Only days ago, families nationwide toasted to better times ahead. But with a global pandemic raging and stay-at-home orders still active in some areas, those streaming-video services we thought we exhausted last year might still come in handy during the season ahead.
If you’re looking to venture beyond popular shows like The Crown and The Mandalorian, here are five hidden gems that — depending on your kids’ ages and content boundaries of your household— the whole family can likely enjoy together.
The Amazing Race (reality/competition: Hulu)
Marking its 20th year and 32nd season on-air this year, The Amazing Race has often been imitated but never topped as an adventure game show. Viewers tag along as teams of two fly, or bike, or row — you get the idea — to locales around the world. They race through unique competitions reflecting local cultures, such as unrolling hay bales, skewering fish heads and eating exotic foods (cow udder, anyone?)
Teams push the limits of their bodies and mental acuity while being coached, and/or chided, by host Phil Keoghan. With diverse teams leading to new dynamics for each installment, start with Season 28 for an amazing way to globetrot, especially while in-person travel remains limited.
The Amazing Race also airs on CBS and that network's streamer, CBS All Access.
Farscape (science-fiction: Amazon Prime)
“Boy, was Spielberg ever wrong,” says astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) after being captured and held hostage on an alien spacecraft during Farscape’s pilot. Centered on galactic conflict a la Star Wars, with a premise similar to Star Trek: Voyager, this acclaimed four-season drama feels more relevant, grounded and perilous than either franchise. Pre-teens and up might go for it.
Produced from 1999 to 2003, Farscape has terribly outdated flight scenes, looking worse than current videogame visuals. Still, elaborate physical sets and wondrous work from Brian Henson’s team of puppeteers make up for it — not to mention stories that invite discussion of big ideas in religion, science, politics, ethics and peacemaking.
Recess (animated comedy: Disney+)
If your kids are a little young for Star Wars and Marvel live-action series, Disney+ has a couple dozen shows the whole family can enjoy. Most are animated, but that doesn’t have to mean obnoxious. Case in point: Recess, a clever reimagining of an elementary school playground as a microcosm of society with factions, elected leaders and problems to solve.
Kid characters seem to be classic grade-school archetypes — the prankster, the nerd, the jock, the snitch — though, in time, they all play against type. Even adults like Principal Prickly and hard-nosed Miss Finster are revealed to have students’ best interests at heart. Smartly written and based in moral reasoning, consider Recess the perfect coming-of-age-10 series.
Blown Away (reality/competition: Netflix)
The rarely seen art of glass-blowing involves careful layout of colored shards heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, then twisted by an artisan into elaborate shapes. In Blown Away, the world’s top glass artists assemble at a custom-built “hot shop” with 10 blazing furnaces in Ontario, Canada.
Given an open-ended creative brief, such as pop art or food-related, each artist races against the clock to design and execute an exquisite interpretation. It’s wildly unpredictable, as even stellar creations might break with five minutes to go. Season two premieres this month on Netflix.
Parenthood (ensemble drama: Peacock)
Free-with-ads streamer Peacock has gained a following with thousands of hours of classic and recent NBC/Universal shows. Among its best: Parenthood, a six-season drama that follows a multi-generational family in San Francisco's Bay Area navigating adult-sibling rivalries, kids’ personal challenges, like autism, relationship breakups and life’s curveballs.
Parents be warned, this is a TV-14 show with some profanity and mature situations including sexual innuendo (though it actually gets tamer after the pilot episode, with a scene of an unmarried couple in bed). With Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson among its talented cast, this often-emotional series captures the joys and trials of 21st-century family life.
Check out this article for more deep-cut options from top streaming services.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.