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. We recommended a couple under-appreciated shows to recommend. The week after, we focused on Billions and a few other new shows. Last week, we focused on a pair of new shows from acclaimed filmmakers and one of the greatest shows ever about the creative struggle. And this week, we recommend one of the best comedies of the last decade, an ideal bingewatch, a classic series of the '90s, and a gorgeous drama.
When I start to mull over what makes an ideal bingewatch every week, I often think of shows that I've already watched several times in the past, shows whose familiar rhythms and close-ended narratives provide comfort along with great acting/writing/directing/atmosphere. Knowing that there is an ending to the series, and that it's a fairly satisfying one, can elevate a show from pretty good to great (the inverse, as any fan of Lost knows, can be true as well). If a show can hold your attention enough to make you want to revisit it again and again, it's clearly doing something very right. And Party Down is a show that falls into that category for me.
Now streaming on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Starz, Party Down was a collaboration between Jon Enborn and Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas that ran for two seasons starting in 2009. It is a riotously funny comedy about the depressing lives of a bunch of Los Angeles cater-waiters trying to make it in show business. It's got a cast filled with scene-stealers, including Adam Scott's star turn as a guy whose fame came from a cringey beer commercial ("Are we having fun yet?"), Martin Starr's hard sci-fi fan, Ken Marino's brilliant oafish team leader, Lizzy Caplan's bitingly sarcastic comedian, Ryan Hansen's goofy bro and a totally unhinged Jane Lynch (not to mention Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, and unforgettable guest stars including JK Simmons, Steve Guttenberg, Kristen Bell and more).
Even though there is continuity and ongoing plotlines over its two seasons, each episode—which takes place at a different function the group is catering, from porn awards shows to senior singles mixers to high school reunions to Steve Guttenberg's birthday—functions as a stand alone installment, so it's really easy to jump in and out of random episodes. The show flits between rat-a-tat dialogue and sublime physical comedy, and feels to me in many ways the modern American answer to Fawlty Towers.
(And if you've already seen the show, please enjoy this video of a Party Down reunion/discussion from last fall.) — Ben Yakas
Dead To Me
If you're looking for a slightly different platonic ideal of bingewatches, look no further than Dead To Me, which just released its second season on Netflix. It's a great mix of black comedy and light thriller, unafraid to wade into the heavier aspects of dealing with grief while still maintaining an overall breezy tone. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini are doing career best work as a pair of mismatched women who form a complicated female friendship—the show would likely not be worth mentioning were it not for their performances holding it all together. But this is truly a mastery of the binge form, with each episode ending on an irresistible cliffhanger or surprise twist that leaves you little choice but to sit back and let Netflix load the next episode in its endless methadone drip of content. — Ben Yakas
My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend, which just finished its second season on HBO, is an adaptation of a series of Italian novels by Elena Ferrante about two girls from a poor neighborhood outside Naples. The two main characters are both “brilliant” kids with writerly ambitions, but their lives eventually go in very different directions, and the series also gives us a sweeping view of postwar Italy.
It’s a great story, and fans of the books have appreciated that the show is notably faithful to the source material. But my favorite part of binging the TV show was just absorbing the Neapolitan dialect, which is an old and venerable language, but also sounds like Long Island-ese translated back into Italian. The books constantly mention everyone’s dialect, but it doesn’t hit the same when it’s just on a page...in English. With the show, you actually get to see and hear these characters walk into the Solara pastry shop and order a box of sfogliatella ("shfooyadel"), then go home and fight with their spouses for no reason. My Brilliant Friend is essentially like a very tasteful prequel to The Sopranos, or at the very least a solid show to watch while we wait for the actual prequel. — James Ramsay
A show that specializes in strange pathogens, shocking autopsies, and government agents wearing hazmat suits seems a tad overwhelming given our current reality. But The X-Files, which is streaming on Hulu, may be exactly what you need to help grapple with the big existential questions bouncing around our skulls. It's pleasantly formulaic (most episodes fall into two categories: Monster of the Week or Alien Conspiracy) but not afraid to challenge your assumptions—or your tolerance for viscera. The X-Files is gross! Gleefully, splatteringly, holy-crap-this-was-on-network-TV? gross.
But it's also sweet, and impressively self-aware. The chemistry between agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, is both heightened and lampooned, and the show is sometimes at its best while it ridicules the tropes it spends 202 episodes creating (we're not counting the new seasons that debuted in 2016, though they are Not Terrible).
Start from the beginning or, start with the hits, like second season's "Home" (incest, murder, mutants) or third season's "2Shy" (you think internet dating is bad now?). Watch Agent Scully get jealous in the third season's "War of the Coprophages" (that's cockroaches) and Agent Mulder get jealous in the fourth season's "Never Again" (the tribal tat lives!) Then you're ready for the sly romps of the fifth season's "Bad Blood" (yes that is Luke Wilson and the kid from The Sandlot) and the third season's "Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose" (fact: the future governor of Minnesota stars in this one).
The endings aren't always tied up in a bow, and the shape-shifting aliens impersonating Mulder aren't always captured ("Small Potatoes"), but hey, that's life. — Christopher Robbins