We all need a little escape during these trying times….how about taking a virtual trip by way of the best television programming available?
Travel to Europe and LAUGH OUT LOUD!!!
Gavin & Stacey – When I started writing this blog post I immediately thought of this show and promptly went down a rabbit hole of clips from all four seasons on YouTube. It remains one of the funniest and most heartwarming programs I’ve ever seen. I watched from when it premiered in 2007 while I was living in Ireland and am delighted that American audiences are now discovering it in 2020. Pre-Hollywood James Corden is one of a stellar cast of Welsh and English actors including the side-buckling Ruth Jones, who tell the story of two families, one from Barry, Wales and the other from Essex, England. Every single character (even the obnoxious ones) are delightful and, if you can get used to the somewhat hard-to-understand Welsh accents (watch with subtitles if the dialogue confuses!), you will forever count this show as a top ten. Added bonus – they came out with a totally on-brand Christmas Special in 2019! Run, don’t walk, to catch it on HBOMax, iTunes or Amazon Prime Video.
The Office: (UK) – There is an on-going debate over which is the better sitcom, The Office: UK or The Office: An American Workplace. Although the American version is far more enjoyable to watch, what with its nine seasons and huge supporting cast, nothing can match the uncomfortable genius of Ricky Gervais as David Brent. Whereas Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott was granted a pleasing redemption story and exited the series on a high note, David Brent (thankfully) remained the most cringeworthy of characters throughout the whole of the two season UK series. Although the series wrapped up neatly with a two-part Christmas Special, this show retained its dark and uncomfortable tone from start to finish. You can watch The Office: UK on Hulu, HBOMax and Amazon Prime Video.
Derry Girls – This critical darling, a smash success across the pond (98% on Rotten Tomatoes) is set in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles”, a period of social unrest in the 1990s. It follows a group of teenage girls (and one boy) who go to school together at a Catholic all-female school and delivers the irreverent, dark humor fans of English and Irish humor (or do we say “humour” in this case?) expect. The writing is amazing and the ensemble cast is spot-on. It just got renewed for a third season on Netflix so watch without fear of cancellation!!
Travel Back in Time FOR DRAMA
The Alienist – This adaptation of Caleb Carr’s brilliant 2002 novel of the same name, the dreamy, tortured male leads undergo soul-searching journeys thanks to the women in their lives and Dakota Fanning, as New York’s first female detective, is a smart and unadorned woman whose main purpose is not to act as a love interest but as a moral compass and voice of reason. It’s dark, spooky, gripping and you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat. NOTE – If you love The Alienist give “Vienna Blood” a look-see. Similar in tone and esthetic. The Alienist can be viewed on Hulu, TNT and HBOMax.
Belgravia – Attention “Downton Abbey” fans! This six part mini-series is an adaptation of a 2016 novel by Julian Fellowes, the creator behind my VERY favorite show, Downton Abbey. Viewers will recognize the carefully fleshed out characters and complex back stories centered around (unsurprisingly) two star-crossed lovers from at-odds families. PBS fans will see some familiar faces and, unlike many English programs, things are happily tied up with a big beautiful bow by the close of the sixth act. Fun, pretty to look at and engaging, it’s just the escape it promises to be. Watch it on EPIX/Amazon Prime.
World on Fire – Helen Hunt and Sean Bean star in this gripping historical drama about the interconnected lives of ordinary people from Britain, Poland, France, America and Germany, during World War II. The script follows the chaotic and heartbreaking journeys of several families in 1939-1940, from the Nazi invasion of Poland to the fall of Paris. You’ll find yourself quickly invested in the fates of each and every character, as all of them play pivotal roles in the war but are ultimately united by their struggle to survive under unendurable circumstances. Available on PBS/Amazon Prime Video.
ESCAPE to Outer Space
Lost in Space – How much excitement can one family take? This remake of the 1960s classic follows the Robinsons (and the robot!) as they journey into outer space to colonize new planets. It’s got drama, heart and a beautiful soundtrack. Parker Posey’s gender-swapped portrayal of the evil Dr. Smith (man, she is wicked) and the bad-ass female lead characters of Judy and Maureen are other happy surprises. FUN FACT – The original 1965 TV version of Lost in Space was a reimagining of the 1812 novel, Swiss Family Robinson! Find it on Netflix.
War of the Worlds-This scary tale follows a group of survivors struggling to survive after a devastating attack on Earth by intelligent extraterrestrial life forces. It’s a loose interpretation of the H.G. Wells classic but feels
very “of this moment”, both dark and raw and, ultimately, an examination of humanity. I was left unsettled at the close but loved every minute. Available on EPIX/Amazon Prime Video.
Star Trek: Picard – Before it was even released, this show was destined to be a hit. What Trekkie (I only went to one convention, I swear) wouldn’t be excited about a drama centered around the iconic Jean-Luc Picard? The story begins 20 years after Star Trek: Nemesis.The former commander of the Enterprise attempts to find redemption following his decision to quit The Federation in protest after they refused to aid the Romulans, resulting in the destruction of the planet Romulus. Much more character-driven than other versions of the franchise, star Patrick Stewart handles the slow paced, thoughtful storyline like a champ. In a recent interview Michael Charon, “Picard”s showrunner, put to bed any misconceptions that the series was going to be a follow up to Star Trek: Next Generation, “It is a show with a nearly 80-year-old actor playing a 94-year-old man…who has a period of great dismay and disillusionment in his immediate rear view, who has allowed himself to let ties that were formerly very important to him slip or fade away, and who has now re-engaged with the greatly changed world in which he finds himself.” Will there be a second season? “Make it so!” Watch on CBD and Amazon Prime Video.
Take a Drama-Filled Trip TO THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT!
The Morning Show – Believe the hype! I watched this show shortly after it was first released on Apple TV + and was hooked from the first episode. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carnell, it follows internal shakeups and intrigue behind the scenes of a popular morning news program in Manhattan. Obviously drawing parallels from the recent #MeToo movement, it shows the unvarnished misogyny and backbiting from all vantage points. Standouts are Billy Crudup playing an Uber-ambitious network executive and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the tragic victim at the center of the storyline.
The Hunters – “Oh. My. God.” That’s how I felt after watching the very first episode of The Hunters. The all-star cast (Al Pacino! Carol Kane! The Uber-creepy Dylan Baker!) take the viewer on a wild ride through 1970s New York to hunt, you guessed it, escaped Nazis. The disturbing Aschwitz-based flash-backs paint a vivid, heartbreaking backstory and the plot is chock full of awesome fight scenes and brilliant dialogue. Creator David Weil, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, came under fire for historical inaccuracies and many viewers criticized the show for its liberal use of violence and sensationalism. Fair enough….but it still was a blast to watch and I can’t wait to start Season 2 when it returns in 2021. You can stream The Hunters on Amazon Prime Video.
Pennyworth – This program focuses on the early life of Bruce Wayne’s beloved butler, Alfred Pennyworth, a dreamy, tough former British SAS soldier who begins his own security company in a fictionalized version of London in the 1950s and 1960s. The writers played fast and loose with the historical facts and most of the cast are written as over-the top characters but that’s what makes it fun. DC Comics may grow frustrated with the fact that this series is somewhat stand alone and doesn’t add much to the future Batman story but, taken on its own, “Pennyworth” is great fun and fast-moving. It can be streamed on EPIX.
Leave Your Cares Behind for REALITY COMPETITION FUN
Flower Fight – Although this feel-good delight may, at first blush, seem like an incarnation of The Great British Baking Challenge, the longer you watch, the more you realize that this 8 part series is about more than beautiful creations and seemingly impossible challenges. The misfit cast, comprised of an extremely diverse group of misfit, quirky florists, win ribbons AND hearts with their love of their craft and respect for each other. The viewer can’t help but root for each and every contestant, whether or not they are victorious or fall into a heap of blooms. The stunning floral creations showcased on each episode are enough to make the show a must-see but the cast, in the end, are the real winners. Available on Netflix.
Making It – I’ve never been much of a crafter and am not particularly creative but this sweet, fun little show gave me a new found respect for those that are. The always delightful Amy Poehler teams up with “Parks & Recreation” alum Nick Offerman to coach a group of artisans skilled in different forms of media, from felting to woodworking, who compete in both “Faster Craft” and “Master Craft” elimination challenges, culminating in a Final reset with the winner walking away with $100,00.00 and the title of “Master Crafter”. The competition is fun and super entertaining but the true stars of this show are the beautiful creations on display every week. This program was just renewed for a third season and is available on NBC/Hulu.
Next in Fashion – This sleek fashion competition is clearly a grandchild of “Project Runway” but has none of the tired melodrama and treachery (they stopped “making it work”), instead focusing on creativity and cutting edge style. Hosts Tan France of “Queer Eye” fame and author/designer/model Alexa Chung bring a professionalism to their duties and the international cast of contestants are all actually designers working for major fashion houses. True fashion fun can be found on Netflix.
We are always looking for something good to watch these days. Do you have any recommendations? Please share in the comments below! And don’t forget your snacks!