Friends, the world is in an understandable panic. On Friday Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Major events have canceled. Lizzo is leading a flute-accompanied online meditation circle. And office workers across the country are now stuck working from home. We are in the age of “social distancing” now, and everyone’s capacity for introversion is about to be tested. As a lifelong hermit, I am here to tell you one thing: TV is your best friend.
Few mediums match the escapist wonders of television, which allows you to immerse yourself in a different world for hours on end. And as our current, surreal doomsday scenario continues to play out, we’re all going to need to check out and recharge every now and again. (Or, you know, perhaps for a full weekend.) To help with that endeavor, here are some prime options to get you started—all available to stream.
Love Is Blind (Netflix)
If trashy reality is your jam, well, then you’ve probably already seen Love Is Blind. But even if you’re not normally a fan of the genre, this bonkers Netflix show is worth a shot: It’s got excellent drama, a villain you’ll love to hate, and a couple of reunion twists thrown in for good measure. As Netflix continues to solidify its place in the reality space, Love Is Blind is one property worth keeping tabs on.
Nora from Queens (Comedy Central)
Awkwafina’s Comedy Central series takes a few episodes to get going, but the good news is we all have lots of time on our hands now. The series is well worth the time it takes to blossom. Awkwafina might spend a good portion of the show smoking pot and trying to find the time to masturbate using a comically large vibrator, but at its heart, Nora from Queens is, somehow, a family comedy. The cast, which includes BD Wong and Saturday Night Live’s Bowen Yang, has great chemistry from the beginning—and it only gets better as the series continues. Come for the comedy and stay to watch Bowen Yang and Awkwafina’s characters compete for their grandmother’s love by making dumplings.
Living Single (Hulu)
If you’ve never seen Living Single—the show that did the “Friends” concept before the NBC juggernaut even existed—you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl now. The Fox comedy’s cast includes Kim Coles as the show’s main protagonist, the naive pollyanna Synclaire James-Jones, The Facts of Life alum Kim Fields as the image-obsessed Regine Hunter, Erika Alexander as the quick-witted lawyer Maxine Shaw, and Queen Latifah as Synclaire’s cousin, magazine editor Khadijah James. Khadijah, Synclaire, and Regine live together, while Max is their neighbor. Warm and hilarious, the series was a groundbreaking surprise success when it first premiered. So check, check, check it out.
Halt and Catch Fire (Netflix)
Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live their lives. But if there is one thing I would urge everyone to do, it’s watch Halt and Catch Fire. Although its first season felt like a shallower derivative of Mad Men, the show’s subsequent seasons proved that sometimes, show-runners can actually fix a show by responding to feedback. By the time its fourth and final season aired in 2017, Halt and Catch Fire had become one of the most humanistic shows on television. In addition to the show’s impeccable writing, which manages to span decades and provide each character a believable, compelling arc, the show’s cast is simply phenomenal. Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishé, and Toby Huss all deliver transcendent, deeply empathetic performances that seamlessly straddle comedy and tragedy in the most relatable and human of ways. If you didn’t catch the series when it first aired—and judging by the ratings, very few of us did—now is the time to give this borderline perfect show its due.
The Circle Brazil (Netflix)
This one’s a little on the nose, but The Circle Brazil—like the U.K. and U.S. versions before it—was basically tailor-made for our times. Its competitors all live under quarantine, communicate by text only, and are forced to stage solo parties in their living rooms to keep things from feeling too dour. But for those who worry this all sounds a little too close to home, rest assured that the vibe is extremely upbeat—and the players are unendingly fun to spy on. The U.S. version, which debuted in January, became a unifying distraction for viewers across the country, and now that the Brazil iteration has kicked off, we can all live the magic once more—by bingeing the first couple episodes, and then patiently awaiting new episodes in the coming weeks. You know, if that’s your jam.
Riverdale (The CW, Netflix)
In these trying times, do you want a show that makes sense or do you want to have fun? If you care more about the latter than the former, then there’s no better show for you than Riverdale—now, and possibly ever. This well-muscled take on Archie Comics kicked off with a murder and has not slowed down since. In fact, more recent seasons usually find our merry band of teens solving multiple killings; they’ve even taken down serial killers. Think: High camp and lots of shameless wordplay—“American Excess” in place of “American Express”—and you’ve got the basic idea.
Cheers (Netflix, Hulu)
Sometimes you do wanna go where everybody knows your name—and for many, a nostalgic, feel-good show about a bunch of Boston bar dwellers might be just the ticket. Cheers is one of those shows that somehow never seems to lose its re-watch value. From Ted Danson’s Sam Malone to Rhea Perlman’s delightfully wicked Carla Tortelli, each character felt (feels!) both familiar and singular—like a well-worn trope that somehow sprouted humanity. And if you’re all done with Cheers and not in the mood for a trip to Boston, there’s always Seattle—where you can find the show’s equally hilarious spin-off Frasier.
30 Rock (Hulu)
Just typing this, it’s hard not to hear the show’s memorable theme shimmying through my brain. In addition to being sufficiently long for a good binge, 30 Rock is also easy to watch in the background; the jokes are funny whether you’ve been watching closely or are just looking up from your screen. (Well, most of them.) On top of that, 30 Rock also comes with an element of urgency; as some critics have noted, the show’s reliance on topical humor and pop-culture fads likely means it will not age well. Just ask Murphy Brown, which was groundbreaking and side-splitting in its time, but now features countless jokes that soar over people’s heads with political references that now feel obscure.
Grace & Frankie (Netflix)
I know I’ve talked up a lot of shows already, but to be honest, I am pretty convinced that Grace & Frankie is by far the best comfort TV for these times of quarantine. Its breezy beach setting, especially, feels like a relief when confined to a small apartment for days on end. And although the Netflix comedy definitely has some emotional heft, its bubbly, earnest tone prevents things from getting too heavy. It is, after all, about a bunch of dysfunctional people who love each other. We could all use a good belly laugh right now, and this sweet little show has plenty to spare.
The Golden Girls (Hulu)
Or, if you like your ladies really old, there’s always The Golden Girls—which wrapped in 1992. The Miami-set series features Bea Arthur as the dry-humored Dorothy, Estelle Getty as Dorothy’s curmudgeonly mother Sophia, Rue McClanahan as the sultry (and exceedingly horny) Blanche, and Betty White as the adorably dim-witted Rose. From Rose’s many bizarre stories about growing up in St. Olaf, Minnesota to Blanche’s many ill-fated escapades, these are the kinds of people everyone should call a pal and a confidant.
Devs (FX on Hulu)
New from Ex Machina and Annihilation director Alex Garland on Hulu (via FX), this Silicon Valley-based murder mystery—in which a young software engineer named Lily uncovers a major technological conspiracy—is a bit slow and ponderous. But it’s also a fascinating examination of determinism and the multiverse theory. Call it ambitious or ambitiously bad—but if you’re a little light on drama options, it could be well worth a watch.
The New Pope (HBO)
I guess first I should recommend you watch The Young Pope if you haven’t already. As the impossibly handsome pope Lenny Belardo, Jude Law gives the haughty performance of a lifetime, alongside an equally wonderful and wicked Diane Keaton. And The New Pope, which introduces both John Malkovich as, well, the new pope, John Paul III. One of the show’s defining characteristics is its obvious delight in subverting every expectation imaginable—a feat it manages to the new season’s very last episode.
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
If you missed this TV adaptation when it debuted last year, now is your chance to catch up on all of Taika Waititi’s bloodthirsty comedy. Sure, the series does retread a few elements from the original 2014 mockumentary film—which does get old. But it also finds new ground to cover as well. And it doesn’t hurt that the Kiwis delivering said jokes have killer comedic instincts. Plus, with guest stars including Beanie Feldstein and Nick Kroll, it’s hard to go wrong.
It takes a lot of guts—and extremely precise writing skills—to pull off a 9/11 story about masturbation. And yet, in the premiere season of his Hulu series, Egyptian-American comedian Ramy Youssef did just that. The series premiered to killer reviews, and with good reason. In the series, the comedian plays Ramy Hassan, a 27-year-old living in New Jersey. Ramy is a practicing Muslim, and the show explores questions like reconciling faith with a modern lifestyle, and what it’s like to live in a country where everyone is suspicious of you just because of your religion. It’s impactful and undeniably funny—and still appears scheduled to return with a second season in May.
This one’s just a brief docu-series, but you know what? It’s adorable and well made. Dogs explores man’s relationship with man’s best friend across several different countries. In one episode, a girl with epilepsy meets her new service dog for the first time. In another, a Syrian refugee works to reunite with his beloved canine, whom he had to leave behind when he fled. You get the idea. Dogs is, basically, what happens when low hanging fruit—dog content—meets excellent execution. It’s not groundbreaking and it won’t kill that much time—but we all deserve some calm, heartwarming content from time to time.
The Sopranos (HBO)
Full disclosure: This is my quarantine watch, so I will allow this recommendation to largely rest on the shoulders of those that have come before it. The long-running show’s reputation precedes it more than basically any other—and even if you’ve never seen the controversial, maddening finale, you likely also already know (basically) how mob boss Tony Soprano’s story ends. But as they always say, it’s about the journey.
I Love Lucy (Hulu)
Whether you simply revisit old favorites—like “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” in which our titular wacky heroine chugs way too much of a tonic called “Vitameatavegamin” while filming a commercial—or just pick episodes at random, you can’t really go wrong here. I Love Lucy is a timeless classic that’s good for a laugh pretty much any time—and like some of the other series on this list, it’s also extremely easy to let your attention wander to and from the show without feeling like you’ve missed much.
Better Things (Hulu)
This option, on the other hand, is thoroughly modern—but equally memorable. For some reason, watching Better Things always feels like curling up under a cozy blanket. Maybe it’s the simultaneous frankness and warmth—or the multi-generational maternal energy at the core of its storytelling. Or maybe it’s just the comforting rasp of Pamela Adlon’s voice telling her children, through every strange and wonderful and terrible situation, that everything will be OK. Whatever it is, this one’s another top soothing agent for our troubling times.