As we pass the one-year mark of Coronavirus isolation, even though Spring has sprung, it still looks like we’re going to be stuck inside for a while longer. And if you’re like me, you told yourself you’d use this time to catch up on all those HBO dramas that you’ve been meaning to watch or rewatch (I’m looking at you The Sopranos.)
But as good as I know those shows are and even though my commute is from the bed to the couch (and that’s on a good day) when I log off, sometimes I just want to collapse into a warmer embrace. And instead of watching The Office for the fifty-seventh time, maybe try something new (not that there’s anything wrong with The Office, there’s just other stuff out there).
So sit back, put your feet up, grab the remote and comfy blanket and settle in to devour some wonderfully binge-worthy content that’ll make you laugh, make you cry, and maybe teach you something along the way.
The Good Place (2016-2020)
Finished – Seasons 1-4 available: Netflix
Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up after an embarrassing margarita mix accident and finds herself in The Good Place, an idyllic neighborhood filled with everything she could ever want and surrounded by people who led selfless lives while on earth. The problem? Eleanor was a selfish, egotistical mess while alive and has clearly ended up here due to a clerical error. But can she learn to be good and earn her place? Creator Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) fills it with his trademark silly humor and touching moments between the stunning ensemble cast with break-out turns from William Jackson Harper’s continuously conflicted Chidi and D’Arcy Carden’s Siri-esque virtual assistant Janet. After four seasons of putting its characters (and audience) through real-world ethical dilemmas, the show ends on its own terms with an important lesson: being good can be hard, but it’s never too late to learn.
Ongoing – Seasons 1-4 available: HBO Max (U.S) Crave (Canada)
After her web series, Awkward Black Girl, went viral on YouTube, creator Issa Rae teamed up with legendary comedy producer Larry Wilmore to create a show for her to star. The result is this beautiful love letter to L.A, as main character Issa, a thirty-something African American woman, traverses her career, relationships and tries to get her shit together. The show has so much going for it, from its beautiful cinematography and color palette to its soundtrack (Solange Knowles serves as a music consultant) but the show’s ace-in-the-hole is its perfect storm of writers, directors, and actors, all of whom are on exactly the same page with nothing has seeming out of character or place, just folks living their lives; all of which can be attributed to Rae, a woman so charismatic she could have a scene with a fence post and still be engaging. With season five set to be its last, I’ll be glued to whatever she does next.
Schitt’s Creek (2015-2020)
Finished – Seasons 1-6 available: Netflix
After being defrauded by their business manager, the formerly affluent Rose family find themselves moving to one of the few assets they still own, the titular town bought as a joke and having to adjust to country life on a modest budget whilst learning the importance of community. The family and townsfolk are wonderfully cast with comedy stalwarts like Chris Elliott and John Hemphill but it’s national treasure Catherine O’Hara who shines every episode as the matriarch of the family, a former soap star whose accent just can’t be placed. A true underdog story, it survived for three seasons despite critical success but low viewing numbers, when a Netflix deal suddenly brought a whole new audience for its last two years. Created by Canadian father and son duo, Eugene & Dan Levy (who also star) weave a beautiful lesson of money not buying happiness and when you find acceptance, in family or friends, it’s worth more than anything.
Ted Lasso (2020-)
Ongoing – Season 1 available: Apple TV+
Have you ever wondered what Friday Night Lights would be like if it was a British sitcom? Folksy American football coach Lasso is hired to lead an English soccer team, despite knowing nothing about the sport. The problem is the new owner, who won the team in a divorce settlement, has hired him in an attempt to get back at her ex-husband. But Lasso’s talent as a coach isn’t in caring about the sport but about people and as his unshakeable enthusiasm begins to infect not only the squad but everyone around him, they learn to support each other, on and off the field. Sudeikis is a delight as Lasso and the supporting cast are wonderful with Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein giving heartbreaking and hilarious performances. Even if you don’t care about soccer, the first season is a joy from start to finish, and much like its titular character will get under your skin and make you smile. Football is life!
Finished – Seasons 1-6 available: Hulu (U.S) Seasons 1-5 available: Netflix & Prime (Canada)
As anyone who has ever worked retail will tell you, the general public (by and large) is awful. Set in a fictional big-box store called Cloud 9, the show initially centers around a will they, won’t they relationship between floor manager Amy (America Ferrera) and new employee Jonah (Ben Feldman), but quickly expands to include all of the oddballs that make up the store’s diverse workforce to display a real cross-section of the North American working class. It takes a while to find its footing, but the writing steadily improves to include topics such as unionization, undocumented workers and the sixth and final season covers the pandemic but still finds time to make jokes about what customers end employees get up to when they think no one is watching. A real balm for anyone who has worked customer service and, through shared experiences of long hours for low pay and corporate decisions, have found themselves a second family
Finished – Seasons 1-2 available: Prime Video
Adapted from her award-winning one-woman show, writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge spins a tale of hilarity, grief, and ultimately hope. Coming off of a personal tragedy, unnamed “Fleabag” is struggling to keep her small business afloat while maintaining relationships with partners, friends and family. Using the same technique as her theatre show, Waller-Bridge’s writing constantly breaks the fourth; with snide jokes and side glances, using the audience as a support mechanism until even that trope is upended to staggering effect in the show’s beautiful second and final season. With the likes of Olivia Coleman, Andrew Scott, and Sian Clifford in incredible supporting roles, it’s Waller-Bridge’s hilarious and devastating performance as a woman just barely surviving and that anchors the whole show; a rare, powerhouse production that bursts into your life, shows you it’s okay to be broken and is gone before you know what happened.
Bob’s Burgers (2011-)
Ongoing – Season 1-11 available: Hulu (U.S) Prime Video & Disney+ (Canada)
It’s easy to dismiss the Belcher family as a The Simpsons knockoff. Both are animated shows about a married couple with three children, trying to raise a family as best they can. But whereas the humor of The Simpsons often came from a family at odds, the Belchers are a bunch of weirdos. With excellent voice work from pros like H. Jon Benjamin and Kristen Schaal as family members, and joined regularly by the likes of Kevin Kline and Megan Mullally filling out the town’s oddballs. From butt obsessed, erotic zombie fiction writing teenager Tina to patriarch Bob, who thinks he’s the normal one but talks to his food while cooking it (doing the voices too) it’s a very silly but honest depiction of a modern family (though with more musical numbers?); both parents and kids may not always know what the other is up to, but they’ll always support each other, no matter what.
High Maintenance (2016-2020)
Finished – Seasons 1-4 available: HBO Max (US) Crave (Canada)
A real rarity, this show is highly addictive despite having no plot or endgame. Instead of a central plot running through the show, the show is a collection of short stories, some lasting a few minutes, some lasting whole episodes but each story is (mostly) connected by one thing, the laidback cyclist who sells them weed (played by co-creator Ben Sinclair), known only as the Guy. What you get is a beautiful cross-section of the lives of New Yorkers; from the Latino construction worker ordering coffee from his crush even though he doesn’t drink coffee to a model in her seventies beginning to feel her age to a Helen Hunt obsessed agoraphobic who just lost his mother. Co-creator Katja Blichfeld, a former casting director, uses New York’s acting pool to cast each role to perfection (with ‘hey, that guy’ unknowns to comic Hannibal Buress), each character and their story is bursting at the seams with vulnerability, honesty, and life.
Ru Paul’s Drag Race (2009-)
Ongoing – Season 1-13 available: Fubo, Hulu & Paramount+ (U.S) Netflix & Crave (Canada)
She already done had herses! Hosted by the iconic RuPaul Charles, each season takes a group of wannabe stars and asks them to prove they have the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to become America’s next top drag queen. Silly weekly challenges, ranging from singing to design, are topped off by the contestants bringing it on the runway, ending with the bottom two lip-synching each other to stay. It’s reality TV, so expect fights, drama, and upsets but be gagged at the sheer talent on screen and cry at so much overcoming of adversity and personal demons to become beacons of inspiration. An unstoppable, international behemoth with thirteen seasons, five seasons of All-Stars, two seasons of Drag Race UK, and an upcoming Australian version, there’s plenty to catch up on and no better time to start and remember; because if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an ahem!