Post-Thanksgiving relaxation TV

Stargate Universe

★★★½

Netflix, season 1 recently added

With several movies, two long running series, and the short-lived Stargate Universe (Syfy, 2009-2011) under its belt, the Stargate, well, universe rivals Star Trek and Star Wars for largest sci-fi franchise. And, like those more famous series, you largely know what you’re in for with a Stargate show. Set in the modern day where the military has discovered a system of gates that let you travel instantaneously via wormholes to planets anywhere in the universe, all Stargate shows are about a crew of brave, intelegent adventures being vastly outgunned by an advanced alien enemy and somehow coming out on top. Stargate Universe (above), or SGU for short, stranded its cast on a mysterious spacecraft halfway across the universe with key systems—including the stargate that could send them back home—offline. The crew has to contend with a mysterious galaxy full of lifeforms humanity has never dealt with before, and an ancient ship that’s falling apart around them. That premise is similar to Stargate Atlantis, which also stranded its cast on a mysterious base in another galaxy, but SGU went a little darker with the Stargate premise, with characters dying off or getting injured.

The Larry Sanders Show

★★★★

Amazon Prime, full series recently added. Also available on Netflix

The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, 1992–1998) is one of the forefathers of modern single-camera sitcoms. It follows the backstage antics of a low-rated late night talk show, the titular Larry Sanders Show. Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling) is a vain, celebrity-obsessed comedian whose neurotic need to be liked creates more enemies than friends. Besides the single-camera set up and meta premise, the show was mostly notable for its extended cast featuring future comedy all-stars like Janeane Garofalo and Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor as Larry’s sidekick, Hank Kingsley. The show also featured a constant stream of celebrity guest stars coming in to get interviewed by Larry.

Merlin

Merlin

★★★

Netflix, season 4 recently added

I won’t argue that Merlin (BBC, 2008-Present) is the deepest retelling of Authurian legend you’ll ever watch, but this BBC show about Merlin and Arthur’s early years as sexy teens (the show was actually pitched to the BBC as King Arthur meets Smallville) does manage to make its ridiculous premise a whole lot of fun. If you’re looking for a great story about the founding of the round table, you should probably look elsewhere. If you’re looking to unwind with a fun medieval fantasy series that occasionally throws a few King Arthur references your way, however, Merlin may be right up your alley.

Spaced

★★★★½

Netflix, full series (expiring 12/1)

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have created two of the best comedies of the last 10 years with their buddy cop parody Hot Fuzz and the horror/comedy Shaun of the Dead. Their first work together, however, was on a little-watched but much loved british sitcom called Spaced (Channel 4, 1999–2001) about pop-culture obsessed slackers in their twenties who move in together in an apartment building full of bizarre characters. While that premise seems a bit played out in 2012, Spaced invented many of the hallmarks of modern reference-based comedy, and did it with more visual flair than a lot of sitcoms today. Even if you’re not interested in watching Spaced, as a historical artifact the show still has plenty of laughs in store, and with just 14 half-hour episodes it’s a great way to spend a long, lazy afternoon.

Bunheads

Bunheads

★★★★

Amazon Prime, season 1

Bunheads (ABC Family, 2011-Present) has been overlooked by a lot of viewers since it’s an ABC Family show, and its premise (a Las Vegas showgirl moves to a sleepy town and starts teaching at a dance school) doesn’t exactly scream quality television. Critics and a small-but-devoted fanbase have gravitated to the show, however, because of its creator, Amy Sherman Palladino. Palladino is best known for creating Gillmore Girls and once you realize it’s the work of the same mind, the connections are hard to miss. Bunheads share’s the same quirky smalltown setting, the same rapid-fire dialogue, and even a cast member in Kelly Bishop, playing the same stern but ultimately mother figure she did on Gilmore Girls as the lead’s new mother-in-law. Those similarities mean the show isn’t the most original program airing today, but they also make it comfort food for Gilmore fans and anyone looking for some fun, relaxing TV.

The Sarah Silverman Program

★★★½

Netflix, season 2 recently added

Sarah Silverman’s comedy is a bit of an aquired taste. Silverman’s method of saying inappropriate things in an adorable voice can be offputting and tiresome if you aren’t a fan. It’s hard not to find that formula just a little bit winning in The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central, 2007–2010), where Silverman stretches her comedic sensibilities to the limit. Half sketch show, half sitcom, The Sarah Silverman Program followed a fictionalized version of Silverman and her stand-up comedian friends as she drifts through a thoroughly self-absorbed life in Los Angeles. The show’s premise doesn’t really convey how crazy the show is willing to get for a laugh, however, with musical numbers and even some brief animated sequences just for a quick joke.

What’s new

  • Teen Wolf (MTV) Season 2: Netflix
  • L.A. Ink (TLC) Season 1: Netflix
  • The Hills (MTV) Season 5: Netflix

Expiring soon

  • Fraggle Rock (CBC) Seasons 1–5: Netflix (12/1)
  • Kingdom (ITV) Seasons 1–3: Netflix (12/1)

[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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