One of the biggest entertainment deals to be announced last week wasn’t the signing of a hot star to a new movie franchise, or a big commitment by a television network to a show for next season. Instead, it involved a venerable chestnut: FXX, the sister comedy network of FX, has agreed to pay $750 million to syndicate the entire run of The Simpsons on its airwaves, and to make the show one of the flagship acquisitions of the new streaming video service FXNow. For many of you, The Simpsons was a staple of your television-viewing. But as a child growing up in a house without television, I can’t wait to binge on Bart, Lisa, Homer, and Marge’s adventures, and getting to know the population of Springfield in the same detail as the rest of you.
But The Simpsons isn’t the only show coming to a streaming service near you. The arms race between Amazon and Netflix means that new content’s coming online every day. So if you’re looking for a show to binge-watch, or if you’ve been waiting to catch up on a buzzed-about show once it’s been available, here are five programs that will keep you glued to your screen this weekend:
1. Alpha House (Amazon): Amazon let viewers have a crack at the pilots they’d shot for a number of shows, and said they’d factor their customers’ reactions into their decisions about which shows to pick up for full seasons. Especially given its pedigree–Doonesbury creator Garry B. Trudeau is the mind behind the show, and John Goodman stars–it’s not surprising that Alpha House, which, inspired by a viral 2007 New York Times article about real-life lawmakers, follows the misadventures of four Congressmen who share a Capitol Hill townhouse, was among them. I didn’t think the pilot for Alpha House was perfect. But given that television’s Washington obsession has tended to paint the process of governing in grand, sometimes menacing, strokes on shows like Scandal and Homeland, it’s nice to see Trudeau turn a scabrous eye on the pettiness of Washington. Whether his characters are jumping on board trips overseas to bolster their national security credibility, letting their wives decide their votes for them, or getting liquored up and taking target practice in the basement, it’s nice to see that someone knows that it’s as fun to catch the folks operating puppets as it is to be awed by the shadows they cast on the wall.
2. Arrow (Netflix): Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first television expansion of the Marvel superhero franchise, been a badly-acted, artifact-of-the-week disappointment, and attention’s turned to the four series Marvel has planned with Netflix, which will take place in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen’s neighborhood. But all this kerfuffle over Marvel’s television development ignores the fact that its rival DC, which has struggled to launch a series of movies to rival Marvel’s, has handily lapped Marvel when it comes to television development. Arrow gets ignored because it’s on the CW, the hilariously low-rated and teen-oriented corporate cousin of CBS, and because its casting is in keeping with the CW’s hunk obsession. But Arrow is serious about superheroism, and as Oliver Queen struggles to figure out how to protect his city and disguise his identity, the show actually holds him accountable and isn’t afraid of the moral quandaries he faces.
3. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (Amazon): Anthony Bourdain’s an institution of both American food and American food television, popping up on Archer as a parody of himself, consulting on HBO’s New Orleans food and music show Treme, and even getting a skull tattoo on Miami Ink. But in No Reservations, Bourdain is himself and the focus is on both food and its cultural importance. Whether he’s learning about the role that food plays in helping people from Iceland cope with extremely dark days, or filming their experiences getting stuck in Lebanon during the war between that country and Israel in 2006, it’s much more than a cooking show, and it’s a travelogue with a unifying focus. Whether you’re planning a series of elaborately-cooked holiday dinners or ordering in, No Reservations is smarter-than-usual inspiration, and a reminder to be mindful about eating this holiday season.
4. Chuck (Netflix): Television ratings have collapsed this season, reconfiguring our sense of what counts as a hit or a flop. One show that was struggling to survive five years ago that would have looked decidedly healthy today is Chuck, NBC’s dramedy about a computer tech who’s zapped by a top-secret program and begins living a double life as a Central Intelligence Agency operative. A clever examination of what happened when nerd fantasies get realized, and of spy conventions, Chuck‘s real-world survival strategies were innovative as well. The show struck a unique and self-aware promotional deal with Subway to help support itself even as its ratings declined, one that moved to Community after Chuck‘s departures from the airwaves. And like Arrow, Chuck wasn’t afraid to have consequences, finishing up with a perfectly imperfect happy ending.
5. The Bletchley Circle (Netflix): One of the greatest effects of the rise of streaming video has been the way it’s acted as a pipeline to bring more foreign television to American audiences. Now we’re not only dependent on Masterpiece for our fixes, we can get shows like The Bletchley Circle quickly and legally. If you’re missing the late, lamented The Hour, The Bletchley Circle, which follows female codebreakers who turn the skills they employed in the British war effort to solving a series of murders the British police can’t, will be your cup of tea. And it’s another–always welcome–opportunity to luxuriate in the abilities of a talented group of British character actresses who ought to be better-known on this side of the pond.