Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Most review columns are dropping their “Best of 2019” lists right about now, thanks to a deadly combo of holiday resignation and critical narcissism.

On one hand, it’s almost Christmas, so who cares? On the other, critics absolutely must disseminate their invaluable hot takes to the masses, because how will The Sheep know what was good if they’re not told?! Screw the tree—people need to know about Parasite!

I’m not playing like that; there are too many shows to stream. Here are nine series from this fall alone you might have missed—so tune out the family, and catch up.

Succession (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Now): Forget Game of Thrones and The Sopranos—the most cutthroat family on HBO is Succession’s Roy clan. A black AF satire of wealth and passive-aggressive family dysfunction, Succession follows a vaguely demented patriarch (Brian Cox) dangling the keys to the empire before his damaged, power-hungry kids. It’s Arrested Development from the darkest timeline.

Mrs. Fletcher (Season 1 on HBO Now): Scene-stealing side-player Kathryn Hahn finally headlines her own show (well, her own seven-episode miniseries; six are out now, with the seventh coming Dec. 8). As Eve Fletcher, she’s a single mom who’s just sent her only son, Brendan (Jackson White), off to college—midlife crisis, come on down! Eve’s newly adrift life has its highs (lots of lesbian porn) and lows (heartbreaking loneliness), and Hahn embodies it all perfectly.

Harley Quinn (Season 1 on DC Universe): Margot Robbie may have nailed the role in Suicide Squad, but Kaley Cuoco’s Harley Quinn is funnier—and both R-rated and animated. This Harley is also so over The Joker (Alan Tudyk) and angling to join the Legion of Doom with help from Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). If DC’s live-action movies were as fun and profane as Harley Quinn … they’d still find a way to ruin them.

Pennyworth (Season 1 in Epix): “Does Batman’s butler have a back story?” is asked about as often as “How do I get Epix?” (read: never), but here’s the origin tale of a young Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), London spy. Kingsman comparisons aside, it’s a visually stunning series that presents a different Alfred (not yet omni-brilliant) and a very different Thomas and Martha Wayne (not yet dead).

Stumptown (Season 1 on Hulu): One of the few bright spots in a dismal fall 2019 TV-broadcast rollout, ABC’s Stumptown is essentially The Rockford Files wearing Jessica Jones’ leather jacket: A broke private investigator (Cobie Smulders) solves cases while dealing with intense past trauma. Stumptown is smart, funny, twisty and full of intriguing characters—and craft beer, because, Portland.

Lodge 49 (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Weird, wonderful, and now canceled by AMC, Lodge 49 was like nothing else on TV—stick your neck out; get your head lopped off. Long Beach surf-bum Dud (Wyatt Russell) is existentially adrift after the death of his father, but finds a sense of belonging with a local fraternal lodge full of eccentric characters. Lodge 49 plays out like a dream, which it just may have been.

Castle Rock (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): You don’t have to be a Stephen King superfan to get into Castle Rock, but it sure as hell helps. In Castle Rock, Maine, characters from King’s literary multiverse collide, making for a creepy-if-slow Season 1. Season 2 raises the tension thanks to a jolting performance from Lizzy Caplan as unbalanced nurse Annie Wilkes (Misery). How about including The Running Man in Season 3?

Dollface (Season 1 on Hulu): Kat Dennings’ rom-com career was derailed by six seasons of CBS’ 2 Broke Girls and two Thor movies you’ve already forgotten; Dollface puts her back on track. When Jules (Dennings) gets dumped by her boyfriend, she has to win back the female friends she’s neglected. Dollface is fluffy, fantastical fun, and co-stars Brenda Song and Esther Povitsky own every scene.

Goliath (Seasons 1-3 on Prime Video): Goliath, created by TV lifer David E. Kelley, might look like a standard-issue L.A. legal drama on the surface, but there’s some bizarre shit going on underneath. Billy Bob Thornton is Billy McBride, a brilliant boozehound of a lawyer with a penchant for taking on wealthy corporate villains with over-the-top sex ’n’ drugs kinks. There’s something for law nerds and hedonists!

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No, not all of the great shows are here; 2016 served up too much quality TV to contain in this space, while not all of the great shows rise to the level of year-end best lists. (Too many other critical lists are surrendering space to Stranger Things; just sayin’.)

These 16 shows are binge-worthy alternatives to holiday family time—Merry Xmas!

Westworld (HBO): This Westworld was smarter, sleeker and more terrifying than its 1973 origin flick, but it also imbued the Wild West park’s androids with a tragic “humanity.” (Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton for all of the awards.) It also reminded us that actual flesh-and-blood humans are just the worst.

Veep (HBO): Now more than ever, huh? Vice president-turned-president-turned-footnote Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) suffered an exhausting political beating months before the rest of us did in 2016, but at least hers was funny (and slightly more F-bomb-heavy). Forget IdiocracyVeep is our republic’s true guide.

BoJack Horseman (Netflix): Animated series BoJack Horseman has always been about the aggressive shallowness of Hollywood and celebrity, but Season 3 went deeper and darker (and more experimental, including a dialogue-free underwater episode) than ever before. It’s also funny as hell. OK, it’s everything as hell.

Lady Dynamite (Netflix): Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite was a meta-comedy that did for bipolar disorder what BoJack Horseman did for depression and Jessica Jones did for PTSD: It made entertaining, thoughtful art out of the usually “too heavy” to talk about. Both way surreal and way real … sounds good, feels right.

Quarry (Cinemax): This overlooked, 1972-set crime-noir series is grittily crafted down to the most minute details, spun with jarring twists, and anchored by Logan Marshall-Green’s intense, mercurial performance as a reluctant hit man. It’s the Memphis-barbecued second season of True Detective you really wanted.

Better Call Saul (AMC): The debut of Better Call Saul was a fantastic surprise that expanded upon Breaking Bad, building its own pre-Heisenberg world. From hilarious to heartbreaking, Season 2 further transformed small-time Albuquerque lawyer Slippin’ Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) into future legal shark Saul Goodman.

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC): Behind Saul, Halt and Catch Fire is AMC’s best drama, even if it doesn’t generate Walking Dead numbers. The ’80s-set computer-revolution saga moved to Silicon Valley in Season 3, amping the startup fireworks between Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé, who overshadowed even Lee Pace (!).

Mr. Robot (USA): Elliot (Rami Malek) and hacker group fsociety brought down E(vil) Corp at conclusion of Season 1, but it just caused more problems than it solved. Mr. Robot 2.0 was less buzzy, and trickier to follow, but it gave Elliot’s circle (especially Carly Chaikin and Portia Doubleday) space to shine.

Goliath (Amazon Prime): David E. Kelley and Billy Bob Thornton streamed a classic Los Angeles legal-noir drama that overcame a middling plot with killer performances from Maria Bello, Molly Parker, Nina Arianda, Tania Raymonde, William Hurt and, of course, Thornton himself. Binge with a stiff drink—or eight.

Atlanta (FX): Donald Glover’s Atlanta wasn’t what anyone expected. Something far more than a comedy (though there are hilarious moments) or a drama (ditto, heavy moments), it unfolded like an indie flick in no hurry to get any Big Moments, and depicted the flat-broke-and-black experience with unflinching detail.

Better Things (FX): One of the rawest comedic TV portrayals of single motherhood ever, Pamela Adlon’s Better Things swung from sweet to sad to snarky with an assured precision that her creative partner, Louis C.K., never quite nailed with Louie. Subtle jabs at Hollywood’s treatment of women are just a bonus.

You’re the Worst (FXX): The Only Anti-Rom-Com That Matters got back on track after some downer detours last year—which isn’t to say You’re the Worst didn’t take chances in Season 3. Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) may never work out, but it’s sweet (and profanely hilarious) to watch them fail.

Shameless (Showtime): Emmy Rossum, who’s played Shameless’ surrogate Gallagher mom Fiona for seven seasons now, recently got a pay bump to at least equal co-star William H. Macy’s salary. Coincidentally, she also turned in her best, most heartbreaking work this year. ’Merica isn’t Modern Family; it’s Shameless.

The Good Place (NBC): Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are an unbeatable comic combo, and fears that afterlife sitcom The Good Place would be too weird for broadcast TV were apparently unfounded: It’s a (relative) NBC hit and, even better, the Jesus people are mightily offended by this inclusive version of “Heaven.”

Wynonna Earp (Syfy): If you were somewhat disappointed with Syfy’s recent zero-fun heroine epic Van Helsing—I know I was was—look back a little further in 2016 for Wynonna Earp, a Buffy the Gunslinger supernatural series that star Melanie Scrofano tore up with quippy glee. Also: hot Doc Holliday!

Not Safe With Nikki Glaser (Comedy Central): Nikki Glaser’s Not Safe was a sex-and-relationships talk show that combined intelligence, real information and filthy comedy that more than lived up to the show’s title. So, of course, Comedy Central canceled it after 20 episodes to make room for more Tosh.0. For shame.

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Falling Water (Thursday, Oct. 13, USA), series debut: In the time of Too Many Shows, it’s almost suicidal to drop a new series that won’t get to the damned point by the middle of the first episode; USA needs to hook ’em fast, because viewers have a dozen other choices tonight (except for Notorious, which still sucks). Falling Water follows three seemingly unrelated people (Lizzie Brochere, David Ajala and Will Yun Lee) who come to realize that they’re all dreaming parts of the same dream, and said dream relates to “the fate of the world.” How? That’s annoyingly unclear, but the three are definitely dreaming—so much so that it’s impossible to tell what’s “real,” but at least the imagery is gorgeous. (If you have access to 4K HD and “herbal” medication, you’ll probably enjoy this more than most.) Falling Water has nine more episodes to establish a plot; otherwise, there likely won’t be more to come.

Goliath (Friday, Oct. 14, Amazon Prime), series debut: Yes, I’ve been complaining about the glut of new legal dramas this season … However! The potential of the combo of David E. Kelley (finally venturing into the streaming realm) and Billy Bob Thornton (sorely missed from episodic TV since Fargo Season 1) is too rich to ignore. As beaten-down Los Angeles lawyer William McBride, Thornton more than delivers, and Goliath, set against the classic-noir backdrop of seedy Los Angeles, is a stick-it-to-The-Man legal saga that echoes Better Call Saul and the late, great Terriers. McBride, on the edge of abandoning the legal system in favor of just drinking himself to death, is hell-bent on one last takedown—his former partner (William Hurt), a power-tripping shark using his corporate influence to cover up a murder and who-knows-what else. It’s a familiar trope, but Thornton and Kelley play it so well that it’s easy to forgive them for not using Goliath’s killer supporting cast (including Maria Bello, Molly Parker and Olivia Thirlby) to fuller effect.

Haters Back Off (Friday, Oct. 14, Netflix), series debut: Depending upon your tolerance level for YouTube star Miranda Sings (Colleen Ballinger), Netflix’s Haters Back Off is either a brilliant, inevitable expansion of her digital reach, or an inexplicably annoying excuse for comedy (i.e. you’re old—go watch Longmire again). Ballinger’s Miranda character is a satire of self-absorbed, tone-deaf YouTube “singers” desperate for fame, so creating a backstory around her (which includes The Office’s Angela Kinsey as her mother, and Eastbound and Down’s Steve Little as her far-too-supportive uncle) could bring the whole meta roof crashing down. Then again, there’s some undeniably funny writing here (“Are you an alto or a soprano?” “I’m American!”), and Ballinger dominates any size of screen she’s on, so it’s probably best not to overthink Haters Back Off. Besides, no Millennials are reading this, anyway … right?

Eyewitness (Sunday, Oct. 16, USA), series debut: Since there are, as previously stated, Too Many Shows, do you really need a crime thriller about a pair of teenage boys trying to hide their taboo relationship and stay one step ahead of a murderer whom they witnessed in the act at a remote cabin? If Eyewitness were even half as intense as the Norwegian series upon which it’s based, I’d be inclined to say, “Kanskje.” But, as with umbrellas and black metal, some things are just done better in Norway.

Chance (Wednesday, Oct. 19, Hulu), series debut: Hugh Laurie is back on TV (well, Hulu) as a doctor—but Dr. House, he ain’t. In Chance, he’s Dr. Eldon Chance, a forensic neuropsychiatrist whose treatment of a patient with possible multiple personalities (Gretchen Mol) becomes a bit too intimate for the liking of her abusive police-detective husband (Paul Adelstein). It sounds like the setup for a throwaway Lifetime movie, but Chance is a layered psychological thriller more in line with British imports like The Fall and Marcella, with even-seedier stories happening outside the margins and a surprisingly terrifying performance from ex-My Name Is Earl goofball Ethan Suplee. It may (or may not) be wise to also mention that Chance comes from novelist/screenwriter Kem Nunn, the man who created HBO’s most divisive drama ever, John From Cincinnati … but there it is.

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