I am one of many who are suddenly unemployed. This feels like the perfect time to embark on a several-seasons-long journey or pick up something that takes a little extra getting used to. Is this the time to start watching “ER”? — Kelsey
I am sorry that you lost your job, and I hope whatever chapter is next for you after all this is something beautiful and easy.
It is absolutely time to start watching “ER,” and for a number of reasons: First, it’s one of the all-time greats and it holds up better than just about anything else. Second, and more relevant for our present circumstances, it’s about people who are trying. And that is the big focus right now — to try. To affirm people’s dignity and your own; to help when you can and rest when you must; to learn and then do better. The prize is a life you can be proud of and a community to be part of, and if you enjoy some smooching along the way, well hey, what a bonus. You will also learn how to scrub your hands properly! (“ER” is available on Hulu.)
In terms of taking extra getting used to, it might be “Twin Peaks” time. The show can be thrilling and addictive but also maddening, which makes it a perfect series to project emotions onto without it ever feeling too real or familiar. “Twin Peaks” works best in conversation with other shows because it’s TV that’s also about TV — in the original, it’s a reinterpretation of soap operas, and “Twin Peaks: The Return” is a remetabolizing of antihero dramas. So I would add in a soap to go along with “Twin Peaks” and an antihero show to go with “The Return,” perhaps “Riverdale” and “Better Call Saul.” “Riverdale” is itself a riff on “Twin Peaks,” and “Saul” has an interesting, different spin on antiheroes, and those contrasts make the individual shows pop, like wearing purple eyeliner to make your eyes look greener. (“Twin Peaks” is available on Netflix, Hulu and CBS All Access; “Twin Peaks: The Return” is available on Showtime; “Riverdale” is available on Netflix; “Better Call Saul” is available on Netflix.)
One thing to consider beyond what to watch is how you’re watching. In the Before Time, I was definitely bingeing straight through shows; I have watched, oh, 10 episodes of “Orphan Black” in a row and found the experience positive and exciting. But that’s because afterward I went outside. These days, I have been benefiting from more of a balanced-breakfast model of varying things up a bit — two episodes of a dark drama, then, I don’t know, some YouTube videos about roller coasters, then a vintage sitcom, then a contemporary sad-com, then a procedural. Do yourself a favor and program yourself a little variety. How about two episodes of “Rectify” (Netflix), a video about accents, a “Mary Tyler Moore” (Hulu), a “High Maintenance” (HBO) and an episode of “The Good Wife” (Amazon, CBS All Access or Hulu)? Or two episodes of “Wentworth” (Netflix), a video about making soap, a “Frasier” (Hulu, CBS All Access) a “BoJack Horseman” (Netflix) and one “My Life Is Murder” (Acorn)?
Given the economic devastation facing many folks, I also encourage you to seek out free options for your TV needs. The major streamers all offer free 30-day trials, and many smaller platforms are doing the same right now, including Acorn, Sundance Now, Showtime and CBS All Access. If you don’t have a TV but still want to watch something on network, try Puffer, a research project from Stanford. TV Line has a great roundup of other free options.
For very good reason, many of us are rationing household items and making do with less on every possible front. You don’t need to do this with TV, though. Believe me when I say: We are not going to run out of TV shows to love. Be safe, considerate and responsible on all other fronts, but let our best friend television be a fount of abundance.
What do I watch after “Unorthodox”? I watched all four episodes over the weekend. What is another mini series or series like it? — Debbie
You have two great options: “Deutschland 83” and “Shtisel”
“Deutschland 83” (available on Hulu, YouTube and Google Play) is about a young man in East Germany who gets recruited to go undercover in West Germany as part of a military operation. But he’s not some brilliant spy — he’s just a guy who looks like another guy, and so here he is. Like “Unorthodox,” it’s a coming-of-age story about escape, about relief and joy but also profound mourning for the child you didn’t get to be. The shows also share significant creative DNA: One of the executive producers for “Unorthodox,” Anna Winger, is also one of the creators of “Deutschland 83,” and the director of “Unorthodox,” Maria Schrader, is one of the show’s stars. (There are subsequent sequels, “Deutschland 86” and “Deutschland 89,” too.)
If you want more of the “Unorthodox” star Shira Haas, watch “Shtisel” (Netflix), an Israeli series about an ultra-Orthodox family, that centers on the mourning dad who is still grieving his wife and the youngest son, a dreamer who is struggling to start his adult life. (Haas plays a teenage granddaughter.) The show is beautifully, achingly intimate, with some of the dreaminess and grief of “Six Feet Under,” but with totally different modes of communication.
A voice in my head keeps telling me now is the time to watch “The Leftovers.” Is that voice insane or on to something? — G.J.
I don’t know if that voice is insane, but I do think it’s misguided. And I say this as someone who loves “The Leftovers” and reveres it deeply. But Season 1 is so brutal in the exact ways that would exacerbate the strain of social distancing that I can’t imagine subjecting myself to it in this moment. The constant screaming and crying — not just from sorrow, but also from the ordinary agonies of life — had me climbing the walls back when it was normal to leave the house at will, and I found the opacity stressful even when I was living by my own whims.
Yes, there is tremendous beauty in Seasons 2 and 3, enough so that I recommend the series as a whole heartily and often. Just … later. Because “The Leftovers” is about grief, it also is in many ways about acceptance, and I’m not ready to segue into acceptance about our current pandemic just yet. I want us to stay mad at the leaders and systems that harmed and misled us, the people whose greed and ignorance will leave thousands dead.
If you want something rich and mysterious and heavy, but not as focused on loss, watch “Carnivàle,” an HBO drama from the early 2000s set in the Dust Bowl during a reckoning between good and evil. (It’s on Amazon Prime, Hulu and HBO streaming.) It’s even less resolved than “The Leftovers” — it was canceled after its second season, and ends on something of a cliffhanger — but still a great ride.
Send in your questions to [email protected] Questions are edited for length and clarity.