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The best TV of 2016 so far: The A.V. Club’s catch-up guide

The Americans watch some of the best of what 1983 had to offer

You’re busy, and The A.V. Club understands that. We can’t watch all the TV we want to, let alone cover it. That’s why we take a little bit of time in the middle of each year to step back, survey the landscape, and single out the best stuff we’ve managed to watch so far. As a courtesy to you, the reader, this year’s mid-year TV list is sensitive to strapped-for-time lifestyles, and includes not only an estimate of how long it would take to watch all of a given program’s 2016 output, but also suggestions for dipping in a toe here or there. Start viewing these shows now, so you’re not left behind at the end of the year—and let us know what we need to catch up on, too.

11.22.63 (Hulu)

Photo: Hulu

This Hulu mini-series offered an excellent adaptation of Stephen King’s original novel. An unlikely premisea time-travel wormhole in the back of a diner always leads the time traveler to a certain date in 1960offers the possibility of stopping the assassination of JFK. There are a lot of rules involved, especially involving the temptation to mess with past fates even further. But a grounded James Franco does some of the best work of his career, as the time traveler determined to stop Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber). The eight-part series is the perfect format for diving into such a complicated and enveloping plot.
Total time commitment: Eight hours
If you only have one hour: You’d better start with episode one, as diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) lays the whole time wormhole situation out to James Franco’s Jake, or else you’ll get lost pretty quickly.
If you only have five minutes: In that same episode, check out Franco’s multiple entries into the same exact moment into 1960.
If you only have a few seconds: Any moment with Kevin J. O’Connor’s Yellow Card Man will do a nice job of creeping you out for the duration (this is a Stephen King creation, after all).
Where to watch: Streaming on Hulu. [Gwen Ihnat]

The Americans (FX)

Photo: FX

The Americans became scarier than ever in its fourth season as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings deal with chemical weapons and come perilously close to being unmasked. Both of our superspies grapple with the emotional fallout from their relationships with sources, while their daughter, Paige, shows an interest in the family business.
Total time commitment: 13 hours
If you only have one hour: In a season full of intense, amazing episodes, “Travel Agents” is the most thrilling and most taxing. Martha, desperate, goes on the lam, and everyone, we mean everyone, races to find her.
If you only have four minutes: New addition Dylan Baker gave the breakout performance of the season. His penultimate scene, in which he talks with Agents Beeman and Aderholt, is not only spectacularly performed, but offers yet another glimpse into the shadow world the Jennings occupy.
If you only have two seconds: That death scene—which we won’t reveal here—in the fourth episode, Chloramphenicol.”
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase from iTunes and Amazon. [Esther Zuckerman]

Bates Motel (A&E)

Photo: A&E

A&E set a lot of eyes rolling when it first proposed this hacky-sounding “prequel to Psycho,” but over four seasons, stars Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore have transformed the series into a delectable mélange of high-camp theatrics, nervy scares, grounded character studies, and brilliant acting, all somehow coexisting in one universe. It shouldn’t work, and seeing Bates Motel thread that needle is a singular experience.
Total time commitment: This year’s installments alone, eight hours; all four seasons, 32 hours.
If you only have one hour: This year’s penultimate installment, “Forever,” was a near-perfect game changer, featuring some of Farmiga’s best work in the entire history of the series. Fair warning, though: It’s the ultimate spoiler episode to just about everything that comes before.
If you only have six minutes: The ending of episode two, featuring a tense stand-off with Norma and Norman Bates, is absolutely riveting television. If you’ve ever looked at a picture of lil’ Freddie Highmore and wondered, “How could he possibly be menacing?”, this will give you an answer.
If you only have five seconds: God, any time Farmiga is onscreen, it’s basically the best thing ever.
Where to watch: Available for individual purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Alex McCown]

Baskets (FX)

Photo: FX

Not since the too-brief run of Late World With Zach has there been a TV show as suited to Zach Galifianakis’ unique comic energy. The Hangover star anchors Baskets (which he co-created with Louis CK and Jonathan Krisel) in dual role of wannabe clown Chip and his more successful brother Dale, whose long shadow Chip fights to escape after he flunks out of a French clowning school and moves back home and gets a job at the rodeo. And yet with all that Galifianakis to go around, the women in Chip’s life manage to steal the show: his green-card wife Penelope (Sabina Sciubba), insurance adjuster Martha (Martha Kelly), and mother Christine (Louie Anderson).
Total time commitment: Five hours
If you only have 30 minutes: Spend “Easter In Bakersfield,” where the air is leaden with tragicomic despair, church services are interrupted by an insolent rodeo clown, and there’s no rule about awkwardly forcing two tables together at the casino buffet.
If you only have a minute-and-a-half: In Baskets’ surreal vision of inland California, Costco is practically a religion—and Christine Baskets its most devout evangelist. In “Uncle Dad,” she tells her new daughter-in-law the good news about Kirkland Signature in a fluorescent-lit fantasia set to Tchaikovsky. To quote Mrs. Baskets, “Très bien!”
If you only have 30 seconds: Any dreamy interlude from Chip’s Parisian period should do—or you can rewatch the TV spot for Baskets Career College, the best phony ad for a harmful product that Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! never made.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Erik Adams]

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Photo: AMC

Considering the failure rate of spin-offs, it’s most surprising that Better Call Saul not only avoided tarnishing the Breaking Bad legacy, but became one of television’s most confident and engaging dramas in its own right. Season two finds Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) struggling to go straight as an attorney and maintain his complicated relationship with a girlfriend (Rhea Seehorn) and a brother (Michael McKean) who are his colleagues first and his loved ones second.
Total time commitment: 8.6 hours
If you only have one hour: Check out the season premiere, “Switch,” which showcases Jimmy’s honest side and his mischievous side equally.
If you only have four minutes: Watch the tense confrontation between Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Tuco (Raymond Cruz) near the end of “Gloves Off.”
If you only have two seconds: Let the psychedelic title sequence hypnotize you.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Joshua Alston]

Catastrophe (Amazon)

Photo: Amazon

In the second season of Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s comedy, their ornery alter egos now have two children, but are still figuring out how to be humane to one another.
Total time commitment: Three hours
If you only have a half-hour: Head to episode three, wherein Rob and Sharon take a semi-disastrous, semi-perfect vacation to Paris.
If you only have four minutes: An anniversary dinner conversation about 69-ing turns into a discussion of mortality in the fourth episode. It’s a perfect example of how frank this show gets when any topic is on the table.
If you only have two seconds: Listen to Sharon pronounce her new daughter’s name. It’s “Muireann” and only Irish people can say it correctly.
Where to watch: Stream on Amazon. [Esther Zuckerman]

The Circus (Showtime)

Photo: Showtime

Showtime’s latest foray into documentary, The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth, is must-see TV for political junkies. Aside from its bizarre assumption that viewers want to see Bloomberg Politics reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (authors of Game Change) regurgitate conventional beltway pontificating for the cameras, the series’ behind-the-scenes access is second to none, revealing fascinating shades of the candidates’ identities—for every contender in the primaries—and gobsmacking sausage-getting-made aspects of running for the highest office in the land.
Total time commitment: As of publication, 7.5 hours
If you only have 30 minutes: Especially now that he’s officially the candidate, episode eight, “The Reckoning,” looks at a question even more intriguing now that we know the answer: Was it possible to stop Donald Trump from clinching the Republican nomination?
If you only have three minutes: The second episode’s montage of John Kasich’s penchant for crappy dad jokes captures the GOP governor’s personality better than any biography ever could.
If you only have 12 seconds: Watch the flop sweat envelop Marco Rubio in episode nine as he finally begins to realize there’s no way he’s going to be the nominee.
Where to watch: Streaming on Showtime Anytime. [Alex McCown]

The Catch (ABC)

Photo: ABC

While this season of Scandal had some convinced that showrunner Shonda Rhimes had lost her touch, The Catch reminded others what Rhimes brings to the table in the first place. The mid-season replacement offered a fun departure reminiscent of romantic caper movies like Charade or To Catch A Thief, as professional investigator Alice Vaughan (Mireille Enos) gets duped by professional con man Ben (Peter Krause). The cases-of-the-week, usually involving some sort of twisty ruse, are enjoyable, but the series’ real draw is the considerably steamy chemistry between the two leads.
Total time commitment: 10 hours
If you only have one hour: The pilot will likely do an excellent job of luring you into the romantic plight of duped Alice Vaughan, usually excellent corporate investigator. Like her, you may have a hard time resisting the Peter Krause charisma.
If you only have five minutes: In that same episode, check out the sequence when Krause’s character manages to evade his own fiancée in a heist, in a sequence worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.
If you only have a few seconds: Watch this moment when “Christopher” reveals his real name to Alice after she cleans his gunshot wound.
Where to watch: Streaming for free on abc.go.com. [Gwen Ihnat]

Colony (USA)

Photo: USA

The idea of alien conquerors may not be new, but USA’s Colony puts a great spin on it: Not only is humanity put to work in the territories occupied by their new overlords, but the invaders don’t ever make an appearance. Daily life becomes a cat-and-mouse game between the small pockets of resistance and the well-intentioned collaborators trying to minimize the bloodshed, with Josh Holloway’s family-man cop trying to straddle both sides of the fence. It makes for a delightfully fun and fraught viewing experience.
Total time commitment: 7.5 hours
If you only have one hour: The sixth episode in the debut season, “Yonknapatawpha,” finds Holloway’s hero and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) trapped in their bar, desperately trying to keep resistance assassins from learning they’re sheltering the Proxy Governor of the L.A. occupied bloc. A tense and thrilling installment that showcases the series’ strengths.
If you only have five minutes: Watch Katie’s perilous first mission with the resistance in the third episode, which lays out both the life-and-death stakes of her choice and the ethical dilemmas that confront both sides of the conflict, all while delivering adrenaline-rush excitement.
If you only have five seconds: A lot of the mood is conveyed via the show’s vision of near-future alien technology, embodied in the police drones endlessly patrolling the streets.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Alex McCown]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

Photo: The CW

The CW’s brilliant musical about romantic obsession and getting your shit together hit its stride in the second half of its first season, allowing Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) finally close in on her dream of being with her one-time camp boyfriend Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) without letting her off the hook for her behavior.
Total time commitment: 18 hours
If you only have one hour: Check out “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!” What starts out as a classic sitcom situation involving an accidentally text message, leads to a reckoning for Rebecca and a ballad called “You Stupid Bitch.”
If you only have four minutes: Watch the video “Oh My God I Think I Like You,” a ditty about falling for your sex friend. It’s the best (only?) pop song that uses an IUD as a metaphor.
If you only have two seconds: Bask in the GIF of the show’s long-awaited kiss. (Between Darryl and White Josh.)
Where to watch: Available for streaming on Netflix and individual purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Esther Zuckerman]

Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce (Bravo, Netflix)

Photo: Bravo

TV vet extraordinaire Marti Noxon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Mad Men, UnREAL) adapted Vicki Iovine’s series of Girlfriends’ Guide books to create a compelling portrait of life after divorce. Abby (Lisa Edelstein) and her friends are as self-involved as the characters on Girls, and as glamourous as the ones on Sex And The City (although on the opposite coast). But throughout, Noxon’s trademark warmth and humor penetrates this story of how to reinvent yourself after a part of your life you thought would last forever is over. In the show’s stellar second season, Edelstein and Paul Adelstein, who plays Abby’s ex Jake, also offer some amazing work behind-the-scenes, penning and helming some episodes themselves. The series has already received an unusually long episode order, stretching into season five.
Total time commitment: About nine hours for the 13 episodes that make up season two.
If you only have an hour: Watch the show’s best and most devastating episode in season two, in which Abby and Jake realize that as much as they love each other, their marriage just isn’t going to work out.
If you only have three minutes: Tune into any few minutes from the season-two finale, which depicts a hilariously disastrous wedding collapse.
If you only have a second: Watch Abby as she walks away from her old life.
Where to watch: Season one is streaming on Netflix; season two is available for purchase on Amazon. [Gwen Ihnat]

Grace And Frankie (Netflix)

Photo: Netflix

The embarrassment of riches in this show really is embarrassing: Grace and Frankie (real-life best friends Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) discover that their husbands of 40 years (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, respectively) are leaving them to marry each other. Straight-laced Grace and much-looser Frankie are now stuck with each other, and where do they go from here as seventysomethings? This brimming premise is aided by showrunner and Friends vet Marta Kaufman, who brings her quick and dry multi-cam humor to this more elegant single-cam sitcom, which got even sharper in season two. The supporting cast is highlighted by gems like Ernie Hudson (a prospective new suitor for Frankie) and June Diane Raphael (Grace’s daughter Brianna, who’s just as tough as she is). Laugh-out-loud moments abound right along tear-inducing ones as these two women figure out how to move on, thanks to their surprising fledgling friendship.
Total time commitment: 13 hours for the first two seasons (season three arrives in 2017).
If you only have a half hour: In season two’s “The Negotiation,” Frankie fiercely and hilariously enters the workforce in a High Noon-themed showdown meeting with Brianna.
If you only have three minutes: Watch Grace have an uncharacteristic breakdown as she and Frankie are ignored in a grocery store in favor of a young, shapely blonde. Says former bombshell Jane Fonda: “I refuse to be irrelevant!” But Frankie, as always, finds a sneaky upside.
If you only have a second: You can probably land on Frankie rolling her eyes at Grace at least a few times per episode (or vice versa), and it’s always stellar.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix. [Gwen Ihnat]

The Grinder (Fox)

Photo: Fox

Oh, The Grinder: You were too good for this world. Or too weird. Somewhere between the two: The most meta sitcom of 2015-16 broadcast season thrust Rob Lowe back into the sitcom spotlight, tasking him with a character—Dean Sanderson Jr., the former star of a TV legal drama who’s convinced he’s qualified to be a real lawyer—who’s only slightly more delusional than Parks And Recreation’s Chris Traeger. Cold opens featured characters watching reruns of the show-within-the-show, their commentary actually reflecting the show they’re in; a midseason retooling found Dean trying to make himself more relatable, making The Grinder stranger in the process. But it never found an audience, and come May, The Grinder rested for the final time.
Total time commitment: 11 hours for the whole first season, though you really only need to watch the 13 episodes that begin with “The Olyphant In The Room” to get the full, concentrated Grinder experience.
If you only have a half-hour: There’s no better bellwether for determining whether or not The Grinder is going to be your thing than “The Ties That Grind,” in which Dean starts to cast off the chains of Mitchard Grinder with the help of Jillian, a therapist played by Maya Rudolph. Unfortunately for the entire Sanderson clan, Jillian also has a pretty porous boundary between her work life and her life life.
If you only have three minutes: Watch Dean do battle with Timothy Olyphant (as an exaggerated version of himself, who stars in the spin-off The Grinder: New Orleans) in a mock trial to determine which mock lawyer can lawyer most convincingly.
If you only have a second: Literally any time Dean’s brother, Stewart (Fred Savage), reacts in exasperation at the erstwhile Grinder’s antics. Savage is one of his generation’s greatest comic reactors, and we’ve failed him by not making The Grinder a hit.
Where to watch: Streaming on Hulu. [Erik Adams]

Kingdom (DirecTV/Audience Network)

Photo: DirecTV/Audience Network

It’s a shame that this hard-hitting family drama from Byron Balasco (Without A Trace, Detroit 187) is tucked away in the furthest reaches of the TV landscape (only DirecTV customers have access via the Audience Network). Despite the nature of the family business—the Kulinas are all MMA fighters—the show is more a character study than it is an examination of the mixed martial arts world. It’s packed with self-destructive yet introspective individuals who are scraping by, who make up a kind of working-class family. The entire cast is commendable, though Frank Grillo is noteworthy as the patriarch who’s a better coach than father. But Jonathan Tucker fills up every scene he’s in as the wild-card son who’s desperate to live up to his father’s legacy. Kingdom’s been renewed for a third season, so there’s no better time to catch up.
Complete time commitment: Six hours.
If you only have one hour: Check out “Lay And Pray,” the second season’s mid-season premiere. It’s a great entry into the series, with a powerhouse performance from Jonathan Tucker as Jay Kulina, who struggles to live up to his father’s legacy. You’ll also meet Navy Street’s resident female badass Alicia (Natalie Martinez).
If you only have four minutes: This behind-the-scenes video will bring you up to speed.
Where to watch it: You guessed it: The Audience Network’s website.

Match Game (ABC)

Photo: ABC

Get ready to match the stars—again! For years, reboots and revamps struggled to hit the silly-smutty sweet spot of Match Game’s daytime incarnation from the 1970s. But ABC has finally done it, exhibiting a reverence for OG Match Game (those lights! That carpet! The microphone!), drawing an impressive array of comic talent (many of whom have been kept celebrity panel shows alive via Saturday Night Live parodies in recent years), and awakening the latent game-show host in Alec Baldwin.
Total time commitment: As of publication, five hours.
If you only have one hour: Episode two finds the show already on solid footing, with the new Match Game power players—Rosie O’Donnell and Tituss Burgess—occupying the seats warmed by Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly in the ’70s.
If you only have three minutes: Zoom ahead to the second match of the second episode, where Baldwin opens up a buffet of dessert jokes—and helpfully defines “grotto” for some of the audience members—with a prompt involving the Playboy mansion and Hostess snacks.
If you only have a minute: Earlier in the same episode, O’Donnell proves her Super Match prowess with a $25,000 fake out for contestant Heather.
Where to watch: Streaming on Hulu. [Erik Adams]

Lady Dynamite (Netflix)

Photo: Netflix

There’s arguably never been a comedy as challenging as Maria Bamford’s semi-autobiographical Lady Dynamite, a skewed, surreal sitcom about the comedian’s struggles with mental illness. Its formal experiments are so bold and unexpected, most of the pilot exists to explain how the show works, not just what it’s about. But much like Maria’s therapy sessions, you get out of it what you put into it, and Dynamite is every bit as rewarding as it is evasive.
Total time commitment: Six hours
If you only have a half-hour: Watch episode two, “Bisexual Because Of Meth.” Just the title alone.
If you only have four minutes: Check out the faux hair commercials for Latrisse DuVois by Gary.
If you only have two seconds: Listen to the ending theme and find an ally in someone who admits to having no idea what she’s doing most of the time.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix. [Joshua Alston]

O.J.: Made In America (ESPN)

Photo: ESPN

No one would have expected 2016 to be the year of O.J. Simpson mania, but then again, no one could predict that two worthy projects about the knotty trial of the legendary football star would drop within months of each other. But unlike American Crime Story, O.J.: Made In America doesn’t try to debate Simpson’s innocence. Instead, director Ezra Edelman’s deeply engrossing documentary spends more time on the simmering racial tensions around Los Angeles, thereby illuminating the mystery of why the black community so fiercely supported him.
Total time commitment: 10 hours
If you only have one hour: Start from the beginning and watch the first hour of “Part 1,” which provides a stunning primer on Simpson’s career and life before he became the country’s most infamous acquitted man.
If you only have four minutes: Watch the interview with Ron Shipp, Simpson’s former friend, whose reputation was gutted on the stand when he dared to testify for the prosecution.
If you only have two seconds: Have a look at the archival photo of an incident in which the L.A.P.D. laid waste to a primarily African-American housing complex and turned up virtually nothing.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase and ESPN On Demand. [Joshua Alston]

Outcast (Cinemax)

Photo: Cinemax

The gripping new adaptation of another Robert Kirkman comic series isn’t finding the audience it should, which is a shame, because Outcast is one of the strongest debuts of the year. Full of small-town horror and demonic possession, the series manages to create an inventive new take on the exorcism genre while highlighting a part of the population rarely seen on TV: rust-belt Americana in the era of outsourced job loss.
Total time commitment: As of publication, seven hours.
If you only have one hour: The pilot episode, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” conveys everything you need to know about this world, while also providing some top-shelf scares and pulling you into the series.
If you only have four minutes: The premiere’s opening sequence is one of the greatest “holy shit” skin-crawling beginnings to any show in recent memory, including Kirkman’s other series—a little thing called The Walking Dead.
If you only have 12 seconds: Watch a flash of the weird exchange in episode four, featuring American treasure and everyone’s favorite weirdo, Grace Zabriskie.
Where to watch: Streaming on Max Go. [Alex McCown]

The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

Photo: FX

The story of the O.J. Simpson murder trial had already been told several times over—like in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run Of His Life, the nonfiction bestseller that inspired American Crime Story’s first season. With no narrative twists and turns in its back pocket, the Ryan Murphy-produced true-crime anthology instead surprised viewers with the quality of its performances (on the prosecuting side, at least) and the way it restored depth and dimension to figures caricatured by the media circus surrounding the trial of the century.
Total time commitment: 8.6 hours
If you only have one hour: Check out “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” the stirring mid-season entry that zeroes in on Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson). It’s exhibit A in the case of “Sarah Paulson deserves an Emmy for this show.”
If you only have four minutes: Dig up the tense sequence that traces Mark Furhman’s (Steven Pasquale) return to the court room in episode nine, “Manna From Heaven.” It’s all the rage, frustration, anger, and confusion of the miniseries in microcosm.
If you only have two seconds: Go with the instantly GIF-able, rack-focused highlight of John Travolta’s hammy portrayal of defense attorney Robert Shapiro. A condescending thumbs up for the ages.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Erik Adams]

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Photo: HBO

Mike Judge’s uproarious HBO sitcom is basically a serialized game of Fortunately, Unfortunately, moving the beleaguered tech wizards of Pied Piper from frying pan to fire every episode. Season three introduced a terrific new adversary in visionless replacement-CEO Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), as Richard Hendricks and the team fought an uphill battle against the burgeoning “success” of their own company. The twists of fate were cruel as ever, but Silicon Valley’s peerless ensemble—one of the tightest on television—continues to spin comic gold from one step forward, two steps back.
Total time commitment: Five hours
If you only have a half hour: Go for “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack,” an ingenious bait-and-switch that creates an exciting prospective blueprint for the season—an elaborate inside job!—only to double down on these characters’ hilarious capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
If you only have three minutes: For an example of the same principle in miniature, check out the big confrontation in “Maleant Data Systems Solutions,” wherein Richard out-leverages Jack—the Gus Fring to his Walter White—before deflating the triumph with a pratfall. As Martin Starr’s Gilfoyle puts it: “That was pretty badass, Richard. Until it wasn’t.”
If you only have two seconds: Find a GIF—or even just a still image—of Jared (Zach Woods) forlornly staring out the window, like the Michael Myers of guilt trips.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon and streaming on HGO Go and HBO Now. [A.A. Dowd]

Stranger Things (Netflix)

Photo: Netflix

The Duffer brothers, Matt and Ross, built the perfect summer entertainment: A gloriously retro tale of monster and man, packed with hat tips to their favorites: Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King. Set in the early 1980s, Stranger Things revolves around the hunt for a missing boy in an Indiana town. His mother is played by the always-welcome Winona Ryder, and his friends have shades of the Freaks And Geeks geeks.
Total time commitment: 8 hours
If you only have one hour: It’s best to start at the beginning since it is a mystery, after all. However, if you are okay with being slightly spoiled, head to “Chapter Three: Holly Jolly,” in which Joyce (Winona Ryder) figures out she can communicate with her missing son via Christmas lights.
If you only have four minutes: Go on an epic, E.T.-inspired chase at the start of episode seven, “The Bathtub.” Watch out for flying vans. It’s a good introduction to the show’s ambition, throwback feel, and charming young cast.
If you only have two seconds: Give yourself a taste of those sweet opening credits.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix. [Esther Zuckerman]

Underground (WGN America)

Photo: WGN

Reconstituting the horror of American slavery as a serialized drama is no small feat, since most people wouldn’t want to make a weekly appointment to watch the height of human cruelty. While Underground is certainly intense and emotional, it’s also surprisingly fun, borderline popcorn fare. By focusing on escaping slaves and their treacherous journey north, creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski turn the period piece into a rousing adventure tale full of all the stunning betrayals and shocking twists expected of a contemporary thriller.
Total time commitment: 7.3 hours
If you only have one hour: Watch “Cradle,” a bruising series of vignettes focusing on the young children affected by the slave trade. If you’re not crying by the end, you weren’t paying attention.
If you only have four minutes: Choose any sequence that involves the eminently shippable bond between Noah (Aldis Hodge) and Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). It’s one of the most affecting “love in a time of war” stories in recent memory.
If you only have two seconds: Find a GIF featuring the appearance of a new character near the end of the season finale. It’s one hell of an introduction.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon. [Joshua Alston]

Veep (HBO)

Photo: HBO

It’s a good thing political satires don’t have term limits, because Veep is as vicious and vital as ever in its fifth season. The comedy hasn’t skipped a beat since the departure of creator Armando Ianucci, and Veep has arguably improved, constantly finding novel ways to keep its disparate ensemble of characters mingling with each other. After all, the more they interact, the more scorching burns they can fire off at one another.
Total time commitment: Five hours
If you only have a half-hour: Watch “Mother,” the apex of the season, which features a Julia Louis-Dreyfus performance so stunning, it’s hard to begrudge her vise grip on her Emmy category.
If you only have four minutes: Just watch Selina (Louis-Dreyfus) eulogizing her mother, which brilliantly blends comedy and poignancy.
If you only have two seconds: You could honestly watch almost any two seconds and find an insult to use in your everyday life.
Where to watch: Available for digital purchase on iTunes and Amazon and for streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now. [Joshua Alston]

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