Under normal circumstances, summer break can be an excellent time to dive into television binges, but a global pandemic might make this an even better time. While states and cities begin to reopen, some might prefer to stay home and catch up on some content.
The modern TV landscape has inundated the American public with an ever-constant barrage of new releases. Where breaks can certainly be a good time to watch greats like “The Wire” or “Breaking Bad,” there are many other great shows a little further off the beaten path. Here are some of streaming services’ best offerings that are slightly outside the mainstream.
Perhaps the single best piece of content in all of 2019, “Fleabag” is a black comedy from Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Killing Eve”) — its creator, writer and star. The show originally appeared as Waller-Bridge’s one-woman play before being adapted to screen for the BBC. Season one debuted in 2016 to mostly positive reviews, but the British series took off in 2019 with a transcendent season two. All in all, it offers 12 digestible episodes at about a half-hour length for each.
“Fleabag” depicts a young, sexually-active woman in London, struggling to find her footing following a pair of devastating tragedies. The unnamed protagonist, referred to only as Fleabag (Waller-Bridge), constantly breaks the fourth wall, rapid firing biting quips and commentary toward the audience in the middle of conversations. While this trope brings amusement and laughter, it also excels artistically as a deflection for a woman demanding attention and afraid of true intimacy. Her life bottoms-out with a tragic revelation at the end of season one, which coincides with her difficult family life — a family that features remarkable performances from Olivia Coleman (“The Crown”) and Sian Clifford (“Vanity Fair”).
The second season introduces a perfect foil into the mix with Andrew Scott (“Sherlock”), who plays the now memefied Hot Priest figure. This unlikely pairing launches the show into new territory through daring creative choices and an arc that captures human needs for belonging, purpose and intimacy. In just 12 short episodes, “Fleabag” takes viewers to the depths and highs of modern human life.
Streaming on Netflix, “Dark” is a supernatural mystery thriller, popularly dubbed as a German version of “Stranger Things.” However, this epithet undersells the show for just how spectacularly wild it actually is. In reality, it is a gripping cross between “True Detective,” “Game of Thrones” and the aforementioned Netflix series.
The German-language series from “Who Am I’s” Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese details the fallout and response in a small town following the disappearance of some children. Initially, the mystery presents itself as a classical “whodunnit” before later growing into an exceptionally confusing, complex web of family trees and timelines. Although it is certainly bizarre and full of ominous overtones, “Dark” is endlessly compelling and impossible to stop watching.
Although she has only just gotten to the big screen, Issa Rae (“The Photograph”) is most known for her work on TV. The comedian first rose to fame through “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl” — a YouTube series that served as her launching pad to HBO celebrity.
Co-created with Larry Wilmore (“The Bernie Mac Show”), “Insecure” stars Rae as one of two female black leads in their late 20s, trying to find fulfillment in their careers and personal lives. The show boasts a stellar and diverse cast and crew, including the co-star Yvonne Orji (“Night School”), Jay Ellis (“Escape Room”) and director Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”).
Primarily billed as a comedy, the HBO series in its fourth season is constantly charming and amusing, but its humor matches more of the dramedy ilk than mainstream sitcoms. “Insecure” grounds itself in a realness that makes the humor relatable and the drama resonant. From heartbreaks to friendship disputes, Rae’s product gives viewers a case of the feels during this watch.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender”
When the world is in shambles, sometimes people just need something lighthearted and escapist to pass the time. Few shows are better for such a time than “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Originally airing on Nickelodeon in the mid-to-late 2000s, the animated series recently was just added to Netflix’s catalogue.
Kids of a certain generation will remember the iconic intro to the show: “… everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.” The premise, as explained at the start of each episode, takes place in a magical Asiatic world where humans have powers of one of the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. Only one person at a time, the titular character, could master all four, but the Avatar vanished. The new Avatar, a kid named Aang, comes through a hundred years later to find war and devastation in his absence. Aang, along with his new friends, must journey the world to train and grow so they can put an end to the suffering.
“The Last Airbender” is certainly childish as it was intended for youth audiences, but its narratives are mature and thoughtful. The series explores topics ranging from young emotions to death and genocide. Perhaps the coolest bragging point, though, is the show’s remarkable worldbuilding. In a very short span of time, it illustrates various cultures, creatures, deities and a long historical lineage. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” excels as the kind of original, escapist fantasy for which popular culture is starved.
“Nathan For You”
Everyone needs a little dose of stupid comedy from time to time, but “Nathan For You” is no traditional TV show. Streaming on Hulu, the documentary series follows comedian Nathan Fielder as he approaches struggling businesses and gives them out-of-the-box solutions to their real-world problems. Fielder’s recommendations range from childish to dumb and downright absurd. The first episode, for example, features a poop flavor of yogurt in one storyline and a loophole miniscule pizza in the other. Sometimes the show even catches the eye of news outlets and goes viral, such as the iconic “Dumb Starbucks” episode from season two.
Essential to the wacko premise, though, is Fielder’s awkward, deadpan sensibilities. He embraces the cringe humor fully, putting everyone in increasingly uncomfortable circumstances — business owners, viewers and himself. At times, it can be hard to watch. And yet, “Nathan For You” manages to make audiences laugh differently and harder than they ever have before.