IN TWEET: HELPING YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR NETFLIX SUBSCRIPTION WITH A LOOK AT “MUST SEE” CONTENT BEYOND NEW RELEASES.
Welcome to “Stream,” a new regular feature that highlights great content available on streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu. We’ll take you beyond new releases and bring you movies, TV series and documentaries that are worth adding to your queue. Up first: eight “must see” TV comedies available now on Netflix.
NOTE: All series featured were available for streaming via Netflix at the time this post was written. Some programming may become unavailable at a future date due to terms and conditions in the carriage deals between Netflix and content providers. Netflix has not paid any sponsorship or promotional fees for this post. If available, links are also included for Amazon Instant Video and Hulu.
I’m not a fan of most adult-targeted animated series. I’ve never sat through a full episode of THE SIMPSONS or FAMILY GUY and I stopped watching SOUTH PARK about ten years ago. Maybe I’m trapped in a Bugs Bunny bubble but, most of what’s out there plays like repetitive snark; same joke, different poorly animated character. That’s why ARCHER is such a pleasant surprise. It’s a gleefully dirty, whip-smart send-up of the spy genre that also has more than a few things to say about gender roles and current social issues (though you’ll be hard pressed to figure out when, decade-wise, the show is set).
ARCHER works because creator Adam Reed knows how to balance low-brow humor with intelligent dialogue and spot-on pop culture references. The uniformly excellent voice cast includes H. Jon Benjamin, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer, Aisha Tyler and the amazing Jessica Walter.
ARCHER is currently in first-run on FX (and was recently picked up for two more seasons). The previous four seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is also available on Amazon Instant Video and Hulu.
Picture one of the many series starring Tracy Ullmann…but funny. Really, really funny. That’s THE CATHERINE TATE SHOW, a bawdy British import that has Tate playing a variety of recurring characters in short-form sketches. My personal favorite is the bitter, foul-mouthed grandmother from hell (pictured above), a role that stirred up more than a little controversy in the UK. Tate and her supporting players shine and, unlike SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, the show knows when to end a sketch before it wears out its welcome.
If stateside audiences know Tate, it’s most likely from a two-season stint as Nellie Bertram on the US re-make of THE OFFICE. That’s a shame because it’s a role that only scratched the surface of her considerable comedic talents.
THE CATHERINE TATE SHOW ran for three series (18 episodes) all of which are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is also available on Hulu.
I stumbled upon re-runs of FRASIER on the Hallmark Channel. Despite ham-handed censorship by the network (words like “slut” and “bitch” are bleeped) and frequent commercial interruptions for mail order catheters and Angie’s List, I found myself laughing at something I refused to watch when it was on NBC. FRASIER was a spin-off from CHEERS, a show I always hated, so naturally I assumed its offspring would suck too. Color me dead wrong.
What could have been another ill-conceived star vehicle (think JOEY or anything with Kirstie Alley) turned out to be a finely crafted ensemble comedy. Bucking a sit-com trend, FRASIER ran for eleven seasons and actually got better with age. A strong cast (including an impressive array of A-list guest stars) and exceptional writing give each episode a play-like feel. The show never went off the rails and ended on its own terms. It’s “comfort comedy” that won’t leave you feeling guilty for enjoying it.
All eleven seasons of FRASIER are available for streaming on Netflix. Seasons 1-9 are in SD (4:3 aspect ratio) and seasons 10 and 11 are in HD (16:9 aspect ratio). The series is also available on Amazon Instant Video and Hulu.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES is one of my favorite British imports. It’s broad farce and classic slapstick given new life by the bravura comedic performance of Patricia Routledge. She plays Hyacinth Bucket (who insists her last name be pronounced “Bouquet”), the ultimate wannabe social climber and town gadfly. Each episode centers on her latest scheme to see and be seen and the disastrous results that follow. Along for the ride: Hyacinth’s long suffering husband Richard, her nervous neighbor Elizabeth and a decidedly low-brow extended family.
Routledge plays Hyacinth like a force of nature and gives Lucille Ball a run for her money when it comes to physical comedy. She’s that good. This is one of those sit-coms that would be hard to pull off with anyone else in the lead. Routledge was in her 60’s when KEEPING UP APPEARANCES was in production and, with few exceptions, she performs all of her own stunts. The series is silly fluff but it’s also undeniably funny and well worth your time.
All five series of KEEPING UP APPEARANCES are available for streaming on Netflix. NOTE: as of this writing, Netflix erroneously lists all 45 episodes as being from 1 series. Also, for some odd reason, episodes 30 and 34 are transposed. That’s important because “Indoor/Outdoor Luxury BBQ With Finger Buffet” is my favorite episode and it’s actually #34, not #30.
NBC has two sit-coms that feature the exploits of a group of small-town crazies. One, COMMUNITY, is an unfunny and wildly overrated mess that keeps coming back like a cold sore. The other, PARKS & RECREATION, is that rare single camera comedy that can handle the meta-humor while also wearing its heart on its sleeve. It’s such a great show, it somehow manages to make Aubrey Plaza tolerable. In my book, that’s no small feat.
What helps PARKS & RECREATION rise above the clutter is a genuine love for its characters and the ability to skewer small-town life without being mean. The lion’s share of the credit goes to star/producer Amy Poehler. In less capable hands, the character of Leslie Knope (Poehler) would be a one-note annoyance. Instead, she’s blossomed into a lovable do-gooder who genuinely believes there’s an upside to be found in just about every situation. The series also features a strong supporting cast, with a special nod to stand-out work by Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Retta and Rob Lowe.
PARKS & RECREATION is currently in first-run on NBC (and was just picked up for another season). The previous five seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is also available on Amazon Instant Video and Hulu.
PORTLANDIA is an acquired taste. Of all the series highlighted here, it’s the one most likely to leave you scratching your head. Give it a few episodes and let the heavily improvised, slow-burn satire wash over you. It’s a smart comedy that is worth the extra effort.
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein created the series and appear in most sketches. Armisen never impressed me on SNL but here he shines, especially when playing one of several recurring female characters. Uptight Lefties might be put off by the barbs directed at tree huggers, feminist lesbians, vegans and other Portland-centric progressives but tweaking the unflinchingly self-righteous is a big part of what makes PORTLANDIA so much fun.
PORTLANDIA is currently in first-run on IFC. The previous three seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is also available on Amazon Instant Video and Hulu.
THE VICAR OF DIBLEY is a gentle comedy from the UK that features a stand-out performance by Dawn French. It’s also proof that religion doesn’t have to be a comedy killer or a lightening rod for controversy.
French plays The Reverend Geraldine Granger, newly arrived in the farming town of Dibley. She exudes a joie de vivre that helps her win over naysayers who initially greet her with equal parts prejudice and suspicion. This is another comedy that knows how to balance small town satire with genuine affection for its characters. It’s also a show that isn’t afraid to tug at your heart strings, as the death of a beloved character in “The Easter Bunny” episode demonstrates. It’s unexpected and quite poignant.
THE VICAR OF DIBLEY ran for three series (16 full-length episodes) all of which are available for streaming on Netflix. Two stand-alone Christmas specials are also available. The series is also available on Hulu.
30 ROCK combines the best elements of improvisation, single camera comedy and biting satire. Each episode crams a dizzying array of in-jokes and pop culture references into a loosely structured format that almost never spins out of control. It has star/creator Tina Fey’s fingerprints all over it (and that’s a very good thing).
Fey plays Liz Lemon, a loveable curmudgeon who helms a middling sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show.” 30 ROCK opens with network honcho Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) forcing her to add out-there comedian Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan, pretty much playing himself) to the cast and re-title the show “TGS with Tracy Jordan.” Subsequent episodes involve Lemon trying to balance the egos of her cast and writers, a roller-coaster personal life and an increasingly complex relationship with Donaghy.
30 ROCK is funny but what really sets it apart is the fearless gusto with which it bites the hand that feeds. The “hand” in this case is NBC and a revolving door of corporate parents. The network is the butt of many jokes, with the anti-corporate humor getting particularly sharp in the seasons that follow the buyout of NBC/Universal by Comcast (here scathingly referred to as Kabletown).
The final season is wildly uneven and I hate every single guest appearance by annoying comedy killer Kristen Schaal (as equally annoying NBC page Hazel) but, by just about every other measure, 30 ROCK shines.
30 ROCK ran for seven seasons, all of which are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is also available on Amazon Instant Video.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE “STREAM” POSTS.