I need more easy stuff to watch right before sleep.
October 21, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

So, I have about an hour before bed that I use to fold laundry or do the dishes. I like to listen/watch dumb procedural/medical/light scifi dramas, as I do so. Or, science/history documentaries that I can listen to, and not have to actually watch.

I would prefer to have multiple seasons to go on, for consistency—to keep from searching for the newest episode of whatever dumb show I'm watching. Essentially, I like to just have a show, turn it on, and go about my business.

However, I feel like I've pretty much watched them all, from the 90s on.

What worked:

New York: A Documentary Film
The Practice
Ally McBeal
PBS' Secrets of the Dead (Now not posted enough, still on air)
NOVA (Again, not posted enough, still on the air)
All of the Law & Orders
Antiques Roadshow (Nope, not posted enough, still on the air)
History Detectives (Still on air)
Warehouse 13
Lie to Me
The CSIs (to an extent)
The Guardian
Bones (Still on air, have to wait for episodes)

Now: these shows can't be too stressful or engrossing, as I'm getting ready for bed, so here are some things that don't really work:

House of Cards (Too much manipulation, too many cliffhangers)
Scandal (Starting to turn into too much personal "will they or won't they" drama. Also, still on air, so not much choice.)
Damages (Again, too much stress)
Twin Peaks (Way too visually interesting, well written. I love it, but I need to pay attention)
Downton Abbey (It's soapy, but damn, I love to actually watch it)

So. Any ideas? I'm open to suggestions beyond crappy shows; they just can't be stressful. Also MOST open to documentary series that deal with non-stressful subjects, but also that I don't have to sit there and watch.

posted by ulfberht to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is all on netflix, and fits the bill. Not sure of your taste, but Star Trek is great for these purposes, it's mostly talking on fixed sets.
posted by Think_Long at 7:57 PM on October 21, 2013

Person of Interest is pretty great. It's got a kind of oddball mythology behind it, but it plays out like a procedural, so it's easy to follow, even if you're only half paying attention. And it has Michael Emerson (the serial killer from The Practice, Ben from Lost) and he's great.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:57 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Drop Dead Diva? Bubbleheaded model dies and is reborn in the body of an accomplished, plus-sized lawyer, who happens to work in the same office as the model's boyfriend. Wackiness ensues! It's Ally McBeal-level fluff that you can totally watch with half your brain or less.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:59 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh! I forgot to mention, it has to be on Hulu or Netflix Streaming.

And Star Trek's my jam, but I've literally seen all of them. Multiple times, over the years.
posted by ulfberht at 8:02 PM on October 21, 2013

How about Grey's Anatomy?
posted by fancyoats at 8:04 PM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: MacGyver is exactly what you're looking for, and is on Netflix. I was also using Kitchen Nightmares like this over the summer while I was writing to have background noise.
posted by codacorolla at 8:04 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Podcasts are great for this. You can find them on pretty much any topic, and there's nothing to watch! The ones affiliated with Nerdist are a good start.
posted by Comet Bug at 8:06 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Felicity is an easy one and I think it's on Netflix right now.
posted by greta simone at 8:06 PM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: Cosmos. The visuals are pretty (though sometimes cheezy) but not necessary to appreciate what Carl Sagan's voice is saying to you. And why wouldn't you want his voice to help take you between this world and the dreamland?

Link is to a youtube of one episode, but the full series is available on Netflix (and was on Hulu for a while... don't know if it still is).
posted by sparklemotion at 8:07 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Recently watched: Fringe, Dollhouse.

I also think the bad disaster movies on Netflix work really well... they rotate, but it's easy to just keep clicking on the "related" once you've found one. "Absolute Zero" is a place to start. (I also love to laugh at the bad science, but that might not be your thing.)
posted by DoubleLune at 8:09 PM on October 21, 2013

Scouring my netflix ratings, I think these are generally pretty mellow procedurals.

White Collar
The Glades
The Finder

and some others that I enjoyed but which seem further from the mark but still not too crazy.

The Dresden Files
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
The Rockford Files
Once Upon a Time
posted by cali59 at 8:12 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

House is my benchmark for this. It's so perfectly formulaic that even if you aren't paying attention, you can just look at where you are in an episode to know if this is the drug that's going to kill the patient slowly, kill the patient quickly, or save the patient. It's very low stress tv watching, and Hugh Laurie is great enough to make it entertaining anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:12 PM on October 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm oddly mesmerized by How It's Made - a documentary type show that shows how just about everything you can imagine is made. Past episodes are on Netflix.
posted by cecic at 8:12 PM on October 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

One winter, with only an internet connection and access to YouTube, I watched and felt soothed by Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World". You can make your own playlist, and have it on as background noise. It's neither stressful nor particularly dramatic.
posted by simulacra at 8:13 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I too wanted something on while I did other things - I ended up finding that Ken Burns documentaries are perfect to listen to while doing other things since it is heavily narrative-based. I ended up listening to/watching the ones on the Prohibition and The Dust Bowl. A bunch of his other documentaries are up on Netflix.
posted by littlesq at 8:17 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't tell if these shows are on Hulu or Netflix because those sites won't let me search without joining, and I don't want to join. But:

The Day the Universe Changed
Pole to Pole
Full Circle
Life on Earth
The Living Planet
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:17 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If just listening is an option, you might like this previously thing.
posted by timsteil at 8:19 PM on October 21, 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (on Hulu)
Angel (on Hulu)
Beauty & the Beast (last season is on Netflix streaming, this season is on Hulu)
Supernatural (Netflix Streaming)
posted by rue72 at 8:25 PM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: I call this "background tv". Poking through my netflix account I suggest:

Top Gear (although if you can get the original broadcasts they have much less terrible music edited in...)
30 Rock
Justice League & Justice League Unlimited (made for a decidedly older primary audience, top class superhero cartoon, great voice acting, often super funny)
Frasier (the show could have been a radioplay for the most part and lost almost nothing, so much wittiness crammed in that if you've already seen it all it's worth a revisit)
Parks and Recreation (though this one has a lot of physical acting in the comedy bits)
Doc Martin (the parents love this one for falling asleep to)
Red Dwarf (particularly the earlier seasons where they couldn't afford used cardboard boxes for sets but the comedy was funniest)
The Vicar of Dibley
Clean House (makes you feel better in comparison, especially if you do chores as you watch!)
posted by Mizu at 8:27 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm starting to checkout some of the older shows I used to like to watch along time ago. Some have aged okay.

Quincy is on netflix streaming
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:31 PM on October 21, 2013

My mom is all about some soothing procedurals. In addition to some of your favorites, she has enjoyed House, Numb3rs, Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, and Cold Case. You might also like some of my favorites from childhood, in the days before heavy serialization: Early Edition, Walker Texas Ranger, and Xena (yeah I was a weird kid).

Of these, Netflix Instant has Xena, Ghost Whisperer, and Numb3rs.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:35 PM on October 21, 2013

Dragnet. The radio show is great for this too.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:45 PM on October 21, 2013

Also, I found a couple of YouTube playlists for Bob Ross' "Joy of Painting" (PBS). Perhaps you can find DVDs / paid streaming of full episodes somewhere.
posted by simulacra at 8:47 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fastlane (Hm, this used to be on Netflix but it's gone now. It might come back.)
Sledge Hammer!
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:49 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by juv3nal at 8:55 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Boston Legal
The Mentalist
posted by rjs at 8:57 PM on October 21, 2013

How about some Aaron Sorkin.
Netflix Streaming has the West Wing, and Hulu has Sports Night.
posted by St. Sorryass at 8:57 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Haven has its first three seasons on netflix. part cop show, part supernatural/x-files, part romance located in a small town up in maine. based off a stephen king novel the colorado kid.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:59 PM on October 21, 2013

My mindless knitting tv:

Doc Martin
all the Star Treks
Midsomer Murders
posted by sadtomato at 9:19 PM on October 21, 2013

Definitely "Veronica Mars" -- but watch it, don't just listen to it. Some of the acting is fantastic, as are the character relationships.

I ignored it at first, but the fact that its fans care enough to finance (in very small part) the movie made me check it out. It really gets good at about episode 5 of the first season.
posted by amtho at 9:29 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also: audio podcasts. There are a bunch of really good podcasts out there. If you like history, I can recommend BBC History Extra (there are _so_ _many_ of these) and Dan Carlin's Hardcore history. Plus about a bajillion others - philosophy, linguistics, science, they're all out there.
posted by amtho at 9:30 PM on October 21, 2013

Adam 12
posted by dustsquid at 10:07 PM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: Oh, I love terrible yet wonderful re-enactment shows for this very purpose, although sometimes it leads to weird dreams. Try anything from the Investigation Discovery stuff on Netflix: my favorites are I (Almost) Got Away With It, Disappeared, and Who The Bleep Did I Marry?
posted by mochapickle at 10:09 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

A recent thread might have good suggestions.
posted by rhizome at 10:31 PM on October 21, 2013

West Wing is great to just listen to because it's 99% dialogue. I got a lot of cross stitching done while "watching" West Wing.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:40 PM on October 21, 2013

I think the thread linked by rhizome is a good one to look through. A few more previous threads that might be helpful:
- Best TV shows to half pay attention to?
- Crochet telly

And if you're open to podcasts:
- Podcasts to ignore
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:21 PM on October 21, 2013

Sounds like you might enjoy the 40-minute relatively light-hearted procedural genre.
  • Monk (the show that really started it all)
  • Psych
  • The Glades
  • Eureka
  • White Collar
  • Royal Pains
  • Castle (a little darker, but if you like NCIS, you'll be just fine here)
So far as I know, all of these have multiple seasons up on Netflix with the exception of Royal Pains and Castle, which I'm not sure about. Monk and Eureka should have the entire series, and Psych has at least 5-6 seasons up.

All of these are fairly mellow, easy-to-watch, not-so-dramatic shows that are good for winding down, or for playing and looking over every now and then to catch jokes and silly lines. You don't really need to follow any episode all that closely to get the basic idea of what's going on. The only one that really has any big suspense is Castle, and that's only in their big sweeps week episodes every season. The rest are pretty low-stakes.

One more suggestion that's off the wall but more toward your documentary idea: look for Michael Palin's travel documentary series. They are fantastic, funny, well made, and really enjoyable. I see three on Netflix right now: Himalaya, Sahara, and New Europe.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:35 PM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: Oh, and 21 Jump Street (the eighties version with Johnny Depp) is up for free on Hulu right now. You don't have to view it unless you really want to see the hair. The Hair.
posted by amtho at 12:05 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

PBS' Frontline documentaries are well-written but predictably-structured enough that they don't soak up your full attention. There's an audio podcast feed, which doesn't have nearly everything but has a few years' worth of enough of a stockpile to keep you going for a while. Subjects range from current events to unexpected topics all over the map -- a three-part history of religion in America from a few years back was quite involving. Occasionally it veers a bit too much into 60 Minutes middlebrow-expose territory, but to their credit they give the targets of the expose enough time and attention to fully make their case.

TED talks work pretty well here, too -- interesting and occasionally unexpected yet easy to absorb.
posted by sesquipedalia at 12:45 AM on October 22, 2013

In Plain Sight
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:34 AM on October 22, 2013

I've been too stressed, and have trouble getting to sleep, tv stops my mind from re-playing the stressful stuff. I just watched the UK version of Being Human. A bit engrossing for lulling me to sleep, but enjoyable. Now I'm using Monarch of the Glen. I also enjoyed Inspector Lewis (wish Netflix had more seasons) and Inspector Morse is on my list. I find that accents help by making the dialog more musical.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on October 22, 2013

I will 2nd Monk. I think it's perfect for this. Very lighthearded show.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:00 PM on October 22, 2013

Covert Affairs (I think it's only on Amazon Prime, if you have that)
Army Wives
The Ghost Whisperer
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:49 PM on October 22, 2013

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