Critic's Notebook: The 10 Shows You Should Binge and Catch Up On This Summer

6:30 AM 6/29/2016

by Tim Goodman

Forgotten gems and big names you've put off for too long - here's a list to cross off waiting for fall.

Netflix/AMC/Amazon

There is a summer season in television, it's just a little muddled. But hey, if you'd like to jump on all the many new and likely decent cable offerings or the new and mostly woeful broadcast offerings, go for it. Your time may be better spent, however, playing catch up.

The Too Much TV era means you're overwhelmed with choices and, frankly, falling way behind. Let's not even bring up whether or not you watched the recently concluded seasons of Veep or Silicon Valley or – can you really be that out of it? – Game of Thrones. Because more troubling is that maybe you never got caught up on The Americans or Mr. Robot or Fargo. Those should be addressed. You don't need a lecture about that. But for everyone putting off the obvious, there's a bunch of excellent series you may have missed that are just waiting for you to stream them and, luckily, many of them are either half-hours or short run seasons and theoretically you should be able to buzz through your binging this summer.

Here are the 10 series other than the previously mentioned super-obvious ones that deserve your attention. 

  • 'Catastrophe'

    Amazon

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    There are two seasons of six episodes and the second only recently ended. A painfully funny look at an odd couple (Irish school teacher in London meets American businessman) where all the chaos starts after an accidental pregnancy, Catastrophe is painfully, searingly funny as it explores the catastrophe of love, marriage, kids, families, dogs, friends and, well, life. A real gem.

  • 'Casual'

    Hulu

    Courtesy of Hulu

    Having just started its second season (and renewed for a third), Casual is a series that's not exactly what you think going into it, where divorcing sister Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and her teenage rebellious daughter Laura (Tara Lynn Barr) move in with Valerie's snarky and quirky brother, Alex (Tommy Dewey), who created a successful dating website that might be handy for Valerie right about now. So, rom-com? Nope. All of that construction is just a box the show sits in – mostly it's about finding out how screwed up you are, who you need in your life, the search for love and meaning (not necessarily in that order), friendship, sex, pop culture and you name it – it's a show that grows and surprises as you watch.  So watch.

  • 'Happy Valley'

    Netflix

    BBC

    Arguably the best cop show on television and arguably the best dramatic performance by an actress on television from Sarah Lancashire. Two short, gripping, disturbing and brilliant seasons. Pro tip: If you can't understand the accents (yes, the United States and Britain are two countries divided by a common language) then turn on the subtitles. People who did were thrilled with the results. Nothing should keep you from this series.

  • 'Black Mirror'

    Netflix

    You may have heard about it. You may have written it down as a note – a reminder to watch later when you've caught up with all the other stuff we know now that you'll never catch up on. So, pivot back to this. It's like a modern day Twilight Zone with an emphasis on the perils of technology. It's absolutely riveting, creative, unshakable storytelling. And limited episodes.

    Pro tip: Watch one episode, then watch one of the other shows here, then come back. Repeat. (If you binge Black Mirror, your brain will short circuit; don't say you weren't warned.)

  • 'Master of None'

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    One of the best surprises of recent vintage, Master of None is what happens when you let Aziz Ansari be more than a comic foil or a character actor who walks in for the funny. In this series, which is subtle and Zen but with its eyes wide open, we get to watch a Louie-like coming out party for a likable talent with enormous storytelling potential.

  • 'Moone Boy'

    Hulu

    Courtesy of Sky 1

    There may not be a more lovely and life-affirming comedy on television. Very funny, sweet, ridiculous and ambitiously creative, this Ireland-based coming of age story has all three seasons on Hulu. Put your jumper on and jump right in.

  • 'The Path'

    Hulu

    Courtesy of Hulu

    Spirituality and belief remain interesting dramatic entanglements, especially when they veer off to encounter (or even embrace) religions, cults, or alternative devotions. The questions asked in The Path are whether a group some call a cult is really all that bad (or that good) and how wanting to be shown the way in life can lead down a lot of interesting, well, paths. Already renewed for a second season, this drama is fresh and intriguing.

  • 'Humans'

    Amazon

    Des Willie/Kudos

    This AMC-via-BBC futuristic series never lacks for humanity – in fact that's what makes it so compelling. A surprise drama that got a second season (thankfully) once everyone realized how it took a familiar sci-fi trope (artificial intelligence, robotics, etc) and, much in the same creative manner as Black Mirror, thought out the implications in a very compelling manner. Like all the series here, being surprised at how good it ends up is the reason you should invest.

  • 'Red Oaks'

    Amazon

    Courtesy of Amazon

    There are so many great comedies on television, not to mention those steeped in nostalgia or coming-of-age enlightenment. But Red Oaks, the '80s-set Amazon original, truly got lost in the shuffle and it's worth discovering. Again, it's been renewed so your investment will be rewarded. Sharp, funny and even sweet in parts, this might be the show that most needs you to trip over its charms.

  • 'Halt and Catch Fire'

    Netflix

    AMC

    The AMC series that had so much potential but couldn't get started had one of those rare trajectories where it was given up on, revived and then rewarded that devotion with a superb second season. Picked up for a third, you'll find numerous standout acting performances and can witness how a good idea got even better the second time around (which, version 2.0, is particularly evocative of its tech industry emphasis).

  • Bonus: 'Sense8'

    Netflix

    Netflix

    I tossed this on here because it's almost the perfect, forgotten, binge-worthy drama that rewards the effort: confusing but visually brilliant (shot across the world), sexy and sexual as anything you'll find, funny, weird and disconnected, it all begins to come together the more you watch. After putting it off for other things, I went back and binged the entire season and loved its underdog, nothing-like-it approach.

    Which, if you consider this whole exercise, is pretty much why this list was created in the first place.

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