Also see: 12 Best Bingeable Streaming Shows—Part 1
5. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
If for no other reason, check out Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because this is the series that got Tina Fey called a racist by the grievance mob and caused her to renounce the politically correct internet trolls. “There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that,” she told Net-a-Porter.
But the real reason you should watch it is that it’s consistently hilarious.
Kimmy Schmidt stars The Office’s Ellie Kemper as a woman who was rescued from a doomsday cult after living underground in a bunker with three other women and the cult leader for 15 years. Dubbed “the Mole Women,” Kimmy and the others are in NYC for a (hilarious) interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show when Kimmy decides she isn’t going back to Indiana, but instead will try to make it there in New York.
Think Blast from the Past meets That Girl meets Big Love.
By day’s end, she has a large, gay, black roommate, Titus (who has auditioned for The Lion King 15 times and is a knock-off Iron Man in Times Square), and is renting a room from an old socialist played by Carol Kane. She is also working as a nanny for the least secure socialite in NYC, played by Jane Krakowski.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt takes no prisoners, and couldn’t care less about PC. It only cares about funny, and with social change spinning the heads of those of us who weren’t buried for 15 years, seeing it through Kimmy’s eyes is great fun.
In one of my favorite moments– which shows how this show keeps a joke going on many levels—Titus is performing his “one-man show of The Lion King” to an audience of—one man. The performance is hilariously awful. Then it turns out the one man in the audience of the one-man show is a Disney trademark attorney there to serve him with a cease and desist order. Then Titus even has to give the cat he is using as a stand-in for Simba over to the lawyer.
This is streaming’s best comedy—and it says nothing good about NBC that they kicked it to the curb while their own comedy lineup is gasping for breath.
4. The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime)
While Amazon’s Transparent is getting all the publicity as Bezos and Company go for the politically correct awards, The Man in the High Castle is getting all the viewers.
Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, High Castle takes place in an alternative 1962 after the Germans and Japanese have split America between them following the Nazis’ winning the race for the atom bomb and dropping one on Washington, D.C.
High Castle’s unabashed hero is Juliana (Alexa Davalos), a young woman who reluctantly picks up her sister’s mantle as a courier for the resistance in the Japanese zone by delivering a propaganda film to the neutral zone in the Rockies.
There she meets Joe (Luke Kleintank), another supposed courier with another film to deliver to the mysterious Man in the High Castle. But is Joe who he seems? Does he rescue Juliana from danger because of a crush, a sense of duty, or does he have yet another agenda?
Hot on their trail are Rufus Sewell, as a calculating and brutal SS counterintelligence officer, and Joel de la Fuente as his Japanese counterpart.
Hitler is rumored to be in ill health, sparking worries among some Germans and Japanese that SS leaders—who cannot figure out why the same man who did not honor his infamous pact with Stalin—have kept the peace with the Japanese when the Nazis have sole possession of the A-Bomb.
Some huge coincidences mar the plot at times, and it’s a little vague on why propaganda films would be such a big deal, but High Castle is consistently suspenseful and you root for these people who are willing to risk all in the face of brutal totalitarian evil.
The Man in the High Castle creates an utterly convincing alternative world, and it’s an absorbing and fascinating scenario. This is a fitting tribute to one of sci-fi’s greats.
3. Bloodline (Netflix)
Somehow, Netflix signed Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Linda Cardellini, Kyle Chandler, and everybody’s current favorite supporting actor Ben Mendelsohn to do a TV show—and then didn’t even make much of a fuss about it.
Bloodline is a brooding, suspenseful, atmospheric drama about a prominent hotel-owning family in the Florida Keys, and what happens when their black-sheep brother comes home and threatens to dredge up family secrets, along with committing new misdeeds all his own.
Created by Glenn and Todd Kessler, who mastered the art of dark foreshadowing with their series Damages, Bloodline may sometimes move at the pace of laid-back life in the Keys, but it is always completely absorbing.
And the cast is every bit as good as you’d expect, with Mendelsohn riveting as the manipulative brother, who while he has a legitimate grievance against his father, is also a self-pitying criminal with little regard for consequences to others.
Kyle Chandler is also excellent. Sure, he perfected fatherly exasperation as the coach in Friday Night Lights, but he brings a whole new edge here as a sheriff’s detective split between his public and private duties. And Linda Cardellini—who starred in the other great American show about high school, Freaks and Geeks—plays very nicely off him as his sister.
With all the bright stars in the cast, it should be noted that also does superb work as the brother who is living in everyone else’s shadow—which is true of both the actor and the character.
I’m not sure where Netflix would go with a Season 2 of Bloodline, but if this is all there is, it’s a terrific and satisfying stand-alone filmed novel.
2. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
For me, this was the biggest surprise show of 2015. I was simply not prepared for just how good Jessica Jones is, nor had I ever heard of the comic book.
For the non-Comic-Con enthusiasts, Jessica Jones is a Marvel Comics character, a loner with superhero powers of strength and agility, who works as a private eye. We see from the beginning that Jessica is haunted by a past trauma, and avoids healthy relationships.
Noir is so frequently overdone in both film and television, with muted trumpet scores and overly dark cinema and pretentious voiceover, that it’s a real pleasure to see it done with such balance and wit. And despite its comic book origins and relation to the Avengers’ universe, be warned: this is not for kids.
Jessica is played to perfection by Krysten Ritter (Jesse’s doomed girlfriend in Breaking Bad.) She handles the Chandleresque wisecracks with a naturally Bogart-style off-handedness (two comparisons I make very rarely) unlike most action-character one-liners that seem to be waiting for a rim shot or applause line.
“You keep people at a distance with sarcasm,” observes the pesky junkie neighbor Jessica handles with exasperated compassion.
“And yet you are still here,” she says, bustling him out the door.
Jessica is drawn to another lonely figure, Luke Cage (Mike Colter, who plays drug kingpin Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife), who has a similar reason to stay solitary, but is pursued by a shadowy figure, Killgrave (the great David Tennant), who can take over people’s minds.
Daredevil is Netflix’s other attempt at a dark spinoff from the Spider-Man world (just how many science accidents were there in that high school anyway, and why doesn’t the military find a way do it on purpose?) and it’s okay. But Jessica Jones is the best superhero television franchise going, by leaps and bounds, and I include Fox’s very good Gotham in that list.
1. Bosch (Amazon Prime)
Think it’s easy to make a great cop show? Then quick, name one that’s on, since Justified has finished its terrific run. Even with great source material it’s harder than it looks.
Enter The Wire and Homicide Life on the Street writer/producer Eric Overmyer, who proves the perfect tandem mate for the great mystery writer Michael Connelly, and together, they bring Connelly’s iconoclastic LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch to vivid life in the new Amazon series, Bosch.
And Bosch is Amazon’s second-highest rated show after The Man in the High Castle, despite far less publicity, thanks to Connelly’s loyal fan base of readers he has gathered in an unblemished 20 year career of quality writing—and, of course, the fact that the show absolutely lives up to its great source material.
Bosch is not an origin story, however. It picks up Harry Bosch in mid-career with a 10 hour block that combines two of Connelly’s novels, City of Bones and Echo Park.
Titus Welliver is perfectly cast as the title character, with just the right amount of grouchy, wry deadpan humor, but at the same time capturing Harry Bosch’s thirst for justice which is fueled by his own rough upbringing.
But, unlike a lot of streaming shows, Bosch has a top-notch cast of recognizable veteran actors comparable to what a traditional network might put together behind a prestige project. These include Wire alums Jamie Hector as Bosch’s slickly dressed partner who has an eye on a real estate career and Lance Reddick, one of Bosch’s politically minded superiors. Other notables include Amy Aquino as Bosch’s lieutenant who is constantly running interference for him, and a couple of memorable 24 women, Sarah Clarke as Bosch’s ex, and Annie Wersching as a hero-worshipping patrol cop who may be dangerously learning all the wrong lessons from Bosch’s career.
Throw in Jason Gedrick as a boyishly charming predator Bosch is pursuing in one plot, and Steven Culp and Mimi Rogers as a DA and defense attorney trying to finish Bosch’s career, and you get the idea.
But none of this would matter without the writing, and it turns out that Connelly is as adept at adapting his books as he is at writing them.
Here’s even better news for the uninitiated: once you finish this series, there are 20 great books waiting for you.