6:45am PT by Tim Goodman
TV Time: Five Series, Each 6 Episodes or Less, That You Should Watch Right Now
I had an interesting "first" the other day, though in retrospect it should not have been unexpected. I've written a lot about how neighbors and friends or random people at parties always ask me, "What should I watch?" or "What's your favorite show right now?" — impossible questions to answer, though I'm perfectly fine with being asked. The new normal for me became, "I'll send you a link."
But this was different. I told someone that I could send them a link to my list of best series from 2017 (which had 46 shows on it) or my most recent Power Rankings! from September, which probably had newer series on there and totaled 22 shows. Surely they could find something from either of those lists.
The reply back was, "Wow, that's a lot. How about five? And I don't have enough time to start something long."
OK, well, that's different. And specific. It was another indication that people are overwhelmed with their lives first and foremost, then with Peak TV not far behind. I had long ago come to the conclusion that the best service I could provide to them (and THR readers) was to become, you know, a list-maker. People love lists. Helping them out as they drown in TV is the least I can do. But this new super-specific subset of "How about five?" got me thinking about how I could star another ongoing series, kind of like my Hidden Gems series that was met with a lot of enthusiasm.
So, here's the idea. I'm going to create a series of ever-evolving lists catered to how much time you have available right at that moment. Everybody's different. You might be slammed but another person might have no time constraints. I'm going to call it TV Time (I know, super brilliant of me) and break it into three categories: series that have six episodes or less per season; series that have somewhere between seven and 13 episodes per season; and finally, a list that encompasses the entirety of a show for those unicorn people who want and have the time to start something like The Wire or Rectify from the beginning. Must be nice.
I will note, with a bonus point of enthusiasm, if a series is perfect enough in that first season where you could watch and, should this be a thing you choose to do, end the relationship right there. Now, me, if I watch a great season of TV (like my current favorite, Patriot), I can't wait to watch the next one, which I just did. You? Maybe you don't like entanglement. Maybe you need an exit strategy where you can watch one season of something fantastic and not feel stressed about having to watch the next, or the next three for that matter. Just something enough where you can tell people you've seen it, you loved it but life is short and you had to continue exploring. A part of me gets that, so I will duly note when such a series is on these lists (and, obviously, miniseries are thus perfect).
Each list will have only five suggestions so you're not overwhelmed and get all stressed out about it. After I run through the cycle of times (six and under, seven to 13 and full seasons), I'll repeat the cycle with five new choices in each category. Simple.
So, here we go with five great series you can watch right now that have no more than six episodes each:
Detectorists. Hulu/Acorn. Anyone familiar with my favorite shows (or any of my lists) will know this choice very well. The first two seasons (six each!) recently moved from Netflix to Hulu and the third is available on the streaming service Acorn. Created, written, directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook (The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean) and co-starring the wonderful character actor Toby Jones (Captain America, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games), Detectorists is about two friends, Andy and Lance, in a rural British village who happen to like hunting for buried treasure with their metal detectors (you will find out pretty early on the difference between the people and the device). As I often like to say, that's pretty much it. But of course it's so much more. A lot of life happens to Andy and Lance. The series is introspective, funny, eccentric and heartfelt. They have deep conversations about life. They have a rival team of detectorists. They have dreams. My favorite feature about this series is that, if you are particularly stressed out in your own life, then you will love the seemingly uncomplicated lives of Andy and Lance. They do a lot of wandering, sitting, thinking, drinking. Theirs is a slow life. And if yours is not, then this is a lovely little escape that produces wishful thinking.
A Very English Scandal. Amazon. Just in case you are fragile about starting something like Detectorists because you know that there's another two seasons of excellence after season one, here's a one-and-done miniseries. Three episodes! Three hours! Based on the life of British politician Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant, in a truly surprising performance), A Very English Scandal is a story well-told, tight and bright. Well, also slightly weird and a bit bleak, but never so much that it doesn't move entertainingly through a shockingly odd set of events that actually happened but seem like fiction. That's probably a big reason why screenwriter Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who, Queer As Folk) signed on to write it and Stephen Frears (The Queen, etc.) signed on to direct. Before political scandals could be traced back to texts or email, before there was round-the-clock watchful eyes on anyone famous or powerful, Thorpe got into some trouble for not being able to keep it in his pants — and the cover-up became a series of unfortunate and ridiculous events that masked a real sense of cruelty. Always intriguing, brought to electric life by a strong cast that includes Ben Whishaw, this was an exceptional bit of TV that lots of people missed.
Wanderlust. Netflix. It might be good to add something that's so new there isn't a second season (yet) and would even allow you to binge it and then tell other people (hopefully troubled couples!) to watch it. I loved this British series, which premiered Oct. 19 on Netflix and stars the wonderful Toni Collette as Joy, a psychotherapist who treats couples and individuals and is about to be severely tested in her own marriage. Created and written by Nick Payne, Wanderlust is full of pleasant and creatively unexpected turns in a genre (stories of failing marriages of couples with kids) that often leads to overly familiar writing patterns. Here it doesn't, and the six episodes are an under-the-radar blast. I say under-the-radar because it's already hard to keep up with new arrivals on Netflix and if it's not super high-profile then, well, it gets lost pretty easily once all the episodes drop. You might have just a little bit of time on your hands this holiday season and can get through this really quickly. While I joked about sharing it with couples who are in a rocky patch, you actually shouldn't. But anyone who wants to be introspective about love and how the long-term evolution of it is emotionally complicated should absolutely have a look.
Mr Inbetween. FX. Here's a series that ought to be the poster for this new TV Time concept (along with The End of the F***ing World, which doesn't qualify in this installment because it has eight episodes, so it will most definitely be in the next group). Why give Mr Inbetween the glory of a poster, or label it as the definitive example of something for people with time constraint issues? Because of this achievement: None of the six episodes exceeds 26 minutes. And, while very funny in parts, Mr Inbetween, an Australian co-production with FX, is a drama (it's about a hit man having something of a midlife crisis, which itself is funny but also not). This is one of my favorite series of 2018 precisely because series creator, writer and star Scott Ryan packs a lot of brilliance into those 26 minutes — a nearly impossible feat in our era of bloated dramas that often push past the hour limit but have too much fat on them to justify the effort. These six episodes fly by. I watched them twice because it was such a major dramatic achievement. FX picked Mr Inbetween up for a second season but who knows when that will be ready. So, this is perfect for you.
The Last Panthers. Hulu. So few people heard of this 2016 crime series out of France (which also shot in Hungary, Serbia and London), but it made my best of 2016 year-end list and was an excellent entry in the international TV market (and boasts John Hurt and Samantha Morton in the cast, plus director Johan Renck, who directed David Bowie videos including "Blackstar" before his death). Written by British writer Jack Thorne (National Treasure, This Is England) The Last Panthers boasts impressive ambition as it tears into the old tropes of the cop drama and comes up with something unique, mostly due to its international setting and Thorne's excellent script, but also some amazing performances and Renck's bleakly saturated travelogue. Sometimes what is most needed when you're scouring for what to watch is something you don't even know you're looking for: a series that feels unique because it's out of your predictable viewing patterns. The Last Panthers fits that profile. None of the episodes are over 50 minutes and it's a miniseries, so it's over when you finish.