Intelligent streamable tv shows that aren't too heavy
April 8, 2016 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I moved in by myself after ending a long-term relationship about a year ago, and am now in a long-distance relationship. I try to fill my spare time with friends, books, podcasts, and volunteering, but sometimes there's nothing that quite fills the head-and-heart space like a good tv show. Please recommend shows that are well written, character driven, and when covering difficult things, contain enough warmth and hope that I don't want to curl up into a ball of bleakness while watching alone.

I'm looking for recommendations for shows that are currently available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, although I would consider Hulu short term if there were several recommended shows which are only available there.

Although I've watched some good heavier shows (The Americans, House of Lies), the negative ways the characters treat each other on both of those shows got to me a bit. So a show doesn't have to be happy all the time, but a little heartwarming is good.

Shows which I've enjoyed:

Call the Midwife
Mozart in the Jungle
Orphan Black
The Great British Bake Off (obviously not "well-written" per se, but delightful!)
Once Upon A Time
Jane the Virgin
Silicon Valley
Game of Thrones
The Wire
Big Love
Parks and Rec
30 Rock
Arrested Development

What should I watch next?
posted by odayoday to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
Grand Hotel
The Time in Between
posted by Sassyfras at 12:14 PM on April 8, 2016

You might like Halt And Catch Fire; it's about a company trying to make an early personal computer in the 1980s. Thoughtful, intelligent, character driven, and not too heavy (at least season one, season two gets a little darker, but still not overwhelmingly so).
posted by Itaxpica at 12:16 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Happy Valley is unexpectedly hilarious and heartwarming in between the north-country-English bleakness.
posted by supercres at 12:21 PM on April 8, 2016

Slings and Arrows, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Being Erica, The Great British Sewing Bee (from what I have heard, most of the Great British [skill] shows are very good and uplifting though I can only vouch for the Sewing Bee].
posted by kyla at 12:27 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

iZombie reminds me very much of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a lighthearted take on the zombie genre and the main character takes on some of the personality traits of the brains she's eaten. The cast is culturally diverse and hilarious. The dialogue is snappy and current. Each episode features an amazing fast cut montage of Liv preparing the week's brain to eat. It's like Veronica Mars, only Veronica is a zombie and the central mystery of the show isn't as dark as Veronica's.
posted by xyzzy at 12:27 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Gilmore Girls! Gilmore Girls!
posted by something something at 12:30 PM on April 8, 2016 [13 favorites]

posted by soren_lorensen at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries! Definitely covers some heavier topics (abortion, racism, general misogyny) but in the end, the bad guys get caught, and in between you have the lovely Miss Fisher running around in wonderful clothes, driving an kick-ass car, getting all of the dashing young men into her bed, and just "modern-women"ing the heck out of 1920s Melbourne.
posted by damayanti at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2016 [22 favorites]

Yes! Miss Fisher!!
posted by Sassyfras at 12:39 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Friday Night Lights
White Collar
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret
Bob's Burgers
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None
Freaks and Geeks
Raising Hope
My Name is Earl
Better Off Ted
posted by General Malaise at 12:40 PM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Your list and mine overlap so much that I'm definitely going to check out some things on yours that aren't on mine. I would add Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Archer to your list, since 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and Silicon Valley are on there already.
posted by tempestuoso at 12:41 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Please do yourself a favor and watch some dorky, fun, innocent Korean Dramas.
They are the PERFECT end to a good day, and an antidote to a crummy day.
My wife and I love curling up with a good story.
Here are some of our favorites on Hulu:

Coffee Prince
Protect The Boss
She Was Pretty

Hulu has HUNDREDS of these. Thumb through, read the description, watch the first episode, see if it takes or not. I know there are other Mefites who could direct you to more. It's fun and addictive.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:42 PM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, Master of None, Last Tango in Halifax, Catastrophe, Outlander, The Good Wife

Transparent and Veep (these are my two favorite shows, but I have friends who have negative reactions to the former it based on how characters treat each's not the Americans, or even House of Cards, but still -- and Veep is just one long glorious insult fest).

Dated sitcoms but hold up reasonably well: Roseanne and Golden Girls.

Procedurals that may marginally fit your needs: The Shield, Longmire.

Probably lots I missed.
posted by theefixedstars at 12:42 PM on April 8, 2016

Raising Hope -- young directionless man finds himself a single father of a baby, whom his working class parents are helping him raise
Drop Dead Diva -- supermodel dies in a car crash and ends up in the larger body of a lawyer working in the law firm with her former fiance
Don't Trust the B- In Apt 23 -- you have some awkward people being badly behaving (Arrested Development, Community) comedy up there so this slots into that
posted by foxfirefey at 12:42 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Gotta give a plug to the best TV show of the last decade, Mad Men.

How about documentary series? Netflix has one called Chef's Table where each episode focuses on a chef and goes into their background and process. I really enjoyed it.

Also, Netflix has Anthony Bourdain's travel series Parts Unknown, which I like. (Bourdain is not to everyone's tastes as a personality, I grant.)

The Almighty Johnsons - it's a series from New Zealand where a family of brothers turns out to be the reincarnations of Norse gods. I haven't watched all of them, but it's very fun and entertaining. Netflix has it.
posted by dnash at 12:48 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

We're currently having a lovely time watching Castle, which is not only highly entertaining but also there are five billion (okay, eight) seasons, so once you get into it, you're all set for awhile.

Burn Notice is sort of similar, both in terms of number of seasons and entertainment value (Bruce Campbell!!).

Nthing White Collar. Not only is it also hilarious, there's also a lot less violence than shows like Burn Notice, just because they're generally trying to catch dashing and sneaky art forgers instead of violent criminals.

Nthing (times a million) Miss Fisher.

Since you list some other Joss Whedon shows, I'll also plug Firefly (but super short), Dollhouse (darker), and the current Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (so addicted right now!) if you haven't seen them.
posted by bananacabana at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2016

You might like to browse this previously and cross reference against what's available now.
posted by mama casserole at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2016

6 Feet Under
posted by archimago at 12:51 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I liked Outlander but halfway through the first season it starts getting violent - not gory, but like... Watching a psychopath toy with someone was too upsetting. YMMV.

Gilmore Girls!
We also got all of Northern Exposure from our library!
The Flash on Hulu was just right.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:52 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Bridge (the Swedish version NOT the US version)
The Mind of a Chef
posted by Joh at 12:54 PM on April 8, 2016

* Shameless (sometimes dark, but funny and very well plotted)
* Peep Show (from the UK, really funny)
posted by 4midori at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2016

Oh! And if I may recommend one food show.
Please know that I hate cooking and foodie travel shows, but we found "I'll Have What Phil's Having" to be just so delightful, so light, and so GENUINE, that I will take PBS by storm if they do not have a second season.

He's the creator of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (I did not, for the record), but he, himself, is just so warm, and loving and open to the travel and food experience, that it lit a travel and eating fire under me that was never there before.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:06 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nthing Longmire. Killer tv show.

And this may or may not be what you're aiming for, but I find TED talks utterly delightful. And very addicting. YMMV.
posted by strelitzia at 1:18 PM on April 8, 2016

Saving Grace (with Holly Hunter! So good!)
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: Legend of Korra
Doc Martin
Ewan McGregor's Long Way Round and Long Way Down
posted by jillithd at 1:42 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Grantchester just started season 2 on PBS and I think it's available for streaming.
Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries

And if you liked The Wire, I can't recommend Homicide Life on the Street enough. David Simon, VERY Baltimore and so many gorgeous people in it. I think you can get it on Hulu and Netflix.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:50 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I second Happy Valley--super good.
posted by jdl at 2:03 PM on April 8, 2016

I sped through Last Tango in Halifax because it was so feel-good.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:22 PM on April 8, 2016

Peep Show (That Mitchell & Webb Look is their sketch show and used to be on Netflix, now just Hulu sadly)
Good Eats
The IT Crowd
posted by smirkette at 2:24 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Based on your list, I'd say Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master of None
posted by Mchelly at 3:40 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Blunt Talk starring Patrick Stewart is both zany and heartfelt. The characters may judge themselves, but they support each other. The relationships are unusual and deep. It's a very rich show that accomplishes more in a half-hour episode than most shows can manage in an hour, but it never feels overloaded.

It's available on Amazon. You can watch the first episode free at the first link above. It's $2.99/ep on Amazon, or free with a Starz subscription, and you can get a free 8-day trial (there are only 10 episodes which you could definitely get through in that time).
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:50 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Paradise-BBC on netflix can, About a Boy, Mr Selfridge, I cant second Last Tango in Halifax or Happy Valley, based on your list and comments, some gruesome stuff about the dark side of being human, but different strokes. The sidebar descriptions often are quite accurate or reading non spoiler reviews may help avoid the too unpleasant for your taste ones.
posted by RelaxingOne at 4:09 PM on April 8, 2016

The Fosters!
posted by EmilyFlew at 4:11 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

New Girl. Funny and heartwarming.
posted by Dynamo05 at 4:21 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am loving Bones - but it is not for the squeamish.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:31 PM on April 8, 2016

Slings and Arrows
Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime)
Thanks for asking this question!
posted by sarajane at 4:47 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


It can be very heavy, but the all the main characters really care about what they're doing. Even many of their political opponents are portrayed as honest and caring; they just have differing viewpoints and priorities. I have often wished in the past few months that real US politicians were as morally upright as the ones on The West Wing. It is a show that is actually hopeful about politics and what it can achieve. Also, it is funny as hell.
posted by Adridne at 4:54 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh! And Leverage!
posted by Adridne at 4:55 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I started watching Bob's Burgers when I didn't have the emotional energy for anything negative. Everything about it is warm and kind.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 5:23 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Repeat votes for Master of None and Catastrophe

Also, despite the truly awful title, Scrotal Recall is quite funny and charming. (Netflix)
posted by O9scar at 5:25 PM on April 8, 2016

So many good ones here: Detectorists, Miss Fisher, Don't Trust the B---

If you have Hulu, there's this great little series called Spy from a few years ago. It's utterly charming -- a hapless, newly single father ends up working for MI-5 quite by accident. The first season is better than the second, but all in all it's terrific fun. Also the theme song (seen in the trailer) is so very catchy.
posted by mochapickle at 6:08 PM on April 8, 2016

Also if you get Hulu, you can watch Fargo Season One (which gets pretty dark, right, but Alison Tolman is a treasure and keeps the whole thing running on a hopeful note).
posted by mochapickle at 6:12 PM on April 8, 2016

posted by BWA at 6:33 PM on April 8, 2016

Thank you for the wonderful recommendations, everyone! There are shows that some suggested that I actually have seen and enjoyed but forgot to mention, which just proves how great your suggestions are. I can't wait to check them out!
posted by odayoday at 6:58 PM on April 8, 2016

Lots of overlap--the only thing I'd suggest that isn't here already is Nashville. Country music / soap opera / Strong Female Characters. It's better than that description, honest.
posted by cogitron at 7:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I put off the idea of watching Downton Abbey for ever so long, with a reluctance to period dramas etc. Then I was unwell for over a month and wanted something a bit more soothing. I watched 5.5 seasons back to back, enjoying the richness of the characters (upstairs and downstairs), even enjoyed the costuming, enough action but some slow burn romances..
posted by AnnaRat at 7:22 PM on April 8, 2016

Have you seen Luther (Irdis Elba!) or Justified? I am unable to link directly to Luther so here it is:

My all time fave in recent memory is Borgen. It is fantastic!

Oh how I wish there was more content out there like Borgen. So intriguing and intelligent.
posted by futz at 8:02 PM on April 8, 2016

Major props to all who recommended Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, a splendid series. PBS has just started running Season 1 (Fri. 9pm here in NC) but I know all three seasons are on Netflix so you can binge watch if you want.

I'd also like to recommend Vicious, a British comedy about an old gay couple with quirky friends and absolutely vicious and snarky writing, staring Derek Jacobi and Ian MacKellen. PBS shows it and I don't know if it's on Netflix, but it's great fun.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:43 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love a lot of the shows you mention here, and just started watching - and enjoying! - The Good Wife. In many ways it's a fairly standard courtroom procedural, but the writing and acting are great.

Also check out Happy Endings and The New Girl. Both are funny and clever, but are essentially good-natured.

Nthing Gilmore Girls and Kimmy Schmidt.
posted by lunasol at 10:08 PM on April 8, 2016

Another vote for Catastrophe. I just binged the whole series after reading a great review of Season 2 in The Atlantic. It's subtly heartwarming and complex. You'll love it!
posted by Become A Silhouette at 10:17 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I found Sense8 overwhelmingly positive and uplifting despite the "bad guys pursuing innocent people" aspect. It's really about friendship and connection and supporting loved ones.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:29 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Left Behind is great too.
posted by futz at 10:19 AM on April 9, 2016

The early seasons of Frasier are pretty heartwarming and entertaining, and is available on Netflix.
I liked Master of None, but I feel like it's aimed specifically at 23 - 28 year-olds... at least, my friends who fell outside of this age group seemed to have trouble getting into it.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2016

Murdoch's Mysteries, Foyle's War, Philly, Endeavour, Inspector Lewis, Murder in Suburbia, Family Tree, Moone Boy, & Bored to Death are a few I have enjoyed. If you are up for another subscription, Acorn TV has mostly British series, but also some from Australia. Drama, comedy, documentaries, & apparently everything Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) has ever been in,
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wife and I are quite enjoying Death in Paradise. It's a tad bit colonialist (misfit Met detective transferred against his will to Caribbean overseas territory, where he brilliantly solves murders no one else can and gets all the suspects together to dramatically announce the killer), but heartwarming for all of the murder and all that.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:24 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. (The books are even better.)

Limitless seems pretty good so far - a twenty-something burnout gets hooked on an intelligence-enhancing drug and placed in the FBI by a senator (who's also on said drug). Subject matter can get a bit dark, but the main character is genuinely nice and optimistic and has strong, complex, loving relationships with his family and coworkers. Also, it's quite funny.
posted by sibilatorix at 4:54 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Foyle's War. It takes a couple of episodes to really get going, but I think of it as the definition of intelligent yet not too bleak TV. There are a couple episodes that will break your heart a little bit but Foyle's insistence on doing the right thing will carry you through.
posted by peacheater at 3:12 AM on April 15, 2016

Parenthood--character driven and beyond heartwarming
Friday Night Lights--well written, great character development
The West Wing--everything Adridne said
Six Feet Under--great, complex, nuanced characters, and interesting plots that you don't see anywhere else
posted by reksb at 9:12 AM on April 15, 2016

Yes to Miss Fisher! And add Sherlock to that list. It's not gory or too heavy, quite fun, and often hilarious.

Also for laughs: Brooklyn Nine Nine, Party Down, Kimmy Schmidt, Bob's Burgers, Raising Hope, and Master of None.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:51 PM on October 19, 2016

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