– Fraggle Rock (Amazon Prime Video, 4 seasons): This international co-production from the 1980s, filtered through the creative gaze and industrious hands of Muppets creator Jim Henson, uses puppets to present an underground society where different species try to understand each other while imparting lessons about “the Silly Creatures” (us humans) up above.
For Your Teens
– American Vandal (Netflix, 2 seasons): Set in an American high school but shot as a true crime documentary, complete with obsessive (adolescent) investigators and conflicting theories, this entertaining comic mystery is both ludicrously gross and genuinely telling as injustice is exposed and embarrassment felt. It is very smart silliness.
– The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix, 1 season): A critically acclaimed prequel to Jim Henson’s and Frank Oz’s 1982 fantasy movie The Dark Crystal, Age of Resistance is a deep dive into a risk-strewn world that retains the original hand-made aesthetic and very real sense of risk as illegitimate rule and political strife forge a puppet-driven quest.
– Veronica Mars (Stan*, 4 seasons): High school has many mysteries but none more so than in this teenage noir, where the supremely sharp-tongued Kristen Bell plays the titular school student by day and private detective by night. The crimes here are real and imbued with trauma, but the series handles it with a skilful mix of retribution and regret.
For Those Who Delight in the Worst Case Scenario
– Black Summer (Netflix, 1 season): Shot on the move so that it feels like the end is constantly a few seconds away, this ground zero at the zombie apocalypse (these ones run) turns an average American town into a post-apocalyptic landscape as you watch. Black Summer is tense and terrifying, and yet the people and places feel readily recognisable.
– Colony (Netflix, 2 seasons): If you still have fond memories of Lost’s nickname sprouting anti-hero Sawyer, this alien occupation drama puts actor Josh Holloway front and centre in a tale of life in Los Angeles under unknown overlords. Subterfuge, collaboration, and otherworldly twists ensure in a tightly made thriller.
– The Handmaid’s Tale (Stan*, season 1-2; SBS on Demand, season 3): How much dystopia can you take? I checked out after two seasons, but this nightmarishly grim reality of an America turned into a theocratic dictatorship, with a compelling Elisabeth Moss as woman deprived of even her own name, matches wrenching duress to official terror.
For Those Who Want to Laugh
– Catastrophe (Stan*, 4 seasons): When an American advertising exec (Rob Delaney) and an Irish school teacher (Sharon Horgan) have a “six night thing” in London, it unexpectedly turns into a relationship and parenting. Getting by requires sardonic exchanges and horrifying missteps that are often inappropriate and blackly hilarious.
– I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix, 1 season): A sketch comedy series that takes everyday foibles and social missteps to excruciating extremes. This journey into the warped brain of comic actor Tim Robinson is wildly audacious without ever winking at the audience. Exhibit A: “Baby of the Year”.
– Last Man on Earth (SBS on Demand, 4 seasons): You never see the virus that spurs this deft comedy, but it leaves the incredibly ill-chosen Phil Tandy (Will Forte) as seemingly the last person in America. His solo set-piece are sublime, but the show soon delivers other survivors, all of whom Phil manages to offend.
For Those Who Love Their Crime Shows
– Justified (Stan*, 6 seasons): Located in the character-rich confines of Kentucky and adapted from an Elmore Leonard short story, this idiosyncratic crime drama follows wayward US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and features a magisterial supporting cast that includes Walton Goggins, Margot Martindale and Damon Herriman.
– Mindhunter (Netflix, 2 seasons): Set in the late 1970s, this eerie procedural watches with forensic interest as a disparate group of FBI agents and psychologists begin the study of serial killers. Shaped by filmmaker David Fincher’s precise eye, the result is an ominous immersion with modern history’s inexplicable monsters.
– Ozark (Netflix, 2 seasons): The fractured marriage of Jason Bateman and Laura Linney’s comfortable Chicago couple is locked down when his money laundering work puts their lives at risk. Exiled to rural Missouri, they have months to repay millions, requiring illegalities that draw the attention of locals. Season three debuts March 27.
For Those Who Seeking a Non-Infectious Mystery
– The Bureau (SBS on Demand, 4 seasons): A riveting study of national security and self-deceit – the two are dangerously interlocked – this quietly tense French espionage drama follows an undercover agent (an excellent Mathieu Kassovitz) returning to Parisian desk duty. What he brings with him upends an already labyrinthine world.
– Wormwood (Netflix, 1 season): Errol Morris is one of the greatest documentary filmmakers alive and he uses the breadth of this Netflix series about the controversial 1950s death of an American scientist working for the CIA, to mix eras, testimony and possible culpability. You feel like you’re living inside this murky story.
– Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video, 1 season): With note-perfect performances from Julia Roberts and Bobby Cannavale, this collection of conspiracy strands that meet in an unforgettable moment is the work of Mr. Robot creator Sam Ismael. From menacing tracking shots to meticulous production design this is bespoke 21st century paranoia.
For Those Needing Comfort TV
– Grace & Frankie (Netflix, 7 seasons): You had me at Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The terrific duo star as acquaintances thrown together after their respective husbands go public with their long-time affair and move in together. The first season is middling, but as grief gives way to a second chance this comic drama makes the cranky and caring sparkle.
– Parks & Recreation (Amazon Prime Video, 7 seasons): As played by Amy Poehler, Leslie Knope is a parks department bureaucrat in the American town of Pawnee, who genuinely tries to do good for others. Her co-workers are another matter. Eccentric characters, community strength and madcap misadventures all punctuate this wonderful comedy.
– Veep (Foxtel on Demand, 7 seasons): If you’d prefer to laugh at the failings of those in charge rather than stress about them, there’s no better starting point that Armando Iannucci’s sharp-edged satire of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s fictional US vice president. Public service has rarely been so precisely skewered.
For Those Who Want a Period Setting
– Babylon Berlin (Netflix, 3 seasons): 1929 Berlin is the perfect setting for this kaleidoscopic thriller: the Weimar Republic teeters, factions and cabals clash, the trauma of World War I endures. A flawed detective looking for blackmail material is the starting point, but this lavish German production rewrites history as you watch it.
– The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon Prime Video, 3 seasons): With a tip of the hat to Joan Rivers’ stand-up comedy beginnings in the 1950s, Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino mixes pithy dialogue, female empowerment, and rich period detail in a tale that ultimately celebrates the joy of self-expression.
– Harlots (SBS on Demand, 3 seasons): The rivalry between two brothel madams – played by Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville – underpins this blithe anthropological dive into 18th century London, where sex work is one of the only ways women can claim agency. Female creators, directors, and leads mean a different take on corset culture.
For Those Who Want a Pre-Streaming Hit
– Friends (Stan*, 10 seasons): “The One with Self-Isolation” sounds like a readymade Friends episode, and the trademark sitcom about six young New Yorkers who somehow stuck together through every 22-minute mix of mishap and punchlines has a slick comic energy that is absolutely reassuring right now.
– House (Amazon Prime Video, 8 seasons): The show that introduced America to Hugh Laurie, House has a mammoth 177 episodes where the thoroughly unconventional and generally misanthropic Dr House makes getting the correct diagnosis more fun than it actually is. The show remains a medical drama that twists the familiar elements just enough to make it fresh.
– Mad Men (Netflix, 7 seasons): Matthew Weiner and his collaborators crafted a modern masterpiece with this elegiac study of a charismatic but inscrutable ad agency creative (Jon Hamm) and his co-workers and family. Social shifts and personal mores intermingle with a defining mood that was somehow both bracing and bittersweet.
For Those Who Want it Weird
– Dark (Netflix, 2 seasons): The secrets of successive family generations and the means to traverse time are more tightly bound than you might imagine in this gloriously grim German science-fiction puzzle box drama, which turns a German village inside out over successive eras. Its greatest success? The intricate plot is actually legible.
– Russian Doll (Netflix, 1 season): The universe has decided to trap take no prisoners New Yorker Nadia (the inspired Natasha Lyonne) in a homicidal time-loop on her 36th birthday – every time she dies she goes back to the beginning of her party. Nadia’s refusal to accept this makes for a metaphysical black comedy where the existential dilemmas are delectable.
– Twin Peaks (Stan*, 3 seasons): When in doubt, turn to David Lynch. His once in a lifetime cult classic, that began as a small town murder mystery and eventually engulfed multiple dimensions, unites seasons from 1990, 1991, and 2017. The result is loopy and towering, devotional and mind-bending. Twin Peaks defies lasting explanation, making it timely.
*Stan is owned by this masthead.
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.