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Hit or Skip: TV Series I Binged During My Quarantine Summer

If your summer was anything like mine, you probably had more free time than you knew what to do with. Maybe you were lucky, and you were able to find a virtual internship or some other kind of job. Or, maybe you decided to take a remote class or try a new hobby. No matter what you did this summer, even if it was just a relaxing routine of sleeping, eating, and TV, it was surely a struggle for all of us.

This COVID-19 pandemic has rightfully and necessarily raised many issues in our current society. As young adults, we face a summer of isolation and uncertainty, of stress and concern, requiring us to seriously evaluate the world around us. But, as we face these difficult times and consider what we ourselves can do to better the world, we must also remember to take time for ourselves and our well-being.

During my quarantine summer, I found that taking time to watch a few episodes (or honestly, sometimes watch a whole bunch of episodes) was an effective, stress-free way for me to find time for myself. And I have to say, with all the time I had to watch some of the new and popular shows released this year, there were definitely some hits and misses we should discuss.

HIT: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (1 season, Hulu)

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT: For Skylar Astin and Alex Newell’s singing. Both are already known for their impressive singing chops in their previous work on other musical TV shows and movies, and they definitely prove how incredible they are in this show. The show is also just a brilliant concept: a young woman who is used to seeing the tech world as black and white is suddenly thrust into a world of color when she starts to hear other people’s thoughts as huge musical numbers. Um, sign me up!

These “heart songs,” as Zoey likes to call them, aren’t the only reason you should watch this show, though. It also has rich storylines, centering around Zoey’s family, especially her dying father who she can finally communicate with through these heart songs; her new promotion at work and subsequent friendship with her boss; and a love triangle between her office crush and her best friend. It has been officially renewed, and season 2 is in the works.

SKIP: Space Force (1 season, Netflix)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4mY2asIjWk

WHY YOU SHOULD SKIP IT: Oof, what can I say about this show? It had a lot of potential.  The name is genius, and it’s created by Steve Carrell and Greg Daniels, who had previously worked together on The Office. It also added well-known comedians—John Malkovich, Lisa Kudrow, and Ben Schwartz—to its ranks, but not even that could save it.

I think the main problem is really that the show just is not funny. On top of that, some of the characters (cough, cough, Naird’s AKA Steve Carrell’s daughter) are just flat out obnoxious. That being said, Steve Carrell himself is pretty entertaining, and I also enjoyed his rapport with John Malkovich, but the two of them on their own just aren’t enough. You would think that a spoof on the U.S. Space Force would be a hilarious mix of political commentary and clever humor…

Somehow, the show has been renewed for Season 2 on Netflix, but I likely will have to pass.

HIT: The Umbrella Academy (2 seasons, Netflix)

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT: Because of Klaus. And Ben. And Five. And basically, all seven of the Hargreeves siblings, even though Luther gets a lot of shade from the fandom. Everyone is bound to have their favorite sibling, and the family dynamics and all their individual relationships are what make the show. Who would have thought that a comic book series written by the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way, would work so well when turned into a Netflix original series? This show is by no means your average superhero show. It’s much darker, much funnier, and a lot more complicated than your classic Marvel or DC movie. Actually, imagine Thor Ragnarök with its upbeat, incredible music during all those action scenes as well as its intermittent but well-timed comedy, but then darker and more threatening and with quirkier superpowers.

The other amazing part about this show is how they refuse to conform to any type of binary or oppressive system in the most natural ways. I think season 2 does an even better job of this, while also engaging with and confronting America’s problematic history of injustice and discrimination. There is a reason that Season 2 was on Netflix’s “Top 10 in the U.S. Today” for a solid month after its release. I am anxiously waiting for Season 3 to drop. (And yes, I know it’s going to be at least another year.) Let’s just say that the show writers know how to write cliffhangers.

SKIP: The Great (1 season, Hulu)

WHY YOU SHOULD SKIP IT: This one may be a bit contested, but I really couldn’t get into this show. I genuinely don’t understand what this show was trying to do. I guess it was trying to be a comedy, but it really wasn’t that funny. And the leads Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning aren’t exactly the first two names I think of when I hear the words “comedy series.” If it was trying to be dramatic, I don’t think it executed that well, either. Then as they remind you at the beginning of every episode, it’s only “an occasionally true story” and, therefore, only loosely based on the history of Catherine the Great of Russia, so probably not number one for a historical fiction show.

It markets itself as “genre-bending” and “anti-historical,” so I suppose the lack of a specific direction is intentional. But that doesn’t mean that this style is particularly effective. If I had to pinpoint the source of my dislike for this show, though, it’s probably that there is something off about the characters, meaning I was never able to invest in them. Honestly, I barely made it to the end and was tempted more than a few times to give it up. But, due to its good critic reviews, it is no surprise that The Great has been renewed for second season by Hulu. Try it if you must, but it is definitely not my cup of tea.

HIT: Mrs. America (limited series, FX on Hulu)

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT: One of my favorite types of TV shows and movies is the historical drama biopic. The Great notwithstanding for reasons already discussed. Mrs. America, however, was everything I love about this genre. This show doesn’t focus on one single historical figure, though. This show takes us through the 70s and the story of the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, depicting both its rise and fall—and also the resurgence of hope for ratification in recent years.

The show focuses the liberal second-wave feminists, including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), and Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), as well as the women who organized the conservative backlash against the ERA, led by Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett). The way they were able to transform the actresses into these women was spot-on, and the accuracy in their depictions made the show that much more interesting. I think especially during our current politically polarized times, it is important to consider the objectives and motives of both sides, regardless of where you stand personally. This show does an excellent job of exploring how and why the ERA failed to be ratified by enough states. And though it may be frustrating and uncomfortable to confront and attempt to understand both sides, progress never comes from your comfort zone. And I honestly believe that the best types of shows, and even media in general, are the ones that start and engage with difficult conversations. Mrs. America does exactly that.

This show is limited series, so unfortunately, there won’t be another season, but I would highly suggest watching this one.

Bonus: Outlander (3 seasons, Netflix; 5 seasons, Starz)

THIS ONE WILL DEPEND ON PERSONAL PREFERENCE, BUT I’M A HUGE FAN.

So, Outlander comes with basically every content warning possible, so you will definitely have to make the choice for yourself about whether or not it’s right for you. But that being said, I adore this show so much that I couldn’t not include it on the list. I mean, so much so that I got the 1-week free trial for Starz in order to binge the last 2 seasons.

This TV show is based on the historical romance series of the same name by Diana Gabaldon in which an English WWII nurse by the name of Claire Randall gets accidentally transported back in time to the 18th-century Scottish Highlands. As she struggles to find her way back to her time, she ends up falling in love with Highlander Jamie Fraser, who is by far my favorite character on the show. Turns out that British Romantic literature class is actually very relevant when you start watching a show about the Scottish Highlands and the Jacobite Rebellion.

The story is captivating, and Caitriona Balfe (Claire) and Sam Heughan (Jamie) portray their characters with such brilliant complexity and nuance. For any literature or history fans, or any fans of romance, I definitely suggest this show.

The show is in the process of filming its sixth season, and Diana Gabaldon is working on the ninth book in the series.

These shows were just the ones that I had the strongest feelings about, positive or negative. When you find yourself looking for something to watch this semester, here’s my thoughts on the shows that you must watch and the ones that you are probably better off skipping altogether. What are the hits and skips of your quarantine summer? 

Elizabeth, originally from just outside of Chicago, is a senior graduating early from Connecticut College where she is majoring in English with Psychology and History minors. She has an insatiable appetite for a compelling story and hopes to use that passion to pursue a career in publishing in a big city. If she’s not reading or writing another essay, she is binge-watching a new TV series, scrolling through Pinterest, baking cookies, or hanging out with family and friends.
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