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More TV Watching Ideas for Your Time in Isolation
March 23, 2020  | By Mike Hughes  | 1 comment
 


As the virus shutdown continues, it's time to dive deeper into the TV pool.

I'm guessing you've already found some of the streaming giants, from Amazon's marvelous The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Netflix's deeply observant The Crown. But now, let me offer some of my personal preferences to dig through.

1) Throwbacks: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

TV had lots of so-so variety shows and a few good ones. This was the best, rippling with creativity.

It got its reputation by nudging the censors, but that's only a smidgen of what made it great.

Much of the humor was the simple mom-liked-you-best stuff that the brothers savored. I remember laughing, loudly, over Pat Paulsen's first "editorial" – simply muttering some nonsense syllables.

The show's young writers – including Steve Martin and Rob Reiner – were masters of goofiness. Paulsen even had a Trumpian moment: After insisting he wasn't running for president, he was shown a tape in which he said he was. With his usual straight face, he said: "I was misquoted."

And the show's music was first-rate. Dick Smothers had a great voice, and the guests ranged from Pete Seeger to The Doors. Often, they were filmed cleverly. One "topless dancers" number had just legs; another number seemed to have Mason Williams simultaneously playing every instrument.

The show recently started appearing in reruns at 11 p.m. ET Saturdays on getTV. That's a throwback channel that has a lot of bad shows – TV has had a ton of them – and some great ones. The wonderful All in the Family is 8-10 p.m. ET weekdays and a few fairly good variety shows are on weekends – Sonny and Cher at 10 p.m. ET Saturdays, Johnny Cash at 10 and 11 p.m. ET Sundays.

Some people can get Get via Dish, Channel 373. For others, it's one of many interesting sub-channels on local stations; check www.get.tv/get-the-channel.

2) Nature programming.

The world has made immense cinematic strides lately, creating awesome sights and sounds. Most of those skills, alas, are used on superhero movies.

But they also help create epic nature documentaries, especially on two cable channels in particular.

Nat Geo Wild has its splendid Hidden Kingdom of China on two Mondays – 8-11 p.m. ET March 23, and 9-11 p.m. ET March 30.

If you miss them, don't fret: BBC America has great nature shows every Saturday – currently, Planet Earth reruns – and will have The Best of Seven Worlds, One Planet at 9 p.m. ET April 21 the day before National Geographic, BBC, and others celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

That's the same time that – assuming theaters re-open – Disney opens its Penguins movie. There have been eight previous films from the Disneynature group, all terrific and all going to Nat Geo after their theater releases.

3) Dramas

For a time, TV people figured every show needed to be a particular type of drama – cops or crooks, doctors, detectives, or lawyers. That way, stories could end at the conclusion of each episode.

It seemed that if they tried plain old human drama, they'd risk a common flaw – new plot twists could have things spinning wildly out of control or it could become like Empire with someone talking to ghosts.

But This Is Us (top, NBC) is a marvel, doing this with intelligence, depth, and – particularly with Sterling K. Brown – gifted actors. The season's second-to-last episode about a therapist (Pamela Adlon) taking Randall (Brown) through two "what-if" scenarios was a masterpiece.

Now the season-finale is 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (March 24) on NBC. At 10:01 p.m. ET (also on NBC) is the debut of Council of Dads, a well-made show that then disappears until April 30. And on Thursday (March 26), A Million Little Things – a fairly good show in the This Is Us mode – has its season-finale on ABC at 10 p.m. ET.

4) Acorn.

Once you're past the top tier of streaming networks, you can find gems underneath.

One of my favorites is Acorn TV. Like some others – Showtime and Sundance Now – it has expanded its free trial period to 30 days.

Acorn started with British shows – a fertile field until Britbox (another good service) gobbled so many of them. Fortunately, it had already gone on to the rest of the British empire, with shows from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Wales, and beyond.

There's a library that's deep enough to get you through any shutdown. Oddly, that includes five series that share the same Northern Exposure (1990-1995) notion – a city person settling in a quirky town. Each is fun – Doc Martin, Agatha Raisin, 800 Words, The Heart Guy, and The Good Karma Hospital.

But Acorn also has range.

Blood (currently unfolding, one episode each Monday) is tense, brooding, and compelling.

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is a bright and giddy movie about a Jazz Age detective amid missing treasures in Jerusalem.

Deadwater Fell (four Mondays, starting April 6) is a murder drama with two top stars – Cush Jumbo of The Good Fight and David Tennant of, well, almost everything.

5) Additional current and Future Shows.

On FX: The hilarious Breeders is 10 p.m. ET Mondays; the quietly funny/involving Better Things is 10 p.m. ET Thursdays. On the day after each episode airs, it jumps to Hulu.

Speaking of which… On Hulu: The richly tangled Devs (produced by FX, but only available on Hulu), with new episodes on Thursdays.

And ahead? Fargo, alas, has been delayed by the virus and may not arrive until late this year. But two shows are coming April 15 – the weirdly funny What We Do in the Shadows, and (Hulu only) Mrs. America, a star-stuffed look at the efforts to pass or prevent the Equal Rights Amendment.

Chuck Lorre comedies will help you through the long days. Here is one of the last masters of making situation comedies before a studio audience. Mom (9 p.m. ET Thursdays, CBS) and Bob (Hearts) Abishola (8:30 p.m. ET Mondays, CBS) have different styles, but both share a quality of Lorre's now-departed Big Bang Theory – richly detailed characters we care about.

PBS, now that it's back from its pledge break, is also a great place to go. A Garth Brooks tribute is scheduled for March 29 with the sprawling World on Fire starting April 5 (check local listings).

And one other thing: I really can't help liking Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (9 p.m. ET) Sundays, NBC). Yes, some of the stories are lame – especially the ones set at her office. And yes, it's highly unlikely that a person can hear people's thoughts via pop songs. But this is, among other things, the most visually appealing show on television; it has a charm that overrides any of my grumblings.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
H.W.A.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is a fun show!
Mar 27, 2020   |  Reply
 
 
 
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