Hollywood Reporter TV Critics: 10 Great Shows That Let You Travel From Your Couch

9:00 AM 5/15/2020

by Daniel Fienberg and Inkoo Kang

From underrepresented corners of L.A. and Atlanta to the French Alps, a tiny Italian island to a dusty Texas artist colony, Northern Ireland to South Africa and beyond, these series boast a sense of place vivid enough to relieve your frustrated wanderlust.

Queen Sono, I Love Dick, and My Brilliant Friend -Split_H 2020
Courtesy of Chris Duys/Netflix; Amazon/Photofest; Eduardo Castaldo/HBO

As the coronavirus confinement drags on, you might be craving a change of scenery or missing a sense of community beyond your weekly group Zoom calls. Some cities are "opening back up," but the safest way to "travel" is still through your television.

Luckily for homebound viewers, the serialized nature of the medium makes it ideal for world-building. Here are 10 shows rooted in a strong sense of place that should either help with your increasing wanderlust or simply give you a firmer feel for how different communities comfort, form their own cultures or adapt to necessary change.

  • 'The Amazing Race'

    Huzzah: The entirety of this Emmy-winning reality juggernaut is available on Hulu, though viewers will experience a very real frustration. When The Amazing Race actually was the best-constructed reality competition show on TV, the production was capable of filming only in standard definition. Eventually, The Amazing Race upgraded to high definition, exhibiting its globe-trotting journey to its greatest advantage, but faulty casting and hit-and-miss challenges undermined the visual element. So there are highs and lows for all of the show's installments. Either way, circle the globe with the contestants as many times as you dare. — DANIEL FIENBERG

  • 'Atlanta'

    Tax breaks and production credits have made Georgia and Louisiana havens for generic regional shooting, but there's something wonderfully satisfying when these familiar locations actually get to play themselves. Look at something like OWN's Queen Sugar or, before that, HBO's Treme. Or look at the value FX and the Donald Glover comedy Atlanta have drawn from actually being filmed in Atlanta. The format-bending comedy uses each of the city’s neighborhoods and captures every shade of its racial and economic diversity, in addition to featuring outlying areas like the Bavarian-inspired Helen or the college-friendly Statesboro. While we impatiently await the third season, the first two are available on Hulu. — D.F.

  • 'Derry Girls'

    It's probably an overstatement to say that I would kill for a new season of Lisa McGee's big-hearted comedy about a group of Catholic teens coming of age in the '90s in Northern Ireland, but it isn't much of an overstatement. Featuring what should be at least a half-dozen star-making performances — gloriously rubber-faced Saoirse-Monica Jackson is first among equals — and shot in Derry and Belfast, Derry Girls is capable of dealing with substantive issues and still being a hilarious escape. — D.F.

  • 'I Love Dick'

    If you weren't quite satisfied by HBO's Mrs. Fletcher, it's possible that Kathryn Hahn's earlier series about a woman who rediscovers her horniness in middle age is a better match for you. Hahn plays a creatively stalled filmmaker from New York who travels to the art colony of Marfa, Texas, with her husband (Griffin Dunne) and finds herself catastrophically obsessed with a renowned artist (Kevin Bacon) whose oeuvre she finds vastly overrated. Released in 2017, Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins' one-season epistolary romance is an unjustly forgotten gem of a show, as well as a fantastically entertaining ode to women's art, lust-driven creativity and dusty, evocative Marfa. — INKOO KANG

  • 'Insecure'

    In the first season of Insecure, Issa (Issa Rae) learns that her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) grew up in Los Angeles but had never been to the beach until she was an adult. It was a reflection of the city's long history of segregation, as well as the kind of neighborhood balkanization that the HBO comedy would resist. Issa and Molly's urban explorations, and traversing of different communities across race and class lines, give even L.A. natives a better understanding of their city, while celebrating its unique institutions, many of which are now under threat by gentrification. — I.K.

  • 'King of the Hill'

    Feel free to watch Friday Night Lights if you have an appetite for down-and-dirty, live-action Texas TV, but there's something astonishing about how perfectly this Mike Judge/Greg Daniels Fox animated classic (now available on Hulu) captures the Lone Star State through the fictional community of Arlen. The Simpsons went with an Everytown, USA, setting. Family Guy delivered a version of New England condensed into caricature. But King of the Hill nails the cadences and context of an authentic Texas setting, with its particular local obsessions, ideologies and diverse communities. Over 250-plus episodes, it became realer than the real thing. — D.F.

  • 'My Brilliant Friend'

    Just two seasons in, the decades-spanning Italian HBO series, adapted from Elena Ferrante's best-selling quadrilogy, is not only a heartbreaking dual portrait of two girls whose life paths diverge when one is allowed to continue her education and the other is not, but also a fascinating study of a postwar Naples rebuilding itself. The set and production design alone are a wonder, and if urban renewal just isn't your thing, there are the multiepisode escapes to the deliriously picturesque holiday island of Ischia, which should shoot to the top of your post-coronavirus dream travel destinations. — I.K.

  • 'Queen Sono'

    Yes, Netflix revolutionized the streaming space and invented the binge model, but the service's greatest achievement may be the way it directed a preexisting international TV pipeline at viewers, allowing them to see comedies from Denmark, thrillers from Spain and domestic melodramas from Israel — and then expanded that pipeline with originals. Netflix's first African production, Queen Sono, is an espionage drama with hints of Alias, but what you'd really be watching for is the location shooting from Kenya to Nigeria to Tanzania to South Africa, as well as the use of dozens of languages and dialects. The story is familiar, but it looks and sounds like nothing you've seen before. (Amazon's ZeroZeroZero is another recent streaming drama that works better as travel porn than as a thriller.) — D.F.

  • 'Les Revenants'

    Minus the residents' peculiar tendency to return from the dead, the Alpine village at the heart of SundanceTV's Les Revenants (The Returned for the subtitle-phobic) seems like the perfect place for a rural French escape. Shot in eastern France in the Haute-Savoie area, Les Revenants is scary, sad, mysterious and resonant, more like a French version of Twin Peaks — another fine show that blends real locations to create grounded fictional geography — than a French version of The Walking Dead. Plus, both seasons are currently available to stream on Amazon. — D.F.

  • 'Vida'

    Like Insecure, the half-hour drama Vida offers a view of Los Angeles that counters the city's usual images as a playground for the white, wealthy and surgically enhanced. But whereas Issa and Molly drive all over, Vida focuses on one neighborhood — Boyle Heights — undergoing transition. Estranged sisters Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) return to the predominantly Latinx community where they grew up after their mother's death and find themselves forced to adapt the bar they inherit to both the neighborhood's needs and the (queer, progressive) communities they'd like to help form. Vida derives much of its strength from its refusal to grant that there are any easy answers, especially when it comes to so many competing notions of home. — I.K.