Summer’s here and the time is right for bingeing on TV.
There are a few good shows running right now, notably “Game of Thrones,” but midsummer is still a fine time to play catch up. You can watch the previously released likes of Netflix’s glorious “The Crown,” HBO’s star-studded miniseries “Big Little Lies,” PBS’s elegant “Wolf Hall” and engaging “Call the Midwife,” and Laura Dern’s two-season dark comedy “Enlightened” on HBO. Oh, and you can also watch all seven seasons of “Shameless” at once, if you’re just crazy enough.
Here are a few other suggestions to help you fill the summer void, including current and past shows and miniseries. I’ve categorized them according to tone.
“Top of the Lake”
This seven-episode 2013 drama was the first time I realized that Elisabeth Moss wasn’t just a good actress — she’s an astonishing actress, which she is currently proving all over again on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Here she plays Detective Robin Griffin, who runs an investigation into the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old. It’s a haunting and unnerving story, from Jane Campion of “The Piano,” as Griffin’s difficult history emerges during her work on the case. The New Zealand locations are as majestic as the self-contained plot is bleak. This drama is returning to Sundance TV in September with a six-episode season, a new case, and supporting actress Nicole Kidman.
Likewise: Netflix’s “Happy Valley” finds compelling drama in a detective’s despair and the horrific crimes she investigates.
This seven-episode documentary series on Netflix digs into the murder of Baltimore nun Sister Cathy Cesnik, who disappeared in 1969 at age 26 and whose body was found the following year. The more filmmaker Ryan White pursues the case, the more horrifying it becomes, with news about a cover-up, sexual abuse by priests, repressed memories, the statute of limitations, and more. The series is helped by a pair of amateur sleuths, both former students of Sister Cathy, who work to solve the case. Their loyalty and commitment is touching in a story that triggers much darker feelings.
Likewise: Sexual abuse is an integral part of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the most effective dystopian drama I’ve seen in a while. The first season is spellbinding and disturbing.
Recently my brother got a bit angry at me, demanding to know why I hadn’t told him about “The Knick.” So I’m making up for that massive error by mentioning the two extraordinary seasons of Steven Soderbergh’s 2014-15 Cinemax series here and encouraging you to watch them. Most period pieces, like “Poldark” and “Downton Abbey,” prettify the past, but not this hospital drama, which turns New York in 1900 into a sometimes grim but always transporting portrait of poverty, dirt, and bustle. Clive Owen is a lonely, drug-addicted surgeon at a primitive time when doctors reached up to their elbows into opened-up patients WITHOUT GLOVES while an assistant manually pumped out blood. Yes, it’s bloody, but the story lines — involving themes of racism, class difference, and medical ethics — are bloody good. Strong supporting work comes from Andre Holland as the hospital’s only black doctor.
Likewise: Hulu’s gritty romp “Harlots” follows the battle of the brothels in 1760s London with a brilliant leading turn by Samantha Morton.
“Show Me a Hero”
If I told you that you’d thoroughly enjoy a six-part HBO miniseries from 2015 about 200 units of public housing in 1980s Yonkers, N.Y., you’d probably roll your eyes. But David Simon of “The Wire” turns the story of Yonkers councilman and later mayor Nick Wasicsko into both an informative snapshot of how local government does and does not work and a tragic portrait of a man defeated. It’s all informed by Simon’s intelligence and outrage, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Oscar Isaac is brilliant as Wasicsko.
Given the amount of good TV these days, it’s not surprising that the first season of the Amazon series “Sneaky Pete” has slipped through the cracks. But it’s a cool ride, as the story twists and turns. Giovanni Ribisi plays an ex-convict and an agile con artist who adopts the identity of his still incarcerated cellmate. He insinuates himself into the lives of his cellmate’s estranged grandparents — played by Margo Martindale and Peter Gerety — and he works his criminal magic. Do they know he’s not really their grandson? I’m not telling. Executive producer Bryan Cranston also appears as a scenery-chewing bad guy.
Likewise: At six episodes, “The Night Manager,” based on the John le Carre novel, offers intrigue and twists as Tom Hiddleston’s former soldier infiltrates the inner circle of Hugh Laurie’s arms dealer.
What can I say? I think this is one of the great unacknowledged highlights of the so-called Golden Era of TV. The 2008-10 HBO series managed to make therapy into deep drama without either being tedious or going over the top like Netflix’s “Gypsy” with Naomi Watts. A spectacular Gabriel Byrne is the therapist, Paul, and his clients across the three seasons include Josh Charles, Blair Underwood, Hope Davis, John Mahoney, Debra Winger, Dane DeHaan, and Mia Wasikowska in her breakthrough role as a depressed teen gymnast. Each half-hour episode beautifully recreates a session, like a little one-act play, with one session a week devoted to Paul’s therapy with his therapist, played by Dianne Wiest. Byrne is masterful, despite sitting still for much of the series, and so is the camerawork, which turns a single room into a world of pain and healing.
If you’re a sucker for period dramas and U.K. accents, regardless of whether the story is any good, then you ought to play catch up with this PBS “Masterpiece” beauty. Set along the craggy coast of Cornwall, it follows the local adventures — and, famously, the shirtless field work — of Aidan Turner’s titular hero, as he tries to help the poor community survive. After returning home from fighting in the American Revolution, Poldark has had to adapt to civilian life and a family situation that has changed radically during his absence. Honestly, you can see the plot twists coming from miles away, but it’s all so windswept and romantic you probably won’t care.
Likewise: A pair of Dickens miniseries adaptations will give you that PBS British costume drama buzz, too, and, unlike “Poldark,” they’re flawless: 2005’s “Bleak House” with Gillian Anderson and 2008’s “Little Dorrit” starring Claire Foy.
“Master of None”
I’ve recommended this indie-movie-like Netflix series to many people, and not one of them has complained. It’s a half-hour comedy with two 10-episode seasons so far, but there’s drama and depth in it, too. Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang and starring Ansari, the show is about looking for love in New York City, being a good son, being Indian-American, and trying to be an actor who isn’t pigeonholed into playing only heavy-accented cab drivers. It’s less minimalist than “Louie,” but it shares the same kind of thematic ambition and auteurish experimentation. From the second episode on, it’s a pleasure.
Likewise: In HBO’s wonderful “Insecure,” a black woman looks for love, and for herself, in L.A. Catch up on season one; season two premieres on Sunday.
Written by its stars, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, this London-set romantic comedy is extremely likable as it ranges from bitter to sweet, from adult to profanely silly. It’s about a couple, an American man and an Irish woman, who try to turn their sex fling into a full-on relationship when she accidentally gets pregnant. The chemistry between the leads is strong, and they help bring lots of vigor and charm to some familiar TV tropes. Carrie Fisher is here, too, as Delaney’s mother. There have been three six-episode seasons so far.
Have you heard about this light British drama? It’s a treasure for those who enjoy elaborate con-man stories that twist and turn repeatedly, fooling both the marks and the viewers. If you’re a fan of “Ocean’s Eleven,” this means you. These con men and women are a sparkling and sophisticated bunch, as they find their victims, fool them, disappear with their money, and celebrate their victories with a champagne toast. In a way, the flim-flammers are a kind of surrogate family, and they believe in honor among thieves. The late Robert Vaughn stars with Adrian Lester, Marc Warren, and Jaime Murray.
Likewise: FX’s anthology drama “Fargo” includes plenty of con artistry, along with humor, as each of the three seasons so far gives us Midwesterners getting sucked into bad situations. Season two is a must.
“Tales of the City”
It’s hard to believe that such a thoroughly enjoyable and sweet-natured six-episode miniseries, which was followed up by two sequel miniseries, was controversial in 1993 for its gay themes and nudity. Based on Armistead Maupin’s novel, it transports us to mid-1970s San Francisco and introduces a rich ensemble of characters played by Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Thomas Gibson, Chloe Webb, and Billy Campbell. There’s an irresistible mystery at the core of this colorful treat about a group of neighbors in a time of change. By the way, Netflix is in the process of developing a new installment, with “The Hours” novelist Michael Cunningham writing and Linney and Dukakis on board.
Likewise: HBO’s exquisite four-hour miniseries “Olive Kitteridge” — based on Elizabeth Strout’s novel — is a lot cooler and more literary than “Tales,” but it also gives us an ensemble of very specific characters living close together in a very specific locale.
“Please Like Me”
This bittersweet Australian comedy has a good heart — and it’s still funny. Star and creator Josh Thomas — so tall, awkward, and endearing — tracks the romantic trials of an ensemble of offbeat friends in their 20s, as well as the eccentricities and difficulties of his character’s parents. In the series opener, his mother tries to kill herself, but don’t let that scare you. Thomas takes a gentle and compassionate attitude to mental illness, rather than the hammer-on-head approach of, say, “Homeland.” The four short seasons are on Hulu. Try it, and please like it.
Likewise: Edie Falco’s seven-season “Nurse Jackie” is darker than “Please Like Me,” with its pill-addicted heroine . . . but I needed to find a place to remind you of this remarkable comedy-drama! Plus, both shows do share a sensitivity to people in the throes of serious depression.
This comic look back at the creation of the 1980s TV series “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” is easy, unchallenging viewing, and satisfying, too. Despite the fact that ladies’ wrestling was exploitive and targeted to the testosterone market, the show — one season of 10 half-hour episodes so far — is about women finding empowerment as they enter a traditionally male sport. Alison Brie, from “Mad Men” and “Community,” is a funny neurotic wannabe actress, and Marc Maron is perfectly cast as the weary director. The “Orange Is the New Black”-like ensemble of women on this Netflix show has a lot of potential for future seasons.
Alas, this eight-episode delight was canceled by ABC last month and the creators – Samm Hodges and Michael Killen — are hoping to find it a new home. Fingers crossed on that. The story is about the interwoven lives of Allison Tolman’s Nan and her funny, philosophical, and somewhat narcissistic dog Martin. How do we know Martin’s personality? He talks to us in confessional segments (don’t worry, he doesn’t talk to people), and he says amusing things such as this, about Nan: “It’s so vulnerable to love somebody this much, like to know that no matter what they do or how mad you get at them, you always come running back to them. Like, I literally can’t quit her.” It’s a treasure for dog lovers in particular.
Likewise: I’m a huge fan of HBO’s “High Maintenance,” which explores the cultural niches of New York through a weed delivery guy. The dog-centric episode, “Grandpa,” is must-see in the first and only HBO season so far.