barry review

(Welcome to Small-Screen Stream, a feature where we share the best television shows streaming and where you can watch them.)

Emmy nominations were announced two weeks ago, and the usual suspects are back to claim more awards. Shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Crown, and The Handmaid’s Tale topped the list of nominations, and will no-doubt decimate their competition. While all of these shows are great, many that snuck into big categories aren’t, necessarily, big shows themselves. In an effort to highlight some of the underdogs – or at least, some series that don’t get quite as much buzz and love in social spaces – this week’s Small-Screen Stream column is dedicated to the underrated series that could go home with gold when the Emmys air later this fall.

Insecure, Seasons 1-2

Where To Watch: HBO Now

Created By: Issa Rae, Larry Wilmore

Starring: Issa Rae, Jay Ellis, Yvonne Orji

Issa Rae’s landmark HBO series is a fan favorite, and for good reason: It’s a great antidote to Girls, in that it revolves around women of color, and tells their stories from an honest, emotional place. Rae – who adapted the show from her popular YouTube series Awkward Black Girl – serves as a writer, producer, director, and actor, and her warts-and-all look at young womanhood is a refreshing perspective. Where many shows and movies portray the “black struggle” – slavery, poverty, oppression – Insecure shows black woman thriving. Rae’s Issa Dee and Yvonne Orji’s Molly Carter are both Stanford graduates with successful careers, who deal with relationship and friendship problems more than the struggles we’re used to pop culture foisting on people of color. It’s funny, fresh, and unlike anything else on TV. Rae is nominated for a Best Actress in a Comedy Series statute for her work.

Grace and Frankie, Seasons 1-4

Where To Watch: Netflix

Created By: Marta Kauffman, Howard J. Morris

Starring: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston

To think that we live in a world where Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin get to quip at each other for 13 episodes per season. How did we get so lucky? These ladies excel together, and it’s a blessing that Netflix green-lit a series about 80-something-year-old women who find a late-in-life friendship that is healthy, spirited, and just downright beautiful. The show got off to a rocky start, but has gelled into something reliably biting in its fourth season, for which Tomlin was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. It would have been nice to see both actresses get recognition, but that the show was highlighted at all feels like a win.

Mom, Seasons 1-4

Where To Watch: Hulu

Created By: Chuck Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky, Gemma Baker

Starring: Anna Faris, Allison Janney, Sadie Calvano, Nate Coddry

Multi-cam sitcoms feel on their way out, but Mom is one of the few still around that makes a good case for their survival. It shouldn’t be hard to create a woman-positive, genuinely funny, and non-pedantic comedy series, and yet, so many struggle to excel beyond a basic premise. But Mom is delightful. That’s thanks in large part to its leads, Allison Janney and Anna Faris, who play a dysfunctional mother-daughter pair who struggle with their relationship and with staying sober. It’s a series that gets real about addiction and mental health, but always has a great, even-keeled sense of humor about it. Janney and Faris have excellent chemistry, and it’s an easy show to sit back and binge on a lazy Sunday – which is really the best kind. Janney is nominated for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

Barry, Season 1

Where To Watch: HBO Now

Created By: Alec Berg, Bill Hader

Starring: Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler

I’ve been waiting for a Bill Hader breakout role for a while now, and Barry is finally giving it to me. The actor is on a real roll right now – he’ll also turn up in next year’s It: Chapter Two as a grown-up Richie – but it’s great to see him flourishing behind-the-camera, too. He helped create Barry, about a hitman-turned-actor who discovers the two jobs aren’t that dissimilar, and infects the series with his trademark oddball comedy. It’s hard to say if the show is underrated the way others are on this list, since there’s plenty of buzz around it and it was able to snag some big-time Emmys love; it was nominated in five major categories, including Comedy Series, Comedy Lead Actor (for Hader), Comedy Supporting Actor (for Henry Winkler), Comedy Writing (where it scored two separate nods), and Comedy Directing. But it still feels like a “small” show that deserves any extra love it can get. It’s always exciting to see Saturday Night Love alums pull ahead, and Hader is proving with Barry that he’s got the chops to make it big, and won’t be stuck playing Stefan forever.

Patrick Melrose

Where To Watch: Showtime Anytime

Created By: Edward St Aubyn, David Nicholls

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving, Blythe Danner, Allison Williams

Benedict Cumberbatch has got to be one of the busiest guys in the business. When he’s not playing Doctor Strange in the next big Marvel showcase, he’s able to put in excellent character work in smaller projects like he did in Showtime’s Patrick Melrose, which scored two nominations for Outstanding Limited Series and Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. Cumberbatch plays a drug and alcohol addicted man who is coping with the recent death of his father, and struggles with getting clean in the midst of his grief. The series has an energy and eloquence that keeps it funny and engaging despite its heavy subject matter, and Cumberbatch has honestly never been better. He excels when he gets to play up his lighthearted British side. The rest of the cast is equally excellent, with great turns from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Hugo Weaving. This is definitely worthy of a binge.

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