The Strop Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: 9 TV Shows With Storylines Worth Binging

The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. Check back every Friday for our latest recommendations.

1. Mr. Robot

Season four is finally almost here. I can’t decide if I like the narrative of this show at all — I kinda hate every character, I don’t really understand the motivation for anyone, I don’t understand hacking so about half of the plot is legit lost on me, they kill characters constantly for just about no reason, so much is purposely kept from the viewer that it’s impossible to even pretend you know what’s happening the first time through the story, and on top of that I kind of feel like they’re using Elliot’s mental illness as a massively unfair narrative crutch. And yet … I think I love this show? It takes so many wild swings. It’s trying so many weird things with the camera and the point of view and the narrative structure. It may not be the greatest television show ever created, but it damn sure wants to be, and I respect the effort; this show just flat-out tries things that no other show would. – Brandon Williams

2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This show is in constant conversation with its audience, but in a completely different way than Mr. Robot. Because people aren’t dying all the time, and because the world’s not in danger, and because it’s on the CW and about relationships, this show doesn’t get even half the due it deserves, but it’s another show that is legitimately vying to change the game. It upends genres, it complicates tropes, and it exists in an uncompromisingly feminine space and gaze. No, it’s not perfect, and its misfires are painful to watch. But its successes are not trivial, even as they can easily be trivialized by a watcher trained to respond to a specific kind of “serious” show. – Brandon Williams

3. Shameless (U.S.)

I expected this to be a guilty pleasure show at its absolute best, but the pilot is almost perfect, and the first four or five or six seasons, and occasional moments after that, have moments of absolute genius to them. This is one of the most fascinating shows I’ve ever seen. In a loooooot of ways, it’s legitimately terrible, and its handling of almost any sensitive subject is guaranteed to be cringe-inducing. On top of that, I’m convinced that the showrunners don’t understand their own show based on the comments they’ve made about it, and the marketing of the show is consistently wrong, even about such basic things as who the main character is because whoever’s behind those ad campaigns doesn’t understand the show, either. While Frank is obviously the biggest name actor and set in the traditional main character role of “father of all these brats who vex him,” he is irrelevant to the show, other than as the person who set up the unique conditions for this lab experiment of human growth that we see in these children. But there are so many complicated dynamics at work, so many fascinating explorations of what it is to be a family and how one survives trauma and even how one gets to define reality and what is and isn’t acceptable in your version of reality. The seasons build in soap operatic fashion so that the middle of every season really drags as we try to go way overboard with usually non-essential plots, but the crescendo at the end of each season is reliably madcap in incredible ways. They are also reliably great (well, in early seasons) at bringing in new characters with important roles and letting them be important characters in important roles — it is such a vibrant ensemble that even lead characters can easily step back for episodes, arcs, and even seasons at a time. – Brandon Williams

4. Mindhunter

What the show thoroughly lacks in plot, it makes up for in dialogue. That’s where the show is at its best on a storytelling level. The frankly amazing character work from the actors who play various serial killers kept me coming back and wanting a third season. Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper controls a scene and everyone in it with an unsettling gentleness. Damon Herriman  as Charles Manson is at once charming and deeply unhinged. There are some attempts at gussying up tired tropes with the “autistic-coded-savant and his world-weary, by-the-books partner” in the two main male characters, but the side plot with Anna Torv’s character, Wendy, attempting to navigate her professional life and sexuality in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s is probably the best work for the main trio that’s been had so far. She provides some nice pushback and complication in the otherwise male/straight-dominated cast of characters you’d expect in a period drama like this one. They’re two seasons deep and still kind of struggling to find where to carve out arcs for each of their characters, but the work they’re doing with dialogue and scene construction in the meantime is worth the stumbling. – Daniel Mazzacane

5. Tales of the City (2019)

This is a Netflix miniseries, expanding on a 1993 miniseries, based/expanding on the book series of the same name by Armistead Maupin. The 2019 miniseries features portions of the cast from the 1993 version, returning as their previous characters and continuing their stories alongside newer, younger cast members trying to build their own stories. This is another show in which I’m less interested in plot as I am character. Ellen Page is fantastic, and the sincerity with which the show attempts to examine the struggles of queer youth in the Bay Area hits throughout. Discussions of sexuality, visibility, age, race, and identity are where the show is most complex, even if that complexity doesn’t always expand to all of its characters or plotlines. There’s some vapidness, but the show is good at what it’s trying to do — build a queer coming-of-age story that reckons with multiple generations of LGBTQ people. – Daniel Mazzacane

6. Pose

Pose is, and continues to be, one of the only shows of its kind. Thoughtful, poignant character arcs for a cast of trans women of color, playing trans women of color, in 1980s-era NYC’s Drag Ball Scene. It is a faithful, loving exploration of the roots of queer culture, and the ways drag was revolutionized in the ‘80s. More than that, its writing doesn’t depend on the shock or fetishization of queer bodies, their pain/death, or fearmongering during the AIDS epidemic. It isn’t that the show isn’t truthful about the era, it just lets its characters live as more than AIDS victims, or sex workers, or victims of homophobia and transphobia. It shouldn’t be revolutionary to write trans characters as people, and yet here this show is, being revolutionary. – Daniel Mazzacane

7. Over the Garden Wall

I watch this miniseries every fall since it came out in 2014. On an animation level, the scenery is beautiful and captures the feeling of autumn without being overbearing about it, along with the music which adds to the mood and tone of each episode perfectly. The episodes are each their own story, but build upon the short adventure of two brothers who are lost in a strange wood they call the Unknown. Even though the entire series is no more than about two hours, the eldest brother completes the adventure having experienced a full, satisfying character arc. Not only is it a good story that stands on its own, it’s just a delight to watch. The characters are fun and interesting, the music is catchy, and the fairytale-esque world is emblematic of stories that we’ve seen before, but still manage to surprise you in unexpected ways. – Sierra Stonebraker

8. Euphoria (U.S.) 

This was one of the few shows I took my time with as opposed to the good ole binge-watch. That’s not to say it’s not binge-worthy, but the material is heavy, and a single episode covers a lot of ground. At the center of the show is Rue (played by Zendaya), a high school teenager battling drug addiction. Through Rue, viewers explore the secondary stories of five of her peers, and each story is tragic and grueling in its own way. At its best, the show plays with a wealth of themes, from sexuality, drug usage, maturity, and the consequences of technology. At its worst, it verges into some unnecessary tropes. While at times the show does feel like it has bitten off more than it can chew in a single episode, I do value that it invites you to consider and interact with these characters and their stories, as opposed to a show you’re watching for entertainment value alone. – Cassandra Wagner

9. The Office (U.S.)

Recently, mostly because I heard it’s being taken off for good in December, I decided to finally watch The Office and see what that is all about. And here’s my fresh take on something everyone’s covered: Nobody loves Angela enough. I grew up while the show aired and have lived in the post-Office world where it’s mentioned everywhere. And whenever anyone talks about this show, they always talk about Pam, Jim, Michael, or Dwight — I didn’t even know Angela was a character before I started watching this show. Now, here I am, just starting season four, and the only reason I’m still watching even passively is because Angela is my favorite character and I’m invested in her storyline. Maybe Angela is a little too uptight, and maybe she’s got some issues, but she has shown growth. She gets to be wrong, and she gets to be redeemed, unlike so many other characters who double down in their ways and come out on top. In the “A Benihana Christmas” episodes, she vetoes karaoke in favor of what she wants — but later, when Pam and Karen feel bad for her, she returns the power cord she stole and even joins in the karaoke to sing her Christmas songs. Pam and Karen are seen as good for inviting Angela to join them, for taking pity on her. They get to be the heroes. What does Angela get to be? Redeemed. She gets to change a little, to step outside her comfort zone. I’m not saying she’s a perfect person, or even that Angela is in the right most of the time, but she’s the one character who feels like she’s actually allowed to grow. Again, I’m starting season four, and Dwight just killed her cat. And she’s enraged. (As she should be.) And she doesn’t forgive him. She gets to be hurt. She gets to decide “no” when it comes to Dwight. She gets to make that decision. The characters treat each other awfully throughout the whole show, but when Angela decides she doesn’t want to have to deal with Dwight, it feels serious. There’s weight. Because with Angela, I trust her decisions will be followed through. Her yelling at Dwight means something, unlike every other character that goes back immediately to their bad ways and is sorta rewarded for it. Maybe she and Dwight will get back together in the end, but I know they’re legitimately going to have to work for it if they do. And I’m way more interested to see how, or if, Angela and Dwight get back together than I am in Pam and Jim’s storyline. – Becca Calloway

1 comment on “Weekly Roundup: 9 TV Shows With Storylines Worth Binging