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Arts & Life

Under-The-Radar TV Recommendations


It's almost time to ring in the New Year, which means maybe there is a day next week - say, I don't know, Wednesday - where all you'll feel like doing is curling up on your couch with a cup of coffee and a good TV show. But what to watch? We called up three of our favorite television critics and culture writers to ask what shows they saw this year that maybe you haven't heard of yet but are worth a binge. First up is Vulture's TV and culture writer Kathryn VanArendonk.

KATHRYN VANARENDONK: The show that I am recommending is "Dickinson" on Apple TV Plus. I think it is a show that may have been made very specifically for me, a millennial person who thought she was going to be an academic and isn't but desperately wants to be in a world constantly where people are taking literary characters both very, very seriously and very, very frivolously.

"Dickinson" is a show about Emily Dickinson. But it starts from the moment in her life when she is an older teenager. So it's about her just coming into her own as a poet. And it also incorporates all of these stories that few people who are familiar with her, just from high-school English classes, know.

For instance, Emily Dickinson was in love with her brother's wife is also not meant to be a strict, serious adaptation of who Emily Dickinson was as a person. They speak with words that, you know, current teenagers would be using. They do drugs. Emily, at one point, has a hallucination of a giant bee smoking a joint, voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.

It is so funny. But it is also extremely dark, which is appropriate for Emily Dickinson and sort of what her life was. I mean, she was obsessed with death. So there is quite a bit of Gothic tones going on in this show. But it is also just immaculately weird in a way that I respect so much.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I'm Eric Deggans. And I'm a television critic for National Public Radio. The TV show I'm recommending is a drama called "The Boys" that was distributed on Amazon earlier this year. It's a really interesting TV show that was made of a really edgy graphic novel that came out years ago about superheroes who were presented to the public as sort of virtuous heroic figures. But there's a group of humans who discover that, behind the scenes, they're actually controlled by a corporation. And they're very corrupt.

I guess what I like about it is that I've really sensed in the last year or so in particular pop culture has been trying to figure out a way to tell these superhero stories in a way that is more compelling, that maybe speaks a little more to how people really feel about life. And so along comes this sort of cynical sort of darkly comedic story that sort of says, you know, these people you want to believe in, well, they're being manipulated by this corporation - and there's much more to that story. I don't want to spoil it for people who haven't seen it - and they're taking people's desire for justice. And they're kind of perverting it.

And there's this cult of personality and this cult of celebrity that's grown up around these figures. And it feels like something that might actually happen if people popped up and could fly and bend steel with their bare hands and shoot beams out of their eyes and run really fast. So for somebody who loves superhero stories, it's been great to see this story come along, really push the storytelling forward and also offer something that even people who don't necessarily like superhero stories might enjoy.

MONICA CASTILLO: I'm Monica Castillo. And I am a critic and writer. The TV show I'm recommending today is "Florida Girls," which just premiered this past summer. It's about these four friends who, after one of their roommates moved out - they're forced to sort of reevaluate where their life is going. And they're in Florida, you know, this kind of permanent vacation state of mind. And then maybe they start to think that maybe this isn't what life's all about.

I liked it a lot because it's about friendship. It's about female friendship. I really liked the different dynamics among the characters. They all push and pull each other in different ways - in some ways that are, you know, sometimes detrimental. And there's where the comedy is - and other ways that these girls really care for one another. And I really loved the Florida-specific and especially Tampa-specific humor. I'm actually from that area. So it was very strange and a little surreal to actually see my town or jokes about my town on television.

I was able to binge this show during the summer. And it was perfect. I would imagine that bingeing a show about Florida in the middle of winter would be a perfect rebuttal to whatever winter weather is going on outside.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Monica Castillo recommending "Florida Girls," Eric Deggans recommending "The Boys" and Kathryn VanArendonk recommending "Dickinson." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.