Two small disclaimers. One, the viewing recommendations are primarily based on what viewers in the United States have access to in the way of programming. We are aware that offerings vary by country, but there is just no way for us to know about all those variations. If you are aware of other ways to view the shows that we’ve listed, please let us know in the comments section. Two, yes – we are aware that some shows appear multiple times. They’re just that good and, thus, we’ve left in our crew’s shared enthusiasm for these shows. And with that, let’s see what we’re watching…
I received The West Wing box set as a Christmas gift several years ago and my partner and I spent the next several months re-watching the series from beginning to end. I was surprised at how well it had stood the test of time. If you don’t think a drama about the executive branch of government can’t reduce you to tears on a regular basis then you need to watch this show.
A Place to Call Home. Being an Australian, I should have watched every episode of this, right?! Well I haven’t (working at it now), but it is a great family saga where you can familiarise yourself with the talents of David Berry before he graces our screens as Lord John Grey. Now, that’s something to look forward to! The series is available on Amazon Prime and Acorn TV (but not in Canada).
Spooks. Any series that goes for 10 years must be doing something right! This is a great British spy series with wonderful characters and intriguing stories. The showed aired in Canada and the US under the name MI-5 and it might now be available on BBC Canada as Spooks.
The Crown. I am anti-monarchy, pro-Scotland, and this series actually forced me to empathize with Elizabeth, as the Queen of England. The quality of this production is stellar, and shows where even Outlander could improve. The title sequence/music is outstanding. Besides that, the lead actress, Claire Foy, who won an acting award in her first season (beating out Caitriona), is phenomenal in all episodes. The Crown is available on Netflix.
Shetland. While it is a fantastic series set in Shetland, Scotland, it also features “Tarran MacQuarrie” actor, Doug Henshall. You will understand why the series and the actor could win awards > Outlander and Sam Heughan. The series is available on Netflix.
Karen K. Rutledge
Black Sails. Besides the obvious connections (STARZ, set, historical aspect, attractive cast), it’s another thirst slaker with 34 episodes. Since we’re talking pirates, lust and greed give hate and murder a run for their money. Maybe minute amounts of love and redemption, we’ll see. Black Sails is a must-watch for Outlander Season 3 prep. Black Sails is available on Starz.
This is Us. The US-based NBC network offers 17 surprising, Kleenex-requiring episodes. I think the following from the show’s site is a great tease: “…a smart, modern dramedy that will challenge your everyday presumptions about the people you think you know.” The show receives another four-heart rating. Since it’s new, it might not be accessible for all (check Hulu). If so, I highly recommend adding it to your list for later and to simply continue re-watching Outlander and Poldark.
Elizabeth. This was Cate Blanchett’s breakout film performance and she did a stellar job of embodying Queen Elizabeth the First, whom I have always admired. Having read many different novels and biographies about her, I feel that of all the people I have watched play The Virgin Queen, Cate captured her best. Her follow-up film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, was also spectacular. Her speech rallying the troops to face the Spanish Armada is epic and Shakespearean in tone.
Against The Wind. An Australian TV series from 1978, it harks back quite a long time but it was brilliant and gripping television with a wonderful soundtrack by the composer and singer Jon English. It tells the story of Mary Mulvane, a young Irish girl who is transported to Australia and takes us through the years she served as a convict and her eventual freedom. Once again, the historical accuracy is wonderfully portrayed and the actors and actresses brought the characters to life. It is another story of survival against very long odds by a young woman with few resources but a strong will and great character. This series appears to only be available on DVD.
Dune. This much-beloved mini-series first aired in 2000. It was an adaption of the book written by Frank Herbert. For anyone who loved the original, a reboot is coming in the next few years.
Catastrophe. Oh dear god if you don’t laugh at least five times an episode, I’m not sure you’re human. The third season premieres at the end of April so the lucky people who have not seen this yet have two seasons to binge watch before then. It follows an Irish woman and American businessman who meet up and hilarity ensues. I don’t want to spoil it, but these two say out loud just about everything a man or woman has thought in real life while in a relationship but has kept to him or herself. Hysterical, and bonus points: Tobias Menzies has a recurring role as a gynecologist.
I couldn’t agree more! My other half and I have belly-laughed our way through the first two seasons and are anxiously awaiting the third.
This is Us. It airs on NBC, but you can also see it streaming other ways, like on Hulu. I was skeptical of a mainstream US show, but after being urged by several friends, jumped in. The storylines are compelling and the issues they tackle are real life. Beautifully written and wonderful acting. You’ll need tissues, though.
Yes to everything Janet said, especially Catastrophe – a show that, as I type this right now, I find myself emphatically endorsing yet again via a text message to my dear pal. I just can’t say enough about it, so I won’t try. Go with Janet and Nikki’s sentiment. We share a brain on this. Lucky me.
Big Little Lies. This limited-run series (7 episodes total) just wrapped up on HBO and I’m still reeling from it — trust me, it’s that good. Let’s start with the cast: Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård, Zoë Kravitz, Adam Scott… I mean, need I go on? Sometimes the stacking of heavy hitters can be too much, but it works, it SO works. The cast’s chemistry, notably from the three female leads whose friendship evolves onscreen, is electric. The series, based on a wildly popular book by Australian author Liane Moriarty, follows the lives of the mothers of first graders in the idyllic city of Monterey, California. Their “perfect” lives unravel over the course of the seven episodes, all told through flashbacks during the investigation into a murder of one of the main characters (it’s not revealed until the final moments which one it is). There is currently banter (thank you, Reese Witherspoon) about how they can bring the show back for another season despite no continuing source material. You can watch the show on HBO.
Friday Night Lights. Sigh. This show has the precious ability to work its way into your soul and then reside there permanently. When you’ve watched all 5 seasons, you’ll find yourself weepy and wishing that a small piece of your heart always hold onto Dillon, Texas – no matter how fictional a town it might be. The show centers on this small rural Texas town that harbors a close-knit community who live and breathe by high school football. There’s just enough football to appeal to those interested in that, but I wouldn’t call it a sports show. The mostly unknown [at the time] cast is great, but the real reasons to watch? Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, the leads who will have you swooning over them (and their hair) while you fall equally in love with both them and their make-believe marriage. They’re the epitome of #relationshipgoals. I didn’t dive into this show when it first aired on NBC, but then Parenthood ended and I was in the emotional fetal position needing more. Both shows were produced by Jason Katims, so I finally gave it a whirl… and came up for air about one month and 60+ episodes later. Tiny, but not ashamed, confession: I’m currently in my second re-watch of the entire series, and it’s only been two years since the first viewing. Apparently, clear eyes, full hearts*… can’t let go of this show. The entire series is available on Netflix.
*You’ll get it once you watch, and it’ll soon thereafter become your personal mantra.
Anne Gavin Penny Dreadful. This is a period piece based in Victorian England that follows the lives of several core characters and their encounters with the macabre and supernatural. The acting is superb. It’s a bit gory at times, but fascinating. A true masterpiece of an ensemble of actors all interacting in strange and mysterious ways. Costumes and special effects are amazing. Three seasons and cancelled. Available on Showtime and Netflix.
Call the Midwife. Set in England in the 1950s, this series follows nurse midwives working in the East End of England. It is well written with a compelling medically based storyline. It gives insight to how life would have been for the less fortunate at this time, especially in the area of women’s health. The characters are fun, witty and identifiable. Currently seasons 1-5 are available on Netflix; season 6 is on in the US in now.
The Crown. This series is a little more well known. The story takes us through the early years of the reign of the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II. Only finishing its first season, it is an easy short watch of ten episodes. I find it fascinating to see the behind the scenes of the early monarchy. Plus John Lithgow plays a fantastic Winston Churchill. The series is available on Netflix.
Beyond. I am straying from historical fiction on this one. If you are a fan of Heroes and Super 8, this one is a great find! The story centers around a young man who wakes from a coma which lasted 12 years. When he goes into the coma he is a preteen and wakes as a young man. The adjustment in that alone is a great story. Add in some sci-fi and you’ve got an enthralling series. The series is available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
The Leftovers. It is an incredibly thought provoking show — plus we have a podcast about it, The Living Reminders. Shameless plug in 3, 2, 1… you should watch the show and then listen to our weekly podcast! The series is available on HBO.
An Idiot Abroad. It makes me laugh. I love laughing! The series is available on Hulu and The Science Channel.
Copper. This television series was developed for BBC America and began its two-season run in 2012. The show follows Kevin “Corky” Corcoran as he navigates life as a police officer (copper) in the gritty Five Points neighborhood of New York City in the 1860’s. There’s a great deal of tension here between recent Irish immigrants, freed slaves, and the growing aristocracy. Corky is a hottie and, naturally, finds himself in some messy situations with the women of the cast. As much as I love Corky, my favorite two characters are Matthew and Sara Freeman, both runaway slaves who are building a life for themselves in the midst of this chaos. Episodes are approximately 45 minutes in length, so it’s possible to view the entire two seasons quickly. The series is available on Netflix.
The Indian Doctor. This three-season series originally aired on BBC One. It follows Dr. Prem Sharma and his wife Kamini as they immigrate from India to a South Wales mining village in the 1960s. The Sharmas’ move was intended to be to a London hospital but the NHS had other ideas. The series focuses on the culture clash between the Sharmas and the people of the town but there are lots of touching scenes between Prem and Kamini and other characters. I found myself laughing and crying in nearly every episode. I watched the entire series over the course of a week last year when I had a particularly nasty strain of the bubonic plague (not an actual medical diagnosis). The series can be viewed on Hulu.
Fleabag. A Rolling Stone review earlier this year tipped me off to this gem. Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote the show (originally a play) and stars as Flea Bag. We follow her as she navigates London, friendships, sex, relationships, love, and loss. Flea Bag constantly talks to the camera and, in those conversations, we see the depths of her dark (oh so dark) humor and the pain in which that humor was born. An added bonus is Bill Paterson (Outlander‘s Ned Gowan) as Fleabag’s father. There are six episodes of 26 minutes. The series is available on Amazon Prime.