Picks by Independent staff and contributors
The calendar says it’s springtime, but Outer Cape weather in April is a reminder of that old saw about what makes May flowers bloom. For those times when you need a reprieve from the gray skies, we’ve compiled a few recommendations for streaming from staff and contributors to distract you from the fact that we still have a ways to go before taking our shorts and flip-flops out of storage.
Seaside Hotel, PBS and Amazon Prime
If the pace and complexity of life at Downton Abbey is too dizzying for you, consider checking in to the pleasant Seaside Hotel.
This undemanding Danish series (original title: Badehotellet) has been humming along at its own moderate pace since 2013. The story begins in 1928 and is currently in 1945, but not much Sturm und Drang (or whatever the Danish equivalent is) has affected the lives of this little group. There are plot lines aplenty, but though I’ve seen all 55 episodes of its nine seasons, I can’t recall if anything of import has happened. It always seems like something consequential is about to change everyone’s life, but it never really does. (Season 8 saw a scrum of Nazis take over a hotel down the beach, but they moved on before becoming a bummer.)
The charm comes from watching really good actors — Jens Jacob Tychsen as vain actor Edward Weyse is particularly droll — dashing from tea to the beach to their rooms in just-good-enough period costumes while tossing off bon mots that are almost amusing. If you fall asleep while watching or skip an episode, you can just pick it up again. (During the pandemic, I rewatched the first three seasons in reverse order — and that was fine.) It might sound like faint praise, but this inn by the sea offers reliable comfort in these unsteady times. —James Judd
A League of Their Own, Amazon Prime
A League of Their Own was one of my favorite movies growing up. Even my prepubescent brain recognized that Madonna and Geena Davis should have made out.
The writers of the delightful TV adaptation, which premiered in 2022, clearly agree: over eight episodes, the Rockford Peaches hit home runs, chafe under World War II-era gender politics, and make out with each other — a lot. Yet the show’s most irresistible relationship is the platonic one between two young Black women from Rockford: aspiring pitcher Max Chapman (Chanté Adams) and comic book whiz Clance Morgan (Gbemisola Ikumelo). Racism keeps the talented Max off the Peaches, while Clance worries that her sweet husband will receive unequal treatment after he’s deployed overseas. Even as they go on their own journeys and Max embraces a queer chosen family, their best friendship forms the emotional heart of the show’s ambitious tapestry.
Laugh-out-loud funny, full of unstuffy period detail, and imbued with radical queerness, the show is a gift of storytelling abundance — although with only a four-episode renewal, the suits don’t seem to agree. —Amelia Roth-Dishy
The Night Agent, Netflix
I gravitate towards spy thrillers, although when either the gratuitous violence (think 24) or preposterousness of the plot (remember Homeland?) become too much, I reach for the remote.
I’ve been seduced by The Night Agent, the 10-episode Netflix series starring Gabriel Basso as Peter, a low-level FBI agent, and Luciane Buchanan as Rose, a failed CEO. Rose’s aunt and uncle (who are secret government agents) have just been assassinated, and her call for help unleashes terrorist threats and national security cover-ups — all of which are well above Peter’s pay grade. Suddenly, Peter finds himself protecting Rose from the assassins. She becomes the brains to Peter’s brawn as she calls the shots in their killer-eluding adventure. Conflicted but compliant, Peter reminds me of a dopey dog — loyal and lovable and a bit slow on the uptake. The flip of gender stereotypes is a welcome change from the typical testosterone-driven spy thriller narrative.
This series is at its best when one doesn’t attend too closely to the plot or dialogue. It feels old-fashioned in the best possible way: simple enough to follow, but fast paced and with enough tricky twists to hold interest. My favorite character is Peter’s boss, played by Hong Chau. I can’t quite decide whether she’s a good guy or a bad guy. What I do know is her wig looks like someone ripped the mane off an old gray mare costume and slapped it sideways on her head. Why is her hair so big? Does working in the White House do that to a person? I guess I’ll have to wait until a future episode to find out. —Edouard Fontenot
Shrinking, Apple TV+
Therapists unable to shed their proclivity to analyze things outside the office is an old narrative trope. But the flip side of that — when therapists bring the stress of their personal lives to their appointments with patients — is a central theme of Shrinking, the newish Apple TV+ comedy-drama starring Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, and Jessica Williams.
The three play colleagues with Jimmy (Segel’s character) chaotically staving off grieving the death of his wife by becoming overly involved in his patients’ lives. The show is a beautifully acted testament to how joy and pain play off each other. While Jimmy is at first too unmoored, drug-addled, and sad to support his daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell), the adults who love him step in as surrogate parents. The spheres of Jimmy’s professional and social worlds merge as these characters rally around him and Alice to show them that love still abounds. It’s the kind of show that had me laughing out loud even as it tugged at my heartstrings.
Shrinking is the salt-fat-acid-heat equivalent of good television: a show where tragedy, joy, absurdity, and charm balance perfectly, reflecting and illuminating each other through emotional juxtaposition. —Sophie Mann-Shafir
Frayed, HBO Max
In these days of hyper-precise algorithmic recommendations and social media saturation, it’s hard for anything to truly sail under the cultural radar. But I’m stumped by how Frayed has managed to remain that most elusive of things on streaming television: a well-kept secret. A co-production of Australia’s ABC TV and Britain’s Sky UK, it was picked up by HBO Max in 2020 — and not a single person besides the colleague who first told me about it (thanks, Sophie!) and the few people I’ve introduced it to seems to have heard of it.
Written by and starring the wonderfully elastic-faced Sarah Kendall as a wealthy London housewife who returns to her hometown on the east coast of Australia after her husband dies in circumstances that can only be described as hilarious, it quickly becomes more than the expected fish-out-of-water comedy as its uniformly excellent ensemble cast (including Diane Morgan, the star of Cunk on Earth) squabbles foul-mouthedly through a series of sticky and increasingly dark situations.
At a compact 12 episodes spread out over two seasons, it makes for a satisfyingly digestible watch over a long drizzly weekend. If Frayed has managed to make it this far without anyone knowing about it, just think how many other great shows are lurking in the depths of your streaming menus waiting to be discovered. —John D’Addario