As long as the city is on PAUSE, we're going to publish a guide every week offering different TV viewing recommendations (also, this opening recap will get longer and longer until it slowly consumes the entire piece). 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. We looked at two distinctly feminist new series and a few British comedies. Last week, we had a couple under-appreciated shows to recommend. And this week, we have a bunch of new and returning series to recommend, as well as a cult classic British sitcom that laid the foundation for several prominent careers.
Between the deep roster of supporting characters who pop up again and again (long live Spyros) and the underlying criticism of capitalism and the toxic rich dudes who worship at its feet (sometimes literally), Billions is both ridiculously watchable and ridiculously good TV. It returns for its fifth season this Sunday, May 3rd on Showtime, but the first four seasons are all streaming on Hulu, Amazon Prime and Showtime.
Anyone fan of Succession should check out Billions, because it’s a more pulpy take on the genre of "rich business people problems"—it's filled with Machiavellian power plays, stuffed with clever plot twists and well-written monologues, and occasionally has the thrills of a heist movie. The rivalry between Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti is the heart of the show, and they're both giving ridiculously fun scenery-chewing performances, but the cast also includes David Costabile's hedonistic Wags, Maggie Siff's conflicted Wendy Rhoades, and Asia Kate Dillon's utterly compelling non-binary character Taylor Mason.
The show also has no worries about shedding plot whenever things start to get a little stale. Season four reached an early peak with the episode "Overton Window," in which Giamatti's character Chuck Rhodes publicly came out as being in a consenting BDSM relationship with his wife (without consulting her about it). It was a thrilling high point for the entire series, one that has irrevocably changed the core relationships of the main cast heading into season five, which adds new characters played by Corey Stoll and Julianna Margulies.
Rick And Morty
Another show returning this Sunday at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim is Dan Harmon & Justin Roiland's cartoon juggernaut Rick & Morty, by far the most manic, over-caffeinated sci-fi cartoon in history. At its core, it's a profane take on Back To The Future, with the scientist grandfather-figure going on adventures with his goofy teen sidekick, except everything is taken to an extreme—so Rick is an ultra-cynical, possibly sociopathic, definitely alcoholic mad genius whose adventures, which often riff on popular movies and genre tropes, routinely traumatize his grandson and family.
Some have criticized the show for its nihilistic streak, but the show works because the writing is so consistently smart and funny, and is able to incorporate a certain amount of the brilliant improving of Roiland, who voices both main characters. It can be overly-confusing at times, and it can get too postmodern and meta-textual for its own good, but then it pulls out a laugh-out-loud interdimensional cable episode filled with nonstop jokes, or finds an unusual emotional beat to play that brings you right back in.
I was delighted to learn this week that one of my all-time favorite cult British TV shows, Spaced, is now streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime. It is the show that launched the careers of director Edgar Wright, and actors/writers Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Jessica Hynes. The two seasons, whose fourteen episodes aired in 1999 and 2001, stars Pegg and Hynes (who also cowrite the entire series) as a pair of 20-something Londoners who meet and pose as a young professional couple to get a flat, and end up intertwined in each other's lives and with some of the other strange, unforgettable occupants of the building.
It was strongly influenced by The Simpsons and Northern Exposure, especially in the frequent fantasy sequences. Conceptually, it takes the mostly mundane lives of these young people and filters it through the prism of television and movies that they are obsessed with; the show is stuffed to the gills with pop culture references to everything from The Matrix to Bruce Nauman to zombie movies to Pegg's hatred of The Phantom Menace. If you've a fan of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz or any of Wright/Pegg/Frost's other collaborations, you'll see the seeds for all that here, especially in Wright's inventive, always-brilliant camerawork. It's unsentimental, it's filled with lots of plotlines and references to recreational drug use (and was very much ahead of its time for that), and remains an incredibly rewatchable series.
Betty & Hollywood
And lastly, two brand new shows that are both premiering this Friday: Betty (on HBO) and Hollywood (on Netflix). Betty, which was written by Crystal Moselle and Lesley Arfin (Love), is a spinoff of Moselle's 2018 film Skate Kitchen, about a group of female skaters in NYC trying to fit into the male-dominated culture, mostly played by real-life skateboarders and non-professional actors. The six-episode first season of the show has more time to expand and examine each of the central five teens' lives. It's both a celebration of female friendship and a lovingly-shot reminder of just how vibrant NYC was not too long ago.
Hollywood is Ryan Murphy's latest show for Netflix, a seven-episode love letter to mid-century Hollywood featuring a few Murphy regulars (including Darren Criss, Dylan McDermott, Patti LuPone). It's also a Tarantino-esque revisionist story that asks: what if Hollywood were more inclusive back then? It's an incredibly sincere show that has been getting mixed reviews, but if you're a fan of Murphy's work—and there's no doubt he's created a few of the best shows of the last decade (including Pose and both superlative seasons of American Crime Story), you won't want to miss out.