As long as the city is on PAUSE, we're going to publish a guide every week offering different TV viewing recommendations. The first week, we recommended a few baseball-themed shows including Brockmire, along with some brand new series. We looked at some classic TV comedies that will have you singing odes to your night cheese (or just humming the Cheers theme song). Then we focused on some classic television dramas that are worth immersing yourself in. We recommend a pair of modern revisionist westerns, plus a propulsive new romcom. Last week, we look at two distinctly feminist new series and a few British comedies. And this week, we have a couple under-appreciated shows to recommend, along with a show that just ended its best season yet and a very sexy new miniseries.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
All the way back in week two of our bingewatching series, which now feels like it was six years ago, I mentioned that I had begun rewatching 30 Rock from the start whenever I needed to laugh after a day of reading the news (which was...most days). As I reached the penultimate sixth season, I suddenly got the urge to revisit Tina Fey & Robert Carlock's followup Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Rewatching the later seasons of 30 Rock made me appreciate just how much Kimmy Schmidt was a continuation of its creator's rapid-fire joke style, and just as witty as their previous show. In a lot of ways, Kimmy Schmidt feels like a spinoff of an imaginary 30 Rock side plotline, only with the Broadway/musical aspects magnified tenfold.
Yet because of the mix of the wildly silly, radically upbeat, and the gravely serious (the core of the show's plot is about a woman who was abducted as a teen and has to learn how to overcome her trauma to survive in the world outside the bunker), the show remains an underrated one, not nearly as popular as Tina Fey's other television projects. Not helping things was that its final fourth season was unwisely split into two and released with limited fanfare onto Netflix last year. It seemed destined for cult status, but it's back already with one final (?) go-around on Tuesday, May 12th with the interactive special Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend.
The show will utilize the choose-your-own-adventure format of previous Netflix programs like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch; the entire main cast returns, along with new and returning guest stars including Jon Hamm, Jack McBrayer, Fred Armisen, Daniel Radcliffe, Amy Sedaris, and Chris Parnell. “Kimmy always wants to right a wrong, and this is her final act in doing that,” star Ellie Kemper told EW. “From the start she was always trying to overcome what she had been through, but now she’s lashing out. She’s angry — not only at [Jon Hamm's Reverend], but in the way many women in the #MeToo era have been for a long time. It felt super cathartic.”
If you're a 30 Rock fan and have never given the show a chance before, or if you were unsure whether you even wanted to try it, now is the perfect time to watch the first four seasons on Netflix before the special is released in a few weeks!
If you were reading the above description and thought, "yes, I would like to watch a show that is gravely serious but without all the theatrical, silly stuff," then HOO-BOY do I have a show for you. All 30 episodes of Rectify, Sundance's brilliant character study about trauma and its affects upon a southern family, are now streaming on Netflix.
The show has the trappings of a gothic murder mystery: the first episode begins the day that the main character Daniel Holden (inhabited so fearlessly, so passionately, and so oddly by Aden Young) is released from prison after serving 19 years on death row (much of it in solitary confinement) for the murder of his high school girlfriend. Daniel couldn't remember the events of that night, because he was on hallucinogens at the time, and was bullied into confessing to the crime by police, but was let go due to DNA evidence. Even so, the question of his innocence or guilt hangs over the entire show.
But the murder case is just one facet of this religiously curious, contemplative, and utterly transfixing series. I wrote about it at length a few years ago before the series finale, but it is one of the most moving portraits of the uncertainty of the human condition I've ever encountered. It's melancholy, but the writing is almost never heavy-handed; the acting is subtle and lived-in; and there is silly and weird humor throughout, which is important, because Daniel is a silly, weird guy who is often very funny (whether or not people notice/get it).
The show made me tear up more than any since Friday Night Lights, but I never felt manipulated. Through its empathetic storytelling and dedication to emotional realism, Rectify could elicit those reactions just watching Daniel listen to his old Walkman in the attic. Or arguing about a kitchen remodeling job. "Watching paint dry" is supposed to convey just how boring something is, but watching Daniel literally paint a pool in the middle of the night carries the weight of the greatest dramas of our time.
Better Call Saul
Speaking of the greatest shows of the last decade: it has come to my attention that some people out there still haven't watched AMC's Better Call Saul, which wrapped up its fifth and best season so far on Monday, yet. When the series started, fans just wanted to see Saul Goodman in his seedy prime; now, it has evolved into a story about decent people who make devastating-but-understandable moral compromises and find themselves inexorably pulled toward an inevitable, tragic destination.
It's not just that it has long since escaped from the shadow of Breaking Bad—it is now the best show running on TV (give or take Succession). And you want to be caught up before the sixth and final season premieres next year.
The show, which has long been bifurcated between the law side (involving Jimmy, Kim, Chuck, elderly law, and scams a'plenty) and the criminal side (charting the rise of Gus Fring, Mike's slow slide into criminality, and Nacho's experiences with the cartel), were finally, thrillingly, united in the fifth season. It sadly won't come to streaming for a few more months, BUT now is the time to inhale the first four seasons, which are all streaming on Netflix now. (You can also buy it on iTunes if you don't have AMC and can't wait.)
And finally, if you're looking for something with a lot more sexually explicit, pretty young British people in it, Hulu's miniseries adaptation of Sally Rooney's hit novel Normal People premieres next Wednesday. It's being hailed as an immaculate adaptation of Rooney's novel about the shifting power dynamics and class divide between Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (played by Paul Mescal). The leads have oodles of chemistry, and the sex scenes are plentiful, erotic, and meaningful reflections of the emotions the characters can't express otherwise. As Tim Grierson wrote, the story is as much about depression as it is about love, and all the ways otherwise smart people ruin their chances at romance: "In the case of Marianne and Connell, it’s because they’re both swallowed up in a depression they can’t articulate but never stop feeling."