There is so, so much TV right now. Which also means there’s so much really, really good TV. So what should you watch? Glad you asked. We’ll be updating this list throughout the year, adding and subtracting as releases come and go. These are the TV shows you need to watch right now.
Andrew Gruttadaro: For three seasons of Silicon Valley, Pied Piper’s endgame has been nothing less than to take the Valley by storm and join the ranks of tech behemoths like Apple and Google. A goal that simple is both an advantage and a disadvantage: On one hand, it sets up a simple trajectory with clear good guys and bad guys, but on the other, it creates a conundrum in which our heroes can’t reach the destination too soon, but also can’t fail too much and for too long. One of the show’s greatest strengths has been how it’s pushed and pulled its lovable outcasts closer to and further from that goal: For every triumph at TechCrunch Disrupt, there’s been a Gavin Belson lawsuit; for every charge of fraudulence, there’s Bachmanity to swoop in and keep the company afloat.
The move the show pulled to kick off Season 4 — having Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) leave his own company to pursue the lofty idea of creating a “new internet” — might be their greatest trick yet. It’s a reset button that’s moved characters back to their starting positions and opened up the possibilities of where they might go. Four episodes in, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) has gotten to play CEO, Erlich has branched out with Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) to make “Shazam for food,” and Richard has teamed up with Gavin Belson, the show’s former archvillain. The main goal hasn’t changed, but Silicon Valley continues to come up with ways to make things feel different.
Also, this show is just as funny as it was on day one. Jian Yang pitching an app for “8 Recipes for Octopus” in “Intellectual Property” is the hardest I’ve laughed watching TV all year.
‘Master of None’
Alison Herman: Master of None’s self-awareness starts with its title: It captures both the existential aimlessness of the show’s protagonist, Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari), and the proud tastefulness of its letterboxed, ’70s-influenced aesthetic. It wouldn’t feel right to call the series something like Aziz or The Ansari Show; the name signals Master of None’s distance from other comedian vehicles right from the start. But it’s the other part of the idiom — jack-of-all-trades — that advertises the greatest strengths of Ansari and Alan Yang’s Netflix comedy. The show affords itself a freedom to explore and experiment, even more so in a second season that improves on a promising first. In Season 2, especially, the show’s success comes from its embrace of the episodic form that much of highbrow television seems to have abandoned.
Katie Baker: The third season of Catastrophe, the brisk Amazon series set in London from the twisted minds behind Divorce (Sharon Horgan) and @robdelaney (Rob Delaney), is partly about the never-ending challenges of raising humans. There’s the indignity of finding out your kid’s the schoolyard biter; there’s the wild ride of being responsible for someone(s) else when you can barely keep your own life from spiraling out of control. The main couple, Rob and Sharon, are still children themselves, even as they enter middle age. She frets about her dad’s deterioration; his mom is played by the late Carrie Fisher, a woman always known as a daughter even as she grew old. He is, in the words of Rob Harvilla, “the walking manifestation of the Large Adult Sons meme”; the first season of the show dealt with her “geriatric pregnancy.” Small children, small problems, is what old-timers like to singsong to young parents. Big children, big problems. The concept may not reassure, but it does make for a show that resonates.
Alison Herman: The Leftovers has clawed its way from polarizing cult series to critical champion through its eerie, allegorical exploration of grief and our attempts to reckon with it. The show has long walked a tricky line between the deeply personal and the impossibly global, the mundane and the magical. In the closing episodes of Season 2, The Leftovers started to bring some of those elements together, implying that Kevin Garvey’s struggles might have a broader significance and confirming that not everyone on this show who claims to have answers is selling snake oil. We’ll never know the reason for the Sudden Departure, creator Damon Lindelof seemed to be telling us, but we will learn that in this world, it’s possible to come back from the dead. In its final season, The Leftovers starts to sort through the implications of those developments, even as its players do their best not to.
Andrew Gruttadaro: The first two seasons of Fargo made Noah Hawley one of the biggest names in TV. Drawing on the idiosyncrasies of the Coen brothers’ classic film, Hawley gave the anthology series a voice consistent with the source material, and narratives sprawling beyond it. The stories change from season to season, but the themes of fate, chaos, and the interconnectivity of life persist. Season 1 followed characters played by Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton and revolved around one inciting murder; Season 2 rewound to an all-out crime war in the 1970s, featuring stellar performances by Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, and Bokeem Woodbine. Back for a third go, this season (which premiered April 19) takes place in 2010 and centers on two brothers, both played by Ewan McGregor, with the heat-checking Carrie Coon stepping into the earnest cop role.
So far, Season 3 has much of what made the first two seasons so enjoyable — the majestic mundanity of the region’s snow-barren landscapes, painfully ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary situations, grimly humorous violence, and pitch-perfect character actors (Michael Stuhlbarg, Scoot McNairy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Only time (and more episodes) will tell if Fargo’s clever and curated formula — which is certainly being recycled here — is becoming too worn and familiar. Until then, you might as well enjoy the accents and see where the winding road of Fargo takes you.
‘Dear White People’
Alison Herman: TV is as bad at college as it’s good at high school. (Even the proudest of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans dare not speak UC Sunnydale’s name.) But rules are made to be broken, and Dear White People — Justin Simien’s series-length adaptation of his 2014 feature — has a transgressive streak. Tracking the identities, politics, and identity politics of a mostly black group of students at the mostly white Winchester University, Dear White People retains the movie’s arch humor, Wes Andersonian polish, and even its story. The show picks up immediately after the blackface party where the movie’s tensions came to a boil; the plot still follows conflicted firebrand Sam, closeted journalist Lionel, and model minority Troy, except this time they’re noticeably not played by burgeoning movie stars like Tessa Thompson. Once you get over the initial adjustment period, though, you see how television might actually be a better vehicle for Simien’s ideas. The complicated characters stuffed into the movie here get room to breathe, each getting their own episode (or even two) to flesh out their perspective.
Dear White People works because it isn’t just a show about college; it’s a show about college right now, where rallies against police brutality give way to debates about safe spaces. The premise even allows some leeway for a freshman comedy’s inevitable flaws. Dear White People can sometimes feel too ideological, its characters a collection of quips and arguments rather than fully fleshed-out people. But you know what? So are college students. And at its best, Dear White People succeeds in getting across what actual young people so often forget: There’s no right or wrong answer to most questions. Especially not the heaviest ones.
Claire McNear: Have you ever been on a first date and had to clarify that — no, no, you were only joking? Has an internet quiz ever pronounced your heart to be frozen? Do your friends worry about you a little bit? Would you characterize your sense of humor as dark? What about really dark? Amazon’s criminally undernoticed Patriot, released in February, is the show for you. Patriot is ostensibly a spy drama. In reality, it’s an über-dark comedy about an increasingly emotionally detached John Tavner (played by Michael Dorman), who takes on a second job at a drab Milwaukee factory to cover for his spycraft and in return ends up with two horrible bosses — one of whom (Terry O’Quinn) plays his father. Things go wrong and then wronger; jiujitsu experts and kleptomaniacs emerge; intelligence assets are stuffed into backpacks and marched up steep Luxembourg hills; a critical scene from Big is reenacted, improbably, and then reenacted again. I laughed until I was sore the next day. The show is my favorite discovery of the last year and it still hasn’t been renewed, owing to the fact that the only people who have heard of it are the strangers whose lapels I clutch on the street each morning as I hiss wwwaattccchhh Aaammmaaazzzooonnn’sss Pppaaatttrriiiooottt. And now you! Let’s make sure this thing gets another shot — and do yourself a favor and enjoy Season 1 till your belly aches, too.
Michael Baumann: You don’t really want a new Star Wars movie, or a Firefly reunion, or a Game of Thrones spinoff — you want something new that made you feel the way your original favorite did. SyFy’s The Expanse will make you feel the way your original favorite did. You notice how I didn’t specify which original favorite? That’s because it doesn’t matter what your original favorite is; The Expanse will take you back to the way you felt at the Battle of the Blackwater, or when they revealed the final five Cylons, or when Mal threatened to throw Jayne out the airlock.
Julie Kliegman: At its best, MasterChef Junior is half serious cooking show, half Double Dare. Season 5 is acing it. With just 10 young home cooks remaining, tensions this season are running high, which makes watching Gordon Ramsay getting turned into a human corn dog all the more satisfying.
Fox’s tweaks between seasons strengthened the show. Bringing back six eliminated contestants to compete for two spots in the top 12 was genius; bringing back Gonzalo, specifically, who yells like a mini Gordon, only to cut him again the following week was even better. And former judge Graham Elliot isn’t missed. Gordon and Christina Tosi both have the core judging qualities covered, from tough to goofy to kind-hearted, and the list of guest stars extends beyond the tired rotation of celebrity chefs: Michelle Obama (on video) and Mayim Bialik (who freaked out the contestants simply by being vegan) showed up, and the Swedish Chef is set to join.
Watching 8- to 13-year-olds cook is soothing, and the competitive cast is a refreshing response to Season 4’s Addison dominance. They still overcook their meat and undercook their grains, sure, but they do it in more endearing and impressive ways than most adults could.
Hannah Giorgis: Michaela Coel does everything. The 29-year-old British writer, director, producer, and star of Chewing Gum is just now acclimating to fame (and its attendant paparazzi), but she’s been quietly producing painfully sharp, often cringeworthy comedy for years. The second season of the show that launched her into Hollywood’s orbit is now available on Netflix, and if you’re not watching it … what are you doing? Chewing Gum follows the hilarious, awkward, frequently uncomfortable trials and tribulations of Tracey Gordon, a 24-year-old virgin who very much wishes she were no longer one. Tracey regularly breaks the fourth wall when in the middle of a particularly embarrassing exploit, and the show rides almost entirely on the back of Coel’s comedic skills. Her physical comedy alone is impeccable, but the way Coel delivers some of Tracey’s best lines elicits both laughter and candid reflection. Susan Wokoma, who plays Tracey’s sister Cynthia, gets more screen time this season and delivers a multidimensional performance as Coel’s foil. The show manages to tackle Tracey’s experiences with her virginity, a hyper-religious mother, homelessness, and some casual racial fetishization with finesse and no shortage of laughter. And if that’s not enough, we also get a Stormzy cameo.
‘Desus & Mero’
Sam Schube: Most of late-night television is no match for our current political moment. I say most, because longtime Twitter jokers and Bronx flag-wavers Desus Nice and the Kid Mero have their own late-night show, where they are cutting all the way through the noise. The channel is Viceland; the show is Desus & Mero; the format is two dudes roasting their way through the news, providing insightful and gut-busting commentary. Take this recent segment, about Tool Time Tim Allen’s comments about being a conservative in Hollywood:
Did you expect trenchant, hilarious takes on celebrity, the justice system, and Nazis? If your answer is no, I’m guessing you didn’t watch Desus and Mero’s initial video series for Complex, and I’ll bet you haven’t been listening to Bodega Boys, the duo’s podcast. (The intros — Mero’s impressions of various New York City goons, and a fusillade of nicknames — are reason alone to listen. Thanks to him, I can’t say Kristaps Porzingis’s name without laughing.) All of which is to say: If you’re not watching Desus & Mero, you’re missing the late-night show that matters most right now. Tune in.
Danny Chau: Samurai Gourmet is the next great Netflix-as-Valium hit, and I mean that with all sincerity. It’s a capsule of food porn and the kind of half-profundities that a memorable meal can inspire, dosed out 19 minutes at a time. The show, a live-action adaptation of Masayuki Kusumi’s ongoing manga series Nobushi no gurume, follows the life of a 60-year-old retiree trying to find meaning in a life that had previously been completely devoted to his work as a businessman. In the first four episodes, our hero Takeshi finds himself anew through Proustian memory; day drinking; and the visions he has of a masterless samurai, a projection of his newfound id, who helps Takeshi in his new journey of mirth and gluttony. It’s a televised drama series with absolutely zero stakes, and that’s its greatest virtue.
And, yes, the food porn here is sublime. Anyone can film meats grilled over charcoal and metal grates Korean-style to look like a religious experience (and lord does it look good on this show), but that same sincere focus is given to the act of making instant ramen. Yet at no point did I have an urge to snack or hit pause to make a bowl of noodles myself. Takeshi’s campy reactions to everything he experiences were more than enough. Sometimes, the best food TV doesn’t leave you hungry — it leaves you sated.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.