A decade ago, entertainment coverage began to use the term “peak TV” and, since then, the number of shows hoping to find an audience has doubled. Hollywood is currently producing 559 scripted original series, with no end in sight thanks to a dozen-plus major streaming services.
This glut of TV comes at a time of momentous change and needed reckoning. On one hand, billion-dollar media companies — including the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery, which operates HBO Max — are in a heated contest for streaming subscribers. About a dozen major players exist today, but observers predict only half as many will survive the next few years.
Just as important, several top streamers have ticked off conservative parents with their blatant progressive advocacy. Disney has generated headlines after several of its creative executives spoke of a “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” and “adding queerness” in children’s programs. The entertainment company’s next earnings call may reveal whether Disney has seen declines.
Meanwhile, supposed family titles from competitors have been just as problematic, with Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club” featuring a biological boy (who identifies as transgender) in the girls’ club; HBO Max’s racy “Euphoria“ targeted at teens; and “Rugrats” and “Big Nate” from Paramount Plus that take potty humor to new lows.
So is there anything good on? Anyone who’s started an overhyped reboot only to quickly bail knows the frustration of Hollywood adding unnecessary elements. And as the outdoors beckon, many people will ditch screens and jump into actual streams with flowing water. Still, during downtime, those seeking entertainment that also provides food for enlightening discussion may find these four recent TV entries fit the bill.
1. The Hardy Boys, Season 2 (family mystery, TV-PG, Hulu)
Sleuthing brothers Frank and Joe Hardy are back in season two of the throwback mystery series “The Hardy Boys.” While other nostalgia-heavy reboots (read: “Nancy Drew” and “Riverdale”) have added explicit content, this tween-friendly TV adaptation feels ripped right from one of the Hardy brothers’ 300-plus grade-school novels as the boys stumble into another caper in small-town Maine.
This time around, the brothers work with their detective father, Fenton, as a friend’s disappearance leads them to a shadowy underground operation. Several elements from season one reappear, including the mystery around their mother’s death and an apparently supernatural object called the Eye.
Stakes are raised, as action gets more explosive and their friends are shaken by losses. They must detect not only clues but personal betrayal to get to the truth in this show many families have enjoyed together.
2. Star Trek: Picard, Season 2 (science fiction, TV-MA, Paramount Plus)
Renowned star of stage and screen Sir Patrick Stewart returns to his most iconic role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in this intriguing series that reunites characters from various past “Star Trek” incarnations. While it’s purportedly advancing the story forward, in this case Picard and his crew venture into the “past” (essentially our own present day) in a time-travel conceit that enables the show to comment on current issues and cultural trends.
Themes of memory, trauma, and time’s passage are at the forefront of the season-long story. Yet viewers have to navigate aspects of progressive ideology, such as a slanted portrayal of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as purely nefarious and romantic same-sex relationships among some secondary characters. (While Whoopi Goldberg reprises her “Star Trek: The Next Generation” role, it’s not linked to her outspoken liberalism on “The View.”)
For those willing to sidestep some content issues — not nearly as pronounced as other recent Trek shows — “Star Trek: Picard” has enough story and actual ideas to chew on.
3. Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed (docuseries, TV-14, Discovery Plus)
In the wake of several high-profile scandals — from Willow Creek to Mark Driscoll’s megachurches and beyond — many Christians have been rethinking how certain models of doing church require better accountability. Premiered only days before Hillsong’s Brian Houston resigned as their global senior pastor, “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” gives an overview of the troubling scandals that have embroiled the Pentecostal-evangelical powerhouse.
With a focus on the misdeeds of Hillsong New York City pastor Carl Lentz, who reportedly had multiple affairs and misused church funds, it gets into sordid details at times. Overall, the narrative relies on religion journalists, firsthand interviews with alleged victims, and several leading evangelical voices for insights into how ambition, money, and image became driving factors for church leadership. Perhaps Hillsong offers a case study for the broader church to examine.
4. The Dropout (true-crime drama, TV-MA, Hulu)
Audiences today can’t get enough of true crime dramas, particularly an emerging sub-genre of high-stakes scam thrillers, with current examples “WeCrashed” (the fall of WeWork) and upcoming “The Big Conn” (about Eric Conn’s half-a-billion in Social Security fraud). Yet it’s “The Dropout” examining medical tech company Theranos that may be the current crop’s best, despite some coarse language and a few easy-to-skip (and unneeded) steamy scenes.
As ambitious as its protagonist, Elizabeth Holmes, who styled herself a female Steve Jobs out to revolutionize medical technology, the series features Amanda Seyfried (“First Reformed“) in a role that’s part earnestness, part sleight-of-hand, and mostly unadulterated narcissism. Holmes’ self-confidence fooled Larry Ellison, Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis, and dozens of other power players.
While this series should’ve been limited to more like six episodes, cutting superfluous scenes of Holmes’ morning routine, it’s likely to win several Emmys for good reason.