Red Eye Chicago
IT’S TV BINGE TIME
20 shows to watch as you wait out the coronavirus
Due to unprecedented events taking place in the United States and around the world, a lot of us may be finding ourselves staying home more than usual these days. And we’ll be needing things to watch — not just movies, which kill maybe two hours or so, but multiseason TV shows in which we can get happily lost. In between washing our hands and monitoring the latest public health news, here are 20 binge-worthy TV shows available for streaming.
“Tuca & Bertie” (available on Netflix)
This unjustly canceled Netflix series about a friendship between anxious perfectionist song thrush Bertie (voiced by Ali
Wong) and Tuca, a big-hearted, extroverted toucan in recovery for substanceuse issues (Tiffany Haddish), is the only show I’ve watched and immediately wondered, “Does this take place inside my brain?” The premise — from Lisa Hanawalt — is preposterous: It’s an animated show about 30-something bird-women that somehow manages to take on serious content — trauma, mental health, sobriety, workplace sexism — in a cartoon atmosphere that’s insistently fun and bubbly. And while the dichotomy between introverted Bertie and brazen Tuca could fall flat if it were just that, I’ve always seen them as two sides of the same (delightful, complex, vulnerable) personality, and their story as a surreal, comedic metaphor for the way our friends can expand our understanding of our own inner reserves. We all have a little Tuca and Bertie in us.
“Love Is Blind” (available on Netflix)
“Love Is Blind” is not a good TV show. The concept is like “The Bachelor,” with a distinct arranged-marriage vibe, wherein a bunch of conventionally attractive people talk to each other through a wall and then get engaged without knowing what their (conventionally attractive) partners look like. Surprise! They (mostly) try to give their hot mystery dates a shot, cohabiting and planning weddings at a time when most of us are still only committed to the texting-funny-GIFs stage of a relationship. Don’t worry, it gets weirder! The “Love Is
Blind” contestants are inexplicably shepherded through their stress-inducing journey by onetime boy-band star Nick Lachey, and his wife, Vanessa Lachey, best known as host of MTV’s “Total Request Live.” I’ve always found “The Bachelor” unwatchable, but there is so much going on in “Love Is Blind” — outdated gender norms, the horrors of cohabitation writ large, the collision between romance and the allure of one’s phone, insecure and avoidant attachment styles and HEAVY emotions expressed in ways both functional and disastrous. It’s a bad show and you’ll feel bad that you watched it. You also won’t be able to stop yourself.
“The Life of Birds” (PBS; available on
At its root, the anxiety we’re all feeling about coronavirus is about fear of death: the horror of the end of our own lives on this planet, sudden and stark and unknowable, as well as terror of the lives of our loved ones taken from us with a cruel finality. We know that statistically, we are almost certainly safe — knock frantically on wood — and yet we dread. It’s time to be with the birds, light-boned and feathery and endlessly fascinating in their endless ways, absurd-looking or elegant, they of industrious nests and miraculous eggs and fuzzy baby chicks. This PBS documentary series is so vividly shot, it’s incredible in the literal sense of not to be believed (how do they get the cameras so close to the birds?!), and the narration by the inimitable David Attenborough will soothe even the most existential anxiety (that accent!). “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO Now)
I want to hear Larry David’s take on coronavirus because a quarantine sounds like his dream come true. The fictionalized take on the “Seinfeld” creator’s life is wrapping up its 10th season now on HBO, so it’s the perfect time to wind back across the bridges David has burned in his tireless quest to be right, no matter the argument (usually one he started). I won’t defend L.D.’s petty squabbles with friends, family, Mocha Joe, his dry cleaner, an aggressive swan, Joseph from the Nativity scene and a slew of Hollywood folks, BUT David did once refuse to shake Ben Stiller’s recently sneezed-in hand, ruining their relationship while displaying proper outbreak preparedness.
“Monk” (USA Network; available on Amazon Prime Video)
It’s a jungle out there, all right. Tony Shalhoub won three Emmys for his role as Adrian Monk, the titular sleuth bent by the unsolved murder of his wife and the obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias that intensified after her death. I fell for “Monk” in elementary school — it was exciting enough for my older brother and I and not too violent for my younger sister and mom. (Dad napped.) Plotlines dulled as the show trudged on, but there’s enough heart in the script — and intrigue about Trudy’s murder — to make eight seasons worth watching. “Monk” is easy to start and easy to love, and the protagonist’s paranoia over germs has never been more relatable.
“Nathan for You” (Comedy Central; available on Hulu)
Nathan Fielder graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades. He says so at the top of every “Nathan for You” episode before offering businesses ideas that the owners inevitably realize are ludicrous. The fun is in watching them eventually tell Nathan his ideas are terrible and that they don’t want to hang out after taping ends. (He often asks.) Over four seasons, Fielder envisions initiatives like a gas-station rebate that requires customers to camp overnight on a mountain, a cleaning service that deploys 40 housekeepers at once, a bar that circumvents smoking laws by rebranding as a hyper-realistic play — the list goes on. If you like humor that makes you cringe amid an unending uncomfortable silence, throw on “Nathan for You.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC; available on ABC, Netflix, Hulu)
I love this show because, after 16 seasons, the characters have become as familiar as friends. “Grey’s” has always been about relationships — the medicine is just a vehicle to advance the drama! — and how the people around us get us through life’s challenges. Also, it’s set in a hospital full of fictional world-class doctors who somehow always pull out miraculous answers for the most confounding viruses, tumors and medical mysteries. So if it’s hope you need in a time of pandemic, well, pull up “Grey’s” and get acquainted with the doctors of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital.
“For All Mankind” (Apple TV)
The premise: What if the global space race had never ended? What if the Russians had beaten the U.S. to the moon?
How would that have affected NASA’s space program? One hint: In this alternate universe, we would have celebrated some strong female astronauts a lot sooner than we did. Set in the ’60s, the show doesn’t shy away from the societal issues of its time and deftly incorporates elements of history into a fast-moving narrative. It’s fascinating to see historical NASA figures come to life too. You’ll meet John Glenn and a very disappointed Neil Armstrong, and one of the female astronauts (Molly Cobb, played by Sonya Walger) is based loosely on reallife pioneer Jerrie Cobb. The show just completed a 10-episode debut season on Apple TV, and I’m dying to know what happens next.
“Killing Eve” (BBC America; available on Hulu)
Like spy movies, old-school cat-andmouse chases, lively acting and a peek into the mind of a cold-but-charming female assassin who has a complete lack of empathy for anyone except the female agent trying to track her down? This is the series for you. Based on the novel “Codename Villanelle” by Luke Jennings, this series shines in large part because of its strong casting. In 2019, Sandra Oh won a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama for her portrayal of MI5 agent Eve Polastri. Jodie Comer, who plays the assassin Villanelle, won an Emmy Award for best actress in a TV drama this year. So, go ahead. Binge the first two seasons on Hulu and you’ll be all caught up by April 26, when Season 3 begins on BBC America.
“Six Feet Under” (HBO; available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now)
Beginning in 2001 and ending five seasons later in 2005, this HBO drama was, quite literally about life and death: It centered on the Fishers, a Los Angeles family who owned a funeral home, and every episode began with someone’s life ending. Sounds dark, and it was, but this Alan Ball creation was so perfectly cast and elegantly written that I returned for more every Sunday back in the aughts. The characters, not always lovable but having the messy imperfections and annoyances of real life, were always surprising; the message of how those we have lost linger among us was unexpectedly lyrical.
“One Day at a Time” (Netflix; first three seasons available on Netflix)
I idly checked out the first episode of Gloria Calderon Kellett’s reboot of the 1970s sitcom, featuring three generations of a Cuban American family living together in more-or-less harmony, awhile back, thinking it would be something pleasantly sitcommy to pass a half-hour. And, just like that, three seasons went by — and all I wanted was more. This show, led by the powerhouse duo of Justina Machado (also great in “Six Feet Under”) and living legend Rita Moreno, is quite possibly the sweetest, funniest streaming experience I’ve had in years; sitcommy, sure, but utterly charming in its depiction of family love. Netflix canceled the show after three seasons, but it’s returning to the airwaves nonetheless: The cable channel Pop TV will present season four, starting March 24. “Call the Midwife” (PBS; available on Netflix)
Well, there’s only so many times a person can rewatch “Downton Abbey,” so I was in need of a British period drama. A friend recommended this one, set in midcentury and centering on a group of midwife/nurses living in a convent in the working-class London district of Poplar, and I quickly got hooked. This show is based on the real-life memoirs of nurse Jennifer Worth, and it’s sort of the spiritual opposite of “Six Feet Under”: In every episode, a baby is born. In its many seasons (its ninth recently aired in Britain, and at least two more are planned), “Call the Midwife” has explored some unexpectedly gritty territory; this show is far more modern than it appears at first glance, and it has a female energy that’s both empowering and irresistible.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC; available on Hulu)
You’ve probably already binged it twice by now, but it’s smart, it’s funny and, unlike many sitcoms that we’re finding haven’t aged well these days (since when is New York that white, “Friends”?), “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has a wonderfully diverse cast and is standing proof that you can be funny without being offensive. You may think you caught all the brilliant jokes the first two times you binged it, but like with a good book, you’re guaranteed to find something new to laugh at with every rewatch. “Russian Doll” (Netflix)
If you think you’re mired in rut and routine while you’re stuck at home for the foreseeable future, try being Natasha Lyonne in Netflix original “Russian Doll.” Lyonne is delightfully vulgar and sympathetic as Nadia, a woman who is destined (doomed?) to repeat the same party, at which she is the guest of honor, over and over and over again. It sounds like an old trick (a la “Groundhog Day”), but this is a smart take with some unique devices, like the fact that Nadia doesn’t just experience the same night over and over, but she actually dies at the end of each repeated night. Amy Poehler is one of the writers, and her skill at making the day-to-day of a “Parks and Recreation” office interesting for 125 episodes shines in this series about a day that won’t end.
“Westworld” (HBO; available on Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now, Hulu)
The good news: There are only two full seasons of this show (so far; season three premiered Sunday on HBO), so it’s not a huge time commitment. The bad news: Once you start, you’ll probably want to watch it all at once — not good for either productivity or health. This series — in which rich people live out their fantasies in a Wild West-set amusement park hosted by humanoid robots — becomes more twisted and multilayered as it goes along. Add to that the stellar cast (Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, etc.), and this unsettling, violent, visually stunning sci-fi drama might have you, like me, hooked by the end of the first episode.
“Orphan Black” (BBC America; available on Amazon Prime Video)
Yeah, this series — which starts grippingly when a woman sees someone who looks exactly like herself step into the path of an oncoming train — becomes increasingly silly. But the show always remains compelling, thanks to its sense of humor and the warmhearted sisterhood that develops among a group of women who discover they are all clones. The main reason to watch it, though, is for star Tatiana Maslany, who earned a well-deserved lead actress Emmy for playing more than a dozen clones, from a street-smart single mother to a book-smart bohemian scientist to a suburban soccer mom, and more. Who — or what — is behind the cloning experiments? What are they trying to achieve? Who cares? All hail Maslany!
Nothing against the real town of Winden, Germany, but I have absolutely zero desire to visit after watching this creepy-as-all-hell two-season (for now) series. The first German-language show to debut on Netflix, “Dark” has been compared to “Stranger Things,” but other than the ’80s and some supernatural forces, the two shows have nothing in common. There are no kids in “Ghostbusters” costumes here, only two nuclear cooling towers dominating the rainy landscape plus an ominous forest complete with spooky caves. Wormholes, time travel, child abductions and more haunt four families over three generations connected in 33-year increments. It seems like everyone is hiding something, some secrets much more devastating than others. The default for the show is with English dubbing, but make sure you binge in German with subtitles for the full effect and one dark, twisty ride. “High Fidelity” (Hulu)
I remember loving the movie version of this Nick Hornby novel when it was released in 2000 starring John Cusack, but this 10-episode version starring Zoe Kravitz has 100% won my heart. Kravitz plays Rob, the curmudgeonly owner of Championship Vinyl and the character originally played by Cusack. Replacing Jack Black and Todd Louiso as Rob’s employees and best friends are Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Cherise and David H. Holmes as Simon (who also happens to be one of Rob’s top five desert island heartbreaks). Things have been delightfully updated for the times, while also scattering a few Easter eggs throughout the episodes for fans of the movie. Fingers crossed for another season.
“The Circle” (Netflix)
If you like reality television, or even if you don’t, you should check this show out. A group of strangers all vie to be the most influential, but they can only interact with each other through an online system called “The Circle.” With catfishing, romance, drama and a cast of unique characters, this show is the perfect recipe for a silly, but irresistible watch. Plus, considering the players have to be isolated in their own apartments, it might help you feel less alone while you’re doing the same. “You’re the Worst” (FX; available on Hulu)
My one-sentence summary of this show is: It’s like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” if it were a romantic comedy set in Los Angeles. Frequently referred to as an “anti-romantic romantic comedy,” “You’re the Worst” contains one of the greatest love stories in modern television. The show follows two love-cynics, Gretchen and Jimmy, and their journey through love, relationships, happiness and other wacky antics over the course of several years.