TV is in an odd lull time right now, with plenty of good shows airing but no particular show capturing the public imagination or online-chatter machine the way one often does. March has a few big returns — The Americans, House of Cards, Daredevil — but in the meantime, perhaps there’s a gap in your viewing you’d like to fill.
I want something reliable and emotional, but not too heavy.
Try Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin, Mondays at 8 and 9 p.m. on the CW (latest seasons available on Hulu; Jane season one on Netflix)
How much more can be said about how inventive, smart, and thrilling these shows are? Maybe just a little more. The CW’s one-two punch on Monday nights is arguable the best two-hour block on network TV, and both shows have demonstrated in the last few episodes just how deep their benches are. (Here for you, budding love story between White Josh and Darryl.) Jane fills any soap-size hole in one’s heart, but CXG hits those awkward, hellaciously uncomfortable notes, à la Curb Your Enthusiasm.
I want a hard-core, intense prestige drama.
Try American Crime, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC (available on Hulu)
The fact that this show is still so under-the-radar? That is the real crime, ho ho. But seriously, folks, the second season of John Ridley’s anthology series is stunning. The show covers sexual violence (the catalyzing event for the season is male-on-male sexual assault), racism, classism, gun violence, the roles athletics and athletes play in American high schools, parenting, homophobia, and on and on, all portrayed with a sense of brutal normalcy and reality, with a style that’s both deeply unsettling and artistically taut. Pay special attention to the visual storytelling that happens on the show: It’s not just the acting/reacting shots that are interesting, but also how confidently American Crime will have a major plot point be absolutely unacknowledged in dialogue. There’s image after image of hands on bodies — grabbing, grazing, caressing, punching, poking, shoving, shaking. That creates a sense of both destabilization and connectedness, that everything is slipping and we’re all bumping into each other. What a great show.
I want something teen-ish, but not garbage — just like, “Aaaah, so many feelings!”
Try Recovery Road, Mondays at 9 p.m. on Freeform (née ABC Family) (available on Hulu)
Like its lead-in The Fosters (still the best!), Recovery Road is a lot better than it has to be, especially if you consider the history of schlocky, overly message-driven teen programming. RR, based on a YA novel, stars Jessica Sula as Maddie, a teen forced to live in a sober-living house and confront her substance-abuse problems — which she doesn’t really think she has. It’s gets a little too earnest now and then, but the savvy storytelling keeps it afloat.
I want a reality-contest show like Top Chef, because this season of Top Chef is a snore.
Try Face Off, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on SyFy (available on Hulu)
I’ve been banging the Face Off drum for years now, and I will continue to do so, even though so far this season no one seems all that good. A bad season of Face Off, which follows a group of special-effects makeup artists, is still better than good seasons of most other shows.
I want a violent drama that’s at least a little fun.
Try Mad Dogs (available on Amazon Prime)
Beach, male bonding, murder — and a lot of each. Mad Dogs, from creator Chris Cole and executive producer Shawn Ryan, is about a group of middle-aged male friends who reconvene in Belize, only to have their vacation go extremely, extremely awry, thanks to a shocking murder and its ensuing “So, is everyone going to think we committed a murder, or what?” panic. On first viewing, I’ll admit the pilot didn’t do much for me, but I went back and gave it another go because Ryan’s behind two of the best shows of the last 20 years, The Shield and Terriers. Mad Dogs does not rise to those levels, but it does meet the surprisingly rare standard of “I want to watch something not stupid, about people I don’t hate.” At ten episodes, it’s a little longer than it needs to be, but just a little.
I don’t even want a whole show, I just want one damn episode where at the end I can say “Now, that was something.”
Try episode three of Horace and Pete (available on Louis C.K.’s website)
There’s no continuity need to watch the first two episodes in preparation of episode three, which is really just a stand-alone 44-minute monologue delivered by Laurie Metcalf. (There are some small interjections from C.K.) It’s as visually bare as it gets, with the camera staying on Metcalf’s face for almost the entire time. The monologue is unfussy and raw, and picks up on one of C.K.’s favorite themes: that we all think awful, probably sexual thoughts pretty much all the time, and there’s a tricky but sometimes thrilling dual shame that comes first from thinking the thought and then from disclosing it. I could take or leave the first two episodes of Horace and Pete — mostly leave, honestly — but this episode is a knockout.