In what’s becoming a holiday tradition around these parts, The A.V. Club has once again combed the catalogs of the major streaming services to help guide your binge-watching over the Thanksgiving weekend. Unlike in years past, there’s a headline-grabbing Netflix premiere set for Black Friday—and while we’re plenty excited for the return of Gilmore Girls, The A.V. Club recognizes that not everyone will be making the return trip to Stars Hollow. In that spirit, please accept this bounty of TV favorites new and old, all of which are waiting to be beamed to the internet-enabled device of your choice.
1. Bored To Death (2009-2011) (24 episodes)
What’s it about? Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is a struggling writer who’s mostly unlucky in love. He decides to take a break from rejection and work as an unlicensed private detective, the better to avoid dealing with his own problems by zeroing in on other people’s. With only a Raymond Chandler book as his guide, he dives right into the seamy underbelly… of Park Slope. Things get more absurd and dangerous for the clueless dick, but he muddles through with the help of his friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and father figure George (Ted Danson).
Why should you watch it? Whether or not you’re retreating from family, this stoner detective comedy is a great way to spend a long weekend. Here, the drama and tension quickly give way to funny and genuinely sweet moments. And the trio of Schwartzman, Galifianakis, and Danson turns shooting the shit into an art.
Streaming on: HBO Now and Amazon Prime. [Danette Chavez]
2. Columbo (1971-2003) (43 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Peter Falk stars as Columbo, a Los Angeles homicide detective who always gets his man. (Or woman.) Debuting in 1971 and airing intermittently until 2003, Columbo hinges on a still-novel concept: Each episode starts off following a potential killer and their victim, watching the lead up to the crime and often the murder itself. Instead of a mystery focusing on the identity of the villain, the show focuses its attention on Columbo’s patient, dogged pursuit of justice, and the ways that pursuit routinely brings him into contact with a wealthy elite who consider themselves above the law. With no recurring characters beyond its titular hero, Columbo could almost be called an anthology series, were it not for its surprisingly consistent structure. Someone thinks they can take matters into their own hands; then a friendly, shabby little man shows up and teaches them the error of their ways.
Why should you watch it? As procedural fans can tell you, a consistent structure can be as satisfying as a relentlessly inventive one; the familiarity provides a reliable source of comfort, offering drama without any serious threat of shock. But Columbo finds plenty of ways to surprise and innovative with the limits of its model, with inventive camera work, clever, well-considered scripts, and an attention to unexpected detail. But really, it’s Falk and the fundamental decency he conveys on-screen that make the show such a reliable treat. Unlike other detectives who get by on antihero theatrics, Columbo’s level-headed determination is reassuring precisely because it presumes that justice is an inevitably, provided you make the time for it.
Who’s it for? Law & Order fans looking something a little more humane; people with a yen for character actors at their best; and anyone looking for evidence that rich criminals still get caught, even if they are only fictional.
Streaming on: The first seven seasons are on Netflix. [Zack Handlen]
3. Carnivàle (2003-2005) (24 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? After the death of his mother and the loss of his family farm, a young man (Nick Stahl) joins a traveling carnival and begins a journey across the Southwestern United States amid the ravages of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. But there’s more to Ben Hawkins and the carnival’s troupe than meets the eye, and Carnivàle follows his struggle to understand and accept the meaning of his mysterious magical powers. Meanwhile, a preacher in California (Clancy Brown), begins going through a similar transformation, experiencing the same bizarre visions and displaying supernatural abilities. Soon enough, the two find themselves caught up in an eternal struggle between good and evil with apocalyptic implications.
Why should you watch it? Carnivàle’s mysteries are presented at a rapid pace and its answers at an agonizing drip, and yet the mythology behind the series is so strange that it’s fascinating to watch unfold, even all these years later. The series was canceled before its larger narrative was able to play out, and some of its questions were left hanging. (The show’s creator did give us some insight into his plans beyond the impromptu series finale.) But as with any mystery-heavy show worth its salt, the mythological leanings are just trappings for a story about the inner lives of these carnival workers. It’s brought to life by a vast, talented cast, beautiful photography, and tremendous attention to detail in recreating its Depression-era setting, all of which makes lingering in its world a vicarious thrill even when nothing particularly thrilling is happening.
Streaming on: HBO Now and Amazon Prime. [Matt Gerardi]
4. The Crown (2016) (10 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? The Crown is an alternately wonky and swoony drama about the British monarchy and the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The episodes that dropped earlier in November mark the first batch in a planned six seasons from Peter Morgan, a man with a proven knack for dramatizing history—British and otherwise. Though Morgan’s screenplays have included Frost/Nixon and The Last King Of Scotland, he seems most obsessed by Elizabeth and her court. The Queen may have won Helen Mirren an Oscar, but The Crown is the fullest expression of this fixation. It begins in 1947 with Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, and examines their often tense relationship as she assumes her duty following the death of her father. Their romantic squabbles borne out of jealousy and misogyny are part of the action, but not the only thread. It’s a comprehensive look at Britain’s structures of power as she assumes her role, and also ventures inside Parliament, where an aged Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) is hanging on as prime minister, to the consternation of many around him.
Why should you watch it? Exhausted by American history right now? Spend some time with our former rulers. (Not that they don’t have their share of problems these days.) The Crown is a thorough treat that’s incisive about leadership. It’s a detailed look at how an antiquated system holds onto its meaning, and how a woman works within its confines. Visually, it’s a treat for the eyes—the detail is impeccable—and the performances are uniformly excellent. Claire Foy is the next great British talent, and you should expect to see her just about everywhere soon. John Lithgow, meanwhile, will win an Emmy for his complete transformation into The British Bulldog.
Who’s it for? Those that can’t tear themselves away from the Daily Mail’s royal coverage no matter how hard they try; Anglophiles; Corgi lovers; Downton Abbey mourners.
Streaming on: Netflix. [Esther Zuckerman]
5. Difficult People (2015-2016) (18 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, comedians and stars of Difficult People, play Julie Kessler and Billy Epstein, struggling wannabe comedians, writers, entertainers… and whatever else pops into their heads. The two attempt to make their dreams come true in New York, only to constantly sabotage themselves with their own short-sighted, self-obsessed failings. While Julie is supported by loving boyfriend and PBS employee Arthur (James Urbaniak) and deals with her overbearing mother (Andrea Martin), Billy waits tables for a boss that can’t stand him (Gabourey Sidibe) and works his way through through an ongoing assembly line of guys. The two continually end up right back with they started after their efforts—though usually none the wiser for their ordeals.
Why should you watch it? Of all the half-hour comedies currently in production and available for your viewing pleasure, perhaps none are as sharp-tongued in their barbs or as intelligent and knowing in their cultural asides as this Hulu original. Seeing a worse version of someone you identify with (or have met) live out the tribulations you’ve (hopefully) managed to avoid is both cathartic and deeply funny. Both Klausner and Eichner have already made successful careers talking about the same subjects as their fictional alter egos, but there’s something about seeing them do it again in narrative form—and in such a hapless fashion—that’s irresistible.
Who’s it for? Earlier this year, we talked about how the series was tailor-made for A.V. Club readers: It’s fast-paced, witty, and jam-packed with a barrage of pop culture references and biting assessments of the entertainment industry.
Streaming on: Hulu. [Alex McCown-Levy]
6. Dynasty (1981-1989) (196 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? An oil tycoon (John Forsythe) juggles family life, a scheming ex, and corporate takeovers—but from atop the Mile High City, not Dallas. Nonetheless, Aaron Spelling’s primetime soap struggled early on to distinguish itself, let alone surpass CBS’ drawlin’ drama. But after the addition of Joan Collins in season two, it became the glitziest of guilty pleasures. No debuttante or society wife (or fountain) was safe from Alexis Colby’s claws, and viewers looked forward to watching Collins strike down her enemies. As Krystle Carrington, Linda Evans provided a calmer counterpoint to Alexis’ constant scheming, though she was doomed to come in second. But even Krystle didn’t have to do much to make us all forget about Blake.
Why should you watch it? The absurd melodrama of Spelling’s series should help put your real-life Thanksgiving confrontations in perspective. (If not, you can always blame your evil twin for the shitty thing you said over pumpkin pie.) But if family squabbles and reworked fairy tales aren’t enough, the list of guest or recurring actors includes Billy Dee Williams, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston, Ali MacGraw, and a young Jack “HRG” Coleman.
Who’s it for? Escapists, ballroom brawlers, and shoulder-pad adherents.
Streaming on: The first eight seasons are streaming on Amazon Prime, which is a perfectly good place to stop, since the ninth season mostly served as a bridge to the Colbys spin-off. [Danette Chavez]
7. Fleabag (2016) (6 episodes)
What’s it about? This half-hour (very) dark comedy chronicles the misadventures of an angry, hard-drinking London woman whose life is colored by tragedy. Fleabag, played by creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is a portrait of grief unfettered. She’s lost her mother and, more recently, her best friend, and she’s taking her pain out in copious amounts of alcohol and general hedonism. She’s a shitty girlfriend to a boring guy, a relentless teaser of her uptight sister, and a worthy opponent of her patronizing stepmom. In her own way, she’s also charming and funny, and spending time in her company is a hoot, even as she wrecks everything around her.
Why should you watch it: It will feed your need for misanthropy while you deal with relatives. You may have to keep your bad behavior in check, but you can relish in Fleabag’s. (Just wait until she starts breaking glasses with abandon.) Aside from that, Waller-Bridge is an immensely appealing writer and performer, with a knack for scripting cheeky dialogue and tapping into despair.
Who’s it for? Nasty women of all stripes; anyone that needs a stiff drink of biting wit; Catastrophe fans.
Streaming on: Amazon. [Esther Zuckerman]
8. Fingersmith (2005) (two episodes screening)
What’s it about? Given the notoriety of Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, you probably know the basics. Scrappy thief Sue is offered the perfect gig by the dashing con artist Gentleman—posing as a maid for isolated lady Maude. The score: Convincing Maude to marry Gentleman, who has plans to take the money, dump Maude in an asylum, and run—leaving Sue with a cut of the profits. The twist: Maude isn’t the innocent she seems to be. What neither woman counted on: They’re in an adaptation of a Sarah Waters novel, so they’re actually lesbian as all hell. Fingersmith wallows in a little pulp Gothic, from the gray cast of London to the ecosystem of predators and prey in back rooms and drawing rooms. But its strength is the thriller it makes of its central love story, with deliciously complex leads. Occasionally, the potboiler pace of the second half threatens to overrun the psychological tension, but Elaine Cassidy and veteran piner Sally Hawkins bring an aching loneliness to Maude and Sue that sells even the most Dickensian plot twists.
Why should you watch it? On this dour, dire Thanksgiving, don’t underestimate the comfort of star-crossed love that triumphs against unbelievable odds. Or play Victorian Trope Bingo. That works, too.
Who’s it for? Anyone who enjoys a period piece in which Victorian London looks suitably disgusting; anyone trying to ease the family into an ambitious group outing to The Handmaiden; anyone who needs to see love prevail.
Streaming on: Acorn TV. [Genevieve Valentine]
9. Frontline (1983-present) (220 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Hoo, boy: Iraq, ISIS, insurance fraud, predatory lending, Benghazi, the heroin epidemic, and medical malfeasance—and that’s just in the past year. Frontline has been on the air since the early 1980s, and swept up rafts of Peabodys and Emmys over that span for its bracing, bullshit-free investigations of the weightiest subjects imaginable. It is the hardest show on television.
Why should you watch it? Decades-old public television institutions may not seem all that exciting, but Frontline has an almost shocking sense of clarity and bravery. Vice’s weekly show on HBO gets a lot of traction out of dropping a reporter and a cameraperson smack in the middle of a situation, but that show only ever gets around to the exposition of its subject. Frontline refuses to conclude with a shrug. Instead, the reporters relentlessly probe the issues, with episode lengths often stretching well over an hour, viewing the subject from every possible angle until they find not just visceral “we went there” kicks (à la Vice) but the humans living these stories out. The thoroughness of the investigations and epic scope of its subject matter is enough to remind you why decades-old public television institutions exist.
Who’s it for? People who have watched every depressing-ass documentary Netflix can throw at them and are ready for the real shit.
10. Gravity Falls (2012-2016) (40 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Twelve-year-old twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) are sent to the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, where they stay with their great uncle Stan (show creator Alex Hirsch) in his tourist trap, The Mystery Shack. What seems like a boring way to spend the summer turns into a journey into the unknown, as the area is home to all manner of paranormal weirdness: gnomes, zombies, body-swapping carpets, time travelers, child psychics, and a vast interdimensional conspiracy (to name a few).
Why should you watch it? With the world-building of The Simpsons and the otherworldliness of The X-Files, Gravity Falls is one of the most well-formed animated kids’ series in years. Its imagination is bottomless, matched in equal parts by gloriously detailed animation and a sharp sense of humor. And while it frequently skews to the absurd in its plots and supporting cast, it remains anchored in its focus on the characters at the center. Its stories are as much about Dipper and Mabel growing up as they are about fighting off a shapeshifter or dealing with size-altering crystals.
Who’s it for? Anyone with fond summer vacation memories; people who can’t wait for new Twin Peaks to satisfy their appetite for Pacific Northwest oddness; those who lost track due to its beyond-random broadcast schedule.
Streaming on: Hulu. [Les Chappell]
11. The Great British Bake Off (2010-present) (30 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Twelve of Britain’s best amateur bakers compete in weekly competitions that test their abilities in pastry, cake, and bread. The show’s slow pace, low stakes, and emphasis on charm over humiliation make The Great British Bake Off stand out amid its angrier reality show brethren. Each episode sees the contestants in friendly competition as they bake the signature dish (their own interpretation of the week’s theme), are put to the test with the technical challenge (a difficult bake they walk into blind) and finish the week off with the show-stopper, when they go the extra mile to impress the judges. Taking place in a spacious tent tucked away in some verdant corner of England, the Bake Off is a delight for the eyes and is guaranteed to make you hungry—although the one time a year that might be alleviated is post-Thanksgiving dinner. Just make sure you have ample pie while you watch.
Why should you watch it? Hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc. You won’t find a more lovable duo, unless it’s in judges Merry Berry and Paul Hollywood. The hosts fill every episode to the brim with puns, while the judges provide endless expertise.
Who’s it for? Hobby bakers; pun lovers; anyone who wants easily consumable television with zero chance of offending family members.
Streaming on: YouTube, iTunes, and PBS. The jump across the pond changed the name from The Great British Bake Off to The Great British Baking Show for copyright reasons (that Pillsbury doughboy isn’t so jolly when it comes to trademarks), and PBS recast the season number in the order it started showing them, so even though the U.K. is on season seven, PBS and iTunes call it season three. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
12. Lovesick (2014-2016) (14 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? When Lovesick first popped up on Netflix it created a stir. Why? Well, back then it was known as Scrotal Recall, a title that makes the show sound like something from the mind of Tom Green. It is very much not. Instead, it’s an adorable British romantic comedy that just happens to have a sexually transmitted infection at its center. Dylan (Johnny Flynn), the scruffy lead, is diagnosed with chlamydia. Relaying this news to his former sexual partners sends him down a rabbit hole of flashbacks in which he revisits his past relationships. His companions are the douchey Luke (Daniel Ings) and the wry Evie (Antonia Thomas).
Why should you watch it? The will-they/won’t-they pairing of Dylan and Evie, who both harbor feelings for one another, is one of the best of its kind. The twisty time logic of the series makes it and the rest of the show intensely engaging, as do the actors at its center.
Who’s it for? Lovers; Richard Curtis devotees; hypochondriacs; those who want their Britcoms a little less acerbic than Fleabag.
Streaming on: Netflix [Esther Zuckerman]
13. MacGyver (1985-92) (139 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Handsome, handy, and mulleted, heroic Angus MacGyver uses bubble gum, duct tape, and safety clips to weave his way through a variety of exciting adventures. Chemical leaks in Bolivia? Dismantling bombs in Egypt? MacGyver’s got you covered. Don’t be fooled by his modern-day counterpart, who can’t hold a emergency-pack candle to the shining original example of self-sufficient know-how.
Why should you watch it? Richard Dean Anderson is a masterful, calming influence as the title character, even as he schools us all on how to create explosives or emergency shelter while only using a few household items. And the series’ escapist retro appeal cannot be denied, as a variety of late-’80s shoulder-padded beauties fall for MacGyver’s mulleted appeal, to the tune of a dated synth soundtrack.
Who’s it for? Survivalists, DIYers, hair historians.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime. [Gwen Ihnat]
14. Mozart In The Jungle (2014-2016) (20 episodes)
What’s it about? Based on Blair Tindall’s titillating memoir, this dramedy pulls the curtain back on world-class orchestras. A novice oboist (Lola Kirke) tries to make first (or any) chair in a symphony orchestra modeled after the New York Philharmonic, and discovers that there’s almost as much sex and drugs in the classical-music world as in its rock ’n’ roll counterpart. She finds a guide and partner in the charming, guileless conductor (Gael García Bernal) who’s tasked with contemporizing the institution. Malcolm McDowell lends a dramatic weight even as he skulks around his successor, and Saffron Burrows’ career musician is equal parts cool and hot-blooded.
Why should you watch it? Even if you can’t distinguish between Schubert and Schumann, there’s no real bar for entry. Mozart can be enjoyed as morsels or a buffet of Bernal, who lights up the small screen. Kirke brings a more grounded energy to their partnership, but she’s just as watchable. Besides, everyone likes a little music with dinner, right?
Who’s it for? Anyone who moves to their own beat, and/or enjoys composer puns (this show gets Bizet—consistently and thoroughly). And have we mentioned that Bernadette Peters actually sings on occasion?
Streaming on: The first two seasons are available on Amazon Prime, with the third season scheduled for December 9. [Danette Chavez]
15. The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show (2015-2016) (39 episodes)
What’s it about? Based on the Jay Ward shorts and the Dreamworks movie they inspired, The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show casts the canine inventor (Chris Parnell) and his pet boy (Max Charles) as hosts of a history-themed variety show. Despite its premise, the show rarely engages in any real historical exploration or satire, instead using its illustrious bookings as springboards into wacky adventures. The framing device focuses on the variety show segments, which, similar to The Muppet Show, find Mr. Peabody and Sherman trying to keep the show running in the face of mounting chaos. This is punctuated by Peabody’s recollections of the many historical figures he’s assisted throughout the ages, the show’s strongest links to vintage Ward.
Why should you watch it? It’s the strongest, funniest, and most consistent of Netflix’s animated offerings for kids. When the show hits a comic beat in confidence, it can inspire howls of laughter, but even then, there’s a real heart between the two leads. All of this can be best exemplified in the season three premiere, a Doctor Who-esque adventure that’s wildly entertaining and endearing, unafraid to let Mr. Peabody and Sherman say “I love you!” to each other. It also has Gary Busey voicing a dystopian-future version of Mr. Peabody, which is worth the watch alone.
Who’s it for? Nostalgic fans of the original; younger fans of the film; animation fans; people who love weird but stable relationships between a boy and his dog (i.e., everyone).
Streaming on: Netflix. [Kevin Johnson]
16. Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996) (264 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? For 12 blissful seasons, Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) was the best amateur investigator on television, a charming widow and generous neighbor with boundless energy and a knack for stumbling into murder cases. When a mystery novel she wrote, just to amuse herself, gets published, she becomes a minor celebrity, though never turning her back on her family and neighbors, nor leaving the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Her success sends her across the country, where she inevitably (and almost immediately) earns the trust of local law enforcement through her considerable skill for deductive reason and good old-fashioned persistence. Though there are a few recurring characters—most notably Jerry Orbach’s Harry McGraw, who earned his own ill-fated spin-off—this is Lansbury’s house, and the role earned her 12 Emmy nominations (though not one win).
Why should you watch it? There’s a refreshing simplicity to the homicides of Murder, She Wrote and the means by which they’re solved. There’s never much in the way of sturm und drang, even when a suspect’s lover or spouse is involved. While there’s certainly plenty of suspense, the characters are rarely vulgar, the crimes almost never horrific, and only occasionally does Jessica fear for her safety. It’s all very civilized and oddly compassionate, making it the perfect series to binge when stress (and distress) aren’t welcome companions.
Who’s it for? Mystery fans; people who like Law & Order but wish everyone were just a little nicer; people just dying to see a murder mystery where an amateur detective has to cross-examine a dog on the witness stand (i.e., everyone).
Streaming on: Netflix [Allison Shoemaker]
17. My Mad Fat Diary (2013-2015) (16 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Rae Earl (Sharon Rooney) weighs 16 stone (that’s about 220 pounds) and has just left a four-month stint at a mental hospital that her mom was late to pick her up from. Rae is a lovely character to spend time with as she tries to reintegrate herself back into the life of her childhood friend Chloe and her clique in 1990s Lincolnshire. The show, taking place over three seasons, is very much rooted in Rae’s mind, which comes to life in vivid ways on screen.
Why should you watch it? Rooney is fabulous as Rae and the writing is top notch, based on the diaries of the real Rae Earl, a British broadcaster and writer. (A crush isn’t just a crush, for example, he’s “gushington central.”) But My Mad Fat Diary’s real charm is in how perfectly it captures that feeling of adolescence.
Who’s it for? Anyone who has been a teenager and felt awkward in their own skin—and if you’re reading this site, it’s a pretty sure bet you fit into this category. It’s also perfect for Thanksgiving weekend if you have a habit of reverting back to your teenage self when in the presence of your family.
Streaming on: Hulu. [Molly Eichel]
18. The Path (2015-present) (10 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Michelle Monaghan stars as the heir to the family that steers a religious community compound. (Don’t call it a cult! Even though it’s totally a cult.) Aaron Paul is her doubtful husband, while Hugh Dancy is an old flame who’s flirting with leadership, the dark side, and Monaghan’s character. The show gets interesting when levels of faith start to waiver over the course of the season, so by the end, various positions are reversed. Just like our head trio, you won’t know what to believe anymore. But The Path’s surprising departures into the mystical make it more intriguing than the average streaming drama, and the mixture of the three leads offers an unlikely but compelling alchemy.
Why should you watch it? You can catch up quickly on The Path’s first season so you’ll be ready to tackle all the new spiritual twists and turns when season two premieres.
Who’s it for? Breaking Bad fans who want to know what happened to Jesse; Hannibal fans who want to know what happened to Will Graham; dissatisfied seekers looking for a new leader.
Streaming on: Hulu. [Gwen Ihnat]
19. Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) (27 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? The term “penny dreadful” dates to 19th-century Britain and referred to inexpensive fictional books with lurid and sensational subject matter. In keeping with tradition, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful highlights the same. Set in 1891 London, the horror drama draws from the stories of Dorian Gray, Dracula, Van Helsing, and the like, weaving dark and fantastical tales of protagonist Vanessa Ives’ triumphs over the powerful and benevolent forces of the underworld. It’s this heroine that seamlessly propels the narrative, saving it from the pitfall of becoming simply a clever collection of classic-horror references and allowing it to be an engrossing look at a woman’s perceived place in both worlds circa the late 1800s.
Why should you watch it? Eva Green. There’s no one to better shatter Victorian expectations and invigorate a modern retelling of some of history’s spookiest stories. She acts from the top of her head to the tips of her toes (her exorcism scene in episode seven of season one trumps anything from Linda Blair and it’s done with much less makeup and special effects.), inspiring at least one A.V. Club staffer to request an entirely appropriate title change for the show: Eva Green’s Penny Dreadful Starring Eva Green And Friends.
Who’s it for? Horror buffs looking for a fresh take on the classics; aspiring actors; anyone wondering where Josh Hartnett has been.
Streaming on: Netflix. [Becca James]
20. Schoolhouse Rock (1973-2002) (41 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? Schoolhouse Rock was a delightful animated series that offered educational breaks between Saturday morning cartoon shows in the 1970s. Multiplication tables, parts of speech, scientific concepts, and government processes were never easier to learn than when bolstered by this series’ winning animation and catchy songs. The vast majority of these three-minute snippets are from that first ’70s batch, but a few are more recent, including a suddenly relevant 2002 episode on the electoral college.
Why should you watch it? You need a snappy tune to help you remember the preamble of the Constitution. Or you want to find out how to get a bill passed.
Who’s it for? Parents who want entertaining educational programming for their kids that doesn’t drive them crazy; Gen X-ers feeling nostalgic; anyone who could use a grammar, science, or government mini-refresher course.
Streaming on: ABC app [Gwen Ihnat]
21. Selfie (2014) (13 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? A modern take on My Fair Lady, Selfie offered two appealing stars in a will-they/won’t-they that was cut short much too soon. Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a social media superstar who needs to improve her interactions with actual humans, while Henry Higgs (John Cho) is an expert on modern-day etiquette who is a bit too tightly wound. The show made excellent use of apps as euphemism for various kinds of manners, as well as the considerable heat between the two stars. Unfortunately, Selfie was axed just as the show got into a groove, leaving the two leads with an unfulfilled romantic future.
Why should you watch it? Those 13 episodes make for a short, fun binge post-family-visit, with lots of almost-but-not-quite-moments that’ll give you some fun fodder to ponder what might have been.
Who’s it for? Self-improvement fanatics; Luddites who could use some schooling on social media; diehard romantics who love to watch the will-they/won’t-they fencing match.
Streaming on: Hulu, ABC app. [Gwen Ihnat]
22. That ’70s Show (1998-2006) (200 episodes)
What’s it about? A surprisingly warm family comedy about a bunch of potheads, That ’70s Show took Happy Days throwback format and propelled it forward a few decades. Yes, goofballs like Ashton Kutcher and Wilmer Valderrama could be entertaining at times, but the show had a solid anchor in protagonist Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his parents, stern Red (Kurtwood Smith) and loving Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp). Eric’s romance with the girl next door, Donna (Laura Prepon), is one of the greats in sitcom history.
Why should you watch it? Hanging out in the basement, trying to get beer, fighting over gas money, pining for your classmates: That ’70s Show’s themes are relatable even if your adolescence didn’t coincide with the Nixon administration. And it has more than a few excellent performances (by Grace, Kutcher, and a young Mila Kunis, especially) to back them up.
Who’s it for? Anyone longing to escape to a simpler era of high gas prices, streaking, hard rock, and pot-legalization activists.
Streaming on: Netflix. [Gwen Ihnat]
23. Trophy Wife (2013-14) (22 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? In the history of TV comedies prematurely doomed by their titles, the tragedy of Trophy Wife ranks up there with the similarly winning Cougar Town. But Courteney Cox and friends hung around the cul-de-sac for six seasons in spite of their low ratings; the blended brood of Trophy Wife (the title is sarcastic! IT’S SARCASTIC!) were evicted after one. Malin Akerman stands at the center of a seasoned cast (which also includes Marcia Gay Harden, Bradley Whitford, Michaela Watkins, and Natalie Morales) as Kate, the formerly hard-partying third wife of middle-aged attorney Pete (Whitford). The sum of the show is much greater than its logline, and in the span of 22 episodes, Trophy Wife managed to flesh out a bunch of characters, draw a career-best comedic performance out of an Oscar winner, and further ABC’s reputation for finding child actors who can tell a joke without grating.
Why should you watch it? Like the satirical barbs of Black-ish or Suburgatory, or the grounded economic reality (and less-than-grounded Midwestern goofballs) of The Middle, Trophy Wife demonstrated that not all ABC family comedies in the 2010s were Modern Family. It had teeth, which flashed with every inventive insult lobbed at Kate by Pete’s tenacious first ex-wife, Diane (Harden). It had heart, which could be felt when Kate offers a helping hand to Pete’s daffy second ex-wife, Jackie (Watkins). And it had a peculiar sense of humor, which found a vessel in the guileless-yet-precocious non sequiturs spouted by little brother Bert (Albert Tsai, who’s since become a reliable utility player for other family sitcoms on the network).
Who’s it for? Crowded houses; anyone prone to name-based wordplay; people who don’t judge a book by its cover (or a show by its poorly chosen name).
Streaming on: ABC app. [Erik Adams]
24. Veronica Mars (2004-2007) (64 episodes streaming)
What’s it about? To crib from the Dandy Warhols single that serves as Veronica Mars’ theme song: A long time ago, 17-year-old Veronica (Kristen Bell) used to be friends with the ruling class of fictional Neptune, California. Her dad, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), was the town sheriff; her boyfriend, Duncan (Teddy Dunn), and best friend, Lilly (Amanda Seyfried), were the scions of a local software empire. But things changed after Lilly was murdered. Now fueled by vengeance, pluck, and a heaping helping of quips, Veronica pitches in at Keith’s private-investigation firm, taking on cases of her own and pulling on thread after thread, all of which lead to the tangled ball of lying, cheating, stealing (and other assorted vices) that keeps Neptune deeply segregated and maddeningly unjust.
Why should you watch it? For the careful balancing act that makes Veronica Mars far more enjoyable than the description above implies. Leavened by its sunny Southern California setting and the wit of creator Rob Thomas, Veronica Mars is the smartest, most complex teen drama to emerge from the dying days of the five-network era. It’s an energetic neo-noir that takes the brain and thematic core of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and drops it into a version of The OC where Newport Beach and Chino are separated only by a zip code. (Thomas and his Veronica Mars comrade Diane Ruggiero are currently doing “What if Veronica Mars, but with monsters?” with iZombie.)
Who’s it for? Amateur sleuths; CW junkies; anyone who’s enjoying Bell’s work on The Good Place and wants to see Eleanor Shelstrop bust some skulls.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime. [Erik Adams]