Perhaps by now, you’ve already watched those TV shows you’ve always been meaning to catch, made your way through some movie franchises, even learned a new skill or two. And now you’re looking for more shows to watch. It’s not just about finding something interesting; it’s about finding something that suits your mood. Here are our features staffers’ recommendations for shows to catch if you’re craving comfort or nostalgia, want to feel inspired or empowered, or simply need a good laugh.
Megan Burbank, outdoors/general assignment reporter
“Gourmet Makes” (Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel): when your brain needs a nap
OK, so “Gourmet Makes” isn’t really TV in the traditional sense, but the surprisingly down-to-earth web series hosted by Bon Appétit’s Claire Saffitz is the audiovisual equivalent of one of my go-to evening treats: a store-brand ice cream sandwich paired with a small glass of top-shelf bourbon. It’s the Platonic ideal of pairing high and low culture, and strangely satisfying if you know the difference between a gourmet (a person with elevated taste) and a gourmand (a person who loves eating) and fall squarely in the latter category.
In each episode, Saffitz reverse-engineers beloved mass-produced junk food, from Pop-Tarts to Doritos, transfiguring humble ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and Red 40 into beautiful, precise creations that you’ll want to eat through the screen. Even better, Saffitz has an aura of charmingly sharp-edged anxious perfectionism — Pop Rocks and Cheez-Its have never been taken so seriously — and a brute determination that carries her through multiple rounds of experimentation until she gets her recipe just right. Saffitz is a stand-in for Type A order muppets everywhere, someone to root for if you’ve ever noodled over your word choices or been deeply troubled by an ever-so-slightly askew picture frame. The irony is that watching “Gourmet Makes” makes me disengage with my squinchy perfectionist streak posthaste. Does your brain need a break? Let Claire do the obsessing, and let yourself be swept along with the miracle of mass-produced food, reimagined into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Stephanie Hays, features page designer
“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix): when you want to feel a little bit of everything
Finding the right episode of “BoJack Horseman” to watch can be difficult. Too sad. Too cringey. Too angry. Too … I just really can’t watch that one right now. But what about the one where BoJack crashes Mr. Peanutbutter’s fancy fundraiser for his run for governor, when the house caves in because of fracking and ends with Jessica Biel lighting Zach Braff on fire in a bid for power and food? Perfect.
BoJack is a black comedy, set in a surreal Hollywoo, California, where people and animals live side by side. It’s hysterical and satirical, full of animal gags and poking fun at the entertainment industry. Characters like A Ryan Seacrest-type and Some Lady interview people on vapid TV shows, Hollywoo assistants unionize with a sole purpose (“to not be treated like garbage”) only to be immediately shot down, and there’s a whole season about the ludicrously long and political “Road to Oscar,” full of contenders like Bread Poot, Jurj Clooners and, yes, BoJack.
But the best thing about the show is that it takes the amusement of a ridiculous, surreal setup and makes it feel all too real. Topics range from the dark — substance abuse, depression, childhood trauma — to everyday problems like heartbreak, career advancement and politics. The decisions that characters make surrounding these subjects are flawed, and they’re held responsible for their mistakes. You root for Princess Carolyn to become a mother, you feel Diane’s pain as she struggles with self-doubt while writing her book, and you desperately want BoJack to make good decisions wherever he roams — in New Mexico, at Griffith Observatory and at Wesleyan University.
I can’t recommend the show highly enough. It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry. It’ll make you mourn and it’ll make you feel proud. But most of all, it’ll make you think.
Oh, and in case you didn’t realize, BoJack’s a horse.
Stefanie Loh, features editor
“Gentleman Jack” (HBO/BBC): when you want to feel inspired
Think of BBC drama “Gentleman Jack” as “Downton Abbey” meets “The L Word.” The eight-episode inaugural season of this period drama is based on the secret diaries of Anne Lister, an English landowner from the early 1800s who knew, even back then, that she loved “the fairer sex” and was determined to be true to herself despite living in an era before the word “lesbian” was even used to described women who loved women. A second season is already in the works, but filming was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. What inspired me most was Lister’s steadfast commitment to being herself and being happy instead of heeding to societal expectations and marrying a man just for appearances.
How significant was it for a woman to live as a lesbian in the 1830s? Well, think about the discrimination many LGBTQ+ people still face in 2020. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.) Now go back 200 years and try to imagine the extent of persecution they would have faced back then. To fly in the face of all that and stick up for everything you believed about yourself had to be tough. Yet that’s exactly what Lister did. She capably ran her estate — also a rarity for a woman in the 1800s! — and traveled freely around Europe, seducing women (she was quite charismatic!) and getting them to fall in love with her, only to have her heart shattered again and again as the women she loved each left her to marry men because it was simply the easier option back then — and the only option society would accept of them.
Perhaps because it was the only outlet for her true emotions, Lister was a prolific diarist who wrote many of her diary entries in code so that she could be open about her feelings for women without worrying that anyone would read them. The show is based on Lister’s now-decoded diaries, and has been lauded for its historical accuracy. British actress Suranne Jones brilliantly brings Anne Lister to vibrant life, portraying the character’s strength while maintaining a touching, deep vulnerability. Oh, and despite this sounding like doom and gloom, Lister does ultimately get a happy ending, and it’s really not a spoiler for me to tell you that because she’s a historical figure!
Moira Macdonald, arts critic
“The Great British Baking Show” (Netflix): when you want to feel comforted
Full disclosure: I am not a good baker, as baking requires a level of precision that is not in my wheelhouse. But oh, how I love this show. It reminds me of what Nora Ephron wrote, in “Heartburn,” about how soothing cooking can be: “… after a hard day there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick. It’s a sure thing!” On “TGBBS,” it’s a sure thing that you will hear a delightful medley of regional British-by-way-of-somewhere accents, you will see exquisite pastries and cakes and biscuits in all their melting-butter glory, you will watch someone lose it in a very charming and almost apologetic way, and you will fall in love with hosts Mel and Sue (in the early seasons, which are the best ones), who serve up puns and kindness simultaneously. And you can practically smell the baked goods. I feel better already.
“The Good Wife” (Hulu): when you want to feel nostalgic
A few weeks ago I got a justified-by-stay-at-home-order Hulu subscription, and while it’s full of shows I’ve never seen, I instantly started rewatching “The Good Wife.” And though it’s a very good show, I’ve only just now realized why I’m watching it at this particular time: It’s a workplace drama, and I miss my workplace. (Necessary disclaimer: I know that I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home, and I do appreciate it. But still.) The sleek offices of Lockhart Gardner bear no resemblance whatsoever to The Seattle Times’ mildly scruffy newsroom, and none of my colleagues ever came to work, in the before time, in chic peplum’d suits and heels (not even me, though I’d like to). But I love immersing myself in the interpersonal drama of the show’s office — the alliances, the grievances, the pulling together to get a job done, the bustle and noise and busyness, the way Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart dramatically removes her reading glasses in order to gaze — or glare — at a colleague. I am doing this gesture while working at home, as often as possible, but it’s not quite as effective when there’s no one to see it. (Also excellent, and starring Baranski: “The Good Fight,” a “Good Wife” spinoff now on CBS All Access.)
“Schitt’s Creek” (Netflix): when you want to laugh
I’m a little late to the “Schitt’s Creek” party; watched the first episode a while ago and just didn’t see what the fuss was all about. But friends who loved it urged me to try again (like a lot of TV, “Schitt’s Creek” doesn’t really get going until midway through the first season), and now, halfway through Season 4, nothing makes me laugh out loud like this silly, unique show does. Among its many joys: the horrified expressions of Dan Levy’s David; the way Annie Murphy, as his sister Alexis, pronounces his name with such withering derision (Dav-iiiiiiid); Catherine O’Hara’s breathy non sequiturs and insane wig collection; and Eugene Levy as the gentle, expressively eyebrow’d glue that seems to hold everything together. That a main character is named Moira is … well, maybe I’ve been waiting my whole life for this show. But now feels like just the right time.
Janet Tu, assistant features editor
“Star Trek: Picard” (CBS All Access): when you want the comfort of old friends (but also crave new adventures)
It’s been decades since I watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (and “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager”). Now, watching “Star Trek: Picard” (thanks to a CBS All Access free trial) feels like catching up with old friends. Former Enterprise captain, now retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard’s voice may have gotten quakier; former First Officer William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi may have more lines on their faces — but when they meet up in one of the season’s 10 episodes, those years of shared experience, warmth and camaraderie radiate off the screen.
The show isn’t just a nostalgia trip — thankfully. Picard, having retired from Starfleet on not-the-most amicable terms, is spurred back to action when a mysterious woman shows up at his family vineyard. A new crew is assembled, each with more complicated lives and backstories than “TNG” would have allowed. Let’s face it, those “Next Gen” episodes were just a bit too antiseptic, the virtues of its lead characters too unassailable. “Picard” allows its characters, including its lead, to be messier, to have regrets, to behave badly. And that (thanks to writers including showrunner Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”) results in richer, deeper character studies and, at times, an almost melancholy, meditative tone.
In addition to the new characters, we see the effects that years of decision-making (for right or wrong) have made on Picard; the interesting (badass) turn that former Borg Seven of Nine’s life has taken. The show still has room for improvement — some of its resolutions are far too tidy. But at a time when we can’t actually be with old friends, this is a welcome virtual substitute.
Lori Taki Uno, features desk editor
“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” (Food Network, Hulu): when you’re looking for some comfort — as in comfort food
To be honest, I don’t watch very many TV shows (more movies). But sometimes I find myself looking at episode after episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which showcases small eateries across America that are popular with the local people of a region. Maybe it’s the succulent-looking food, the entertaining host with the big personality, the chefs whipping up signature dishes or the customers rhapsodizing about their favorites. All I know is that sometimes I want to be there. I mean really be there. (And one day I actually was: Mike’s Huli Chicken, featured on the show, looked so good that the last time we were on Oahu we searched it out. And I’m so glad we did. The food was every bit as delicious as Guy Fieri said it was.) Now “Triple D” is rolling into its 32nd season — and featuring takeout episodes!
Jackie Varriano, food writer
“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (Hulu): when you want to feel satisfied
I’ve watched nearly every episode of this crime drama (which had its original run from 2000-2015) before, but since Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home Stay Safe” order kicked in, I’ve found myself turning back to it almost nightly. Sure, not every episode has aged well (the way some of these investigators deal with various kinks is pretty tone-deaf), but overall I’m realizing that now, in a time when I feel there is so much out of my control, the predictability of crime-investigation-resolution wrapped up in under an hour is a powerful sedative of sorts. Plus, revisiting the technology of the early aughts is strangely pleasurable. I’ve said, “look at that cellphone!” no less than three times.
I’ve started the series from the very beginning with the original cast, delighted to be finding myself chuckling over Gil Grissom’s terrible zingers and figuratively throwing popcorn (as if I’d waste actual popcorn) at Sara Sidle’s whining about justice. These are the seasons when Nick Stokes was still smokin’ hot and the bungling Dr. Raymond Langston hadn’t yet arrived. Yes, some crimes are horrific — but there’s just enough humor to balance things out. And did I mention crimes are solved (a completely unrealistic) 90% of the time?
Yasmeen Wafai, features news assistant
“Broad City” (Hulu): when you want to laugh and feel empowered
I love when I see a show that feels fresh and original. “Broad City” is definitely one of those shows for me. If I told you it was about two best friends getting into shenanigans and navigating the trials of adulthood in New York, you’d probably roll your eyes, but hear me out. This isn’t “Friends” or “Gossip Girl,” meaning there’s no unrealistic apartments or lack of diversity in the characters. “Broad City” is a much more accurate reflection of being young in the big city. The apartments? Rat-infested. The jobs? Unglamorous. The subway? Actually used! It’s a great escape from anything too serious because it’s a comedy through and through, but it still gets real. The creators, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, aren’t afraid to speak their mind and bring important issues to light, but with humor. As a woman in my 20s, this show feels made for me and my friends, but I’d suggest it to anyone tired of shows set in New York that have you yelling, “There’s NO WAY they can afford that apartment!”
“Jane The Virgin” (Netflix): when you want to feel warm and fuzzy (and maybe shed a tear)
This show means a lot to me. It was the first time I saw a lead character (played by Gina Rodriguez) that I felt I could relate to. Not in every way, considering she gets accidentally artificially inseminated, but in others. “Jane The Virgin” is a great show to watch when you want to feel a range of emotions. It’s mainly a comedy, so you’ll definitely laugh, but there’s plenty of moments that will leave you feeling angry, romantic, heartbroken and happy. The format of the show is unique in that it pays homage to telenovelas (Latin American soap operas). There’s a “Latin Lover” narrator, magical-realism moments and tropes commonly used in telenovelas that keep the show entertaining and engaging. I can’t promise your eyes will be dry the whole time you watch “Jane The Virgin,” but I can promise you enough warm and fuzzy moments to make up for it.
Amy Wong, features producer
“Community” (Netflix): when you want to laugh
When I heard that Netflix would be graced with “Community,” I thought it was too good to be true. The show, about a group of misfits banded together by a Spanish study group at community college, is so rewatchable, it’s the perfect binge you can watch over and over again during quarantine. I love “Community” for its witty writing, long-term (talking multiple seasons here) inside jokes, wonderful portrayals of friendship and extremely high stats in eliciting LPM (laughs per minute). I’ve never seen a show so willing to embrace so many mediums — from a holiday-themed episode that is done entirely in claymation, to a Ken Burns documentary-style episode about a schoolwide pillow-vs.-blanket-fort war — just because they thought it would be funny. This show is also perhaps responsible for launching the career of our generation’s greatest Renaissance man, Donald Glover, which should be reason enough to watch this groundbreaking show.
“PEN15” (Hulu): when you want to feel nostalgic (sort of in a bad way)
Have you ever wanted to relive your middle school years? Me neither. “PEN15” follows two girls as they navigate through the awkward, hilarious antics of their preteen lives in the year 2000 — discussing everything from the early aughts of AIM messaging, to meeting boys in band class, to dealing with the casual racism of school bullies. Show creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle — both actresses in their early 30s — play fictionalized versions of their younger selves, alongside actual middle school-aged actors. But their abilities to embody the awkward tendencies of the characters almost make you forget that they’re adults among kids. I know this description makes this show sound painful to watch, which I admit it is, but it’s also deeply heartfelt and hilarious. It won’t necessarily make you miss your adolescent years, but it’ll definitely make you feel like you can laugh at some of your past life.