If you feel like you’ve already seen everything, here are some under-the-radar TV options to tide you over as we weather coronavirus together.
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Being informed about the spread of COVID-19 and its devastating effects on the global community is critical. But we can all acknowledge that staying attuned to the news every waking hour has only heightened our collective anxiety and sense of foreboding. One of the few salves for those fortunate enough to have reliable WiFi and access to cable and streaming services has been the chance to catch up with TV shows that had previously passed us by and might offer momentary respite from the coronavirus and its attendant confinement.
But before one more website or well-meaning friend reads you the riot act for having never seen Breaking Bad or The Wire, or parrots the popular thinking that Fleabag is comedy manna (not that it isn’t), we thought we’d recommend a handful of superlative, binge-able series that have been relatively neglected by the culture at large. And while living through fictional characters’ everyday circumstances might seem like a counterintuitive way to cope with a very real period of isolation, the five shows below might actually offer some useful perspective. (Click through each show title for access to it via Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.)
This little-seen, under-marked Sundance TV gem from creator/writer Ray McKinnon has earned its share of critical praise and some cult appreciation thanks to Netflix but remains inexplicably sidelined from most popular conversation about great modern dramas. The premise — small-town Georgia man Daniel Holden (Aden Young) gets exonerated after years on death row for the murder of his high school girlfriend and attempts to reassimilate into normal life — might sound moribund. But Rectify abounds with soulful insights on guilt, innocence, love and loss. The cast (also including Abigail Spencer, Clayne Crawford and J. Smith-Cameron, etc.) are terrific in service of characters charting a hyper-realistic course toward solace and redemption against extraordinary odds.
Kudos to Starz for giving creator/writer Mike O’Malley’s groundbreaking dramedy four seasons to spread its wings. Survivor’s Remorse is nominally about pro-basketball star Cam Calloway (Jesse Usher) and his adaptation to life as an A-list celebrity, but it’s ultimately a dysfunctional-family sitcom with the outlaw spirit of Curb Your Enthusiasm and heart of Schitt’s Creek. That it never benefited from the latter’s groundswell of support is a shame, but it’s not too late to make good and — if nothing else — bear witness to Tichina Arnold’s (Martin, Everybody Hates Chris) career-best turn as the take-no-prisoners, wildly profane Calloway matriarch Cassie.
Nothing can prepare you for how weird this comedy/drama/mystery-thriller buddy series gets in a hurry. The broad strokes of Hap and Leonard are that it’s based on a series of novels by Joe R. Lansdale, set in the 1980s, features first-flight actors including Michael Kenneth Williams (speaking of The Wire), James Purefoy and Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks. Purefoy is Hap, a conscientious Vietnam objector and smart aleck who literally pulls no punches. Leonard is his best friend, still scarred from having fought in the war and dealing with day-to-day life as an openly gay black man in East Texas. Over the course of three seasons, they find themselves in the crosshairs of lovestruck sadists, child killers and politically embedded Klansmen. They’re kind of like the Dukes of Hazzard, just far more tender with one another and up against much graver life-or-death odds. It’s not hard to see how this one was a hard sell, but trust us that it’s worth buying in.
You’d be forgiven for being out of the loop about creepypastas, which are basically internet-user-generated campfire stories that seeped into mainstream consciousness via forums like Reddit. (The infamous Slender Man tale is a frequently cited pillar.) But they also served as a bedrock for the SyFy network’s Channe Zero anthology series. Each of the four installments — from 2016’s initial Candle Cove to ’18’s concluding Dream Door — creates a Twilight Zone of its own somewhere between lucid dreams and waking strange, searching for closure to open wounds. It’s eerie, artful and the closest thing to what Nightmare on Elm Street auteur Wes Craven might have concocted for the 21st-century disaffected set.
We know there’s a lot on TV at any one time. Still, how exactly has this Dave Holstein-created weekly half-hour (currently airing on Showtime) that’s executive produced (and often directed) by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind visionary Michel Gondry and stars his muse, Jim Carrey, not caught fire? Carrey plays Jeff, who also happens to play a Mr. Rogers-like character named Mr. Pickles on public television. He’s good and he’s decent, but he’s also burdened by a personal tragedy, pining for his ex-wife Jill (the terrific Judy Greer) and dealing with his tyrannical father/boss Seb (a never-better Frank Langella), the sum total of which culminates in what could be described as personal awakening by way of total breakdown. Kidding is, as the title teases, very funny, but without the cringy-ness and ironic distance typical of modern cable comedies. Carrey is excellent, but the show is an ensemble feat and has only grown more confident in its, and Mr. Pickles’s, mission of bringing joy and jarring candor to the masses.