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Lithium So many shows, so little time

Mar. 19, 2019
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If we all have one common dilemma in our lives, it’s that there are so many television shows that we want to watch, but so little time. My queue is a messy, never-ending list of series. It’s not realistic, because, let’s face it—I’m never going to watch Game of Thrones in its entirety. My chances of finishing House of Cards are pretty slim at this point. And Bandersnatch? The hype has died down, so probably not. To make this easier for everyone, here’s my list of easy-to-binge, not-too-long, funny shows that must be watched immediately. No holding it off until never.

Russian Doll

My first pick is the newest, hottest, buzziest show on Netflix now. Anybody could write a volume or two about the brilliance of Russian Doll. It’s a quick, multilayered, dark dramedy that never ends. Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black) is Nadia Vulvokov, a game-developing New Yorker who keeps reliving her 36th birthday. Accompanying Nadia on this birthday loop are Maxine (played by a glorious Greta Lee), Lizzie (Rebecca Henderson—could this cast get any better?), and Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), none of whom has no idea what Nadia is going through. 

In Natasha Lyonne’s own words, Russian Doll is an existential adventure show. It’s also her absolute tour de force. Lyonne is front and center, traveling through emotions as fluidly as the raw egg she drinks from a glass during one of the time loops. Her character is well written: sharp and nuanced and interesting, with fascinating development. We’re constantly kept on our toes about what Nadia might do next, how certain things will affect her, and who she really is. What does she care about? Who does she care about? How many different ways can she die? Why is she pronouncing cockroach like that? Questions lead the show through the time loops, the main one being, “What the fuck is happening?” And honestly, after having watched the first season, I can’t say that I’m entirely sure. The end of the show leaves you satisfied but curious enough to desperately need another season (or five). 

Greta Lee and Rebecca Henderson’s supporting performances bring the laughs and the fashion. It’s impossible to not like a show in which Greta is outfitted in a gold-chainmail ensemble and worries about her chicken while Henderson captures baby gay hearts in her ridiculously cool white overalls and glasses. Also, also—Natasha Lyonne’s Helmut Lang jacket and black outfits are character themselves, with extra appreciation considering the amount of costumes needed for continuity purposes. Maxine and Lizzie are extremely fleshed-out as minor characters, and I wouldn’t mind seeing spin-off episodes about them, with or without a time loop. 

The dialogue in Russian Doll is funny and intense, veering into reflection and sincerity as the story progresses. I won’t lie, I cried a few times when the show peeled back the characters’ layers. The writing and the quality of great female characters come directly from Russian Dolls’ all-female writers room and directors as well as the three women who created the show: Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler. Wow, the power of women. 

Beyond the wonderful cinematography and costumes, the brilliance of Russian Doll is its ability to immerse viewers in the plot while also making them turn inward and ask the big questions about life. It’s a show that tackles life, death, and everything in between. People float in and out of Nadia’s life, but friends like Maxine and Lizzie are an almost-constant presence in Nadia’s time loops. Ruth is the person Nadia goes to when she’s most lost. Strangers like Horse and Alan weave in and out of her life in realistically unpredictable ways. The show is a reminder to viewers that they don’t have to walk down the stairs alone.  

Broad City

Broad City is ending on a strong but bittersweet note with its sixth season this year. The short episodes follow twenty-year-old Abbi and Ilana through their lives in New York City. It sounds kind of cliche, but Broad City is unlike any other girls-in-NYC show on television. Their adventures are wild, hilarious, and rooted in NYC and youth. The show espouses a liberal, progressive view of the world fitting to the characters (that most of the viewers will share), and isn’t afraid to be current. Abbi and Ilana are lovable, flawed characters surrounded by lovable, flawed friends. The sixth season is already receiving much praise from critics and fans alike. The first episode displayed an entirely different method of storytelling—done through the style of Instagram stories, complete with text and video filters. The episode felt extremely natural; extremely Abbi and Ilana. And it also highlighted the best parts of Broad City, their ability to be light and funny but also real. Abbi is confronted with her 30th birthday. She gets attached to a child that isn’t hers. Her friends comfort her and make her feel good when they find her crying in the bathroom. Ilana makes a bittersweet video about Abbi’s butt—bittersweet  because it traces back to season one, when we first fell in love with the duo and their world. The episode ends perfectly, as all Broad City episodes do, with Abbi and Ilana together, the way it should be. In later episodes Abbi and Ilana have their own separate storylines, but the highlights of the show prove that Abbi and Ilana are at their best when they’re together. They have adventures, they grow, they get into problems, they learn, and they love. Abbi and Ilana versus the world forever. 

The Other Two

The Other Two is one of Comedy Central’s newer shows, and when I first saw the ads I was skeptical. A show about the adult siblings of a Jacob Sartorius-esque brother who became famous overnight? But then I kept seeing The Other Two on my favorite comedians’ social media and articles complimenting the show. So I watched it. And my verdict is that it’s good—good enough to make me anticipate the next episode. It shouldn’t be surprising: two SNL head writers wrote it, with Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke starring as the two adult siblings. 

Carey is an aspiring actor who works multiple jobs (waiter, NYC tourist performer) and lives with a roommate that is giving him strong mixed signals. His sister Brooke is fired from her job and is determined to find herself. While they are struggling to sort out their lives, their teenage brother Chase becomes a viral, overnight star. He gets picked up by a talent manager well-versed in celebrity torture, played by Ken Marino, who decides to handle his newfound fame with Chase’s mother, Molly Shannon. Both Marino and Shannon are legendary comedians who deliver many of the show’s funnier, quirkier moments. Carey and Brooke get a taste of Chase’s celebrity when they go to movie premiere after-parties and live in Justin Theroux’s minimalist house. As in any good short comedy watch, The Other Two is quick and has a good heart. The relationship between the three siblings and the family as a whole is one of the best parts of the show, along with the topical jokes. 

2 Dope Queens

Hi Q Hi bitches, because Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are back for another season of outstanding, diverse comedy. For those who haven’t heard yet, Phoebe and Jessica are the duo behind the 2 Dope Queens podcast. For every episode of both the podcast and TV series, they bring out multiple comedians to do a short set. In between, Phoebe and Jessica riff and perform their own jokes. Sometimes, they interview a guest like Sarah Jessica Parker or Jon Stewart. In the Sarah Jessica Parker episode, they educated SJP on black hair! Phoebe and Jessica brought out brunch and rose, à la Sex and the City! SJP passed around the fruit platter! That’s the kind of fun atmosphere any 2 Dope Queens episode has to offer, emphasized by the live audience. The show highlights a broad and diverse range of comedians, especially LGBTQ comedians and comedians of color. As a result, the comedy is more diverse, and way funnier than the average white guy’s set. This season, they have Daniel Radcliffe on to check out their wandwork! Watch this after a stressful day or whenever you want to split your sides laughing.