My TV for every occasion infographic includes a mix of old and new shows for a wide range of genres and occasions. You can find the full infographic here, and capsule summaries for new shows on the list here.
This post contains the capsule summaries for the shows that first appeared on my list when this graphic appeared in The Wall Street Journal, or in my 2017 update. In some cases I’ve updated my summaries to reflect changes in the show (or in my perspective).
11/22/63 James Franco finds a temporal portal back to 1960, and is charged with stopping JFK’s assassination. The violence gets intense at times, but the underlying concept is so compelling that it’s worth gritting your teeth.
The Affair A thoughtful drama that follows the story of an extramarital affair through multiple perspectives. Lots and lots of very naked sex, which can be a plus, as long as you don’t watch it with the kids. I abandoned it
Alias TV’s original badass female action hero was plenty of fun, especially before it got mired down in the meta-conspiracy story line.
Almost Human File this under Geeks Only: a one-season copy show in which the sidekick is an android.
The Amazing Race Yet another reality show I would never have looked at without the kids. But they love it, and it’s actually great family viewing, because we all talk about who in our family would be best at handling the various challenges.
The Americans We adore this show about two Soviet spies pretending to be a normal American mom and dad. Quite apart from the meticulous, nostalgia-inducing recreation of the 1980s, it’s a terrifically well-written and well-acted show, with lots to engage anyone who enjoys a good spy movie or thriller. The complexities of raising kids who don’t know their parents are spies adds a layer of additional interest for those of us are parents, too. Note that while the first episode has some pretty disturbing sexual violence, that’s only in the first episode (at least, so far) though there are plenty of other sex scenes, including many that feel icky because they’re conducted under false pretences.
American Crime Story The first season consisted of a terrific, high quality re-enactment of the O. J. case, which drew rave reviews and was compelling even for those of us who lived through that time. The second (entirely unrelated) season told the story of Gianni Versace’s assassination in reverse chronological order; it was really the story of the serial killer who murdered Versace, and through his eyes, the broader tale of a slice of gay life twenty years ago. Both seasons were brilliant, but a few episodes of season 2 include really graphic violence.
Anne with an E: An updated version of Anne of Green Gables that portrays Anne as an abuse survivor, but still delights in her ever-optimistic soul. I watched this with my kid, who despite being a Canadian, has never read the books…and we both loved it.
The Baroness von Sketch Show This Canadian sketch comedy show is driven by a group of amazingly funny women. Unlike most sketch comedy, BVS doesn’t flog a dead horse: a sketch might be four minutes long, or forty seconds long, depending on how much material there is to work with. The sketches are funny and viral and speak directly to very specific women’s experiences — on which note, folks, you can stop sending me links to the BVS sketch about nudity in the over-40 women’s locker room. I saw it, and I love it.
Battlestar Galactica Unless you actively hate anything set in space, this is a stupendous show that uses a human vs android war as an allegory for America’s engagement in the Middle East.
Better Off Ted Proof that there is no justice in the TV universe, Better Off Ted only lasted for two very short seasons. But it’s one of our very favorite comedies ever — an absolutely brilliant send-up of workplace culture, set in the R&D unit of a GE-like corporation.
Better Things It’s hard to find shows that are both funny and profound, but this comedy about a single mom (and comedian) living in L.A. manages to achieve both. A must-watch for parents (and especially, parents of daughters) but I’ve road tested this one with friends who don’t have kids, and they’ve loved it too.
The Big Bang Theory For a long time, this show was the only show that got viewing consensus in our house, which is how we ended up watching its many seasons. It’s had its delightful moments, but I basically agree with the argument that it’s not laughing with nerds, it’s laughing at them.
Billions A high-end soap with a stellar cast and solid writing, set in the world of Wall Street.
Black-ish A fun family sitcom that rises above the genre with its insights into race in America. We don’t watch it religiously but we enjoy it when we do.
Blindspot This show about a tattooed amnesiac who works for the FBI did a decent job of balancing its big picture storyline with standard episode-long cases. The writing is mediocre but the puzzles embedded in the tattoos were often genuinely clever, and kept us watching for a while before we petered out.
Bloodline Half crime drama, half family melodrama, this Netflix show follows the increasingly sordid struggles of a well-established family in the Florida Keys. When the black sheep brother returns to town, much trouble ensues. Watch it for the Keys, and for Kyle Chandler, because Friday Night Lights isn’t on anymore.
Blunt Talk Patrick Stewart plays a dissolute, crisis-ridden Piers Morgan: the storylines mix behind-the-scenes plotlines set at his news network with hilariously over-the-top personal drama. Quirky and incredibly funny, but definitely not one to watch with the kids. If you watch, please let me know whether the huge party scene (you’ll know which one I mean!) is your best-case or worst-case scenario.
Borgen This subtitled Danish show about a moderate politician who becomes her country’s first female prime minister is one of our favorite shows ever. It’s fabulous political TV that manages to make complex political issues truly compelling; it’s also the best thing I’ve ever seen on the challenges of balancing career and family.
Brain Games Think of this as pinch hitter for MythBusters. It uses interesting social experiments to illuminate the quirks of human neurology and psychology.
Broad City The first couple of episodes left me cold, but then I hopped on the bandwagon of people who love this insane, hysterically funny buddy show about two young women in New York.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine Our whole family enjoys Andy Samberg’s sitcom set in a Brooklyn police precinct. It’s definitely gone downhill in the last year — many episodes now feel like they come straight from the Generic Sitcom Writers’ Room — but it’s still watchable, at least with kids.
Bunheads This one-season wonder follows a washed-up showgirl who takes over a ballet school, blending her midlife crisis with the teen dramas of her students. It’s the quintessential family drama, elevated by its lead, Broadway superstar Sutton Foster.
Burn Notice Another spy show we’ve hoped to share with the kids, about a CIA operative hiding out in Miami. The show’s charm lies in its behind-the-scenes explanations of spy tricks, which you can also enjoy through its online web shorts.
Catastrophe A super raunchy, super funny comedy about an American man who hooks up with an Irish woman in London — and a month later, discovers their 3-day stand left her pregnant. Some of the most candid, affectionate insights into marriage and sex that I’ve seen on TV.
Chuck A pseudo-Best Buy tech pro gets implanted with a computer program that makes him a super-spy. Another one we’ll soon revisit with the kids.
The Closer Kyra Sedgwick rocked the cop show genre as a neurotic, brilliant supercop. The sexy boyfriend didn’t hurt, either.
Continuum This sci-fi show has two ingredients that put it at the top of my list: a time travel premise and a kick-ass female protagonist. The first two seasons are good fun, but the third season felt downright profound: it’s a surprisingly subtle take on how a democracy can turn towards authoritarianism. I’d tell you to jump in at Season 3, except I think the power of the season rests on the characters and back story developed in the first two — and they’re no hardship! This is also a show that mostly works well as a family show (if you let your kids watch action shows): there’s virtually no sex, and the violence is rarely intense.
Cosmos Compelling science TV that not only unlocks the secrets of the universe, but also covers a lot of science history.
Coupling The British sitcom that inspired Friends proves that everything is smarter and funnier with an English accent and attitude.
Covert Affairs The adventures of newly minted CIA agent gave us a female-driven action show that was just smart enough to be enjoyable.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Even if you think you hate musicals, this show could change your mind. A funny, weird show about a woman who relocates to small-town California in pursuit of her summer camp sweetheart, featuring two or three inspired, witty musical numbers in each episode. We adored the first season but lost interest mid-way through season 2.
The Crown This series about a young Queen Elizabeth is classic binge fare. Everyone I know who watched it loved it. I’ve included it in my “Politics” category because the most interesting part of the show was its political dimension, and it would make terrific side-by-side viewing with Borgen, which deals with similar themes around the balancing act faced by women in leadership.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah After many years of devotion to Jon Stewart, I was leery about a change in host. But Trevor Noah has totally won me over. He’s found his own style, and I’m dazzled by how quickly he’s assumed confident command of what remains my favorite bedtime viewing.
Damages Glenn Close starred in this smart, tense legal drama that illuminated the challenges smart women face at work. If you missed it, you’ll want to binge watch one season at a time — though you may end up plowing through the whole series.
Doctor Thorne This mini-series isn’t going to rock your world, but if you still miss Downton Abbey, it will scratch that itch.
Doctor Who In his latest incarnation, the Doctor has somehow morphed into a tween phenomenon. This is great news for geeks, who will find that their previously derided Whovian status makes them super-cool in the eyes of their kids.
The Dollhouse I’m not exactly a Joss Whedon groupie, but I enjoyed the two seasons of this quasi-scifi show about um, I guess you have to call them prostitutes, who are actually implanted with different personalities.
Don’t Trust the B_ in Apartment 23 It only lasted a season, but Krysten Ritter as the titular “bitch” was so compelling that she made up for her annoyingly dull roommate.
Downton Abbey I was one of many who loved this historical drama that followed an aristocratic British family in the early 20th century.
Empire Taraji P. Henson isn’t the only reason to watch this show, but she is definitely what makes it awesome. I love R&B but the music is only good enough to sustain the show.
Episodes Matt Leblanc plays a dysfunctional, narcissistic version of himself as the star of a smart UK sitcom that is ported to American TV with predictably disastrous results. The real heart of the show are the husband-and-wife team behind the sitcom, and the whole thing is a smart, funny send-up of L.A. culture.
Extant Halle Berry as an astronaut who returns home to her husband and a robot kid: what’s not to love? Well, the robot kid plot line is pretty compelling, even if it does make me a bit resentful that my kids don’t have an off switch. I got most of the way through season one before losing interest in the whole meta-conspiracy plot that purports to explain how Halle returned from her last space mission with a space embryo. So mark this one hard-core sci-fi geeks only, and maybe not even us.
Frequency A new wrinkle on the time-travel genre, or maybe, a new wrinkle on the cop procedural. A police officer who lost her cop dad when she was still a kid magically connects with him across time, using the family’s ham radio. Together, they fight crime. (Yes, really.) My teen and I enjoyed watching this together, though do note that the crime they are fighting is creepy, though never crossed over into showing sexual assault. It was cancelled after the season ended but we enjoyed it while it lasted.
Friday Night Lights The idea of watching a TV show about football would never have appealed to me, but I loved this program — not the least because it presents the most inspiring, real take on marriage that I’ve ever seen.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee We loved the first season of this show, but I’ll admit that I now find it a little exhausting to have all the evils of the world pointed out so smartly and sharply. It’s a little too hard-hitting to feel like entertainment…so I rarely watch it these days.
Girls Oberlin alumnae in New York. OK, that’s probably not how most people think of it, but that’s why I enjoyed it. I gave up before the final season though.
Glow: The first season of this Netflix series introduced us to an eclectic group of women as they are trained up to be the stars of a new women’s wrestling TV show. Great characters and relationships, a wonderful cast, crazy and fascinating context — it all makes for a fun yet satisfying show.
Graves What would happen if George W. Bush grew a conscience — and a personality — in his retirement? Hilarity, brought to live by Nick Nolte and Sela Ward.
Greenleaf This high-caliber melodrama focuses on the African-American family behind a large evangelical church. It’s got all the soapy intrigue you could want, but it also offers a surprisingly nuanced take on both the hypocrisy and the spiritual power of corporatized religion. Note that the core drama of the first season revolves around themes of sexual abuse; I was able to handle it but I did fast forward through a few scenes.
Grey’s Anatomy I can’t believe I’m still watching this show. It’s certainly not because I care about the characters; if I ever did, I am now thoroughly exhausted by their endless and formulaic pairings, un-pairings and re-pairings. But there’s something satisfying about its adrenalizing medical scenes and weepy storylines, so I keep at it — but only as background TV.
Halt and Catch Fire A smart, well-written drama set in the early days of the computer industry, it’s a must-watch for tech nerds.
Happy Endings This Friends wannabe was funny enough for me to enjoy as background TV.
Hindsight On the morning of her second wedding, a woman travels back in time to the day of her first wedding, in the early 1990s. The time travel angle was a great way to approach the “if I knew then what I know now” theme, and treated us to nostalgia-filled 90s soundtrack. Sadly it only lasted one season.
Homeland One of the best spy shows ever, it’s been showered with so much praise that I can only say: if you haven’t yet joined in, you’ve got a fab binge watch ahead of you.
Houdini & Doyle: The title notwithstanding, this show has a very strong female protagonist. Arthur Conan Doyle (played by Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) teams up with Harry Houdini to investigate allegedly supernatural crimes, all under the supervision of London’s first female police officer. Excellent family viewing, though it will be occasionally scary for younger kids.
House of Cards Sometimes I think people who aren’t political junkies enjoy this show even more than we do, because they aren’t bothered by its cynicism. We have been loyal fans but have yet to watch the final season.
Human Target Just good enough to be watchable, this caper show centers on a man who volunteers to be a human target in order to draw out his clients’ would-be assassins.
Imposters We greatly enjoyed this clever, fast-paced new show about a female con artist and her various exes (aka victims). It’s a “dramedy” — a mix of humor and intrigue — and just when we think it’s going to follow a predictable arc, it changes course.
Incorporated It was a huge mistake for me to watch this engrossing drama about a dystopian, corporatized future during the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. Sure, it’s a little predictable, but it’s very well done, and full of intriguing and well-thought out details. Even if you’re not going to watch the full show, do yourself a favor and watch its brilliant sixty-second PSA imagining the poverty of a post-climate change America.
Insecure If truth be told, I should put this in “Family viewing”, because I watched with my elder kid, who loved it. But even I think it’s inappropriate for kids, particularly if you aren’t comfortable with your child rapping “Broken Pussy”.
Inside Amy Schumer Super funny, but not one to watch with the kids.
iZombie I find pretty much every zombie movie too scary — yes, even Shaun of the Dead scared me — but even our 12-year-old can watch this show about a medical examiner who solves crimes by eating the brains of her, um, “patients” . It’s got a great sense of humor and a charming cast.
Jane the Virgin A humorous American spin on the telenovela, about a young woman who gets accidentally impregnated with a stranger’s sperm. It’s basically a family comedy-drama, with just enough humor and sincerity for us to overlook the egregiously aggressive Target product placements.
Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Like Project Runway for puppets. In other words, fun!
Key and Peele Sketch comedy genius.
Last Resort A naval submarine is ordered to fire its nuclear missiles, but in the absence of confirmed orders, the captain goes rogue. It only lasted a season, and it kind of left of us hanging, but the combination of Andre Braugher, action sequences and global conflict made this a fun run.
Last Week Tonight John Oliver’s smart, funny take on the week’s news.
Late Night with Seth Meyers What started as a moderately funny late-night show has gotten better now that Meyers has ditched the stand-up opening monologue.
Legion I enjoyed this brain-bending superhero show, though it’s occasionally a bit disturbing. It’s the kind of show I’d like to multitask, but I can barely follow what is going on when I give it my full attention.
Leverage We put this heist show into our rotation after we finished White Collar. It’s not as good, but it’s fun for the kids and ok for us.
Lie to Me Yet another weekly procedural, this one featuring a human lie detector. It was a bit uneven, but usually engaging.
Lovesick I loved the first season of this Netflix comedy about a young man who needs to notify all his exes about an STD. I thought this was a setup for a series of awkward encounters, but instead it’s more like a series of tiny romantic comedy gems. Funny and surprisingly sweet.
Mad Men It felt like a crime to watch Mad Men at the gym, because it was so damn good. But Rob found it too chilly and depressing to join me in my obsession.
Madam Secretary A moderately diverting show about a female Secretary of State, I’m happy to watch it with the kids because I convince myself that it’s vaguely educational for them to see its facile treatment of international politics.
Making History A goofball comedy about a not-too-bright fellow who owns a duffel bag that can travel back to the American revolution. Leighton Meester (yes, of Gossip Girl fame) steals the show as Paul Revere’s time-traveling daughter. It was short-lived, but its single season was fun.
Marvel’s Agent Carter This spin-off from the Captain America movies is a cross between a cop show and a superhero show, all set in the 1940s. Not brilliant, but charming.
Master of None Each episode of Aziz Ansari’s clever comedy watches like a tiny, perfect movie. But I’ve had a hard time enjoying it since Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct; now I see the show’s reflections on men, women and dating through the lens of that very disturbing incident.
Modern Family I don’t know that I consider it “modern” to show an extended family where each household has its own stay-at-home parent, but the show has given us a lot of laughs over the years, though we no longer watch as avidly.
Mozart in the Jungle This backstage-at-the-symphony show revolves around the relationship between a quirky, brilliant conductor and the young clarinet player he takes under his wing. It’s funny, it’s got Bernadette Peters…do I actually need to say anything more?
Mr Robot This compelling drama about a hacker is a must-watch for tech nerds, but it’s a bit of a tricky one to fit into our TV schedule, because it’s too slow-moving to mono-task, but smart enough that we can’t follow what’s happening if we multi-task.
MythBusters Our 12-year-old’s favorite show ever, this show does an amazing job of making science engaging and fun. We’ve all enjoyed it over the years, but our little guy has watched the same episodes over and over and over again.
Nashville I’ve never been a country music person, but I loved this soapy drama about the Nashville music scene, which mostly rises above the genre thanks to star Connie Britton.
Nikita Your basic kick-ass female covert ops superhero show. It got a little tired over time but had enough of an edge to feel different from the rest of our spy shows.
No Ordinary Family A regular family gets turned into superheroes through a freak accident: pretty much the perfect setup for a good geek family show. Our daughter was devastated when it was cancelled after one season.
Nurse Jackie A very dark comedy about a nurse who struggles with addiction, I enjoyed this more for its smart characters and social engagement than for the laughs.
Orange is the New Black I avoided this for ages because I was worried it would have too much sexual violence — and yes, there are a couple of episodes in Season 3 that I had to largely skip. But for the most part, it’s rarely that grim — and boy, is it ever engrossing. I’ve yet to watch the latest season, however.
Orphan Blacks Possibly our all-time favorite sci-fi show, this tale of a group of female clones is a must-watch for both sci-fi and action fans. As the clones, Tatiana Maslany delivers what may be the most amazing performance ever, but it never feels like a stunt. Season 3 dipped a bit but the first couple of episodes of Season 4 suggest it’s back in fine form.
Parenthood Every mom I know who has watched this show absolutely loves it. For me, the plotline about an autistic tween was a real lifeline when we were first navigating our own son’s challenges.
People of Earth Wyatt Cenac (formerly of The Daily Show) played a reporter who joins a group for people who’ve been abducted by aliens. Super funny, and likely to appeal to people who aren’t sci-fi nerds — especially anyone who’s ever been in a support group. We’re heartbroken this got cancelled.
Pitch Now sadly cancelled, the single season of Pitch is still worth watching. This show imagines the personal, social and business impact of Major League Baseball getting its first female pitcher, a young African-American woman. I watched this during the early fall, when the challenges of being a first female something felt especially resonant (sigh). It’s a really smart show, and an enjoyable one — and I don’t even like baseball. Highly recommend for family viewing, especially if you have a daughter.
Project Runway For years, I assumed this show was like America’s Top Model. But it’s actually a fantastic immersion in the creative process of fashion, not to mention an amazing source of sartorial inspiration. And Tim Gunn’s role as advisor the designers is like a master class in mentorship. The kids love this just as much as we do!
Quantico Follow a class of FBI recruits through their training at Quantico — interspersed with the mysterious bombing that one of the recruits is blamed for a year after graduation. It’s a middle-of-the-road cop show, but it’s enjoyable.
Revenge This melodramatic soap told the story of an heiress who disguises her identity in order to avenge her father’s imprisonment. It was trashy in the best way, and even though it periodically went through the doldrums, it was perfect gym TV.
Riverdale This show feels like it belongs in my “sci-fi and superheroes” category, because the vibe of the show has a lot more in common with The Arrow than with The Fosters. (A friend smartly described it as Twin Peaks for teens.) Your feelings about Archie comments should have zero bearing on whether you check this out: it’s just a fun, slightly creepy teen drama, and takes nothing from the comics other than the notional identities of the main characters. I got kind of bored with it mid-way through season 2 or 3, however, and I’m not sure I’ll be back.
Sarah Connor Chronicles The Terminator franchise ventured into TV with two fun seasons that focused on Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton in the movie, though not in the TV show) and her teen son John — both protected by a superhot female Terminator. Family TV meets sci-fi: what’s not to love?
Saturday Night Live You know what SNL is, so let me just tell you how to watch it with the kids. For younger kids, you pre-watch, and just show them the pre-screened clips you think they’ll enjoy. For older kids, you can dare to watch together — — but keep your hand on the remote in case it ventures into dangerous territory, and be prepared to parentsplain the most problematic sketches.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Based on the Lemony Snicket series, this delightfully surreal show has drama, humor and just a hint of menace (enough to make it too scary for my very sensitive 12-year-old). The first episode didn’t grab me, so I’m glad my daughter is now old and wise enough to have observed that you can’t judge anything based on a pilot. Mid-way through the second episode I was hooked.
Scandal A brilliant African-American woman plays DC political fixer by day, and is the President’s mistress by night. It should be fantastic, but with rare exceptions, its take on politics was ridiculous. In fairness, it wasn’t really a political show — more of a soap meets spy show meets fashion showcase for expensive white clothing.
Six Degrees of Everything Each episode of this giggly reality show connects six apparently unconnected topics, and crams in enough historical and scientific factoids to convince you it’s educational.
Smash This behind-the-scenes show about the making of a Broadway musical took a lot of criticism for its mediocre writing and silly plotlines. But for Broadway nerds like me, it was heaven. I still listen to the score all the time, and I’m trying to convince my daughter to watch it with me, since she missed its tragically short, two-season run.
Speechless As the mom of a special needs kid, it’s hard for me to describe how much this show means to me. After laughing our way through the first episode, Rob and I were both in tears from the poignancy of seeing our family’s experience portrayed so effectively. My guess is that anyone (and especially any parent) will find this show funny, moving and insightful, but if your family includes atypical kids, it’s a must-watch.
Star Trek: Discovery: We’re now six episodes in, and the giant aching hole in my heart caused by a world without a Star Trek series is finally starting to heal. If you hate sci-fi, this isn’t your show…but if you like sci-fi, yet have never liked Star Trek (I am told such people exist) you should still give this series a try. After a couple of very un-Trek-like episodes, the series seems to have found a balance between being just Trek-like enough for us die-hards, but with the dark complexity you expect from contemporary sci-fi.
Star Trek: The Next Generation If you love Star Trek, you need to share it with the kids. The tricky thing is the first couple of seasons aren’t that great, and the last few seasons are most enjoyable if you’ve already been watching a while. So introduce the kids to TNG by cherry-picking the episodes that you think will appeal to your particular kids — and pass on DS9, which, while fabulous, is too complex for young kids who are still being assimilated into the Trekiverse.
Start Trek: Voyager While Voyager wasn’t my favorite Trek, it’s actually a great starting point for kids. Again, pick your episodes, and be sure to steer clear of the episodes featuring the phage (creepy alien leprosy) and Species 8472 (too scary).
Stranger Things Blame peer pressure for this one. I thought it would be too scary for me, but it’s all the rage among my teenager’s classmates, so we were compelled to watch it — and thank goodness! It’s smart, engrossing, and just this side of too scary.
Suits We accidentally discovered the kids were ready for adult legal drama when I watched an episode of Suits with my son in the room. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as The Good Wife, but it’s plenty of fun, and I really appreciated a future member of the royal family taking the time to educate my kid about safe sex.
Supergirl This show has been wildly uneven — as has my inclination to watch it. Believe it or not, its chief attraction was Calista Flockhart as a brilliant, bitchy media mogul.
The Flash This is a goofy superhero show, but it’s a fun goofy superhero show. I abandoned it a couple of seasons ago, but my teen still enjoys it.
The Fosters: If you are one of the many folks who miss the late, great Parenthood, this is the show you’ve been looking for. Season 1 is particularly terrific, because even though there is a lot of melodrama, it’s the kind of melodrama that flows organically from the show’s set-up (lesbian couple with five children, four of whom are adopted/fostered from care). The melodrama has become harder to believe as the show goes on, but I’m now invested, so I don’t care. And this is a great show to watch with tweens/teens: there’s scarcely an episode where Sweetie and I haven’t paused to discuss an important issue.
The Gifted This X-Men spin-off is set in a near or parallel futures in which mutants are persecuted and hidden. When a prosecutor discovers that his own teen children are mutants, he gets a new perspective on the mutants he’s been pursuing, and helps his family go into hiding instead. For those of us who can longer quite tolerate the goofiness of The Flash and Supergirl, this new makes for satisfying (if not stellar) family viewing.
The Good Fight Our whole family watched (and loved) season 1, and after waiting months and months for us to watch season 2, I finally gave up on the rest of the family and gorged on it solo. And it was even better than the first season! Yes, there are tons of engaging legal storylines, but the real joy lies in the constant, creative and undisguised swipes at President Trump.
The Good Place: Our whole family loves this comedy about the afterlife, which manages the rare trick of reinventing itself (for the better!) each season.
The Good Wife . This is a show you can enjoy watching and re-watching: when we finished watching Suits, we started the kids on The Good Wife, and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed watching the whole thing again. Among its many strengths, I’m particularly fond of its recurring, smart attention to the NSA, beginning in season 5.
The Grinder Rob Lowe’s entire career, for good and ill, is fully justified by the opportunity to watch him essentially spoofing himself in this sitcom about a TV lawyer who tries to start over as an actual lawyer.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert I still miss the old Colbert, but the new show has a lot to commend it — not the least of which is the fabulous wardrobe of Jon Batiste, the band leader.
The Magicians This TV show about a boarding school for magicians is fun, but definitely on the spooky side — my 13-year-old found it too creepy at times, so after wrapping up season 1, we’ve yet to jump back in for season 2. If you’ve got teens who loved Harry Potter, you’ll enjoy watching this together.
The Man in the High Castle An alternate history set in a 1960s America in which the Axis won World War II, Japan controls the Western US, and the Nazis control the East. Yikes! Totally engrossing, and only occasionally traumatic.
The Mayor An aspiring rapper runs for mayor of his small California town, strictly as a PR student…only to win. I was sad that this political comedy disappeared from the airwaves so quickly.
The Newsroom The revelation that Andrew Sorkin recycles his material almost ruined The Newsroom for me, but not quite. This smart drama, set in a CNN-like newsroom, made me wish for smarter politics and smarter media. Even if you’re not ready to commit to the whole series, watch this brilliant clip of the climate change interview we never see on the real news.
The Quad: You’ve got to love a show in which the villains are the leaders of the marching band. Set at the fictional, historically black college of Georgia A&M (yes, the fake college has a fake website), this high-end soap from BET has the kind of writing and performances that make it eminently watchable. The setting makes the show more interesting than your average soap, and it’s got something for everyone: lots of football for sports fans, significant and smart engagement with race and gender for the activists, higher ed machinations for university folk, and of course, marching bands.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tina Fey is the genius behind this funny show with what should be an un-funny premise: a young woman makes her way in New York after spending years imprisoned by a creepy predator. That grim setup speeds by in the first five minutes of the pilot, and you’re left with a delightful show.
The West Wing It’s been years since we worked our way through most of this smart series about the White House, but we’re returning to it now as family viewing. It’s a great introduction to politics, though we’re still having trouble getting the kids to buy in.
The Young Pope: This super weird show stars Jude Law as a feisty, American — and yes, young — Pope. It’s dishy and unpredictable, and strangely, its streak of Christian mystery makes it feel more vaguely akin to all the TV shows that feature magic or supernatural characters. I really enjoyed it, but I was also quite confused by it.
This is Us: A widely and deservedly praised family drama. The less you know about it, the more you’ll enjoy its truly spectacular first episode. You’ll be hooked.
Timeless: This time-travel adventure series is great family viewing, since it revisits real historical events. It’s not particularly smart or well done, but we enjoyed the first couple of episodes with the kids…who have subsequently refused to watch it again.
Transparent: I was very late to this party, but holy cow, did this show ever live up to the buzz. There is little for me to add to the many kudos that have been heaped upon it, except to say that Gaby Hoffman’s season 2 and 3 wardrobe is exactly how I would like to dress.
Travelers: We recently started watching this sci-fi show about a mysterious group of people who time travel by jumping into other people’s bodies. It’s off to a promising start, but it’s been languishing while we watch all the other shows we’re way behind on.
Trophy Wife I’m convinced that this show failed because of its stupid title. But its 22 episodes about a blended family — husband, two ex-wives, young “trophy wife” and assorted kids — were incredibly funny, and far more worthy of the title Modern Family.
Unreal I’ve never watched The Bachelor, but I devoured the first season of this drama offering a feminist, behind-the-scenes take on a Bachelor-type reality show.
Veep It took us a few episodes to get hooked, but we love this vicious comedy about a heartless Vice-President, as played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Weeds We were loyal viewers of the first few seasons of this clever comedy about a suburban widow who supports her family by dealing dope.
White Collar A career forger and con artist turns into an FBI operative. While hardly high-brow, the characters and shenanigans made this show fun for me as well as for the kids.
Working Moms: A comedy about a group of…working moms! But these are not cuddly sitcom moms: they’re foul-mouthed, cynical indie-comedy moms. Super funny, and not family friendly in the slightest. I can’t wait for the next season.
Younger I can’t say no to Sutton Foster, even if I can’t quite buy her as a 40-something divorcée who makes a new life by posing as a twenty-something. Since this fantasy scenario comes with a hot twenty-something boyfriend, however, I’ll take it.