5:00am PT by Daniel Fienberg
Critic's Notebook: This Is Your Limited Window for TV Catch-Up
April was one of the more impressive months for original dramas in TV history, as viewers could pretty much schedule their weeks around new episodes of The Americans, Better Call Saul, Fargo, The Handmaid's Tale and The Leftovers.
For the better part of two months, those shows dominated the critical conversation. But you could also fill time with the closing installments of various broadcast shows, the ongoing onslaught of streaming options, and even a few comedy gems like Silicon Valley and Veep.
But all cable things must come to an end and surely that end must come quickly, as The Americans was the only show from that drama all-star block even to go 13 episodes.
The result is that in a TV landscape that never, ever offers room to pause and catch up, this may be the best chance you're going to get of pausing and playing catch-up this year. Game of Thrones is probably the next show headed for a media saturation launch and that's not until July 16.
To clarify: This pause is an artificially constructed illusion. You could just use the time to watch each new episode of Twin Peaks 15 times. Preacher just returned to AMC. Queen Sugar just returned to OWN. Heck, thanks to Vanessa Hudgens and a return to its original formula, So You Think You Can Dance is back. Between the time you start this article and finish it, Netflix will have released, with limited promotion, seven new shows starring semi-household names. That there's 75 percent less TV to watch than there was a month ago doesn't mean there isn't still 25 percent more TV than any normal human should be spending their week watching. That's incontestable.
Still, it's my job to offer you some things you can finally catch up on during this faux down period, and I've broken the options down into helpful categories. [Note: There's plenty of other great stuff you can watch and if I didn't mention your favorite thing here, enjoy.]
Catch up on the overflow from last month. This should be your top priority. Better Call Saul had its best season yet, a beginning-to-end triumph of magnificently composed sadness and moral decline. Watch it. The Handmaid's Tale had a great first season and Elisabeth Moss is giving a performance for the ages. Fargo may not have started its third installment in peak form, but after those first couple episodes, I swear it was basically as good as the first two seasons, or at least within that excellent range. The Americans made the mistake of being only very, very good in a spring of TV greatness, but its last four or five episodes were superb. And The Leftovers had a classic final season, as good a closing run as anybody had any right to hope for. But I also want to include The Leftovers in my next category.
Enjoy binging a recently concluded series that you can guarantee has a satisfying ending. I can't help you if you thought The Leftovers was going to give you solid and concrete "answers" in its last eight episodes. But if what you want in a series is a neat 28-hour block with a satisfying finale and lots of Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon, you literally can't do better. Bates Motel ended this spring after 50 episodes and that might be a hefty binge, but maybe just check out the last 20 episodes and marvel at how well the Psycho prequel played off its Hitchcockian expectations. I don't care if it ended in December, you should still be setting aside 30 hours to finally watch Rectify, because it ends every bit as well as The Leftovers did. It doesn't quite count in this category because its final season doesn't start until August 19, but you only have 30 hours of Halt and Catch Fire to watch if you want to be on the same page as your 15 favorite TV critics when we lament the passing of this special, basically unwatched drama in the fall. You should also watch the apparently concluded Underground, but that's for my next category.
Catch up on abruptly canceled shows so that you can be angry. Are you like me? Are you fueled by rage and frustration? Then you should definitely check in on a half-dozen shows that have recently been canceled and that will probably irritate you when you've watched them and realized you could have done more to support them while they were on air. Apparently Underground isn't cheap and WGN America dropped out of the scripted TV game entirely, so now's the time to watch the 20 Underground episodes and lament that a show this audacious, ballsy, powerful and often fun likely won't be returning. Track down MTV's campus vigilante action dramedy Sweet/Vicious — it's Arrow meets Greek, I keep trying to tell you! — and ponder what the MTV brand currently means if it doesn't want to support shows like this. Netflix, long known as the endless enabler of forgettable shows like Flaked and that thing with Rob Schneider, has suddenly gotten cancelation crazy and canned Girlboss and The Get Down and the one most likely to produce your ire, Sense8. It's probably too low-key in its charm to generate all that much bile, but ABC's Downward Dog has also been sent to a farm upstate, but that's something for my next category.
Stop being a snob and celebrate some great stuff on network TV. And no, I don't mean This Is Us. Plenty of people are watching This Is Us and overpraising it. The show doesn't need your help or your respect. It has your advertising dollars. But if you don't watch the Downward Dogs of the world, they get canceled. If you don't fight back against NBC making a seemingly active attempt to kill off The Carmichael Show, it'll get canceled. And then you should check out ABC's Speechless and NBC's The Good Place and Superstore and probably The CW's Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Some of these shows are probably available to binge on Netflix. That brings me to my next category.
There's probably some Netflix show you need to catch up on. Look, just so you don't start suspecting me of being on the Netflix payroll here, let me make this very, very, very clear: A lot of Netflix originals aren't great. Or good. House of Cards is trash. The upcoming Gypsy is a bore. Lots of folks are unhappy about the most recent season of Orange Is The New Black. But if you want to know where much of my catching up from spring has to be focused, it's here. Mazel tov if you've had the chance to get to Dear White People, Master of None, F is for Family and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I've started on all of their new seasons and finished none. So far! Have you gotten to GLOW and The Keepers and 732 new comedy specials and The Ranch? You lie. [It isn't just Netflix. I haven't started the third season of Casual or finished the first season of Sneaky Pete. Hulu and Amazon have shows, too.]
Other random things that I'm trying to get off my DVR. Vikings is a good show that I happened to fall 10 episodes behind on. Scorpion is a bad show that I just happen to have set aside for 13 or 14 different bouts of laundry folding. Eventually I need to perform triage on maybe 15 episodes of Empire, the last six episodes of the most recent American Horror Story season and 10 episodes of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And then there are many, many episodes of House Hunters: International for when I want to know what real estate I can afford in rural Costa Rica.
Or you could just go outside and get some fresh air!