WHILE YOU WERE blasting your glutes at the gym, I was probably lying on my hammock watching “Cobra Kai” on my phone. (P.S.: Elisabeth Shue returns!)
Ron Judd is right. There is a glut of bad TV, all too available. But. There’s a lot of really great TV, too. And we discovered much of it during the pandemic. Here are some of the best shows viewed by several Seattle Times staffers and contributors. (We did our best to list where the shows are broadcast or streaming as of this writing, but that can change, and they can be on multiple networks/apps.)
In no particular order (except for the fact that the fourth show listed here is the best, and the first one you should binge, if you haven’t yet):
“Call My Agent!”
Netflix, 2015-20, 4 seasons, 24 episodes (a movie plus a fifth season are planned)
Sometimes, a TV show takes you somewhere completely unexpected, but makes you realize you always wanted to be there. In this case, it’s a posh French talent agency, where A-list movie stars swan in and out (the guest cast on this series is sublime) and very theatrical conniption fits are thrown on a regular basis. Thoroughly addictive and great fun, particularly Camille Cottin (as superagent Andrea Martel) and her world-class eye-rolling.
Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times arts critic
“Person of Interest”
HBO Max, 2011-16, 5 seasons, 103 episodes
A dystopian present with a Big Brother machine that watches everyone all the time but is balanced by a few people who harness its power for good. Plus, both the actor Jim Caviezel and his character have local ties, so it’s a kick to hear references to places like Sumner, Tacoma and Fort Lewis.
Larissa Pfeifer, Seattle Times copy editor
Netflix, 2015-20, 6 regular seasons, 80 episodes, but don’t miss “Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell”
At first glance this banal, silly and over-the-top sitcom about a wealthy family toppled from their position of wealth is almost hard to take — but then, the characters take over and your heart engages. Filled with hope, inclusion and compassion, “Schitt’s Creek” might be the best medicine for our world just now.
Lorene Edwards Forkner, Pacific NW Magazine GROW writer
HBO Max, 2014-17, 3 seasons, 28 episodes
This is a really trippy exploration into the minds of damaged people left behind after 2 percent of the world mysteriously “departs.” The amazing cast helps this show just keep getting better as it goes. The nearly perfect series finale answered a big question. Or did it?
Bill Reader, Pacific NW magazine editor
Netflix, 2014-17, 3 seasons, 14 episodes plus a 2020 webisode
This mockumentary-style satire is a delightfully sly sendup of the BBC’s lurching steps into a new and more sensitive future. With Hugh Bonneville as the perpetually bewildered BBC Head of Values, navigating branding, visioning and the open-plan office, and David Tennant’s acerbic narration, it’s fast and funny.
Melissa Davis, Seattle Times p.m. copy desk chief
“Better Call Saul”
Netflix, 2015-present, 5 seasons (4 available without extra charge), 50 episodes (40 without extra charge)
Watching Jimmy McGill’s cynical transformation into sleaze-master attorney Saul Goodman felt perfect because it in some ways mirrored my experience covering the COVID-19 pandemic: at first idealistic about the power of information and science to educate the public and keep the virus in check, then increasingly disillusioned about how politicized it became and how many people closed their minds to facts. I never gave up, but I could sympathize a little when Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy said: “Screw it.” Great acting — and a spot-on depiction of Albuquerque, where I went to high school and college.
Sandi Doughton, Pacific NW magazine writer
“The Queen’s Gambit”
Netflix, 2020, 1 season, 7 episodes
Smart writing, stunning wardrobes and a mesmerizing performance by Anya Taylor-Joy had me hooked from the start on this miniseries about an aspiring chess master whose gender-busting determination is as ferocious as her opening moves. Yes, I was among the masses lured into buying a chessboard and giving it a go. My only quibble: I wanted the story to be true, and it wasn’t. But I guess we can’t blame creators Scott Frank and Allan Scott for that.
Michele Matassa Flores, Seattle Times executive editor
Apple TV+, 2020-present, 2 seasons, 22 episodes (the 12-episode second season started in July)
Fish-out-of-water Jason Sudeikis plays nice as an American football coach hired to manage a Premier League English soccer club. A wise and often-hilarious reminder that golden rules still apply, despite pandemic and political divisions. For these parched times, a refreshing cup of nostrum-free kindness.
Jean Sherrard, Pacific NW magazine Now & Then writer and photographer
“Mare of Easttown”
HBO, 2021, 1 season, 7 episodes
At first glance, this appears to be just another show about a small-town cop attempting to solve a puzzling murder. But “Mare of Easttown” is much, much more. Kate Winslet brings such depth to her portrayal of Mare, the detective in question, who’s trying to solve this mystery even as she fights emotional baggage. Set in a small, working-class Pennsylvania town and replete with surprising twists and turns, the rich tapestry of characters and the superb casting are what make this one sing.
Stefanie Loh, Seattle Times Features editor
HBO Max, 2019-present, 2 seasons (season 1 was available only on DC Universe; season 2 on HBO Max and DC Universe; season 3 is planned and will be available only on HBO Max), 24 episodes
Neither these embittered DC Comics characters nor their powers (such as turning into a literal blob under stress) seem very useful, but that’s what makes them interesting. And despite hardships, they’re striving to become better people, which made me love them. I tell people: “Think of it as a mashup of campy comic books and ‘The Good Place.’ ”
Christy Karras, Pacific NW magazine Gather writer
Amazon Prime Video, 2015-present, 5 seasons, 56 episodes (as of this writing, a release date has not been announced for the sixth and final season)
The best sci-fi series I’ve watched since 2004-2009’s “Battlestar Galactica.” Like that show, “The Expanse” has vast scope and ambition, taking place in a 24th century when humans have colonized the solar system. This is a thoughtful, gripping, entirely-relevant-now take on politics, class warfare, power and oppression. Oh, and space battles? Of course!
Janet Tu, Seattle Times assistant Features editor
FX, 2016-present, 2 seasons, 21 episodes (third and fourth seasons are planned)
Comedian/music artist/writer/actor Donald Glover proves himself to be one of the greatest creatives of the 21st century with his TV series following the life of an up-and-coming rapper in Atlanta. It’s sharp, hilarious and memorable, with occasional Lynchian flair, and biting commentary about modern relationships, the music industry and more.
Amy Wong, Seattle Times features producer
Hulu, 2003-15, 9 seasons, 54 episodes
Two awkward blokes, one apartment and an endless supply of surprisingly edgy, razor-sharp Brit-cringe make this cult-favorite sitcom about a pair of hapless roommates the funniest thing on either side of the pond. The vicarious embarrassment I felt watching these characters got me through the pandemic, as did figuring out who in my life was a “Mark” and who was a “Jez” (everybody is one or the other).
Tantri Wija, Pacific NW magazine Cheers! writer
Hulu, 2019-present, 2 seasons, 17 episodes (the second half of Season 2, with seven more episodes, is coming soon)
Heavy on early aughties nostalgia but without any of the filter, two comedians play 13-year-old versions of themselves navigating the gauntlet of middle school among a cast of actual 13-year-olds. It’s awkward, cringy and hilarious, but also one of the most honest representations of American teenage girlhood on TV, flipping on its head the trend of casting hot, well-developed adults to play kids.
Jennifer Luxton, Seattle Times designer
Multiple streaming services, 1999-present, 21 seasons, 209 episodes
At our house we became totally absorbed in this British documentary series, hosted by Kevin McCloud. Each episode follows a family for a year or three as they create their dream home — and these folks dream BIG. These are all architecturally distinctive and environmentally significant projects. They are not run-of-the-mill DIYs. These are designer-statement homes created on (usually) shoestring budgets that stress everyone involved far beyond their limits. The real drama is in whether they’ll even be able to finish the project at all. The resulting homes are quite spectacular and showcase the power of vision, innovation and commitment against all odds.
David Miller, Pacific NW magazine designer
Honorable mentions from Bill:
Anything else with “Narcos” in the title
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
“In the Line of Duty”
“Eastbound and Down”
“Dead to Me”
“The Handmaid’s Tale”