Category Archives: Shows I Watch

Shows to watch this summer

It’s May, and that means all of your favorite prime time shows are winding down their seasons for the summer hiatus. But the heat of summer doesn’t  have to mean a cool-down for your television remote. Here are five shows I’ll be watching this summer:

So You Think You Can Dance (May 28, 8 p.m. EDT on Fox)

There’s a reason this is the first reality show I have mentioned here — I am generally not a fan. But there is something so earnest and electric about this dance competition show, because it’s not interested in making tabloid-ready stars. It’s interested in showcasing truly amazing dancers and choreographers. Even if you’re not a dance fan, there is a ton to appreciate about the artistry here — from the music choices to the costume and set design to the never-ending enthusiasm of the teens and 20-somethings who contort and leap in mind-blowing ways. Give it a shot, America.


 

Mistresses (June 2, 10 p.m. EDT on ABC)

I’ve said before that soapy drama starring Alyssa Milano was one of my guilty pleasure shows, and I expect it to return in all its steamy, melodramatic glory this summer. Pour yourself some wine and settle in for more paternity tests, car crashes, illicit affairs!


 

Welcome To Sweden (July 10, 9 p.m. on NBC)

courtesy of NBC

courtesy of NBC

Written by and starring Greg Poehler, brother to the incredibly talented Amy Poehler of Parks and Recreation, Welcome To Sweden is the only debut show on this list. If the star’s family pedigree weren’t enough, there’s also the adorable premise, based on Poehler’s own real-life experience of quitting his job in the U.S. to move to Sweden for the woman he loves. The fish-out-of-water story is supported by some very fun guest stars, including Will Ferrell, as seen in this trailer:


 

Orange Is The New Black (June 6 on Netflix)

Everybody you know is watching this. You should be too. Yes, it’s that good. Go catch up on Season 1 and let’s talk.


 

True Blood (June 22, 9 p.m. EDT on HBO)

This is here mostly for nostalgia’s sake, as I used to really enjoy True Blood, but I’m not sure why I’m still watching it. It has taken a turn for the beyond crazy and somewhat nonsensical in recent years, but several of the supporting characters are still quite fun to watch. This is the final season, so I’ll be tuning in mostly to say goodbye to characters I used to love.

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Clone Club is back, and it is bananas (in a good way)

One of the most exciting new shows in recent memory — Orphan Black, about a group of distinctly different women who happen to be clones, and the various conspiracies surrounding their existence — is back for its second season. And I’m thrilled about this for two reasons:

Courtesy of BBC America

Courtesy of BBC America

A) No other TV show, besides perhaps Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, has this many interesting, nuanced, compelling female lead characters. And in the case of Orphan Black, they’re all played by the same person (!), the indomitable Tatiana Maslany.

B) The little-show-that-could seems to have expanded into a full-on phenomenon between Season 1 and 2, and more people are joining Clone Club (a meta reference to the show’s fandom.)

So far, Orphan Black has proven that it still has what it takes to shock, delight and terrify us. No spoilers here, because this is one of the few shows that I enjoy so immensely that it would crush me to know I had given away one of enjoyable twists and turns. Instead, I want to round up some of the early critical acclaim for this show, with a special focus on feminism and gender roles:

Orphan Black is all about a woman, Sarah, and her many, many clones (all played by Tatiana Maslany), so it’s no surprise that the male characters are secondary to the plot. But the men aren’t simply less important to the story than the women. They are less than, full stop. With one exception, the male characters of Orphan Black are purposefully insubstantial, bordering on feeble. This gender reversal is not an accident on the part of the show’s creators, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett; it’s clearly a conscious decision, and it effectively delivers the show’s most potent message about the nature, quality, and persistence of the enemy.

Jessica Roake, Slate.com

Not enough can be said in praise of Tatiana Maslany’s performance as all the clones, including a type-A soccer mom, a funky scientist, a barely reformed grifter, and a crazy-eyed assassin … Even if these characters weren’t involved in some kind intriguing international cloning experiment, they could support their own shows: Alison, the headband-wearing soccer mom, has a whole Weeds-esque story line about the oppressiveness of suburban bullshit; Cosima, the scientist, has an adorable lesbian romance; Helena, the Ukrainian contract killer, has an unusual religious background and an elaborate history of self-harm. It’s not clones-clones-clones all the time, thank God. These clones are people, see, and they all have lives going on outside of their clone mysteries.

Margaret Lyons, Vulture.com

When the show is on target, it speeds forward with confidence and grace, its characters intelligently working their way out of corners just as fast as the writers can paint them into new ones. But the series’ secret strength is in the way it can be surprisingly heartfelt, too. This is, after all, the story of a bunch of women realizing that the lives they thought were their own might be considered otherwise by the United States Supreme Court. Self-determination has always been at the center of great characters, but it’s always been at the center of feminism too. By burying these ideas beneath a steady diet of action-packed adventure and crazy twists, Orphan Black finds the spoonful of sugar to make the political metaphor go down.

Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club

Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 9/8C on BBC America.

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Soothing my Mindy/Danny breakup pain

Mindy and Danny break up, after just a few short weeks together. (Courtesy of Fox)

Mindy and Danny break up, after just a few short weeks together. (Courtesy of Fox)

I can’t stop thinking about Mindy and Danny. These two star-crossed doctors were so adorable during their two-episode-long pairing on Fox’s The Mindy Project that I found myself surprisingly heartbroken when they called it off so quickly in last week’s episode, “Be Cool.” I’m soothing my pain with the suggestions from the show’s writers that this isn’t the end for Mindy/Danny, and with a conversation with my girlfriends about our favorite TV pairings of all time. Why do we get so emotionally invested in TV relationships? Unlike movies, TV shows have longevity, sometimes spanning years of our lives. We invite these people into our homes every week; we feel like we “know” them. So when they fall in love (or get their hearts broken), we are right there beside them. And deep down, we want to believe in happy endings, or at least happy stretches of time. So we root for Sam and Diane (Cheers). We know Ross will always love Rachel (Friends). And even though we can spot the “will-they, won’t-they” TV tropes coming from a mile away (Nick and Jess, New Girl), we still hop on for the ride.

I chatted with a few online friends this week about the best TV couples, and here’s who they listed as their favorites:

Jim and Pam from The Office. They will never get old to me! I loved how long it took them to get together and how it just clicked! They were adorable! — Jourdan N.

Corey and Topanga (Boy Meets World)! Because they were childhood sweethearts and I always just thought they were sweet together. — Carrie C.

Jim and Pam, Chandler and Monica (Friends), Lorelei and Luke (Gilmore Girls), Cam and Mitchell (Modern Family), Marshall and Lily (How I Met Your Mother). All time favorite: Dan & Roseanne (Roseanne). — Rachel C.

I love is Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation. They’re adorable. They’re professionals, but they’re also both super goofy. — Stefanie B.

 

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A sisterly chat about ‘Scandal’

One of the great joys of my media-consumption life is chatting about that media — books, movies, TV shows — with my youngest sister, Kimberly. There is a 12-year age gap between us, so we didn’t grow up playing with the same toys or enjoying the same activities. But when she was around 11 years old, we began to bond over a shared love of books — “Harry Potter,” chief among them. Later, it was TV shows. I have a vivid memory of my then-12-year-old sister coming to visit me in North Carolina, when I introduced her to my latest obsession, the CW’s “Supernatural.” Each week, we would call each other after an episode aired and discuss it in detail, dissecting character motivations and plot developments. Flash forward to 2014, and my sister is now a 19-year-old freshman at Louisiana State University. One of our latest shared obsessions is ABC’s “Scandal,” and I decided it would be fun for us to chat about what’s happening on the show, and share it here. Below is a slightly edited transcript of our chat. (SPOILERS, of course, for the most recent episode of “Scandal.”)

(ABC/Ron Tom)

(ABC/Ron Tom)

Kayla: OK, there’s just one episode left before the season finale, and there are a lot of crazy things happening. Let’s start with what I thought was the most horrifying moment of the night: Cyrus Beene, the president’s chief of staff, learned a bomb was about to go off at a U.S. Senator’s funeral, likely leading to the convenient death of vice president / presidential race opponent Sally Langston, among hundreds of others, AND HE DIDN’T TELL ANYONE. Cyrus has always been a monster, but this seems like a dark moment, even for him.

Kimberly: Well, Cyrus has always been a cutthroat politician who does whatever it takes to get what he wants. I was honestly shocked by him doing this, though. I think that James was the only thing keeping him from boarding the crazy train, and now that he is gone, Cy’s only goal is to make sure Fitz wins the election. This really was the moment when we found out just how far he will go.

Kayla: Very true. Man, I miss James. He was one of the only sane people on this show! So, let’s talk about Olivia’s love life, because it is obviously one of the biggest sources of conflict on this show. I’ve never been a big fan of her and Fitz, and now it just seems like they’re going through the motions, because that’s what the show requires. You wrote a paper for your women’s and gender studies class this week on Liv’s relationships with the men in her life. What’s your take on the status of her relationship with the president?

Kimberly: Yeah, I agree with you that they seem to be just going through the motions. Their relationship is such a bore! I used to get all excited when they were together, but it is just getting old. All their “relationship” consists of now is Fitz yelling and whining when he doesn’t get his way. He acts like a toddler! Not to mention that their relationship is borderline abusive. I feel like he doesn’t really recognize that she is an actual human being apart from his personal fixer and mistress. He doesn’t care about her life! I’m hoping that once the election is over (whatever the outcome may be) that Liv will see her work at the White House is done. Then she can go be with Jake! Although their relationship is not perfect, Jake seems a much better choice for her. And of course, he’s a lot easier on the eyes than Fitz.

Kayla: Oh yes, I’m definitely Team Jake. My theory about Liv/Fitz is that deep down, she knows she can’t be with him, and she shouldn’t be with him. But she stays because if she doesn’t, how will she justify the horrible things she’s done? The lives she has ruined, the election she fixed — it’s all been in service of Fitz’s presidency. No one (except Cyrus) would be able to justify such despicable acts, if not for love. So if she’s not the Olivia who loves Fitzgerald Grant, then who is she? I think that question scares her more than anything else.

Let’s move on to other developments, and our predictions for the finale. Huck/Quinn — gross, or really gross? I know you disagree with me on this…

Kimberly: Huck/Quinn are kind of a weird thing with me. Before Huck turned her into a crazy, B-613 minion, I wanted them to be together. Now that they are both messed up in the head, it’s a little creepy. I would love for them to be together, but they need to tone it down a little. I mean he spit on her while they were getting hot and heavy. Who does that?! Overall: gross, but I still approve. I do have to point out that I am concerned with their relationship getting in the way of their skills. Since when has Huck let someone walk past him (Liv’s mom, especially in heels) and not notice?! Quinn and Huck being together also means that there will be a big showdown with Huck and Charlie. It won’t be pretty.

Kayla: My guess is one of those three is dead by the end of the season. So, who else is going to die in the finale? Sally Langston? Andrew Nichols, Fitz’s VP candidate who is in love with Mellie? Mellie herself? (Dear God no! I would have to stop watching. Mellie is the best.)

My money is on Andrew. I think Sally’s death would be too easy for Fitz. He coasts to re-election victory after the fixers around him take out BOTH of his opponents (Gov. Reston was taken down, Olivia Pope style, in last week’s episode)? No, he has done nothing to deserve a victory that easy. He should have to fight for it, and maybe, just maybe, lose.

Kimberly: For Mellie’s sake, I hope that Andrew doesn’t die! I like them together. Plus, that would be another way of Fitz not getting what he wants. He is a total hypocrite when it comes to them. “You’re not allowed to sleep with another man, but I’m allowed to sleep with Liv all I want!” That is total BS. Mellie has a way of getting what she wants, and I love her for that. She is an awesome First Lady. I agree that Sally dying would be to easy for Fitz. Whatever happens, I hope that Fitz has to bust his ass fighting for it. He gets everything handed to him (by Liv, Mellie, and Cyrus) and he needs to step up and be a man for once.

Kayla: Totally agree. And on that note, thank you, dear sister, for chatting with me about “Scandal.” I both dread and eagerly await Thursday night’s finale!

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5 reasons you should be watching ‘Arrow’

I can’t believe I’ve made it this far into television blogging without talking about Arrow, which has, in its two short years on air, become the show I most look forward to watching every week. If you’re thinking Arrow — based on DC’s “Green Arrow” comics — is just another soapy CW genre show with bland acting by beautiful people, you would be wrong. Arrow is the story of billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, after five tortuous years stranded on an island, returns with a vendetta against those who have ruined his hometown of Starling City. Here are five reasons you should be watching Arrow right now:

Heir to the Demon

Stephen Amell as The Arrow (Cate Cameron/The CW)

Superheroes done right: It’s been a while since primetime television has done a superhero show well. Often the lower budget of television leads to cheesy special effects and off-screen action sequences. But not so with Arrow. Somehow, the producers manage to pull off at least one spectacular sequence a week — whether it’s an intricately choreographed fight, stunning trick shots with Arrow’s bow, a big explosion or a thrilling car chase.

A genre-lover’s dream cast: The titular star Stephen Amell was a relative unknown before being cast as the Arrow / Oliver Queen. But the show is rounded out with supporting actors and recurring guests who are sure to be favorites of anyone who loves sci-fi / fantasy. Watch for Katie Cassidy, formerly Ruby from CW’s long-running Supernatural, as Laurel Lance, Oliver’s long lost love. And Paul Blackthorne, from the TV adaptation of the beloved Dresden Files novels, plays Laurel’s father — police detective Quentin Lance. Other recurring guests include John Barrowman (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Alex Kingston (Doctor Who) and Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

Actual character development: One of the interesting things about Arrow is that it tells stories in two timelines — the main story is in present-day Starling City, as Oliver spends his evenings using bad guys for target practice. The second timeline is on the island where Oliver was marooned for five years, and be assured that this is no Castaway story. There was a lot more happening on that island than campfires and coconuts, and the unfolding story there helps shed light on how Oliver transitioned from a spoiled, self-involved rich kid into the present day’s hardened sharpshooter with his own moral code.

Birds of Prey

Caity Lotz as Canary (Cate Cameron/The CW)

Girls who kick ass: Arrow may be Oliver’s show, but this vigilante is surrounded by women — both friend and foe — who are nuanced, tough characters not afraid to put Oliver in his place. Laurel Lance, her sister Sarah, Oliver’s sister Thea and his mother Moira all have their own interesting character arcs that don’t always revolve simply around their relationship with Oliver. And several of them have proven that they are just as courageous and tough as the show’s title character.

Stephen Amell’s abs: Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory.

via The CW

via The CW

via The CW

via The CW

 

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Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone I watch these shows

Ok, it’s time for a confession. There are some shows I watch on TV that I don’t like to brag about. You know them — they are “guilty pleasure” shows. When asked, you can’t quite explain why you like them. There are no nuanced discussions to be had about the nature of power, because it’s not Game of Thrones. There are no stellar, Emmy-winning acting performances, because it’s not Breaking Bad or House of Cards. Yet you still watch. Or perhaps, that’s why you watch. Sometimes, we just want to watch a show that doesn’t make us think too hard, where the pleasure in watching comes from simplicity and predictability. In other cases, the pleasure comes from the lack of predictability, from plots that are so batty, from characters that are so soapy, that we can’t help but sit back and enjoy the ride.

So, here are my top three guilty pleasure shows. If you tell anyone, I’ll just deny it, and steer the discussion to True Detective. You’ve been warned.

1. Revenge: This show didn’t start out so soapy — in its first season two years ago, it was trying to be a legitimate Sunday night drama / murder mystery on NBC. The show centers around Emily Thorne (played by Emily Van Camp), a beautiful millionaire who moves to the Hamptons with a secret plot to destroy the rich and powerful people responsible for sending her father to prison years ago. The series opened with a flash-forward murder, and then spent much of that first season on the events that lead up to it. Revenge has always had some soap opera elements to it — how could it not, with a show set in the Hamptons and co-starring the deliciously devious Madeline Stowe as Emily’s nemesis, Victoria Grayson? But the past two seasons have spiraled in to full-on silliness, and yet I still watch. There have been faked pregnancies, sunken ships, mysteries murders at sea, women being tossed from balconies and/or windows, and more faked deaths than I can count at this point. It’s the cast that really sells this melodrama, with Van Camp as the anchor. Here’s an example of the kind of backstabbing confrontations in beautiful clothes at beautiful parties that happens on Revenge:

2. Nashville: I realize this may not count as a guilty pleasure show for some people. But it is for me, mostly because I can’t really explain why I like it. (Other than Connie Britton’s hair, because it is magical). Country music? Not a fan. Another show about backstabbing and cheating hearts and break-ups and make-ups? Already got one of those (see above.) In fact, the plot of the show is actually pretty forgettable — who has record deals with which labels, who is going on tour with which superstars, who is forming a new band. Bo-ring. But Nashville is really a show about relationships, and the music industry gives the show a flashy backdrop to explore messy, complicated relationships, the most compelling of which is between country diva Rayna James (Britton) and her longtime guitar player Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten). Watch this clip of the duo singing together, and then try to tell me you wouldn’t watch these two smolder-read the phone book to each other:

3. Mistresses: Ok, this is the one of which I am most ashamed. I picked it up last summer when all of my favorite shows were on hiatus, and it is by far the soapiest of all soapy dramas. I mean, the title says it all, right? It’s about four friends who each find themselves as either the cheater, or the cheated-upon, and how they deal with the fallout in their relationships with their significant others. The performances aren’t that great (though I have a soft spot for Alyssa Milano), the dialogue is cheesy and at least one character makes decisions that are so bone-headedly stupid that it undermines the credibility of the whole show. Yet, I still watch, and I was pretty stoked to hear the show got picked up for a second season. So, um, yeah.

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As seen on TV: My home state

How much can you really learn about a place from what you see on TV? If that place is Louisiana, the answer is quite a lot. Thanks to tax credits to lure film and TV productions, my home state has been dubbed “Hollywood South.” This week, a new report found that Louisiana now leads Canada, the U.K. and the state of California in the number of feature films that are shot here. That growth extends to the small screen, too, as an increasing number of TV shows are not just filmed here, but set here too, with the Louisiana landscape becoming a central figure in the show’s setting and mythology. One of the most talked-about shows right now is HBO’s “True Detective,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana State Police detectives trying to catch a serial killer. I’m just four episodes in, but I have been struck by the hauntingly beautiful, and I’ve enjoyed seeing my state with fresh eyes. So I’ve collected some of my favorite images below of “True Detective.”

What about you? Are you enjoying “True Detective”? What Louisiana-set show is your favorite?

"I won't avert my eyes. Not again." #TrueDetective #HBO #MatthewMcConaughey #WoodyHarrelson

A post shared by True Detective (@truedetective) on

#TrueDetective #HBO #MatthewMcConaughey #WoodyHarrelson

A post shared by True Detective (@truedetective) on

Going off book. #TrueDetective #HBO #MatthewMcConaughey #WoodyHarrelson

A post shared by True Detective (@truedetective) on

…And like a lot of dreams, there's a monster at the end of it." #TrueDetective #HBO#MatthewMcConaughey #WoodyHarrelson

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"Vision is meaning. Meaning is historical." #TrueDetective #HBO #MatthewMcConaughey #WoodyHarrelson #crime #drama

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The refreshing simplicity of Parenthood

Two shows I watch — Scandal and Parenthood — returned from hiatus this week, and I watched them both back-to-back. It was a jarring experience. Scandal is a show that relies on shocking twists and dramatic reveals. (General spoiler warning for anyone not caught up on the current season). The president is having an affair with his campaign manager! The vice president murdered her husband in a rage over his affair with another man! Olivia Pope’s mother is not dead! But she’s actually a terrorist! Fans have come to expect high melodrama from this show. And this week’s episode did not disappoint when it comes to over-the-top surprises.

Photo from the Parenthood episode "Just Like At Home," which aired Feb. 27. Courtesy of NBC.com.

Photo from the Parenthood episode “Just Like At Home,” which aired Feb. 27. Courtesy of NBC.com.

So it took me a few minutes to settle in and watch the Parenthood episode that awaited me. Here’s what happened on this week’s episode, in actual plot development: Julia’s kids went on their first weekend trip to their dad’s new apartment. Family slacker Crosby asked his dad why he wanted to sell the family home. College stud Drew broke up (sort of?) with his girlfriend, very nicely. And perpetual screw-up Sarah asked her colleague and ex-lover Hank not to edit some photos, and he did it anyway. She was mildly upset, and then he apologized.

Thrilling, edge-of-your-seat action, right?

Parenthood has never been about telling wacky stories or producing shocking twists. It has always been about telling the very basic stories of what average families go through (albeit, more beautiful, financially secure families with impossibly idyllic homes and lots of “first world problems.) It’s a show about how a marriage changes with children, how siblings relate to each other, how parents deal with their children’s growing pains, how grown children relate to their adult parents, or how difficult it can be when a marriage ends. Parenthood’s surprises come not from murderous plots or shocking betrayals, but from just how relatable these characters can be. Their hurts seem like our hurts. Their conversations sound like our conversations. Their celebrations feel like our celebrations. Problems aren’t just solved with a heart-to-heart chat with mom and dad at the end of the day — they reverberate throughout the show and through other characters, and they are given space to breathe. There is plenty of silliness and sometimes downright bizarre choices (the recent plotline of Kristina Braverman running for mayor comes to mind.) But ultimately, Parenthood is a joyous show, because it knows enough about families to capture what is both infuriating and invigorating about them.

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Snowed in? 5 TV shows to stream right now

Everyone from Denver to Boston seems to be snowed in right now, and cabin fever will soon set in. If you’re all caught up on your DVR and your street still hasn’t been plowed, perhaps now is the time to try out one of those shows your friends have always been telling you to watch. Here are my top picks.

Veronica Mars: Don’t let this show’s high school setting and spunky blonde heroine fool you. This show is classic noir, covering dark topics including murder and rape. But it’s also wickedly clever and features one of the best father-daughter relationships ever to hit the screen. This beloved series ran for just three seasons, so picking it up now won’t feel like a lifetime commitment. Plus, the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie comes out next month, so this is the perfect time to join the fun. All three seasons are available to stream for free for Prime users on Amazon Instant Video.


Orphan Black: A woman runs into her doppleganger in a train station, only to watch her lookalike commit suicide. This kicks off what has become one of the most thrilling sci-fi series in recent history, starring Tatiana Maslany as the protagonist — and as the cloned versions of herself. The second season comes to BBC America in April, and the first season is available on BBC America On Demand, as well as for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. I was able to watch the first episode for free with my Prime membership, and I was so instantly hooked that I didn’t hesitate to pay the $9 to watch the rest.


Sherlock: If you’ve been on the internet lately (or, ever), you may have noticed that people are uncontrollably giddy about how much they love the BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous detective, and Martin Freeman as his Dr. Watson. There’s good reason for all the chatter. This series is, like Holmes himself, about as clever as it is smug, but the two lead characters have such excellent rapport and chemistry that it’s a delight to watch. Each episode is 90 minutes long, and there are 6 episodes (2 seasons) available to stream for free on Netflix. The third and most recent season just finished airing on BBC America, so if you missed them, you can buy them on iTunes.


Misfits: I stumbled on this lesser-known show via a recommendation from Hulu Plus, which knows my affinity for British dramas. And it has been my favorite “new” show in the past year, even though the first season aired in 2009. It is the story of five juvenile delinquents in the U.K. who are suddenly gifted with special powers after a freak hailstorm. The concept is straight out of comic books, but the execution is sublime. These teenage characters both hilarious and endearing, and the greatest moments come not when they are using their powers, but when they are getting to know each other and themselves. Five seasons (each 6-7 episodes long) are available to stream on Hulu Plus.


House of Cards: This critically acclaimed political thriller makes my list because it seems to have grown on me over time. Kevin Spacey’s performance as a power-hungry Senator from South Carolina is campy, but in the best possible way. Despite Spacey’s energetic performance, the show feels as though it moves a bit slowly, which is why this is a series made for binge-watching. No single episode will stick out in your mind, except perhaps Chapter 8, making the whole first season feel like a very long (but very good) movie. The trailers for Season 2, which will be released on Valentine’s Day, hint at some serious political and personal upheavals, so if you’ve been putting off this show, now is the time to give it a shot. The first season is free on Netflix.

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