Awesome leading ladies

Alias

★★★½

Netflix, seasons 1-5 recently added

Alias (ABC 2001–2005) seems to be remembered mostly as “that show JJ Abrams did before Lost” and that’s a shame because in some ways it’s his best work. Jennifer Garner plays Sydney Bristow, a double agent who is secretly informing on the terrorist organization she unwittingly worked for, SD–6, to the CIA. Sydney has to hide who she really is from her collegues at SD–6 and her friends who don’t even know she’s a spy. If that weren’t enough of a premise the show also quickly starts unraveling the devices of a centuries old super-genius named Rambaldi. The highpoint of Alias (above) is its second season where it manages to pefectly balance the Rambaldi crazyness with Sydney’s life as a spy. The show becomes somewhat muddled in its later seasons, but the first two are some of the greatest action TV ever made.

Fringe

★★★½

Amazon Prime, season 4 recently added

Fringe (Fox, 2008-present [final season airing currently]) is in many ways the mirror image of Alias. Both shows were created by JJ Abrams and both shows vary in quality from mediocre to brilliant over their run, but Alias’s weaknesses are Fringe’s strengths and vice versa. Alias shot out of the gate with a great premise and great characters and then slowly ran out of steam. Fringe, on the other hand, starts out looking like a second rate X-files knock-off but slowly grows into one of the best sci-fi shows on television. An FBI agent is tasked to solve mysterious super-scientific “Fringe events” and recruits brilliant but insane scientist Walter Bishop and his estranged son Peter to help. Over the course of the first season that set-up gains a complex mythology with mysterious other-worldly “Observers” and an alternate universe that seems bent on our destruction. Similarly, both Walter Bishop and FBI agent Olivia Dunham evolve from fairly one-dimensional beginings into two of the most interesting characters on television.

30 Rock

30 Rock

★★★★½

Netflix, season 6 just added. Hulu, season 7 episodes 1-4 now streaming

We’re almost to the end of 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-present). Tina Fey’s sitcom about a loosely disguised version of Tina Fey writing for a loosely disguised version of Saturday Night Live is coming to an end this year with the show’s seventh season. The finish line brings a renewed focus to the show after a few seasons that, while still hilarious (Season 6’s “Leap Day” episode is an all-time classic), seemed to be drifting a bit. The sheer density of bits in 30 Rock was always what made it one of the best and most critically beloved sitcoms on television. Now, however, the show seems determined to squeeze in every last storyline and joke for its characters before the show ends, and it’s magnified that show’s already hyper-comedic pace.

Absolutely Fabulous

★★★½

Amazon Prime, seasons 1-6 now streaming

Absolutely Fabulous (BBC, 1992-present) was one of the most award-winning British comedies of the 1990s. The show centers around Eddy and Patsy, two aging, alcoholic, fashion-obsessed best friends whose irresponsibility has driven Eddy’s teenage daughter Saffron to be the responsible, collected member of the ensemble. Like a lot of British comedies, the show’s had an unpredictable airing schedule, often disapearing for years at a time and returning with a slightly tweaked premise. The show’s most recent encore, filmed just this year for the London Olympics, isn’t the show’s strongest effort, but you have to admire its staying power.

Don’t Trust the B—— in Apt. 23

Don’t Trust the B—— in Apt. 23

★★★★

Hulu, season 2 episode 1 now streaming

After dropping the B word from the title of Don’t Trust the B—— in Apt 23 (ABC 2011-present) and saddling it with maybe the worst theme song in history, ABC was at least kind enough to renew this promising new sitcom for a second season. After moving to New York from a small midwestern town sweet, innocent June Colburn moves into a new apartment where her roommate Chloe turns out to be, as the title might suggest, not a nice person. The premise makes the show sound like a boring female version of the Odd Couple, but the show quickly moved to embrace its weirder elements—like the neighbor down the hall who’s obsessed with Chloe, or James Van Der Beek as Chloe’s best friend, a vain, fame-obsessed version of himself.

RuPaul’s Drag Race

★★★

Netflix, season 4 recently added

I have to confess that I’m not much of a reality television fan, so when friends first started telling me RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo, 2009-present) was one of their favorite shows on TV, I assumed they were just trying to wind me up. RuPaul’s Drag Race is an elimination-style reality show that takes 12 drag queens and puts them through the same general beats as America’s Next Top Model. It sounds like a slightly excesive new twist on reality television, but in practice it’s actually fabulously excessive. Drag Race is almost as much a parody of reality television as it is a part of it. By walking the fine line between being a joke and being totally genuine about itself, the show manages to be the rare trashy reality show you can feel safe to laugh with rather than at—and that makes it the rare reality show that’s worth rewatching online.

What’s new

  • Going Postal (Sky) Season 1:Netflix
  • Touch (Fox) Season 1: Netflix
  • Nip/Tuck (FX) Season 5: Netflix

Expiring soon

  • Father Ted (BBC) Seasons 2–3: Netflix (11/1)
  • No Ordinary Family (ABC) Seasons 2–3: Netflix (11/1)

[Streaming movies and TV shows—on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Videos—are ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next. The purpose of the Now Streaming series is to alert you to what movies and shows are new to streaming, what you might want to watch before it disappears, and other treasures that are worth checking out.]

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