Also see: 12 Best Bingeable Streaming Shows—Part 2
With TV shows that actually follow a broadcast schedule out for the next several weeks, it’s a good time to catch up on some excellent shows on streaming services Amazon and Netflix.
If your cable service has On Demand (particularly Comcast), or you have Amazon Prime, your binge watching can extend far beyond shows made for streaming—and if you haven’t watched Justified, Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, or The Americans—or The Rockford Files for that matter– you certainly should.
But for this list, I am focusing solely on original material to Amazon and Netflix, some of which has been woefully under-publicized– even by their own companies.
Let’s take Amazon, for instance. Most of their publicity efforts—eagerly supported by the media herd—have been for Transparent, an unfunny “comedy” about an older man (played by Jeffrey Tambor) who announces to his family that he’s leaving their mother to become a woman.
But Amazon makes the top five on this list with their two most-watched shows—one of which has received almost no publicity, and is underrated by critics as “nothing new.”
And no, you will not find the two best known Netflix series on this list—House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. I’m sick of both of them; they are overrated garbage.
12. Lilyhammer (Netflix)
Production is cancelled now, but the three hilarious seasons of Netflix’s first foray into original programming, Lilyhammer, are still among their best efforts.
Lilyhammer takes a jackhammer to politically correct conventions in this comedic crime drama about a mobster in the witness protection program (Steven Van Zandt of The Sopranos) who chooses the socialist paradise of Norway for his hideout because he loved the Winter Olympics.
But his path on the straight and narrow lasts about as long as a Scandinavian summer when it turns out that in overregulated Norway, nearly everything is prohibited. So, he might as well break the laws in the ways he knows best—with a nightclub as a front for various black market businesses.
Among the best laughs are those at the Norwegian bureaucracy’s ultra-PC integration efforts aimed at immigrants, particularly Muslims. And whenever these hippies stage a protest, the songs are a scream—as good as those in the first decade of The Simpsons or South Park.
10. and 11. Catastrophe/Red Oaks (Amazon Prime)
The promos for two Amazon sitcoms look like overused clichés—one, a mismatched lovers’ rom-com, and the other, an ’80s coming-of-age sex comedy.
But both rise above with winning casts, sharp writing, and lots of heart.
In Catastrophe, Rob, an American marketing exec in London (Rob Delaney), meets Sharon, a schoolteacher (Sharon Horgan), in a pub his last night there, and has what they both agree will be a one night thing. But a one night thing leads to a permanent thing—a baby.
When Sharon notifies him, Rob, to her consternation, does the right thing. He drops everything and heads to London, even transferring to his company’s office there.
While the circle of friends in Catastrophe is a bit sitcom whacky, the leads are so charming, as their chemistry extends beyond hot and steamy to warm and funny, that you genuinely get caught up in rooting for them to make it—and maybe wish you could hang out with them.
Red Oaks’ promos sound even worse. David, a young, slightly nebbish Jewish tennis pro comes of age working at a swank New York country club during the swinging cocaine-fueled ’80s in his last summer before attending college to get his CPA.
But this is more John Hughes than Wet Hot American Summer, despite a pilot episode that points otherwise, largely because of some sympathetic adults.
David’s parents are played by Jennifer Grey and veteran sad sack Richard Kind, who are figuring out what their empty nest lives will be like. Particularly good is a marriage counseling session in which their hippie shrinks prescribe what was a fad relationship-building drug at the time—now called Ecstasy.
Also good is Paul Reiser as an uberwealthy financier, who has a real heart under his cocky wisecracks, worked hard to get where he is (something rare on television) and sees an enterprising spirit in David that he takes time to encourage.
9. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
He’s a talking horse, but he’s no Mister Ed. He’s an alcoholic, junkie ex-TV star who longs to be returned to the fast lane.
If you like the send-up of spy movies in Archer, you will get a kick out of the body blows BoJack Horseman delivers to the fickleness of Hollywood fame and celebrity vanity—but be warned, it’s just as raunchy.
Will Arnett (Arrested Development) voices BoJack, while Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie and Aaron Paul lend support. BoJack Horseman mercilessly mocks celebrity media and culture at every level and hits the target most of the time. It’s a scream.
8. Longmire (Netflix)
Giving life to TV shows that networks give up on too soon is another role for streaming networks, and Netflix’s rescuing of A&E’s highest-rated series, the modern western, Longmire, is a great example.
Axed by its original network because it appealed to an older audience, this high-quality show about a sheriff in a sparsely populated Wyoming county deserves its stay of execution. Longmire stars Australian actor Robert Taylor (who disconcertingly looks like a grizzled George W. Bush) in the title role, with Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as his deputy, and Lou Diamond Phillips as his best friend and Indian bar owner.
Longmire is a fairly traditional crime show with a crime per episode, and overlapping, continuing back stories. The show takes a clear-eyed view of reservation politics and presents an even-handed take on the faults with both sides.
In recent years Justified and Longmire have kept the TV western alive, even if it’s in an altered, less traditional way. Now Longmire stands alone. Thanks, Netflix!
7. Master of None (Netflix)
I always thought Aziz Ansari’s presence was at least as irritating as it was funny, and was unprepared for his Netflix sitcom to be not only hilarious, but endearing and insightful.
The pilot episode actually confirmed my suspicions that this would merely be a dirtier talking Seinfeld. But superlative reviews spurred me on to Episode 2—which knocked my socks off.
In this episode, Dev and Brian (Ansari and Kelvin Yu) are inspired to spend more time (however reluctantly) with their immigrant parents (played by the comedians’ real parents). despite their old fashioned ways and constant horror stories of the old country.
The result is an absolutely winning half hour of TV. Even if you don’t think you will like the show, check this one out.
This is followed up by a hilarious episode in which both Dev and another Indian actor are considered ideal for a sitcom about three guys living together, but are accidentally sent an email in which the studio head says they can take “only one.”
Instead of decrying racism and bad-mouthing the studio, Ansari explores racial casting in a funny and biting way—always keeping in mind that this is a First World problem. At one point Dev is told by Busta Rhymes, who is friends with the offending executive, “Don’t play the race card, charge the race card.” Dev is also chewed out by his African American agent when he considers going public: “Don’t you mess with my David Schwimmer money!”
Master of None is charming, honest and fearless, intelligently written and well-executed. It’s a rather astonishing debut for Ansari.
6. Narcos (Netflix)
I think the last time I saw a cast this vivid, mostly made up of actors I had never seen before, was TV’s other great drug drama, The Wire. Narcos stars Brazil’s top leading man, Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar, in a star turn that definitely does not try to make a folk hero out of the man who invented the modern drug cartel.
The story is largely told through the point of view (and voiceover narration) of Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) the DEA agent, who along with his partner Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal), was in charge of the effort to bring down Escobar.
Don’t take too much offense at the DEA agents grousing that Reagan and the military are too focused on Commies in South America. Everybody always thinks their agenda should come first, especially in government.
But Narcos does pose a valuable question: At what point does criminal activity cross over into warfare? If Colombians had dealt with Pablo Escobar as a normal criminal problem, Colombia would today be a failed state completely run by the cartels in a way that makes Mexico look like Vermont.
Narcos is well done on every level; and even if you know the outcome, it generates a lot of suspense and fascination about the particulars.