The Golden Age of Television
You may not have a summer job, but with all the shows you have to watch, you’re certainly going to be busy.
By Kathryn Parker, Fordham University
There’s no better time of year for binge-watching Netflix than the summer; in fact, some people would argue that the three month break was first created, hundreds of years ago, in anticipation of streamable content, but that’s another argument entirely.
Nonetheless, here you are, back at home at your parents’ house or all alone in your apartment, with nothing on your planner except a party on Saturday and a reminder to buy groceries at least once this week. The rest of your time? What you choose to do with it is up to you, but I, personally, would recommend setting that dial to Netflix.
The streaming station is packed with classics you should watch, such as “Friends” or “The Office,” but if you’re caught-up on your television canon, then you have the opportunity to try something new. Luckily for you, there is a whole fleet of new programming just waiting for you to give in and turn on Season 1, Episode 1. So, below are my recommendations for the hottest new shows of the summer, perfect for bingeing your break away.
1. Lovesick (2014- )
A definite contender for the winner of Best Show Nobody Watches, “Lovesick” is an offbeat, funny and at times, heartbreakingly beautiful British sitcom. The premise is interesting, if a bit weird; in the first episode Dylan (Johnny Flynn) is diagnosed with chlamydia and must subsequently call up every one of his past sexual partners to break the news to them. Yes, it’s as hilariously awkward as it sounds.
This isn’t just a show about an STI, though; “Lovesick” takes a fresh look at the classic will-they-won’t-they plot line through the forever-doomed relationship of Dylan and his best friend, Evie (Antonia Thomas). The two are clearly meant for each other, but the timing is never right; they’re always heartbroken, afraid or dating other people. It’s sad to watch them orbit each other for years, but it never feels forced, like they’re only apart because the writers want to milk the drama.
Plus, their respective love interests are lovely, three-dimensional characters with whom they share real chemistry, not at all the bland placeholders who typically turn up in a will-they-won’t-they scenario. The non-linear timeline of “Lovesick” allows it to place an emphasis on the importance of timing to the central relationship, and sublime settings and camerawork give the show a distinct, understated beauty.
2. Sense8 (2015- )
Speaking of Netflix originals with amazing visuals, “Sense8” has to be next on the list. Created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, “Sense8” features a diverse, multicultural cast and is filmed on location all over the world. Its premise—that eight people from around the world find themselves suddenly and inexplicably linked—allows for a blatant celebration of the connections between people, no matter how different they may be.
“Sense8” unites many genres and defies categorization, by having each main character essentially star in their own serialized movie: Kala (Tina Desai) is in a Bollywood film, Will (Brian J. Smith) is in a sci-fi thriller and Sun (Doona Bae) is in a martial-arts-meets-corporate-intrigue hybrid, to name just three examples.
It is difficult to write only a paragraph about “Sense8,” because there is so much to say, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the sheer ambition of a show that films everywhere from Mumbai to Reykjavík, and in the middle of events such as São Paulo Pride or a warehouse rave. There is nothing else like “Sense8” on television, nothing that is so poetically open about sexuality, nothing so genre-defying and nothing with the same spirit of soaring, humanistic optimism.
3. Jane the Virgin (2014- )
“Jane the Virgin” has received a lot of hype, but, strangely, not a lot of viewers. This may be because of its purposefully ridiculous hook—a devoutly Catholic virgin is artificially inseminated with the sperm of a rich hotelier.
The premise provides a basis for much of the humor in the show, but more importantly, it allows the show to address and break down the virgin-whore dichotomy. “Jane the Virgin” contains a telenovela aspect from which it mines a great deal of humor, but it shines most brightly when examining the everyday problems faced by the titular Jane (played by the brilliant Gina Rodriguez) and her extended family, including her mother Xo (Andrea Navedo) and her eccentric father, telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega (Jaime Camil).
“Jane the Virgin” features a diverse and female-led cast, with dialogue in both English and Spanish (don’t worry, there are subtitles) and gleeful narration by the “Latin lover narrator,” Anthony Mendez. It’s not every day you see a show starring three generations of Latina women, and a program in which the writers breathe life into every charming, stubborn, flawed and loving character. “Jane the Virgin” tackles various love triangles with aplomb, and navigates through every circumstance conceivable, from a face-swapping drug lord to postpartum depression and everything in between.
4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015- )
The musical television show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is hilarious, heartbreaking and surprising every step of the way. The musical numbers feature the amazing singing voices of the cast, while also being downright hilarious; the writing is sharply intelligent and the cast is brilliant, down to the last throw-away guest star (Benjamin Siemon kills it as “Grocery Clerk with Half an Eyelid”).
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” sets up and then systematically breaks down every stereotype in the rom-com playbook, starting with that of the “crazy ex-girlfriend.” On the one hand, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is a lil’ bit crazy (in her own words), and she certainly is Josh Chan’s (Vincent Rodriguez III) ex-girlfriend, but, as the theme song says, the situation is a lot more nuanced than that. This pattern recurs with just about every character: Josh’s girlfriend, Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz), is more than just the pretty, mean girl, snarky love interest; Greg (Santino Fontana) has his own problems and the ever-dedicated sidekick, Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), focuses on Rebecca’s life to avoid the disappointment of her own.
Rebecca is frustrating and often willfully ignorant, but she is still independent, intelligent and ultimately likeable—which makes her many missteps all the more painful to watch. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a brilliant and subversive show, and is definitely worth a binge-watch, even if musical television shows aren’t necessarily your thing.
5. Community (2009-2015)
“Community” is the epitome of post-modern television. During its six-season run, it parodied just about every genre of movie and television, from action flicks to crime thrillers to claymation. The premise—cynical ex-lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) goes to community college and ends up in a study group with a bunch of fellow misfits—allows the show to go in some truly wacky directions while never losing its heart. More than anything, “Community” is a simultaneous critique and celebration of television itself; for proof, see the sheer number of pop culture references made by Abed (Dani Pudi).
“Community” is always hilarious and often insightful, and the strong friendships at the center of the show shine through even in the most ridiculous of circumstances, as in the self-referential and quickly-escalating “bottle episode” brought on by a missing pen (“Cooperative Calligraphy”). Whenever television shows start taking themselves too seriously, and whenever they might get a bit repetitive or pretentious, watch “Community.” With a stellar cast, witty writing and a never-ending pool of genres and tropes to parody, “Community” is the perfect show for anyone who just loves television.