streaming tv show recommendations for a fussy viewer
October 27, 2020 6:12 PM   Subscribe

My lovely boyfriend likes interesting shows, but he has some very finicky tastes that make it hard to find something we would both enjoy watching. Seeking recommendations for streaming shows that we might enjoy together.

The main issue is, my boyfriend really is not a fan of the Prestige trend TV trend of protagonists who are anti-heroes. He can make it through such shows if there are supporting characters who are likeable, but if the show features a cast of people who are all awful in some way, he really hates it. I don't mind such shows, but I would like to find programs we would both like.

Shows that he enjoyed:
The Crown
Mad Men (he struggled a bit with Don but loved Roger, Bert, and Peggy)
Last Tango in Halifax
Fleabag (he liked season 2 far more than season 1)

Shows that he hated but slogged through:
Sharp Objects
Six Feet Under

Shows he hated so much we had to stop:
Breaking Bad
Broadchurch (he liked the first season up until the last episode, we both gave up during season 2 because it was ridiculous)
Killing Eve
Arrested Development (I also hated it #sorrynotsorry)

Things that I know he will hate (many of these I also hate):
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Crazy Ex Girlfriend
The Mindy Project
Call the Midwife
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The Wire
The Sopranos
Game of Thrones
The X-Files (OG, I pretend reboot never happened)
Orange is the New Black
The Handmaid's Tale (he liked the book, he will not like places where the show deviates from the book)
Stranger Things
Transparent (allegations against Jeffrey Tambor makes it a hard no for him)
House of Cards (same as above but with Kevin Spacey)

He likes smart dialogue. He has enjoyed basically every movie Aaron Sorkin has written (especially Moneyball, Charlie Wilson's War, and The Trial of the Chicago 7), though he is reluctant to try the West Wing (too much contrast between Jed Bartlett and Donald Trump is depressing him now) and was ambivalent about Sports Night.

He basically likes well written shows with believable characters and at least some characters who are genuinely likeable. I was surprised he enjoyed Mad Men, but the supporting characters helped (plus he loved the art direction). He doesn't like shows that are overly ponderous, overly pretentious, overly campy, or gratuitously violent.

There are tons of streaming shows right now that I can't keep track of them. Surely there must be SOMETHING out there that we can get into together?

Failing that, we can just binge watch Antiques Roadshow which we both love but too much of a good thing can be... not so good.

posted by nayantara to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh he loves Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and other classic Brit-coms. He doesn't like Schitt's Creek (nor do I #sorrynotsorry). He loved the American Office. He hates the TV Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch. He liked The Walking Dead for the first few seasons.
posted by nayantara at 6:17 PM on October 27, 2020

posted by lorddimwit at 6:26 PM on October 27, 2020 [17 favorites]

Letterkenny. Also I haven't watched Ted Lasso yet but based on what friends are saying it will fit the bill nicely.
posted by babelfish at 6:28 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

If he likes Aaron Sorkin, he might like Newsroom. I thorough enjoyed it a few years back.
posted by gloturtle at 6:32 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am watching Borgen right now, and if you had told me before I started that I'd be this fascinated by a ten-year-old show about Danish politics I would not have believed you. But wow, is it a well made show. There are lots of great characters I ended up rooting for so hard. Try to avoid reading anything about it ahead of time (doesn't matter really, but I enjoyed the plot surprises that came up). There are three seasons of 10 episodes, and I'm sad we are almost finished the third season. It's SO good.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:33 PM on October 27, 2020 [13 favorites]

Possibly The Americans? It's got incredible (though subtle) art direction and is just so incredibly well-done, but there may be too little of the likeability factor for him. I'd say give the first episode a shot - my guess is he'll know pretty quickly if it fits his tastes.
posted by augustimagination at 6:45 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

If he liked the American version of The Office, then try some of Michael Schur's other projects - Parks and Recreation, The Good Place, Brooklyn 99.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:46 PM on October 27, 2020 [21 favorites]

Would he enjoy the Wolf Hall miniseries?
Does he like mysteries? If so, the whole Inspector Morse > Inspector Lewis series might be up his alley.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:50 PM on October 27, 2020

Dead Like Me maybe? The characters are flawed, but not bad people. Seconding Newsroom.
posted by mrgoat at 6:52 PM on October 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Closer
posted by Dolley at 6:55 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Better Call Saul
Schitt's Creek
Good Omens
The old NYPD Blue series.
posted by Dolley at 7:01 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

He might like the Netflix series Rain which came out a few years ago. Post-apocalyptic but not overly depressing or violent, and the characters are really excellently written and mostly good people. It starts getting a bit worse towards the end of season 1 and I haven’t watched season 2.
posted by mekily at 7:02 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

If he liked Monty Python, he may like Norsemen.

Also from Norway, I thought Occupied was very good. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity; even the more antagonistic characters have interests and attitudes one can understand.

The whole Nordic noir genre seems promising.
posted by lakeroon at 7:06 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

If he likes science fiction, try The Expanse.
posted by chbrooks at 7:09 PM on October 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

Like your boyfriend, I also can't do the antihero-laden, relentlessly bleak stories that are so popular right now. I don't mind some darkness, drama, and peril, but I need there to be some heart and joy, too, and ideally at least a couple people who genuinely care about each other and aren't just total jerkfaces, and maybe the good guys win sometimes.

My top four recs:

1. Orphan Black, which is dramatic and engaging, and pretty dark in places with occasional (but not gratuitous) violence, but full of people who care about each other and sometimes the good guys win. 5 seasons, so plenty to get through, streaming on Amazon Prime.

2. Sense8 - Dramatic and engaging, gets pretty dark and violent in places (with lack of bodily autonomy as a key theme), but absolutely full of love and people trying to do the right thing. 2 seasons and a finale movie, streaming on Netflix.

3. Leverage - One my very favorite shows, and it's all about the good guys (who care deeply about each other) making sure the bad guys get what's coming to them, by being very, very good at what they do. 5 seasons, streaming on Amazon's IMDbTV (free but with occasional commercials).

4. Pushing Daisies - Really engaging dark humor, but not in a gross, violent, or problematic way. Some might find it a little campy--if he doesn't like the first episode, he won't like the rest, but it's worth a try. Only 2 seasons, streaming on Amazon Prime.

Other recs:

Did y'all ever watch Lost? I recently finished rewatching it with my partner (rewatch for me, his first watch) and it held up surprisingly well. Everyone is flawed but (without spoiling too much), most of the characters turn out to be caring and redeemable. 6 seasons, streaming on Hulu.

+1 to Dead Like Me, though it's definitely a little bleak in places.

On the much lighter side, +1 to the recommendation for the Michael Schur shows, especially The Good Place! And also Parks & Rec, and maybe Brooklyn 99 if seeing police presented as good guys isn't too distasteful for either of you right now (it is for me, as great as the show otherwise is). These were recently all on Hulu but might go away now that NBC has their own Peacock streaming service.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:11 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I seem to be pickier than your boyfriend but along similar lines. As a general rec, I wonder how he'd feel about non-Sherlock mystery shows. Foyle's War and the Miss Fisher Mysteries both have likable but complex protagonists, set in places where most of the characters (aside from, you know, the murderers) seem to be trying their best and doing okay. And they have some of the enjoyable historical detail of Mad Men without having to deal with a main character so unlikeable I had to turn it off about 20 minutes in.

I also wonder how he'd feel about the recent spate of prestige "kid's" cartoons that deal with some big issues and are beautiful to look at--either series of Avatar, She-Ra, Steven Universe.

A lot of the things already mentioned are great--I'll particularly second Dead Like Me, Leverage, and Good Omens.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:25 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding both Letterkenny and The Expanse, and adding Work In Progress.
posted by flabdablet at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't mind a detective series as long as it's well done: Endeavour.
posted by flabdablet at 7:38 PM on October 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

The Good Wife was great viewing up until the last two (?) seasons (when ever it was that she decided to run for States Attorney) and the semi-sequel, The Good Fight, is great.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:39 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

All four seasons of Fargo.
posted by flabdablet at 7:41 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

The End of the F***ing World
Parks and Rec
Please Like Me
posted by piamater at 8:19 PM on October 27, 2020

Nthing Michael Schur shows, Good Omens, and Letterkenny.

The Expanse is sci fi, as noted, but has a lot of supporting characters that I like (Roger and Peggy we're my favorite part of Mad Men).

It's a bit goofy, but my picky husband got drawn into watching What We Do in the Shadows with me.
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:31 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Derry Girls
posted by gaspode at 8:33 PM on October 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

The Romanoffs is written by the same guy who wrote Mad Men. The characters aren't awful, but they are often flawed.
posted by xammerboy at 8:46 PM on October 27, 2020

Community, one of the few shows where I get a LOL pick-me-up and the characters are flawed but good.
The Good Place, a unique show unlike most of the shows on TV. There are major spoilers, so avoid reading up on it ahead of time.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 8:52 PM on October 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

zoey’s incredible playlist
Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Gilmore Girls
Better off Ted
The Good Place
posted by slateyness at 9:12 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

posted by slateyness at 9:13 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding Leverage and Derry Girls.

Pushing Daisies? Slings and Arrows?
posted by azalea_chant at 9:23 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Parks and Rec (start with the second season) and Community

Ohhh, Slings and Arrows is so good
posted by Gadarene at 10:37 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Sounds like we have similar tastes. Seconding Ted Lasso, Endeavour, and Foyle's War. My family also enjoyed the new "All Creatures Great and Small," if you can find it (I believe it is coming to PBS soon from Channel 5 in the UK; we watched it via VPN). We're also enjoying Miracle Workers, though the two seasons are completely different (setting, plot, characters, everything), with mostly the same cast.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:23 PM on October 27, 2020


Ok this one is a little of a tough sell because in season one they went kinda HAM on the mysterious antihero thing with the Lee Pace character. It’s very inconsistent and not very promising. Somehow they got to make 3 more seasons of the show and they course corrected in one of the most beautiful, interesting, deep, meaningful, character-driven, weird ways. (Mostly, they realized they had two amazing lead women characters/actresses and retooled the show to center their stories!) You could read a recap of the first season and watch the finale and go right into season 2. The characters are mostly very smart people (did I mention it’s a show about the development of personal computers and the internet in the 1980s-1990s?) who sometimes do dumb things and often, slowly, learn from them and it’s just so so so so so good. Please everyone watch this show!

The quarantine hit in our house otherwise, tbh, has been ER, and there are a couple of good things about it mostly related to it being a network drama. Because of this, THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. Conventional wisdom says to stop after season 6, but that’s still over 100 episodes. Also, I described its appeal at the beginning of ::gestures wildly:: all this as being that everyone is trying their best. Of course it’s deeply flawed in ways that are related to its being a network drama, but I find it enjoyable and reassuring. It’s on Hulu.
posted by kickingthecrap at 1:59 AM on October 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Ted Lasso.
It's unashamedly charming
posted by fullerine at 2:58 AM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


The second series just finished on the BBC (tho only 6 eps per series). It’s an ensemble piece, about a couple who inherit a dilapidated stately home and move in to find it’s inhabited by a group of ghosts who only the wife can see.

The ghosts are generally loveable and well-meaning but slightly useless (on account of being dead and a variety of personality traits). They’re all people who died in the house at some point, ranging from a caveman up to a disgraced 90s politician (the only one who’s not at all lovable).

It’s written/directed/performed by the people who wrote the Horrible Histories series for kids, and I found it sweet and charming.
posted by penguin pie at 3:17 AM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

You could try the BBC drama State of Play, directed by David Yates and starring John Simm. There was a Hollywood movie reboot of it based in the US but I can't remember if I liked that as much as the TV series.

I did a search for Life on Mars on this page (the UK version, also starring John Simm and not the American reboot which changed it massively, I hear) and didn't see it mentioned. You could definitely check that out. If you guys like it there is a sequel show with Keeley Hawes called Ashes to Ashes but I don't know how good it is. I only saw the last episode, which was excellent.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:51 AM on October 28, 2020

And I kinda can't believe it's taken us this long to suggest this one; there's a whole universe of shows that are very intentionally NOT anti-heroes and ARE likeable characters cooperating with each other - Star Trek. (With the possible exception of the latest, Discovery.)

I mean, they might not work for you for various reasons of production values and dialog and scripts - they're older shows that are often clearly products of their time (and budget) - but if you're looking for shows that aren't all about horrible people, the various Star Treks are right there with you.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:29 AM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Your watching criteria sounds like mine and Mr Jane’s.
Highly recommend Slings and Arrows, Longmire and perhaps Mozart in the Jungle (maybe just seasons 1 & 2).
posted by sarajane at 4:59 AM on October 28, 2020

posted by onebyone at 5:10 AM on October 28, 2020

Hard second for Halt and Catch Fire. I don’t recommend skipping the first season at all though because it makes the rest of it more rewarding to see the character journeys.
posted by stefnet at 6:10 AM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Good Place
Rescue Me.
You're The Worst, really depends on your definition of "unlikeable" I guess, they're sort of horrible people but not Horrible people...

I find Death in Paradise very charming but it seems he's looking for more "serious" shows? Doc Martin too, if he's not.

No idea if you have any way to access UK TV but if you like antiques roadshow, Antiques Roadtrip is fun. Also the Repair Shop and The Restorers.
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:16 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by crumbly at 7:20 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, Friday Night Lights! You think you're not going to care about a dumb jock football show and then ten (damn near fifteen?!) years later the independent radio station plays Bright Eyes's cover of "Devil Town" and you're sobbing at your desk. CLEAR EYES FULL HEARTS CAN'T LOSE.
posted by kickingthecrap at 8:05 AM on October 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


* Borgen
* Brooklyn 99
* Detectorists
* Parks and Rec
* The Good Place
* Leverage
* Foyle's War
* The Expanse

From the 'Hate' list is seems the major points of contention are annoyingly twee and too grimdark? In which case I'd reccomend against:

* Pushing Daisies
* Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
* Okkupert/Occupied

And I'd add:

* Person of Interest: Starts as a crime procedural, transitions into espionage triller and ends as cyberpunk sci-fi. Well written and has an interesting cast of recurring characters. On Amazon and CBS All Access.
* Studio 60: Oft forgotten Sorkin dramedy about the trials and tribulations of live comedy TV. A lot of relevant musings on the dumbing down of prime time and entertainment in general. Only 1 season, on Amazon.
posted by givennamesurname at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just binged Broadchurch this weekend, and if the "investigation" part of S2 was the ridiculous part (and all the weird stuff DI Hardy was doing around it), I will say that S3 is better and it'd be fine to skip to that. It also provides a lot of closure threads for the town's residents.
posted by homodachi at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2020

You'll know immediately if this is for you but I loved the low-stakes, does-not-take-itself-seriously clever buffoonery of Toast of London (Netflix). I think the writing is excellent and there is a sweetness about it. Also in the out-there, surreal but relaxing universe is Adventure Time (Hulu).
posted by *s at 10:39 AM on October 28, 2020

I've been getting into shows from across the pond fairly hardcore during the pandemic - I have a year-long pass to Acorn and will go to BritBox when I need a Classic Who fix or a show that's unavailable on Acorn.

I am completely like your boyfriend, I loathe the new antihero-hero archetype in television. That said, I can easily recommend Line of Duty. I was so taken in by the mystery and the motive that I overlooked the loutishness in one character.

Also recommended:
Ackley Bridge - the second best series about adolescence I've seen (turn on the subtitles, though)
Scott & Bailey - warning: one approaches the antihero status
No Offence - this simply have to watch it to believe it. Three powerhouse performances!
Raised by Wolves - probably some of the sharpest writing about adolescence I've ever experienced
My Life is Murder - Lucy Lawless!
Queens of Mystery - this show has so much of a Pushing Daisies vibe it's scary

Yeah, they're mostly about crime but! they're all very, very good. The Lucy Lawless one borders on saccharine, but it has some decent mysteries. And her assistant's attitude is infectious as hell.
posted by theseventhstranger at 11:17 AM on October 28, 2020

I am a broken record on this subject but I second The Good Wife. Good writing, snappy dialogue and the main character is so virtuous she's practically a paladin. I mean, it's right there in the name. She's good! (I also don't like antiheroes.)
posted by zeusianfog at 11:28 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm another big fan of Halt and Catch Fire; guess you could argue that show, and also Get Shorty and Patriot are built on the anti-hero protagonist template, but the characters are so messed up, yet have such good hearts and wind up growing so much as people during the run of the show, that it's an irrelevant categorization.

Babylon Berlin is worth checking out for the production design

Some lighter fare:
Crashing (an earlier project from Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

+1 Detectorists, Newsroom
posted by Bron at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2020

I hate to offer the contrary point of view in these kinds of threads, but I can't keep biting my tongue on this one anymore (and I say this as somebody who enjoyed both West Wing and Sports Night)...maybe the Newsroom is watchable if you're a guy and you don't have any connections to the media industry. If you're a woman, don't even bother.

Seconding Casual, however, which never gets any love. It's nice to see adult siblings who care about each other portrayed well (even if the characters aren't perfect and make messy choices with their lives).
posted by sardonyx at 2:16 PM on October 28, 2020

I don't watch enough TV to quite be able to feel like I really understand what he does and doesn't like. But, I've been watching Pose (Netflix) and it's amazing. However, one protaganist is really harsh on everyone around her.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:41 PM on October 28, 2020

I confess I can't quite zero in on a result of analyzing your reported likes and dislikes, so I'll just say "Giri/Haji (Japanese: "Duty/Shame")" BBC2 series on Netflix. Mind-blowing artistry.
posted by Chitownfats at 6:48 AM on October 29, 2020

Some shows I didn't see mentioned above you could try: The Great, Back to Life, Little Fires Everywhere, Bauhaus, Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:13 AM on October 29, 2020

Seconding Foyle's War. My late mother and I enjoyed watching this together when it first aired in Australia. Mum was in her teens during WWII and spent a while in Europe soon after, and she'd often say how pleased she was by the way that the period feel of that show is absolutely spot-on.

The leads (Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks) are both superb and work just brilliantly off each other.
posted by flabdablet at 8:38 AM on October 29, 2020

Mrs. America
posted by bookworm4125 at 3:20 AM on October 31, 2020

Response by poster: I admit I find his likes and dislikes hard to parse as well, which is why I asked the question. He is... unique.

We tried Leverage, he found it to be too silly. I think British detective shows might be the best bet for now, but he has also indicated that he isn't really in the mood for shows at the moment so we are working our way through a list of movies we intended to watch in theaters but never got around to. When he gets sick of that, I'll return to this list.

I think, to be honest, that part of his problem is that he was raised in a family that viewed television to be frivolous, un-serious mindless entertainment. The idea of Prestige TV - that a show can basically provide the equivalent of a one hour film, with film-like production values and plotlines that require the level of intellectual commitment one would give to a good movie - seems to be hard for him to wrap his brain around, though I feel we've made a little progress with Mad Men and The Crown. (He reports that over time he grew to like Don Draper, so mea culpa for stating that inaccurately). He still struggles with bleakness and plotlines featuring mostly unlikeable characters who behave poorly with each other, and while I don't share this feeling I certainly understand why one would dislike being immersed in such a world.
posted by nayantara at 10:12 AM on October 31, 2020

If looking for quality and sharp dialog there is always Deadwood and The Wire.
posted by storybored at 7:28 PM on October 31, 2020

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