With all the deeply saddening live performance cancellations and new “social distancing” measures, no doubt many of us will be spending a lot more time with the TV. Here are a few shows to check out — to help make that anti-social TV time some quality TV time at least.
I’m assuming Netflix-watchers have already discovered shows like One Day at a Time (a terrific up-to-date remake centered on a three-generation Cuban American household); and Kim’s Convenience (a funny look at two generations of Korean Americans and the family convenience store, which spun out of a play by the same name). If you haven’t and you have Netflix, you could start with those, too.
Below are some lesser-known shows that are holding my attention these days.
Bless the Harts
One of the few new shows I’ve really gotten into, Bless the Harts is an animated sitcom that’s a heavy dose of Bob’s Burgers meets the South. The characters have enough stereotype to make them easy laughs, but their relationships are many levels deeper, as are their independent streaks of social commentary and perennial make-it-work attitudes.
The title is a mashup of the central family’s last name, and the two-faced, saccharine-sounding Southern saying, Oh bless your heart — which itself is an apt description of one character’s arch nemesis, which makes for some great rivalry.
Available on: Hulu; Fox
I used to love this early-’90s show, but had forgotten about it for ages. Unlike many long-past favorites, this one still holds all its charm, with the laughably bad-but-lovable Baby Sinclair, the hardworking matriarch, and the befuddled “Not the Mama,” along with two teenage children and a grandma who’s much like Sophia Petrillo in dinosaur form. It also sneaks in a lot of social commentary messages — environmentalism, anti-harassment, valuing the elderly — that were largely ahead of the curve.
Available on: purchase through Amazon’s stick thing ($9.99/season)
This show is more hit-or-miss than many others are, and also didn’t last long. Season 3 is largely a throwaway, since it dispensed of the most animated character (lovable teacher/pothead AJ Feldman). But the great episodes are great — like when Feldman dates the school’s “D.I.R.E.” (think D.A.R.E.) officer, while a crabby teacher tries to quit smoking and the straight-laced one gets addicted to bingo. More banal situations feature some great lines, whether student/teacher exchanges (“What’s a mimosa?” / “It’s something women in their 20s order so they can feel better about drinking in the morning”) or important career observations (“Me and teaching are like the cookie butter and pickles that come on the Kitchen Sink sandwich. They shouldn’t go together, but for some crazy reason they do”).
Available on: TV Land; or purchase through Amazon’s stick thing ($19.99/season)
American Gladiators (Original)
I’m just about done with the whole series, but wandering through the vaults of this competition classic — thanks to the show getting its own channel on the free app Pluto TV — has been a gorgeously tacky trip down memory lane. Highlights: the mega-cheese factor of the first half of season 1 (with Joe Theismann as co-host alongside the series-long host Mike Adamle, and original Gladiators Gemini, Lace, Malibu, Nitro, Sunny, and Zap); the intensity of second co-host Todd Christiensen’s mullet; the later-seasons power team of Siren and Elektra; and timeless events like Assault, Joust, and the Gauntlet.
Pluto TV’s channel also runs the grossly inferior 2008 version. If you’re unlucky enough to land on that, wait a day or so and it will cycle back around to the original’s earliest episodes.
Available on: Pluto TV (channel 136)
For a list of shows, postponements and cancellations, see updates here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.