Mildly engaging tv drama?
June 12, 2018 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I like to watch an hour/45 minutes of tv drama before I go to sleep. I’m looking for recommendations of shows that I can add to my list.

I’ve tried doing this with exciting new-to-me shows—Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Jessica Jones—but this didn’t work because the drama was too high octane to wind down to and I ended up binging on more episodes and staying up late. At the same time, I don’t find straight-up comedy absorbing enough to play this de-stressing role. So I’m looking for somewhat mild cerebral nothing-too-horrifying-happens drama. I’ve had luck with The West Wing and rewatching old Buffy episodes. Is there anything with a similar tone that you would recommend?
posted by Aravis76 to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Person of Interest is my go to.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Halt and Catch Fire!
posted by littlesq at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Midsomer Murders, especially series 1-13.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Mad Men, The Good Wife
posted by icy_latte at 1:28 PM on June 12, 2018

Inspector Lewis.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:28 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just based on the two shows you enjoyed, I'd say go with their creators other shows: Sorkin also did the Newsroom (and Studio Six on the Sunset Strip, but that's easily skipped), and Joss Whedon also created Dollhouse, Angel, Firefly and Agents of Shield.
posted by General Malaise at 1:33 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, Sorkin -- don't miss Sports Night!
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:36 PM on June 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

I started watching Ghost Whisperer on a lark when one of the broadcast networks I get on my antenna started showing it, and god it's just so great. It's lowkey drama, kinda cheesy, but for the most part everyone is kind to each other and emotionally competent, which is nice, plus ghosts!
posted by phunniemee at 1:42 PM on June 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

We just finished watching Collateral on Netflix. It’s only four episodes, and nicely engaging. Plus, Carey Mulligan.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:45 PM on June 12, 2018

They might be to far on the funnier end of the spectrum are Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Rec are great for unwinding.
posted by Dmenet at 1:45 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Good Wife
posted by MadMadam at 1:49 PM on June 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

The Great British Bake Off family of shows is PERFECT for this, in my opinion. In addition to the original GBBO, there's also The Great Australian Bake Off (the first season is terrible and should be skipped, seasons 2-4 are PERFECTION), The Great Irish Bake Off (in the first episode of the first season a man with seven children makes Yeats-themed cupcakes and it only gets more wonderful and more Irish from there), The Great South African Bake Off and the Great Canadian Baking Show. Each series has lots of episodes, each episode is one hour long and consists of people with charming accents baking things. While it's a competition, everyone is so nice and everything is so low-stakes it's not going to keep you on the edge of your seat. There is truly no better television show to wind down to. While the Great British Bake Off is the easiest to find (it's on Netflix in the US!), the others are downloadable or available on YouTube.
posted by kate blank at 1:53 PM on June 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a wonderful hour-long comedy/drama with musical numbers.
posted by ejs at 1:54 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

How do you feel about subtitles (or how is your Spanish?) We were watching el Ministerio del Tiempo on Netflix which had a casual light drama feel for me.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:56 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Call the Midwife? Sometimes there is life or death drama, but it tends not to be a breakneck sort of paving.
posted by eirias at 1:56 PM on June 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

Once Upon a Time. Like, there's drama, but it's so absurd you really can't get too invested in it. Also not super bloody. This is my go-to "I need something on in the background" because it's interesting but I'm not super invested in it. Also has a bazillion seasons.
posted by brook horse at 1:58 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I just looked up the link and was surprised to see such a high rating for the show I am going to recommend...

Poh and Co. is an Australian chef/foodie reality show that is pleasant and super low engagement. It's PERFECT for your purposes IMHO.

MadMen is an example of something that was super engaging and would not be pleasant for me to watch now, even though I was an avid viewer when it was on tv. I'm over anti-heroes and folks being unkind or shady to each other. Give this dumb-but-awesome show on Netflix a try.
posted by jbenben at 2:00 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you understand French or are OK with subtitles, I loved The Churchmen on Netflix. It's about five young men studying to be priests.
posted by FencingGal at 2:02 PM on June 12, 2018

The Crown?
posted by vunder at 2:04 PM on June 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:13 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

White Collar and Leverage (not as good, but probably better for late night watching as the stories are more self-contained) come to mind. As do more "woman's shows" like the Good Witch (and others of that light-romance genre).

Burn Notice has action but if you can watch Buffy, you can probably handle the level of action Burn Notice.

Although it's genre the first season of Supergirl might scratch some of that Buffy itch for action combined with women-centric plots and characters. (The show gets worse the more seasons there are.)

I know they don't get a lot of love but the JAG/NCIS spin-offs are also good for this kind of thing. (They tend to have fewer corpse shots than the CSI group, although there is usually at least one autopsy scene with Ducky in the original NCIS version, NCIS-LA doesn't have those but does show bodies.)

There are a lot of recommendations here for other Sorkin projects but outside of Sports Night and West Wing, I don't find him very watchable. The Newsroom just irritates me, which isn't good for bedtime relaxing.
posted by sardonyx at 2:24 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

My husband is working his way through all the Star Trek episodes from the beginning of time, for the very purpose of helping him relax enough to fall asleep.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:26 PM on June 12, 2018 [13 favorites]

Gilmore Girls
Star Trek: The Next Generation
posted by Automocar at 2:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

I strongly, strongly recommend the Good Wife. I tend to like having police procedurals on the in the background while I do stuff (so I loved Inspector Lewis and Misomer Murders for those days), but The Good Wife was one of the rare shows where I gladly gave it my full attention. Same with Foyle's War.

Suits is on Amazon Prime, and also very good. If Boston Legal was streaming anywhere, I'd recommend that.

On the crime-ier end of things, Justified was really engaging, as was Longmire. I made it a few seasons into each Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder before getting irritated. I gave up on Scandal eventually, but will watch the new season of HTGAWM, probably.

For something fluffier, I'm watching Drop Dead Diva right now. I'm kinda surprised that I've watched so much of it, even after finding out it's a Lifetime series, but it's a cute and sweet legal drama that has interesting cases and a pretty enjoyable overarching plot. It's fairly predictable, and I'm smarter than the characters a little more often than I'd like, but it helps me fall asleep, unless I'm actively playing phone games.
posted by itesser at 2:28 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

This may not work for you but personally I find anime with giant robots and extended fight scenes to be incredibly soporific. Like falling asleep on the couch level. Something about the clearly not real, little dialogue and what there is in Japanese and often military/tactical so there's not a lot of point keeping up with the subs and.... Zzzzz....
posted by Athanassiel at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:36 PM on June 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

posted by SyraCarol at 2:52 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Law & Order
posted by mullacc at 3:05 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

My So-Called Life. It's a really good show.
posted by bearette at 4:09 PM on June 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

And not cliffhanger-y, but still really engaging.
posted by bearette at 4:10 PM on June 12, 2018

Bojack Horseman! It's often more comedy-surrealism slice of life, but man, can they do the drama
posted by Jacen at 4:28 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by slateyness at 4:41 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

We just started HBO's The Night Of and so far it's fulfilling the precise function for us that you describe. The only risk is that it might be moderately rather than mildly engaging.
posted by Beardman at 5:01 PM on June 12, 2018

Killing Eve. It's gripping, but not so much that my boyfriend and I aren't able to fall asleep after watching a single episode.
posted by Everydayville at 5:15 PM on June 12, 2018

Star Trek TOS is, frankly, pretty solid considering its age. You know everything will wind up ok, so maybe you can just relax?
posted by notsnot at 5:16 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Downton Abbey! The voices and accents are so soothing...
posted by mccxxiii at 5:45 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I personally really enjoyed going through Moonlighting, the original dramedy, recently for this sort of wind-down, but it's a pretty silly show a lot of the time. Might be too comedic.
posted by glonous keming at 6:15 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know you requested drama, but I loved watching an episode or two of Comedy Bang! Bang! on Netflix before bed and was sad when I ran out of new episodes (and there are a lot of episodes). It has just the right amount of feel-good surreal weirdness. If it matters, I am also a Buffy fan, and yeah, I stayed up way too late binging Jessica Jones.

Drunk History works for me as a pre-sleep watch too.
posted by bananana at 6:25 PM on June 12, 2018

Bones was perfect for this. Cheesy but fun. Murdoch Mysteries is the Canadian equivalent, though it takes a few seasons to stop taking itself seriously. IZombie starts out like this, but by season 3 or so, it becomes much more tense and compelling.
posted by rikschell at 6:47 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I liked Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries for this. Leverage is good.
posted by jeather at 7:02 PM on June 12, 2018

I have been watching Monk on Amazon Prime, occasionally Psych. Unless I can't sleep for Reasons, I often restart an episode many times because I fall asleep 5 - 10 minutes in. British detective shows - Shetland, Endeavour, Inspector Lewis. The original Law & Order is the best, just predictable enough that it's okay to go to sleep, engaging enough to capture enough attention to make your brain settle down.
posted by theora55 at 7:34 PM on June 12, 2018

Also, I watched some of the satisfying videos from a recent front page post, and they had a soporific effect
posted by theora55 at 7:37 PM on June 12, 2018

Dear White People. It's on Netflix. Dramady.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:12 PM on June 12, 2018

You might also want to take a look at Younger for light, fluffy drama that doesn't require any attention (and very few brain cells). The premise is ridiculous (40-something pretending to be a 20-something to get a job) but despite that, it's watchable, if only for the social experiment "so this is what millennials are supposed to be into" (as translated by the Sex and the City guy Darren Star). It's a half-hour show, so you can cram in two or three episodes in your allotted time.

Seconding Suits for this kind of watching and while I loved Justified, I think it might be a bit too intense for what you want (although I could be very, very wrong).
posted by sardonyx at 8:38 PM on June 12, 2018

Seconding Suits and The Good Wife and brining it’s spin-of The Good Fight to the table. It’s really fun, super low-stakes and gently bitchy about present US politics. I thought it was about a non-profit btw, it’s not, the title is irrelevant. .
posted by Iteki at 9:48 PM on June 12, 2018

Agreeing with Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. Also Friday Night Lights - it was enjoyable and not too fast-paced, primarily a character driven show.
posted by DTMFA at 9:57 PM on June 12, 2018

General Hospital.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 11:35 PM on June 12, 2018

Seconding Gilmore Girls.
posted by Namlit at 4:15 AM on June 13, 2018

This is great, thanks so much everyone. I haven’t marked best answers because I mean to try everything, which sorts out my insomnia risk for the next couple of years. Thank you!
posted by Aravis76 at 5:27 AM on June 13, 2018

Murdoch Mysteries is the go-to chill out drama around here.

Once Upon a Time is also silly enough, but may be too exciting.
posted by RhysPenbras at 5:47 AM on June 13, 2018

Mad Men fits your brief, except for that one episode where #spoileralert the guy gets his foot chopped up by the lawnmower and everyone in the office is showered with blood and bits of flesh.

But other than that it's just advertising pitches and 1960s people sipping cocktails and being sexist. Perfect wind-down material.
posted by matthew.alexander at 8:19 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Bojack Horseman (animated series, 4 seasons on Netflix). It's been my go-to for falling asleep for a few months now. It's only about 25 minutes long, but it's soothing to watch, and lulls me to sleep.
posted by hydra77 at 8:37 AM on June 13, 2018

If you want a slower-paced Breaking Bad, then Better Call Saul is for you. It's too slow for a lot of people at first, but it's so goddamn good. Better than BB even. The drama comes mostly from emotional interpersonal conflict rather than from shit getting blown up.

I watched Parenthood for awhile when I needed something relatively boring and gentle. Netflix does the "previously on..." thing so you can pretty safely fall asleep. This Is Us and Shameless fill the same niche; the latter is the best of the three. Jane the Virgin is a dramedy that's neither too silly nor dramatic.

If you like The Good Wife, also try Damages with Glenn Close.
posted by AFABulous at 2:57 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like Elementary could be good for this. There are murders, obviously, but nothing very graphic or graphic. It's generally one mystery per episode so you won't find yourself ending an episode on a cliffhanger and immediately wanting to watch the next. However, there's enough character building and serialized elements that it's still an enjoyable show.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:58 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If Buffy works, then so would Angel, which is also very good. And in that vein, you may also like Agents of Shield, and probably Agent Carter (which was amazing, in my opinion). In the vein of Sci-Fi, I think Stargate SG1 is a perfect low-octane drama show, as it had an over-reaching storyline but most episodes were self contained, so it wasn't as bingey. SG Atlantis was good too. Actually, a lot of older shows were good at that kind of low-octane-but-still-really-gripping drama (Star Trek TOS, TNG etc, Babylon 5, Law and Order, Smallville etc). It's mostly modern stuff that seems to have become the 'shock jock' shows of our time, and shows are designed to be binged now. So definitely older shows in the genre of your choice.

And this show is technically a comedy, I guess-- but it's more a dramadey than anything, so I'm going to mention it anyway:

Grace and Frankie

It has quite a lot of drama, is superbly written imo, and each character is pretty three dimensional and feels very real. I like it because it's such a good show to just pop on and watch, doesn't make you want to binge it necessarily, but is perfect for winding down. It is only 30 minutes, though, and I feel like it perhaps may be a bit too low-octane at times, so it might not be as interesting to you. Still, I enjoy it very much, it seems to get better and better -- I showed it to my brother and in the first few episodes he was a bit iffy, but he is pretty invested in it now. Also I feel like it's a great palette cleanser after watching high-drama shows like GoT, Westworld, Netflix Marvel Shows, etc. It's pleasant.

Personally I think Downton Abbey is high-octane drama. It's not intense but it is super binge-worthy in my opinion, there are a ton of cliffhangers-- which is probably part of the reason it was so popular at the time. I found it really addictive and difficult to disengage from. But ymmv.
posted by Dimes at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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