Had enough? Too bad. On Wednesday, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, is having its official wide launch. You are getting yet another TV option whether you want it or not, one that will feature original shows along with a library of old shows and movies. It joins HBO Max, Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, Amazon, and many more. There’s a free ad-supported version, with 7,500 hours of material; there’s an upgrade for $4.99 per month with 20,000 hours of content (which Comcast Xfinity subscribers get for free); and there’s an ad-free version for $9.99 per month.
I will certainly review some of the original shows that arrive on Wednesday, including an adaptation of “Brave New World” and a David Schwimmer comedy called “Intelligence.” But in the meantime, here’s a dive into the service’s library, and the 10 series and movies that caught my interest.
“Everybody Hates Chris”
Recently ABC announced that it is trying to reboot “The Wonder Years” with a Black family, and my first thought was: Let’s not forget about “Everybody Hates Chris.” This series, which ran four seasons, from 2005-09, and was all but ignored by the Emmys, is an under-acknowledged gem. Set in Brooklyn in the 1980s, it’s a warm family sitcom co-created by Chris Rock (who narrates) based on his childhood. Themes of race, class, and inequality wind through the show, as they do in Rock’s stand-up; but the sitcom is also sweetly affectionate and nostalgic. The cast is all aces, including Tichina Arnold (who went on to the equally excellent “Survivor’s Remorse”) and Terry Crews.
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents”
Gooo-deeevening. The director wryly introduced and provided an epilogue for these tales of mystery and suspense, which he only occasionally directed. As with its more sci-fi driven cousin, “The Twilight Zone,” the “AHP” title sequence is a classic, with a silhouette of Hitchcock (drawn by Hitchcock) and the fitting sounds of Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette.” The stories, all 10 seasons of them, beginning in 1955, were often based on fiction by the likes of Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, Saki, and Garson Kanin. Like many anthology shows, the episodes are uneven, but the perverse humor is irresistible — to wit, “Lamb to the Slaughter,” in which a pregnant housewife murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then serves it to the policeman investigating the case. Actors on the show included Rip Torn, Polly Bergen, Peter Falk, Anne Francis, Walter Matthau, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, and Angie Dickinson.
Speaking of Alfred Hitchcock, this one is a treat. Released in 1963 and based on a story by Daphne du Maurier (who wrote “Rebecca” and “Jamaica Inn,” which Hitchcock also adapted), it’s about bird attacks in a California beach town. It’s also about Freud, love, violence, sexuality, nature, and — timely! — lockdown, as the hero, Mitch (Rod Taylor), works out the women in his life, including characters played by Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, and Veronica Cartwright. The special effects aren’t like those we see now — which makes the movie more fun and serves as a reminder of the power of building suspense.
I think this five-season series, which originally ran on Showtime, is underestimated in some ways. Essentially, it’s just another melodrama about an extramarital affair in a wealthy and literary milieu. But it’s formally inventive, with a fractured narrative: The action always takes place from a character’s point of view, usually two per episode, and the time leaps are unexplained. It’s a show about subjectivity — and it forces the viewers to be subjective in their understanding of what happens. At times, the story barely skirts absurdity, and a season three foray into paranoia didn’t work; still, as a whole, as it comes full circle, it’s worthwhile, with some outstanding performances by Maura Tierney, Omar Metwally, Kathleen Chalfant, and Dominic West as the relentlessly impulsive and often unlikable hero.
“The Carol Burnett Show”
This 11-season series — which is always mentioned as part of the golden age of variety shows — only recently came to streaming. It ran from 1967-78, it’s end overlapping with the beginning of a new era in variety, the premiere of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s excellent, of course, stocked with recurring sketches and movie parodies (including the classic “Went With the Wind,” with its curtain-rod gown designed by Bob Mackie). For people of a certain age, “Carol Burnett” is prime comfort-food TV, not least of all thanks to Burnett’s warmth, a very long list of guest stars that reaches from Ella Fitzgerald and Cass Elliot to Carl Reiner and Maggie Smith, and regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and Lyle Waggoner.
“Friday Night Lights”
Here’s the thing. We’ve been in a golden age of TV, and cable shows from “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” to “The Shield” and “Game of Thrones” get most of the credit. But “Friday Night Lights” is an extraordinary series that, because it was on a network and not explicit, and because it was openly earnest, is usually not included in the mix. The five seasons ran from 2006-11, and they were all strong, as they gave us a group portrait of small-town Middle America. The cast was strong, from the high school kids and their parents to the football coach and his guidance counselor wife, who became one of TV’s most realistic portrayals of a good marriage in the hands of Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. If you haven’t seen it, get to it.
“Law & Order”
Why on Earth am I putting this show on the list? It’s all about the commercials. If you wind up subscribing to the ad-free Peacock Premium, you can sit watching hours of crime and punishment in New York City (I don’t but I know you do) without having to put up with the endless and even offensive commercials that seem to last as long as the episode itself. You can spot actors in supporting roles before they got famous (I don’t but I know you do) without interruptions about the side effects of the latest life-changing drug.
“Children of Men”
There are a lot of dystopian visions on TV these days, including “Black Mirror” and “Westworld.” Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film “Children of Men,” loosely based on P.D. James’s 1992 novel, fits in nicely with these current shows, particularly “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has a somewhat similar premise regarding population-threatening infertility. Clive Owen stars as a bureaucrat in 2027 who agrees to try to transport a miraculously pregnant woman to safety, away from the dystopia of a violent England.
Every time I watch the fantastic “What We Do in the Shadows” on FX, I think of this show, about a different set of kooky monsters. Certainly “The Munsters,” which ran for only two seasons and yet produced 70 episodes, wasn’t as clever as so many good cable and network comedies we see these days. It was broad, to put it mildly. When Mom dusted the house, for example, she actually applied dust. But the sitcom had gusto, thanks to a cast led by Fred Gwynne as the dad/Frankenstein monster and Yvonne De Carlo as the vampire matriarch. It managed to satirize supernatural movies and family sitcoms at the same time.
“Leave It to Beaver”
I know, I know. It’s sincere and wholesome and, since its six-season run from 1957-63, has been an icon of the repressive 1950s. But those are the reasons to check it out. It’s a predictable look at the adventures and predicaments of Beaver, who has a few moral lessons to learn, but it’s simultaneously a fascinating portrait of the way white American families once operated. Think of it as an artifact worth looking at, to contrast with our own times.