Let me tell you from previous experience… having a few months off with no income (aka, unemployed) is NO FUN. But, I did get to catch up on tv shows that I always wanted to binge, but never had time (Golden Girls, Designing Women, The Wonder Years).
I heard Scandal was leaving Netflix May 19, so I scrambled to finish all seven seasons in the last three weeks. Success, even if it meant slogging through those awful last three seasons. I’m probably the last person on Earth to have watched Scandal, so I won’t bother recommending it to anyone now.
Here are some other recommendations if you find yourself with some extra time on your hands. Shows with adult content are marked with asterisks **.
Life Imitating Art?
I heard rave reviews about Netflix’s Hollywood**, so I had to see what all the fuss was about. This Netflix show certainly delivered on acting, casting, set design and costumes. I was very quickly reminded that the show is just fiction, and I will try very hard not to give away any of the specifics, but the direction of the show felt a little fairy tale and unrealistic, especially given the Hays Code (look it up if you don’t know it!). I know they are taking a “what if” approach, and it is a fictional show, but still. Hollywood resembles what the late 1940s industry would look like had the media moguls of 2020 been in charge. Looking at how the first season ends (and I do hope there is a second season!), it is hard to believe that McCarthy’s Blacklist would be on its witch hunt in just a few years. The show tackles some very heady topics such as sex work and racism, and the general public and industry’s views on same-sex and interracial relationships. This show is definitely not suited for young eyes as there are a number of sex scenes and nudity throughout the show.
Some of the characters are:
- Rock Hudson, Henry Willson, Vivian Leigh, Noel Coward, Anna May Wong, Tallulah Bankhead, George Cukor and Hattie McDaniel
- Based on real people
- Ernie, played by Dylan McDermott, was based on real life brothel owner, Scotty Bowers
- Camlle, played by Laura Herrier, was based on Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American nominated for Best Actress
- Conglomerations of various people
- Jeanne Crandall, played by Mira Sorvino, most likely is based on Lana Turner, with some hints of Veronica Lake and Ann Sheridan.
Oh, and I found a new heartthrob: David Corenswet who stars as Jack Castello. You’ll fall into those dimples just like I did! Another character that stood out was Henry Willson, played by Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame. I wanted to punch him so many times, but that’s just the sign of a good actor, right?
The show’s plot hits very close to home for the industry while in the midst of the #MeToo movement, especially given one of its strongest voices, Mira Sorvino, has a role in the show. The role that sex plays in advancing the careers of so many actors and actresses can’t be denied, but neither can the reality of racism, sexism and anti-gay bigotry in the film industry.
This Is Us
If you haven’t watched This Is Us (NBC/Hulu) yet, this summer would be a good time to catch up. Season 4 left off at a point that won’t have you aching for the next season all summer like the rest of us that have been sucked in since the show debuted in 2016. Another Dan Fogelman (Life Itself, Crazy Stupid Love, Tangled, Cars) hit, this family drama is filled with flashbacks, flash forwards, twists and turns to keep you entertained. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are parents to triplets, and every season starts with their birthday, which is also their father’s birthday. I won’t tell anymore, because there are plenty of spoilers in the first episode alone. Outside of Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia, I had not heard of any of the other actors before they were on this show. Sterling Brown has since gone on to guest star on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (see below). I was blown away at how well casting did with the younger versions of Kate, Kevin and Randall, the three Pearson children.
This Is Us has a fresh plot, which is VERY hard to find in television shows, especially network dramas. It attacks some heady topics like infertility, loss of an infant, caring for a dying parent, loss of a father at a young age, racism, sexism, and the effects of war. While the show is family-friendly, some of the topics may be hard for younger children to understand. You may want to preview some episodes to see if they are appropriate for your children.
Flashbacks range from the 1950s to the late 1990s, and the flashes forward are set during an unknown date. Sometimes you wonder where the story is going (Episode 1 of Season 4, anyone?), but it all becomes clear as the episodes progress! One MUST with this show is that you have to watch them in order. You can’t start with Season 3 or 4 and then go back to Season 1. If you’re tired of the 17th medical or police procedural with the same plots over and over, This Is Us – this is the show for you. It’s on NBC, or you can watch old episodes on Hulu. BIG THREE!
In the spirit of Laverne & Shirley, Cagney & Lacey and Kate & Allie, I was sucked into three female duo shows, Dead To Me and Grace and Frankie, both on Netflix, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, on Amazon Prime, the last couple of years.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) may indicate one female character, but Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) would be nothing without Suzy (Alex Borstein) or her mother, Rose (Marin Hinkle). Midge Maisel is shocked in the first episode to “get the rabbi”, be dumped by her husband, and find out that she is indeed the funny one in the family. The late 1950s setting allows Mrs. Maisel to flash her beautiful wardrobe around New York’s Upper West Side and Greenwich Village where she does her stand up routine. Suzy plays her well-intentioned, but inexperienced manager, and her character gains more depth as we get to know Midge better, and Midge gets to know Suzy more. As with Hollywood, you get some glimpses of real people like Lenny Bruce, and some made up ones, like Shy Baldwin and Sophie Lennon. Writer and producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, is well known for writing strong female characters like Rory and Lorelei Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is no different. The language can be a bit raunchy sometimes, so beware when watching with children present. Yes, even in the 1950s, good Jewish women cursed!
Side notes: I want Midge’s wardrobe, skin tone, and comic skills. Also, Rachel Brosnahan is the niece of the now deceased Kate Spade. The show premiered just a few months before Spade’s suicide.
Grace and Frankie (Netflix) stars two-thirds of the 9 to 5 trio, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as the ex-wives of their now gay lover husbands. Yes, I said that right. Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play the cute ex-husband duo, and June Diane Raphael, Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait, anyone?), Brooklyn Decker and Baron Vaughn provide added context to this 21st century family comedy. Follow in these ladies’ adventures as they recover from the shock of discovering their husbands are gay to now rediscovering themselves while living together and launching a company together. The one adult-theme in this show is that the ladies invent a rather unique vibrator, so if you are okay with your kids seeing that, this could be appropriate viewing material for the family. I believe the language is on the adult side too, but it has been a few months since I saw this one.
The seventh and final season will probably debut in January 2021, if you follow the pattern of the past three seasons debuts. I love the streaming shows that put all of the seasons content out there at once. I believe House of Cards pioneered this practice, much as Sex & The City pioneered putting seasons of their show on DVD for those who did not have HBO.
Dead to Me (Netflix) has quite the original plotline that leaves you in suspense, while still laughing uncontrollably one minute, and crying alongside Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardinelli) as they navigate their rather unconventional relationship. Jen is a recently widowed 40-something with two sons, and she meets Judy during a grief support group. I won’t ruin it for you, but Judy’s grief is not conventional, but I think her grief needs to be processed just as much as a widow’s would be. Linda Cardinelli and fellow producer Liz Feldman (2 Broke Girls & Hot in Cleveland) teamed up with Will Ferrell & Adam McKay for this fresh take on girls out for revenge. Again, some very adult themes in this with death, murder, and adultery, as well as a lot of language, so watch a few episodes on your own to determine what age children this show is appropriate for. The second season just came out last week, and I finished it way too quickly. Pace yourself!
Speaking of Girl Power, if you haven’t seen Madam Secretary (Netflix/CBS) yet, now is your chance. All six seasons are on Netflix, and with the season finale last December, you get to see how Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) goes from Secretary of State to maybe Commander in Chief? I love this show for so many reasons. First, Madam Secretary is produced by Morgan Freeman, who, of course, co-starred with Tea Leoni in Deep Impact, the far better asteroid hitting the Earth movie compared to Armageddon. Then, there’s Tea Leoni, playing a powerful character who is literally moving and shaking the world with her daily choices. Finally, there’s Leoni’s wardrobe on the show. I love the casual, but dressy attire she chooses. And the formal wear she chooses — absolutely gorgeous!
I love that the show brings up real issues, both domestic and international, that need exposure and awareness, like nuclear disarmament, funding wars between China and the West over building infrastructure in African countries, human trafficking, and a domestic terrorist groups like the Aryan Popular Force attacking the White House.
I love that the show doesn’t use sex and violence gratuitously like so many other political shows have (I’m looking at you, Scandal), or conspiracy theories (again, Scandal, and House of Cards). I love this version of Billy Joel’s “For The Longest Time” with lyrics altered to reflect international relations, and sung by Patina Miller, Bebe Neuwirth and Erich Bergen, all Broadway stars!
The banter between real-life couple Tea Leoni and Tim Daly, who plays her husband Henry on the show is endearing. I don’t know if it’s refreshing, or my inner cynic wondering how it is possible that any couple could have that good of a relationship, and only fight over policy. I love the quotes that Henry uses to help Elizabeth to tackle international policy obstacles. Most of them are Thomas Aquinas, and I didn’t know much about him, so of course, I had to head down a Google search wormhole to learn more about him. I love the fact that McCord can go head to head with the Filipino head of state, and then come home and talk to her son about applying for colleges. But, that’s what makes this show so entertaining – it’s light, yet serious at the same time.
Bonus: Tunes to Tune Out
If you’re looking for music recommendations to complement these shows, I highly suggest music from Hollywood, Scandal and Dead to Me. Hollywood obviously leans heavily on music from the 1940s since that is when the show is set.
Dead to Me‘s music is a little more of a mixture of some recent, and some classics. One episode may find you humming along to Maroon 5 or Billie Ellish, while another one features Judy Garland, The Beach Boys and Peggy Lee.
Scandal‘s soundtrack seems to be taken from Olivia Pope’s massive record collection, of which I am very jealous. I heard Sam Cooke, Diana Ross, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding in just one night.
Happy watching (and listening)!