If you love television just as much as I do, you probably also have an endless list of must-watch TV shows. It’s amazing how streaming services have changed television such that new shows are constantly coming out. However, it also makes it very difficult to keep up.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has greatly impacted television production for the worse. The development and filming of hundreds of TV shows have been slowed or even canceled since March. While plenty of new shows that were filmed before the pandemic have come out over the past few months, this lull in television production will inevitably result in a delayed release of new TV for the rest of 2020 and into 2021.
A lack of new TV shows is sad, but it is also a blessing in disguise. Now is the perfect time to watch all those shows on your list you’ve been meaning to get to. Without the distraction of so many new releases, you have a chance to experience some incredible television that you might have never watched otherwise.
Here are five of the greatest recent TV shows in various genres to hold you over while we wait for new TV shows to make their comeback.
1. For an Action-Packed Political Drama: “Scandal”
“Scandal” is one of the most exhilarating political dramas of all time. The show stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a lawyer who runs D.C.’s top crisis management firm. Olivia and her team help powerful political figures handle all sorts of tricky situations, from affairs to kidnappings to murders. Olivia’s own personal scandals are equally as exciting as those she helps her clients navigate, resulting in seven seasons of some of the most high-stakes drama television has ever seen.
At one of the most turbulent political times in American history, the thought of watching a political TV show may sound exhausting. However, “Scandal” provides a surprisingly comforting escape to an America with different problems and different politicians. While Olivia, her team and the White House administration in the show make plenty of mistakes, they also have to face the consequences of those mistakes — something that does not seem to be happening to people in Washington these days.
Additionally, “Scandal” presents an America in which powerful D.C. figures, despite their mistakes, often have the best interests of Americans in mind. These storylines are refreshing to watch amid the bleakness of 2020 American politics. It is also interesting to watch the show cover topics that would have been shocking to us when they first aired in 2012 (election rigging anyone?), but are now part of the daily news cycle thanks to the current White House administration.
2. For Groundbreaking Female Storytelling: “Fleabag”
The “Fleabag” hype may be over, but the comedy-drama will forever live on as one of the most creative and intelligent shows ever made. Written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the show follows a British café owner named Fleabag as she deals with family issues, faces romantic struggles and mourns the loss of her best friend. Fleabag uses sex to try and handle her pain and loneliness, but it often leaves her feeling even more empty and alone.
While this description may sound sad and dark, “Fleabag” is just as much a comedy as it is a drama. Waller-Bridge breaks the fourth wall often by making side comments and facial expressions directly into the camera. These audience interactions, which usually involve sharp social commentary, make “Fleabag” funny in a way no other TV show has ever been. They also make you care about the protagonist so deeply because you intimately know what she is thinking and feeling in a way that television viewers rarely experience.
Compared to many recent successful TV shows, the daily life of a lonely British café owner does not seem like must-watch television material on paper. However, the dullness of “Fleabag” is the key to its success. The show has captured people’s hearts and gobbled up awards without anything big, loud or flashy. There are no guns or bombs or drug cartels or world leaders juggling global crises and their own family dramas, as seems to be the case in so many popular modern television shows.
Rather, Fleabag proves that honesty is the best policy when it comes to making fascinating TV. She speaks openly about sex in a way that women are rarely given the chance to do on screen, tells her audience exactly what she is thinking about the people in her life (while she is talking to those people!) and regularly shares her painfully truthful feelings about love and loss.
Perhaps nothing sums up the kind of show “Fleabag” is better than when Fleabag says, “I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life … because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong.” You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has not felt that way at some point. By telling the relatable story of an ordinary woman just trying to handle what life has thrown at her, “Fleabag” has rightfully earned its place as one of the best TV shows in recent years.
3. For a Smart and Relevant Sitcom: “Black-ish”
“Black-ish” is a hilarious and intelligent sitcom that proves humor is a powerful way to effectively address serious topics. The show centers on a Black family living in Los Angeles and follows them as they navigate a mixture of personal, social and political issues.
“Black-ish” is known for covering serious issues relating to race in smart and memorable ways. For example, it once featured an episode that focused on the importance of celebrating Juneteeth, making it one of the few television shows to ever address the topic. The episode contained musical numbers and emphasized how most Americans recognize Columbus Day every year but have never even heard of Juneteenth. The Juneteenth episode is just one of the many examples of how “Black-ish” creatively addresses racial topics in direct ways.
Anthony Anderson, one of the show’s leads, explains that “Black-ish” aims to “move the culture forward with our show and to say important things and to be provocative and thought-provoking.” The sitcom absolutely accomplishes this goal by being unafraid to boldly address uncomfortable topics using the perfect combination of humor and honesty.
“Black-ish” will make you think just as much as it will make you laugh. In this time of racial reckoning in America, the show is even more relevant and important now than when it first aired in 2014, making it an absolute must-watch.
4. For a Sharp Teen Dramedy: “Sex Education”
“Sex Education” sets the bar high for the classic high school dramedy genre. The British Netflix series follows Otis, the son of a sex therapist, as he gets roped into running a secret sex education clinic in his high school. Despite Otis’ natural ability to coach his fellow high schoolers through the trials and tribulations of teenage romance, he is just as clueless about the topic when it comes to his personal experiences.
The show’s clever premise is complemented by its opaque time period. While the use of cell phones and modern pop culture references indicate that it takes place in the present day, the costumes and sets have much more of an ‘80s vibe. This element of the show is a fun nod to the classic ‘80s TV shows and movies set in high schools. It also suggests that the struggles teenagers face when it comes to love are similar no matter what year it is.
The candor of “Sex Education” makes it stand out from other high school TV shows. It demonstrates how, despite their displays of sexual confidence, teenagers are a whole lot less knowledgeable about sex and romance than other high school TV shows have us believing. Through smart storylines and witty dialogue, the show reveals that while it may seem like everyone in high school but you is having sex, that could not be further from the truth.
This message makes it a great show to watch if you are a teenager, but even more rewarding if your high school years are in the past. The show is a reminder of how difficult and confusing high school relationships — both platonic and romantic — can be, and how much you learn and grow from facing those struggles in your youth.
5. For a Period Comedy-Drama: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” takes its audience back to 1950s New York City as it tells the story of Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a housewife who learns quite unexpectedly that she has a gift for stand-up comedy. Midge decides to pursue a career in comedy, defying a whole slew of societal expectations and barriers as she fights to make her way to the top.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” presents a powerful blend of nostalgia for a time period long gone and honesty about the injustices that time period contained. The gorgeous costumes and colorful sets make audiences long for the fun and glamour of 1950s Manhattan. However, the blatant sexism and discrimination Midge faces as she pursues comedy remind us that the 1950s were an unforgiving time for women who wanted to do anything other than be a mom.
The acting on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is stellar, without a single weak link in the ensemble. The show has won countless awards since it first aired in 2017. Between its unique premise and the impeccable talent of the cast, there really is nothing else like it on TV.