Through our Tuesday TouchPoints series, we are sharing a diverse set of content we hope will be helpful to those managing through volatility, working from home, or just connecting.
By HPA Founder & Managing Director Sumeet Goel
Over the past two weeks I’ve spent the majority of my time working with, thought partnering with, and being an active listener for our client CEOs and senior executives. We are in uncharted territory – for them (and you as well), this is not just about a significant market correction, this is also about a global pandemic that will affect each of us in a meaningful way in 2020.
Over the weekend, I thought about this article that I wrote last year with my personal Peak TV recommendations. It struck me that one by-product of social distancing is that there will be a lot more time spent consuming streaming content at home when you typically might have been watching sports or at the gym.
My recommendations were originally a labor of love based on an inquiry a few years ago to my social media friends about what I should be watching, and from that getting turned on to Peaky Blinders (*a-may-zing*), and then asking for more, watching more, and then sharing my thoughts on several Peak TV shows in early 2019.
So, as my contribution to the dialogue on how to cope with COVID-19, let me share with you my updated Peak TV recommendations. I hope you can find some gems in here that you haven’t yet discovered, to help you through some of these funky days and nights. And if there is something that you consider “must see TV” that I haven’t seen, please do let me know!
(Note: I’ve excluded shows that everyone knows already, so nothing here about GoT, Stranger Things, Succession, Westworld, or The Mandalorian (yay baby Yoda!))
Hope you find something in here to your liking.
MUST SEE (my 3 star rated shows):
- Better Call Saul (AMC – 5 seasons 2015- ): I think you can watch BCS as a standalone, but obviously it works so much better when you’ve already consumed Breaking Bad. Not only do you get more connective tissue between the two series and the characters, you are also comfortable with the way in which the showrunners lay out the stories, the long set ups, the silent takes, the double and triple turns, etc. I’d recommend watching this regardless, but if you haven’t seen BB, I’d recommend watching that first (see Bonus Section below), and then watch this
- Billions (SHO – 4 seasons 2016- ): Appointment viewing for me. Enough has been written about this show. It’s phenomenal. Each time you think they’ve crossed the line, they just move the line. It will jump the shark at some point, a la the train tracks in House of Cards, but until then, I’m loving every single episode of this show. In Season 3 and especially Season 4, they figured out the equation – just give the juicy scripts to Chuck & Bobby, Wags, Wendy & Taylor, and get everyone else out of the way. The double and triple and quadruple cons/plays/twists are wonderful to gorge on.
- La casa de Papel (Netflix, 3 seasons 2017- ): Also known as Money Heist, I happened upon this by accident. And I’m glad I did. It’s entirely in Spanish, but the English dubbing is almost perfect. And by keeping the same voices through the seasons, you actually believe that the voices you hear are the ones of the actors, because it’s that spot on. So don’t be daunted by language barrier! This show, ostensibly about a squad of individually talented crooks/misfits, brought together by one mastermind, may feel like a trope, but as you see over the course of the seasons, it’s anything but.
- Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon, 3 seasons, 2017- ): I have loved how this show has progressed the characters over the three seasons. While Midge is the constant and the star, all of the accomplished *stage* actors around her (Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, Kevin Pollak, etc.) make this truly enjoyable. That stage experience comes through in the frenetic group scenes as well as the 1:1 interactions alike. Season 1 was about Midge finding her path, and Season 2 had some interesting diversions (Catskills, anyone), and Season 3 used the Shy Baldwin tour as a touchstone; keeping on coming back to that touchstone made things a bit wonky at times, but that’s a nit. Interested in seeing where they take Season 4.
- Narcos / Narcos Mexico (Netflix – 3 seasons 2015-2017, 2 seasons 2018- ): Go watch all 5 seasons of this. Right now. I’ll wait. And while you’re doing it, don’t be tempted, like I often am, to Google any of it. Let it wash all over you and then, afterwards, feel free to read up on the real-world stuff that happened. Their ability to stay ridiculously close to reality and still tell an incredibly compelling story in an action packed and dramatic show, tells you how truly insane the reality was.
- Peaky Blinders (Netflix – 5 seasons, 2013- ): The show that got me going down this Peak TV recommendation rabbit hole. Oh my lord, I love this show. Combination of Sopranos & The Wire (and even a little GoT, without dragons), set in the early 20th century just outside of London. Story of Tommy Shelby and his extended family – I can’t do it justice. His attempts to grow his little business into an empire, straddling legal & illegal, working with cops, the government and other gangs – it’s all just amazing. I have little nits about time/continuity issues over the seasons and was not as in love with Brody & Hardy characters as others seem to be, but those are nits. They’ve said that they want to take the family story through until World War II (it started just after World War I), and I’m all in – we’re about 2/3 of the way there so far. Bring it on.
- Silicon Valley (HBO – 6 seasons 2014-2019): These 30-minute eps go by like a flash. Tongue in cheek parody of the current SV/tech culture that was a pleasure to watch. Also love seeing actual famous SV folks attempt to act just so they can say that they got their cameo on SV. I think if you have *any* exposure to the SV culture (e.g., mine is extremely limited, but that’s all that’s required), you’ll enjoy it. And in the context of the market correction we’re now experiencing, it’s even more of a cautionary tale.
COULD SEE (2 star):
- The Boys (Amazon, 1 season 2019- ): What if all of your superheroes were real life human beings? And what if they weren’t perfect beings that did everything the right way, with the perfect moral compass? What if there was a sinister organization behind them the entire time but the adoring public never knows about it? This is a fascinating show and a ton of fun.
- Counterpart (Starz, 2 seasons 2017-2018): J.K. Simmons is great and the writers seems like they’ve given the long-game a lot more thought than in something equally conceptualized but poorly executed like Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which I gave up on after the first season. The Starz OTT app is just brutal to deal with, but if you can get past that, Simmons’ performance and what was setting up to be some great long term potential, along with twists & turns in Season 1, made this a good watch. Season 2 was also excellent as we really dug into the two worlds, how they came to be, and a host of things I don’t want to give away here. I was very excited for this. Unfortunately it got bumped down to 2-star range because they cancelled it after 2 seasons!
- Sneaky Pete (Amazon – 3 seasons, 2017-2019): I was hooked from the pilot. Actors were perfectly cast and the acting and writing were great. Every character had depth (I mean each and every character – you get invested in every single one – that’s SO hard to make happen IMHO, and they do it so well), and the show juggles the different storylines and subplots quite well. Pete somehow got by on the skin of his teeth so often it was mesmerizing. But here’s the thing – – – it’s not *entirely* unbelievable, which is what made it so so watchable. Unfortunately cancelled after 3 seasons – I watched all three, but there was a clear drop off after the first two as they tried to wrap things up in a bow in Season 3, which I don’t think they planned on doing. Regardless, definitely immerse yourself in Season 1 and then decide from there.
- Homecoming (Amazon, 2 seasons 2018- ): Loved the 30-minute digestible aspect of this; comes from a successful podcast (which I didn’t know about); very Mr. Robot-esque (as you’d expect from the same creator). Acting was great and that’s what’s may keep me coming back for Season 2, as I need some sort of conclusion, and not years and years of unrequited “love.” The reason I say I “may” come back for Season 2 is that they have a 2-year gap between the seasons and have an entirely different cast of actors. We shall see.
- Patriot (Amazon, 2 seasons 2015-2018): Strangest ‘spy show’ ever – it’s ½ Wes Anderson and ½ John Clancy. The first season took me a long while to get into, but the 2nd season stepped up the game for me dramatically. You will only enjoy this if you can put on your Wes hat. They tie everything together rather well, with interwoven storylines, touchpoints past and present, jumping around on timelines. I started Season 2 because I thought there was *something* there for me after I wasn’t totally into Season 1 – but wanted to give it another chance. I have it in the 2 star group because of those personal ups & downs, and because this may not be for all people…but it may be perfect for others! Note – another show cancelled after 2 seasons, but if you love your Wes, this might be a great show for you!
- You (Netflix, 2 seasons 2018- ): New Year’s Day 2020, everyone is talking about this show at a Rose Bowl watching gathering. I’ve never heard of it. And the pitch to watch it was, “There’s a sociopathic killer, but you actually *sympathize* with him” – I said no way. Then I watched it. And strangely, it’s kinda true. That’s really the only way to describe this show. If that pitch piques your interest, watch it, and you’ll be hooked.
DON’T SEE (1 star):
- Comedians in Cars (Netflix): Great concept, sketchy execution. Essentially, when Seinfeld is spending time with folks that he has a long-standing relationship with, the 20 minute episodes are light, funny, full of interesting stories, and leave you wanting more – you want some sort of 2 hour extended cut (see: Louis-Dreyfus, Julia; Wallace, George; Baldwin, Alec). But the majority of them seem forced regardless of whether you know it’s going to be forced because the counterpart is trying too hard (bless you Jimmy Fallon), just because there is no long-time connection there, regardless of the talent (I love Kate McKinnon, but it doesn’t work), or because there is truly no reason to have them there except because the young comic has a Netflix special to promote (Hasan Minhaj). I LOVE comedy and will continue to watch these, hoping for the Alec Baldwin-esque episodes. But note that the *majority* of them are really forced.
- Condor (AT&T): Fan of the original book and movie from my youth, so decided to give this a whirl. William Hurt is inspired – best I’ve seen from him in a long while. However, the internal conspiracy plot line and middle eastern double agents smacks *way* too much of early Homeland, and the whole U.S. side of things is way way too unbelievable. Final straw for me, which put the show at the bottom of my queue was the lead, Max Irons. No problem with his work here, but he’s supposed to be 100% ‘Merican, thru & thru. And he does a perfectly fine job of doing so, American accent and all. But, and this might be a directing/editing thing, in *every single one* of the first 4-5 episodes, he will drop into his native British accent, if only for a few words, and it totally messes up the show – pulls you right out from the watching experience. Brutal.
- Jack Ryan (Amazon): Jim! And Bunk! Together! But alas, couldn’t transfer Tom Clancy’s oeuvre fully to the small screen over the course of a series. Clancy was great at weaving multiple storylines through a book and having them intersect and interact. They tried to do it here, but the individual storylines weren’t equally compelling, and they also didn’t tie the different ones together effectively. And what killed this for me was that it was all by the book. There were exactly ZERO twists & turns, ZERO gotchas, ZERO double agents, ZERO anything. It was straightforward. Good guys were good. Bad guys were bad. No ambiguity, moral or otherwise. It was fine for what it was, but I didn’t go back for Season 2.
- Jessica Jones (Netflix): Enjoyed season 1. Gave up a few episodes into Season 2. Just not going anywhere. Season 1 worked for me. Whatever Marvel was trying to do with the Defenders and cross-overs and keeping individual shows going at the same time just killed things. Especially when trying to create that much content for characters that are not that well developed in the marvel comics universe. These folks were never meant to have television shows that are 12 episodes per season, at an hour each, over multiple seasons!
- Luke Cage (Netflix): Speaking of which – this one kills me the most. The actors were great. The character, while still just a Tier 3 or 4 in the Marvel pantheon, had a lot going for it. But the writing was sooooo bad. Tropes and stereotypes. So easy to guess the next line because it was from screenwriting 101 (note – I have zero experience in any of this, but I could still guess the line). I had to stop ¾ of the way thru the first season, and I hated doing it. Had such high hopes. Such a great cast.
- Man in the High Castle (Amazon): Never read the book, but was fascinated by the concept – WWII goes a different way, the U.S. is split into two geos – Eastern controlled by Germany, Western by Japan, with a DMZ of sorts in between. An underground insurgent group, the mysterious & eponymous man, a potential alternative timeline, etc., etc. Had a lot of potential. But it was relatively slow, and the characters didn’t really pull you in. Throw in the long break between Season 1 & Season 2, and then when I tried to start back up with Season 2 to give it a little more rope, I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t even get through the first two episodes of Season 2 before shutting down permanently. Just couldn’t grab hold of me.
- Ozark (Netflix, 2 seasons 2017- ) loved premise, loved most of first season. Love Jason Bateman (side note – go see Game Night right now, especially if you’ve ever been married and are middle-aged). Didn’t keep me the whole way through. Didn’t do season 2 – the early reviews were just so-so, and I wasn’t really compelled by Season 1.
BONUS SECTION – ALL TIME FAVES
Not wanting to end on a low note with my 1-star shows, I also wanted to share my historical all-time faves that you can find any number of places at this point. These are seminal shows for me. In alpha order: