With Hollywood strikes over, television production is ramping back up. But are any of these shows “must-see TV”? Most viewers find today’s array of channels and services difficult to navigate.
Demand is high for good family viewing options, as colder weather arrives and holidays approach. Yet three major factors have combined to make finding a new show a chore for many. First, the full transition from broadcast and cable TV to streaming has at least a decade to go. Options are nearly endless as every platform is producing exclusive shows to try to find viewers.
Second, audiences have seen how many producers of popular entertainment seem to prefer agenda-driven fare rather than story-first entertainment. A related red flag comes from families with kids at home, as objectionable content abounds in streaming.
Third, trust in news media has hit an all-time low, as few sources evaluate films and TV shows with a critical eye and consistent standards.
As one who values entertainment that explores history, heroism, and the nature of truth, here are a few series that have stood out in recent months. My wife and I also enjoy a good laugh, though recent comedy is mostly a wasteland. This list also highlights a couple of options from recent years, which is the main benefit of streaming: access to shows you might have missed.
For Families with Teens
1. ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ (Netflix, TV-MA)
With antisemitism once again being exposed in society, it’s fitting that a big-budget World War II-era miniseries has arrived with a new angle on the lessons of that desperate conflict. Based on a historical novel, “All the Light We Cannot See” introduces two young adults — a blind young woman involved with the French resistance and a German orphan conscripted into Hitler Youth — whose parallel experiences in the global war intersect over the four-hour drama.
Press coverage has focused on how Aria Mia Loberti, one of the first blind leads in a major series, portrays the pivotal role of Marie. Her notable performance is elevated by two veteran stars, Mark Ruffalo (from “The Avengers”) as her father and Hugh Laurie (from “House”) as her uncle. Screenwriter Steven Knight, who wrote “Amazing Grace” and “Peaky Blinders,” expertly weaves complex story threads. He shows what drives the characters and their difficult moral choices throughout. From war to intimate conversations, director-producer Shawn Levy keeps the pacing urgent.
The miniseries is filmed in the visually striking walled port city of Saint-Malo, France, a rarely seen World War II front. The setting means that the Jewish Holocaust is a premise rather than depicted throughout. Yet an SS officer, the series antagonist stealing artifacts and jewelry on Adolf Hitler’s behalf, states their grisly mission: “to gas, shoot, hang, and starve all the Jews of Europe to death.” In the midst of horrific violence — the big reason for its mature rating — “All the Light We Cannot See” shows a path of hope and redemption in valuing life and defending the vulnerable.
2. ‘Frasier’ (Paramount Plus, TV-14)
Twenty years ago, “Frasier,” starring Kelsey Grammer, won acclaim for its clever writing and repartee among a talented ensemble. The show began as a spin-off of “Cheers” but ultimately eclipsed that beloved sitcom. After years of effort, a super-fan of the original show, producer Joe Cristalli, has willed a reboot series into existence, with Grammer reprising his role as psychologist Frasier Crane alongside an entirely new cast.
For all its memorable and outrageous scenes, the original “Frasier” made tawdry sexual exploits a focus in some seasons. Much like “Cheers,” it wouldn’t qualify as family viewing. Yet, this reboot, with Grammer now in his late 60s, is largely about a father-son relationship. Dr. Frasier Crane moves back to Boston to teach at Harvard and reconnect with his son, Freddy, a firefighter who dropped out of school. It’s a set-up that starts to pay off by episode four, and it takes that many entries for the new cast to gel and not feel like a retread.
Few sitcoms will ever top the razor-sharp banter of Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, who played Fraiser’s on-screen brother. Perhaps Pierce will cameo in the future. While it’s difficult to evaluate this 10-episode “Frasier” reboot midway through its run, so far it’s worth a few laughs.
For Mature Audiences
3. ‘The Crown,’ Season 6 (Netflix, TV-MA)
In late 2014, Netflix and writer-producer Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) announced plans to create a lavish, six-season show highlighting the life of Queen Elizabeth II. The timing could hardly be better, in retrospect. Last fall, as the final season was filming at locations throughout the United Kingdom, the last century’s most beloved and notable monarch died.
Already one of the most popular streaming originals, “The Crown” has cemented its place as a global phenomenon — even as the royal family has increasingly criticized it.
The controversy is sure to increase as this semi-historical drama depicts difficult events in recent history, including the death of Princess Diana and the 7/7 London terrorist bombings. But it promises some joyful events too. Previews revealed that in the final season, viewers will see the historic Good Friday Agreement, a royal wedding, and a montage of Elizabeth’s life using four different actresses.
4. ’12 Monkeys’ (Hulu, TV-MA)
This spring, writer-producer Terry Matalas minted a host of new fans when he took over as showrunner on “Star Trek: Picard.” He redeemed a middling-to-bad series, giving Patrick Stewart and his “Next Generation” crew a compelling send-off. Some viewers sought out what else Matalas has written and hit upon the post-apocalyptic serial “12 Monkeys.”
Not to be confused with the 1995 flick starring Bruce Willis, this four-season series centers on anti-hero James Cole (Aaron Stanford) who’s recruited to be a time-traveling assassin. Cole must eliminate a powerful business mogul before he unleashes a global virus that kills billions. And it gets wilder from there. (Keep in mind, this series premiered in 2015.) It’s at once a love story, a myth about shadowy cults, a period drama, and a high-concept science-fiction show that relies on the theory of special relativity among other ideas.
Initially a grounded thriller, “12 Monkeys” gets more speculative and ethereal as the narrative unfolds, yet the characters remain well-written and the acting convincing throughout. Despite coarse language and graphic violence that limit its audience, it’s a wild ride for sci-fi fans.
For Families with Young Kids
5. ‘A Wonderful Day with Mabel Maclay’ (Bentkey, TV-Y)
It has been a minute since a new kids’ series billed itself as “simple, gentle, and joyful.” Count on The Daily Wire to produce a countercultural show that has been called a “wholesome throwback.” With eye-popping visuals that invite curiosity and a mix of segments that keep kids engaged, “A Wonderful Day with Mabel Maclay” is a standout entry on kid-focused streamer Bentkey.
As one who has raised my kids with Fred Rogers, I’m skeptical of any YouTuber name-dropping “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” (looking at you, “Blippi”). But “Mabel Maclay” is, indeed, a welcome respite from fast-paced kids’ shows. It establishes a fun routine of discovery, draws kids in with nuanced, energetic puppetry, and closes with a singable melody. Despite my gripe about the glut of family-friendly streamers, those who find this show will surely love it.
6. ‘The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!’ (Peacock, TV-Y)
For a good kids’ learning show, sometimes the smartest thing for parents is to go back a decade or two before the definition of appropriate subject matter for kids changed. “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!” launched back in 2010. Comic Martin Short hams it up as Dr. Seuss’s iconic scene-stealing cat. The show has surprising depth in its range of natural science themes.
Sparked by wonder, Nick and Sally jump into the Cat’s shape-shifting vehicle (similar to The Magic School Bus) for a fantastical musical journey. Science concepts run the gamut from sea creatures to weather patterns to wildlife you wouldn’t expect. “Backyard nature is full of riches,” said science adviser Jay Ingram in an interview. “Most people are, if anything, birdwatchers, not insect watchers — so much of small-scale nature goes unnoticed.”
Along with three seasons of the animated educational series, Peacock also features a few hour-long specials on space, camping, and Christmas traditions.