It’s okay if you’re a little fried right now. There’s a lot going on out there. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re teetering on a massive recession (depression?) and people all over the country are taking to the streets to protest hundreds of years of systemic racism. Any one of those things would be a lot. All of them happening at once is something else entirely. This is not to say you shouldn’t engage with them. You should. You can devote your time and energy and resources to any and all of them. Donate money, join a protest, educate yourself and others. Be a helpful member of society for as many hours a day as you can without burning yourself out entirely.
It’s fine to take a breather every now and again if you need to, though, just to give your brain a break. You’re no good to yourself or anyone else if you don’t recharge the batteries once in a while. That’s all we’re doing here: giving you some options for recharging a little. Below, I’ve compiled a list of television shows you can try to flick on when you need a quick break. The best part: Every show on this list has three or fewer seasons. Again, there’s a lot going on in the world. It’s okay if you’re not prepared mentally to dive into 12 seasons of a bleak procedural. The second-best part: It gives me a chance to yell at people about watching my favorite shows again, which is a little bit of self-care for me.
This can be good for all of us. Let’s do it.
If you’re looking for funny shows about bummed-out people
Patriot is one of my favorite shows ever. It’s also one I recommend to people a little more cautiously than other shows. That has nothing to do with the quality of it. Patriot is so good. It has more to do with the deep, personal hurt and disappointment I will feel if the person I recommend it to doesn’t also like it. It’s also hard to explain. The show is about a very depressed spy who gets tangled up in an international espionage fiasco. He works undercover at a piping company. He goes to Europe. He shoots people. He sings folk songs. Sometimes his songs play in the background and only after about 30 seconds will you realize that the lyrics are narrating the action on the screen. It is profoundly weird and profoundly silly and sometimes just profound. Amazon canceled it after two seasons and, while I’m still livid about this, the two seasons out in the world are about as close as a show can come to being made specifically for me. It’s like the Coen brothers directing a John Le Carre story that was punched up by the team from Bojack Horseman. This is what I meant about it being hard to explain. Just watch it.
Speaking of very silly shows about depressed guys that only lasted for two seasons and sent me into a rage-spiral upon their cancellation, there’s also Lodge 49. Lodge 49 was also so good. The show followed a guy named Dud who recently lost his father and his purpose and was floating through life sipping mixed drinks from a giant jug he called Thermosaurus. He stumbled upon a mysterious lodge — think like a budget Freemasons — that he soon discovered was also full of people who were lost and searching for something. It’s about finding meaning in life through friends that can become like family, and it’s about wild road trips to Mexico, and Paul Giamatti shows up in season two as a prolific and unhinged author who occasionally heaves himself through a window. It’s a peaceful and relaxing watch that will sometimes make you cackle and sometimes make you tear up. Both seasons are on Hulu. You could do way worse.
If you’re looking for something a little heavier and timely that also stars Regina King
Want some shows that speak to the current moment but also feature very goofy gags about, say, cruise ships filled with lion-crazed sex cults or phrase like “squid pro quo”? Would it help if they’re both on HBO Max and star Regina King? Of course it would. Damon Lindelof is here to help, first with The Leftovers, a show about two percent of the world’s population straight-up vanishing one day out of nowhere and all the ways the people who survived it try to cope. The first season is heavy, man. The second season is as good a season of television as you’ll ever see. The third season wraps everything up — kind of — in a heartfelt and meaningful way and also features a bunch of jokes about wieners and the Wu-Tang Clan. There’s a lot going on. If you want to address the idea of a pandemic head-on, this notion that not everyone will make it through this stretch, The Leftovers is the best version of that you’ll find.
If you’re looking for something that addresses the other huge issue in the news right now, policing and systemic racism, then there’s Watchmen, another series from Lindelof that mixes the very serious with the openly ridiculous. The show opens with the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa and builds from there, filling its world with superheroes and racist cops and raining squid. I’m not a big comics junkie by any means but I was still hopelessly hooked by the very loose adaptation of the Alan Moore classic. Again, part of it was how well the show shifted gears. It shied away from nothing of societal substance but also featured, I swear, a fart by Jeremy Irons that lasted so long it required two separate on-screen captions. There are layers at play here. And, again, Regina King, who is so good in this show. Regina King is so good in Watchmen. There’s something very cathartic about watching her shout our language’s best cuss word over and over.
I feel this deeply right now.
If you’re looking for some soothing comedies about goofballs
But maybe you don’t want something about depressed people or something that hits close to home right now. Maybe you want to shut your brain down a little and just laugh. Maybe you want something soothing and funny that detaches you for a little bit. No problem. Allow me to introduce you to Detroiters and Joe Pera Talks With You.
Detroiters starred two people that comedy fans probably know well by now: real-life best friends Tim Robinson (I Think You Should Leave) and Sam Richardson (Veep), who played fictional best friends in charge of an independent advertising agency. It was so good and so funny. It had heart. It had a car that pooped out its tailpipe and an episode-long gag that led to a Blade reference. Every episode had something, most had plenty of things. You can only find it on Comedy Central’s website and app right now, which stinks, but it’s better than nothing. Let Detroiters settle your frayed nerves. Let the “Farmer Zach” episode bring you a tiny moment of joy.
But no discussion about soothing comedies is complete without a mention of Joe Pera Talks With You, an Adult Swim show — also only available on the channel’s site and app — that is unlike anything else I’ve seen on television. Most of the episodes are less than 10 minutes but they still have no interest in rushing. It’s totally in line with the style of its creator and star, comedian Joe Pera, a man who speaks deliberately by nature and uses it to lull you to sleep before punctuating it with furious fits of humor. There’s an entire episode about going to the grocery store. There’s one about him discovering the song “Baba O’Riley.” There’s a season-long arc in season two about him growing a bean arch in his backyard and it is legitimately more satisfying than almost anything you’ll see from almost any “it’s actually a 10-hour movie” season of television. The whole thing is like taking a Xanax and goofing with a very relaxed and funny friend. That’s the best way I can describe it, I think. It’s not perfect, but it’s close.
If you’re thinking about rewatching two perfect shows in under 14 hours total
I’m going to assume you’ve seen Fleabag and American Vandal. I’m going to assume this because everyone yelled at everyone else to watch both shows a few years ago and then both shows had a real moment in the zeitgeist. I bet if I went on social media and just wrote “Who drew the dicks?” I would get dozens of excellent replies. Both shows are perfect little two-season slices of comedy.
That’s why you should rewatch them. Rewatch them this weekend. Both of them. American Vandal’s two seasons on Netflix follow a teen investigative documentary team that tackles the dumbest possible crimes (graffiti dicks; poop cannons) with the utmost seriousness, somehow satirizing true crime from every angle while also chronicling a very real aspect of teen culture in the era of social media. It’s basically a magic trick. And Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall shattering masterwork that’s right there on Amazon, is even better. Two seasons, twelve total episodes, a combined runtime under six hours, a tightly constructed comedy delivery system. You loved Fleabag. I bet you don’t remember all of it. There’s a simple solution here.
Watch them both. Do it this weekend. Or spread them out and watch one episode per night before bed. You have options. But you should do it. Flip from one to the other every episode and see if you start dreaming about the Hot Priest vandalizing cars with drawings of cartoon penises. Probably better than what you’re dreaming about these days anyway.
If you’re looking for a truly insane diversion
It’s has been almost three months since I yelled at you about watching Zoo, so let’s strike up that band again. Zoo was a short-lived CBS drama about the animals of the world rising up against mankind. It was also the single most ridiculous show I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something because I also watched CSI: Cyber, a show in which James Van Der Beek saves a clearly fake plastic baby from drowning in a lake and then Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Arquette gives aggressive CPR to what is still very clearly a plastic doll. Topping that was never going to be easy.
This is a line of dialogue from the very first episode of Zoo.
Here is James Wolk — Bob Benson from Mad Men — backhanding an evil four-star general in the face and demanding to know the location of a mutated sloth that can cause earthquakes with his shrieks.
Here’s a dog named Pizza.
Everything that happens is somehow more insane than the thing that happens before it. The team pushes a car out an airplane and into a volcano to trick a flock of demon vultures into committing mass suicide. The evil four-star general who got slapped by Bob Benson later has his heart kickstarted with a homemade defibrillator consisting of two plastic cups and a few dozen electrocharged mutant ants who had just tried to blow up Switzerland. There’s a character who starts as a blogger and eventually becomes what I can only describe as “if J.K. Rowling was also Batman.” At one point she gets swallowed whole by an invisible snake.
This isn’t everything. It’s not even close to everything. Zoo is the perfect show for this moment because it is the only show with more happening than our real world right now. Actually, no. Let me take that back. I don’t want to jinx it. The way this year is going, it would be silly to taunt the universe with “at least there’s no mutant animal revolution.” We already had a close call with the murder hornets.