TV series to watch over summer
It’s been a really tough year, and summer is the perfect time to log off from social media for a little while, give yourself a break and binge watch your troubles away.
You’ll find my many suggestions below, with a few caveats: I have excluded reality TV, I watch far too many American shows, and my blind spots include Scandinavian crime and animation (sorry, BoJack Horseman fans).
If you’re seeking comfort…
You might be in need of the kind of show that gives you that wrapped-in-a-blanket-with-a-cup-of-tea feeling.
This Is Us is a schmaltzy drama, and while it certainly has a range of problematic elements to it, it is also reminiscent of Parenthood and Brothers and Sisters in its singular focus on the emotional conflicts and deep bonds of a family, plus it’s a tear-jerker if you’re in need of a good cry.
Younger, featuring the delightful Sutton Foster, is a show that combines workplace comedy with romantic drama and a touch of subterfuge (the premise is based on a 40 year old woman pretending to be 26, which sounds ridiculous but relax and go with it). In a similar vein, The Wrong Girl (based off Zoë Foster Blake’s very popular novel) has an interesting workplace setting and solid romantic shenanigans.
Jane the Virgin is full of heart, and also full of highly entertaining telenovela style drama to keep you watching. The Durrells is a delightful English feel-good family show, with a touch of quirk. And if things are really dire, perhaps a rewatch of Gilmore Girls might even be in order (oh yes, we’ll get the Gilmore Girls revival a bit further down.)
If you need out-of-this-world escapism…
People can be resistant to The 100 because it’s main characters are teenagers, and the first few episodes of season one aren’t great, but it’s actually a wonderful science-fiction/fantasy show with plenty of action, cliffhangers, plot twists and intense emotion. It had a rocky third season this year with a some controversial plot decisions and character deaths, but it still remains an ambitious, interesting and feminist show. I’m looking forward to season four.
Then there is Stranger Things – most of you will have already watched this wonderful and much-hyped show, but if you haven’t, escape back to the 1980s and enjoy the sweetest friendships even put to screen, the resurgence of Winona Ryder’s career, and the joy of understanding The Upside Down reference everyone kept making in the aftermath of the US election. It’s so, so worth it. While we’re talking binge-worthy sci-fi Netflix shows, the most recent contender is The OA. This is a very, very odd show that asks you to accept some really bizarre ideas. For what it’s worth, I watched five of the eight episodes before reaching a point where I said “nope, I just can’t”, and skipped ahead to the end (and holy hell, the end of this show is…something else.) That said, it’s a show some people will really connect with, and it’s definitely worth exploring.
There is also the always reliable Game of Thrones or, if you want to travel back through time and you enjoy handsome men and feisty ladies, Outlander and Poldark. And if you’ve got lots and lots of time on your hands, a penchant for brooding brothers and an appetite for demons, why not binge every season ever of Supernatural (12 and counting).
If you’re hoping to laugh again…
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is weird, wacky, sharp, funny and moving, all at once. Also, it has lots of excellent musical interludes. (Here is one of my favourites.) Please Like Me continues to be one of Australia’s best and most successful comedies, with a growing fan base worldwide. The Family Law is an adaptation of Benjamin Law’s fantastic memoir, and it’s super sweet and very funny.
My most reliable dip-in-and-out of comedy is Brooklyn Nine-Nine – it’s very soothing in the best way, and brimming with great jokes. Veep is as dark, foul-mouthed and relevant as ever, and I love it with all of my heart.
The Good Place is a light and fluffy new comedy that doesn’t quite get everything right but showcases Kirsten Bell and Ted Danson at their comedic best. Catastrophe is biting and brutal and fantastic, all at once. Lovesick is a solid rom-com for anyone who enjoys slow burn couples. Fleabag and The Search Party are smart, interesting and perfect for fans of Girls. Lady Dynamite is definitely the weirdest comedy I watched all year – its humour is very dark and idiosyncratic – but once I was into it, I was all in and it made me laugh a lot. Warning: you will want to buy a pug dog by the final ep.
Finally, if Titus from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can’t lift your spirits, no one can.
If you enjoy getting caught up in someone else’s drama…
The Affair is an intense show about two couples, and the way their lives are intertwined – it’s a favourite among our staff and its second season was voted in our top 10 DVDs of the year. Speaking of our best DVDs of the year, if you’ve read Christos Tsiolkas' books, then you can’t miss Barracuda, a mini-series adaptation of his most recent novel.
A lot of people I know are raving about The Crown, a sumptuous, beautifully shot show about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. I confess I haven’t watched it yet, but I intend to. I have watched Pitch, a soapy sports show that is less about sport and more about the characters – and provides a fascinating look at what might happen if a woman was to play alongside men in a pro baseball league.
Billions is about rich people being awful to one another, Vikings is about Vikings being awful to one another, The Girlfriend Experience is a fascinating show about sex, relationships and being an escort (and rich people being awful to each other), The Get Down is a quality drama about the music scene in New York in 70s, Luke Cage is the logical next choice for Jessica Jones fans, Roots is a historical drama centred around the experience of American slavery, Queen Sugar is family drama at its heightened best (based off this novel), Halt and Catch Fire is close to my heart and one of my absolute favourite workplace dramas ever put to screen, The Americans has consistently been one of the most quality shows on TV for the last several years, Rectify is thoughtful, moving and often overlooked, and Rake continues to be one of Australia’s most endearing scoundrels.
(Side note: Rake star Richard Roxburgh just released his first children’s book.)
If you want watch a show that got people talking this year…
Is Westworld worth it? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely compelling television, with lots of big ideas, twists, turns and things to be figured out. It certainly set the internet on fire. In Australia, the sci-fi drama that got us talking was the excellent Cleverman (one of our top 10 DVDs of the year) and remains a must-watch for everyone.
It might feel like a long time ago now, but one of my favourite shows of the year was Orange Is The New Black’s fourth season, which was funny, sad, important, provoking, challenging and worth every second. I cried my way through the last two episodes, and had a nightmare about something that happened at the end of the ninth episode.
A show that is popping up on everyone’s best of year lists is Atlanta, a complex, intelligent dramedy starring Donald Glover, who was the MVP of pretty much every episode of Community ever, and I’m so glad he’s garnering so much praise now - Atlanta is original, ambitious, funny and surreal, and it deserves every accolade it gets.
I didn’t watch The Night Manager, but I did follow Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift’s relationship very closely, and that certainly got a lot of press coverage.
If you’re looking to have complicated feelings about a show you love….
I love The Good Wife to a disturbing degree, but even I couldn’t get on board with the final season that aired this year. It was a mess. The same goes for my dear, darling The Vampire Diaries, which found its stride again in its excellent sixth season only to lose the plot entirely in its seventh. (Still worth watching though, especially for those who enjoy scenes of beautiful people sitting in dark rooms thinking about kissing other beautiful people.)
UnReal came out of the gates with an amazing first season, and then failed to back that up with it’s very disappointing second season. I have followed The Walking Dead to some of the darkest places on television, but I could not stomach the gruesome, stomach-twisting tableau of violence and gore involving Negan and his barbed-wire baseball bat in the first episode of the most recent season, and I haven’t watched it since.
Finally, The Gilmore Girls revival. My most highly anticipated show of the year – of course it was going to let me down (Fat shaming! Rory’s life! Lane’s life! The Overrated Red Dress! Lack of Jess! Lack of shirtless Jess! The musical! The Life and Fucking Death Brigade!) but still, I can’t deny enjoying the experience of being in Stars Hollow again, and Emily and Paris remain glorious.
Nina Kenwood is the marketing manager for Readings.