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 older shows here. This post contains the capsule summaries for the shows I’ve added to my watch list in the past year or two.
9–1–1 If your frustration with shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order is that there isn’t enough blood, gore or shock value, this is the show for you! A ridiculously talented cast (Peter Krause, Angela Bassett and in season 1, an oddly annoying Connie Britton) gets wasted on poorly written material — but sustained by over-the-top emergency situations. Imagine the craziest, most disgusting reasons for calling 911, and then double the craziness because you’re not constrained by reality. So terrible. SO MUCH FUN.
Alexa & Katie My 12-year-old watches an endless stream of made-for-tween shows like The Haunted Hathaways, Some Assembly Required and Best Friends Whenever. All of these shows are deeply terrible — with the exception of Netflix’s Alexa and Katie, a sweet comedy about how two best friends navigate high school when one of them is recovering from cancer. If you have a child who insists on watching tween sitcoms, this is the show that is least likely to make you gouge your eyes out.
American Vandal A mockumentary comedy series set at a high school. Season 1 was insanely funny. Season 2 had a puke- and shit-filled premise that turned us off after 10 minutes.
Alpha House I’m not sure how I left Alpha House off my previous lists, because we watched it several years ago, and I’m still sad there was no season 3. Based on the real-life DC home shared by several Congressmen from both parties, this comedy is a must-watch for politics junkies since it’s both funny and smart.
At Home with Amy Sedaris This is not a show for everyone, but if you’ve ever wondered how Martha Stewart and Tim Burton would get along, you will love it. Structured as if it were a cooking and crafting show, it’s deeply weird and funny.
Black Lightning This well-made show about an African-American superhero is much, much better than its DC siblings — almost to a fault. The human cost of superhero living comes through loud and clear, and the action sequences are fabulous…but the bad guys are a little too bad, and I found some of the violence and torture scenes too disturbing.
The Break with Michelle Wolf I’ve long adored Michelle Wolf from her regular appearances on Seth Myers and on The Daily Show, so I was so excited when Netflix gave her a weekly show of her own! It was both smart and funny — and got cancelled way too quickly. I’m not sure how well the topical episodes will age, so go watch them soon, while you can still enjoy them. (And so that Netflix changes its mind.)
Bodyguard Everyone I know raved about this six-episode BBC series, seen on this side of the Atlantic thanks to Netflix. A tightly paced, engrossing quasi-thriller, it tells the story of a politician facing terrorist threats, and the ex-soldier who serves as her bodyguard. And yay! There will be a season 2.
Counterpart JK Simmons gives Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany a run for her money in the category of Great Actors Play Multiple Identical-Looking Characters in Mind-Bending Quasi-Sci-Fi TV. In this show, Simmons plays a mid-level bureaucrat in a Berlin-based government agency….which turns out to be charged with safeguarding a gateway to a parallel universe. When the pencil-pusher meets his spymaster alter ego from the other universe, both men experience a crisis of identity. Other than the premise, this show doesn’t feel like science fiction: It has a lot more in common with spy shows, so if that’s your jam, give it a try.
Everything Sucks Another one-season Netflix wonder, but one that is totally worth watching if you have tweens or teens, or are simply nostalgic for your own 1990s-era youth. Yes, the nineties now count as a historical period, and this show — about a group of young teens trying to survive school and their parents — is warm, charming, funny and thoughtful.
FBI This new Dick Wolf show is basically Law & Order without the law part. Unlike Law and Order, however, not every crime turns out to be a woman’s fault. It’s not particularly good, but if you like procedurals, it will scratch that itch.
Future Man This sci-fi comedy imagines what would happen if a videogaming addict really did have to save the world. Great cast, very funny, occasionally quite violent. Our eldest kid loves it but it’s too violent and too lewd for our youngest.
Good Girls Three suburban moms turn to an ever-escalating life of crime. It’s fun and well-paced but not irresistible, which is why I didn’t finish the first season after my teen gave up on it.
The Good Doctor This medical drama is far too trite and heartwarming for my taste, but since it centers on an autistic doctor and it’s shot in Vancouver, I believe I am legally obligated to watch it. Meh.
The Kominsky Method Did you know that prostate medication keeps men from visibly ejaculating? This is the kind of handy information you will learn if you watch this comedy starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. I am quite sure there was a meeting in Hollywood where someone said, you know whose story never gets told? Old white guys! As much as I feel like white guys might be able to live with only the first 70 years of their lives being chronicled in film, TV, literature and music, I will nonetheless admit to finding this show both funny and enjoyable.
Life in Pieces Think of this as Modern Family with a twist: Each episode unfolds as four mini-episodes, which together share a slice of life in a multi-generational (and almost entirely white) family. Unlike Modern Family, the moms in this show have actual jobs (gasp!) which I appreciate. If you’re looking for a family comedy this is a good option.
Lost in Space This is a great family show for space nerds, though it’s too intense for my youngest. If you’re not a sci-fi person this is not the show for you, but if you like sci-fi — and especially, sci-fi you can watch with tweens or tweens — give it a try.
Lucifer The devil decided to take a break from hell by opening a nightclub in LA, and picks up crime-solving as a hobby. Season 1 had a good time with this premise, and much to my surprise, season 2 was even better, as the cast expanded and settled into their roles. It’s an enjoyably addictive show with a good balance of thriller and humor, and it’s rarely more than a little violent.
Making It This show was our favorite discovery of 2019. Imagine Project Runway with crafts instead of clothes, and with humor instead of interpersonal drama. Each episode presents a different crafting challenge, and the participants show off their genuinely impressive talents like woodcarving, paper crafting, interior design and felt work. But the joy comes from the hosts, Amy Poehler and Nick Offernan, who make each episode funny and upbeat. It’s just a pure infusion of happiness and inspiration.
Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger Teen superheroes: Need I say more? Oh, fine. White teen runaway discovers she’s supernaturally linked to a wholesome African-American boy. It’s set in New Orleans so the supernatural stuff has voodoo flavor…but turns creepier towards the end of the season, when we gave up because it was too creepy for our teen.
Marvel’s Runaways More teen superheroes! These superheroes have evil, conspiring parents and a pretty interesting assortment of special powers. We’ve enjoyed both seasons, which check just enough boxes (queer romance, racial representation, mental health issues) to make Seriously Political Teens feel OK about zoning out for an hour.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Watch my grandmother’s apartment on TV! OK, maybe that isn’t the draw for everyone, but I find it enormously nostalgic. I’m guessing most people watch because Rachel Brosnahan is absolutely captivating and hysterical as a nice Jewish housewife turned divorcée comedienne. It’s also the most beautiful looking show on TV: I was so obsessed with the color palette in season 2 that I’ve started buying yarn in the colors on the show. (To knit with. While I watch. Not so crazy, eh?) Much to my surprise, the whole family loves this show — even our 12-year-old son!
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries This light-hearted show revolves around the crime-solving hijinks of a well-heeled flapper in 1920s Australia. It’s charming, fun and never scary. We’re thrilled that a new spin-off, set in the 1960s, has just debuted.
Monk I know everybody else watched Tony Shaloub’s brilliant, obsessive detective when he was first on air more than a decade ago. But I fell in love this past year, when I introduced Monk to my autistic 12-year-old. This was great family viewing, since the episodes are never scary, and the show demonstrates how people can be appreciated for their talents, even if they have significant quirks.
One Day at a Time I was underwhelmed when I watched the first episode of this Netflix reboot, but I’ve heard so many great things that we decided to give it another try. The spirit of this reboot reminds me of why I loved the original: As the child of a single mom in the 1970s — when I hardly knew anyone else whose parents were divorced — it was hugely meaningful to see a family like mine on TV. The new version plays the same role, but this time it also speaks to the particular experiences of Latino families, veterans and queer teens. And watching an 87-year-old Rita Moreno has taken away all my anxieties about ageing.
The Orville What if Star Trek: The Next Generation had a sense of humor? It would be The Orville, a show that mirrors the structure and visuals of Star Trek, but with the silliness of its creator and star, Seth MacFarlane. If you’re a Trek fan you owe it to yourself to watch at least a couple of episodes. If you’re not a Trek fan, I can’t imagine why you’d watch this.
Quantum Leap Another show brought out of the vault for my 12-year-old. Scott Bakula plays a time-travelling scientist who “leaps” into different time periods by taking over the life (and body) of someone who has some kind of life challenge or dilemma. It’s episodic in a way that has gone out of style, but it’s perfect for a time-travel-obsessed tween, and enjoyably nostalgic for his mother.
Queer Eye The original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy brought gay aesthetics to the straight (and still homophobic) masses. More than a decade later, the show’s queer sensibility has a different social context — and a different impact. It’s still emotional, and a damn good source of cooking, grooming and decorating advice.
Parks & Recreation When P&R first aired, its initial episode left me cold. After falling in love with 2019’s Making It (see above), we decided to give Parks another try — and it’s been great family viewing for many months. Season 1 really is the outlier here: The show became much smarter, kinder and funnier as of season 2, so if you’re not sold on the first few episodes, jump ahead.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj This weekly show is vaguely akin to The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, but I think it’s even more compelling. Minhaj delves into issues that might not otherwise hit your radar, and his commentary is as smart as his jokes are funny. (For the record: Very.)
Pose It’s hard for me to overstate the importance of this show, about a group of gay men and trans women in the ballroom scene of the 1980s. (So yes, the AIDS crisis is a big part of the story.) The characters are beautiful and honest, the setting is colorful and fascinating, and the stories are utterly engrossing. I miss this show desperately and can’t wait for season 2.
Russian Doll Is it sci-fi? Comedy? Drama? This story about a woman who relives the same few days (but different deaths) manages to be engrossing, funny, insightful and emotional. Give it a few episodes and you’ll fall in love.
Silicon Valley How is it that I, a professional tech nerd, only started watching Silicon Valley a year ago? I think the real question is how you let this happen: Why didn’t you tweet and call and text until I started watching? It’s so funny and painfully observant that I can almost forget that I don’t actually need to spend more time with white guy tech nerds.
Single Parents An ensemble comedy about a group of single parents, helmed by Taran Killam (formerly of Saturday Night Live). The cast of characters is a little too stock Hollywood, but the chemistry works and (most important) it’s genuinely funny.
The Umbrella Academy The best thing about this show is its premise: After a few dozen women around the world simultaneously give birth without a prior pregnancy, a rich eccentric adopts seven of their babies and raises them to be deeply dysfunctional superheroes. It’s fun and engrossing, even if few of the characters feel more than two-dimensional.
Wolf Hall I loved Hilary Mantel’s novel about the political machinations in the court of Henry VIII, and this six-part mini-series did the novel justice. Mark Rylance stars as Thomas Cromwell (and is typically amazing) and Damian Lewis plays King Henry. It’s a little slow to start, but stick around for episode 2 and I suspect you’ll be hooked — unless you hate period pieces, in which case you will hate this one, too.
Young Sheldon It’s hard to believe this is a Big Bang Theory spin-off, because even though the character is the same (if younger), the sensibility is entirely different. Where BBT is cynical, mean and occasionally raunchy, Young Sheldon is funny, thoughtful and fundamentally kind-hearted. Our autistic son strongly relates to the main character, but the rest of us love the show, too. It’s one of those “I laughed, I cried” kind of shows, but I never feel manipulated– just seen.