There is such a thing as too much choice. Sometimes all you want to do is switch on the telly and just … watch something. Not be confronted with endless channels, menus, lists and choices. But sometimes, when you’re in a bit of an off mood (say, your wedding’s just been cancelled for the third time, thanks COVID) being able to hunt around for that show that really hits the spot, that’s the perfect blend of engaging and undemanding, that brings a smile to your face, warms your heart, the show that makes you happy… well, then, plenty of choice is a marvellous thing. But to make it all slightly less bewildering, here’s a short list of options guaranteed to lift the spirits.
ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST
Singing! Dancing! Quirk! What’s not to love? With one of the more unusual premises in television, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is guaranteed to bring a smile to your dial – and have you tapping your toes. Our eponymous heroine wakes up one morning hearing songs that express the feelings of the people around her (it makes more sense when you see it). Accordingly, every episode is full of wonderful music and dance set-pieces (some of them quite moving, some of them very funny) along with terrific characters and a plot that’s unashamedly sentimental without ever becoming sickly.
Oh. That. Smile. Nadiya Hussain became beloved of the general public when she won the sixth season of The Great British Bake Off in 2015 – partly because she’s a kick-ass baker, partly because she feels like the embodiment of modern British Muslim womanhood, partly because she’s just so damned charming. (She also has a range of headgear to rival our own Susan Carland.) A down-to-earth suburban mum who’s also fabulously photogenic, a natural in front of the television camera, and oozes joie de vivre. It doesn’t even matter that her recipes often seem a bit iffy. Like Nigella Lawson, Nadiya is someone you just want to be around.
GREAT KIWI BAKE OFF
Lifestyle Food, On Demand
And speaking of baking … Really, any edition of Great Insert-Name-Here Bake Off falls firmly into the feelgood category, what with the pastel colours, the idyllic setting, the good-natured contestants all helping each other out, the kindly judges and the low-key comedic hosts. Not to mention all that cake. But there’s something particularly charming about the New Zealand version. That’s partly down to judge Sue Fleischl’s magnificent blazers, always in eye-popping colours and prints (often floral). And partly that awesome Kiwi accent. Who could ever tire of listening to it?
SBS Viceland, On Demand
Excellent Kiwi accents of course abound in Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s absurd comedy series about a night police patrol in Wellington that has the knack of uncovering all manner of creepy and otherworldly phenomenon – then dealing with it in a decidedly Kiwi manner. Imagine Get Smart meets Flight of the Conchords and you have the general idea. As deadpan as it is ludicrous, the mash up of slapstick, wordplay, character comedy and sheer silliness is a reliable delight. Extra points for producing a series of in-character public health messages during New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown.
PRETEND IT’S A CITY
Of course, “happy” comes in all kinds of flavours and if you like yours with a little more spice you can’t go past this seven-part documentary made by Martin Scorsese and featuring his old mate Fran Lebowitz. Lebowitz is what you might call a lapsed writer. She made her name with her pen in the 1960s and ’70s but now exists as a kind of latter day Dorothy Parker, employed – when she is employed – purely to produce a string of witty observations and bon mots. And she does it brilliantly. This is genuine laugh-out-loud stuff: clever, irreverent, surprising.
TEENAGE BOUNTY HUNTERS
There are loads of shows featuring teens across the streaming platforms but none quite hit the cheeky/clever/satirical/heartfelt notes that Teenage Bounty Hunters does. Ostensibly it’s about Sterling and Blair – two fraternal blueblood Atlanta twins attending an expensive Christian private school – who become bounty hunters in order to pay for repairs to their dad’s car. So far, so kooky. But this also manages to mine not just the self-involvement but also the intelligence, creativity and fearlessness of post-Millennial girls while also having something to say about racism, privilege, teen romance and Country Club fashion. And also being very funny.
Also working in the “modern teen” space but with a broader brief, this local dramedy has a lot of plates spinning, and keeps them all aloft with wit, intelligence, and insight. When teenage over-achiever Olly unexpectedly gives birth to a baby girl, everything changes: for herself, her parents, her peers and her wider circle. Effortlessly multicultural and thoroughly modern (in a good way) Bump isn’t afraid to go to some difficult places but never loses its buoyant belief in the fundamental decency of human beings – or its sense of humour.
THE MARVELLOUS MRS MAISEL
Sense of humour is what The Marvellous Mrs Maisel is all about. Humour. And hats. In fact, you don’t even have to listen to the dialogue. You can just watch this show purely for its five-star parade of playful 1960s fashion. But that would be a great shame. Because the story of a Jewish housewife breaking into the New York stand-up comedy scene is electrified by a razor-sharp script from Amy Sherman-Palladino, delivered in effervescent machinegun style by Rachel Brosnahan and her co-stars. Added bonus: includes plenty of actual stand-up comedy.
The story of a misogynistic egotistical bullying a-hole may not sound especially uplifting but in the hands of creators Julie De Fina and Matthew Bate (and co-writer Matt Vesely) – and with the genius casting of world’s nicest guy Erik Thomson as aforementioned a-hole – it’s a pleasure from first taste to last. Natalie Abbott as the a-hole’s indomitably cheerful niece keeps the mood bubbly and, while a lot of the time this plays as your regular small-town family comedy/drama, there are regularly moments that make you shout with surprise and delight. (Diana’s dessert creation in last week’s episode is a case in point. This week’s episode outdoes it.)
They say that in reality TV casting is everything and – while Travel Guides is not, strictly speaking, reality TV – never has the truism been more true than in this cheerful series. Travel Guides gets a lot of things right, not least that you come away from each episode with a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of a destination, rather than feeling like you’ve just watched an extended advertorial. But the real reason we watch is to spend time with these fabulous real-life characters, who are actually more fun to be around than most of our IRL friends. (Sorry IRL friends.) Great company, dream locations. It’s almost the definition of happiness, isn’t it?
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