In these strange and difficult times, we all need a bit of fiction to get lost in and take our minds off things. I have compiled a list of recommendations which you will find on Netflix, so you can watch them comfortably in your self-isolation. I also have to admit I cheated a bit and two of these are on YouTube, but the principle still applies.
As I am aware not only do we all have different tastes, but also different moods in which we watch. Sometimes we will want to watch a light hearted comedy, others a darker intrigue; I have tried to bring some variety into my list and created a few different categories, which I hope will please people. Here we go!
One Day at a Time
Netflix committed the horrid crime of cancelling this show after its third season but the three seasons are still available on the site to binge as we please (and luckily it has been picked up by another network for its fourth season!). This show is based on a family sitcom which aired in the 70s, but it has been reimagined to focus on a Hispanic family. The Cuban-American family is based in Los Angeles and consists of a hard-working mom who is a war veteran turned nurse, an extravagant grandmother who proudly embraces her Cuban heritage (played by the glorious Rita Moreno), a bookish teenage girl and her self-assured younger brother. There are more characters who become family-adjacent, including the family’s needy landlord.
In many ways, this is a straightforward sitcom, with audience laughter and the rest of it. However, the show excels in treating difficult subject matter with a light touch, and has many standout moments which will knock the air out of your lungs. This is a family you will believe in and completely fall in love with.
The Good Place
I’m sure many of you are aware of this little gem of a show, which just recently left our lives (to our immense sadness). Whether you were one of those who had the pleasure of watching it as it aired, or have not yet had the pleasure, allow me to recommend giving it a watch if you’re looking for a lovely and wholesome show to make you laugh and become attached to flawed and endearing characters (the showrunner Mike Schur’s forte), who discover what it means to be a good human.
The premise of the show is that Eleanor Shellstrop, a sort of quite averagely bad person on earth, has died and effectively landed in “The Good Place”, and she enlists the help of her otherworldly soulmate to help her hide her intrusion. And that is all I will say because otherwise I risk spoiling quite a large part of what makes the show so surprising and good. It is mother-forking good. The very definition of a comfort show, as many of Mike Schur produced ones are – in fact, I have another one coming up on this list.
Brooklyn Nine Nine
This comedic twist on cop shows is enjoyable for its diverse ensemble cast who bounce off each other like rubber, my personal favourite relationship being the one between the goofy Detective Jake Peralta and the stern Captain Holt.
Jake Peralta could have easily become an annoying character if he was the typical insensitive and childish male detective archetype, but luckily the show avoided that trope from the very first episode by making him sensitive and kind above all else. The storylines and gags are well crafted (particularly the cold opens) and the net of relationships stringing the characters together creates a lovely family dynamic. The show is also not afraid of touching on sensitive topics and always does so beautifully.
Call my Agent!
If you’re looking for a great French sitcom, this is the one for you. It takes place in a Parisian talent agency with a wealth of interesting and bizarre characters. The agents in question struggle to develop social lives outside of their work as they are insanely dedicated to their tasks of finding the perfect roles for their actors, which they will go to terrifically great lengths for.
The situational comedy is wonderful here, one memorable example being the agents desperately searching for loopholes and stunt doubles for an actress of theirs who is ridiculously overbooked. The show fully captures a strange work environment, but also has had many famous French guest stars over, including Jean Dujardin and Juliette Binoche. More than that, the main characters also have some touching personal relationships which develop over the course of the show. Definitely give it a watch.
Mark and Jez are staples of British comedy and this series is great for its ability to make you cringe into the furthest recesses of your seat. The chemistry between David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s characters fuels the show, and the voiceovers are always golden. You maintain just enough sympathy for them to feel bad when they make a mess of things, but also just enough distance to find it absolutely hilarious.
Besides Monty Python, one of the best things John Cleese has been involved with. The slapstick and second-hand embarrassment are strong with this one. The characters are all memorable, from the self-important sycophantic hotel manager Basil Fawlty to his bossy wife, his clumsy waiter, and his actually rather sensible chambermaid. It will make you snort into your waldorf salad.
Jack & Dean of All Trades (YouTube)
This is a little exception to the Netflix rule because you will find it on YouTube, but for good reason: it is a very smart and funny web-series which shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice. The episodes are short (10 minutes long) and there are only two series, so perfect for a very fast binge! And it will be fast if you, like me, can’t get enough of it.
The show centres on two friends, one of whom overhears that his friend is about to get fired from his job at the bank where they both work – so, naturally, he convinces him to quit together before his friend even realizes he’s been fired. They start working at a temp agency where they are offered a wide variety of small jobs by Suave Marv (played by the brilliant Jessica Hynes!), including (spoilers) a bakery where they get into a baguette fight and a restaurant where Jack teaches Dean how to use a knife & fork. There is an abundance of wordplay, film references, genre experiments and above all it has a very sweet male friendship at its heart. Give it all the love!
Locke & Key
A fantastic dark magical mystery with family matters at its heart. It is deeply inspired by pop culture, and if I were to describe it using cultural references I would go for Narnia, Harry Potter, Supernatural and Stranger Things, among others.
The story begins with a grieving family who moves to their recently deceased (murdered) father’s old mansion, “the key house”. The children soon discover the aptness of this name, as we get to experience the world-bending capabilities of an assortment of magical keys found around the house. The show gets particularly good when it explores the minds of our troubled protagonists and does a good job of stirring wonder and fright together.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Based on a book series I absolutely loved in my childhood, this show is a pretty straight-on adaptation with a delight in wordplay and building the miserable world of the Baudelaire orphans. If you don’t know the books, it concerns the lives of three clever but terribly unlucky children who lose their parents in a fire and must go to live with their dastardly uncle Olaf (who incidentally is also a terrible actor, but the actor who plays him in this show is not a terrible actor).
The tone of the book series is so unique because of its tongue-in-cheek, broody narrator, Lemony Snicket, and he is portrayed perfectly in the show by Patrick Warburton. On top of the language jokes, there are plentiful visual gags, and visually the show is delightfully eye-catching.
I personally think it got better with each series (there are 3 in total) and besides its sense of humour, the secrets and mysteries which the children uncover leave you hanging on the edge of your seat. Finally, I think Neil Patrick Harris brings a lot to the role of Count Olaf, with his perfect comedic timing and underlying aura of menace. Highly recommended.
Another cheat, because this is once again a YouTube based web-series. What do I say about Carmilla? You know Twilight? Well it’s not that at all.
In fact, it’s closer to Dracula, in that it’s based on an old novel of the same name, and it has a mysterious aura. It’s a vampire love story set in a modern-day college dorm. Our main character is the intrepid country girl Laura, whose roommate mysteriously disappears and she heroically sets off on a quest to discover the truth behind the smokescreen put up by the university itself.
She does so partly by setting up a webcam and filming everything (everything in the confines of her dorm, that is). Her new roommate is the broody and terribly messy person to live with, Carmilla, who seems to keep blood in her milk container (hmm). It has a terrific cast of mainly women and portrays some quite queer characters.
More than that though, it mixes comedy and humour with all the drama, and does it very well. It is so many things, from a parody of the genre to a straight up vampire romance. The apocalyptic events which take place at Silas University are absurd but also a reminder of how truly strange the university experience is for children who have to suddenly become adults in an unpredictable world.
Anne with an E
Based on the Anne of the Green Gables book series, this is a fantastic story set in the late 19th century town of Avonlea, showing the childhood of Anne, an imaginative and passionate red-haired girl who unexpectedly enters the lives of an elderly couple living in the country. It’s a heart-warming tale of found family and embracing all that is different in oneself.
The scenery is often easy to escape in, and as Anne would say, it provides a lot of scope for the imagination. It was unfortunately cancelled after its third series, but there is so much lovely stuff contained within its three series that it is satisfying simply to enjoy those.
This particular recommendation comes from my friend, Olivia. I just had to include it because I know she has excellent taste in films and shows, particularly period pieces.
According to her, “the hair and makeup are excellent. The locations are beautiful and astounding, be it landscapes and moors or indoors, castles and rooms. The music is excellent too! The characters are very enticing, with qualities and flaws that make them relatable and incredibly human at the same time.”
And there you have it, if you won’t give it a watch I certainly will!
Star Trek Discovery
The show has a slow start, but the performance of the Sonequa Martin-Green is very affecting and the ensemble cast really grows together in a great way. I have to confess I am not much of a Star Trek expert, but this series is very enjoyable for its characters and its sense of wonder in the midst of a darker war-based story arc. The conclusion of its first series was particularly impressive; and above all, hello to Jason Isaacs!
It will not be much of a surprise that I am a big Doctor Who fan, and since it is on Netflix for our perusal, I had to recommend it. The first five series of the reboot are my particular favourites as they got me into the show, and they are so wonderfully silly and strange that I guarantee anyone will get caught up in it.
Wee are the crystal gems, we always save the day, and if you think we can’t, we’ll, always find a way! Hum, sorry, got a bit carried away there, I don’t know what came over me.
Basically, delicious soft pastel colours, a soothing soundtrack, an adorable main character, mesmerising mysteries and creatures, humanoid space rocks, you get the idea! This is a family show which starts off quite nice and pleasant, but progressively enters quite dark territory!
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Another family show with fantastic animation and storylines. With only three seasons, it is concise and to the point. All you need to know is “everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked”.
Aang is the latest in a long line of successors to The Avatar, a powerful being with the ability to bring peace to the world who disappeared some centuries ago. He is found by two members of the Water Tribe who will accompany him on this quest to wrestle the world out from the grips of the Fire Nation. The theme of friendship is very strong throughout, it has very interesting and multi-layered characters, and this is another world you can get completely lost in, as it is so creatively detailed.
Written by Leah Smith