Escape to TV: 10 shows to help quell the panic
Maybe it’s time to go to Happyland.
Not exclusively, mind you. Take precautions, be safe, stay informed and all that.
But a whole lot of people are going to find themselves hanging more at home over the next few weeks, er, months, er, who knows. And while you should probably call other friends and relatives to beat down the isolation, the main release for many will be TV, modern man’s constant glowing companion.
There’s probably only so much relief to be had watching Ellen and Rachel Ray play to empty audience seats, and non-stop cable news seems a guaranteed path to madness. Also, now may not be the best time to binge on apocalyptic fare like “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “The Walking Dead” because, well, you know.
So again, why not visit Happyland? Dive deep into streaming series in which the world is generally nice, people are funny and kind, where everybody’s mostly trying to do their best. Breath easy at the comings and goings, massage your weary mind as the episodes glide by. Think of it all as televised comfort food.
Right now America’s favorite comfort food show – ‘Friends” – isn’t available on a streaming platform. But there are still plenty of Happyland shows out there worth bingeing. Consider:
“Gilmore Girls” (Netflix, seven seasons) If ever there was a show that twinkled with joy while still managing not to be empty-headed, this is it. Welcome to quaint Stars Hollow, where 32-year-old single mom Lorelai (Lauren Graham) is raising precocious 16-year-old Rory (Alexis Bledel). The banter is machine-gun fast and witty, the characters offbeat, the town an American dream, yet real emotions and issues are dealt with. At more than 140 episodes this will ease many sick days
“The Mindy Project” (Hulu, six seasons) The romantic and professional trials of pediatrician Mindy Lahiri (the ebullient Mindy Kaling) never stop being adorable and the show’s eye-popping fashion sense is a comedy unto itself. With an inspired and rotating cast of colorful characters, the emphasis here is on laughs and polka dots, not medicine.
“Parks and Recreation” (Amazon, seven seasons) One of the great comic casts of all time – Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, it goes on – in a relentlessly funny and upbeat show about small-town government. For all its splendid silliness there’s also real hope here. Hint: Skip the first somewhat scrambled season then jump right in.
“The Great British Baking Show” (Netflix, seven seasons) They’re British people. They bake things. Breads, cakes, pastries and other concoctions. And it’s somehow all so soothing. True, there’s a competition going on, but everything’s chummy and warm as opposed to cutthroat reality TV. Bake along and you’ll likely gain 20 pounds while under quarantine.
“Frasier” (Hulu, 11 seasons) One of the great things about “Frasier” is you can jump in just about anywhere and find yourself laughing immediately no matter what the story arc. Kelsey Grammer stars as the titular talk show psychiatrist surrounded by a superb cast with four-time Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce as Niles, his equally neurotic brother. With more than 200 episodes available.
“30 Rock” (Amazon and Hulu, seven seasons) Tina Fey’s caustic behind-the-scenes look at a broadcast variety show has so many weapons – Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer – that the jokes come non-stop and there’s next to no room for sentimentality. Show biz shows about show biz can feel indulgent but this is really more of a workplace comedy, it’s just the workplace can include tap dancing. A fast-fast-fast show.
“Arrested Development” (Netflix, five seasons) The meandering misadventures of the extended Bluth family poke constant fun at American life, capitalism and the sheer silliness of humanity. Jason Bateman stars as a good son trying to keep his overly indulged family if not together, at least afloat. The cast – Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett, Portia di Rossi, Michael Cera, so many others – is the stuff of dreams. Be aware, the first three seasons are gold, the last two are Netflix-produced hodgepodges.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix, four seasons) Created by Tina Fey, this show follows a young woman (Ellie Kemper) as she ventures into New York City life after years of being held hostage in a doomsday cult. Sounds hilarious, right? Actually it is, since Kimmy is sort of the ultimate fish out of water. But just as importantly, this is a show about hope and perseverance. Kemper’s smile is a torch through any darkness.
“Scrubs” (Hulu, nine seasons) Zach Braff leads a sterling ensemble as a young, wacky intern. Most of the show is played for outrageous laughs, but “Scrubs” also acknowledges the serious side of hospitals at times in generally inspired ways. A little bit of that may be useful in the coming weeks.
“The Good Place” (Netflix, three seasons) Kristen Bell plays a woman who dies and goes to what appears to be heaven. Only problem is, she knows she shouldn’t be in heaven. This ultra-sharp sitcom wrestles with what it means to be good in the modern world, which doesn’t sound like all that much fun but is. The show’s fourth and final season just concluded and should be streaming soon, but the first three offer plenty of laughs and plenty to think about. As well as plenty of comfort.