Summer is nice because it’s a lazy season so it’s easy to justify spending eighteen hours a day sprawled out in front of the air conditioner and staring at the television. Summer is awful because there isn’t much to watch aside from USA dramas with terrible titles, an unending parade of reality shows, and sitcoms that networks were too embarrassed to air during the rest of the year. Fortunately there is Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, and a billion other streaming sites to fill the time with. If you don’t know where to start, here are some suggestions from us and guest contributor Alex. And don’t forget to let us know what you’re watching because we still have all of August to fill up.
Catfish (MTV.com). Ah, love in the time of Catfish. When this first premiered, I was intrigued by the premise but never gave it a shot. I eventually became addicted after getting sucked into a marathon because isn’t that always how it happens with MTV shows? People posing as other people on the internet isn’t anything new—and it turns out catfishing is as old as telegrams—but now there is the added twist of getting called out on camera. Just about everyone on Catfish is a liar. The only difference is how egregious those lies are. Sometimes the catfish is ashamed of his/her appearance, sometimes they create profiles for revenge on “friends,” or sometimes they just seem bored and a little fucked up. I don’t want to say that Catfish is miles above other reality shows (at times, it is certainly just as manipulated) but it is often more engaging. Sometimes I found myself rooting for the catfishee to get together with someone that I know is nothing more than a “I’m not a model, the camera just went off” picture ripped off a defunct MySpace profile. There are very few happy endings—the most you can hope for is that they remain Gchat buddies—but when there is one, such as the recent “Lauren & Derek” episode, it’s actually weirdly blissful.
Life Unexpected (Netflix). The worst thing about checking out the Recently Watched section on Netflix is that it includes the dates of when you watched everything. I now know that I watched the entire series of Life Unexpected in just under three days. I’m obsessed with teen dramas so I don’t know how I missed this when it was on in 2010. The show centers around Lux, the result of a one night stand, who spent her life in foster care until she turned sixteen and ended up released into custody of her two birth parents (who aren’t together and often hate each other, of course). For the most part, the first season was standard but enjoyable fare: adjusting to a new life, teen relationships, high school dances, will-they-or-won’t-they bullshit. But the second season gets really stupid. It’s clear that it suffered from excessive network notes and it’s clear those notes were all about crazy soap operas. Spoiler alerts: burning buildings, an affair with a school teacher, a secret pregnancy, a guy getting hit with a shovel, an overly dramatic court room scene—all leading up to one of the worst series finales I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t stop complaining about it. I couldn’t stop watching it, either. I hated everything about this show. I loved this show and cried no less than ten times.
Luther (Netflix). Do not watch this at night. Do not watch this alone. Do not sit down at 4pm and then mainline the first two series off Netflix, startling yourself off the couch at 4am, now afraid to sleep for fear of nightmares about being murdered, or raped, or tortured, or kidnapped, or blackmailed, or betrayed by someone you trust. Do not watch this if you like thinking your home is safe. Do not watch this if you do not want to fall in love with a red-headed homicidal narcissist. Do not make the mistakes that I have made, because I can warn you: nightmares aside, you will be obsessed with this show. Luther is a (hot) dirty cop, played by Idris Elba, who looks like he’s having a blast being menacing. His wife’s left him and his boss can’t decide if he’s a blessing or a curse to her team, but Luther knows London is full of perverted killers who can be found and stopped with some rule-breaking. The first series is a little more focused on Luther and his life; the second introduces a framing plot involving the family of an old case, and provides further evidence that Skins is some amazing acting school: Sketch, everyone’s favorite stalker, nails it as a sex worker who ends up staying on Luther’s couch when she’s caught between a terrible job and her terrible mother. I could watch a whole extra series with she and Luther as unconventional father-daughter roommates.
Bunheads (Amazon Instant Video). I started rewatching Bunheads just a few hours before news broke of its cancelation. Great timing, huh? I love Bunheads. Sometimes I feel as if I were tricked into loving Bunheads (I was never a Gilmore Girls fan and I have some latent anger re my own ballet years) but that’s okay. It’s a good show. It had its flaws: it was so overwhelmed with characters that it sometimes couldn’t find the best balance between the teens and the adults, people complain that there wasn’t enough happening, the pop culture references could get a little tiring, etc. But it was fun, smart, and often seemed to really understand the minds of teen girls. I’m not a television pessimist but I knew it would get canceled. Even aside from the network’s zipped lips and news of torn-down sets, it was clear this show wouldn’t last. ABC Family has been doing a worthy job at reviving the teen drama but Bunheads isn’t exactly their personal brand of the genre. The bunheads weren’t switched at birth, they’re not pregnant in high school, and none of them, to my knowledge, murdered a family member with a jump rope. It didn’t have a strong enough dramatic hook for ABC Family to hang their hat on. Plus, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about television in recent years, there is apparently an age limit on females being fucked up. It’s okay to be a girl (ahem, a Girl) trying to get your shit together but once you hit your thirties, you’re canceled. (I suppose it goes without saying that I’ve also been rewatching Enlightened).
My Mad Fat Diary (Channel4.com). As a kid, I fantasized about my teenager summers, and imagined I would spent lots of time driving around aimlessly with my friends, or making out at campfires, or drinking at house parties. Then I became a teenager and spent the entire summer after graduating high school… in a park, playing Mafia. My Mad Fat Diary’s become my way of living vicariously after the fact. Rae’s just as uncool as I was, but when she comes home in the summer of 1996 from a four-month stay in a mental hospital, her old friend Chloe manages to get her in with the “cool people” of Lincolnshire, and she starts living the ideal TV teen life, full of drinking and parties and falling in love. It’s not a picnic—she’s keeps sneaking back to the hospital to see her therapist while pretending she’s returned from a French vacation, leaving her friends none the wiser that she cut and binged nearly to death—but even keeping secrets, she’s still having the time of her life. Rae and Chloe love each other, but always manage to fight and accidentally hurt each other, which makes their friendship all the more real. AVOID AT ALL COSTS IF: you suffer a Britpop allergy.