Hi. My name is Whitney, and I am a TV addict.
I’ve been one all my life, since the days of bingeing “Fraggle Rock” and “Scooby Doo” while sprawled on ’70s-era shag carpeting. When you had to get up and turn the dial to change a channel. Before TVs were flat or hung on walls.
It’s true. This is one of my earliest memories:
Somehow, I even ended up in a job that’s TV-adjacent. So I get paid to talk about TV and entertainment all day, like a kid in a candy store.
Since we’re now in those dog days of summer — the TV slump before fall premieres, when good TV is hard to come by — I’m often asked what I’m watching. People are looking for ideas. Luckily, I’ve found some!
I have to disclaim that I watch all sorts of TV. Dramas, sitcoms, documentaries, reality series and competitions, cooking shows. I like TV that teaches me something, tells me a compelling story or makes me feel something — whether I laugh or cry. But I’m not really into the totally mindless stuff. In the summer, it’s a minefield out there, though. The new programs tend to kill more brain cells than build. See: “Wipeout.” “America’s Got Talent.” “Bachelor in Paradise.’ I’m pretty convinced “Wipeout” is a harbinger of the end of our society. I watch plenty of the light and frothy, but come on.
So, this is what I’m watching, what I’m obsessed with this summer — the hilarious, the juicy, the ridiculous. All in the name of end-of-summer TV.
Outlander = Sweeping views of Scotland! Hunky men! Fiesty heroines! Kilts! Swoon-worthy Scottish brogues! Swashbuckling battles! Did I mention men in kilts!
You might even learn a thing or two about English and Scottish history.
Scotland is my all-time favorite country (apart from my own, of course). There’s something so wild and dramatic and majestic, it takes my breath away. Plus, those accents are pretty special.
This show is based on the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon. If you haven’t read them, get thee to a book store, pronto. They are amazing. Or, better yet, watch the show!
The first book in the series came out in the early 1990s, but I didn’t hear of it until two years ago, when my friend Melisa picked it for book club. Initially I was skeptical — it is not a short book, nor is it a skimmer. But something happened around page 250. Soon I was madly obsessed, sacrificing food, socializing and personal hygiene to just read.
The TV show premiered last weekend (still time to catch up!), and it is both beautifully shot and perfectly cast. I’m hooked, already.
2. The Honorable Woman
Sundance Channel, Thursdays
I was not going to watch this show. I saw some promotion, but it looked heavy, and it was on Sundance Channel, a network probably worth watching but not one I frequent. Then, I was driving along one night, listening to NPR — as I do while highway driving, because I am now old — and the TV critic reviewed it.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is Nessa Stein, a British-Israeli businesswoman who is living in London but is also embroiled in the Israeli-Palestinian situation in the Middle East. Since I was just there, my interest was piqued. And it sort of couldn’t be more timely, given the news of late. After the first episode, they had me.
This is a slow burn — one of those shows where you can’t trust anyone and where secrets and subterfuge linger in every dark hallway. I’ve watched two episodes so far and I have very little idea what’s actually going on. I’d draw a parallel to “Homeland,” and not only because of the setting. I have a feeling this one is going to unravel over many episodes, with plenty of twists and gotcha! moments. I sort of can’t wait.
3. Jersey Belle
Lest you think my summer watching was all dramatic and dark, I bring you some levity.
Jaime Primak Sullivan is a proud New Jersey native who happened to meet, fall for and marry a man from Alabama. It’s the classic fish-out-of-water tale, with hilarious consequences.
Here’s the thing. Even though I was raised in the South and my family is almost ridiculously southern, I’ve always felt slightly out of place. It’s probably why I ran away to NYC for so many years.
I see myself in this show. Though no one would use these words to describe me, I identify with loud, outspoken, blunt Jaime almost more than her pearl-wearing, monogram-loving, perma-smile fixed southern friends. But they all feel like home to me.
Jaime’s also a fellow PR maven, though she went the celebrity publicist route.
4. Masters of Sex
Yes, this show is sort of about sex. (Sorry, mom.) But it’s much more about everything else, and it gives me my “Mad Men” fix in the off season.
It’s based on the real story of Bill Masters’ and Virginia Johnson’s landmark study of human sexuality in the late 1950s. Above all time periods, I’m most enamored with the U.S. cultural, social and political history of the 1960s. And, like MM, “Masters of Sex” explores social issues of the time — race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, women’s rights, etc. Even though present-day depictions are always skewed a bit by modern interpretation and satire, I still find it fascinating.
Oh, and the story’s pretty good too.
Michael Sheen plays Bill Masters so well that you alternately find him a despicable human being, yet sympathetic. Lizzy Caplan as Virginia is soft but wields a will of iron. Their relationship is pretty icky, but also somehow still compelling. You may not necessarily root for them, but that’s what makes the show so interesting … you don’t quite know how you feel, or are supposed to feel about them.
Now in Season 2, the last few episodes have been dragging for me, but I’m going to hang in with it. Also like “Mad Men,” I view “Masters of Sex” as visual literature, with a long, complex story arc. I know it’ll be worth it to stick around.
Because, Harvey Specter.
Just watch. You’ll see.
I enjoyed a few other gems this summer that have already run their course. But they are worth a look on demand:
Orphan Black (BBC America) — run, don’t walk, people. Whatever you have to do tomorrow — work, childcare, vacation, eating — skip it. Go to your couch right now and watch Orphan Black. It’s incredible, and I don’t even like sci fi.
The main reason is Tatiana Maslany, who plays at least 11 different characters. (They’re all clones, just go with it.) But she’s so insanely talented that you don’t even think that they’re all the same actress — yes, she was totally robbed of an Emmy nomination.
The People’s Couch (Bravo) — I’ve mentioned it before, but I must mention it again. A show about a bunch of people watching TV sounds dumb, but it is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. It’s pretty hard to get me to laugh out loud when I watch TV by myself, but I not only laugh, I cry — and sometimes writhe in guffaw-induced pain. It’s hilarious, promise.
Inside Man (CNN) — I have a mega-crush on Morgan Spurlock. Ever since Super Size Me, I’ve followed him around — to his show on F/X, now to CNN. (Even though I drew the line at “One Direction: This is Us.”) I just appreciate his world view, his sense of humor and his style of film-making. He documents subjects I didn’t know I cared about, but he makes me care about them, passionately. He makes even a heavy subject light and entertaining and interesting. So, check it out. (Side note: I’m only one episode into Spurlock’s new Showtime show, “Seven Deadly Sins” … and I just don’t know. I will err on the side of loyalty, though.)
Ladies of London (Bravo) — It’s Real Housewives with accents! Crass Americans and snooty Brits. Plus a royal sighting or two! Perfection for my Anglophilic heart.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN) — I have loved Anthony Bourdain from the beginning. He’s mellowed with age and with family, but he’s still the tattooed renegade badass chef he was back in the day. He’s also a seeker, like I am. He goes to remote places and eats strange things and finds the outcasts to talk to. He wants to know the WHY when he travels, like I do. He doesn’t make a frilly “go here, do this, eat here” show — it’s gritty, sometimes ugly, but nearly always the truth. That’s everything.
So, what’d I miss? What are you watching during this summer slump?