Deep dive: binge-worthy TV shows

Quarantined? Here's a handful of solid options for your to-watch list

By David-Elijah Nahmod

As shelter-in-place becomes the new normal across the world, many people are beginning to feel trapped in their homes. Never fear; plenty of fine entertainment options are available to help you forget about Coronavirus for a few minutes and just relax.

Here are some TV shows worthy of binging:


The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

A delightful comedy-drama set in the late 1950s and early 1960s New York City. Emmy and Golden Globe winner Rachel Brosnahan stars in the title role — Miriam “Midge” Maisel is a jilted wife who pursues a career in stand-up comedy and finds herself on the receiving end of much applause. Colorful characters abound, including real-life comic Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), the legendary performer who was arrested for obscenity during his career. Out lesbian actor Jane Lynch co-stars as Sophie Lennon, a successful comic who appears on stage as a frumpy housewife in a fat suit, in reality, she’s a wealthy aristocrat.

Fast-paced and fun, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel beautifully captures a woman’s determination to put her life back together after she’s thrown a curveball. Brosnahan is energetic and great fun to watch, while the sets, costumes, and music whisk viewers back to mid-20th century New York. Three seasons are now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Queer as Folk

Hard to believe that this acclaimed Showtime series is now over ten years old. Based on the same-named British series, Queer as Folk follows the lives of a close-knit group of gay men, and a lesbian couple, in Pittsburgh PA. Issues dealt with include dating, homophobia, gay-bashing, parenting, and HIV. The series raised eyebrows during its original airing for pushing the envelope in terms of showing men having raw, unbridled sex. Beautifully done with a sexy and likable cast, QAF includes a scene-stealing performance by Sharon Gless as Debbie, the tough-talking but loving mom every gay man wishes they had. Five seasons streaming at Amazon Prime. Also on DVD.


The L Word

Another groundbreaking series from the progressive folks at Showtime. Set in the gay mecca of West Hollywood, California, The L Word follows an ensemble cast of friends and is probably the first TV series to depict the lives of lesbian and bisexual women. TLW included lesbians on its production team, assuring that the storylines would depict authentic lesbian lives. An impressive cast includes movie stars Jennifer Beals, Pam Grier, and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin. Recently departed from Netflix, The L Word‘s six seasons remain available at Amazon Prime and on DVD.

Transparent

Another series which can be found on Amazon Prime, Transparent is the hilarious, but also deeply moving tale of a neurotic but tight-knit Jewish family dealing with the fact that their sixty-something dad has come out as transgender. The Pfefferman clan also includes a daughter who leaves her husband for another woman.

Jeffrey Tambor gives a flawless performance as Maura Pfefferman, the transwoman who spent her whole life taking care of her family and now feels that she’s earned the right to take care of herself–there was some backlash during the series’ run as Tambor is a straight, cisgender male.

Judith Light is screamingly funny as Maura’s ex-wife, who always knew that Maura needed to transition to womanhood. While there are some hilarious scenes that deal with Maura’s kids trying to come to terms with who she really is, Transparent is also a very insightful look inside the lives of people who genuinely love each other, even though they don’t always know how to react to each other. The series also illustrates the prejudices which transgenders are forced to live with. Highly recommended.

Eastsiders

Hugely popular web series about Cal (Kit Williamson) and Thom (Van Hansis), a gay couple who can’t seem to figure out if they’re really a couple or just friends with benefits. Often funny but also touching, Eastsiders answers the question, what happens after infidelity? Not only are Williamson and Hansis easy on the eyes, but they also have amazing onscreen chemistry. There isn’t a false note to be found as they navigate the sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious mess they’ve made of their lives. All four seasons now streaming on Netflix. Also on DVD.

Old Dogs & New Tricks

Something for viewers of “a certain age”, Old Dogs & New Tricks is a charming comedy-drama about a group of middle-aged gay men who are trying to navigate the dating scene in West Hollywood, a town where thirty is considered over the hill. The cast includes 50-year-old Nathan (Leon Acord), a Hollywood talent agent, Brad (Curt Bonnem), a one-hit-wonder pop star of the ’80s, Ross (David Pevsner), a former leading man on TV, and Muscles (Jeffrey Patrick Olson) a personal trainer. All four of them are dealing with aging as they search for love, sometimes in the wrong places. A delightful series, Old Dogs has attracted an audience of older gay men who say that the show speaks to them. Younger guys: check this show out, you won’t be young forever. Four seasons streaming on Amazon Prime.

Dark Shadows

The older crowd might also be familiar with this 1960s daytime soap opera, a serial with a bizarre twist: the leading character is a 175-year-old vampire. Jonathan Frid is flawless as Barnabas Collins, a lonely man who passes himself off to his 20th-century descendants as his own great-great-grandson. He’s forced to live in the closet, hiding his undead nature from all who know him. Dark Shadows is loaded with gay subtext — Frid was a gay man who had to be “discreet” about who he was during the more conservative 1960s, so we get a closeted gay man playing a closeted vampire. Barnabas was created by writers Ron Sproat and Joe Caldwell, who were also gay. They wrote Barnabas as a reluctant vampire who loathed his bloodlust. He lived with the same kind of self-loathing that many gay men lived with 50 to 60 years ago as they faced a world that would not accept them.

As Dark Shadows increased in popularity, the writers brought in other vampires, two werewolves, and an evil lovesick witch. This is really a fun show! Streaming at Amazon Prime, Tubi TV, and also on DVD.

Happy viewing!