Anghus Houvouras on the best original shows on (almost) every streaming service…
There are so many streaming services out there and so many shows. It’s impossible to keep up with all of them. The vast majority of content is an ocean of mediocrity leaving we, the viewers, adrift desperately seeking a lifeline to guides us to the shores of quality programming. And because of my deep affection for you, dear reader, I will be that lifeline.
Apple TV+ – Ted Lasso
This one isn’t all that difficult, given the extremely limited selection of original shows on Apple’s premium content app. Ted Lasso is an incredibly charming comedy from showrunner Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) who has seemingly mastered the art of feel-good, heartwarming chuckles. Like his earlier shows, Ted Lasso is packed with characters who all bring different ingredients to the ensemble stew. Jason Sudekis is excellent in the lead role as an idealistic Midwestern American Football coach brought over to England to coach a Premier League team. The ridiculous fish out of water scenario works in no small part due to the commitment of the cast and writers who make this unlikely premise work.
Runner(s) Up: Servant, Long Way Up
Disney+ – The Mandalorian
Does this even need clarification? What else are we going to go with? The World According to Jeff Goldblum? Diary of a Future President? Disney+ has one exceptional original show and a lot of filler.
Runner Up: Watching The Mandalorian again.
Amazon Prime Video – The Boys
I have to give credit to Prime Video, which often feels like the most high profile video service with the least defined identity. Netflix is still the gold standard in terms of consumer perception. Hulu is the bastard child of network and cable television and has managed a few high profile award wins. Prime Video still has pop ups when I order something on Amazon to remind me it exists. That’s not to say there isn’t quality programming on Prime Video. There’s a few quality original shows worth your time, but none of them are as entertaining as The Boys. Garth Ennis’ mental deconstruction of superhero stories makes for a ridiculously entertaining series. Violent, dark and hilarious, The Boys is the most interesting thing that happened to comic book adaptations this century. While the entire cast is great, I wanted to call out the superior work of Anthony Starr as Homelander. He’s helped craft the most interesting and menacing villain on television since Walter White.
Runner(s) Up: Fleabag, The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, Patriot
Hulu – Casual
Hulu is another streaming service that struggles with an overall identity. Most of the quality programming comes from limited series like George Clooney’s Catch 22 and Stephen King inspired fare like Castle Rock and 11.22.63. In terms of ongoing series, the only one that has captured the zeitgeist and critical acclaim is The Handmaid’s Tale. But for me, the best show on Hulu is the criminally underrated Casual. It’s a very dark and funny examination of modern relationships told from the perspective of a family that is awful at interaction. Valerie (Michaela Watkins) is trying to hold it all together in the aftermath of a divorce that has left her cold. Her brother Alex (Tommy Dewey) is living off the ill-gotten gains from an algorithm for a popular dating app. The show is fascinating in its portrayal of wounded, human characters who struggle to maintain meaningful connections and make sense of the sexes.
Runner(s) Up: The Handmaid’s Tale, Letterkenny
Netflix – BoJack Horseman
The great granddaddy of streaming platforms provides the most diverse range of programs tailored for a wide variety of tastes. Netflix helped redefine the paradigm of how people watch television and their wide slate of programs really does manage to have something for everybody. For that reason, picking a single show to call ‘The Best’ on Netflix was not easy. I wanted to pick Mindhunter, because David Fincher’s psychological procedural about the inception of profiling serial killers is absolutely amazing from top to bottom. The writing, the directing and the performances are pitch perfect. However, the show has been put on ‘indefinite hold’ after two seasons and while everyone assumes the well-loved series will one day return, there are no details as to when (if ever) it will see the light of day.
So with that caveat, the designation goes to BoJack Horseman. A dark, funny, dramatic, heartbreaking and incredibly relevant examination of some very flawed characters existing in an anthropomorphic version of our world. BoJack is an amalgam of many celebrity tropes and manages to take oft-explored territory like hurt and relevance and make it feel remarkably fresh. There’s some amazing world building done by the creators who manage to wring just about every possible joke around animals and humans existing in the same social space. The voice acting is fundamentally excellent. Will Arnett deftly manoeuvres between ‘dark’ and ‘daffy’ in the title role and is supported by an exceptional cast which includes Alison Brie, Paul F Thompkins, Aaron Paul and Amy Sedaris.
I’m still amazed how emotionally impactful and animated show about a has=been actor in Hollywood is. And unlike Mindhunter, the show has run its course with six excellent seasons that are both brilliantly funny and dramatically intense. That sense of completion makes BoJack the winner in this race by a nose.
Runner(s) Up: Mindhunter, American Vandal
HBO Max – Doom Patrol
This is another relatively easy proposition based on how new HBO Max is and the relatively small number of new original offerings. Doom Patrol was the highlight of the hopeful but hideous DC Universe streaming service. A show that lovingly adapts Grant Morrison’s amazingly weird comic series and gets just about everything right. The cast is top-notch, the storyline unflinchingly takes Morrison’s off-the-wall narrative from the printed page and adapts it exceedingly well to live action. Like Prime Video’s The Boys, Doom Patrol proves that some of the most unconventional comic books make for the most rewarding live action adaptations. There are no attempts to normalize Doom Patrol or ground the more bizarre elements. It’s the kind of show that wouldn’t have existed in a traditional broadcast space. One of the main benefits of the streaming service paradigm shift is getting more shows like Doom Patrol.
Runner(s) Up: Harley Quinn, Raised by Wolves
CBS All Access – The Good Fight
Finding something to describe as ‘Best’ on CBS All Access provided the biggest challenge. Mainly because the streaming service is still relatively new and the vast majority of the shows are just… not great. Awful versions of Star Trek and a new iteration of The Twilight Zone that struggles to achieve mediocrity. Lots of shows that feel a little too thematically familiar. One of the few shows that manages to feel ‘well-defined’ with a clear vision is The Good Fight. It’s well acted, well written and if you already have a CBS All Access subscription, give it a go.