Alan Sepinwall: Best Shows to Binge in Coronavirus Quarantine - Rolling Stone
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Alan Sepinwall’s Quarantine Binge Guide

Rolling Stone’s TV critic makes his top picks for shows to soothe your coronavirus anxiety and while away the hours indoors

Quarantine Binge

Netflix's 'Alias Grace,' Adult Swim's 'Primal,' and IFC's 'Brockmire.'

Jan Thijs/Netflix, Adult Swim, AMC Networks

Sports are shut down. Live theater is shut down. A visit to a movie theater sounds downright terrifying. Group activities are a nonstarter. But you know what we still have as America begins The Great Shut-In?

We’ve got TV.

Suddenly, the overwhelming quantity of television has gone from something that provokes anxiety to something that soothes it. Most of us won’t be leaving the house much, if at all, for the next few weeks, and an easy way to stay both calm and safe is to find a new binge. Or 12.

For some, this will be an opportunity to finally crack open some daunting entry in the TV canon, like The Sopranos or The Wire or Deadwood. But you already know those shows are 100-percent certified great. We’re going to be indoors a while, which means it’s time for some slightly deeper cuts. Here are a few ideas to get you started (there may be some overlap with our list of the best shows of the 2010s, which you can hit once you’ve gone through all of these).

If you’re really missing sports:
There won’t be any baseball coming soon, but there will be Brockmire. The astonishingly filthy, remarkably humane comedy starring Hank Azaria as a disgraced, perverted baseball announcer returns to IFC for its fourth and final season next week, but the superb first three seasons are already available on Hulu. If you want something a bit more inspiring in your fictional sportage, there remain four rousing, nearly-perfect seasons of the high school football drama Friday Night Lights on Hulu (plus one season — the second — that we don’t like to talk about except to make fun of it).

If you’ve already rewatched Fleabag too often:
Netflix’s Russian Doll has a similarly acerbic, self-destructive heroine, albeit in a much more high-concept package, as Natasha Lyonne plays a video game designer who keeps dying and coming back to relive her 36th birthday. Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, has another fantastically profane Britcom in Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe, a romance that plays out for its couple in the wrong order (baby, then marriage), and that has the laughs and tears in similar proportions to Fleabag. And if you were only ever in it for the Hot Priest, Amazon also has Grantchester, where its own hot priest, James Norton, solves crimes in Fifties England. (Watch with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime here).

If you want to lean into the apocalypse instead of running from it:
The Walking Dead seems like the obvious fictional end-of-the-world scenario to dive into, but HBO’s The Leftovers — about a sideways rapture where two percent of the world’s population vanishes without explanation — is a vastly better show (the best of the 2010s, I’ve argued). Not only that, in how its characters grapple to live normal lives in the wake of a crisis that feels like the end of the world, it feels much truer to what we’re all learning to do right now.

If you’d rather visit any time period other than this one:
My goodness are there no end of period pieces to escape into, whether the World War II heroics of Band of Brothers (HBO, Amazon Prime Video), or Netflix’s thoughtful 19th century Canadian drama Alias Grace, about a serving maid accused of murder, among many others. Conversely, if you want to imagine a future where things turn out mostly OK for humanity, CBS All Access and Netflix have Star Trek: The Next Generation (though I’d recommend mostly watching from Season Three on), while Amazon has the hard sci-fi adventure The Expanse.

If you need an animated laugh:
A lot of people will likely be taking advantage of Disney+ having over 600 episodes of The Simpsons ready to stream (even if they’re in the wrong aspect ratio), but Hulu’s complete catalog of Bob’s Burgers feels like the more suitable quarantine option, both because it’s a fundamentally warmer show, and because Bob Belcher’s role as the one reasonable man in a wildly unreasonable and unfair world feels very cathartic right about now.

If you prefer your animation with carnage:
Time to check out the work of Genndy Tartakovsky, who composes cartoon mayhem of astonishing detail and imagination. His great Clone Wars series isn’t available to stream (though the later one that Disney+ has is quite good), but his time-travel epic Samurai Jack is on Hulu. And Adult Swim recently gave us Primal, an astonishing, dialogue-free show about a caveman and a dinosaur who team up to battle bigger dinos and other prehistoric beasts.

If you prefer your violence in live-action, dammit:
Amazon Prime Video has all four seasons of Cinemax’s pulpy Banshee, about an ex-con impersonating the recently-murdered new sheriff of a rough town in Amish country. TV fight scenes don’t come any better than they do here. For similar B-movie-style thrills, Amazon also has the first three seasons of another Cinemax show from that era, the globe-trotting special forces adventure Strike Back.

If you’re feeling old-school:
A wonderful thing about the streaming revolution is that many of the greatest shows ever made are just a click away, and a lot of them hold up incredibly well all these decades later. The Andy Griffith Show (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video) makes fine all-ages viewing with some good lessons for the kids, while Cheers (Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access) offers more sophisticated comedy that for the most part still feels incredibly modern. (In part because plenty of recent classics were made by writers who grew up on it.) On the drama side of things, the first few seasons of ER and NYPD Blue have both aged like fine wine, with the choice coming down to whether you’re in the mood for heroic doctors (who occasionally deal with contagions) or heroic cops. (Both are on Hulu.)

If you like a touch of levity with your darkness:
A pair of FX shows now on Hulu — one long-running and beloved, one consigned to obscurity — do a great job of mixing wry humor into tough settings. Justified has killer one-liners galore as a U.S. Marshal (Timothy Olyphant at his most charming) chases down baddies big and small in rural Kentucky, while the late, great Terriers features buddy private eyes (Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, overflowing with such chemistry, you’ll feel after five minutes like you’ve been watching them for years) investigating a grand conspiracy in their California beach town.

If you like a touch of madness with your darkness:
Netflix, Hulu, and CBS All Access all have the original two-season ABC run of David Lynch’s Pacific Northwest mystery Twin Peaks, long one of the strangest and most influential dramas ever made. Showtime offers the belated sequel series Twin Peaks — The Return, a show so deliberately (and, for some, delightfully) confounding that it makes the original look like Law & Order: SVU. Brew up all the damn good coffee you’ve hidden away, and see if you can make sense of it all.

If you’re sad James Bond got delayed:
Boy howdy, is there a spy drama for every kind of mood, whether the riveting psychological realism of Eighties period piece The Americans (Amazon Prime Video), the geeky exuberance of Zachary Levi in Chuck (Amazon), or more recent espionage adventures with international flair like Amazon’s Jack Ryan or Netflix’s South African-produced Queen Sono.

If subtitles don’t scare you:
Queen Sono is primarily in English, but characters speak a variety of other languages as they travel the continent. Netflix’s English/Japanese cop drama Giri/Haji, is a blend of the two languages (and starts off trying a bit too hard before settling into a very satisfying experience with great lead performances by Kelly Macdonald and Takehiro Hira). If you’re not afraid of immersing yourself entirely in a foreign language, HBO’s Fifties Italian drama My Brilliant Friend is superb (and about to return for a second season), while Netflix has the wild Babylon Berlin, a police procedural crossbred with a drug-fueled sociological dissection of decadent Weimar Germany.

If you want to watch stuff with your kids:
The aforementioned Andy Griffith Show is splendid, but for something much more contemporary, Amazon Prime Video’s Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street is a sweetly whimsical show about a group of adolescent friends dealing with supernatural phenomena in the midst of their otherwise bucolic suburban neighborhood. There’s also a touch of X-Files (and Twin Peaks, for that matter) DNA to the animated comedy Gravity Falls (Disney+ and Hulu), about siblings who spend the summer in small town filled with monsters, inter-dimensional travelers, and other weirdness. A perfect escape when the actual world outside is going haywire.

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