– by Cecily Knobler, Hollywood Reporter –
Now I know it seems like every other day there’s a new TV show being discussed around the water cooler. “Oh you just have to watch that new BBC show about elves.” “If you’re not totally caught up on the show about transgender police detective teenagers, then you’re missing out!” The truth is that there are in fact lots of great shows to watch. So while your co-workers and friends may be annoying, they’re probably right.
So instead of giving you a list of the brand-new television programs currently in the zeitgeist, let me refresh your memory with some shows (past and present) that you’ve probably heard of but may have missed. Whether on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Go (the list goes on), I don’t care how you watch these, just watch them. (And if you’ve already seen them, watch them again!)
It’s not just because I grew up in a small town in Texas or that I happen to love football. This five-seasoned show, based on a film of the same name, which itself was based on a book called Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team and a Dream, is nearly flawless. (I say “nearly” because season 2 was a major misstep, but I’m glad I stuck it out, because they got the rest of it absolutely perfect.)
Sure Riggins (the super hot fullback played by Taylor Kitsche) and Coach Taylor (who Kyle Chandler embodied with a smooth Texas-like manliness) and his wife, Tami Taylor (which the super-talented Connie Britton portrayed as the wise superwoman of the South) helped made it work. They were great, but it was more the subtly sad yet hopeful spirit of the show that made it shine. Credit where it’s due, Peter Berg (who directed the original film and helped co-create and sometimes direct the TV series) gave it such a unique and infectious touch. Oh and the instrumental music by Explosions in Sky set the tone in a way I’ve rarely experienced.
You might not appreciate high school football going into this, but if you start watching, I’ll bet you pull a few all-nighters until that beautiful finale. In the words of Coach Taylor himself, “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”
Back in 2007 when this show first premiered on AMC, I couldn’t get into it, personally. And believe me I tried, because it’s all my friends talked about. I didn’t know much about the late 50s/60s New York advertising scene and had no idea what I was missing. But then one day (about four episodes into the first season) it just clicked. Jon Hamm as Don Draper was a revelation. A dark sexy antihero who somehow made you feel in the right for liking such a “bad boy.” The coldness of his love affairs or the way he’d light a cigarette or pour an icy whisky was all so chilling, you could hardly wait for more.
Creator Matthew Weiner built a crew who paid the most impeccable attention to detail I’ve ever seen. Set design, wardrobe, speech cadence – just perfect. Which of course didn’t go unnoticed by Emmy or Golden Globe voters. It won tons of statues by the countless organizations that award such things, and it was incredibly well deserved each time.
Not a weak link in the cast, either. But it’s Hamm and Elizabeth Moss (as Peggy Olson) who leave the most memorable marks. Each season is stronger than the last and it builds to a perfect finale. (In fact, it’s in my top-2 best finales of all time!)
Let’s go back a few years to 2001 to this strange drama from the mind of creator Alan Ball. Another series that lasted five seasons, the show (about life, death and everything in between – but mostly death) was haunting and tragic and funny and weird and moving. What better way to convey the meaning (or sometimes lack thereof) of life than through the eyes of a family who owned a funeral home?
For me, the show didn’t quite get going until its second season. Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall (who later became “Dexter”) and Lauren Ambrose never faltered though. I haven’t watched the series in quite some time, so I’m not sure how well it holds up. But remember when I mentioned Mad Men‘s finale having been in my personal top two of all time? That’s because Six Feet Under‘s finale was the absolute best. I know this will sound hyperbolic, but it actually changed my life. It was that moving and lovely.
Allow me to get weird. This ridiculously funny avant-garde musical show, co-created in part by its leads Jermaine Clement and Brett McKenzie, only lasted two seasons on HBO, so it’s a quick binge watch. But if you like odd and oh-so-funny slackers from New Zealand who write/perform songs like “Albi the Racist Dragon,” “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” and the ultra-timely “Bowie’s in Space,” then this is for you.
The duo won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album and nominated for quite a few Emmys as well. It’s hard not to love them, or hum their catchy tunes for the rest of your life!
So this is the only show I have on this list that’s currently airing new episodes. Its star and creator (and writer and sometimes director and I’d imagine music supervisor) Lena Dunham is somewhat of a child prodigy. And I’ll concede, she’s controversial and can sometimes be considered annoying. But she grew on me, as did the show itself.
The series follows the lives of spoiled 20-something girls (and their many lovers and bosses and pals) through their trials and tribulations in New York City. Now in its fifth season (with the sixth alleged to be the last) it has grown from a funny, rather gross-out comedy (thanks in part to the Apatow influence) to a rather poignant, albeit silly, look at growing up as narcissists. If you like female-centric, slice-of-life dialogue that will often try your patience, it’s worth binge viewing so you can get up to date and enjoy the current season. (And if for nothing else, watch this show for the brilliance of Adam Driver.)