As readers know, this column is typically about family-friendly programming that’s rewatchable and won’t drive you crazy. For the past four months, I haven’t had the mental or emotional range to sit down and watch something specifically to review for this section of the paper. Instead, I’ve mostly reverted to “comfort” movies and shows, typically from the 90s, and mostly things I’ve seen a hundred times. You know, comfort stuff. But we have actively tried to work our way through our “lists” of movies and shows we keep meaning to watch, but then another show or movie comes along that pushes it further down the line. Here are a handful of the shows that we’ve enjoyed during our time in lockdown (movies will next week). Also note many/most of these are not family friendly (marked with *), but parents need something to watch after the kids go to bed too.
Outlander* (Starz and Netflix) – This series quickly became a favorite of ours after only a few episodes. Time travel in Scotland? Sexy lead actors with incredible chemistry and dreamy accents? SIGN ME UP. First three seasons are on Netflix, but the latter two are only available on Starz currently. Based on a book series and very enjoyable!
Never Have I Ever* (series, Netflix) – Co-created by Mindy Kaling, this gut-busting rom-com follows Devi, an Indian-American teenager trying desperately to be cool in school by losing her virginity to the hottest guy in Southern California. It’s sweet, it’s moving, it has a strong focus on the importance of mental health and inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s cast is incredibly diverse and representative, and I laughed so hard!
Tiger King* (limited series, Netflix) – I’m sure you’ve heard of or have watched this already, but it’s banana pants crazy. Big cat owners, murder, corruption, brainwashing, a failed presidential campaign, and more make this a VERY easy to binge show that will leave you scratching your head and wanted to rescue every big cat in private captivity.
Waco* (limited series, Netflix) – based on two books about what happened in 1993 at Mount Carmel outside Waco, Texas between federal authorities and the Branch Davidians. Certainly eye-opening, though not without its flaws.
Normal People* (Hulu) – A beautiful story of two teens who start a secret affair in high school that carries on off and on throughout their college years. No matter what they do, life seems to bring them back together. It’s super sexy and set in Ireland, so what’s not to love? I have a huge crush on Daisy Edgar-Jones now.
Queer Eye (season five, Netflix) – This season is in Philadelphia and they continue to bring joy and light to everyone they meet. This season features a dog groomer, an aspiring restaurateur, a loving father, and out Lutheran pastor, and many more wonderful stories. Bobby continues to be my favorite, but each of the Fab Five have beautiful moments through the season. One of their best!
Somebody Feed Phil (season three, Netflix) – I don’t know what it was about the first season that didn’t hook us, but season three is everything we needed. Travel, food, great people, beautiful stories, and food. Guys, the food. If you’re anything like me and are dying for a great meal at a restaurant, this is the next best thing.
Unorthodox* (limited series, Netflix) – Based on another book, this series follows an Orothox Jewish woman’s journey through her community and beyond and offers a rare glimpse into a very isolated community of faithful followers in Williamsburg, NYC. The lead actress is phenomenal and it is a truly inspiring and heartwarming story of finding yourself on your own terms.
Middleditch & Schwartz* (limited series, Netflix) – Really three different performances of Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz’s longform improv shows, but each is hilarious and so much fun to watch. We didn’t binge them in a row, but used them instead as palette cleansers after some of the heavier movies we’ve watched.
The Big Flower Fight (series, Netflix) – If you’re a fan of “The Great British Baking Show”, you will love this beautiful and inspiring show all about (checks notes) decorative floral arrangements. Sounds weird, but man oh man, is it cool. The hosts are cringy at times, but the works of art the contestants create are incredible!
Community* (six seasons [no movie yet], Netflix) – I was an avid fan during its run on NBC – even through the “gas leak” season – as well as its single season-run on Yahoo!, so I was thrilled when Community dropped on Netflix. I love the characters, the metatextual references, and of course, the Dungeons & Dragons and paintball episodes. I even do a monologue from the pilot episode for auditions! Chevy Chase’s character and some of the homophobic and racist dialogue has not aged well, but overall the show is full of heart and good intentions. Plus Betty White is in an episode!
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook (limited series, Food Network) – I’ve worked on Amy Schumer’s show twice (the second time, I got my first and last lap dance!) and have been following her career for years. When I heard she was doing a cooking show at home with her professional chef husband, I thought it was a YouTube or Instagram TV thing, but no – it’s on the Food Network! It’s fun and silly with her and her husband Chris making whatever they have the ingredients for in their rented isolation house. She makes so secret her “bougie” taste and privilege, but it’s also a glimpse into their lives and you can tell they really care about each other and enjoy being together during lockdown. And man does Chris love fennel…
Parks and Recreation special (NBC/Hulu) – the creators of Parks and Rec – one of my favorite sitcoms of all time – collaborated on a special charity episode to raise money for Feeding America. We caught up with (almost) the entire cast to see what and how they’re doing during lockdown. I’ve never been so happy to see Ron Swanson’s burly mustache! All shot remotely in their individual homes (which is funny because several characters are married, but not on camera together) and it has a strong focus on mental health as well. Plus they raised almost $3 million! My heart was happy watching this.
Critical Role (YouTube) – Yes, I’ve been watching the biggest and most popular actual-play Dungeons & Dragons show and no one is surprised. While the show has more watchable hours than the entire run of “The Simpsons” (true fact, and staggering to think about), they have been on hiatus since going into lockdown. But they have years and years of back episodes you can watch for free on YouTube and I dare you not to fall in love with the actors, their characters, and the world’s greatest role-playing game. I’m currently on episode 71 of Vox Machina, their first campaign (216 episodes, not counting specials and one-offs, ranging between three and five hours each) and while I don’t love it as deeply as campaign two, the Mighty Nein, it has been a much-needed escape to a simpler time when friends could gather around a table and play D&D. I miss that very much and this has partially filled a big hole in my life for the last few months.
Take time for yourself, check in on family and friends, maintain social distance, and please please please wear a mask. Things are far from over and they way they’re going now, they’ll only get worse. Stay safe.
Lincoln L. Hayes is an actor and writer in NYC. He feels guilty using his voice in this way to not address the current crisis in our country and urges everyone to support and learn more about Black Lives Matter and do what you can to end systemic racism in this country. Go to www.blacklivesmatter.com for more info.