By Katherine J Igoe published
Streaming services are now creating their own original content, which increases your ability to watch cool new TV shows—but before they did original programming, these services were known for airing the classics. It's such a simple pleasure to dive into an old series, either to watch start to finish or skip around to your favorite episodes. Here are some fun, new-to-you options if you want to explore a particularly good show—or just revisit an old fave you haven't watched in a while. There are a bunch of genre options in here, from drama to sci-fi to humor, so regardless of what mood you're in at the end of the day, there's something fun for you to turn on.
Note: If you're here looking for Friends, it left Netflix in January and will debut on HBO Max in May. Oh, and Seinfeld will be moving to Netflix and The Office will move to Comcast's Peacock by 2021, so keep an eye on some of your favorite shows, because they might migrate from one service to another.
The Twilight Zone
In case you're only familiar with the Disney ride, take a peek at the original 1950s-60s show that inspired it. Yes, the effects are hokey in places (William Shatner freaking out over a man in a truly ridiculous animal costume is amazing) but the concepts are really smart. You'll spot some of the inspiration for later TV and films—machines becoming sentient, extraterrestrial life, the meaning behind our nightmares—and they tap into the horror of the modern world. My favorite is season two's "The Lateness of the Hour," in which the daughter of an inventor slowly comes to realize just how terrifying her home life really is.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
All those modern shows about single women killin' it in the workplace? This serves as a kind of origin story: It was one of the very first times on screen that an unmarried woman (Moore's character breaks off an engagement and moves to become a news producer) dealt with challenges in the workplace. Honestly, a lot of the storylines sound modern even today: "Mary tries her hand at creative writing, but Lou’s harsh criticism severely deflates her ego." And: "When Lou says he’s looking for 'a girl like Mary' to be WJN’s newest newscaster, Mary auditions for the job herself." The show may be 50(!) years old, but many of the core concepts (plus the style) remain totally relevant and watchable.
Granted, the series only ended five years ago, but it became a classic basically as soon as it premiered. The precision and attention to detail mean that the 1960-70s world of New York ad men absolutely comes alive. But it's the story arc of the show's women—Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris, January Jones as Betty Draper—that makes the show so fun for me as a female viewer. These assistants and housewives, stuck in place by their husbands and the patriarchy, slowly plow their way into corner offices and positions of power. Setback after setback only makes them more resilient. And it's absolutely a joy to watch.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If you've only heard about the show but missed it the first time around, this is the perfect time to give it a look. Sarah Michelle Gellar was my hero as a '90s girl: She's stylish, she's badass, and she beats the snot out of evil creatures in between getting her homework done. Oh, and she's got an empowered, and very sexy, love life. The quality does vary over its seven seasons, but the writers managed to get creative with its lead and supporting characters (including a revolutionary-for-the-time lesbian coupling). When it's good, it's incredible. For example: "The Body," in season five—just trust me, and get some tissues.
I Love Lucy
Parts of the show come off quite dated, including the premise: A klutzy, flaky housewife has (unrealistic) dreams of stardom and gets into a bunch of wacky shenanigans. But, as it's been noted before, the show has staying power long beyond the time it originally aired. At the time, the casting of a Cuban-American (Lucille Ball's IRL husband, Desi Arnaz) was revolutionary. So was the stereotype-breaking premise—the wife who isn't the capable household matriarch. Plus, the two have the sweetest chemistry, and whatever ridiculousness ensues never takes away from how much the two seem to genuinely care about each other.
Another fairly recent "classic," the finale only aired seven years ago. But its reputation is as impressive as the series itself, and if you haven't watched, you absolutely should. Walter White's fascinating as the schoolteacher-turned-drug manufacturer, of course, but I love the supporting cast even more. Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman is the sweet soul of the show, which is honestly kind of a miracle considering what the character gets up to. Anna Gunn is Skyler, Walter's complicated wife who infuriates him at every turn but ends up being the moral compass. Gunn's talked about how controversial her character was among fans, but it's absolutely brilliant writing. We may not always like her, but she's basically never wrong and just as stubborn as her law-breaking husband.
Like I Love Lucy, this is an interesting time capsule look at a particular time—in this case, race relations in the 1970s-80s. The titular Jeffersons, an upwardly mobile Black couple living in a luxury apartment, explore what it means to be ensconced in a world of whiteness. One of the first shows to center around a successful Black family and also revolutionary for the time for depicting an interracial couple, it blended humor and commentary in such a way as to be both pointed and funny. The show apparently paved the way for classics like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Cosby Show, so it's worth taking a look at the still relevant original.
Sweet-as-pie high schooler Laura Palmer is murdered, and FBI agent Dale Cooper is tasked with figuring out who killed her. But that is, like, 1 percent of the creepy weirdness of this show; Absolutely nothing is as it seems—including the murder victim. Pretty much David Lynch at his finest/strangest, the show just keeps getting more and more surreal. By the time we finally understand the show villain (it scares me even to think about him, honestly, which is a testament to just how terrifying he is), the whole thing is a trippy, inter-dimensional, compelling ride.
It's not just memes! If you've never watched, go watch. If you have watched it, why not go back? The writing's so good, I feel like I pick up something new every time. The formerly wealthy but still snobby Bluth family is absolutely despicable (with the exception of Michael, played by Jason Bates, who basically spends the series looking aggravated). And honestly, that's really what makes them funny: Their complete callousness combined with their absolute lack of self-awareness makes them weirdly endearing. Also, the cast is a who's who of comedic actors who came from and went on to do incredible things.
I probably don't have to explain what the show's about, but just in case: A documentary crew comes to visit Dunder-Mifflin, a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to record the daily goings-on in the office. And even though that doesn't sound funny at all, the show's just an excuse to get a bunch of funny people in the same room and explore some cringey, so-awkward-it's-hilarious comedy. The British original with Ricky Gervais is entertaining but short; The American version lasted a whopping nine seasons and is the perfect kind of easy viewing that you can turn on at the end of the day. If you've ever had a terrible boss or strange coworkers (so, everybody), you'll find something for you.
Parks and Recreation
Just like The Office, and with some of the same creators, this show brilliantly takes what sounds like a boring job (the Parks and Rec department in fictional Pawnee, Indiana) then just uses it as a vehicle for funny office drama. The show builds as it goes on, so you might have to sit through a few slow episodes before it picks up the pace. Stick with it, though: By the time the show ended in 2015, all the characters were like old friends. And it's the role that Amy Poehler, as the irrepressible and constantly cheerful Leslie Knope, was born to play.
Revolutionary for the time, creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned a world in which racial and gender equality was just a normal thing that happened in space exploration. That included casting Japanese-American George Takai as Sulu—the actor had himself been placed in an internment camp only 20 years before. The show also featured the first interracial kiss on a scripted show. (Drunk History did a segment on the badass Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, that is delightful and you should absolutely watch.) The show also wrestled with big issues facing audience members, but all through the "safe" lens of a totally fantastical sci-fi universe. It might not be as radical now, but it's still fascinating. There's a reason the original's been revamped, rebooted, and retooled so many times.
The Golden Girls
If you love Sex and the City, you'll love this! I'm only half-kidding: Golden Girls wasn't just progressive for its subject matter, including aging, poverty, and race: It also showed women over 50 as, you know, actual sexual beings. Plus, one of the reasons many women like me still love it so much is the friendship between the women. They fight, they make fun of each other, they sometimes are (literally) at each other's throats. And they love each other to death. The fact that the real-life women apparently got along on and off the set just makes it even better.
Saturday Night Live
Obviously the show's still on, but the classic episodes are a cool early look at some of our favorite comedic actors—Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, and Will Ferrell to name a few. Granted, Hulu is missing a bunch of seasons, and a number of services have had, then taken off, the full library. But this is still a cool time capsule at the important social and political issues of the day, as well as which stars were popular enough to host. And great news: Apparently the new Peacock service will eventually have every single season as well as some behind-the-scenes content.
Some of it's campy, some of it hasn't aged very well. But the show was like a modern-day Twilight Zone, trying to explain weird and perhaps otherworldly phenomena. Teenage me loved getting scared shitless, but let's be honest: The sexual tension between Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) was what kept us all glued to our television screens. Even if some of the concepts seem a bit ridiculous today, there's still enough scare factor to be compelling. The creators bucked stereotype and convention at every turn, and it's creative storytelling at its finest.
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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributing editor at Marie Claire online who covers celebrity, fashion, entertainment, and lifestyle—from “The Bachelor” to Everlane to Meghan Markle. She also edits the Couples + Money series, so she’s always looking for volunteers at email@example.com. Igoe: “I go to the store,” not “Her huge ego".
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