This is our final entry in our “Best of” streaming services posts. Since we couldn’t come up with enough shows to do separate posts, we are lumping Showtime, Hulu, STARZ, Disney+ and original cable network shows all into this one (neither of us has yet to dabble in Apple TV’s original content). Please check our previous posts about HBO, Amazon Prime, and Netflix for our suggestions on those platforms. At various times we have each had access to different content, be it from free trials to paying for these services for short stretches of time. Unless you want to pay $200 a month just for TV, it’s impossible to keep access to everything at all times. But sometimes content will migrate to Amazon or Netflix, making it easier to capture some of the shows critics liked or someone recommended.
For this post, we will each list our top shows (or movies) along with a show we think was overrated and one we thought was underappreciated. Use the comments to let us know your favorites.
I’ve always been a movie guy, but there’s no doubt my viewing habits have markedly shifted from film to TV series’ over the past decade. Part of that is lifestyle – harder to find that 2-3 hour block of time for a movie and part of it is that my perception is that the quality of cable/streaming shows has gone way up, but it’s been the opposite for films. Original content on cable TV networks has come a long way since it started and has given us some legendary shows. I like the fact that cable networks don’t have to adhere to the strict FCC rules around language, sex, and violence, but I do think some shows take that too far, and it becomes gratuitous. Anyway, here are some series I’ve enjoyed and would definitely recommend.
- 11.22.63 (2016) Hulu – I loved the Stephen King novel this was what the show was based on, and the show creators did a good job expanding it into a series. It’s a time travel set-up about a teacher, played by James Franco, trying to prevent the Kennedy assassination. I haven’t always been the biggest Franco fan, but he was good in this.
- Homeland (2011- ) Showtime – I have to confess to seeing only the first three seasons, due to losing access to Showtime. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis both won Emmys for their roles in this intense CIA drama. Mandy Patinkin was also consistently great in a supporting role. I hope to get back to the series someday.
- American Horror Story (2011-2019) FX – I loved the first two seasons of this anthology show, which changes storylines each season but uses returning cast members in different roles. Season 1 and 2 had just the right blend of scary horror, compelling storylines and interesting characters. FX has been criticized for pushing the envelope too far with sex, profanity and violence on cable, and I’d even agree this show went too far in recent seasons, and at the expense of quality.
- Penny Dreadful (2014) Showtime – I loved the gothic horror look and feel to this show, even if the storyline was perplexing at times. Eva Green is excellent in this, and I feel like she’s an actress that should have been more of a star, but just didn’t find the right roles. This show isn’t for everyone, and the storytelling can be “weird”, for lack of better term, but I enjoyed it.
- Damages (2007) FX – Even though Glenn Close was the star power when the show came out, this series really belongs to Rose Byrne – who brought her character along from timid mouse to fierce lion. Ten Danson has a memorable turn as pseudo-villain in the first two seasons. I’ll admit, there were times Close’s character annoyed me, and pushed the boundaries of belief, but Byrne was consistently great.
- The Walking Dead (2010-2020) AMC – This has to be close to the longest-running scripted series on cable. I resisted watching this at first, but then binged it on Netflix before the third season and loved it. This is one of the few “appointment” shows I’ve kept for the past decade, and though it has dropped off, I’m still compelled by tales of the zombie apocalypse.
- O.J.: Made In America (2016) ESPN – It was a short docu-series, 5 or 6 episodes, but it was very well made and paired well with American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson on FX the same year. I typically don’t hold ESPN in high regard, but this was very well made and a format they should utilize more for other stories.
- Justified (2010-2015) FX – This series may not have had the most high-concept of storylines, but the charisma of Timothy Olyphant as a US Marshal, and Walton Goggins as his nemesis, made this show a lot of fun to watch.
- Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) AMC – It’s an obvious choice but I feel we’d be remiss not to mention this groundbreaking show. In many ways, this show set a new high-water mark about how to build a compelling series about great characters. There were some bland episodes, but you always wanted to see what was next in the journey of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman.
- Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009) Sci-fi – This might be the first series I ever binged. I kept the DVDs rotating from Netflix to watch all 4 seasons. The story could wander and go on tangents, but this series was ambitious and filled with lots of great characters. Disney should go back and watch this to get an idea of how to better expand storytelling in the Star Wars universe.
Overrated series: Castle Rock (2018) Hulu
Based on the great job done with Stephen King’s 11.22.63, I had high hopes for this show which is loosely based on the “world” of King’s novels. (One of my nephews also had a part as an extra in it, but I think I blinked and missed it). The first few episodes showed promise, and I liked Andre Holland in the lead role along with a number of solid supporting role turns. However, by midway through it lost me in what seemed overly intentional weirdness (think Twin Peaks) and some gratuitous, senseless violence. In the end I couldn’t even describe the story of what I just watched. It’s by no means terrible, and I’ve heard good things about season 2, but for me it did not live up to its potential.
Underappreciated series: The Alienist (2018) TNT
Based on another novel I loved, this one by author Caleb Carr, this show featured some amazing production design in realizing 1896 New York City. Daniel Bruhl was perfectly cast as the brilliant but prickly psychiatrist asked to investigate a string of murders. Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning were also strong as the sometimes reluctant assistants in the investigation. True Detective director Cary Fukanaga was part of the creative team behind the show, and he brought that same sense of impending dread that was so pervasive in True Detective’s first season. Season 2, based on the sequel novel, Angel of Darkness, comes out July 19th. Although I wasn’t as big of a fan of the second novel, I’m excited to see another season of the show coming out.
DJ: Battlestar Galactica may be my one of my favorite series especially in the sci-fi genre. The O.J. documentary was excellent as well. I am not ususally a Stephen King fan but I am a student of the JFK assassination and I did enjoy 11.22.63. I may have to go back to the Alienist for some reason I struggled and couldn’t finish it even though I loved the book. Daniel Bruhl seems to be an underrated actor, I thought he was really good in Rush. I liked Damages after season one but then I could not pallette it anymore.
There are so many places to watch stuff now I often find myself spending more time trying to find something to watch that fits my mood. I watch a ton of true crime shows on ID Network and Oxygen, I don’t even touch on that stuff here. Like stated earlier we haven’t hit Apple TV nor have we hit CBS Streaming or Peacock. Should I be watching Picard? That new David Schwimmer comedy? It overloads my circuits. It’s great that there is so much content but weeding through it all is always daunting. So hopefully here is something for every mood.
- Trust (2018) FX – This is the series version of the film “All the Money in the World” with Donald Sutherland taking on the John Paul Getty role. I am a fan of this story for some reason and the series gives more time to explore the angles. Brendan Fraser and Hillary Swank are back from the grave with two fine performances.
- The Shield (2002-2008) FX – Probably in my top 10 all-time. Michale Chiklis created one of the all-time anti-hero cops. The finale also was one of the most promising endings that you see in these types of shows. It also put Walton Goggins on the map has fellow cop, Shane.
- The Mandalorian (2019-) Disney+ – Easily the best thing Star Wars has put out post-Lucas. Some of the episodes were great others just ok but it gave me that old Star Wars feeling back at times. I am hoping they can use season 2 to expand and increase the galaxy. Don’t do fan service just do it right. Baby Yoda was the hit of the year.
- The League (2009-2015) FX – I never thought a series about Fantasy Football would be able to maintain this premise year after year but it did. It’s funny, crude, and raunchy so it’s not for everyone.
- Mr. Robot (2015-2019) USA – Another amazing show. Mr. Robot was like no other show and the first season was so good and after the second season seems to drop off quite a bit I thought it was done, but the last seasons and the last one, in particular, was otherworld TV. Rami Malek should get as many awards as possible. Sam Esmail’s world was beautiful and had some of the best scripting and cinematography on TV. He was able to pull off a full episode without dialogue.
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-) FX – Along with The League another crude and funny sit-com. It’s about to hit its 15th season making it the longest-running sitcom in TV history. It’s still able to bring the humor while also commenting on social and political norms.
- City on a Hill (2019-) Showtime – I loved this series and cannot wait for season 2 although I have no clue where it would go. Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge had this great chemistry. Bacon’s Jackie Rohr is the scumbag dirty cop you love to hate and Hodge is the AD who has to find a way to get him. I am always a fan of hearing the overuse of the Boston accent too.
- Men of a Certain Age (2009-2011) TNT – A show that has faded back a bit in the TV history but I was truly bummed when it was canceled. Andre Braugher is great in everything he is in and he plays one of three friends who find themselves in that time of life. Roy Romano and Scott Bakula play the other two. Romano can act beyond a sitcom. The show wasn’t flashy so it had to use it’s writing to tell a compelling hour each week.
- Be Water (2020) ESPN – ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is probably the best thing they have ever done, created by Bill Simmons it has showcased some of the most interesting stories in sports. This year’s Be Water about the life of Bruce Lee was terrific and probably the best Lee documentary I have seen. Even if you didn’t like Lee you would find it interesting and well-done. I actually used Lee’s speech about being water in a recent coaching situation.
- Hunting Hitler – (2015-2018) The History Channel – Off the premise that Hitler escaped Germany to South America, a team sets out to prove this theory true. I somewhat believe this conspiracy theory and it makes sense. Even if you don’t believe it learning some of the histories of Nazi escape and Nazi communities post-war is interesting for the history buff.
Overrated series: American Horror Story (2011-2019) FX
I really thought I liked this series. I did miss year one but saw the one in the sanitarium, New Orleans, Coven, Freaks, and at least one or two others. I know it gets tons of praise but it’s way overboard, I am not faint of heart or a prude but the amounts of crazy nonsense was too much for me. I started the Hotel one and I was out after one episode and I haven’t gone back. Horror and fear to me is not gore and sex, sometimes less is more. I also hate to say it I am tired of seeing the same actors in different roles. Maybe the season is too long, I think there are often way too many threads going on. I am probably not going back to it.
Underappreciated series: Party Down (2009-2010) Starz
This is a great two-season comedy that got critical acclaim but is kind of buried and being on Starz originally kept it hidden. It’s now on the Hulu platform so it’s easy to enjoy. The premise is a catering business and each episode is a different type of party, a reunion, Porn Awards, young Republican event, etc.. Ken Marino is the team lead. It’s seen through the eyes of Adam Scott former actor who was known for a catchphrase and now works for “Party Down”. Each episode allows for guest stars that keep things moving. Lizzy Caplan is great as another employee/struggling comic. Season two is not as strong as Jane Lynch leaves and Megan Mullally joins but it still has it’s share of laughs.
MG: I agree mostly with what you wrote about American Horror story, except you skipped their best season – the first one. It is worth going back to. Party Down sounds interesting and I am in need of a comedy so I think I’ll check it out. Good call on Mr. Robot as it is definitely some of the best TV in the past decade. I know you’ve hounded me for years to watch The Shield, but I may have missed out because I wasn’t able to find it anywhere recently. The Mandalorian is not the second coming of Star Wars that some make it out to be, but it’s a good step in the right direction and light years better than anything in the recent trilogy.