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 eight binge-worthy TV shows available for streaming.
“Tuca & Bertie”
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 substance-use 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, who created the wildly gorgeous anthropomorphized creatures of “BoJack Horseman” — 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. That may be why I’ve been revisiting the show since the novel coronavirus first entered the news coverage. It helps me turn off my reporter brain, but not my humanity.
“For All Mankind”
I’m a sucker for space- related TV shows and alternate history, so this new Apple TV series hooked me from the get-go. 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 badass 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 (Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement) 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 real-life pioneer Jerrie Cobb, a trailblazing pilot who was the first woman to pass all the preflight tests that NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts took. The show just completed a 10-episode debut season on Apple TV, and I’m dying to know what happens next.
(HBO; available on Amazon Prime Video, HBO NOW, Hulu)
The good news: There are only two seasons of this show (so far; Season 3 premieres March 15 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.
“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, a while 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” (and if you haven’t, for heaven’s sake, get on that; it’s on Amazon Prime and PBS Passport), 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.
I remember loving the John Cusack movie version of this Nick Hornby novel when it was released in 2000, 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. You still watch Rob be a selfish jerk, but you root for her a little bit more than when Cusack was in the driver’s seat. Cherise and Simon help sand down her edges while also feeling like fully formed characters. Fans of “The OA” will recognize Rob’s ex, Mac, played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. Parker Posey makes a very memorable appearance. Natasha Lyonne directed an episode! What are you waiting for? Fingers crossed for another season.
“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. I think the true genius of the show is how it’s able to effectively tackle tough subjects, like depression, alcoholism and PTSD, with beautiful nuance, yet feature the trashiest band of characters imaginable.
Since the day I first watched the pilot, I have wanted to scream from the rooftop of any and all buildings, “WATCH ‘AMERICAN VANDAL’!!!” It is a searing, hilarious parody of the true-crime genre, (think “Serial” or “Making a Murderer”) with an incredibly well- written mystery arc, and a terrifyingly accurate depiction of high school antics in the 2010s.