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What to Watch While Maintaining Your Social Distance
March 14, 2020  | By Mike Hughes  | 1 comment

Most of us have that inner voice, telling us to watch less television. It's always been there. 

We were told not to watch so many cartoons or so much sci-fi silliness, not to watch Beavis and Butthead watching videos.

We're reminded not to become Beavis or Butthead.

But now that changes: With coronavirus concerns, watching TV is a socially responsible thing to do. What used to be anti-social behavior is now a fine form of social distancing.

Fortunately, the timing is right; this is the platinum age for TV fiction when quantity and quality intersect. Some people might just be getting re-acquainted with their TV sets (or other forms of watching what is traditionally known as TV), so here's an update:

STREAMING OVERLOAD: We already had the giants – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime – ranging from The Crown and The Irishman to Handmaid's Tale and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. But now a lot more have jumped in.

Apple TV+ started Nov. 1, and the massive Disney+ came on Nov. 12, promising big projects. The latter has just announced that Frozen 2 will arrive Sunday (March 15), three months earlier than planned. And NBC's Peacock streaming service will follow on April 15 (via Comcast Xfinity) or July 15 (for everyone else).

Also, there's Quibi, launching on April 6. It has superproducers (Stephen Spielberg, Lena Waithe, Guillermo del Toro) making shows in 10-minute bites (or less) for mobile devices only.

And there are the British-oriented streamers, Acorn and Britbox. Acorn's current miniseries is the deep and brooding Blood while arriving on March 23 is the giddy fun of Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.

PAY-CABLE: Before the streamers soared, it was HBO – from Sopranos to Game of Thrones – that dominated quality-TV.

Lately, its owners have insisted on more quantity, expanding from one night of originals to two.

Westworld opens its third season at 9 p.m. ET Sunday (March 15), with top comedies Avenue 5 and Curb Your Enthusiasm at 10:10 p.m. ET and 10:40 p.m. ET. Monday has the debut of The Plot Against America – based on a chilling Philip Roth novel – at 9 p.m. ET, and a sequel to the My Brilliant Friend miniseries at 10 p.m. ET.

The other pay-cable channels are also busy, creating a Sunday overload. At the same time that Westworld debuts, Starz concludes The Wrong Man (preceded by the popular Outlander at 8 p.m. ET); meanwhile, Showtime has the intense Homeland at 9 p.m. ET, then starts a new season of Black Monday, its witty Wall Street show, at 10 p.m. ET.

BASIC CABLE: When AMC launched Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it showed that it could sometimes match the pay-cable people. Now, like HBO, it has two strong nights.

Walking Dead is at 9 p.m. ET Sundays; Mondays have Better Call Saul (the Breaking Bad prequel) at 9 p.m. ET, and the neatly eccentric Dispatches from Elsewhere at 10:10 p.m. ET.

And FX has managed to match that quality. It has debuted the hilarious Breeders (10 p.m. ET Mondays) and opened the season for the quietly involving Better Things (10 p.m. Thursdays). Coming are new seasons of What We Do in the Shadows and Fargo, April 15 and 19. All of these programs jump to Hulu the next day, and FX even has one show (Devs) for Hulu only.

That last one is part of cable's fondness for the odd and intriguing. Devs and Dispatches head into strange turf; Motherland: Fort Salem (debuting at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, March 18 on Freeform) tells us that the U.S. military has, for centuries, used witches. That's the sort of thing cable savors.

BROADCAST TV: Then again, you can find weirdness on the regular broadcast channels, the sort that floats into our antennas without asking for a penny. The CW is full of super-people, bat-people, flashy folks, time-travelers, and, of course, witches. Many of its shows are done quite well.

Other networks try the supernatural, with occasional success. Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is surprising fun, with a young woman hearing people's thoughts via pop songs. That's 9 p.m. ET Sundays on NBC, a network that also knows how to stir emotions on Tuesdays with This Is Us, New Amsterdam, and the upcoming Council of Dads.

ABC does the same on Thursdays, from Grey's Anatomy to A Million Little Things. Fox hits extremes, good and bad, in the final season of Empire, at 9 p.m. ET Tuesdays. CBS still is the best at standard comedies – Mom at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays, Bob (Hearts) Abishola at 8:30 p.m. ET Mondays – and regular cop shows.

And PBS will soon emerge from its pledge break. On March 29, its annual Gershwin Prize honors Garth Brooks. A week later, Masterpiece launches the sweeping European saga, World on Fire.

Offerings like these make social distancing seem easy.

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Don't overlook the quasi-live late night comedy shows, Colbert and Corden on CBS, Fallon and Meyers on NBC, Kimmel on ABC, Maher and Oliver on HBO, Conan and Sam Bee on TBS, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah over on Comedy Central. (I'm probably missing a couple.) At worst they're amusing ways to kill time. At best they can be simultaneously hilarious and thought-provoking.
Mar 15, 2020   |  Reply
Updating my earlier comments concerning late-night shows. Comedy Central touted that Monday's David Spade show would be new-while dispatches from CC said they would be on hiatus. Wrong info or just a new episode left in the can? Meanwhile,Colbert had a hybrid new/repeat episode. The monologue,appearing to take place in Stephen's home bathtub(while wearing a suit in a bubble bath) was up to date,followed after midnight with a Jim Carrey visit(Feb. 6?). I only stayed for the monologue,which was up to date, including Trump's midday press conference. Trump appeared less deranged and the lying kept to a minimum. Other appearances,those embarrassing ones including "hunches" and praising his WH while screwing up and/or lying, were held in the evening. Sundowning?
Special mention should be made for Mon.'s Bull episode concerning a fictitious outbreak of anthrax in the NYC mail. Even a disclaimer at the beginning from series star,Michael Weatherly, still was a wrong-headed decision.
Mar 17, 2020
Oops. Kimmel,not Fallon on ABC. Got my Jimmys mixed up. I'll blame Joe Biden as many of his high school teachers/priests taught me at the same school a few years down the road.
Mar 16, 2020
Most,if not all,late-night shows have shut down. So remember when they tell a joke from a few weeks ago,when Biden was counted out and the stock market was booming. FYI-ABC has flipped Nightline to 11:35 and the Fallon repeats start @ 12:05,M-Th.
Also,PBS has decided to put Ken Burns' Baseball doc online. Odd -MLB has been showing the doc since real baseball ended last. Nov. as they have done for years. Seemingly commercial-free,which is a good thing.
Mar 16, 2020
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