As COVID continues, these shows just might help get you through it.
As a screenwriter and TV Series creator, I’m highly critical of what gets made, not because I’m an elitist but because like everyone, I love a good story, quality content, and being entertained. (Cue Russell Crowe in Gladiator: “Are you not entertained?”)
Thanks to the pandemic, adults are watching 40 percent more TV than they have in years past, according to statista.com. As COVID-19 turns to COVID-2020, some TV productions have resumed (implementing COVID compliance, of course), making for interesting set structures, cast and story dynamics, but most importantly, more things to bide our time.
Now that our couches have officially marked us as their own (somewhere there are secret casts of our butt cheeks), everyone is asking, “What the hell should I watch?” I preface this by saying, I’m no expert, but as we all live out the rest of the year mostly cooped up at home and hungry for new entertainment, it seems befitting to make a few suggestions on what might be worth a watch. Keep in mind, the shows I mention are only ones I’ve watched. There are dozens of other new series out there that I haven’t gotten to just yet.
My curated list is by no means the be-all and end-all of what’s worth your time. Consider them mere suggestions while you continue to social distance and wait this thing out. I’ve put together a list of shows that have come back on the air, new releases, what’s next on my watch list, and my holiday tradition favorites.
Disney+ / Fantasy/Drama
The Mandalorian’s second season is by far one of the more anticipated on any platform since the pandemic began. The series is centered around protecting “the child” (aka baby Yoda) until it can safely be taken to more of its kind (you mean there are more adorable Yodas out there?) by way of the most skilled warriors in the Star Wars realm, the Mandalorians.
Audiences flocked to the new streaming service Disney+ as the promise of a far more interesting Star Wars spinoff came to be. Like a bunch of suckers, we became unapologetically obsessed with baby Yoda, even though we still don’t technically know his name because he’s referred to ad nauseam as “the child.”
So, was Season One the best thing ever? I mean, not really. It was little slow in the beginning, and the story wasn’t entirely as brilliant as I expected. We all know Pedro Pascal from Narcos is an extraordinary actor, and The Mandalorian didn’t showcase his talents very much until the second half of the season. (Oh, hang on to your pants, I’m not done.) It was, however, a refreshing take on a cult classic series. All that said, when Disney announced it would be releasing Season Two on October 30? My teenagers, partner, and I were chomping at the bit.
Season Two has not been a letdown. In fact, regardless of how cheesy oversized killer spiders may seem (hint: Episode Two), we get to see more baby Yoda, Pascal is more alive and complex, and Timothy Olyphant kicks off the first episode. Viewers experience epic battles, wild species that only exist in the Star Wars realm, funny banter, and of course, visual stunners. The series is directed by Swingers star and Avengers: Endgame director, Jon Favreau (yeah, the same guy who starred in the movie Chef), whose stylized approach to story gets to shine a bit brighter with small jabs of humor, unbelievable wardrobe, and an outstanding cast. The series is worth the couch time.
HBO / Drama/Suspense
Nicole Kidman is the quintessential triple threat: She can sing, dance, and damn, can she act! Now that Big Little Lies has ended (for now), HBO’s The Undoing starring Kidman and Hugh Grant is goddamn fantastic. Written by David E. Kelly, the series revolves around the secret lives of the private school elite, but it is so much more. This series explores the murder of a mother, the mystery surrounding it, the secret and tattered lives of those we love, betrayal, the power of wealth, the dismantling of relationships, and of course the kids desperately affected by it all.
The Fraser family, Grace (played by Kidman), Jonathan (played by Grant), and Henry (played by Noah Jupe) live a charmed life. Grace is a thriving therapist publishing her first book, Jonathan is a successful pediatric oncologist, and Henry is a well-adjusted preteen with a great education and two parents who love him. In the series pilot, this happily married, well-functioning family seems ideal until new mom Elena comes into their lives. Grace takes an interest in Elena and in a few brief exchanges, Grace begins to wonder what trouble or pain Elena is in. From there, the story unravels one steady mind-blowing thread at a time.
Kidman and Grant show immense depth, and the cast, which includes Donald Sutherland, Matilda De Angelis, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Édgar Ramírez, Lily Rabe, and Noma Dumezweni, is exquisite. The series is provocative, suspenseful, beautifully shot, and addicting.
Emily in Paris
Netflix / Comedy/Romance
Lily Collins is an actress known for her role as Snow White in Mirror Mirror, her prominent eyebrows, sweet doe-like brown eyes, and being the daughter of legendary musician Phil Collins. When Netflix announced the release of a new series starring Collins, I was skeptical. Was this Netflix’s attempt to take a stab at its version of a Hallmark or Lifetime Channel? It kind of is, but the quirky series is just sweet enough to stand on its own.
Collins plays Emily Cooper, an ambitious, peppy, confident marketing executive from Chicago. Cooper is hired to work in Paris for a year to create social media campaigns and brand messaging for French companies looking for that American perspective. Unable to speak French, Cooper finds herself in a predicament as her new boss, the tough-minded, sultry, and stylish Sylvie Grateau (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) isn’t fond of her, her American tactics, or her inability to speak French. Challenged with proving her worth in a foreign country, Cooper handles the fish-out-of-water scenario with an optimistic hopefulness that you can’t help but admire. Cooper makes fast friends with Mindy Chen (Ashley Park), co-workers Julien (Samuel Arnold) and Luc (Bruno Gouery), and her neighbor (and secret crush) Gabriel (Lucas Bravo). The situational dialogue is fast-paced with an influx of humor (some clever, some predictable), interesting relationship dynamics, and the self-exploration through the eyes of a twentysomething.
This modern-day story of an American in Paris introduces you to a character you’ll fall in like with. The show is cute and endearing, and all things considered, Emily in Paris is a wonderful reprieve from the heavy, dramatic, fear-inducing options now streaming—in the real world and on networks. Season Two is in the works.
This Is Us
NBC & Hulu / Drama
This Is Us took viewers by storm four seasons ago when it first aired in 2016. The series follows a family of five over the course of their lives and confronts race, the family dynamic, love, alcoholism, loss, adoption, and every real-life drama that most people relate to. Known for its ability to emotionally manipulate viewers (because we cry almost every episode), This Is Us was a revelation on network television upon its debut. Audiences everywhere immediately fell in love with Jack, Rebecca, Kevin, Randall, and Kate Pearson, and have loved them—and every new character introduced—every season since.
This Is Us aired Season Four, “Forty: Part One” on October 27, and Tuesday nights have never been better. Filmed during COVID, the show launches into a celebration of the sibling’s 40th birthday, yet it doesn’t miss a beat in addressing the racial and systemic injustices of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the political instability of the White House, and the everyday challenges of the pandemic. The episode revealed some major story shockers and insights, surprising audiences with an uncertain rift between Kevin, Randall, and Kate that created a disconnect we haven’t really seen play out (especially not so severely) since the series began. If you haven’t succumbed to the call of the series, catch the first three seasons on Hulu or peacocktv.com. You’ll thank me, I swear.
I’m a fan of ABC’s Black-ish, and Grown-ish is by far my favorite spinoff series created by Kenya Barris and Larry Wilmore. Starring Yara Shahidi, Grown-ish is told from the perspective of Zoey Johnson, as she navigates honestly and candidly through college life as a young Black woman at the fictitious CalU. Zoey faces the ups and downs of being an upperclassman, embracing her strong feminist self, adulthood, boyfriends and sex, career decisions, drinking and smoking weed from time to time, discovering her inner activist, and if you’re a fan, you know Season Two left us with a cliffhanger.
With the launch of Season Three this year, viewers picked up with some much-needed answers, and while the show got cut short because of the pandemic, the rest of Season Three is set to release early 2021. Much like its original series, the show is a single-camera comedy that often breaks the fourth wall when Zoey shares observations with viewers. The writing lends to intellectual dialogue and pivotal societal and cultural narratives intended to enlighten and educate. Grown-ish is the kind of show teenagers and adults need to watch.