Long summer days are perfect for enjoying the great outdoors. But sometimes you just need to sit on the couch with a stacked plate of tamari-and-seaweed-flavored rice cakes and a solid TV show to binge.
Couch potatoes, we are here for you! New York Times TV critic Margaret Lyons stopped by to recommend some of the best summer TV, whether you want something dark and mysterious or bright and fun.
Dark and mysterious
Veronica Mars, Hulu
Margaret Lyons: It is time to revisit the teen classic Veronica Mars, which is now streaming on Hulu, because they are doing a revival which comes out [July 26].
Veronica Mars is a high school set private eye show. And it has a very hard-boiled narrator, Veronica, who has a sort of chip on her shoulder.
In the pilot her best friend has been murdered. She’s trying to get to the bottom of these crimes and mysteries and that’s what sort of takes over all of Season 1, but there’s also fun, snarky, episodic mysteries and I just think it’s one of the all-time greats. It was on our list of the 20 best dramas since The Sopranos if that helps clue you in that it’s a little bit more than just your average high school show.
Lyons: It’s a very hard watch. It’s extremely depressing. It’s extremely upsetting. There’s a lot of quite agonizing moments. But it’s also about stuff. There’s a lot about cultures of misinformation, about lies, about coverups, about what the government does and says versus what the government says they’re doing and saying. It’s riveting.
Killing Eve, Hulu
Lyons: I guess don’t think of it as that dark. It’s very murdery, but it doesn’t make you feel bad. I guess I compare it to — have you ever snaked a sink? And then there’s just this weird thing, and you’re like, “Ew, did this come from me?” I think after you watch like five episodes of Broadchurch that’s how you feel. Like, “I’m that sink clog. My humanity repulses me.”
I feel like for Killing Eve you don’t have that bad feeling. You’re like, “I could sit here and watch 20 of these and do origami. I’m fine. I’m not confronted with my own demons.”
Bright and fun
Lyons: Honestly, right before we taped this podcast I downed two more episodes of this show. It’s called Enlisted and it aired on Fox a few years ago and was sort of squandered and unjustly canceled and didn’t make as big a splash as I think it could have.
It’s a comedy set on an army base about three brothers who are all in the military. It is very goofy and loopy and silly and cartoony. I think if you like shows like Scrubs or Bob’s Burgers or shows where people are on the same side, where you have a ragtag group of lovable weirdos but they’re united and care about each other and they’re on each other’s team, then you should definitely check it out.
Jane the Virgin, The CW (Season 5), Netflix (Seasons 1-4)
Lyons: I love Jane the Virgin. I have a little bit of anxiety about this season. Just because it’s a telenovela and because it does really draw those conventions, I’m worried that there’s going to be some tragedy befalling us. And that’s not a spoiler at all, I’m just living in fear of that.
Chasing The Moon, PBS
Lyons: The biggest documentary trend of the summer is moon landing stuff. PBS has a huge set of documentaries about that. There’s some on NatGeo, there’s some on Smithsonian Channel. Obviously, it’s a big anniversary.
Lyons: Last year I completed one of the greatest TV journeys of my life, and it was a full ER rewatch. And I’ve got to say: I miss it. I’m lonely for my ER rewatch. It took me six months for 15 seasons. I was going pretty fast. I get to watch TV at work so I don’t think most people would keep that kind of a pace probably. But it was a real delight.
NYPD Blue, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu
Lyons: NYPD Blue I think feels a little more dated in some ways because of the kind of griminess of the setting. I was like, “Oh my God. Wait, this is only 1994? It looks like 1900.” Some of the props and everything, you’re just like, “God, I was alive for this?” It feels a lot older than it actually is.
My So Called Life, Hulu
Lyons: One of the things that is amazing about My So-Called Life is I think it’s a show where you have kind of an emotional Doppler effect. Like it changes when you’re coming up to it and when you’re going away from it.
If you started watching that show when you were younger, then Angela was extremely aspirational. She was to me. And then when you’re around her age, you’re like, “Oh, well, I guess she’s cool. I’m cool. We’re all cool, I guess. Maybe.” And then as an adult your heart aches for her. And then in all the ways that Rayanne seems so alluring, you can as an adult see what Angela’s mom sees. That Rayanne is like a sink with no drain. Like she is somebody who, because of her own childhood traumas and stuff, is going to be a really demanding person in your life. And she’s really exciting but that comes at a cost.
And realizing that you relate more to Patty than Angela is I think an interesting path that a lot of us maybe have walked.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.