icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog) RSS feed

Addictive and wonderful TV and cable shows

(Updated 12-13-2020)  I assembled this alphabetized list of "best TV and cable shows of all time") for friends but got so many requests for it that I posted it here and update it periodically. Not all of the shows are current. I've added stars to shows that in my view are "must try" and I've provided links for many shows, but venues change. You can always google the name of a show and scroll down past the Google ads to see if and where the shows are streaming now. If you haven't seen it, start with Friday Night Lights (2006-2011, watch streaming on Hulu).


The rest, in alphabetical order:
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 streaming, aired for two seasons, 2010-2012). This award-winning drama anthology follows people accused of crimes as they await the verdict of their trial. (Watch on Acorn or Amazon Prime.)
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)
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) A "high-quality outer-space western, about a wagon train of spaceships trying to cross the desert and reach the promised land... it reduced humanity to its essentials....They lost some of their grip on the story in the final seasons, but their original creation took TV science fiction to places it had never gone before."~Mike Hale, New York Times
Before We Die (Swedish, AmazonPrime video) "There’s a certain amount of box-ticking with this gloomy Swedish crime drama but beyond the clichés, Marie Richardson’s seductive character hooks us and draws us in." ~ review in The Guardian
• 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), series about an eccentric but likeable and amusing faintly romantic spinoff-prequel for the Jimmy character in 'Breaking Bad'--an increasingly flawed and shady but strangely appealing character with a smugly defective brother). Less violent than 'Breaking Bad.'

• Big Little Lies (HBO) based on Liane Moriarty's "darkly comedic tale of murder and mischief in the tranquil beachfront town of Monterey, Calif." Available on Amazon Prime.
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.
Bordertown. (Finnish crime drama, TV series) Detective Inspector Kari Sorjonen is one of the most respected officers at the National Bureau of Investigation in Finland when his wife barely survives brain cancer. Sorjonen then takes a new job leading SECRI, the Serious Crime Unit in Lappeenranta, and moves his family to the town near the border of Russia for a more peaceful life. But life turns out to be less than peaceful there. Nordic Noir.
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, a fabulous series and I loved it, but this Vince Gilligan series is violent and perhaps not family fare--undervalued high school chemistry teacher, Walt, played by Bryan Cranston, becomes behind-the-scenes druglord to finance his cancer care, but then grows to love the role of the druglord. A wonderful cast, compelling series.
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)
• The Bridge (Swedish/Danish version).Gripping crime drama.
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.
Broad City (Hulu, sitcom) No matter what the city throws at twenty-somethings Abbi and Ilana, these broads are all in.
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)
• • Carnivàle (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 (2017 on, Netflix Original) Good series based on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, from her time as Princess Elizabeth and her 1947 wedding to the present day.
•••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. "...it knew the border between civilization and savagery was porous, and patrolled by opportunists."~ NY Times. And now: Deadwood: The Movie Is David Milch’s Finest Work (David Sims, The Atlantic, 5-31-19) The feature-length coda to HBO’s acclaimed frontier show ties off the last season’s plot threads while telling a story that stands on its own.
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 (Masterpiece Theatre, PBS)
The Duchess of Duke Street (All 31 episodes of the beloved PBS Masterpiece Theatre series, 1976-77) I watched this faithfully 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, replayed on PBS in US). My chief addiction. I have personally known only one other person who watched it regularly, and the accents make it hard for some to follow, but the on the rare occasions when I've missed a segment I felt terrible. What's more, PBS shows only two episodes a week and one of them is Saturday morning (thank goodness for 'recording to watch later'). 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)
Endeavour reviewed here (British television) On PBS you can watch the Masterpiece prequel to the popular "Inspector Morse" series, with Shaun Evans as young DC Endeavour Morse and Roger Allam as his senior partner, DI Fred Thursday. Slow-paced but it's warmly intelligent and it grows on you "as comforting as cheese on toast," writes Sam Wollaston in The Guardian.
Everwood (2002-2006, streaming on Hulu).
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 (1996-2005, streaming on TVLand). 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)
The Forsyte Saga (full series available on Amazon). The success of this series in the '60s helped establish PBS Masterpiece as Sunday appointment TV. This adaptation of John Galsworthy's novels is replete with characters you'll love or hate.
• Frasier (1993-2004) 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.
• • • • Friday Night Lights (2006-2011, watch streaming on Hulu). Don't avoid it because it's about football. It is, and it isn't. I started watching it because a film buff friend (Judy Sklar Rasminsky) said it was the best series ever made, and she was right: after two or three episodes I was hooked right through to the satisfying ending. Read 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 and it was a big hit. I'll give it another chance.
• 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, one of my favorite hours of escape.
• 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 and "soft power" keeping things interesting. "If the show has a positive legacy, it’s probably that we helped women not have to stand by their scandalized husbands," say the show's creators, Michelle and Robert King (New York Times).
• • 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. Addictive, and pretty. (8.5 rating on IMDb)
••• Grey’s Anatomy (2005 to present, streaming on Netflix) The first and the best Shonda Rhimes show. '“Grey’s Anatomy” elevates female friendship above all bonds and sees professional excellence as a baseline qualification. It understands grief....For many years, Meredith was not the most interesting character on the show that bears her name. But she is now, which is one reason the show feels viable and dynamic still, 15 seasons in."~Margaret Lyons, New York Times
• • The Handmaid's Tale (based on Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, now streaming on Hulu--IMDb rating 8.6)
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.
The Heart Guy ("Doctor Doctor" in Australia, where it originated, available on Acord, and PBS). Like Doc Martin, this doctor is a loveable jerk, an ace heart surgeon banished temporarily to a small town. A delightful sitcom.
Heartland (a multi-generational saga set in Alberta, Canada, about a girl-becoming-a-woman and her horses and her family--a comforting nine-season series, based on a popular book series, and for me a predictably comfortable bedtime story)
Hinterland, darkly brooding Welsh noir police detective drama series filmed around Aberystwyth, in both Welsh and English, and, as the Guardian critic says, "makes Kurt Wallander look positively cheerful."
Homeland (Amazon Prime/Showtime). Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) is a bipolar CIA agent convinced that former prisoner of war Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been turned by al-Qaeda and is planning to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil. For seven seasons it held me in its grip, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.
•• The Honorable Woman. In a gripping miniseries/political drama, a baroness (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tries to forge new ties between Israelis and Palestinians, stirs up international intrigue. IMDb rating 8.1.
• 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 long and addictive drama series about two sisters who get into British fashion business, in the era of flappers and suffragettes. Buy boxed set at reasonable price on Amazon or watch on Acorn.
• I, Claudius (1976 BBC TV adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius, Roman Empire as experienced by one of its rulers, starring Derek Jacobi) IMDb rating 8.9 of 10.
• Indian Summers. UK/PBS drama set in 1932 during the final years of British colonial rule in India.
• • • • Intelligence (Netflix, originally on CBC, Canadian, set in Vancouver, as reviewed by Matt Feeney on The Canadian Wire/Slate) My favorite character is the main bad guy (played by Ian Tracey), who reminds me a little of the hero in Sons of Anarchy (both of them make you wish they'd shampoo more often, but for them you might overlook the niceties). (Feeney writes " the galvanizing bad guy is the United States.") Violent, and it does end up in the air -- but I loved it.
• • Jack Taylor (played by Iain Glen, available on Acorn) is an Irish cop turned private detective in this drama series set in Galway, ) I loved this down-at-mouth hero, based on Jack Taylor novels by Ken Gruen.
Jane the Virgin (2014 on) “Because its loving sendup of telenovelas paired shocking plot twists with political bite....The central love story in the show is the three women.”~New York Times
• 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 (Cinemax's strange, short series and history piece with historical medical plot and setting. (I liked it.) "As upscale care in New York shifts from urban locales in the early 1900s, Knickerbocker Hospital remains in the city to serve a mostly poor, immigrant population. As upscale care in New York shifts from urban locales in the early 1900s, Knickerbocker Hospital remains in the city to serve a mostly poor, immigrant population. Undeterred by high mortality from sepsis in a pre-antibiotics era, chief surgeon John Thackery (Clive Owen) pushes medicine's boundaries, pioneering procedures despite his painful past and severe cocaine addiction.
Lark Rise to 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--based on Flora Thompson's trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels about her Oxfordshire childhood, set in the hamlet of Lark Rise and the wealthier neighbouring market town, Candleford, at the end of the 19th Century) Available on Amazon Prime.
Last Man Standing (Hulu, a sitcom about family, with a side of politics.) Mike Baxter is a happily married father of three daughters who finds himself the odd man out as he tries to maintain his manliness in a home surrounded by women. "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 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)
Line of Duty (Irish, on Acorn, one of the best ever series) A BBC police procedural TV series. At Anti-Corruption Unit 12, police officers Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming, with the help and oversight of Superintendent Ted Hastings, investigate possible corruption within the Central Police force. “A compelling police drama that takes a cynical view of a target-driven police culture, while sympathetically portraying how basically decent individuals may find themselves drawn towards corrupt practices, misconduct and criminal behaviour.”
Longmire (Netflix) American contemporary Western series with unflappable, likeable sheriff and his Native American deputy administering vigilante justice on nearby reservation. Family fare. A&E canceled the series after three seasons and Netflix picked it up for another three, for six seasons of comforting escape, good scenery. See The Untold Truth Of Longmire (Looper, interestingYouTube commentary on the series) "A true original in the crowded world of TV police procedurals."
• 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. (2004-2010, streaming on Hulu). I admit it; I watched it faithfully (addicted) for several seasons and was FURIOUS about the cop-out ending. "Because at its best, it was the most fun you could have watching TV."~ New York Times. 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.
Mad Men (2007-2015, streaming on Netflix) In 1960s New York, alpha male Don Draper struggles to stay on top of the heap in the high-pressure world of Madison Avenue advertising firms. He is also the father of young children. "[W]hat it really is, is “I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. What do other people see?” And that’s because I’ve created this false self. Just that sentence that I gave you right there — I would have never thought that was the subject of a TV show if I hadn’t sat in a room with David Chase for four years. Even though it is the substance of our lives." ~creator Matthew Weiner, as told to Jeremy Egner, New York Times
• 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. She's not standard issue and does have issues.
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 (free on Amazon Prime). What happens behind the curtains at the symphony is just as captivating as what happens on stage. Somewhere around Season 4 it goes astray (in my view), but otherwise it's fun to watch.
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (Amazon Prime and elsewhere) A genteel widow moves to London to start her life anew at the dowdy Claremont Hotel, where she meets a young aspiring writer and learns that real family ties can be chosen, not inherited.
Mum (I've watched on Public Television, but you can find it on BritBox, Amazon Prime). See Jack Seale's review (Guardian, 5-15-19): "magnificent TV that will put sunshine in your heart." I love it for the leading "couple."
• 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). Thought-provoking.
Nobel Norwegian television series that depicts Norway's military involvement in Afghanistan.
Occupied (Norwegian: Okkupert) is a Norwegian political thriller TV series on Netflix.
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.) Anticipate bingeing; it's pretty suspenseful.
• The Pallisers (a 1974 BBC television adaptation of Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, set in Victorian era England with a backdrop of parliamentary life)
The Paradise (BBC and PBS's Masterpiece Classic), a British costume drama set in a fictional department store in northern England (Selfridge's).
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.

Perpetual Grace.The "10-episode series follows James (Jimmi Simpson), a young grifter, as he attempts to prey upon Pastor Byron Brown (Ben Kingsley), who turns out to be far more dangerous than James suspects. It turns out Byron and his wife Lillian (Jacki Weaver), known as Pa and Ma, have used religion to bilk hundreds of innocent people out of their life savings."~Amanda N'Duka, Deadline 
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(Stream on Netflix; originally Sundance) Convicted of rape and murder at age 18, Daniel Holden (played by Aden Young) spends 19 years on death row until DNA evidence brings the verdict into question. The series is slow-paced but compelling, and as the mystery at the heart of the story unfolds, the characters are complex and real enough that I at least was curious about all of them. Keep a hankie on hand in the final season, for both the happy and more difficult scenes. Wonderful, satisfying, artful television.
• Revenge (preposterous but fairly addictive high-junk TV)
Rita: How the hit Danish dramedy went global (BBC) . "It’s one of the most popular show in Denmark, but it isn’t another ‘Nordic noir’ – Jennifer Keishin Armstrong examines how Rita, and its titular character, became so popular."
River A six-part cop potboiler in which some of the best characters are "voices." Stellan Skarsgard is superb, playing complex part. I loved it, but some have trouble getting into it.
• 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. I found it powerful but grim. Two strong black women lead, and the actors playing crooked New Jersey cops are excellent bad guys.
Shetland (I'm seeing it on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and BritBox and am not sure where the many seasons are all available). A slow-paced but interesting, likeable crime drama, set on a major island.
The Shield (2002-2008) '“The Shield” has a perfect pilot and a perfect finale. And everything in between is pretty great, too. “The Shield” believes in a fallen world, where sinners and saints suffer alongside one another.' Breaking the conventional formula of the cop genre, THE SHIELD plays out in a tough, morally ambiguous world in which the line between good and bad is crossed every day. It focuses on the tension between a group of corrupt but effective cops led by Detective Vic Mackey, a captain with the burden of bringing them down as well as reducing crime in her district, and a City Councilman out for his own political gain.' Stream on Hulu or FX Plus
Shtisel (Israeli Netflix series) provides a fascinating look into ultra-orthodox life in Israel. See also "Orthodox"
• • • •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)
Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan (PBS) This session with James Corden focuses on shows that go viral.
This Is England (streaming on Amazon)
• 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 (Streaming on Amazon) Nontraditional family drama, in which Maura Pfefferman (played by Jeffrey Tambor), previously the patriarch of a dysfunctional family, becomes the matriarch (and onscreen is a lot more simpatico than her kids).
Trapped Icelandic, suspense.
• 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. It's interesting to see how they're both the same and quite different.
Unbelievable (Netflix) As a traumatized young woman (Kaitlyn Dever as Marie Adler) reports being raped by an intruder, she faces a whirlwind of emotions--and increasingly skeptical questions from the police, as two female detectives investigate similar attacks. Or read the story itself: An Unbelievable Story of Rape (T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and Ken Armstrong, The Marshall Project, 12-16-15) An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That’s where our story begins.
• Under the Greenwood Tree. In this lighthearted romance from Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy, the beautiful new village school teacher is pursued by three suitors: a working-class man, a landowner, and the vicar.
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.

• Unorthodox (Netflix). Read On Unorthodox: The Hasidim Are Not An Anomaly (Leah Lax, Lilith, 5-13-2020)
• Upstairs, Downstairs (PBS, Masterpiece, 1971-75) Classic.

• Veep (not my cup of tea, but many love this comedy series)
• Vera (consistently satisfying British crime drama, based on Ann Cleeves novels, starring Brenda Blethyn)
Veronica Mars (2004-2007, streaming on Amazon, maybe) "While it lasted, it was a peerless blend of neo-noir mystery and teenage romantic drama....it was mainly about the deft, soulful performances of Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni as Veronica and Keith, the damaged outsiders who shared a talent for sleuthing and a devotion to justice. Playing an obstinate 17-year-old coming of age while coping with the losses of her mother and her best friend, Bell was a testy heartbreaker." ~Mike Hale, New York Times
Victoria (PBS)

Wanted (Netflix) Rebecca Gibney and Geraldine Hakewill play polar-opposite strangers (and wonderful characters) who run for their lives after witnessing a murder, while being chased by the police, drug dealers, and assorted bad guys. Definitely addictive, though Season 2 is not as good as Season 1.
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." Margaret Lyons, NY Times: 'There are two “West Wing”s: Aaron Sorkin created and guided it for four seasons, and John Wells picked up and ran with it for three more. They both have their strengths. Sorkin’s has his signature aspirational patter dialogue, obsession with minutia and operatic sense of hope. Wells’s contains his momentum and narrative heft.'
Wild Wild Country, as the New Yorker calls it, a "tabloid epic of the American frontier," except in this case the bad guys are featured in a six-episode documentary about a controversial guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, kicked out of India in the seventies and relocated in a sparsely settled part of Oregon that it starts taking over. Who needs a plot when things like this take place and someone captures them with a video camera? If you know nothing about this bit of American history, don't read the New Yorker review in advance; let it unfold as a surprising story about life on this strange planet.
• • • •The Wire (2002-2008, on HBO Go) One of the best series ever. The dark side of Baltimore ports. "It was a social story told on an American tapestry. Just happened to be in the hood."~

More ledes
A helpful tool: GoWatchIt, the New York Times' "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 weekly Watching" feature provides helpful brief reviews of what's hot any given week.
JustWatch US Easily find out where to watch your favorite movies & TV shows in the United States. Choose your favorite streaming providers in the WatchBar and see what’s on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and more than 85 other legal streaming providers.
The 30 Best International TV Shows of the Decade (Mike Hale,NY Times, 12-20-19)
Best TV Shows of 2020 (NY Times) Includes “Schitt’s Creek,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Vida,” “Pen15" and “I May Destroy You.”
Best Original Shows to Stream on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (Marshall Honorof & Henry T. Casey, Tom's Guide, 11-30-18)
TV Guide Most Popular Shows
24 Best TV Shows of 2018 (Esquire Editors, 12-31-18)
Fall 2017 TV Survey: 35 Best Current Shows

You Should See ‘Not Fade Away,’ a Great Movie That Should Have Been a Greater TV Show (Sean Fennessey, Grantland, 4-30-13)
The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos’ (New York Times, 1-10-19)
Readers, Streamers, and Watchers Facebook page (Hat tip to Marcy Davis for launching this exchange of recommendations. Apply to join the discussion!)
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

[Back to Top]
Post a comment