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TV Critics Give Their Under-The-Radar Picks


The holidays - a perfect time to stay inside, ignore your friends and family and cuddle up to your television set. But there are just so many good choices. You could end up scrolling endlessly through Netflix's offerings before buckling down with a bowl of popcorn. We called up four of our favorite television critics to ask what shows they saw this year that maybe you haven't heard of yet but are worth a binge.

First up is chief television critic for Rolling Stone, Alan Sepinwall.

ALAN SEPINWALL: I am recommending "Brockmire," a really funny, really smart and startlingly deep comedy about baseball, substance abuse and life starring Hank Azaria as a lifelong baseball announcer whose career dies in scandalous infamy when he has an on-air meltdown after he discovers his wife is cheating on him. And he goes traveling around the world, abusing every substance known to man and then attempts to rebuild his career from the bottom up. I love that, A, this show is just scorchingly funny whether you care about baseball or not. It's incredibly creatively profane and silly and weird. And yet it's also confronting a lot of real emotional issues at the same time. So you know the old cliche about how you'll laugh, you'll cry? You'll get both of those in this. But mostly, you will laugh an awful lot. Just don't have kids anywhere within about a 5-mile radius as you're watching.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: I'm Linda Holmes. I'm a pop culture correspondent at NPR, and I host the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. I'm recommending "This Way Up," which is a comedy that you can find on Hulu. It's about a woman who comes out of rehab for what they kind of elliptically refer to as a nervous breakdown. And she goes back to - she's an Irish woman who lives in London. And she goes back to London to try to kind of reassemble her life. She teaches English as a second language. She's very close to her sister. The main character is played by a comedian, an Irish comedian named Aisling Bea. Her sister is played by Sharon Horgan, who you might know from "Catastrophe" or other projects. It's a very warm show. I think that if you liked "Fleabag" but you also would accept a similarly constructed show that's a little more - a little bit less distant and a little more warm and intimate maybe, I would say - I really find it funny. It's pleasant. It's likeable. I really like the relationship between the sisters. You don't necessarily see a ton of really successful shows about siblings. I think it's a very successful show about sisters.

SORAYA NADIA MCDONALD: My name is Soraya Nadia McDonald. I am the culture critic for The Undefeated. The TV show I'm recommending today is "David Makes Man." It is the first television show to come from Tarell Alvin McCraney, who is, I think, best known as a playwright and also as the person who wrote the play that ended up sort of being adapted into the screenplay that became "Moonlight." And there are a lot of very similar thematic beats between "Moonlight" and "David Makes Man." It's a coming-of-age story. It's about friendship, particularly between these two black boys who live in Miami but who have very different experiences because of the chasm in their life that's defined by class. It's just a really rich, beautiful portrait of coming of age in a setting that you don't often really see treated with the compassion and wisdom that Tarell treats the housing projects.

EMILY VANDERWERFF: My name is Emily VanDerWerff. And I'm the critic at large at Vox. Today, I'd like to talk to you about "Superstore," one of my favorite comedies of the 2010s. "Superstore" is about a group of people who work at a big-box store called Cloud 9. It's obviously a fictional chain. And it's about sort of the relationships that develop between them, both romantic and friendships. But then it's also about kind of how they confront all of these political and social issues that have been very important in the 2010s, like immigration restrictions in America and unionization. And it's just a very interesting take on where we are as a country right now.

You know, I'm not one of those people who watches "The Office" over and over and over again, which I know a lot of people do. This show kind of scratches that itch for me. It has similar character dynamics. It has a really similar sense of humor, which makes sense. Its creator, Justin Spitzer, is an "Office" veteran. But to me, this takes it another level because it really is sort of talking about the world as we know it today and about what it means to be alive in America at this point in time. And I have to say, of the shows that I have recommended to people over the years, this is the one that has the highest success rate of people being like, yes, I really love that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Emily VanDerWerff recommending "Superstore," Soraya Nadia McDonald recommending "David Makes Man," Linda Holmes recommending "This Way Up" and Alan Sepinwall recommending "Brockmire." And stay tuned. We'll have more holiday bingeworthy suggestions coming to you next weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.