A murder of crows. A conspiracy of lemurs. A zeal of zebras. But what do you call a massive group of TV series?
Let’s call it a gobble of shows, because that’s what TV lovers do these days. We devour the new material, as it gets served to us almost daily. With the addition of streaming originals to the glut of cable and network series and miniseries, we live in the era of Peak TV, a never-ending parade of shiny new toys to play with.
Along the way, however, a lot of good shows tend to get lost in the crush of the gobble. Most of them are imports, slipped into various services and cable channels to keep the coffers full. Here are some of the lesser-known shows I’ve enjoyed in the past year or two.
“Frayed” (HBO Max)
This six-episode dramedy — which was renewed for a second season — is set in 1980s Australia with lots of giant cellphones and big hair. It’s about a woman living in London, played by show creator Sarah Kendall, who loses her husband and their fortune overnight. She moves with her two teen kids back home to Australia to live with her financially struggling family, with “Schitt’s Creek”-ian results. She has airs, but she is brought down to reality by her crude dude of a brother, with whom she bickers and fights like a 5-year-old, and by her sober mother (played by the magnificent Kerry Armstrong). It’s a warm portrait of extended family, and a bit raunchy, too
“The End” (Showtime)
This British-Australian import is, top to bottom, about death. Suicide, assisted suicide, cancer, you name it. Yes, of course it’s a comedy. Frances O’Connor plays a single mother of two and a palliative care doctor in Australia who deals with dying patients all day long. Harriet Walter — who is phenomenal, as usual — plays her suicidal mother, forced into a retirement community and angry about it. There are flashes of hope and lots of gallows humor along the way, as mother and daughter work to come to terms.
Here’s the Cate Blanchett we love to see, the Cate who’ll cut you with a quick look if she needs to, the Cate who looks so nice on the outside only because she’s hiding ugliness on the inside. She plays a scamming cult leader who, with her noxious husband (Dominic West), sends Yvonne Strahovski’s fragile soul over the edge. The six-part Australian import, about the flaws in immigration policy and the nightmare of detention centers, didn’t get a lot of attention when it premiered, which is too bad. It’s imperfect — a show taking on immigration that’s largely about a white woman? — but nonetheless powerful and specific.
Like “Friday Night Lights,” this five-part Swedish miniseries is only peripherally about sports, in this case high school hockey. Really, it’s an unromanticized view of small-town life and the dangers of groupthink. Based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, it gives us a hockey team whose star player rapes the teen daughter of the new hockey coach. No one wants to believe it’s true, and the town slides into cruel denial while the coach’s daughter goes through the agony of revictimization. Obviously, it’s rough viewing, but the cast is excellent and the script manages to find some redemption.
“Girls5who”? This six-episode British comedy is a fierce lampoon of fame and the hunger for it. Like its central character, a washed-up boy-band star named Maxxx who wants a comeback, it’s cringey — but it’s also witty and, when it comes to Maxxx’s teen son, sweet. The show is written by its star, O-T Fagbenle, best known for playing June’s husband on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and it’s packed with inside show-biz jokes — an “Imma let you finish” line, for example, when Maxxx grabs the mic from a dead man’s mother while she’s eulogizing her son. Add in an over-the-top Christopher Meloni as a record exec and you’ve got a tart treat.
“The Capture” (Peacock)
File this one under: Timely. The British thriller left me reeling from its terrifying relevance. Set in London, the famously heavily-surveilled city loaded with CCTV cameras, the six-parter is essentially about detectives who are relying on street footage to solve a murder, but come up against highly sophisticated deep-fakery. One of our most historically dependable faculties, sight, is unreliable. The twisty story has creative ups and downs, but the concept is consistently haunting.
So many viewers are waiting for the next “Downton Abbey” movie, due next March. This period drama from Julian Fellowes just might help tide them over. It’s a mild six-episode escape, as it takes on the conflicts between entitled old money and scrappier new money in 1840s England. The story lines aren’t especially fresh or challenging — forbidden love, dark secrets from the past — and the upstairs material fares far better than the downstairs, but still. It’s all lifted to a higher level by a pair of engaging performances from Tamsin Greig (“Episodes”) and Harriet Walter.
MORE: British import “This Way Up” on Hulu is a poignant slice-of-life comedy about the bond between sisters, one of whom is recovering from a breakdown. Stars Aisling Bea, Sharon Horgan, and new Emmy winner Tobias Menzies are lovely. “We Are Lady Parts” on Peacock is a British comedy about an all-female Muslim punk band in London. It’s funny, endearing, winning, and eye-opening. “Love Life” on HBO Max is for rom-com obsessives only, as each season follows a different person from first love to last. The first season focused on Anna Kendrick’s Darby; next month’s season two focuses on a guy played by William Jackson Harper of “The Good Place.” “Year of the Rabbit” — it ran on IFC, but, alas, you’ll have to find it on Topic — is a kooky comedy about 19th-century detectives starring Matt Berry from “What We Do in the Shadows.” I think of it as a Victorian “Get Smart.”