Need an Uplifting Show or Another British Mystery? We’ve Got You

I really like the Brit mysteries on TV. My recent favorites have been “Broadchurch,” “Happy Valley” and “Unforgotten.” These series are complex, intelligent and don’t rely on firearms, explosions or car chases to create excitement. Further, they don’t dumb down the writing to appease the audience. I recently subscribed to Acorn TV, the British TV subscription service. Can you recommend some smart, complex series similar to those I mentioned? — Tony

It’s time for “Prime Suspect,” my friend. (It’s available on Hulu and BritBox.) Helen Mirren stars as D.C.I. Jane Tennison, and because the show’s seven seasons are spread across 15 years, you get to follow her career development in big and interesting ways.

“The Missing” (Amazon, Starz) has some of the agony of “Broadchurch” and a similar pace. Its two largely unrelated seasons both follow missing children cases and focus less on flashy forensic work and more on slow-grind human endeavor. It’s a bummer show for sure, but it sounds like that’s your jam.

For something a little bit artsier, there’s “River” (Netflix), which is still brooding and serious but also more eccentric. For something more swirling and conspiracy-oriented, try “The Shadow Line” (Pluto TV, free), a layered series that bends most cop-show conventions.

Finally, if you’re willing to try something Australian instead of British, “Jack Irish” (Acorn) is terrific noir with a sense of humor about itself. Still serious! Just not self-serious.

I attend university a few hours away from my hometown, which means I commute pretty regularly to visit family. I’ve taken to catching up on new shows during these long rides on Canada’s bumpiest train, though I’m having difficulty focusing on visual-heavy shows while watching on my phone screen. Any suggestions for buzzy shows that are heavy on dialogue and easy to follow, even if I look away for a minute to regain my sense of balance? (For context, my favorite shows are “Parks and Recreation” and “The Leftovers.”) — Josh

What’s your comfort level with dubbing? If you don’t mind, or speak Spanish, try “Money Heist” (on Netflix), a bank-robbery thriller from Spain that’s exciting and extremely bingeable. It reminds me a lot of “24” when “24” was good, and while the visuals are interesting — everyone involved with the heist wears spooky Salvador Dalí masks, for example — it’s not about beauteous vistas or whatever. It’s about heisting. Season 3 just came out.

Because you like “Parks and Recreation,” try “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (available on Hulu). I’d start with Season 3, when the show has really found its groove, and once you love it loop back around for the first two decent but not as wonderful seasons. It has that same loose goofiness but because it’s not a mockumentary format, all the intimacy the show builds between the audience and the characters is also built between the characters themselves. Don’t think too hard about the fact that they’re supposed to be solving genuine crimes.

The vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” (Hulu) has an occasional visual gag — X-rated topiaries, for example — but mostly relies on its dialogue and rhythms. It’s set in Staten Island and follows a group of bickering vampires adhering to esoteric power structures but also griping about pop culture and social drudgery.

Perhaps less buzzy but still relevant are tons of multicam classics, which are perfect for your viewing restrictions: “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Living Single,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Golden Girls.” Watch them before the streaming wars require 900 separate services. (They’re all on Hulu, Netflix or CW Seed, which is free.)

I will soon be beginning six months of arduous chemo/radiation and anticipate I will be more isolated and less active than normal. TV and movies can be a wonderful escape.  However, it can be hard to find things that are light and uplifting without being mindless. And often illness (especially cancer) is thrown in for dramatic effect. Similarly, I might not be as interested in food movies as usual (insert wry grin). — Mary

First of all, I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this, and everyone here at Team Watching is wishing you a full and speedy recovery.

If you like zippy dialogue and ensemble comedies where everyone is an oddball, and you’ve already watched “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” watch “Great News” (Netflix), set behind the scenes at a vaguely disreputable newsmagazine show. It’s funny and sometimes wildly bizarre, but it also has a secret sweet streak and really loves its characters.

“Chewing Gum” (Netflix) is a British series about a religious woman looking to make her own way in the world — and specifically, she’d like to have sex. The show can be quite bawdy, which isn’t everyone’s speed, but the creator and star Michaela Cole is so warm and earnest that it never feels actually vulgar.

I’m not a big wrestling person, but “GLOW” (Netflix) is one of my feel-good faves right now. It’s set within the early days of women’s professional wrestling in the ’80s, but it’s really about teamwork, camaraderie and figuring out your own story. It’s uplifting — literally, sometimes characters lift each other up — but not schmaltzy or trite.

If you want something a little more ridiculous, but also more purely fun, watch “Younger” (Hulu). It’s about a woman in her 40s who lies and says she’s in her 20s to get an entry-level job in the publishing industry, and it’s fizzy and easy and best in a marathon viewing session.

Or if you want something more grounded, the British series “Gavin & Stacey” is sweet and wonderful, and definitely more folksy than cosmopolitan. The show follows Gavin and Stacey — and their respective friends and families — from their meeting through their courtship and eventual marriage.

Send in your questions to [email protected] Questions are edited for length and clarity.

Margaret Lyons is a television critic. She previously spent five years as a writer and TV columnist for She helped launch Time Out Chicago and later wrote for Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. @margeincharge

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