Sure, we like reminiscing about our favorite shows from days gone by as much as anybody. But we also know that you have to embrace new stuff. And so, we’ve come up with some of the best current shows that are worth substitutes for past favorites. So let’s find out what new stuff is out there to scratch that old TV itch of yours.
30 Rock – Great News (NBC) and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) If you miss the Tina Fey/Alec Baldwin masterpiece that was 30 Rock, we now have two shows for you to enjoy! The newer one is on NBC, where it started this spring with little fanfare. It’s called Great News and it stars the legendary Andrea Martin along with Briga Heelan as a mother daughter duo who find themselves working together at a news network with mom gets hired as an intern for the show her daughter produces. It hews closely to 30 Rock’s tone and the casting is great; the biggest surprise is Nicole Richie (yes, the former reality star and daughter of Lionel), who lands every joke as vapid news anchor Portia with unexpected comic chops. You can catch up now online or on demand while we wait for season 2 this fall.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was also supposed to air on NBC, but something happened to push it to Netflix, and we couldn’t be happier. On the streaming service, where there aren’t all those pesky rules, the show is clearly allowed to sillier and more off kilter than it ever could have been on broadcast. Each season of the show has gotten stranger, and more wonderful. Ellie Kemper took what she learned on The Office and climbs to absurd new heights as the childlike Kimmy, who spent many years in the captivity of an underground bunker. She had been kidnapped by a crazy man (played by Jon Hamm), who at the end of season two we found she was still legally married to. Kimmy’s naivete is played for laughs, rather than being some dark tale and her roommate, Titus Andromedon, is her perfect foil. They lead a cast of comedy veterans (Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane, and lots of friends dropping by for short stints) on a trip through a wacky NYC landscape that we can’t get enough of. Each episode has so many jokes, we often rewind because we’ve missed a few.
LOST – Wrecked (TBS) You know, there’s maybe an obvious antecedent in the form of co-creator’s Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers, but if you are looking for a group of castaways who survive a plane crash and end up on a mysterious island, then TBS’ Wrecked has exactly what you’re looking for. It doesn’t have the mindbending mysteries or the deep mythology, but it’s a very funny show that only gets better if you’re familiar with the Lostaways. Imagine a version of LOST where Jack died almost immediately, Sawyer had all his criminal qualities but no cleverness or charisma to back it up, Sayid left the group not to map the Island but to find a place to poop, and the tail section survivors consisted of one flight attendant and the inanimate objects she thinks are people. Sure, there’s a doctor on the island, but she’s a podiatrist. They managed to get a signal on a satellite phone but couldn’t call anyone because nobody knows phone numbers anymore. One character is haunted by a ghost, but it’s because he ate the guy’s corpse. They even imply that there’s a deeper mystery at work on the island, but none of the main characters know anything about it because they’re busy with petty disputes and dumb projects. There are so many really specific LOST jokes here. Of course, even if you didn’t watch that series, you’ll still have plenty of a fun with an episode about whether to use the last of the battery in a portable DVD player to watch Selma or Dumb and Dumber Too, or a supporting character named Kurt Turdhole. The second season just started and the first season is on the TBS app and plenty of other places.
Kroll Show – The Characters (Netflix) It’s been a while since Nick Kroll wrapped up his sketch show, and we’re really hankering for another extended sketch experience where somebody plays a whole mess of characters in a series of interlocking scenes. It’s a very specific need, to be sure. Luckily, Netflix has our back with The Characters. Eight comedians each got a half hour to fill however they wanted, with the only rule being that they had to play multiple characters. Obviously with that setup, the results are going to be mixed, but the best episodes of The Characters are hilarious and the others are still fascinating experiments. And your picks for the best might not match ours – there’s something for everybody. We loved the opening episode with spunkyfave Lauren Lapkus, and Kate Berlant, John Early, and Detroiters’ Tim Robinson all delivered strong episodes. All of the episodes are worth watching, and you might find a new favorite in the mix.
The Real World – Terrace House (Netflix) If you’re in our age group, you remember those early years of The Real World before Puck came along and turned it into a vehicle for self-promotion. Remember those first few seasons that really were about when strangers stop being polite and start being real? Well, Netflix has a show like that except they also never really stop being polite. Terrace House is a Japanese import, and it’s an absolute delight. A group of young people share a house, but they also go to their regular jobs and live their lives. And unlike almost any American reality series, people frequently opt out during the season and then they’re replaced by somebody new, so the dynamics keep shifting. And they don’t opt out for drama reasons – when they feel like they’ve gotten what they can out of the experience, they’ll leave and return home. It’s an exceptionally sweet and good-natured show – they tend to cast nice people who, even when there’s a conflict (there is a beef incident that we’d prefer not to spoil), work their issues out with maturity and kindness. And that might sound boring, but it’s both fun and soothing. If Big Brother is Hell’s Kitchen, this is The Great British Baking Show. It’s a great way to learn about another culture and check out a reality show where everybody in the cast doesn’t act like they’re getting their own spinoff. At this time, the 46 episode Boys and Girls in the City is complete on Netflix and the 36 episode Aloha State (set in Hawaii!) will be wrapped up shortly. (New episodes post to Netflix about a month after they air in Japan.) It’s addictive and you’ll easily lose an afternoon.
Six Feet Under—Casual (Hulu) We loved Six Feet Under and all its quirky, frustrating, sometimes hateable and occasionally lovable characters. The Fisher clan was as dysfunctional as any TV family we’ve ever seen, but they also had each others’ backs when stuff went down. Maybe it was seeing the episode of Casual that introduced Frances Conroy (who played SFU matriarch Ruth Fisher) as Alex and Valerie’s mother that finally made us realize what made this dark comedy so compelling even when we want to smack the protagonists. Or maybe it’s that Casual’s Laura is an even more annoying and obnoxious teenager than Claire Fisher ever was, and we hope she might someday be redeemed, even though we’ll probably never love her like we did Claire. Where the show succeeds most is with the dynamic between Alex and Val, mostly because Tommy Dewey and Michaela Watkins play off each other so perfectly. Now on season three, this Hulu original may be a bit insufferable at times, but it has payoffs that are unlike anything else currently on air and we can’t stop watching.
Louie-–Master of None (Netflix) Aziz Ansari’s tour de force is often likened to Louis CK’s Emmy winning masterpiece, if only because they both so thoroughly break the sitcom mold. Both shows take chances with narrative and format, often stopping whatever forward motion a season might have to drop in a bottle episode about something completely separate. Where Master of None surpasses Louie, though, is in its accessibility. Bottom line, more people will “get” this show than CK’s, because it’s just more relatable and less…weird. While it’s aimed squarely at Millennials, of which Ansari is one, it can be appreciated by those older or even a bit younger than its core demo. At its heart, it’s a show about a young actor of color trying to make it in NYC while also trying to live his life. We meet his friends (Eric Wareheim’s Arnold is a fan fave), his family (his parents are played by…his parents!) and lovers, among many others in Dev’s world. The only thing you need to enjoy this show is even a mild affinity for Aziz Ansari, New York City, or both. There is a wealth of social commentary, discussions about the importance of family, friends, religion and more than one love story woven throughout two brilliant seasons. Check it out!
The Bachelor-–Burning Love (Hulu) and UnREAL (Lifetime and Hulu)–If you are a devotee of the long running dating reality show in any or all of its many iterations, you really owe it yourself to check out both of these very different spoofs of the original. Burning Love is straight up parody, made by and starring some of the best comic actors around. Featuring folks like Ken Marino, June Diane Raphael, Michael Ian Black, Abigail Spencer and many more spunkyfaves, the show produced three seasons: one each with a Bachelor, a Bachelorette and a Bachelor Pad (“I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win nine hundred dollars”) conceit. This gave the writers a chance to hit on every ridiculous Bachelor trope and cliche as well as amp up certain ridiculous things that never actually happen on the mothership but totally could (e.g. a lesbian contestant who can’t stand the idea of dating the Bachelor but keeps getting selected.)
UnREAL is a campy drama that came out of nowhere on Lifetime and surprised us with the well-written, soapy intrigue of its first season. Since one of the producers is a veteran of the reality franchise, she offered unique insight that made viewers feel what they were seeing was pretty darn close to the truth. In this world, the show is called “Everlasting” and contestants vie for the hand of the Suitors. The behind the scenes vantage point shows us how the producers craft each episode and create a season-long narrative, all while dealing with some serious personal demons. Season two was not quite as bingeworthy. It took what could have been a very cool concept–the first black suitor–and derailed it with ever more outrageous storylines that removed focus from what made the show great the first time around. Here’s hoping it bounces back for Season Three!
Curb Your Enthusiasm – I’m Sorry (TruTV) – Sure, you could wait a few weeks and actually watch more Curb Your Enthusiasm, but until then, Andrea Savage’s I’m Sorry deserves your full attention. Savage (Veep, Sleeping with Other People) plays, well, Andrea. A moderately successful comedy writer and mother, she’s immediately more relatable than Larry David. We love Larry, but he is the multi-millionaire creator of Seinfeld. He can be irritated at dumb things that cost him money, but it wouldn’t actually matter. But Andrea moves in a non-show business circle on her show, clashing with her yoga class, other parents at the school, and the lady at the coffee shop who didn’t stop to help a blind guy. And bringing a kid into the mix means you get episodes where she and her husband (Tom Everett Scott) are worried their daughter is a racist, or where they have to explain Nazis after a viewing of The Sound of Music. It’s maybe even edgier than Curb despite not having that HBO freedom, and it’s consistently hilarious even when it makes you die inside. The amazing supporting cast includes Jason Mantzoukas, Gary Anthony Williams, and Kathy Baker and it’s this little hidden delight over on TruTV.
Mad Men – Halt and Catch Fire (AMC) – We’re mostly going with newer shows here, but Halt is about to start its fourth and final season. Still, it seems like it’s gone largely unnoticed despite being an AMC period drama. In this case, it’s the eighties and that’s not nearly as visually appealing as the sixties, but it’s a great show that began with an attempt to create a new kind of personal computer and has now made its way to the birth of the Internet. It’s about its era in the same way Mad Men was, and the characters are just as well-drawn as Don and Peggy and Pete. And if you’re in our age group, it’s going to bring about a heavy nostalgia for things you actually remember. (Do you ever think about when people used elaborate metaphors to explain just what the Internet is? The Season Three finale is an incredible example of that.) It’s one of the best shows on TV but it never had that cultural moment that Mad Men did. So let’s make that right – you can see the first three seasons on Netflix and then join us for Season Four in a couple of weeks!