Never Have I Ever
As someone who generally doesn’t like teen shows (the stakes are always so low and I’m not trying to relive my high school years — yikes!) I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by this new Netflix comedy created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher. The Tamil Canadian actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan stars as Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian American high school sophomore who lives in the San Fernando Valley with her mom and cousin. Her father has recently died and after a rough last year she’s trying to refurbish her image by nabbing a boyfriend and attempting to climb up the social ladder. It’s a familiar premise — unpopular nerd tries to reinvent herself — but the writing is so fresh and specific that it’s delightful instead of clichéd. The cast is admirably diverse (the school hottie is half white, half Japanese) and the writers acknowledge the characters’ ethnic backgrounds without being corny or didactic.
With some great supporting stunt casting (tennis legend John McEnroe narrates the series) this show is the cute lockdown watch you didn’t know you needed. —Tomi Obaro
Where to watch: Netflix
First of all, sign me up for anything starring Merritt Wever! She and Domhnall Gleeson play ex-lovers in this sexy new rom-com thriller executive produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Vicky Jones. I was hooked from the first few minutes of the pilot episode, in which Ruby (Wever) parked in a grocery store lot, receives a mysterious text from someone named Billy: “RUN.” She looks around nervously, and then replies with the same phrase, “RUN.”
Suddenly, she’s scrambling to get on a plane to New York, not even stopping at home to pack a bag, rushing to meet this Billy (Gleeson), who turns out to be her college ex, at Grand Central Station, where they hop on a train and engage in outrageous banter.
That Waller-Bridge is reportedly set to play a recurring role makes the show all the more tantalizing. We gradually learn more information about Ruby and Billy and what they’re running from, which only increases the stakes. Each episode ends with a new twist. That’s why I’m still engrossed in the series: I need to know what happens next. —Krystie Yandoli
Where to watch: HBO
The Last Dance
Someone asked me the other day if you needed to know anything about basketball to watch The Last Dance — the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan's last season with the Chicago Bulls. Nope, I told her — you just have to have been alive, in some capacity, in the '90s. The Last Dance is really a cultural document, interspersing interviews, archival tape, and over 500 hours of unseen footage taken behind the scenes during that final season. It tells the story of how the Bulls became (arguably) the best team in basketball history, but it also traces how Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman became some of the most fascinating and influential celebrities of the era, modeling markedly different forms of masculinity and engagement with the public. It's addictive and immersive and will transport you straight back to the '90s. —Anne Helen Petersen
Where to watch: ESPN (USA) and Netflix (International); available on Netflix in the US on July 19
Call the Midwife (Season 9)
These days it’s hard for me to predict, until I actually sit down on the sofa and pick up the remote, what will appeal to my frazzled and freaked-out brain at any given moment. Some new seasons of old favorites are still working for me (nothing feels better than surrendering to the profound, expensive stupidity of Westworld), while others are suddenly no fun. But one show I had absolutely no doubt would be just what I wanted to watch when it came back this spring was Call the Midwife — and I was right. Nothing could be better suited to the moment than this lovely, long-running UK series about how public health workers are heroes and Everything Will Be All Right.
Season 9 of Call the Midwife, now airing on PBS, picks up right where the other eight seasons left off — which is to say with more cozy, tidy, comforting adventures of a group of nurse-midwives and nun-midwives ministering to patients and delivering babies in a working-class London neighborhood in the 1960s. There are always a few seasonlong narratives in play to maintain a little tension (will the nuns’ historic convent be demolished as part of the city’s “slum clearance”?!). But the show is fundamentally procedural, guaranteed to give you the satisfaction of several problems solved (whether medical, emotional, or logistical) and generally at least two babies safely delivered in every episode. Right now, a little guaranteed satisfaction is exactly what I need. —Rachel Sanders
Where to watch: PBS (new episodes), Netflix (Seasons 1–8), and Amazon Prime Video (available for rent).
Keeping Up With the Kardashians (Season 18)
I don’t know why the pandemic brought me and the Kardashians back together after a 13-season hiatus, but something about the normalcy and consistency of their excess felt like exactly the kind of homecoming I needed. After 18 seasons, it was nice to slide right back into the E! juggernaut and see that even though the family has expanded, their appearances have changed dramatically, and the geometric designs of the Oreos in Khloé’s kitchen have gotten more elaborate, most things have stayed the same. There is one notable exception: Kim has brought her social justice project onto the show and in a recent episode traveled to Texas to attempt to stay the execution of a man on death row named Rodney Reed. (Spoiler: She and her high-priced lawyers were successful.) While I seriously admire Kim for using her massive platform to try to make changes to the carceral state, what actually drew me back in were the headlines and dramatic recreations of the bombastic two-part season premiere.
It featured a brutal fight between Kim and Kourtney — about what I’m not sure? Kourtney wanting to spend more time on her lifestyle blog, Poosh??? — complete with the dramatic foundation makeup (KKW Beauty, I assume?) of one of the sisters being smeared across the wall while Khloé rushed around with cleaner and a rag to destroy the evidence of their familial distress. I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive! It’s been hard reading books or watching movies or diving into new (serious) TV shows, but the Kardashians' petty arguments and vacant stares as they discuss surprise birthday parties and lip kit colors really feel like a beautiful escape right now. I can’t wait for the all-iPhone season finale. —Karolina Waclawiak
Where to watch: E! or Hulu Live
At the beginning of lockdown, I had big TV aspirations, as I think many of us did — I’d finally start The Wire! But all I’ve managed to accomplish is a soothing rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and starting a bonkers new dystopian show about witch soldiers with my roommates. Motherland: Fort Salem is the latest spooky teen offering from Freeform, which has surprised me in being way hornier than I ever remember the channel formerly known as ABC Family ever being. (At one point there’s a full-on witch orgy!!)
Backing up: Motherland takes place in an alternative United States in which colonial-era witches brokered a deal with the government to end their persecution by agreeing to fight for the country in a witch military. Now, in modern day, we’re following three young women as they go through basic training before they head to “war college.” My lesbian household started watching it because we heard there’s a girl-on-girl romance and we’ll try pretty much anything gay, and we’ve since stuck around because it’s completely and delightfully batshit. The villains are seemingly these regular blue balloons from, like, Party City — or perhaps some faceless villain just uses the balloons as weapons??? — who write cryptic messages on mirrors in Comic Sans–esque font. At one point, the witches are having a Midsommar-esque marriage ceremony when suddenly a huge army of balloons shows up in the sky and everyone freaks out. I haven’t cried laughing like that in weeks. I never have any idea what’s going on (though some of that is probably the edible’s fault), and right now that’s just the way I like it. —Shannon Keating
Where to watch: Freeform or Hulu ●