When I was a kid, we had three and a half channels to watch (my antenna barely managed to capture Fox) which meant I had to eat whatever the Networks served me. It was a lot of crap. Imagine producing 24 episodes-a-season of Matt Houston. Honestly, do you think a show like Major Dad could last more than six episodes in the streaming world? We watched Major Dad because we had to watch Major Dad.
This year, I watched at least 20 shows on streaming services from start to finish. That’s an incredible amount of TV. Off the top of my head, I’d say that in 1988 I watched Cheers, Family Ties, Night Court, Cosby Show, 227, Gimme A Break, Amen, A Different World and Knight Rider. Yeah, I probably watched Golden Girls and Designing Women, too. And Wings.
The point is, today I’m watching a lot of TV, and some of it is good enough to endorse.
20. The Watcher (Netflix)
The Watcher starts off strong until forces within its control starts pulling the atoms apart, stretching the narrative so thin you watch only to see if Naomi Watts is going to walk around in nothing but her bra and undies again.
19. Dahmer (Netflix)
Yes, Evan Peters and his horrendous Wisconsin accent is outstanding, but man did I feel greasy deriving any enjoyment from a show about a goon who murdered so many people.
18. She Hulk: Attorney at Law (Disney+)
Many people hated this show, and that Megan the Stallion episode was off-the-charts bad. However, in between Jennifer Walker’s quest to practice law and her journey to finding clothing that stretch, there is a message to She Hulk about double-standards and revenge porn that I rather enjoyed.
17. Jack Reacher (Amazon Prime)
If you didn’t like Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher you’ll probably like Alan Ritchson, who fits the cartoonishly hulkish mold of the character much better. Too bad they couldn’t give Reacher much to do in this show other than break bones and wear nondescript t-shirts.
16. The Wilds (Amazon Prime)
I have two teenage sons, so we tend to watch teenage dramas at the Howl House. Unlike Outer Banks, which is trash, The Wilds has something interesting to say about the psychology of gender and the role chromosomes play in a stressful situation. Also, nobody puts on a crazy-girl face like Sara Pidgeon. When the face comes out, the mayhem ensues.
15. Obi Wan (Disney+)
Where Obi Wan disappoints is that Ewan McGregar clearly has an open road to telling a story about a man in crisis – he’s lost his religion, his friends and his purpose. To watch him triumph over something relatable (like a Death Stick addiction) would have been fascinating. Instead, he’s pretty much same old boring Obi Wan, too dull even to buy dirty magazines in Bestine.
14. Wednesday (Netflix)
Every time I see something from Tim Burton, I remember that he once said in an interview “I wouldn’t know a good story if it bit me in the ass.” Jenna Ortega is marvelously cast as Wednesday, and I’m certain that if your daughter winds up wearing black eye shadow and sleeping in cemeteries, it’s all Ortega’s fault. Where Wednesday falls short is story (paint by numbers) and setting (a boarding school for odd children, how original).
13. Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (NetFlix)
Like many horror anthologies, Cabinet of Curiosities either lands cleanly like an executioner’s axe or flops like a corpse. Each of the eight episodes are stand-alone stories directed by a different auteur and features actors that will have you muttering “I know that guy.” The Viewing is my favorite by far, mostly because it is so damn weird that it makes me want to become Peter Weller.
12. Westworld (HBO Max)
Set in a future that’s set in a future set inside another future, Westworld is a beautiful and tedious freshman thesis on what makes humanity so damn human. By the time you wish that Aaron Paul had never signed up for two seasons of Westworld, the series finally ends – but not before you question the legitimacy of your own pre-programmed existence.
11. Peacemaker (HBO Max)
According to the IMDB notes, James Gunn wrote the script to Peacemaker in about three weeks, and damn it if doesn’t show. Peacemaker probably could have been reduced by four episodes just by stripping away the repetitive and not-as-clever-as-it-thinks dialogue. That’s what rewrites are for, Gunn. The reason you keep watching is John Cena, who clearly will do absolutely any degrading act to keep the series afloat.
10. Moon Knight (Disney+)
Oscar Isaac flexes is acting chops in Moon Knight, a live-action rendition of a Marvel character so B that I didn’t even know he existed. Normally, plots driven by Egyptian mythology don’t tickle my toes, and honestly, neither does the plot of Moon Knight. However, Isaac’s performance as a true schizophrenic unlocking a mystery from both sides of his personality is quite clever.
9. Archive 81 (Netflix)
The letdown with horror shows is that the answer to the narrative’s mystery is generally far lamer than the build-up to the reveal. Archive 81 by no means avoids this pothole. You wish that the twist was twistier. But you’ll find Mamoudou Athie’s performance as a film renovator attempting to solve a 30-year-old missing persons account immensely engrossing. At least, I was engrossed.
8. The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)
Ranked too high, The Umbrella Academy is a story carved from the same soap as X-men, but with a great deal more time travel, alternate realities, and scene-stealing performances from Aidan Gallagher, who plays Number Five with world-weary bravado. Again, this series could be reduced by two episodes a season with a tighter script, but at least you’re afforded extra opportunity to watch Number Five explain why everything is going to hell…again.
7. For All Mankind (Apple TV)
The premise is funky enough – how would the world be different if the Russians had beaten the Americans to the Moon in 1969? According to For All Mankind, it would have accelerated a sometimes violent space race that would have advanced the development of the iPhone and electric cars to 1995. Interspersed with the technical challenges of colonizing Mars are a number of soapy plot points that might have you wishing that the characters would lose pressure in their spacesuits before somebody else gets murdered or pregnant in space. Still, For All Mankind takes itself serious enough to keep you hooked for the next episode.
6. The Sandman (Netflix)
How the producers managed to cast a man as scrawny and British as Tom Sturridge is a feat in of itself. However, The Sandman excels in its storytelling as well, offering arresting visuals along with tales that draw out like the blade of Hamlet’s rapier. The pacing could be quicker – the episodes take on a dreamlike slowness that is maybe too intentional – but the conclusion is worth the set-up.
5. House of Dragons (HBO Max)
Described as “a nicer Game of Thrones,” House of Dragons never achieves the level of treachery, debauchery and depravity of Thrones. However, the intrigue at court draws you in, even if it’s not quite as bloody as swords-and-axe violence – of which House of Dragons offers plenty. Midseason casting changes doesn’t work as well as it did for The Crown, but the dragons look cool.
4. Stranger Things (Netflix)
If you haven’t seen Stranger Things by now, you will likely never watch it. It’s not for everybody. But if you love 80s nostalgia, don’t mind children who cuss relentlessly, have a thing for telekinesis, and enjoy that one Kate Bush song, then Stranger Things is the show for you. Supposedly, the next season of Stranger Things will be its last, and that’s all for the best. The kids are developing crows feet around the eyes and I’m not sure how many more punches to the face Jim Hopper can take.
3. The Boys (Amazon Prime)
If you watch The Boys for one reason, watch it for Paul Riser’s bit part as a slimy talent agent who name drops celebrities like Linda Evans with comically pornographic clarity. Apart from Riser, you’ll also enjoy Antony Starr who has created one of TV’s most sinister villains in Homelander, a super-powered ego maniac who is slowly discovering his Trumpian hold on the masses. Does The Boys too often stand back to contemplate the ethics of its actions? Yes. But it’s a small price to pay.
2. The White Lotus (HBO Max)
The White Lotus is one of those shows where you observe the struggle of its married couples, laugh aloud, then turn to your own spouse and say, “Wait…is that us?” The White Lotus is at its strongest when when it lays bare the absurdities of white privilege, wealth and the all too familiar menu of human foibles. The White Lotus is at its weakest when it wants to wrap up its “who died?” mystery, which tends to arrive almost as an afterthought.
1. Andor (Disney+)
What if you attempted to create a show set within the Star Wars universe without trying to pander equally to adults, kids, fans, and the casual viewer? What you get is Andor, a marvelously adult tale of revolution and commitment wrapped around the self-doubt of its lead character Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. How refreshing it feels to watch a big-budget Disney production that isn’t attempting to sell me a Lego set. Everything about Andor is thoughtfully constructed. Even when the plot slows, the attention to the costumes and sets provide enough entertainment to get you to the next blaster fight.
Four Shows I Started But Couldn’t Finish
- The Patient
- Lord of the Rings
- The Terminal List
- Only Murders in the Building
One Show I Won’t Watch So Stop Asking