Smaller Things: 7 Hidden Streaming Gems

L.A. Law. Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photo by 20th Century Fox Television

Life during the age of Peak TV means never wanting for something new or splashy to watch — and forever fretting about all those buzzy shows you just haven’t gotten around to yet. (Yes, you should feel guilty if you haven’t watched Ted Lasso by now.) But the streaming era has also been a golden age for another kind of video consumption: interesting, entertaining, and often decades-old programming that you don’t need to watch but that can nonetheless be a healthy part of a balanced TV diet.

While it’s great that there’s so much variety, finding such content continues to be much harder than keeping up with the splashy new originals that get released every few days now. After all, streamers who spend $10 million or more on a single episode of TV or plop down hundreds of millions for the complete runs of megahit classics such as Friends or The Office aren’t going to waste limited resources letting you know two seasons of the 1990s Annie Potts–Jay Thomas sitcom Love & War are now on Amazon Prime Video. HBO Max isn’t paying the cast of The Nanny millions of dollars to reunite now that their show is on the platform (though, really, it should.) Only the biggest stuff gets much marketing or promotion; everything else–particularly library content produced decades ago– has to rely on the grace of the algorithm, social-media buzz, or recommendation editors at sites like Vulture.

In a bit of a departure from Buffering’s usual format, this week’s edition takes a look at seven such under-the-radar streaming selections. I’ve chosen both individual shows and entire streaming channels, and I purposely excluded anything from the Big Five streamers (Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max) since their catalogues tend to be covered extensively elsewhere. Fair warning: Most of the titles below come from the 20th century, though just to make sure this list wasn’t made up entirely of empty calories, I included some alternative news programming as well. And let me know if you’ve found some weird or unusual streaming choices hidden between Peak TV’s Everests: You can email me here.

Fuse Sweat (Fuse)

If you’re not trendy (or rich) enough for CrossFit and Peloton, there’s now a free streaming channel devoted to way-back workout routines from the VHS era. A veritable Mt. Rushmore of celebrity exercise gurus from the 1980s and early ’90s — Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, Billy Blanks, Denise Austin — live here in all their spandex and short-shorts glory, urging viewers to feel that burn and stretch those muscles 24/7. Other fitness franchises featured on the channel include Buns of SteelAerobics Oz Style, and Bodies in Motion as well as geriatric-friendly offerings from OG home trainer Jack LaLanne and, believe it or not, Milton Berle. And Saturday night at 10:45 p.m. ET, the virtual channel will premiere 1990 cult fave Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, which is exactly what it sounds like (and has built up a loyal fandom in the three decades since its release.) I don’t know how many folks will actually use the channel to get in shape, but even if you don’t want to break a sweat, Sweat is hours of flashback fun.

60 Minutes+ (Paramount+)

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photo by CBS

Despite the uninspired title, the journalism in this streaming spinoff of CBS’s iconic newsmagazine easily lives up to the standard set by the original — though it takes a slightly different form. Rather than three stories every week, each Sunday episode is devoted to a single segment of roughly 18 to 20 minutes, allowing for a somewhat deeper exploration of a topic while making the show more easily digestible. Wesley Lowery, most recently seen on Quibi’s 60 spinoff 60 in 6, has made the jump to this new show, joining a correspondent crew (Enrique Acevedo, Seth Doane, and Laurie Segall) whose ages are notably lower than 60’s historic average. But so far, nothing about 60+ suggests the show is trying to pander to younger eyeballs. Lowery had a great, nuanced profile of reformist San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, while Segall recently dove into the story of a sex-trafficking victim recruited on Facebook who is now suing the social-media giant. At a time when so many streamers (including Paramount+) are investing heavily in longform docs and even longer docuseries, it’s nice to have an option that doesn’t require a huge time commitment. That said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a streaming reboot of West 57th — or even just the option of watching the show’s original episodes on P+.

Hee Haw (The Roku Channel)

You probably have to be over 40 to remember this southern-fried sketch-comedy variety show, which, after a brief prime-time run on CBS, became a staple of Saturday-night syndication during the 1970s and ’80s. Hosted by Roy Clark and Buck Owens, the episodes mixed country music and corny comedy (literally — a running bit was taped in a fake cornfield!). As a kid, I mostly ignored (okay, hatedHee Haw because it just wasn’t as rad as Solid GoldDance Fever, or Star Search. But the Roku Channel has ten episodes available on demand, and while the comedy hasn’t gotten any better with age, I got a kick out of seeing folks such as Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, and Glen Campbell at their peak.

It’s Showtime at the Apollo (Tubi)

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photo by Apollo Theater Productions

Speaking of old-school variety, it’s now possible to watch dozens of full episodes of this long-running syndicated music-and-comedy showcase — and best of all, the musical numbers are included. In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with the format, each episode mixes performances from the biggest R&B, pop, and hip-hop stars of the moment; comedy sets from big names and rising comics; and America’s Got Talent–like segments in which amateurs take to the famed Apollo stage in the hopes of impressing the audience. Tubi doesn’t have all 1,000-plus hours of Showtime, but it does have a nice mix of episodes from the 1980s to the aughts. I recently spent an hour watching Taylor Dayne, Sweet Seduction, and the Beastie Boys perform, and it was pretty glorious.

L.A. Law (IMDb TV)

He’s known today for limited series such as Big Little Lies and The Undoing, but David E. Kelley also crafted some of the buzziest, sudsiest prime-time dramas of the 1980s and ’90s (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Chicago Hope). And while he didn’t create L.A. Law (that would be the late, great Steven Bochco), Kelley’s fingerprints are all over this legal soap’s best episodes. In case you missed it when it originally aired on NBC, the show revolves around the hardworking and perpetually horny lawyers at a prestigious Southern California legal practice. It’s also where we first got a good look at the talents of Jimmy Smits and Blair Underwood. If you miss The Good Wife and are counting the days till the return of The Good Fight, this show’s for you. (Just beware of the killer elevators.)

You Can’t Do That on Television (Paramount+)

Any Gen-X kid (at least those of us whose parents sprung for cable) will tell you this Canadian import was the best thing on Nickelodeon during the channel’s earliest days. Long before All That, it was the sketch comedy for kids — a pint-size SNL minus the musical numbers — and it’s where Nick’s famous green slime got its start. Until recently, it has been very hard to find the show (legally) in the U.S., but last month, Paramount+ included the series in a dump of classic Nick titles. Sadly, so far the streamer is making only 14 episodes from the show’s first season available (which means you can’t yet watch Alanis Morissette’s brief run as a cast member back in 1986). Will more episodes be added soon? I hope so, but to be honest, I don’t know.

The Choice (Peacock)

Launched in the closing weeks of the 2020 election, Peacock’s specialty-news and talk channel is primarily a showcase for a pair of frequent MSNBC analysts and fill-in anchors, namely Al Jazeera vet Mehdi Hasan and SiriusXM exec and host Zerlina Maxwell. Each headline hour-long weeknight shows on the Choice, and the format is pretty much the same as what you’d find on a typical early-evening or prime-time MSNBC telecast. Peacock has always carried a simulcast of NBC’s streaming news channel, NBC News Now, but the Choice is clearly a play for those MSNBC superfans who take to Twitter to vent their frustration that the network of Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes still spends a big chunk of its schedule on the kind of journalism practiced by Washington insiders such as Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, and the entire Morning Joe crew. It even features a daily broadcast of The Majority Report, the progressive podcast hosted by Sam Seder, who was temporarily fired from his gig as an MSNBC analyst back in 2017 after far-right cancel culture scared the network into cutting ties with him. I’d love to see the Choice beef up its programming and strengthen its ties to MSNBC: There’s no reason Hasan’s and Maxwell’s shows couldn’t be rerun on MSNBC in the overnight hours or on weekends. (One step in the right direction: Hasan recently started anchoring a Sunday night show on MSNBC in addition to his Peacock gig.)

Smaller Things: 7 Hidden Streaming Gems