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Addictive and wonderful TV and cable shows

September 26, 2016

Tags: best TV shows, series, great TV, what to watch tonight

(Updated 3-26-18) I created this list for friends who ask "what's to watch?," but send it so often I decided to post it here. I did not try to cover the universe and I do update it periodically (especially after I binge-watch something). Not all of the shows are current, but that's what's great about now: we can catch the old series still and again. A helpful tool: GoWatchIt, a "comprehensive guide to finding movies and TV shows on the platforms you care about – in theaters, online, on TV, or on Blu-ray/DVD." The New York Times "Watching" feature also provides helpful brief reviews. Here are some of the programs I've enjoyed.
• Absolutely Fabulous (Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video with BritBox) Fashion-obsessed, drug-addled best friends, total narcissists, and career women fumble their way through middle age.
• Accused (BBC drama series follows people accused of crimes as each awaits the verdict of their trial)
• American Crime (ABC) Good actors take on different roles in compelling, sometimes depressing stories in anthology crime drama TV series.
• American Odyssey (NBC, Netflix) An elite soldier, a corporate lawyer and a political activist uncover a deadly conspiracy linking terrorists to a powerful American corporation.
• • • • The Americans (FX). Read Joshua Rothman's New Yorker piece, The Cruel Irony of "The Americans. I have loved it all but it did bog down in a couple of places midseason.
• The Assets (an eight-part American drama television miniseries based on the real-life Aldrich Ames CIA/treason case--CIA counterintelligence expert Sandy Grimes is assigned a vital mission: identify the Soviet mole thought to be operating within the agency itself)
• Berkeley Square (you can buy on Amazon) 1998 British dramatic television series in which three young women from very different backgrounds meet, become friends and share experiences)
• Better Call Saul (AMC -- an eccentric but likeable and amusing faintly romantic spinoff from Breaking Bad; a flawed but likeable hero with a strangely defective relative)
• The Bletchley Circle(Netflix via a PBS TV series--a mystery drama miniseries, set in 1952–53, about four women who used to work as codebreakers at Bletchley Park, returned to normal lives but now set out to discover who is murdering women)
• • • Bloodline (Netflix original thriller-drama, and definite binge-worthy). Vox review with spoilers ("I liked it more than any single season of House of Cards" but also "shows what’s wrong with most of Netflix’s original series") When the black sheep son of a respected family threatens to expose dark secrets from their past, sibling loyalties are put to the test, in Key West. • Bosch (Amazon Prime) semi-gentle crime/detective series based on Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series--and Titus Welliver doesn't seem right for the part, but I liked it anyway)
• • • • Breaking Bad (fabulous and I loved it, but it's violent and not family fare--undervalued high school chemistry teacher becomes behind-the-scenes druglord to finance his cancer care).
• Brideshead Revisited (Britbox) Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews star in this beloved Evelyn Waugh-based drama, hailed by The Telegraph as the greatest television adaptation of all time. If you liked Downtown Abbey, try this old Brit TV series)
• Broadchurch (BBC, PBS, and Netflix) A "deliberate, slowly unfolding mystery procedural with terrific performances from a fine cast" in the setting of a small, market town in Dorset.
• Brotherhood (30-episode crime drama series, 2006--08, set in an Irish neighborhood in Providence, revolving around two brothers on opposite sides of the law: one a gangster and the other a politician)
• Burn Notice (formulaic but good for when you want something mindless)
• Call the Midwife (Netflix streaming, PBS on Demand) A wonderful, comforting BBC period drama series about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London, starting in the late 1950s and working its way up into more modern times. The hairstyles and clothes change as the years advance over several seasons. Watch on PBS on Demand or Netflix Streaming). PSA: You Should Be Watching ‘Call the Midwife’ on Netflix (Dana Schwartz, Observer, 5-25-17)
• • Carnivΰle (strange, haunting, offbeat HBO series cancelled after two seasons, to dismay of loyal fans). "Airing from 2003 to 2005, its story arc connected a dust-bowl depression narrative to an epic battle between good and evil," writes Jeff Shear, in "A Brief History of the Fantasy Genre," which devotes a couple of paragraphs to the show. Watch this trailer (YouTube).
• Chancer (Clive Owen is the reason to watch this crime series, in which a business adviser with a moral code and an unresolved family past uses all means necessary to help his friends out of financial ruin)
• Civilizations (PBS) What better way to study civilizations than through art. Explore how initial encounters produced a unique array of art. Liev Schreiber narrates.
• Cranford. British television series starring Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, based on novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. "In the 1840s, Cranford is ruled by the ladies."
• The Crimson Field
• The Crown (TV series, based on Queen Elizabeth's life)
• Deadwood (HBO) American western television series set in the late 1800s, revolving around the characters of Deadwood, South Dakota, a town of deep corruption and crime. Loved it, but lots of cursing and not for kids.
• Dexter(Netflix and Hulu) By day, mild-mannered Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami police. At night, he is a serial killer with a sense of humor, who only targets other murderers. If you are susceptible to addiction to just plain gory evil-fun, don't even watch one episode.
• Dicte(streaming, Netflix) Danish crime drama, based on Elsebeth Egholm's crime novels. A crime reporter starts a new life by returning to her hometown, where she finds herself at odds with the police...)
• Doc Martin (the curmudgeonly, self-centered, insensitive Dr. Martin Ellingham, played by Martin Clunes, leaves surgery--he's afraid of blood--to practice medicine in a seaside village populated by eccentrics in this loveable British drama that appears regularly on PBS and other outlets).
• Dr. Who (British sci-fi series, in several incarnations, all featuring characters who time travel. You either love it or you don't.)
• The Durrells in Corfu
• The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77 -- watched years ago and loved it: In early 1900s London, kitchen maid Louisa Trotter's looks and drive enable her to become a celebrated cook and hotelier in this BBC costume drama, available on Netflix)
• East Enders (BBC, on PBS). My chief addiction. I have known only one other person who watches it regularly, and the accents make it hard for many to follow, but the accents, but on the rare occasions when I've missed a segment I felt terrible. What's more, PBS shows only two episodes a week. so the American show is about 9 years behind the British show. Which means I will die without having caught up! See State of EastEnders 2014 From A Yank’s Point of View (Larry Jaffee, publisher of Walford Gazette, HuffPost, UK, 3-24-14)
• Everwood. Family-friendly American drama series in which a widowed brain surgeon from Manhattan (played by Treat Williams) moves his two children to the small mountain town of Everwood, Colorado. A warm and easygoing series that ended after 4 seasons.
• Everybody Loves Raymond (cheerful fare about a sportswriter's family life in Long Island. Ray Romano "plays a beleaguered family man, but one who's happy about it," as one critic puts it.)
• The Fall (Gillian Anderson, Netflix Original) A detective superintenent battles her own demons as she tries to get inside the head of a serial killer hiding behind a family-man facade.
• Foley's War (British TV series, reliably intelligent, mostly comforting)
• Frasier (NY Times: The snooty “Cheers” shrink, played by Kelsey Grammer, moves home to Seattle to live with his blue-collar dad and host a call-in therapy radio show. 1993-2004)
• • • • Friday Night Lights. Avoided it for years because I thought it was about football (which is incidental). Gave it 2 or 3 episodes and then I was hooked, right through the wonderful ending.) Read this: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Couldn't Lose: An oral history of Friday Night Lights (Robert Mays, Grantland, and the cast of the fabulous TV series Friday Night Lights)
•Game of Thrones (Needs no introduction? I dropped out after one season, sensing a whiff of incest, but others binge-watched it)
• Garrow's Law (a British period legal drama about the 18th-century lawyer William Garrow, who acted as counsel for the accused, introducing the concept of 'innocent until proved guilty')
• Good Girls. Three women (and one enormous set of boobs) who need $ decide to try robbery. Sounds ridiculous but the script and acting are so good that it's a regular giggle for me.
• Good Girls Revolt (well-received Amazon series based on real-life events--gender discrimination in the 1960s, as women began rebelling against it. The series was cancelled after a season by a boss let go after recent bout of accusations of sexual harassment toward females, and fans are clamoring for its return.)
• The Good Wife. Excellent series about spouses in law and politics, with a little crookedness keeping things interesting.
• • The Grand (1997-98, free on Amazon Prime) At the end of World War I, the Bannerman family re-opens the Grand Hotel after a lengthy closure and a costly re-furbishing. As the most opulent hotel in Manchester, England during the decadent Roaring '20s, the Grand is a nexus for schemes, scandals, romance and intrigue among guests and staff members alike. Delightful.
• Gran Hotel (Netflix Streaming) Soap opera on a grand scale, a lonnnnnng and lovable series. Dashing Julio infiltrates the staff at the Grand Hotel, determined to uncover why his sister, the head chambermaid, has gone missing.
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• The Handmaid's Tale (dystopian future based on Atwood's novel, on Hulu)
• Happy Valley In the modest northern metropolis of West Yorkshire, police sergeant Catherine Cawood finds herself pursuing cases that have ties to her own troubled past. Character-driven crime stories.
• Heartland (a multi-generational saga set in Alberta, Canada, about a girl and her horses and her family--a comforting and long series, based on a popular book series, and always a good bedtime story)
• Hinterland (Welsh noir police detective drama series)
• Homeland
•The Honorable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhall superb)
• House of Cards (the old one, the British trilogy, starring Ian Richardson ; and the new one, American, with Kevin Spacey, ). Watched the first season and didn't go on, but it held me while I was watching. After Spacey was outed for sexual harassment, he was dropped from the show.
• The House of Eliott (BBC, 1991-94) Loved, loved, loved this. An addictive drama series about two sisters who get into British fashion business, in the era of flappers and suffragettes.

• I, Claudius (1976 BBC TV adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius, Roman Empire as experienced by one of its rulers, starring Derek Jacobi)
• Indian Summers. UK/PBS drama set in 1932 during the final years of British colonial rule in India.
• • • • Intelligence (CBC, Canadian, set in Vancouver, as reviewed on Slate) My favorite character is the main bad guy, besides the United States -- kind of like the lead in Sons of Anarchy (both of them make you wish they'd shampoo more often, but for them you might overlook the niceties). Violent, and it does end up in the air -- but I loved it. (Dear Watching: How could you have left this out???)
• Jack Taylor (set in Galway, six episodes) I loved this down-at-mouth hero.
• Kidnapped, an edge-of-seat thriller w/ Tim Hutton, Dana Delaney, Jeremy Sisto that NBC killed after running 5 episodes, luckily someone let them finish 13 episodes to appear on DVD.
•The Knick (a strange, short series and history piece with historical medical plot and setting)
• Lark Rise in Candleford (British series in which a young girl moves to the local market town in 19th century Oxfordshire to begin an apprenticeship as a postmistress--delightful soap opera)
• Last Tango in Halifax ( a British comedy-drama series that ran on BBC One, 2012-2016), starring Derek Jacobi. 'Celia and Alan are both widowed and in their seventies. When their respective grandsons put their details on Facebook, they rediscover a passionate relationship that started over sixty years ago.'
• Legends (IMBd barely mentions it, nobody reviews it, but Netflix carries it. FBI fugitive Martin Odum is in London with no memory of his life before the Iraq War)
• Longmire (American contemporary Western series with unflappable, likeable sheriff and Native American sheriff administering vigilante justice on nearby reservation. Family fare, by my standards. A&E canceled the series and Netflix picked it up, for a comforting six seasons.
• The Lookout. Intelligent crime drama in which Chris, a once promising high school athlete whose life is turned upside down following an accident, takes a job as a janitor at a bank where he ultimately finds himself caught up in a planned heist.
• Lost. I admit it; I watched it faithfully for several seasons and was FURIOUS about the cop-out ending. Read The Lessons of ‘Lost’: Understanding the Most Important Network Show of the Past 10 Years (Andy Greenwald, Grantland, 9-24-14) "Lost managed to be both the first series to demonstrate the potential of a broadcast network in the digital age and the last. Though it was stuffed with sci-fi nerdery and smothered in a thick Bolognese of strangeness,...what Lost inspired was a very specific, highly contagious kind of mania...a headlong dash into the unknown."
• Lost Boys of Sudan. For the last 20 years, civil war has raged in Sudan, killing and displacing millions. Lost Boys of Sudan follows two young refugees from the Dinka tribe.
• Low Winter Sun. Crime series, one season. Murder, deception, revenge and corruption that starts with the murder of a cop by fellow Detroit detective, Frank Agnew.
•Madam Secretary. Intelligent television with implausible stories often involving both star and her husband in international crises.
•Sex and the City (popular long series featuring four women; not for church ladies)
• Marcella (you'll recognize heroine in American Odyssey) British crime noir detective series. DS Marcella Backland back with the police force after 11 years as the Grove Park Killer returns
• Masterpiece Theatre (PBS) Watch online some wonderful series: Victoria; Unforgotten;
Poldark (the star is a hunk); Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch's version); Downton Abbey; and so on!
• Monarch of the Glen. BBC series, 2000-2005. Archie MacDonald, a young restaurateur is called back to his childhood home of Glenbogle where he is told he is the new Laird of Glenbogle. Family fare.
• Money Heist kept me glued to TV, binge-watching, despite being in a foreign language with subtitles. See reviw: People Are Raving About ‘Money Heist’ On Netflix, Comparing It To ‘Prison Break’ And ‘Narcos’ (Douglas Charles, Brobible
• Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime). Somewhere around Season 4 it goes astray, but otherwise it's fun to watch.
• Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
• Mysterious Skin. "The summer I was 8 years old," a character says at the beginning of "Mysterious Skin," "five hours disappeared from my life." (I can't remember it but gave it five stars)
• Narcos (Netflix streaming, Columbian drug cartels, gripping, not happy family stuff)
• The Night Of (HBO, 8-part crime drama miniseries, available as rental)
•Orange Is the New Black (Netflix original about women in prison)
• Ozark (American crime drama thriller series, on Netflix. A financial adviser drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder $500 million in five years to appease a drug boss.)
• The Pallisers (a 1974 BBC television adaptation of Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, set in Victorian era England with a backdrop of parliamentary life)
• Parks and Recreation (a mockumentary from the people who brought us The Office).
• Peaky Blinders British crime show about a Birmingham street gang, between the two World Wars, hard to understand at first, often violent, but for me, once I could understand them, addictive. Ends a little abruptly.
• A Place to Call Home (Australian TV series)
• Poldark (brooding English romance with good scenery, very sexy hero, and spunky heroine)
• The Protectors (TV series, 1972-73, in which Harry Rule, the Contessa di Contini and Paul Buchet are three freelance troubleshooters who ran an international crime fighting agency out of London)
• Rectify (Sundance) Ex-con puts his life back together in small town Georgia after 19 years on Death Row. Slow, mildly depressing, but compelling.
• Revenge (preposterous but potentially addictive high-junk TV)
• River A six-part cop potboiler in which some of the best characters are "voices." Stellan Skarsgard is superb, playing complex part.
• Robin Hood (2006-2009 , with Jonas Armstrong, 3 Seasons) Historically accurate it's not, but diverting.
• Scandal (preposterous but potentially addictive high-junk TV)
• Seven Seconds (Netflix) After a hit-and-run by a police officer, the family of the victim pleads for more information as an unhinged prosecutor searches for the real facts about the incident in the series premiere. Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus: Seven Seconds is undermined by unlikable characters with somewhat predictable arcs, but its grim reflections of societal and racial division are brought to life by able performers and a fearless overall narrative.
• • • •Six Feet Under American drama series that takes a darkly comical look at members of a dysfunctional family and its funeral business.
• • • •The Sopranos. Saga of a New Jersey crime family drama series in which James Gandolfini must manage both his wife, played by Edie Falco, and his gangster family. A series that "changed television forever." Read Vanity Fair's oral history of the show.
• Sorrel and Son (1984 TV mini-series, "Heartfelt story of a father making sacrifices to help his son over the years.")
• Spiral (2005 TV series follows criminal investigations in Paris from different points of view, available on Hulu)
• Taken (Netflix)
• This Is Us. An ensemble cast of grownups (with frequent flashbacks to childhood) in one family, all wounded or damaged in ways that become obvious little by little, whose struggles not to be defeated by their problems makes this a heartwarming, more realistic than usual family saga that keeps you watching, and satisfied.
• Top of the Lake. Obsessed with the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl near a freezing lake in New Zealand, a brave detective goes on from solving that central mystery to solve other crimes. Jane Campion co-directs. (Hulu)
• Transparent (family drama in which parent is transexual, and more simpatico than his/her kids. Do not read about it first; just try it.)
• Trial & Retribution (police procedural television drama series that first aired in 1997, in which crime team follows each case from crime committed, through the pursuit of justice, to the law courts)
• True Detective (an American anthology crime drama television series)
• The Tunnel (Brit.-French crime drama TV series, 2013, adapted from Danish-Swedish crime series The Bridge, 2011). Both are good.
• Unforgotten (UK crime series via PBS, stone-cold cases of murder test the wits of crime-solving duo DCI Cassie Stuart and DS Sunny Khan, played by Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax) and Sanjeev Bhaskar (Indian Summers). See glowing NPR review.

• Upstairs, Downstairs (PBS, Masterpiece, 1971-75) Classic.
• Veep (not my cup of tea, but many love this comedy series)
• Vera (British crime drama, based on Ann Cleeves novels, starring Brenda Blethyn)
• Veronica Mars
• Victoria (PBS)
• The West Wing (Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney star in serial political drama about progressive, intelligent presidential advisers whose approach to government many fans no doubt wish we had now. (The Times calls it a comfort show.) Originally aired 1999-2006, during the Bush administration. "Thanks to Netflix, shows such as The West Wing and Friends are stuck in this strange nostalgia feedback loop, with old fans wanting to revisit a certain time and novices wishing they were in that time even though they missed it the first time around."
https://www.netflix.com/title/70157152
• • • •The Wire. One of the best series ever. The dark side of Baltimore ports.





More ledes
• You Should See ‘Not Fade Away,’ a Great Movie That Should Have Been a Greater TV Show (Sean Fennessey, Grantland, 4-30-13)
• Readers, Streamers, and Watchers Facebook page (Hat tip to Marcy Davis for starting this exchange of recommendations)
• TV Check-in: A Great Cast of Fixers Does Its Best to Save ‘Ray Donovan’ (Andy Greenwald, Grantland, 4-4-14)
• ‘You’re the Worst’ Finishes Its Great First Season As One of the Best Comedies on TV (Andy Greenwald, Grantland, 9-19-14)
• The 10 Best TV Shows of 2014 (Andy Greenwald, Grantland, 12-17-14)
• My Top 10 Best (Favorite) TV Shows of 2013 (Andy Greenwald, Grantland, 12-18-13) Some of these continue into 2014 favorites. In today's world, it doesn't matter which year it is; you can get them digitally.
• Best TV Show Releases by Score (Metacritic), which in late March 2015 has The Americans, Justified, and Broad City with top votes)
• The 25 Best HBO Series of All Time (Paste, 4-14-17)
• Euro TV Place
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Comments

  1. May 29, 2017 2:36 PM EDT
    Why Hundreds of Thousands of People Are Rallying To Save 'Last Man Standing' (Joshunda Sanders, Change.org, 5-17-17) From the article: Last Man Standing stands out in the sea of network television sitcoms. It is a show that appeals to a broad swath of Americans who find very few shows that extol the virtues with which they can identify; namely conservative values. Last Man Standing was not just selling conservative ideals though, as some of the characters in the show are clearly of the liberal persuasion, yet the characters on the show all manage to get along and take care of one another, despite their politically opposed views. The show is about more than politics though, it is about family. In fact, politics is only a secondary part of the show, but one in which many Americans can readily identify."
    - PM