"Penny Dreadful" and "Chuck" are this week's selections.
We're alone right now, but that doesn't mean we have to be lonely.
If you get tired of chatting with your friends and family over Zoom calls, you could always watch one of our Binge Blog recommendations with them via Netflix Party. It's a Google Chrome extension that syncs the screens of everyone in your selected party, so you're seeing the same moments from whatever show you choose at the same time. There's also a chat bar on the side of the screen, so you can react to scenes in real time together. For shows and movies not on Netflix, you can use Kast, a similar app that is a bit more complex to set up but does work with any streaming service, including HBO, Showtime, etc.
Both apps are free — though Kast also has a premium version with a higher bit rate and no ads — so there's no reason not to test them out and feel connected to the ones you love again.
“Penny Dreadful” (2014-2016)
Showtime, TV-MA, three seasons (27 episodes), 27 hours of content
I have mentioned “Penny Dreadful” before, when our innocent column turns into the maleficent Cringe Blog each October, but I wanted to bring it back now because its spiritual sequel series, “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,” will debut April 26 on Showtime. There’s no better time to catch up than before the sequel premieres.
The original series, named after pieces of “trashy” serial literature popular in England in the 19th century, mixes classic literature characters of the Victorian era with new characters and puts them inside a plot filled with mystery, romance and possible demonic possession. You know, normal stuff.
An explorer named Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) sets out to find his daughter, Mina Harker (Olivia Llewellyn), who has been kidnapped by someone not of the natural world. To find her, he enlists the services of American strongman Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett); Mina’s childhood best friend, Vanessa Ives (a spellbinding Eva Green); and a doctor whose name might be familiar to you: Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). It's no spoiler to say Frankenstein's "monster" plays a role here, too, portrayed by Rory Kinnear.
By the end of Season 1, the story moves far beyond the "search for a missing girl" trope into ruminations on love and the absence thereof. Plus, uh, the hunting of supernatural beasts and such. The show is a lot of things, but foremost among them is disquieting. Watching it, you know something could go wrong for any of the characters at any moment. The visuals alone make your skin crawl, and then you throw the music and dialogue and … wow. It’s like playing Russian Roulette for an hour, waiting for the bullet, because you know it’s coming eventually. It’s the scariest show I’ve ever watched because it knows how to scare adults, not children or teenagers.
Hulu, TV-14, five seasons (91 episodes), 65 hours of content
“Chuck” was the second show I fell madly in love with and the first one I could truly call my own. I knew one other person who watched it when it originally aired on NBC, and they were only a casual fan.
The premise of “Chuck” is this: A brilliant-but-burnout guy named Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), who was kicked out of Stanford University for cheating — something he vehemently denies — gets his life turned upside-down when a former classmate of his, Bryce Larkin (Matt Bomer), implants a computer program containing government secrets, called the Intersect, into Chuck’s brain. From there, Chuck works with both the CIA’s Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA’s John Casey (Adam Baldwin) to protect those secrets and discover why Larkin did what he did, all while learning to become a secret agent himself and working undercover at an electronics store.
This show was everything teenage Ryan loved about TV. I rewatched the show a few years ago, and to my delightful surprise, it holds up to adult sensibilities too. It has a unique plot, terrific action sequences, goofy humor, a heart-wrenching will-they-or-won’t-they romance, quirky side characters (one is named Captain Awesome) and dorky sensibilities. This show was created before “nerd culture” became cool, so references to Arcade Fire albums and games like Missile Command made teen me feel at home. In addition to that, the show has guts. It is not afraid to get rid of fan-favorite characters in service of telling its story, and I respected that, even if it left me in tears more than a time or two.
It’s hard to explain why the show has a cult following without watching it. It’s about spies, yes, but just like last week’s recommendation, “The Americans,” it’s also about family — albeit in a polar-opposite way. It’s got a lot of heart, something most people are afraid of showing these days.
“Chuck” wears it as a badge of honor.