Not to put too fine a point on it, but the world is a bit of a mess at the moment. Politics, race relations, hell, even the weather - it all kind of sucks right now and no-one would blame you for wanting to put it out your mind for a bit. It’s important to be informed about what’s going on, but it’s just as important to give your soul a break from time to time, and we’re here to help. Now, you don’t need us telling you to watch Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead or Jessica Jones - you already know about those. What follows are shows that are very much worth your attention that you probably haven’t dug into yet. Heck, you may not have even heard of them! So, pull up some couch, grab a pint (ice cream or beer, your choice), and settle in to binge these wonderfully distracting shows that will help you forget the real world for a while.
Ok, yes, the name is really terrible and zombies have been done, erm, to death, but iZombie is a charmingly refreshing take on the undead. For starters, there hasn’t been an apocalypse, just an accident involving an energy drink and a party drug called Utopium. Zombies are secretly living among us, hiding in plain sight with proper application of hair dye and spray tan. They still need to eat brains, but when they do, they absorb the personality and memories of whoever they had for supper, a talent that our hero zom Liv Moore uses to help solve murder cases. iZombie trades the typical zombie doom and gloom for humor and hope. The first season’s up on Netflix (US and UK). (Note: The above interview from San Diego Comic Con contains some spoilers for season 2 of the show, so watch at your own peril! Also, season two is really good.)
Based on the successful book series by James S. A. Corey (which is actually two guys named Dan and Ty), The Expanse is a multilayered mystery set deep in a future where humans live in space. We’ve been out there long enough to no longer be one big happy family, too; Martians resent Earthers, Earthers don’t trust Martians, and Belters - the working class living their entire lives on space stations - hate them both. Things start small with a missing girl and a distress call, but quickly escalate as someone pulls the strings likely to make Mars and Earth go to war. Everyone in the show is outstanding, but Thomas Jane is doing the best work of his career as weary cop Miller, who’s desperate to prove to everyone, mostly himself, that he can solve his missing persons case. The Expanse is stuffed with lore, politics, and characters whose motivations are dubious at best. The first season is on Amazon (US only; available on Blu ray in the UK).
Lots of people wrote this off when it came out because it debuted at the same time as another pirate show, Crossbones, which was spectacularly terrible. And if we’re really being honest, the first episode of Black Sails is pretty shaky (the Blackbeard joke is particularly cringeworthy). But forget all of that. You’ll come in expecting shiver-me-timbers and grog, but you’ll get intrigue, veracity, and people with deeper motivations than doubloons. Based in part on actual people and events, Black Sails isn’t about pirates, it’s about a group of people trying to make the best of the life they’ve been stuck with… which, ok, yes, often means robbing ships at swordpoint and drinking lots of rum. Put Game of Thrones’ political machinations and fight scenes on a beach in the Caribbean and you’ve got the foundation for Black Sails. You’ll want to stick around at least until the end of Season 2. Trust me. Seasons 1-3 are on Amazon (US and UK).
A virus nearly wipes out humanity and in 2043, some scrappy scientists figure out how to send James Cole back in time to stop the virus before it starts. After that, things get… complicated. 12 Monkeys the show shares its basic premise with the movie of the same name, but builds on that storyline in satisfying ways. Cole and his companions do eventually figure out how to stop the virus, but that’s just the beginning of what dooms the future. What’s remarkable about 12 Monkeys is that it manages to constantly be surprising while always making sense - no small feat given how many threads it has running at once. This isn’t a show you have on in the background and half-listen to while you’re doing something else. This is a show you luxuriate in, soaking in every detail as you try to puzzle out what will happen next. Seasons 1 and 2 are on Amazon (US and UK).
The original Scream was a highly subversive film that flipped horror movies on their heads, forgoing tropes in favor of winking acknowledgment and cleverness. The show is not that. What it is, however, is a fun mystery with a high body count. Someone’s bumping off people in Lakewood in ways that eerily echo a crime from 20 years earlier. At least one body drops in each episode, and some of the kills are quite spectacular. You do find out who the killer is by season’s end, with the story taking some nice twists and turns on its way to the final showdown. Though Scream focuses on the activities of teenagers, it doesn’t lean too heavily on teen drama or attitude, and refreshingly gives the high schoolers plausible reasons to not ask adults for help. The pilot is a touch too self-aware, but the show quickly settles into a great popcorn groove. Season 1 is available on Netflix (US and UK).