Network television returns in a few weeks, after the long summer break. What to binge watch on a cool(ish) autumn night before all those cliffhangers get resolved? Here are seven suggestions from moody procedurals to bawdy comedies.
Broad City If you somehow didn’t get caught up in the hubbub surrounding last winter’s debut of Broad City, the Amy Poehler-produced comedy about two very funny best friends muddling through their lives as mid-20s New Yorkers, you’ve got all fall to catch up before the second season airs in 2015. Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer, the show creators and stars, are UCB alums with a knack for turning the most mundane aspects of modern urban existence (overeager personal trainers, losing your iPhone, missing the FedEx delivery guy) into laugh-out-loud-even-when-you’
Whitechapel and more BBC Crime Drama Fun More than just a better-than-average, often very creepy BBC crime drama, Whitechapel is also a classic odd couple pairing combining the uptight, obsessive-compulsive Detector Inspector Joseph Chandler, and his garrulous, copper’s cop of a right-hand man, Detective Superintendent Ray Miles. For political reasons, D.I. Chandler has been dumped in Whitechapel, an out-0f-the-way, working class neighborhood in London, best known as the former haunt of Jack the Ripper. Although his team distrusts him as a posh interloper at first (always the class undercurrents with BBC shows), they come to devise an unconventional approach to tracking down Whitechapel’s most twisted criminals, employing a scholar of criminal history along the way. If you come to the end of Whitechapel, consider watching Wallander, another BBC show I love, starring Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander, a moody, vaguely doomed detective. Also, it’s a British drama that is supposed to take place in Sweden, and every home, office and police station is full of clean, beautiful modernist design. Finally, if you’re a national security nerd, a journalism nerd, or just plain BBC nerd, watch State of Play–Bill Nighy, undersung hero of the big and small screens, as an arch newspaper editor will make you squeal with delight. All three are available on Hulu; Wallander is also available commercial-free on Netflix. –Annaliese Griffin
The Knick When I started hearing buzz about The Knick, a Cinemax original series starring Clive Owen as a trailblazing surgeon in a New York City hospital at the turn of the century, I ignored it. A finely written and acted period medical drama sounded great and all, but $15 more to those extortionists at Time Warner for a premium network that I honestly kind of forgot existed? No thanks. I held out about three weeks, but then happened to catch the first episode on HBO, which owns Cinemax and was trying to lure people over. It worked: one call to Time Warner later (ugh), I was fully immersed in a world when even surgical procedures that are considered routine today–an appendectomy or C-section–were life-or-death experiments for doctors flying by the seats of their surgical gowns. Dr. John Thackeray, the brilliant but drug-addicted and difficult head surgeon who is the central character, at one point proudly extolls the advances his profession has made by proclaiming that in 20 years, the life expectancy for the average American male has risen from 39 to the grand old age of 47. As you might imagine, the setting lends itself to some unflinching examples of the intense racism, sexism, social inequality, and corruption that pervaded at the time, not to mention extreme gore and medical oddities. I’m not in the business of dropping spoilers, but let’s just say that if you’ve lost sight of things to be grateful for, this show will make you consider adding the discovery that syphillis can be treated with penicillin to your list. Airing on Cinemax, although the first episode is available on HBOGo. –KH
You’re the Worst This FX comedy about two emotionally-stunted misanthropes who try to use each other for sex and unwittingly get sucked into a relationship isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun, quick watch with a lot more edge than the typical half-hour of mediocrity trotted out by the mainstream networks. Creator Stephen Falk previously worked on Weeds and Orange Is the New Black, and there is a similar sensibility here, although the humor is more barbed and reminiscent of another worthwhile LA-based indie non-rom-com, Party Down. The show centers on Jimmy, a nihilistic British writer who gets kicked out of his ex-girlfriend’s wedding after verbally eviscerating her in front of her guests, and Gretchen, the jaded music publicist who goes home with him after watching it go down. The couple’s early “courtship” essentially has them competing to see who can be the bigger asshole, which can be very funny, but the payoff comes later in the season, when you get to see a real, albeit guarded and dark, chemistry develop between them. Patches of uneven writing and familiar territory (supporting characters are derivative of Tracy Jordan, the kid from About a Boy, Ross Geller, and others) are outweighed the good parts of this show: an excellent cast of relative unknowns, sharp dialogue, and a dose of sincerity lurking beneath the snark. Airs on FX on Thursdays at 10:30; old episodes available online or OnDemand for cable subscribers; you can also watch on Amazon Prime, though not for free. –KH
The Blacklist Take the indsider-y Washington soap opera of Sacndal. Mix in a dash of national security hysteria a la Homeland, and then add some of the smugly evil, yet intensely appealing smooth operator vibes from House of Cards (with maybe a drop of of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter), and you’ve got The Blacklist. James Spader, who was handsome in a serpentine way as a younger man and is really owning his balder, rounder mid-life, stars as Raymond Reddington, a former U.S. spy turned fixer for international bad apples. Red has decided he wants the worst of the worst–terrorists, chemical weapons makers, human traffickers–stopped, and that he wants to play out his obsession with a young FBI agent (played by Megan Boone) in the process. It’s smartly trashy, and utterly addictive. Available on Netflix. –AG
The Good Wife Are you watching The Good Wife? If not, you should be. If you think it’s some ladies who lunch show about a disgraced politician’s wife, think again. Not convinced? Here are five reasons to tune in. 1. Turns out that Juliana Marguilies is way more than just Mrs. Dr. Doug Ross–she’s consistently amazing as the show’s lead, Alicia Florrick. 2. The Good Wife is a primer on money, power and influence in our legal system. 3. Michael J. Fox is a show stealer as a scruples-free rival attorney who loves messing with Alicia Florrick. 4. It’s one of the most nuanced depictions of modern marriage on television, or anywhere else, for that matter. 5. Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming, Amy Sedaris, Martha Plimpton and pretty much everyone who plays a judge on the show–seriously, best casting ever. Also, The Good Wife was filming all over Williamsburg this summer, so it should be fun to watch how McCarren Park was transformed into Chicago this season. Seasons 1-4 are on Hulu, you’ll have to watch 5 on Amazon Prime, though Hulu should have it soon. –AG
The Wire--soon to be remastered in HD and re-aired in its entirety Have you seriously not watched The Wire yet? You know, that show that everyone tells you is the best thing they’ve ever seen on TV? Well, consider me another one of those people; it really is that good. There is a reason that, eight years after the last episode aired, Twitter was on fire last week after HBO announced plans to re-master the entire series in HD and re-air it sequentially at some point this fall. Set aside the time, you won’t be sorry. Yes, it’s a commitment of five long seasons, and yes, David Simon makes you work to keep track of the hundreds of players and interwoven plotlines, but it is a masterpiece that has the power to change the way you see the world, or at the very least the way you see television. The show lays bare the gamut of intractable problems facing urban Baltimore: corruption, a failing education system, racism, a deadly drug trade, sex trafficking, suffocating poverty, heroin addiction, and a grim, ever-increasing body count, but it does so in a nuanced way that leaves you constantly questioning which of the complex, expertly-drawn characters you want to be rooting for. Ultimately, everyone has to do what they can to survive, but the emotional pull of The Wire comes from watching each person reconcile that reality with his or her own moral compass. In the words of Omar Little, who is not only my favorite character on the show but one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever encountered in any dramatic medium, “a man’s got to have a code,” and seeing the codes that people live by even under brutal circumstances makes for some moving television. Available on HBOGo and free on Amazon Prime right now. –KH