10 Great TV Shows to Stream While Stuck at Home That Won’t Make You Feel Worse
Most of us probably have a little more time on our hands, or at least less options when it comes to that free time, thanks to COVID-19. With no concerts to attend, and cineplexes, museums, restaurants or bars to hang out at, we are stuck at home. Thank goodness for TV, or your laptop or tablet or phone or screen you watch stuff on. There are more choices than ever as far as programming is concerned and perhaps you have exhausted yourself on rewatches of Friends, Seinfeld or Friday Night Lights and are looking for something that you haven't seen before that is smart, engaging and won't bum you out further than the real world is already doing.
With that in mind I picked 10 TV shows from the '90s-on that are all on streaming services and fill those criteria. There's no overarching theme to this list, though detectives crop up more than once, there are a number of shows I'd call "quirky," and they're all at least a little funny. These are also all short-lived series -- only one on this list made it to three seasons -- so there's not a large commitment but all are worth checking out.
FX's Terriers was much loved by critics but almost entirely ignored by the television viewing public during its one-season run in 2010, possibly because nobody could easily tell what the show was about. Its title and subsequent billboard/subway ads made it look like it was going to be about dogs, which it is not. It is however a "shaggy dog story" about Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue), a disgraced ex San Diego police detective and recovering alcoholic, who starts an unlicensed private investigator operation with his buddy and ex con Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James). Created by screenwriter Ted Griffin (who penned screenplays for Ocean's Eleven and Matchstick Men) with guidance from producers Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Tim Minear (Angel), Terriers plays out like a buddy comedy version of '70s show The Rockford Files, but with the wit and grit of Elmore Leonard. (If you liked FX's Justified, you'll like this.) Logue and Raymond-James are best friends in real life and that chemistry really comes across on screen, and Terriers has a nice mix of breezier "case of the week" stories and the seamier, season-long arc about the murder of Hank's former partner and his involvement with a shady real estate developer. The show's cast is full of "That Guy" actors, and Terriers is the only other show besides Breaking Bad to have an episode directed by Rian Johnson (Knives Out, The Last Jedi). Though the creators didn't know whether Terriers would be picked up for a second season till after the first had wrapped production, what would end up being the series finale ends on a satisfying note that still leaves you wondering what path the shows characters would've taken from there.
Where to watch: Hulu.
In between making acclaimed and popular series Gilmore Girls and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Amy Sherman-Palladino created this single-season dramedy for ABC Family about a Las Vegas showgirl (Sutton Foster) who impulsively marries a man, moves with him to his quaint Northern California coastal hometown and ends up working for his mother's ballet studio. You can tell Sherman-Palladino hadn't quite gotten over having Gilmore Girls yanked away from her by the CW before she was ready, as Bunheads feels almost like a parallel universe version of that show, with a very familiar feel, including the rapid-fire snappy dialogue, quirky townsfolk, "la la la" soundtrack courtesy Sam Phillips and some of the same cast, including Kelly Bishop, who played Emily Gilmore on GG, and is great here too. Yet the show still works, thanks in no small part to Sutton Foster's charisma, comic timing and ability to make Sherman-Palladino's words sing. (Much of that charisma is what makes Foster's current show, Younger, work as well as it does.) Plus what other show is gonna set a ballet number to a Sparks song?
Where to watch: Hulu
While Judd Apatow has been one of the most successful writers, directors and producers of the new millenium, there was a time where it seemed like he was destined to cult TV status. He co-created 1999-2000 NBC series Freaks & Geeks, which is now considered a classic but tanked when it was on the air, and then followed it up with this very funny sitcom about college freshman that didn't fare any better, ratings-wise, but holds up well nearly 20 years later. (Premiering a couple weeks after 9/11 was not the greatest way to launch a show.) Though it was pitched as more of a straight-up half-hour sitcom that Freaks & Geeks (and was maybe a little too dude-centric), Apatow's signature mix of humor and pathos is still evident here right from the start, following awkward Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) who finds himself roommates with good looking British acting major Lloyd Haythe (Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam) and dating a sweet but neurotic fellow freshman, Lizzie Exley (Carla Gallo). The cast also features Seth Rogen as the party-hardy Ron, Jason Segel (very funny here as Lizzie's sad, needy sorta former high school boyfriend, Eric), and folk singer Loudon Wainwright III as Steven's dad who hangs around the dorm more than his son would like. There's also recurring roles by Kevin Hart, Amy Poehler, Busy Phillips, Jenna Fischer and, notable guest appearances from Adam Sandler and Ted Nugent who both play themselves.
A high concept fairy tale of a series, Pushing Daisies ran for two seasons on ABC from 2007 to 2009 and is about Ned (Lee Pace), a man who has the ability to bring the dead back to life with a touch. Couple caveats with that gift/curse: if he doesn't touch them again after one minute, another living person in the vicinity dies in their place; and if he does touch them again at any point, they go back to being dead, permanently. Ned uses this ability as a piemaker, turning rotten fruit back into ripe perfection, and also has a side gig working for a private detective (Chi McBride) reanimating murder victims to find out who killed them before sending them back to eternal rest. One of those victims turns out to be Ned's childhood sweetheart, Chuck (Anna Friel), who he decides to let stay amongst the living. Their love story -- he can never touch her again -- is the bittersweet heart of the story. (A very pandemic-friendly heart, at that.) Created by Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, American Gods), Pushing Daisies has its whimsy levels set to 10 -- I called it "Amelie The TV" show at the time -- but is never too cloying, with eye-popping, colorful cinematography, a macabre undertone, and droll narration by Jim Dale (who was the voice of the Harry Potter audiobooks). The pilot episode was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Addams Family) and is a perfect 42 minutes of television, and the rest of S1 is not far behind. The second season runs out of steam (and budget) but is still worth watching. There's nothing else quite like it.
Where to watch: It's included on the free CW Seed streaming service.
GARTH MARENGHI'S DARKPLACE
The second weirdest show on this list, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is a high-concept sci-fi parody from 2004 starring series creator Matthew Holness as the titular Marenghi, who describes himself in the show's opening credits as "author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor." (He's basically a bargain basement Stephen King or Clive Barker.) The premise is that Marenghi wrote, directed and starred in an early-'80s sci-fi show "so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so god-damned crazy that the so-called powers that be became too scared to show it." Unearthed after 20 years, Darkplace is now finally being shown with newly taped intros from Garth, plus interspersed "interviews" with co-star/producer Dean Lerner (Richard Ayoade) and the show's costar, Todd Rivers (Matt Berry). Marenghi stars as Rick Dagless, MD who works at Darkplace Hospital where, in each of the British series' six episodes, he faces some new terror including the horrific "eyechild," a bad water supply that is turning the staff into apes, and the dreaded "Scotch Mist." Nearly every aspect of Darkplace -- the acting, special effects, editing, dubbed dialogue -- is purposefully terrible and hilarious. Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade, who would both co-star on The IT Crowd shortly after this series, are fantastic scene-stealers, but Holness' pompous horror hack has all the best (worst lines).
Where to watch: All six episodes, plus the DVD's many bonus features, are on YouTube.
THE DANA CARVEY SHOW
OK, this is the weirdest show on this list. At the height of his stardom, ABC gave Dana Carvey his own sketch show with the choice post-Home Improvement timeslot of 9:30 and cart blanche to do whatever he wanted. Whatever he wanted included assembling a writing staff that included Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Robert Smigel (Conan O'Brien/SNL), Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich), Bob Odenkirk, Robert Carlock (30 Rock), Greg Daniels (King of the Hill), and Dino Stamatopoulos (Mr Show, Conan) and creating a show that gleefully made fun of the network, it's advertisers, and everything else. Needless to say, the Home Improvement audience was not ready to see Smigel's "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" (which got its start here before moving to Saturday Night Live), or a sketch where Bill Clinton proves he's the "caring nurturing president" by breastfeeding a baby, puppies and a kitten (all at once). Believe it or not, The Dana Carvey Show was not a hit, and only lasted seven episodes before ABC pulled the plug. Not every sketch works, but there's a lot of very funny stuff here, especially for fans of Kids in the Hall, Late Night with Conan O'Brien or Mr Show, and if nothing else you can marvel at how any of this made it to air at all in 1996.
Watch it: Hulu is streaming all episodes, including one that never actually aired. Even more fascinating is 2017 documentary Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show which includes new interviews with just about everyone involved (minus the show's head writer, Louis CK... for obvious reasons).
Love 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Those shows' creators, Tina Fey & Robert Carlock, were executive producers on this less-heralded but terrific workplace sitcom created by 30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield. Briga Heelan stars as a reporter at a NYC all-news channel whose life is upended when her 60-something mother (Andrea Martin) gets an internship with the station. As you'd expect from the show's pedigree, the jokes come fast; it's gentler in tone than 30 Rock or Kimmy, but the laugh quotient remains high, and the supporting cast, including Horatio Sanz, Christopher Guest mockumentary regular John Michael Higgins, and a very sharp Nicole Richie, are all very funny. Great News gets even better in the second season, including a story arc featuring Tina Fey as a network exec that coincidentally took on sexual harassment in a very smart way right when #MeToo was making headlines. Best of all, though, the show was a great showcase for SCTV alum Andrea Martin who is a batty delight throughout.
Where to watch: Netflix
BORED TO DEATH
Writer Jonathan Ames created this late-'00s HBO series about a fictionalized version of himself, played by Jason Schwartzman, who tries his hand at being a private detective while procrastinating from finishing his novels. Helping along the way are his best friend and comic book artist, Ray (Zach Galifianakis), and magazine editor and Jonathan's mentor, George Christopher (Ted Danson). (Both Danson and Galifianakis are terrific here.) Bored to Death is a very NYC show and more specifically a very Brooklyn show, but there are adventures all over, from Brighton Beach, to Flushing's Spa Castle, NY Comic Con, Red Hook, and the Gowanus Canal. It's also very urbane, like a New Yorker-reading, pot-smoking update of the Nick & Nora Thin Man capers, by way of Raymond Chandler noir, and Wes Anderson. Like Seinfeld before it, Bored to Death excels at "nothing" but with slightly less yelling.
If Party Down had been on just about any other network besides premium channel Starz, this fantastic ensemble comedy would've lasted more than two seasons. The concept certainly could have lasted much longer: the series followed the staff of the Party Down catering company who are a cross-section of low-level Hollywood types: an actor who cannot escape his hit commercial catchphrase (Adam Scott), a struggling comedian (Lizzy Caplan), a way-past-her-prime b-movie star (Jane Lynch); a wannabe "hard sci-fi" screenwriter (Martin Starr), a dimwitted actor/singer/model (Ryan Hansen), and a sad sack recovering alcoholic and drug addict (Ken Marino) who serves as team leader. Each episode is a different catering job, including a senior singles mixer, a Sweet Sixteen party on a yacht, and a celebration for a Russian mobster. The writing is razor-sharp, as is the whole cast. Season 1 is pure gold; S2 suffers for having lost Jane Lynch to Glee, but has one of the series' best episodes (involving Steve Guttenberg as himself). Like the original run of Arrested Development, Party Down gets better on rewatch.
Where to watch: Hulu
After years of writing about television for Grantland and The Ringer (and music before that for SPIN), Andy Greenwald became a TV showrunner this year with this adaptation of Ross Thomas' 1984 crime novel of the same name. (Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail is executive producer.) The series stars Rosario Dawson as Allegra Dill, an investigator who returns to her Texas bordertown home to investigate her sister's murder, uncovering a web of corruption along the way. While Thomas' novel is at the core, David Lynch and the Coen Brothers feel like just as big an inspiration, mixing quirky characters (played by the likes of Alan Cumming, Kim Dickens, and Ed Asner) and oddball humor with some genuine creepy thrills. Plus: a zooful of animals on the loose. At times it feels a little overstuffed but Briarpatch is getting better as it goes, only midway through its debut season on USA, maintaining the tough balance between light, dark and the omnipresent Texas heat.
Where to watch: on-demand, the USA app and you can rent episodes from most streaming services.
NEED MORE? Here are 10 TV shows from 2018 to binge-watch.