*Image above a still from Hulu’s “Normal People” series, an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name.
Without the diversion of dinners out, special events, and drinks with friends, we have found ourselves in front of the television most nights of the week for the past year and change. And you know what? That’s OK. God bless the content creators who have presented us with portals to other worlds and experiences. The absolute best thing I watched this past year was “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV. There is a lengthy, spot-on analysis of this tremendous show by author and critic Catherynne Valente that explains its magnificence far better and with far more exacting observationalism than I could. (Warning: her analysis bears a healthy amount of profanity.) She makes the point that in an age of social unrest, alienation at the hands of a virus, and political rancor, the show offers an alternative path forward, one marked by a goodness so pure it reads neither saccharine nor dismissable:
“I watched it all in one night,” Valente rights. “It hurt and I cried. I cried because I miss people so bad. I miss so many people so bad. And I miss believing the world could be like it is in Ted Lasso, that it could contain such people, such forgiveness, such grace, such kindness, such patience, without feeling creepy or weird or cringey or cheesy. Just pure. And hilarious. I just forgot, over the course of 2020, and 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and 2016, that any of us, at any time, could simply choose to be like Ted, and everything would change. Like a miracle. I forgot humans could be like that.”
She goes on: “It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.
Do you know how [redacted] hard that is to pull off?
It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind.”
I could quote much more of her analysis (she is especially sharp in her writing about the complicated and unexpected character of Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis), but I’ll leave it at that and implore you to watch this big-hearted, hysterical show that shone like a beacon of promise during this trying year.
Let’s see, what else did I watch and enjoy?
I thought the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People on Hulu was superb — beautifully shot (a still from the show seen at the top of this post) and exquisitely acted, with tremendous nuance and subtlety. There are so many sections of the show in which the two main characters more or less make “hm” sounds to one another, or communicate with their eyes, and yet they, their reactions, their intentions are crystal clear to the audience. It is moving, it is cinematic, it is shot with true artfulness. I was frankly surprised by the quality of this show, having anticipated that there was no way the adaptation could live up to the novel, which I loved. FYI: this show is explicit. I had a couple of moms write to say they’d attempted to watch it with their daughters and had to turn it off. Just a heads up! (To my own mom: do not watch.)
Two shows I devoured on my own (could not intrigue Mr. Magpie to join in on these) and that have earned a second season (as has “Ted Lasso!): “Emily in Paris” on Netflix (which, I have been surprised to learn, a lot of people thoroughly despised — it is fluffy and absurdly far-fetched, but I’m not clear on the vitriol this elicits) and “Bridgerton” on Netflix (this show was a delicacy to enjoy, but man did it leave me in a state of cognitive dissonance — some thoughts in that post and some interesting discussion with Magpies in the comments section, too). Both represent total escapism, and are also deeply flawed.
We also thoroughly enjoyed re-watching the entirety of Seinfeld — it just never gets old. What struck me on this viewing was the magnificence of the physical comedy at the hands of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander. There are scenes where just the twitch of George’s lips had me rolling on the floor, and where Elaine’s eyebrows shooting up over her glasses left me in hysterics. These comedic actors are as good as it gets. Jerry is sort of the necessary anchor to their wild eccentricity, and he makes the show work for that reason, preventing it from spiraling out into the cringe-y wilderness of Larry David, but it’s George all day every day for me. So, so good.
What was the best thing you watched on TV this past year?
+Valente is so right in her observations about pessimism.
+My children love Apple TV’s “Stillwater” series — it’s all about mindfulness and working your way through your own emotions. The most beautiful messages. They also love “Helpsters,” by the makers of Sesame Street, which introduces some very basic programming concepts but is overall about the idea of thinking through problems and solutioning. Genius! Mini is big on “making a plan” since watching this show, and I love that.
+Cute $20 floral sneakers for a little one, with velcro! These remind me of the Veja x Liberty sneakers I bought mini.
+In love with these well-priced woven frames.
+This cashmere cardigan, in the perfect shade of blue — wow. This is a major investment but I lived in longline cardigans like this while pregnant and nursing — so easy to throw on over a tank and leggings to feel covered and cozy. Would be a lovely push present for yourself.
+I always get questions about these coupes when I snap them on Insta. They are one of my most favorite purchases of the last year. Drinking champagne or a cocktail out of them just makes me joyful!
+You all LOVE these ceramic garden stakes!
+Well this charging cable is clever — the weighted knot keeps your device in place.
+This $60 fireplace screen is v. attractive.
+Even more great everyday dresses to shop here.
+Seriously the cutest raincoat — that gingham lining!
+This shop has the most gorgeous colors in grosgrain ribbon. Wonderful if you need for a specific birthday, project, etc.
+If you are a fan of blue and white striped button-downs, but one something with a little pizzazz…WOW this shirt!
+A good price for scalloped linen placemats — four for $60. I feel like they go for much higher elsewhere.
+CRAZY chic new coffee table from S&L.
+This striped PatBo dress and this stunning botanical maxi! Two great alternative options to the wedding guest dress roundup here.
+Unexpected, stylish buffet lamps.
+More chic lighting options here!
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27 thoughts on “What Are the Best Things You’ve Watched Recently?”
Ooh, I’m so intrigued by your endorsement of Normal People — I LOVED the book but I’m glad to hear that the show lives up to it! Definitely going to add it to my list. And I wholly agree about Seinfeld — I was raised on that show (literally, my parents would let me stay up late & watch on most Thursdays starting in like 4th grade — haha!) and I agree with Molly that it totally feels like home. Such a comfort.
We also have a nightly habit of watching something short on TV, and just completed all of the seasons of Terrace House on Netflix — it took us from New Year’s Day to Memorial Day Weekend from start to finish! — and I found it charming & intriguing (it’s a Japanese reality show that’s kind of like a more tame Real World — with commentators that are so hilarious and totally make the experience, in my view!)
Otherwise, we recently subscribed to the Criterion Channel for films, and it’s been so so great to have that as a resource, as we no longer have a DVD player and some of my favorite films, which I only have on DVD [showing my age], are part of that collection.
Woah, had never heard of the Terrace House! Am I out to lunch? Why is it so hard to find things on Netflix?!
LMK what you think about Normal People!
I agree, it is hard to find things on Netflix! I’d read about it in the New Yorker and was sufficiently intrigued to find it on there 🙂
Crash Landing on You on Netflix. Terrible title, fantastic show. A South Korean heiress/entrepreneur accidentally ends up in North Korea, and it’s about her journey to get back home.
It was the number one drama in Korea a few years back, and it is funny, moving, and beautifully done. The episodes are long (some 120 minutes!), but we would split them up into a few nights. The subtitles keep you from double device-ing, and the lead guy is SOOO dreamy!
OOO this sounds great! Thank you, Heather! How do I not know about so many shows? I swear I scrolled through Netflix for a straight hour the other day.
We are watching Girls5eva on Peacock and it’s a hoot! We were also surprised at how much we enjoyed Atlantic Crossing on PBS. A little cheesy but I enjoyed listening to all the Norwegian!
These sound fantastic! My brother is actually in the process of moving his family to Norway (!) so may need to try that one!
I watched Normal People during the early days of the pandemic, isolated alone at home, and the sheer physicality/intimacy of it absolutely bowled me over. It was the literal inverse of the reality I was experiencing. My most recent watch, which I keep recommending to people and which no one has taken me up on (…much to my chagrin…) is an AMC series from a few years ago called Turn, which is about a real life spy ring made up of mostly civilians on Long Island during the Revolutionary War. Lots of hotties in historical dress, much intrigue. And it sent me down a NYC Revolutionary War history rabbit hole, which was a fun diversion.
Anna – Oh, so well-observed! I can totally see that about “Normal People” being this intense, highly physical show when so many of us were experiencing isolation.
I’m intrigued by your AMC show!! Added to my list!
I love this thread – we’re in need of new shows (specifically of the escapist variety!). Highly, highly recommend Call My Agent, which is available on Netflix. It is simultaneously smart and fun – a hard combo to find, IMO! It’s a French show and subtitled, which I consider to be a benefit — it makes us put down our phones and laptops and truly enjoy.
Another show in the “escapist” dept (although very different in tone and type!) is All Creatures Great and Small on PBS, about a village vet in the English countryside in the late 1930s. It’s slow-paced and quiet (so, not for everyone – including my husband) but I found it to be solid comfort viewing. I developed a Sunday evening ritual around it this winter – watching one episode a week, always with a cup of hot tea and milk (and ideally a sliver of something sweet!). The scenery is beautiful and the characters are all kind and charming – just what I’ve needed this year.
Our “backup” show – eg what we watch when we need to zone out, catch up on emails simultaneously or hit play when we don’t have the energy to make any decisions – was 30 Rock, which we started from the beginning. It holds up and is just as fun the second time around.
Thanks to you and other commenters for the great pointers, so happy to be have a few new shows to add to our list!
Ooh yay, Melissa! Thanks for the “Call My Agent” reminder. Actually just started a proper list on my phone of shows and movies to watch generated from the comments here and the Weekend Vibes post about films from this past Saturday, and “Call My Agent” is now at the top, as I’ve had a few friends recommend this, too. Such an interesting point that the language barrier actually DEMANDS closer watching and makes it easier to honor my “one screen at a time” rule. We felt that way about “Lupin” (also in French — more of a gentleman voleur show), which was fun.
Thanks for the PBS rec, too!!
I agree with you that the vitriol towards Emily in Paris is out of whack —especially contrasted with the general goodwill towards Tad Lasso. I think in many ways, they are similar shows. Emily is torn to shreds for not learning French in, what, a day? But Ted arrives to his first practice knowing nothing about his players or the game! I found that infuriating even though the show grew on me (it’s got NOTHING on Friday Night Lights, however).
I’m v keen to watch Mare of Easttown but agreed to watch season 2 of mythic quest first (it’s got strong very Community vibes, with a little bit of Silicon Valley). LOVED Lupin and Le Bureau! And very excited for the return of Succession, whenever that is!
Oo, interesting comparison. I can see some parallels with the fish-out-of-water scenes in both EIP and TL and the ironies that attend. But! I think the script-writing and heart in Ted Lasso eclipse EIP. I cried multiple times in Ted Lasso!!!
I also enjoyed Lupin — slick, fun, fast-paced! Je l’adore!
I’m very much looking forward to the next season of “Succession” and also — just heard this yesterday — Aziz Ansari’s show “Master of None”!
Ahh, I didn’t know Master of None was returning— how exciting!! And I totally agree Ted Lasso is a superior show to EIP; it only rankled me that one received criticism for something both exhibited.
Yay!! Cannot wait to watch. I feel nervous — can he pull off a third, excellent season?!
During the early stages of lockdown we finally managed to finish The Americans and also watched The Sopranos. The comfort shows for me were British shows, Are you Being Served and Keeping Up Appearances. I also really liked Sweet Magnolias, Difficult People, and the latest season of Working Moms. The other day I watched the latest season of Shrill and caught up on season 3 of Good Girls. Netflix has 4 seasons of The Worst Witch, which so far has been very good escapist tv and perhaps I’m a bit old for this but it’s cute and reminds me of childhood. Last summer when both Never Have I Ever and The Babysitter’s Club debuted it was really a throwback to being a kid again. I too am a huge fan of The Office and over a long offsite getaway birthday weekend was binging this on cable since I haven’t added Peacock. There are simply too many streaming services these days. With HBO, I managed to watch all of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Undoing, and Love Life (which is really a great show and Anna Kendrick plays the role well). We also started Schitt’s Creek, which I admit at first glance and after watching one episode I thought it was really dumb and didn’t like it. One year later we gave it another try and are up to season 4, a bit annoying how some shows take a season to really get into but I can see why people like it. I’ve always been one to watch a great deal of tv and movies but as things continue to improve and social life comes back slowly, it will be hard to decipher what to watch and which platforms to retain or acquire.
Hi Michelle – Such an interesting point that as the conditions of this pandemic start to abate, people will be making a lot of household decisions on which streaming services to keep versus cut. I think we are locked in with Apple TV, HBO, and Netflix for the foreseeable future but Hulu does have some really good stuff…I love all of the Mindy Kaling shows, several of which have been on Hulu! I also really enjoyed “Never Have I Ever,” “Pen15 Club,” and “Babysitter’s Club.” MAJOR throwback to the tween/teen years. WOW. “Never Have I Ever” was just so delightful.
I’ve been loving Mare of Easttown on HBO – a gritty small town drama wearing the costume of a murder mystery. So so SO good. I also loved the Undoing and the Flight Attendant which premiered on HBO last fall.
I’ve made my way through most of Arrested Development in the past few months – one of the few shows where I laugh out loud at least once an episode.
Veep is another one where I just can’t stop laughing although I almost always skip the first few eps as they just don’t do it for me. So freakin funny though.
And of course, I am one of those people in a perpetual Office and Grey’s Anatomy rewatch. I confess that I actually pay for the ad-free version of Peacock now because reruns of the Office are like a sound machine to me! The only way I can fall asleep.
You’ve made me think about rewatching Seinfeld though – that show feels like home to me!
Ooh Molly, I totally forgot about The Undoing — I really enjoyed that series. We were riveted! I also LOVE Arrested Development — total comfort show for me — as is The Office. Maybe I’ll follow suit with the Peacock subscription as I was really, really sad when it was pulled from Netflix!
My favorite shows of quarantine were The Sopranos from start to finish and My Brilliant Friend from start to finish (the books are an all time fave).
Two shows I watched maybe 70-80 percent of but my husband enjoyed immensely were Barry and Silicon Valley. I liked (but didn’t love) both, but SV definitely gets points for being easy to watch and having some genuinely hilarious laugh out loud moments.
Re: The Sopranos, definitely a special place in my heart since we watched it March-May 2020 in Brooklyn in that incredibly scary time while also sleep deprived because my 4-7 month old was not sleeping well yet. And we have decided to give our second son (due 5/29) the middle name Anthony! Now, my husband is Italian and Anthony is his middle name and he has two great-grandfathers who were named Anthony AND on my side, I am actually related to Susan B. Anthony (great x4 aunt) and it’s a popular surname and then middle name in my family tree too. But still, I can’t help but smile and think of Tony Soprano when I hear it 🙂 hahaha.
Hi Joyce – So funny you mention “Barry”! My brother-in-law was just imploring that we watch it. We started it but felt it was a bit dark for our tastes — maybe worth a revisit after these two upvotes. Landon and I LOVED Silicon Valley — it really resonated with our experience with entrepreneurship, which is kind of scary to admit. It was obviously taken to the extreme but it nails the gut-wrenching volatility of early start-up life. The highs are WAY high and the lows are WAY low.
I LOVE this about The Sopranos! Art weaving its way into life…and it was just meant to be given all the Anthonys in your family history anyhow!
I agree that Barry often felt too dark for me! My husband could somehow plow through the episodes, but I’d be shaken by a murder (I don’t believe this is a spoiler given the premise) and have to skip a couple here and there. Now, this coming from someone who loves the Sopranos might sound strange (no lack of murders in the mafia, of course) — but I found Barry tonally jarring, like it was trying to have its cake and eat it too. It almost wanted to be an absurdist comedy —short episodes, jokes about LA, etc., but then get SUPER dark SUPER fast.
And I could totally see how having entrepreneurial experience could make SV that much more enjoyable! I wished for more female characters (and more females in tech IRL haha), but also just re-watched The Social Network on Netflix on the heels of finishing SV and enjoyed that! JT is great. 🙂
Hi Joyce! Great caveats on Barry…maybe not our cup of tea!
We would love to watch Ted Lasso, but don’t have Apple TV. I tend to go to bed early so we don’t watch enough TV to make more subscriptions worthwhile. But we are in need of a new show! Any recs for great shows on prime or Hulu welcome. Or we could just keep watching old episodes of The Challenge on Pluto Tv (embarrassed emoji). Oh, we did recently like watching My Grandparents War on PBS. Short series but very interesting.
I hear you on the subscription mania! Mr. Magpie and I were so skeptical of Apple TV but I think we somehow got a one-year subscription free through the purchase of a laptop and then were surprised at how many original shows/movies we have loved on it. The content wars are RAGING! My sister was just raving about the show “The Great” on Hulu — she said it’s SO well done, moving, and also funny. That’s next on my list!
Will check out The Great, thanks! A friend just recommended All the Queen’s Horses on Prime, so I think we’ll watch that, too. We used to like American Greed, and this seems like a long form version of that.
So many great recs in these comments! Thank you (and your friend) for adding to my list!