Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer in the United States, an occasion traditionally commemorated with picnics, block parties, and other outdoor activities popularized in a time before streaming video. Seeking an alternative to sun, burgers, and human interaction, The A.V. Club put its heads together to find the very best TV that Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, Vimeo, and YouTube have to offer (or the very best that we haven’t recommended before). This time around, we skewed our binge-watching picks toward shows that can be watched in their entirety across a three-day weekend: Briefly lived series that can be integrated into a busy Memorial Day schedule as well as long-haul marathon fodder. Happy viewing, and do be sure to get some vitamin D between episodes, huh?
1. Big Love (2006-2011) (53 episodes)
What’s it about? During Big Love’s five-season run, it built a legacy as one of television’s most complex studies of American family life, letting viewers into the three family rooms of fundamentalist Mormon Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton). The show worked to shine a light on the day-to-day of practicing polygamists, which included Bill’s three wives, each introduced with a somewhat exaggerated personality. First wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) filled the roll of sitcom mom. Second wife Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) teetered on sociopathy, often driving the drama of the show. Third wife Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) was Bill’s midlife crisis personified. To the credit of the writers, though, those roles were established so they could be dismantled episode after episode, as viewers learned the backstory and motivation of each woman. Eventually, the show portrayed the characters’ differences in a more nuanced way that also revealed their similarities.
Why you should watch it: If the subject matter doesn’t intrigue you, it’s the casting that is a must-see experience. Paxton, Tripplehorn, Sevigny, and Goodwin are joined by the likes of Bruce Dern (as Bill’s abusive father), Sissy Spacek (as a powerful lobbyist that goes head-to-head with Bill’s way of life), and Harry Dean Stanton (as the menacing self-proclaimed prophet and leader of a Mormon compound). Amanda Seyfried and Daveigh Chase impress as younger residents of Big Love’s world, the former as Bill and Barb’s oldest daughter and the latter as a teenage wife of Stanton’s character. Despite the depth of the cast, none of the characters are superfluous, and each is provided with a deftly written story.
Who’s it for? Those longing for a prestige drama with a strong and female-heavy main cast; HBO documentary fans looking for something more long-form, but without the shackles of reality; anyone who watched the TLC reality show Sister Wives [Becca James]
Streaming on: HBO Go, HBO Now
2. Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014) (56 episodes)
What’s it about? HBO’s return to the world of New Jersey gangsters, shaken with period drama details and served with a twist of Martin Scorsese’s aesthetic. Created by The Sopranos alum Terence Winter and based on the book by Nelson Johnson, Boardwalk Empire traced the rise of American organized crime through the Prohibition era, via the activities of Atlantic City Treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi in his most multifaceted performance). There are gunfights, political corruption, wild parties, fancy suits and dresses—everything you’d expect from a show about the Roaring ’20s, and then some.
Why you should watch it: Although Boardwalk Empire never achieved the pantheon level of the shows it was clearly trying to emulate (at one point characterized as an amalgam of every HBO show ever), its breadth and depth means there’s plenty of intriguing things going on at any given time. The cast is the richest ensemble on a cable drama since Deadwood: highlights include Michael Kenneth Williams as savvy gangster Chalky White, Michael Shannon as zealous prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden, Kelly MacDonald as Irish housewife-turned-criminal conspirator Margaret Schroeder, and a breakout performance by Jack Huston as mutilated veteran Richard Harrow. And while often accused of dragging on the narrative front, every season—and the series as a whole—has a novelist’s attention to detail, building to satisfying and often gut-wrenching conclusions.
Who’s it for? Dedicated followers of 1920s fashion; history buffs looking for a show to pick apart with fact-checking; Sopranos fans who want to see its themes of moral decay in a different setting and/or want to see Uncle Junior with muttonchops [Les Chappell]
3. Chef’s Table (2015) (6 episodes)
What’s it about? Netflix quietly released this limited series a couple weeks ago. Each of its six episodes follows a different professional chef in a different corner of the world who is doing something innovative with food. They’re all at the top of their game, and as such, this food is serious stuff.
Why you should watch it: Despite some pretentious fussing, Chef’s Table is a stunning production. Every episode takes cues from the chef it follows, giving each its own distinct vibe: Chefs, their families, and their critics reveal more than they probably bargained for in the confessional interviews. A couple chefs even reveal truly touching stories of finding love in a notoriously brutal industry. The real star, though, is the cinematography. Whether the show is in California or Patagonia, there are sweeping shots of the landscape, intimate footage of the chefs when they’re off the clock and, most importantly for a show about food, gorgeous close-ups of the food. If you need a test drive, just try the opening credits.
Who’s it for? People in Top Chef withdrawal; people who noticed when Netflix took down most of the No Reservations catalog [Caroline Framke]
Streaming on: Netflix
4. China, IL (2011-present) (27 episodes)
What’s it about? “The worst college in America,” a dubious honor worn as a badge of pride by the irresponsible, beer-swilling faculty at the University Of China, Illinois. It’s a place where the instructors want to party and the students want to learn, noble pursuits disrupted by time-traveling presidents, dunderheaded rock gods (at least one of whom is a legitimate deity), and a mountainous man-child in camouflage pants nicknamed Baby Cakes. It’s all held together by the high-minded crassness creator Brad Neely previously brought to “Cox And Combes’ Washington” and the Harry Potter fan dub Wizard People, Dear Reader.
Why you should watch it: Because nobody on TV talks, sings, or holds a televised debate for department chairmanship like a Brad Neely character. The dialogue on China, IL is a singular gumbo of historical references, second-hand pop-culture riffs, and slang terms of the series’ own invention. (Professor Frank Smith is fond of “rat dicks” as a pejorative and an exclamation; Baby Cakes mixes Canadian whisky, maple syrup, and instant oatmeal into a treat he dubs “Canada Cake.”) Combined with a deep bench of supporting players (like Hulk Hogan as the school’s brawny dean) and the made-up commodities that litter the university’s landscape (King Drunk Beer, for one), the bizarro world of China, IL sets itself further and further apart with each passing episode.
5. Don’t Trust The B—— In Apartment 23 (2012-2013) (26 episodes)
What’s it about: A fresh-faced optimist (Dreama Walker) moves to the big city and immediately learns that she’s in way over her head. Her roommate (Krysten Ritter) is a party girl sociopath whose favorite thing is to create chaos with her ex and best friend, James Van Der Beek (James Van Der Beek). Chaos and depravity ensues.
Why you should watch it: It’s a familiar premise for a sitcom, but Don’t Trust The B is a sharp and absurdist treat thanks to showrunner Nahnatchka Khan (American Dad, Fresh Off The Boat) and her talented cast. Krysten Ritter is perfectly wicked as agent of chaos Chloe, Walker is so much funnier than she needs to be as the show’s requisite wet blanket, Eric Andre keeps it weird even as a bewildered straight man, and Van Der Beek’s best role to date is this hyperbolic version of himself. You could do a lot worse than spend a day basking in the acidic charm of Apartment 23’s bonkers tenants.
Who’s it for? Anyone who’s already rewatched 30 Rock so many times they need a new “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” [Caroline Framke]
Streaming on: Netflix
6. The Fosters (2013-Present) (42 episodes)
What’s it about? The lives of interracial, same-sex couple Stef and Lena, and the trials and tribulations that come with raising a multi-ethnic, blended family. It’s a show that not only positions LGBT characters as the leads—something still lacking on much of television—but also deals with issues of family and identity with nuance and heart. There are “event” episodes that deal with adopted children meeting their biological parents, or teen pregnancy and the morning-after pill, but more than anything, The Fosters is about the chaos and rewards of the family unit in all of its forms.
Why you should watch it: Because it has all the ingredients for a binge-watch: It’s unobtrusive but also challenging, boasts more than a few cliffhangers; feels very lived-in; and it deals with issues of gender, identity, and sexuality in a refreshingly honest, non-exploitative way.
Who’s it for? Fans of family dramas with a social-issue bent; people who wish Parenthood was more diverse; anyone with a heart and working tear ducts [Kyle Fowle]
Streaming on: Netflix
7. Halt And Catch Fire (2014-Present) (10 episodes)
What’s it about? Set in the Silicon Prairie of Texas, Halt And Catch Fire takes a deep look at the personal computer revolution. That technological boom is just the backdrop for a more thorough exploration of familial responsibility (especially in regards to main character Gordon Clark) and the inner workings of corporate America. Much of the show’s first season follows the staff at Cardiff Electric as they work tirelessly to put together a portable PC for a showing at the upcoming Comdex expo.
Why you should watch it: Because its second season is set to air on May 31, and what else can fit the giant period-television void left by Mad Men? (The answer is nothing, but hey, might as well give this a shot.)
Who’s it for? Fans of period wigs and wardrobes; tech lovers; and anyone who loves cinematography that’s somehow both grainy and completely polished [Kyle Fowle]
Streaming on: Netflix
8. High Maintenance (2012-present) (19 episodes)
What’s it about? High Maintenance began in 2012 as a web series created and produced by the husband-wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld. Sinclair stars as The Guy, a New York City weed dealer who makes all of his deliveries by bike. Each episode, ranging anywhere from six to 20 minutes in length, focuses on a single, and singularly strange, customer of The Guy’s. Sinclair is the recurring character in each episode, but High Maintenance is more about the mystery and depth of the people he encounters.
Why you should watch it: Because it was just picked up by HBO for a six-episode run. That, and it’s funny as hell, with a surprising amount of heart and humanity to go with the stoner jokes and outlandish characters.
Who’s it for? Folks who think the New York City of Girls is too squeaky clean; 4/20 participants; those who like their comedies in snack-sized doses (which may have something to do with being a 4/20 participant) [Kyle Fowle]
Streaming on: Vimeo
9. Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (1988–1990) (13 episodes)
What’s it about? By 1988, Jim Henson already had a lot of experience with the darker side of fantasy, having shepherded The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth to the big screen. Still, The Storyteller—an anthology series that adapts obscure European folktales and Greek myths—felt like nothing he had done before. That’s largely due to the involvement of future The English Patient and Cold Mountain director Anthony Minghella, who was then mainly known as a playwright. As a result, each installment packs an almost Shakespearean wallop that’s often missing from Henson’s best dramatic work.
Why you should watch it: Since The Storyteller aired on HBO, Henson and company had the creative freedom to experiment with shadow puppetry, animation, and other visual feats that went well beyond the hand-and-rod limitations of the Muppets. This is especially true of the second season, which birthed some of Henson’s most terrifying creations—his Minotaur and Medusa are right up there with the Skeksis. But The Storyteller’s greatest strength is the title character (John Hurt in season one, Michael Gambon in season two), who, in addition to narrating each tale at an accessible speed, spins his yarns to a lovably grumpy (and often hungry) dog that serves as an audience surrogate. It’s easy to picture Henson pulling inspiration from stories he’d told his own children, two of whom were directly involved with The Storyteller: Daughter Lisa pitched the show, while son Brian played the dog.
Who’s it for? Fans of darker Henson fare; fans of lighter Minghella fare; anyone who enjoyed Faerie Tale Theatre as a child (both series even adapted “The Story Of The Youth Who Went Forth To Learn What Fear Was” for an early episode) [Dan Caffrey]
Streaming on: YouTube
10. The Last Man On Earth (2015-current) (13 episodes)
What’s it about? After an unspecified apocalyptic event (referred to only as “The Virus”), one lonely man schemes to turn the dissolution of society to his romantic and sexual advantage. Will Forte’s sheepish appeal makes Phil Miller, the self-supposed last man on Earth, equally pathetic and sympathetic, and Kristen Schaal brings her peculiar charms to the role of Carol, the presumed last woman on Earth and the self-appointed guardian of social order.
Why you should watch it: In weekly half-hours, The Last Man On Earth plays out at a pace that can test viewers’ patience—with the premise, with the slow regrouping in Tucson, with Phil Miller’s naked self-interest, and, paradoxically, with the sheer ineptitude of his ploys. But marathoning the first season’s 13 episodes builds his clumsy attempts at manipulation and his repeated humiliations to peaks of absurdity, making Phil’s unpalatable traits more hilarious than repugnant.
Who it’s for? Lazy survivalists; MacGruber survivors; people who think The Stand would make a swell comedy [Emily L. Stephens]
Streaming on: Hulu Plus
11. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-present) (28 episodes)
What’s it about? When the Great War takes out her titled relations, Phryne (that’s “fry-knee”) Fisher becomes The Honourable Miss, and independently wealthy to boot. She’s returned to Australia after years abroad, determined to make sure her sister’s murderer stays behind bars, but don’t be fooled by either her stuffy title or her gruesome past. The fabulous (we’re talking drag-queen-level fabulous) lady detective catapults through life at a speed rivaled only by her Hispano-Suiza, tackling each mystery with the help of her sweet but skittish lady’s maid Dot and two handsome, flummoxed policemen. Each season has its own overarching story, but every episode brings a new murder to be solved, paramour to be conquered, and plenty of gowns, suits, hats, and hair jewelry. It’s bliss.
Why you should watch it: Because we could use more than a few Miss Fishers. As played by Essie Davis—who describes her role as “a cross between Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie style, James Bond, and Wonder Woman”—Phryne is a feminist superhero in marabou and pearls. It’s a total hoot, no matter how grim the subject, but Miss Fisher’s joy for life isn’t so much a denial of the darkness that surrounds her as a refusal to succumb to its call—an angle that manages to give the show a subtlety and strength that simmers beneath its episodic surface. Her blend of passion and effervescence is equal parts feathers and flint, bourbon and champagne. (There’s also a great will they/won’t they, if that’s your thing.)
Streaming on: Netflix
12. My Boys (2006-2010) (49 episodes)
What’s it about? Jordana Spiro plays a Chicago sportswriter named P.J. who has a hard time finding romance because she spends most of her leisure time drinking and goofing around with a circle of male friends, including her exhausted family-man brother Andy (stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan), her slacker disc-jockey roommate (Reid Scott, now better known for Veep), and her smug, cluelessly rich professional rival and love-interest Bobby (Kyle Howard). Typical episodes find P.J. and her buddies killing time with little contests and arguments, while secretly trying to make sure that everyone in the group stays single and/or miserable, so that nothing changes.
Why you should watch it: Because it’s the kind of ensemble-driven “hangout” sitcom that networks keep making but have a hard time getting right. TBS pulled the plug on My Boys too soon, but not before creator Betsy Thomas was able to produce nearly 50 episodes of refreshingly low-key comedy, played by a sharp cast of veterans and then-newcomers. The show found its voice fairly early in its first season, as Thomas and her writers quickly developed the confidence to keep the plotting to a minimum and to let the actors and characters carry the comedic weight in long scenes at the bar or at the poker table.
Streaming on: Netflix
13. Party Animals (2007) (8 episodes)
What’s it about? Before Matt Smith made it big on Doctor Who, he starred as bumbling, idealistic parliamentary researcher Danny Foster on this short-lived British political melodrama. The “party animals” of the title are the sexy twentysomething governmental players who argue Labour and Tory politics by day then blow off steam in bars—and in each other’s beds—at night.
Why you should watch it: Despite its unabashedly soapy roots, Party Animals is thoughtful, grounded, and far more interested in actually discussing politics than something like Scandal. It features committed performances from its talented cast and a fantastic female character in capable Tory advisor Ashika Chandirimani (Shelley Conn). But it’s the complicated relationship between Danny and his cynical lobbyist brother Scott (Andrew Buchan) that really makes the show sing—and occasionally dance.
Who’s it for? Those who feel the political idealism of The West Wing would be improved by some Grey’s Anatomy-style bed hopping; Doctor Who fans; anyone curious about the British political system [Caroline Siede]
Streaming on: Hulu
14. Party Down (2009-2010) (20 episodes)
What’s it about? When Party Down premiered, the career paths of its stars—Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, and Ryan Hansen—weren’t dissimilar from the characters they portrayed. In the show and in real life, they were creative types who’d bounced around Hollywood, their greatest successes coming from cult hits (Lynch in the films of Christopher Guest, Marino with The State, Starr on Freaks And Geeks, and Hansen on Veronica Mars) and memorable supporting roles (Caplan in Mean Girls, Scott in Step Brothers). The long-term detour into catering is where art stops imitating life, but it gives Party Down an ideal, ever-changing backdrop for its characters’ artistic frustrations, petty squabbles, furtive romances, and skillful use of profanity.
Why you should watch it: Because unlike the viewing public in 2009, you’re aware of how talented these people are. (For Lynch, that awareness came about in the middle of Party Down’s run, with the rise of Sue Sylvester making way for Megan Mullally to join the cast in season two.) More than that, Party Down is a perfectly assembled TV comedy, satisfying in its stand-alone stories and its serialized arcs. Party Down is a workplace sitcom with no set workplace, each welcome-home party, industry shindig, or poorly planned orgy bringing with it a new set of comic misunderstandings and another crew of disgruntled, hostile, and/or potentially homicidal guests.
Who’s it for? Dream deferrers; fans of a farce that’s comfortable with calling itself a farce, anyone who knows Lynch did her best work pre-Glee [Erik Adams]
Streaming on: Hulu Plus
15. Planet Earth (2006) (11 episodes)
What’s it about? After the BBC’s docu-series Blue Planet gained widespread acclaim for its in-depth exploration of the world’s oceans, the channel ordered a follow-up that would be more broad in scope. The result was Planet Earth, a singular cinematic achievement for television that took years to film. Over the course of 11 episodes, Planet Earth travels to lush forests, dusty deserts, frozen ice worlds, dank caves, and the deepest parts of the ocean in startling detail.
Why you should watch it: There’s hardly any television more beautiful than Planet Earth. It’s obvious in every sweeping shot just how much care the production team took to create something unique. It’s just about impossible not to get swept up in the drama of speeding down the Serengeti, skimming along the ocean with a school of gleaming fish, plunging through an ice floe, or even just focusing on a tiny insect hanging off a dripping rainforest leaf. It’s also exactly the kind of versatile programming a binge-watch demands. Planet Earth can be the main event, enveloping you in its many worlds so completely that hours go by in a blink, or it can be on in the background for periodic check-ins while entertaining. Most of all, Planet Earth is just about perfect viewing for the end of the night, when the party’s over and you’re just drunk or stoned enough to settle in and let the show take over.
Who’s it for? Anyone with wanderlust; curiosity; or appreciation for fish that look like feet [Caroline Framke]
Streaming on: Netflix
16. Rick And Morty (2013-present) (11 episodes)
What’s it about? Mad scientist Rick Sanchez continually whisks his 14-year-old grandson Morty on a series of sci-fi adventures in an animated approximation of the Back To The Future dynamic, with Rick as a drunker, cruder, less principled Doc Brown, and Morty as an infinitely more hapless and confused Marty. Futurama had its dark elements, but this series from Justin Roiland (who voices both main characters) and Dan Harmon takes the “anything goes” possibilities of comedy sci-fi to even darker and more inventively insane places. Premises like a miniaturized theme park inside a hobo’s body, cable TV from infinite universes, and the occasional death of the main characters successfully blend with moments of unexpectedly potent heart, all the more affecting for how they emerge from the chaos.
Why you should watch it: A Rick And Morty binge-watch practically begs for a double-marathon just to catch all the jokes. Part of the reason is the show’s improvisational verbal humor, with Roiland and his absurdly talented supporting cast (including Harmon, Chris Parnell, Sarah Chalke, and Spencer Grammer) vying with the eccentrically imaginative visuals to create a breathless comic style that’s nonetheless surprisingly affecting in its hard-edged humanism. Plus, lots of sublime belching.
Who’s it for? Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fans; Archer fans; those who snort booze through their nose in the face of a cold and implacable universe [Dennis Perkins]
Streaming on: Adult Swim
17. Space: 1999 (1975-1977) (48 episodes)
What’s it about? In a very 1970s-looking 1999, 311 multinational crew members peacefully man Moonbase Alpha, Earth’s first space colony, under the no-nonsense command of Martin Landau’s Commander John Koenig. But when a massive explosion sends the moon flinging out of Earth’s orbit, Koenig finds himself the captain of an isolated outpost of humanity, hurtling into uncharted space and dealing with dwindling supplies, the occasional mutiny, and each week’s requisite alien encounter. Essentially, the moon is the Starship Enterprise, with Landau as a much more dour Kirk, Barbara Bain as an even less-expressive Spock (and she’s completely human), and a wry Barry Morse as a less-excitable Bones.
Why you should watch it: Because its inexplicable combination of deadly seriousness, utterly lazy (and bonkers) science, and sterile-yet-funky ’70s design produces a singularly schizophrenic viewing experience that’s as entertaining as the episodes themselves. Space: 1999 is always a minute recalibration away from unintentional self-parody, but every time you’re tempted to go full Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the action (as MST3K itself did in its UHF days), there’s a poetic interlude, a thoughtful philosophical theme, or an overqualified guest star (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Brian Blessed among them) to bring you back to attention. Plus, the multi-ethnic cast (in the first season, anyway) was bold for the time, and Space: 1999 still boasts the most exciting theme song/opening sequence in TV history.
Who’s it for? Sci-fi geeks (earnest or ironic); scientists (ironic only); jumpsuit enthusiasts [Dennis Perkins]
Streaming on: Hulu
18. Some Girls (2012-2014) (18 episodes)
What’s it about? British television has been beating American television ever since Skins and The Inbetweeners, and Some Girls continues that trend by centering on a high school friend group that feels truly grounded in reality, even when the comedic premises reach heightened levels. Viva Bennett (Adelayo Adedayo), Amber Dean (Alice Felgate), Holli Vavasour (Natasha Jonas), and Saz Kaur (Mandeep Dhillon) love each other in the complicated and whispery way high school girlfriends love each other: They share sodas and secrets and have fights that are sometimes silly, sometimes serious, but always rooted in emotions that are recognizable and genuine. And even though the girls seem, at first, to fit neatly into predetermined character types, they shift and bend, surprise and grow in the ways real human women do.
Why you should watch it: Because it’s one of the most tightly written—and straight-up funny—high-school-set shows out there. Series creator Bernadette Davis wrote all 18 episodes, and her biting, irreverent voice brings every episode to life. As a racially and socioeconomically diverse group of women, the characters of Some Girls don’t look or act like the majority of teens you find on television—they’ll remind you more of people in your own life. And despite being unknowns to American audiences, all four members of the main ensemble are terrific. It’s hard to not immediately fall for Felgate and the many ridiculous faces she makes as the gentle giant Amber. And Dhillon captures Saz’s insecurity and strength with equal depth, sometimes simultaneously.
Who’s it for? People who watched Skins and thought “Hey, I wish this show was just about the girls”; fans of female friendships; anyone who has ever had a ruthless soccer coach [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]
Streaming on: Hulu Plus
19. The Story Of Film: An Odyssey (2011) (15 episodes)
What’s it about? Historian-critic Mark Cousins adapts his own book, covering more than a century of movie making from around the world in 15 packed, provocative hours. While narrating in a whispery Northern Irish accent (which takes some getting used to, frankly), Cousins analyzes how changes in technology and culture have affected the progress of this radical modern art form. The result is an informative, personal, and sometimes challenging alternative to the typical university cinema-studies course.
Why you should watch it: Because Cousins understands that it’s possible to talk about the art and history of cinema without using the same examples as everyone else. The Story Of Film is as specific as it needs to be about the development of montage, the revolutions of sound and color, and how various movements around the world have fed off of each other. But Cousins also goes looking for filmmakers who’ve been underrepresented in the Western canon, intending to tell a familiar story with new illustrations.
Who’s it for? Film buffs who are tired of hearing about John Ford and François Truffaut and would like to know more about Kenji Mizoguchi and Ritwik Ghatak [Noel Murray]
Streaming on: Netflix
20. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015) (13 episodes)
What’s it about? Ellie Kemper stars as Kimmy, one of four Indiana “mole women” kept underground for years by a mysterious cult leader. When she is finally released and flown to Today to talk about her experience, she decides to stay in New York to build a new life for herself. Created by Tina Fey and her 30 Rock collaborator Robert Carlock, the series explores Kimmy Schmidt’s attempt to integrate herself back into society with the help of her fabulous roommate (Tituss Burgess), crazy landlord (Carol Kane), and vapid boss (Jane Krakowski).
Why you should watch it: For Kimmy Schmidt, Fey and Carlock break the few sensical boundaries that barely contained them in 30 Rock. They wryly use Kimmy’s plight to create commentary on fame, notoriety, feminism, class structure, even religion, peppered with the absurdist asides craved by Fey fans. Kemper has been sweetly sufficient in movies like Bridesmaids and TV shows like The Office, but she’s a revelation here—Kimmy’s intrepid peppiness could read as annoying portrayed by anyone less likable. Dynamic guest stars like Amy Sedaris and Nick Kroll bolster an already strong cast, and the unveiling of Kimmy’s captor is too perfect a stunt-cast to reveal here. Let’s just say the rapidly increasing desire to find out what happens to Kimmy is what the binge-watch was made for.
Who’s it for? People who liked 30 Rock but thought it was slightly too tame; fans of ’90s pop-culture references; bereft Mad Men fans who could use a new mysterious personal journey to follow [Gwen Ihnat]
Streaming on: Netflix
21. The Westerner (1960) (13 episodes)
What’s it about? A man and his dog wandering the old West. Right from the premise it’s clear The Westerner isn’t your typical Western: Sam Peckinpah created the series after producers diluted his vision of The Rifleman, which he pitched as the story of a reluctant coward in a world ruled by shame and intimidation. When Peckinpah left, he channeled that cynicism into his own show, The Westerner. His hero was lonely, sullen, and worn-out Dave Blassingame, and he came to life not in a handsome giant like Chuck Connors but in character actor Brian Keith. One week he tracks down a treasure, one week he joins a line camp, one week he’s in a rom-com, but throughout the short season, The Westerner chisels at the vision of the West Peckinpah would later realize on the big screen in Ride The High Country and The Wild Bunch.
Why you should watch it: In just 13 episodes (and the episode of Zane Grey Theater that it spun off from), Dave Blassingame and his dog made one of the best Westerns in television history and best dramas of their time; offbeat, moody, and styled from the central performance through to the sparse but romantic sets. The Westerner’s world is careless at best and hostile at worst, and Keith spiced up any story he found himself in, facing it all with a wry smile. Peckinpah wrote and directed the most episodes, but he was joined behind the camera by pulpy existentialists like André De Toth and Ted Post. The Westerner isn’t available on DVD, so in the meantime, the YouTube release will have to do. It might not offer the best presentation, but the scrappiness is just right.
Who’s it for? Terriers fans who know the value of a one-season wonder; antihero drama genealogists; dog people [Brandon Nowalk]
Streaming on: YouTube