I like TV. Probably too much.
During my childhood, My parents both had full-time jobs and as long as I was doing well in school, I pretty much had free rein of the TV. Shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Daria” and “The X-Files” defined my childhood.
I still don’t watch any one genre, although I’m partial to dark and quirky comedies, suspenseful thrillers and true crime. So I’m quite stoked about the number of amazing television content these days, many with really creative premises and top-notch acting and directing. As hard as I try, I can never keep up.
That’s why I asked my editors if I could write a monthly list about shows I personally think are great, including ones I’ve revisited or just started. These aren’t limited to just new shows, and you should be able to watch these at any time. (Note, the content ratings are from Common Sense Media.)
Here’s my list for what to watch in August:
The Good Place
What it’s about: Created by Michael Schur (“Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), the series begins with Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) waking up in the afterlife, in a heaven-life place created by Michael (Ted Danson) as a reward for being a good person when she was alive. Only, Shellstrop wasn’t exactly a saint in life. Far from it. But she doesn’t want to be found out and sent to the Bad Place. So, she plays along.
Why I like it: This is not your average comedy. The premise seems silly, but deeper questions and themes are seamlessly woven throughout the series, without taking away from its light-hearted nature. Can someone truly change? What does it mean to be a good person? Is frozen yogurt actually delicious?
The cast is refreshingly diverse and has a wonderful chemistry. Since this is the Good Place, naturally there’s no cursing, so profanities are charmingly replaced (ie. “fork”). The cameos are great too: Seeing Adam Scott playing a “bad boy” character is equal parts ridiculous and awesome.
After the first season, I wondered how on Earth (no pun intended) they would keep it going, but Schur is careful with his twists, not just throwing them out there for the sake of shaking things up. It’s a delightfully fun way to look at life and death, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Content rating: 12+
Episode length: 22 minutes.
Number of seasons: Two (26 episodes).
Next season release: Sept. 27, 2018.
How to watch it: Netflix, NBC.
Network: USA Network.
What it’s about: Sam Esmail’s drama centers on genius hacker Elliot Alderson, played by the talented Rami Malek. By day, he floats through his mediocre existence as an underutilized cybersecurity engineer, and at night, he unveils evildoers’ dirty secrets by hacking into their private lives. And he battles social anxiety disorder, paranoia, multiple personality disorder and depression. Eventually, he comes up with a plan to take down one of the world’s most powerful conglomerates, E-Corp, which he nicknames “Evil Corp.”
Why I like it: When I heard the USA Network had released a promising new drama, I was a bit skeptical. Not that USA has bad shows, but the network isn’t exactly known for its highbrow dramas. Their shows tend to be predictable and well, kind of corny. (Note: I watched all of “White Collar” and loved it) But I gave “Mr. Robot” a chance, and man, was I floored from the very first episode. It’s dark, gritty and like nothing else on network TV. And it hasn’t let up in the three seasons so far. Nice work, USA.
OK, I know what you’re thinking: Computer hacking? Yawn. Trust me, this is an edge-of-your-seat type drama. The show is written from Alderson’s perspective, where you are in his head, listening to his disjointed, often panicked thoughts. You’re just along for this crazy ride.
The cinematography is unnerving, with unusual camera angles and focal-point choices, and so many things about the drama are unpredictable. Just when you think you’ve got a hold on what’s happening, you’re jerked in a completely different direction. The show is just straight-up weird sometimes, in a how-did-this-ever-end-up-on-network-television kind of way. But it’s artistic, bold and risky. And wow, can rapper Joey Bada$$ act.
Content rating: 16+
Episode length: 41-65 minutes.
Number of seasons: Three (32 episodes).
Next season release: 2019.
How to watch it: USA Network, Amazon.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
What it’s about: The show was developed by Joss and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen after the success of “The Avengers” in 2012. It follows S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who leads a team of agents that take on complicated and dangerous cases, dealing with good and evil Inhumans (genetically modified humans with superpowers) and many more otherworldly enemies.
Why I like it: I’m in the middle of watching season five. I hadn’t kept up with it, not because I don’t like it, but because I got sidetracked by too many other shows. I’m glad I returned, because it drew me back in easily.
The show deals with events from the Marvel Cinematic Movie Universe, which opened doors to keep the storylines interesting, such as introducing LMDs (Life Model Decoys) in season four. But the great thing about this show is it can be enjoyed by a wider audience. There’s so much action, intrigue, double-crossing and drama to keep anyone interested.
For a TV show, the special effects and fight sequences are terrific. Watching actresses Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennett kick serious butt — both human and non-human — is a treat to witness. The interactions and character development is so deeply personal, and you learn a lot about each character’s fears and motivations. While it’s an ensemble cast, the episode “4,722 Hours,” focused almost entirely on one character, Jemma Simmons, played by Elizabeth Hestridge, stands out. The actress packs a powerful performance in a lone-survivor situation.
Content rating: 13+
Episode length: 41-44 minutes.
Number of seasons: Five (110 episodes).
Next season release: Mid-2019.
How to watch it: Netflix.
What it’s about: Created by David Gelb (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”), each episode profiles a world-renowned, critically acclaimed chef. The first episode focuses on Massimo Bottura, chef-owner of three-Michelin star Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, which this year landed in the No. 1 spot on Restaurant magazine’s “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.” Tough act to follow, but the lineup is impressive.
Why I like it: There’s nothing like learning how a master of one’s craft got to where he or she is. And also look at really beautiful food.
First off, the camera work is ridiculously stunning. Each dish is crafted in high-definition clarity through hypnotic, slow-motion captures, giving new meaning to the phrase “too pretty to eat.” Each episode is deeply personal. The story of Greg Achatz and his famed Chicago restaurant, Alinea, is well-known in the culinary world, but the storytelling in “Chef’s Table” is so well executed that it’s easy to get emotional watching it.
Episode one of season three took me by surprise, focusing on a Buddhist nun who cooks strictly vegan cuisine at a South Korean monastery. The scenery is breathtaking, and Kwan’s dedication to her craft and to her faith is beyond inspiring. I cried through most of the episode. I have yet to watch the latest season, which highlights pastry chefs, but I’m looking forward to starting.
Content rating: 12+
Episode length: 50 minutes.
Number of seasons: Four (22 episodes).
Where to watch it: Netflix.
What it’s about: The satirical comedy that ran from 2006 to 2013 is based on creator Tina Fey’s experiences working for “Saturday Night Live.” In the show, she plays Liz Lemon, the head writer for a sketch comedy show called “TGS with Tracy Jordan” on NBC, trying to keep everything together amid the drama-causing stars of the show and a staff that doesn’t seem to respect her authority. Alec Baldwin is Jack Donaghy, the polished, controlling network executive who micromanages everything on the show.
Why I like it: I’ve probably watched the series about five or six times now. I nearly threw a Liz Lemon-level hangry temper tantrum when Netflix removed it late last year, but Hulu swooped in, and thankfully no tables were tossed over and no hard objects thrown at unsuspecting people.
The show takes some time to find its footing, but once it does, it’s witty and wacky with just the right amount of weirdness, especially when Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski are let loose to take their excessive, egocentric personalities to the next level.
And the relationship between Fey and Baldwin is sitcom magic. Sure there’s the “will they or won’t they?” question throughout the series, but mostly it’s the hilarity of their codependent relationship and humorous back-and-forth bantering about everything from their clothes to their significant others.
Content rating: 15+
Episode length: 22 minutes.
Number of seasons: Seven (138 episodes).
Where to watch it: Hulu.