Streaming on Netflix; one season, seven episodes
The documentary series Tiger King tells the stories of several exotic animal zoo owners, mainly focusing on one, Joe Exotic (real name: Joseph Maldonado-Passage). He’s part animal enthusiast, part country singer, part maniac. And he was convicted of hiring someone to murder another owner and is now in jail.
The fact that these people have a plethora of tigers, lions, leopards, snakes, monkeys, and whatever else you can think of isn’t the craziest thing about them. Take Mario Tabraue, a.k.a. Scarface, a prominent drug trafficker in the 1980s who was later sentenced to 100 years in prison (for murder, among other charges). After appeal, he served only 12 years, and now owns a large private zoo in south Florida. And he’s the sanest of the lot.
There’s a cult leader with several wives, and Carole Baskin, an animal-rights activist who some believe fed her wealthy husband to tigers. He disappeared and has never been found, and Baskin now claims to run a big-cat sanctuary.
As a journalist, it’s impressive to see how well-made Tiger King is and the access the filmmakers had. But the series is as sad as it is entertaining. It exposes the poor conditions in which wild animals live — how they’re confined to insufficient space, don’t eat enough, and die too young.
There has been a media frenzy over Tiger King — some say it’s exploitative. But it’s the fact that people spend good money to see big cats up close and take photos with the cubs for their Instagram pages that keeps these zoos operating. Instead, watch Tiger King. —Ryan Fitzgerald
Broadcast on PBS Masterpiece; available on Xfinity on demand; streaming on iTunes, Amazon, pbs.org; one season, six episodes
This BBC series has a classic good-vs.-evil plot that pits the liberal, truth-seeking reporter Holly Evans (Charlotte Riley) and her newspaper, the Herald, against the opportunistic editor Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin) and his tabloid, the Post. For those who know London newspapers, the Herald is a fictionalized Guardian, the Post, a play on the Sun.
The episodes touch on government intrusion into citizens’ privacy, a police cover-up, and a powerful public figure who takes advantage of young, at-risk women. But the real story is the rivalry between Holly and Duncan. In an era of fake news, fragmented media attention, and diminishing readership, Press asks worthwhile questions — should a newspaper stay true to its mission? Revere facts, not hearsay? Speak truth to power? Even as its readership dries up? Or should it sensationalize, exaggerate, and put entertainment above accuracy in order to compete at the newsstand?
If such questions interest you, binge on Press. Or don’t, if you insist on the show being as accurate as the paper you’re reading now. —Edward Boches
Streaming on Netflix (subtitled or dubbed); seasons one and two: eight episodes each; season three: 12 episodes
Viewers on the hunt for a smart, sexy historical series will love Babylon Berlin, a dark thriller set in Germany’s interwar years. Follow the twists and turns of tormented police detective Gereon Rath (the splendid, chiseled Volker Bruch) and aspiring investigator and plucky flapper Charlotte Ritter (the lissome Liv Lisa Fries) as they get to the bottom of what seems to be a plot to blackmail public officials for their involvement in a sex ring. The lavish German production spared no expense on costumes, sets, and orchestra for this loose adaptation of Volker Kutscher’s fictional crime series. The result is a heart-stoppingly twisty mystery, weaving compelling character arcs together with political history. Thank goodness there are plans to film another 12 episodes at some point! —Cathy Corman
Streaming on Netflix; one season, six episodes
Cheer is a reality series about competitive cheerleading. If that doesn’t sound as if it’s up your alley, try to ditch your assumptions about both reality TV and cheerleading. This beautifully directed show explores the trials and tribulations of a community college cheerleading team in Texas in the run-up to the national championship in Daytona, Fla. The personalities of the team members, men and women, are unforgettable and almost unreal at times. Led by iron-fisted head coach Monica, they are not only accomplished athletes but also have a zealous team spirit that reaches frightening, if not inspiring, extremes.
Cheer delves into the complex and often painful backstories of the team’s stars in an ambitious way. It becomes clear that the show is not just about the sport, but about overcoming middle-American hardships. By the time you reach the final episode in Daytona, you will likely find yourself swept up in the action. A single bad toss or twirl can cause serious injury, so tensions run high — never a dull quarantine moment. —Will Powers
The Kominsky Method
Streaming on Netflix; two seasons, eight episodes each
“You know, I wake up every morning and my first thought is, I wonder what part of me is not working today,” says Norman Newlander (Michael Douglas) to his friend Sandy Kominsky (Alan Arkin), who replies, “Yeah, we are passengers on a boat that’s slowly sinking.”
One of my favorite comedies of late, The Kominsky Method follows these two alter kakers as they navigate the death of a loved one, a return to dating, having erectile dysfunction, and an occasional disdain for the younger generation.
Sandy barely gets by running an acting studio for wannabes who’ll probably never get famous (any more than he has). Norman, the semi-retired president of a talent agency, has a very nice lifestyle yet still has concerns, such as a daughter who’s in and out of rehab. They couldn’t be more different, but each needs the other for advice, solace, and friendship.
Some of their lunches at the old-time Hollywood hangout Musso & Frank’s, where they wait patiently for their shuffling 80-year-old waiter to deliver their drinks, are hysterical. Sandy orders his usual Jack Daniels and Dr. Pepper, and Norman lets his friend know that he “absolutely loathes the way you drink.”
Season two comes with another welcome senior citizen: Paul Reiser as Martin, a bald, pony-tailed, pot-smoking ex-high school teacher who dates Sandy’s daughter, sending Sandy, who has no problem dating younger women himself, into apoplexy. —Edward Boches
CBC; streaming on PopTV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and more; six seasons; seasons one to four: 13 episodes each; seasons five and six: 14 episodes each.
I came late to the game on Schitt’s Creek, which just had its finale. But I’m glad I started watching it exactly when I did. It provides comfort-watching at its best, and I’ve been rationing episodes to get me through these anxious days.
In the series, the Rose family, helmed by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, lose their video-store fortune in episode one and seek exile in Schitt’s Creek, a tiny town they once purchased on a lark. Forced into new circumstances requiring them to live in adjoining motel rooms, each member of the Rose family adapts to a life that would have previously been totally unrecognizable.
Sound familiar? Not to give anything away, but the Rose family perseveres. And it’s the way they do — with style, sarcasm, and humor at first, but ultimately with kindness and love — that will save your life just a little bit right now. Watch it, re-watch it, and practice your “Ew, David” on repeat. —Molly Newman