Most of us have that inner voice, telling us to watch less television.
It’s always been there. We were told not to watch so many cartoons or so much sci-fi silliness, not to watch Beavis and Butt-head (shown here) watching videos. We’re reminded not to become Beavis or Butt-head.
But now that changes: With coronavirus concerns, watching TV is a socially responsible thing to do.What used to be anti-social behavior is now a fine form of social distancing.
Fortunately, the timing is right; this is the “platinum age” for TV fiction, when quantity and quality intersect. If you’re just getting re-acquainted with your TV set, here’s an update, starting at the top:
STREAMING OVERLOAD: We already had the giants – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime– ranging from “The Crown” and “The Irishman” to “Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
But now a lot more have jumped in. Apple+ started Nov. 1, the massive Disney+ came on Nov. 12 and NBC’s Peacock will follow on April 15 (via Comcast Infinity) orJuly 15 (for everyone else).
And there’s Quibi, arriving on April 6. It has superproducers (Stephen Spielberg, Lena Waithe, Guillermo del Toro) making shows in 10-minute bites for mobile devices only.
And there are the British-oriented streamers, Acorn and Britbox. Acorn’s current mini-series is the deep and brooding “Blood”; coming (March 23) is the giddy fun of “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.”
PAY-CABLE: Before the streamers soared, it was HBO – from “Sopranos” to “Game of Thrones” –that dominated quality-TV.
Lately, its owners have insisted on more quantity, expanding from one night of originals to two. So “Westworld” opens its third season at 9 p.m. Sunday (March 15), with top comedies (“Avenue 5” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) at 10:10 and 10:40. Monday has the debut of “The Plot Against America” – based on a chilling Philip Roth novel – at 9 and a sequel to the “My Brilliant Friend” mini-series at 10.
The other pay-cable channels are also busy, creating a Sunday overload. At the same time that “Westworld” debuts, Starz concludes “The Wrong Man” (preceded by the popular “Outlander” at 8); meanwhile, Showtime has the intense “Homeland” at 9, then starts a new season of “Black Monday,” its witty Wall Street show, at 10.
BASIC CABLE: When AMC launched “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” it showed that it could sometimes match the pay-cable people. Now, like HBO, it has two strong nights. “Walking Dead” is at 9 p.m. Sundays; Mondays have “Better Call Saul” (the “Breaking Bad” prequel) at 9 p.m. and the neatly eccentric “Dispatches from Elsewhere” at 10:10.
And FX has managed to match that quality. Lately, it’s debuted the hilarious “Breeders” (10 p.m. Mondays) and opened the season for the quietly involving “Better Things” (10 p.m. Thursdays). Coming are new seasons of “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Fargo,” April 15 and 19. All of these jump to Hulu the next day … and FX even does one show (“Devs”) for Hulu only.
That last one is part of cable’s fondness for the odd and intriguing. “Devs” and “Dispatches” head into strange turf; “Motherland: Fort Salem” (debuting at 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 18 on Freeform) tells us that the U.S. military has, for centuries, used witches. That’s the sort of thing cable savors.
BROADCAST TV: Then again, you can find weirdness on the regular broadcast channels, the sort that float into our antennas without asking for a penny. The CW is full of superpeople, batpeople, flashy folks, time travelers and, of course, witches. Many of its shows are done quite well.
Other networks try the supernatural, with occasional success. “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” is surprising fun, with a young woman hearing people’s thoughts via pop songs.
That’s 9 p.m. Sundays on NBC – which also knows how to stir emotions on Tuesdays with “This Is Us,” “New Amsterdam” and the upcoming “Council of Dads.” ABC does the same on Thursdays, from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “A Million Little Things.” Fox hits extremes, good and bad, in the final season of “Empire,” at 9 p.m. Tuesdays. CBS still is the best at standard comedies – “Mom” at 9 p.m. Thursdays, “Bob (Hearts) Abishola” at 8:30 p.m. Mondays” – and regular cop shows.
And PBS will soon emerge from its pledge break. On March 29, its annual Gershwin Prize honors Garth Brooks. A week later, “Masterpiece” launches the sweeping European saga, “World on Fire.” Shows like that make social-distancing seem easy.