“You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares …”
Yes, the song is about downtown. But that’s not where you’ll find comfort and joy during the current public health crisis, which has robbed us, for now anyway, of outside distractions and interactions.
The safest way to escape today and for the foreseeable future is in front of the television or computer monitor.
Thanks to the multitude of new and old series available through streaming, you not only can be entertained, but transported to a different, freer and much more vivid time and place.
You may even feel part of a community again — something that seems so out of reach in real life because of the need for self-quarantining and social distancing.
Here are seven shows available on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu that should make you smile, tug at your emotions or, at the least, take you out of yourself for a few hours while sequestered at home:
“Cheers”: Miss going to your neighborhood bar for cocktails and companionship? No problem. Grab a chair, settle in and absorb the playful atmosphere of this legendary Boston tavern, where, as the theme tune says, “everybody knows your name.”
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You can’t help but have fun either meeting or reacquainting yourself with its crazy core: owner/bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson), whose flirting is both ridiculous and a thing to behold; bookworm/waitress Diane (Shelley Long and, in later seasons, wannabe corporate climber Rebecca (Kirstie Alley), who don’t just fend off Sam’s advances, but also cook up fun ways to tweak his ego; bar staple Norm (George Wendt) and his pal, Cliff (John Ratzenberger), who loves to spout dumb trivia, trying everyone’s patience; and perennially pregnant server Carla (Rhea Perlman), whose acidic putdowns are reason enough to watch. All 11 seasons on Netflix and CBS All Access.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”: The scenery is vibrant, the vintage fashions pop with color and the comeback-filled dialogue is deliciously tart in this hourlong comedic drama set in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The show follows a blossoming female standup comic (Rachel Brosnahan) from club to club not only in her home of Manhattan, but to the Catskills, Vegas, Miami, even Paris.
Emmy winners Brosnahan and Alex Borstein as, respectively, Midge Maisel and her brutally frank agent Susie Myerson, are an unforgettable duo, as are Midge’s mom and dad, played to perfection by Marin Hinkle and that other awards darling, Tony Shalhoub. Best of all, the series showcases the charms of New York way before its culture was dimmed and its streets emptied. Three seasons on Amazon Prime.
“Top Chef”: Running out of ideas in your own kitchen during the crisis? Take in this enticing hour that lets you enjoy vicariously the wide variety of dishes and delicacies created by accomplished chef-testants on this most famous of cooking competition shows.
They whip up surf, turf and veggie delights, whole dinners and astounding desserts, sometimes for a table of picky judges, often to appreciative crowds unafraid to get rowdy while they dine. Cities all over the U.S. — San Francisco, Chicago, Colorado, Kentucky, Boston, even San Antonio (season nine — “Top Chef: Texas”) have served as captivating backdrops for the show during its 17 seasons, the latest of which is airing at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Bravo. 16 seasons available on Hulu.
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“Mad Men”: Working from home during the pandemic isn’t all that bad, unless you consider what’s missing. Topping the list is the loss of invaluable interaction with colleagues — advice, opinions, levity and more. That’s one reason this smart workplace drama from Matthew Weiner that’s set at an advertising firm on New York’s Madison Avenue is the perfect show to offset the isolation we’re all feeling. Ah, those compelling office conflicts, taboo flirtations and dramatic pitches!
The performances are flawless, starting with Jon Hamm as enigmatic creative director Don Draper, who’s harboring painful secrets, and Elisabeth Moss as his copy-writing protégé Peggy Olsen, who knows she can’t really grow without breaking free of her brilliant, often manipulative boss. All seven seasons on Netflix.
“Derry Girls”: While many U.S. schools have shut down temporarily in favor of kids being home-taught, one fictional Catholic school in Northern Ireland keeps its doors open for the amusement of viewers. The salty chat among friends, irreverent takes on the nuns who teach them and silly situation after situation they get themselves into will keep you giggling.
This gaggle of girls, led by dark-humored Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), who’s always looking for a way to improve her circumstances via minimal effort, and wild child Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnel), who’s constantly dipping into the adults’ liquor cabinets and making trouble for her pals, are as endearing as they are funny. First two seasons on Netflix.
“Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City”: Enchanting San Francisco, circa summer of 1976 — its bustling Castro and Mason streets, picturesque cable cars and hilly landscape — is showcased memorably in this six-episode TV introduction to a community previously ignored on the small screen. Gay, bi, trans and straight characters form a camaraderie at cozy apartment building 28 Barbary Lane, presided over by owner and landlady Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis). She refers to the tenants as her children and is generous with her special calling card — hand-rolled joints.
The 1993 series, sweetened by poignancy, humor, mystery and tributes to Maupin hero Alfred Hitchcock, is seen through the eyes of a newcomer, Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney). Fresh out of Ohio, naïve Mary Ann is initially startled by the city’s sexual diversity, but quickly grows to love her new home and friends. Available on Netflix, as is the 2019 continuation of “Tales.” International streamer Acorn also carries the first series.
“Farscape”: If you love the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie franchise, you’ll likely embrace this hourlong sci-fi show’s equally crazy and disrespectful passel of aliens. (“Galaxy’s” writer-director James Gunn recently revealed that “Farscape,” which was conceived by Rockne S. O’Bannon and premiered on U.S. TV in 1999, was his inspiration.) The series begins with a blast off from Cape Canaveral by astronaut/scientist John Crichton (Ben Browder), who’s testing a flight theory. But all goes scarily — and humorously — wrong when his ship is hurled through a wormhole into an unknown part of the Milky Way. He ends up on a living ship inhabited by a colorful crew of escaped prisoners led by blustery warrior D’Argo and bald, blue-skinned ex-priestess Zhaan.
Spouting the funniest lines is greedy, ravenous and deceptive Rygel, a diminutive creature who once was a ruler of an empire. Strong and striking Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), a renegade Peacekeeper soldier and captive onboard, provides eventual romance for Crichton, who’s quickly befriended by the entire crew.
The majority of characters are ingenious puppets or actors under heavy makeup and prosthetics — all creations of the Jim Henson Company.
“Farscape’s” space adventures are wild and edgy — often over-the-top — a marvelous escape from the coronavirus currently infecting humans across Earth’s globe. All four seasons on Amazon Prime.
Jeanne Jakle is a freelance writer in San Antonio.