Have the weekend free? Going out is overrated! Binge-watch one of these shows instead:
If you want to laugh:
Like its spiritual siblings Parks and Recreation and The Office, Superstore is a bit of a slow burn. But once it gets going, it's impossible not to fall for this quirk crew of megastore employees. Emmy winner America Ferrera leads a superb cast that includes Ben Feldman as a pretentious yet lovable do-gooder and Mark McKinney (The Kids in the Hall) as the hilariously weak but kind boss. Scenes are stolen on the reg by Colton Dunn, who plays Garrett, and Lauren Ash (Dina). But even the tiniest moments featuring only extras are funny. I could watch a full episode just featuring all of the show's bizarre bumpers and cutaways. The series celebrates diversity but without being preachy and remains (mostly) family friendly without sacrificing humor. It's a big win for NBC. While Season 2 is even better than the first, start at the beginning.
If you want to cry:
Frequently appearing on lists of shows that were canceled too soon, this mid-aughts Showtime drama stars Mandy Patinkin, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy (!), and Ellen Muth. They all play grim reapers who must spend an unknown time on Earth collecting souls before being allowed to move on. The show had a stability problem, seen most clearly in creator Bryan Fuller's decision to leave, but it was creatively strong through its two-season run. It's a fun and campy series that pulls off the difficult combination of death and comedy. But in dealing with Muth's character's freak passing early in the first episode and the subsequent lives each reaper must "touch," there are some beautifully sad moments. Muth's yard sale scene with Cynthia Stevenson in the pilot is the first sign that viewers should prepare for a real roller coaster ride.
If you want to scream:
Penny Dreadful is a fascinating if uneven show featuring a stunning leading performance by the underrated Eva Green. During its three seasons on Showtime, the period drama about some of literature's most terrifying characters had myriad highlights, but my favorite is the surprise turn Billie Piper's character takes toward the end of the second season. It's possible to watch this standout scene in isolation and appreciate how powerfully Piper, so often overshadowed, commands the screen in a superb monologue that is both ferocious and controlled. But it's much more satisfying to see the character's journey throughout the series. Without giving too much away, this is a woman who has gone through it! And the attention-grabbing scene really feels like something the previous 15 episodes have been working toward.
If you want to think:
This is kind of a difficult show. You have to pay attention. It's a slow, theatrical television experiment that is both incredibly modern and very old fashioned. It's investment TV, but the ROI is big. The first two episodes are interesting — at times excellent — with powerful work by the entire cast, especially Alan Alda. But Episode 3 is where Louis C.K. really starts to take risks. For the first nine minutes, you're watching a closeup of Laurie Metcalf, playing an unknown character, as she begins an intensely detailed story about an erotic encounter with her father-in-law. The camera finally reveals her scene partner (C.K.) and the two continue through one of the year's most extraordinary television episodes. The entire series will get you thinking about the infuriating messiness of family and relationships, and the future of TV.