The Best Shit We Streamed Before We Ran Out of TV

The Best Shit We Streamed Before We Ran Out of TV

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images)

Ha ha, everyone had a lot of free time this year, right? Even if you didn’t, or maybe, if you did, much like the staff of Jezebel, you probably found some time to watch something new or, at least, new-to-you, on television before swearing off entertainment as a concept and turning to other, less stressful endeavors.

How To With John Wilson

If you’re a New York City resident and have missed seeing kids do “showtime” on the subway, or running into strangers screaming about the forthcoming rapture in Washington Square Park, or waking up in the middle of the night and seeing two men in cowboy hats whipping the curb outside of your window with chains, for some reason, I have a show for you (and yes that last part is a true story). HBO’s How To With John Wilson is like “Humans of New York” if it weren’t written by an annoying sap. Each episode mines years of voyeuristic street footage collected by documentarian Wilson, who uses snippets of New York weirdos and locals (street performers, sport referees, a woman who inexplicably steals a pigeon in Times Square) to explore one theme like “how to split the check.” It’s delightful and makes me feel like I am once again wandering the city unmasked, uninhibited, just people-watching. — Hazel Cills

Below Deck and Friends

 For all its faults, 2020 did give me a new television obsession: Below Deck, Below Deck: Sailing Yacht, and Below Deck: Mediterranean, a reality tv show franchise that doubles as classist commentary, or, at the very least, what Bravo brains Andy Cohen has labeled “an Upstairs, Downstairs reality show... like Downton Abbey on a private yacht.” Hot, young deckhands and stewardesses serve the worst people on the planet—uber wealthy guests who charter multi-million dollar yachts to spend their vacation in Greece not actually seeing Greece—and tension run high. Think Vanderpump Rules when the cast was still made up of broke waiters serving Real Housewives, and the show was good. —Maria Sherman

Call the Midwife

I don’t tend to watch too much television, mostly because I am overwhelmed by all of the options and generally retreat to old favorites like Burn Notice (watch it, it’s so good). But this year, I decided on a whim to finally begin making my way through the BBC drama Call the Midwife, which at its heart is a love letter to the possibilities of government-run healthcare in improving people’s lives. I have now also learned that incest can sometimes be good—you know which episode I’m talking about!—and care very deeply about nuns. —Esther Wang

Are You the One?

Honestly, the show that has saved me during this entire year has been Garden Rescue, but seeing as I have already expounded upon its wonders, I’ll pivot to the second-best: Are You The One?, which is a diabolical dating show based on an “algorithm” that matches up horny 20-somethings with their supposed “perfect match.” Twenty of these people are thrown together in an enormous house and are tasked with trying to figure out who their match is. If they each figure out their match in 10 tries, they will win $1 million dollars to split amongst themselves. (That’s $50,000 each if you can’t do the math, which I couldn’t). It’s a show that involves strategy, a rudimentary understanding of math, and is probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time with something on TV. The first two seasons are available on Netflix, and the rest of the show is floating around somewhere out there; I am not proud to say that I will pay money for the third season, but I am at least truthful. In 2019, friend of the blog Kate Dries wrote the big splashy feature that this show deserves, so read that and then do as I say, which is to watch this show stoned out of your mind in the dark. You won’t regret it. —Megan Reynolds

Brook Falls Bear Cam

In normal times, the Alaskan bear cam is a balm for the soul; this year, it became my constant companion, a reminder that even if everything sucks for us at least the animals are having a super chill time. —Molly Osberg

Everything

My problem isn’t running out of television; it’s finding the time to watch all which I feel obligated to, as someone invested in cultural literacy. So many of these shows whizzed by without a second under my belt: The Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, The Undoing, The Flight Attendant. I only got in one episode of Raised by Wolves, which I liked! But... then couldn’t seem the time to get back to. Oh well, maybe next year. I did love Harley Quinn, as well as Infinity Train, and my boyfriend got me into Rick and Morty. After a somewhat drowsy first two episodes of its second season, I was right back in PEN15’s thrall. That show is, in a word, loaded. Oh, and The Drew Barrymore Show, which I watch obsessively every day. Duh! — Rich Juzwiak

The Great

Tony McNamara’s take on Catherine the Great is as ahistorical as it is charming. Elle Fanning’s innocent yet plotting Catherine is seconded only to Nicholas Hoult’s unbreakably straight-faced take on Peter III as an entitled, ignorant imbecile. It’s great fun and beautifully costumed. Huzzah! —Stassa Edwards

Britannia

This year I have watched virtually every show and movie made available to me on the approximately 137 streaming sites to which I subscribe, including second- or fifth-time rewatches of old favorites—like all of Skins (UK, of course), the good episodes of Game of Thrones (anything directed by Miguel Sapochnik), and now I’m ripping through Gossip Girl in anticipation of its departure from Netflix (1/1/21, don’t sleep).

In essence, I ran out of decent TV to watch; I found myself wishing that Barack Obama would cut short his book tour and dedicate himself to getting Netflix in order because I desperately need new programs. Having spent nine months staring at screens, it is clearer than ever that while “prestige” television often just means beautiful cinematography with absolutely dismal writing, television is also getting better and better. Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You was one of the most visceral, true-to-life portrayals of coping with the aftermath of sexual assault that I have ever seen. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe is a small miracle, though I haven’t yet watched another installment since the quietly stunning Lover’s Rock because I’ve wanted to sit with its memory a little longer. Another terrific season of Fargo filled my need for sharp, acerbic noir, and Industry, while a little absurd at first, eventually scratched the itch for kids making bad decisions in their gross ambition (and also fantasizing about doing stupid shit at parties). But as of late, I’ve been binging freakin’ Britannia, a very goth and psychedelic show about Roman imperialists invading Celtic lands and the Druids trying to stop them. It’s like if Game of Thrones had a sense of humor about itself—the main Druid is played by Mackenzie Crook, also known as the Dwight character on the original British Office—and if the evil forces were supernatural as well as human-greed-related. In a year of desperately needed escapism, I find that watching Druids trip balls in order to speak to the gods really hits the spot. —Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

There’s way too much TV out there, so between watching shows like The Queens Gambit or the new season of Fargo (which I call The Black Season), my boyfriend and I took some time to rewatch episodes of old favorites like The Sopranos, Succession, and Golden Girls (okay, I’m the one who always turns on Golden Girls). And I fully intend to rewatch The Inbetweeners before it leaves Netflix at the end of the year. But looking back on the year in its totality, I think the show that left the most visceral impact on me was probably I May Destroy You. Every episode inundated me with waves of anxiety and triumph, and it was filmed beautifully. It’s dark, it’s bleak, it’s funny, it’s warm, and it’s exactly the kind of content I want to see Black women centered in. Plus, the finale was the ultimate headfuck, straddling reality and fantasy and really cementing Michaela Coel’s brilliance. Watch it already, damn. —Ashley Reese

DISCUSSION

The Incinerator's Lost Key

1 - Just say no to Bravo. I recognize that someone at Bravo is funneling money for Jezebel posts about vapid rich people owning businesses but preferring to call themselves a housewife, but I started boycotting Bravo long ago and still not sorry.

2 - I don’t know how you could possibly claim to have watched everything and not include Asian dramas.

Netflix

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashes_of_Love_(TV_series) Gods and Goddesses need love too.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_of_Phoenixes If you enjoy BBC period dramas centered in a royal court... This emperor’s court has got all the intrigues, betrayals, and is centered around an intelligent and outspoken young woman.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_Weiyoung Not quite as good as Rise of the Phoenixes, but lots O’ drama and centered around another quick witted young woman.


viki.com (Asian netflix)

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Story_of_Yanxi_Palace While all of these dramas have their moments, my favorite is this one. I subscribed to Viki for three months just for this show. And I’m not sorry.


Disclaimer: I am not Asian, and Asian readers may find my recommendations to be ridiculous. I am, however, absolutely hooked on Asian period / historical dramas.