Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
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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 7-13-18) 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. I haven't provided links to everything yet, because it takes time, which is in short supply. And of course when I get it done, some links will change. So just google the show you want information about and find who hosts them online.
• 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. As the NY Times writes, the week of its finale, "It’s a fabulous spy thriller and an even better domestic drama — a strange, awful love story set amid tremendous violence but also staggering idealism. This finale manages the nearly impossible: a meaningful and satisfying but still surprising conclusion to a sprawling, difficult story." I have loved it all though it did bog down a bit 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 dark Showtime 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--think Sopranos and The Wire, but Irish.)
• 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 Three-part British BBC (via Amazon) costume drama mini-series starring Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, based on novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, with a touch of comedy added. "In the 1840s, Cranford is ruled by the ladies."
• The Crimson Field (Amazon). In a tented field hospital on the coast of France, a team of doctors, nurses, and volunteers work together to heal the bodies and souls of men wounded in the trenches of WWI. As the Times put it, "a historical soap with a 'Downton Abbey' veneer of classiness."
• 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, (more…)