team that causes chaos to the financial markets. The pace is moderate with a few “no way” plot twist moments where you’ll rewind to see if it really happened. It’s loaded with characters who frequently face moral dilemmas, and I found myself questioning, “WWID?” during those moments, which keeps me watching. This one is rough for the younger teens. However, for adult families, I can only think of one scene where I fast-forwarded an awkward moment (Season 2, episode 3).
“What We Do in the Shadows” — On Demand, Cinemax, Vudu
If you were a fan of “Flight of the Conchords” (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should watch that first), you’ll recognize Jemaine and once again enjoy his deadpan (pun intended) comedic talents. Filmed like a mockumentary, the absurd plot develops as three vampire roommates attempt to engage in modern life. My husband and I both laughed out loud.
“Documentary Now!” — On Demand IFC
Speaking of mockumentaries, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen of “Saturday Night Live” fame shower us with their talents in an entire series of fake documentaries. Some of the episodes feel self-indulgent; however, a handful are too good to miss. Helen Mirren introduces each episode, so you know it has to be good. The best is season 1, episode 4, “The Eye Doesn’t Lie,” about a small town murder and the accused killer.
“Gilmore Girls” — Netflix
If you are over 40 or under 15, you’ve probably not watched the series that young millennials grew up on. This adorable, chick-flick-y series is about an endearing, young mom and her smart, teenage daughter growing up together in a small Northeastern town. It is as trite as it is lovable. Suspend your eye rolling and indulge in this feel-good coming-of-age series. The most recent release on Netflix is a reunion series, which I’ve heard does not disappoint true fans.
“Madam Secretary” — On Demand CBS
Produced by Morgan Freeman, this dramatic political series fills the void left by its beloved predecessors, “The Good Wife” and “The West Wing.” I have a bias for strong female leads and Téa Leoni as Madam Secretary is one of the best. It also successfully shows how a solid marriage and family life can add to a woman’s career rather than focusing on the constant struggle for “life balance.” Each episode has its specific plot, while the underlying subplots thread throughout the season keep you wanting to watch the next.
“The Crown” — Netflix
If you were a “Downton Abbey” fan and haven’t started watching “The Crown,” you need to. The series may bore the teens in your family, but it’s the perfect rainy day indulgence, the type where you snag a “quick nap” while an episode is paused. Even your moderate Anglophile will find this glance into Queen Elizabeth II’s personal life alluring, as well as the various subplot lines revealing the multiple sacrifices that all royal family members and staff make for the crown. It’s both fascinating and unfathomable, stirring feelings of jealousy and relief at the same time — similar to feelings I had while watching the Crowleys wearing formal dress for a typical family dinner or getting breakfast in bed.
Shows NOT to watch with the family
As a warning, all of the series below have a dark side and are TV-MA (ie., not for kids, really not for teens either, or in-laws, unless you don’t mind sitting through some really awkward sex moments and heavy profanity). If you are looking for something warm and uplifting, skip these. But, if you are up for something more adventurous …
“The OA” — Netflix
Creepy but intoxicating, “The OA” lives up to its MA rating in the first episode, which is also the slowest (so hang in there) until the last 15 minutes. From there forward, every episode moves the plot, which is what makes it binge-worthy. In addition, unlikely, endearing relationships form, in a grown-up Breakfast Club way, which gives you not only a hero but also teams for which to root.
“Westworld” — HBO
A sci-fi thriller that is clever, but moves slowly. The best part about “Westworld” is the several plot twists that keep you intrigued midway through the season. The cinematography is beautiful, and the actors are attractive and intriguing; however, my husband did snooze through portions. But, it has Anthony Hopkins, and who doesn’t like Anthony Hopkins?
“The Night Of” — HBO
In case you missed this challenging series, whose success lies in its characters and their development, it’s worth the dark indulgence. The mystery of what really happened on the night in question keeps you pressing the button for the next On Demand episode, while at the same time hoping what you’re watching isn’t really happening.
“Billions” — HBO
Even if you have a small interest in the financial markets, you’ll enjoy this series; or, if you are a financial markets wizard and you suspend disbelief, you’ll also enjoy this series. Despite the unlikelihood of any fund manager getting away with things like Damian Lewis’ character, or the very blurry sense of justice of the U.S. Attorney played by Paul Giamatti, “Billions” delights as they battle. Two of my all-time favorite female characters complete this cast, and their unpredictability and strength is what kept me engaged throughout the series.
And, just in case you need a few more suggestions while hibernating, here are some other favorites:
- “Homeland” (Showtime, Hulu, Amazon) — The first three seasons are outstanding!
- “Silicon Valley” (HBO, Amazon, Vudu) — This is especially entertaining if you’re in the IT business or are a webpreneur.
- “Chappelle’s Show“ (Comedy Central) — Dave Chappelle’s talent and intellect are amazing.
- “Flight of the Conchords” (HBO) — As I referenced above, it’s quirky and weird, but several episodes are hysterical if you like New Zealand humor.
- “The Following” (Netflix) — It’s a dark drama about a cult leader and the FBI agent, played by Kevin Bacon, hunting him. If you can handle the intensity, the first season is one of my all-time favorites series.
Enjoy your break!
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