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What to Watch: NBC Blesses Us With “The Good Place”

Why “Jane Fonda: In Five Acts” matters, plus sitcoms worth your time.

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Welcome to What to Watch, a series where we tell you the best shows, movies and series out right now, both on networks and streaming services. There are a ton of cable dramas and sitcoms out this week, the kind networks keep recreating and spinning off of as mindlessly as we watch them. So here’s what to watch instead.

The Good Place season 3 (NBC)

The Good Place is undoubtably one of the strongest comedy on television. It’s also one of those shows that feel impossible to explain beyond the first episode with the many twist and got ya’s that take place (nearly matching the amount of puns you’ll see and hear). The show moves delightfully fast, presenting a sitcom about the life in Hell that makes you laugh an impious amount. The first two seasons are available to binge on Netflix, which I highly suggest you do, whether you’ve seen it five times or none. 

While I can’t tell you what you’ll see on the show, I can explain what you’ll start noticing even if you don’t watch it. Half a dozen profiles of Kristin Bell’s costars will appear on various culture, fashion, and entertainment sites featuring funny, well-spoken actors you’ve never heard of before. That includes Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, William Jackson Harper, Tiya Sircar, C’Arcy Carden, and whoever else they introduce in season three. Gifs and memes will invade your social channels, highlighting the hilarious wit dripping from every sentence. You’ll also see headlines about numerous A-listers making cameos on the show. Last season it was Maya Rudolph who earned an Emmy nomination for her portrayal as a God-like judge. I hope you’re ready.

Single Parents (ABC)

Moms and dads stuck in the vortex—that helicopter parent rut where they forget how to take time for themselves—will relate to this show about single parents just “trying to survive until a time in the day when it’s appropriate to open wine,” as Leighton Meester put it. Meester along with Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), Taran Killam (SNL), Kimrie Lewis-Davis (Scandal), and Jake Choi (Younger), make a bumbling ensemble of single parents trying to be each other’s support systems.

The show looks cute, maybe even charming. I’m glad Meester can still make some coin in the sitcom quagmire of television. And if the lone weirdo leader in troubled group of friends premise isn’t your favorite type of sitcom, at least stay for the adorable child actors tagging along because single parents get no rest.

Jane Fonda: In Five Acts (HBO)

“The beginning of [her] last act,” observes Jane Fonda, as she calls her American Dream-like life a myth. It’s eyeopening for someone like me who knew her first as one of Grace and Frankie before learning of her infamous trip to North Vietnam (which she has since called thoughtless) and the incredible workout empire she once ran. The daughter of Henry Fonda, In Five Acts showcases one of the last remaining characters from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Stories of decade-long eating disorders and emotional abuse at the hands of her parents echo those of Judy Garland and the mother-daughter duo Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

What at times feels like a raw therapy session for Fonda, “In Five Acts” details the pressures of celebrity on women young and old. It’s a visceral documentary reflecting some of Fonda’s low points, such as how she coped with alcohol while filming her naked Barbarella scenes, her postpartum depression, and the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. The heaviest premiere on this list, Fonda’s bid to tell her full story on her own terms will certainly stick with you the longest and cements her legacy as a Hollywood icon.

A Million and One TV Dramas

So many shows are premiering this week. So many shows I stopped watching after missing that one episode midway through the first season: NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans, This is Us, The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med,, Chicago P.D., NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans, New Amsterdam, Modern Family, and How to Get Away With Murder.

I watch a lot of television, but the lack of cable in my apartment forces me to devise ways to watch shows on CBS, FX, etc. In most cases I just don’t, and I think I’m better off for it. However, if you’re curious, here’s a rundown of the big events on these shows your less TV-savvy friends and coworkers will be talking about.

It’s the last season of The Big Bang Theory, which has gone on far too long (you don’t want to know how old I was when I watched the pilot). Modern Family teases a significant character death this season. I’m hoping for a major shakeup, along the lines of patriarch Jay Pritchett or his ex-wife Dede but it will probably be the dog. Who knows what’s happening on How to Get Away With Murder, the trailer teases another murder, which… shocker. This is Us will no doubt be another gut-wrenching season of television. If you don’t recognize some of these titles, like New Amsterdam or the entire Chicago Emergency Service Units, you’re better off not bothering to watch. If you do otherwise I’ll assume it’s a call for help out of mind-numbing boredom on a Tuesday night.

Some Reality TV (CBS, ABC)

Dancing With the Stars, The Voice, Survivor. If I seemed too harsh on those cable dramas, I’ll admit we all have our trash TV vices. Mine happen to be even worse: reality television. Whatever your thoughts when first hearing about Teen Mom in 2009, it’s clear quasi-reality, reality TV is here to stay. And we will be forced to suffer through the 57th season of American Idol one day in our futures, if we make it that long.
Dancing With the Stars, which would be more aptly named Dancing With Anyone Who’s Been on Television or Has More Than 100K Instagram Followers, is still a fun one. I root for the only two people I’ve heard of before “Grocery Store Joe” who was eliminated the first night on The Bachelor and Tinashe, a Ciara-like R&B singer who’s career has manages to flop even more than Ciara’s. It’s apparent what now gets you cast on DWTS is failure. 
Survivor kicked off a new season called “David and Goliath” with contestants so embarrassingly typecast as nerds and jocks the premiere felt like a parody sketch. The Voice is still around with hosts Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Jennifer Hudson, and Kelly Clarkson. I think that two of the judges are Idol winners says all you need to know about The Voice‘s inability to produce an actual star itself.