If you haven’t heard of “Fleabag,” you just might be alone. The Amazon Studios/BBC Three collaboration is a star vehicle for English actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who nabbed three Emmys in 2019 for creating, writing, and starring in the series. The show follows a woman known only as “Fleabag” (Waller-Bridge) on a quest for self-love and forgiveness after a tragic loss. Waller-Bridge is simultaneously devastating and deadpan as the show’s protagonist, and her writing strikes a deft balance between tragedy and levity. “Fleabag” is one of those rare shows that 100 percent lives up to its hype.
— Allison J. Scharmann
We reviewed Season Two and named it our #1 TV Show of 2019.
“Schitt’s Creek” may have aired its final episode on Apr. 7, 2020, but a year into the pandemic, it’s not too late to binge-watch all six seasons of this very Canadian comedy. Like a warm blanket, the show’s gentle humor has proven an unrivaled quarantine companion for everything from morning baking to midnight baking to screaming into the void. The rare show to pick up steam as it went along, “Schitt’s Creek” owes much of its success to the instantly iconic character of family matriarch Moira Rose (played by Catherine O’Hara with soap-star bravura and an implacable highfalutin accent). Wondering where O’Hara has been all your life? Go watch “Best in Show” (2000) and consider this a two-in-one recommendation.
— Amelia F. Roth-Dishy
“7 Days Out”
As major events around the world got cancelled, guests and organizers alike lamented their preparations. Netflix’s 2018 documentary series “7 Days Out,” which covers the week of procedures, preparations, and stress leading up to some of these international events, proved cathartic. Each episode features every possible angle: spectators, experts, institution presidents, critics, and competitors themselves. Watch the world’s most coveted dogs prep for their showing at Westminster; dive into the frantic world of designers, models, and organizers in Paris Fashion Week’s CHANEL Haute Couture show; or catch the drama leading up to the “most dramatic two minutes in sports:” the Kentucky Derby.
— Hannah T. Chew
“The End of the F***ing World”
Few shows have mastered the art of cutting away at the worst possible moment as well as “The End of the F***ing World.” Not only was its name a little too relevant this year, but its masterful balance of nail-biting plot and rich, focused character development makes it the perfect apocalyptic binge. Throughout its two seasons, the show’s intimate, dysfunctional dialogue always leaves something unsaid, bringing a brutal realism to its addictive, over-the-top plot. “The End of the F***king World” may just rip your heart out — but only because its deeply traumatized, violently earnest protagonists become impossible not to love.
— Joy C. Ashford
This CBC sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family from Toronto released its fourth season on Netflix last year at just the right time. The show, based on Ins Choi’s play of the same name, is a hilarious and heartwarming account of the Kim family’s day-to-day antics — from stealing the neighbor’s WiFi to giving Korean wedgies to exploring Asian identity. It’s a fresh take on the sitcom genre, a binge-worthy challenger to classics like “The Office” or “Friends,” and a perfect quarantine companion.
— Kalos K. Chu
We named “Kim’s Convenience” our #10 TV Show of 2018 and covered a panel featuring its cast members here.
“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”
With 470 episodes and counting (all of which are available with a Hulu subscription), “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is one of the most bingeable shows to watch during quarantine. The series follows a group of New York City detectives who solve cases of a sexual nature. “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is known for using stories “ripped from the headlines,” often modeling its episodes after popular real-world cases not too long after these cases make the news. Although a 21-season-long police procedural drama might not have been the escapist fantasy you were craving during weeks of self-isolation, it did, and does, have enough episodes to keep us occupied until this is all over.
— Annie Harrigan
There is something truly special about Mae Martin’s hilarious, dysfunctional masterpiece. It may be the raw, exposed nerve endings that linger under every lacerating joke or the sense of violent, restless urgency Martin brings to every scene. Or perhaps it’s something simpler: Amidst the absurdity of backyard shoebox fires or family trauma-ridden amusement rides, the show is delightfully normal. With everyday intimacy, “Feel Good” provides nuanced, thoughtful, necessary representation of nonbinary people and queer relationships. And it does so without othering its beloved characters — rather, it wraps their particular story up in the universal messiness of love.
— Joy C. Ashford
In the wise words of comedian Dana Donnelly: “sopranos is gossip girl for men. don’t tell me it’s more ‘elevated’ bc it’s not. the characters are just uglier.” Still, it can’t be denied that this HBO series about the Italian-American New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano is likely the most critically acclaimed television show of all time. The late actor James Gandolifini portrays the show’s legendary protagonist, while Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco give rockstar performances as Soprano’s wife (Carmela) and therapist (Dr. Jennifer Melfi). Whether for mafia-media fanatics or those who had never heard the phrase “wise guy” in their lives, “The Sopranos” proved a perennial quarantine re-watch. At the very least, Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) just might inspire you to give your mother a call.
— Allison J. Scharmann
In a satirical Best of the Decade article, we named “The Sopranos” the Best TV Show Set In New Jersey.
If watching family drama unfold before your eyes is your guilty pleasure, but you’re too classy to watch “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Downton Abbey” is a perfect alternative. Old English aristocratic life is boldy portrayed in “Downton Abbey” through the Crawley family’s lavish dinner parties and maintenance of their estate. An added layer of transparency is afforded to viewers through storylines involving the estate staff, creating a dichotomy between the life of those in service below and the privileged family above. If not for the wholly engrossing storylines found in the series, you should watch “Downton Abbey” simply to hear Maggie Smith’s hilariously shady quips as the Dowager Countess.
— Chibuike K. Uwakwe
Before Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk made “American Horror Story,” they created a different horror show: “Glee.” The prolific musical-dramedy about a fledgling high school show choir ran for six seasons from 2009-2015, launching the careers of an ensemble of young actors including Lea Michele, Darren Criss, and the late, great Naya Rivera. The show’s early seasons are notable for their biting humor, stunning musical numbers, and themes of high school naiveté. Not every episode aged well, but the ones that did are delightful to watch a decade later. If you’re looking to escape reality for a few hours, consider giving the show a watch (or re-watch). After all, there are few things more removed from reality than “Glee.”
— Allison J. Scharmann
Read more in ArtsThe Books That Got Us Through Quarantine