The best TV shows to watch right now on Netflix, HBO and more – SFGATE

SFGATE’s staff is enamored with Netflix’s “Heartstopper” (left) and “Stranger Things,” (center) and “Love Death + Robots,” as well as Apple TV’s “Severance” (right). 
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Today’s streaming landscape features a near-infinite amount of shows, but given the dwindling popularity of Netflix, we may have finally reached the point where the speed of production has outpaced audiences’ attention spans. Or, maybe it’s just that it’s finally safe to leave the house again.
People may be watching less television than they did during the height of the pandemic, making the few hours you are in front of the tube even more valuable. So as an addendum to our typical round-up of TV features, the staff at SFGATE has compiled a list of what we’re watching right now, a collection of shows that are either still currently airing or just wrapped their seasons. 
Apple TV Plus
The title sequence for the mystery thriller “Severance” is notably absent in the series premiere, a nod to the excellent pacing that grips and guides viewers through a maze of sinister hallways. Directed by Ben Stiller and starring Adam Scott, the series, at its core, is a surreal examination of the work-life balance. A team of office employees have their memories surgically “severed” to divide their professional and personal lives, but it’s the momentum of the unveiled mysteries that gives this show its high marks.
By the time the eerie title sequence, which shows a rubbery animation of the protagonist physically consumed by work, debuts in the second episode, “Severance” is well under way with implanting its curiosities deep into the mind of the viewer. — Silas Valentino
AJ is featured on season five of “The Great Pottery Throw Down.”
HBO Max
“The Great Pottery Throw Down,” from the production company behind “The Great British Baking Show,” brings viewers even more cozy crafting, friendly competition and quintessentially British accents. The premise, gathering a diverse group of Britain’s best “home potters” to compete for a trophy, might feel a little odd. (I can understand how a competition baking show works but … competition vase throwing?) 
Paradoxically, this show is even cozier than its baking sibling, seemingly because pottery is an even less forgiving art form — there’s no salvaging a cracked pot, and as such, judges are more understanding than when faced with a messy cake. If you, like me, get stressed out by time running out on shows like “Top Chef” (or even “GBBO”), “Throw Down” will soothe that stress as host Siobhan McSweeney actively slows her final countdown to give contestants a little extra time to get their work in the drying room. The show is unabashedly LGBTQ, with gay and nonbinary contestants, and a transgender woman who works as kiln technician in later seasons. Oh, and did I mention the art is extraordinary? I need to get my hands on that otter lamp! — Victoria Sepulveda
Amazon Prime Video
 
“The Boys” might be the most brutal superhero show ever made. The dark Amazon Prime satire features a nefarious corporation whose signature team of “supes” has come to dominate pop culture. But like most of the entertainment industry, Vought International is full of misogyny, callous commercialism and a lead hero named Homelander, who uses his destructive laser eyebeams on just as many civilians as evildoers. In season three, Homelander goes from a closeted killer to a full Trumpian anti-hero, weaponizing his grievances after the death of his girlfriend Stormfront, who happened to be a closeted Nazi.
 
The violence here is turned to 10, so if you’re not comfortable with faces being fried to a bloody pulp, this is not the show for you. But for fans of the genre, it’s a subversive and jaded alternative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which the real-world dilemmas that would come with superpowers transcends comic book tropes of “great responsibility.” — Dan Gentile
Ansel Elgort (left) and Ken Watanabe star in “Tokyo Vice.”
HBO Max
Talk about cliffhangers. “Tokyo Vice,” streaming on HBO Max, has one of the most suspenseful endings to a first season I have ever encountered. As the credits rolled after episode eight, I was sure the plot would be wrapped up the following week. Nope. 
The jarring ending actually works well as a finale to the story arc that follows an American reporter, played by Ansel Elgort, as he tries to bring to light the violence and corruption of the Yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicate that holds much power in the city of Tokyo. Based on a book by a real reporter, most of the season is a slow burn that follows the intertwining lives of Jake Adelstein (played by Elgort), Detective Hiroto Katagiri (the remarkable Ken Watanabe), Samantha Porter, an American ex-pat working as a bottle service girl (Rachel Keller), and the soft-spoken but troubled Sato (Show Kasamatsu), a Yakuza enforcer unsure of his place in the world. It’s the superb writing and character development that makes the abrupt ending so worthy. — Nico Madrigal-Yankowski
Jean Smart in “Hacks.”
HBO Max
Back in late 2021, I called “Hacks” the sharpest comedy on TV, and the Emmy voters agreed, doling out 15 nominations and three awards (writing, directing and lead actress to Jean Smart). The show follows aging Vegas comedy legend Debra Vance in the twilight of her career, clinging to relevance by hiring a young comedy writer, Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), to modernize her act. 
Season one finds Vance with a bruised ego, hazing Daniels with barbs that approach a “Veep”-like level of vulgarity. The second season, airing now, shows Vance accepting her fading relevance. She trades cliché self-deprecation for honest introspection, finally bonding with Daniels, while simultaneously suing her for defamation after she shared Vance’s terrible behavior with a TV producer. But more than the insults, the show is all about growth, and with any luck it’ll continue evolving for seasons to come. — Dan Gentile
Netflix
Monster crabs, tourist droids, medieval sirens: “Love Death + Robots” isn’t so much a TV show as it is an animated riot of creative storytelling. Think of it as short story collection on the wavelengths of Ursula K. Le Guin, Edgar Allan Poe and Chuck Palahniuk all brought to life via cutting-edge animation studios. Episodes run anywhere from five to 20 minutes, and you can view them in whatever order you like.
With none other than A-list Hollywood director David Fincher as executive producer, season three offers a wonderfully aberrant assortment of tales that work as a refreshing antidote to the increasingly predictable and stilted offerings that Disney is churning out via of the Marvel and Star Wars universes. The episodes this season are hyper-violent, rife with vulgarities and as likely to feature the Great Cthulhu as any robots. They are, however, in short supply: With only nine episodes, it’s easy enough to blow through the whole season in just one or two viewings. — Charles Russo
Netflix
TV shows don’t get much more heavily anticipated than “Stranger Things.” In 2016, the first season of the sci-fi teen scare-fest was a breakout hit, laying a template for Netflix’s throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to flooding the service with new shows. Now in the throes of a streaming recession, Big Red has bet its summer earnings report on a two-part release that mixes coming of age tropes, ’80s nostalgia and monster mayhem, with a period-perfect synthesizer soundtrack.
 
Whereas the intimacy of the sleepy town of Hawkins, Ind., served as the setting for the first few seasons, the scope (and budget) has expanded greatly here. The teenage protagonists are spread across the country, one of their parents (Winona Rider) embarks on a doomed rescue mission to a Russian prison and Eleven returns to a secret laboratory where scientists with suspect intentions hope to rekindle her psychic powers. Netflix had a lot riding on this, and fans of the show will be happy to know that this penultimate chapter of “Stranger Things” delivers some of the most gripping storylines yet (and will have you listening to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” on repeat). — Dan Gentile
A still image from “Heartstopper” on Netflix.
Netflix
The graphic novel-turned-Netflix series “Heartstopper” is queer wishful thinking fulfilled. Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) is enamored with his classmate, the “golden retriever” rugby jock Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). And Nelson, all puppy-dog eyes and furtive gestures, is into Spring, too. And with a diverse constellation of friends, allies and foes surrounding this pair — many of whom are also queer, trans or working through their identities — Charlie and Nick navigate their young love and the complications of teen life.
“Heartstopper” is sweet but not treacly, heartwarming but not cloyingly precious (except for one or two well-warranted occasions), and most crucially, pragmatic without being painful. Homophobia exists in this universe, as does the turmoil and fallout of publicly coming out, but the sadness of it does not take over as other young-adult shows are wont to do. The show heals and wounds in equal measure. It shows unfiltered, uncomplicated romance, but also the melancholy of not having experienced it (and the anxiety that, given the treatment of queer and trans people as we speak, it may not happen anytime soon). In that way, it’s a fantastical universe worth inhabiting for eight episodes. (And Oscar winner-slash-international treasure Olivia Colman is in it.) — Joshua Bote
HBO Max
From the creators of “The Wire,” “We Own This City” returns to Baltimore to check on the state of the city’s police department in the wake of the killing of Freddie Gray. Through multiple timelines, the show tracks the true story of the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department’s almost comically corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. Among other atrocities, the Task Force steals cash during traffic stops, resells confiscated narcotics, and plants guns on innocent civilians.
Along with a number of “Wire” alums, Jon Bernthal stars as Wayne Jenkins, a charismatic monster of a dirty cop. Throughout the six-episode miniseries, you’ll watch as Jenkins commits more and more heinous crimes against the mostly black population of Baltimore. If you are looking for a cheery pick me up, this isn’t the show for you. But if you want an informative, yet thrilling, look at how corruption spreads and is protected by the criminal justice system, “We Own This City” is must-watch TV. — Gabe Lehman
Bob Odenkirk (left) stars in the fifth season of “Better Call Saul.”
AMC
One of the best and most patiently executed cliffhangers in TV history will resolve one way or another when “Better Call Saul” returns for the second half of its sixth and final season on July 11 on AMC and AMC+. But as anyone who loves the show will tell you, this show was always more about the desert journey than the destination anyway.
If you’ve watched “Breaking Bad” but never watched “Saul,” you’re missing the rare prequel story that holds its own or even surpasses the original. Quite the opposite of anti-hero Jimmy McGill’s cut-all-corners lawyering, showrunner Vince Gilligan has expertly crafted the slow descent into darkness that Anakin Skywalker deserved. Scenes are repeatedly stolen by Rhea Seehorn as Jimmy’s partner in crime Kim Wexler, and Tony Dalton’s performance as highly magnetic cartel leader Lalo Salamanca. We’d hope “Saul” lands the plane in its final six episodes, but knowing Gilligan, a spectacular crash that will surprise us is more likely. — Greg Keraghosian
Netflix
The lives of toddlers have never been more charming, as shown in Netflix’s “Old Enough,” a Japanese reality series that first began airing in 1991. Since its inception, the show has captured young children’s first errand, where they are sent out on their own to take on a task for the family. The children — aged 2 to 5 — pick up diapers and groceries, carry fresh fish to turn into sashimi and take dirty laundry to the cleaners. On their trips, the kids interact with shopkeepers, neighbors and the camera crew behind the series. (One of the funniest is when two toddlers in Tokyo, clearly in the know, ask the cameraman if they’re on the show.) 
The arc of each 10-minute segment is surprisingly thrilling. Will the kids remember all the things they are supposed to pick up? Do they even know where the place they are supposed to go to is? Will they be able to make it home? Can they carry the fish, or in one case, retrieve runaway apples? Although the kids often face challenges, both physical and emotional, each errand ends in heartwarming success and a sense of accomplishment for the child. 
In addition to depicting the emotional arc for the kids running the errands, the show captures everyday Japanese life in small seaside villages or temple towns, far from the usual tourist destinations. It’s all very alluring and idyllic: The show made this viewer, at least, want to spawn a child and move to a small Japanese town. And of course, once they were old enough, I’d send them on their first errand. — Fiona Lee
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Dan Gentile is the culture editor at SFGATE. He moved to San Francisco from Austin, TX where he worked as a vinyl DJ and freelance writer covering food and music. His writing has been featured in Texas Monthly, American Way, Rolling Stone, Roads & Kingdoms, VICE, Thrillist and more. Email: [email protected]

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