What day even is it? From vampire comedy horror to a 19th century rebel coming-of-age story, here’s what’s best to binge this holiday season
2019 saw the debut of over 6,000 new TV shows. Some were good, some weren’t great, some were totally cancellable in more ways than one – but if one thing’s for sure, it’s that keeping up with all the best shit is next to impossible. While we all found time to watch Fleabag so we could talk about the Hot Priest™, copied the makeup lewks of Euphoria, and made memes about every Succession episode, it’s likely there are a fair few that flew under your radar.
Luckily, though, we’re about to enter a period of extended hibernation, the luckiest get to fill that what-fucking-day-even-is-it interim between Christmas and New Year with TV marathons and getting creative with the Christmas dinner leftovers. For the most Extremely Online, it’s an opportunity to escape the TL and eye up another screen. What better time to catch up on some of the underrated shows you missed this year? Here, we’ve put together a list of some extremely bingeable TV shows that’ll keep you both up to date and entertained during the period of least human interaction possible.
SHRILL (HULU, BBC)
One of the best things that happened to TV this decade was the increase in voices we don’t often hear from in the mainstream media. Shrill, adapted from the book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, (rightfully) received great reviews, but not as much attention as it deserved. Starring Aidy Bryant (Broad City, Saturday Night Live, Girls), Shrill follows journalist Annie as she navigates fatphobia in dating, at work, in her friendships, and in the world at large. Also starring comedian Lolly Adefope as Annie’s best friend and John Cameron Mitchell (Girls) as her cruel boss, Shrill is a heartwarming, honest examination of society and fat acceptance. Plus, it features the wonderful, absurd up-and-coming comedian Patti Harrison as Annie’s colleague.
LIVING WITH YOURSELF (NETFLIX)
What’s better than one Paul Rudd? Two Paul Rudds! Ha ha ha. Released in October of this year, Living With Yourself sees dissatisfied copywriter Miles (Rudd) find himself split in two. Tired of his perfectly pleasant life (maybe you’ve heard this one before) Miles heads off to an extremely pricey wellness retreat where he’s unexpectedly cloned. Rudd survives being buried post-cloning, only to realise that his shiny twin is doing much better than he ever did – cue some slightly surreal buddy comedy stuff as they wrestle between themselves while navigating a (very confusing) marriage. It got mixed reviews, but it’s fun. Plus, Irish actress Aisling Bea is hilarious and incredulous as Miles’ wife, stirring up some valid questions about just who does and doesn’t get to have a pricey and dangerous midlife crisis.
THIS WAY UP (CHANNEL 4)
Speaking of Aisling Bea, she’s been having a pretty impressive year. Channel 4’s This Way Up, which she wrote and stars in, is a vehicle all her own. It sees Áine (Bea), an Irish Catholic woman living in London and trying to get by after a “a teeny little nervous breakdown”. Continuing the late-2010s trend for nuanced explorations of mental health onscreen, This Way Up was lauded as a “devastating, hilarious, and surprisingly light” show. The show plumbs the depths of desperation and comes up with comedy that was divisive for its brutal candour. Still, for people who find comfort in comedy, it provides some honest (if at times difficult) relief. It charts Áine’s return to the real world post-breakdown, including working as an English language teacher, her family relationships, and her attempts at rebuilding a sex life. A drama more so than a comedy, it takes an incisive look at the effects of Áine’s mental health on sister Shona, in a way that’s reminiscent of Fleabag’s sister-relationship, if less slapstick.
BRASSIC (SKY ONE)
With Brassic, creator and star Joe Gilgun (This is England, Misfits), set out to make an honest, fun show about northern, working-class communities that was realistic without being depressing. Described by Gilgun, who also stars in the show as Vinnie, as “an unapologetic comment on what it is to be working-class,” the show is a hilarious and unrelenting exploration of the reality of life with “fuck all”. Following a group of grifting friends who are doing everything to survive while having fun at the same time, Brassic showcased the gleeful freedom that can come when you have nothing to lose or look forward to. It also subverted the stereotypes and expectations many have of working-class men, partly exploring the difficulties of being gay and bisexual in northern communities. It also sees Vinnie struggling with his mental health, based on Gilgun’s own experiences with bipolar disorder.
After a relatively quiet era for (good) teen-oriented films and TV, the latter half of this decade has seen a veritable feast of honest, awkward examinations of our most difficult phases. Booksmart and Eighth Grade explored what it means to be a teenager for the big screen, but on a smaller, more underrated level, PEN15 is so spot on you can almost smell the grape gel pen. Looking at what teenaged life was like in the heady year 2000, PEN15 is a web series that premiered on Hulu. Created by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, who also star as middle school versions of themselves absurdly surrounded by actual 13-year-olds, PEN15 is a nostalgic look at the 00s that invokes the motifs we try to forget. Comedy heavyweights like The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone are also attached as executive producers, so despite the war flashbacks, it’s a worthy watch.
DICKINSON (APPLE TV+)
If you can suspend your disbelief just long enough to believe that Emily Dickinson would swear and throw around words like psyched, Dickinson, which charts the writer’s 19th century coming-of-age story, is a pretty fun watch. Created by Alena Smith and starring Hailee Steinfeld as Dickinson, Dickinson looks at the young writer’s life as she navigates her talent, her relationship with her parents, and the cruel, gendered constraints placed on women during that era. Perhaps Steinfeld’s awkward tendency towards current language serves to demonstrate just how ahead of her time Dickinson was. Either way, it’s enjoyable, and Jane Krakowski as Emily’s cruel mother attempting to marry off Emily is a delight. The music, too, is pretty wild – Billie Eilish features – so if you’re a stickler for accuracy, give it a miss.
DEAD TO ME (NETFLIX)
Netflix release so much stuff literally all of the time that it’s understandable if you can’t quite get round to all of it. Still, Dead to Me, a black comedy about two women who bond during grief therapy, is worth a revisit if you have time. Starring Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate (who received an Emmy nomination for it), it wasn’t beloved by everyone on first release. Still, it’s a noble attempt at navigating the messy complexities of grief, guilt and trauma. Cardellini and Applegate are both hilarious, and the undercurrent of secrets, lies and deception give it a Desperate Housewives-style campiness that’s been sorely missed.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX)
Based on the cult favourite 2014 film of the same name, comedy horror series What We Do in the Shadows expanded on the themes absurdities that made the film enjoyable. Created by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and starring Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou and Harvey Guillén, the show follows four vampires who have been housemates on Staten Island for hundreds of years. Well-received by critics, newcomers and fans of the film alike, the mockumentary-style show is relentlessly silly and absurd, maybe proving to be the perfect antidote to the long winter months and weeks on end of depressing election chat.