1. “The Baby-Sitters Club” Season 1 (available now)
Why Should I Watch? Netflix’s adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s ’90s era novels have been wooing plenty of viewers well-outside its young adult demographic — this critic included — without abandoning its most important fanbase. “The Baby-Sitters Club” is a rich, warm-hearted story about a group of middle-schoolers who band together, not only to make a little extra money and give themselves an excuse to hang out, but to provide a much-needed service for parents; the titular baby-sitters have an earnest yet relaxed investment in the kids they care for, and that same casually compassionate attitude buoys the series itself to lovable heights. Adult viewers may come for a pastel-dipped piece of nostalgia, but they — and younger audiences — will stick around for a savvy, inclusive, and rewarding update on “BSC.”
Bonus Reason: Casting is strong throughout the show, but casting directors Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn earn added props for the parents. Alicia Silverstone strikes a wholesome yet down-to-earth early chord, before Marc Evan Jackson steals the spotlight midway through. Also, it’s hard to think of a better choice to play an unwanted yet ultimately irresistible future step-father than Mark Feuerstein. Well done.
2. “Kingdom” Seasons 1 – 3 (available now)
Why Should I Watch? Long held up as one of the best shows you’re not watching (likely because you were unable to see it without a DirecTV subscription), Byron Balasco’s MMA family drama is finally readily available to stream. “Kingdom” focuses on the Kulina family, led by retired fighter Alvey (Frank Grillo) who opens up a Venice Beach gym with his girlfriend Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) to train future mixed martial artists — including his two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas), both of whom are ranked professionals. But for all the pain inflicted inside the ring, the three-season series is really about recovery. Jay and his mother, Christina (Joanna Going), are addicts; Alvey struggles to face his life without the outlet of fighting; and when Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) shows up — an ex-fighter looking for a second chance, Lisa’s ex-boyfriend, and an ex-con who just got out of prison — the group must learn to separate healthy outlets from harmful addictions if they’ll ever be able to find the peace and happiness every family craves. Shot in a gritty and grounded style not far removed from the handheld look of “Friday Night Lights,” “Kingdom” has a bit of a darker vision, but knows the value of a full heart.
Bonus Reason: Jonathan Tucker. To be fair, the whole cast is outstanding (including a young Paul Walter Hauser, long before “Richard Jewell” and “BlacKkKlansman”), but Tucker tears into a meaty role that requires immense physical dedication and an ever-fluctuating emotional state. Jay is regularly drunk, high, or coming down from one (if not both), and even when he’s steady he carries a level of manic energy that serves him well in the ring but could shoot off into unbelievable extremes in the real world, if not for Tucker rooting his choices in passion. That Jay can also be a lovable little puppy dog only speaks to just how many layers the actor peels back.
3. “Stateless” (available July 8)
Ben King / Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Did you know Cate Blanchett co-created a television show? Did you know it was this one? Well, now you do, and now you know literally everything you need to know in order to click “play” come July 8. I mean, Cate Blanchett also co-stars so if you’re using the old metric for choosing what to watch then you’re doubly invested. I know I am. Can’t wait.
Bonus Reason: OK, OK — technically, “Stateless” is based on an idea by Blanchett, who serves as co-creator alongside Tony Ayres (“Nowhere Boys,” “The Slap”) and Elise McCredie (“Jack Irish”). The six-episode limited series pivots between the perspectives of “four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention center in the middle of the Australian desert.” Co-starring alongside Blanchett are Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney, Asher Keddie Fayssal Bazzi, Marta Dusseldorp, and Dominic West. Netflix scooped up the rights to this NBCUniversal production shortly before it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, which only built its indie cred — but a summer release date (post Emmy eligibility and a little early to be courting the Globes) is less than inspiring given the stacked cast.
4. “The Last Dance” (available July 19)
Why Should I Watch? Do you think LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all-time? Do you think LeBron James is the second greatest basketball player of all-time? Do you think basketball peaked with the Warriors vs. Cavs quartet of NBA Finals match-ups? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then clearly you need a history lesson. “The Last Dance” may not cover more than the Jordan era, but that’s more than enough to disprove beliefs No. 1 and 3. (Michael Jordan is the GOAT and the Bulls era is definitely one of basketball’s best time periods, but you’ll have to look up Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar to discover who’s the second best baller.) So, if you’ve resisted watching thus far, dig in. You’ve got a lot to learn.
Bonus Reason: For everyone alive in the ’90s, the previous paragraph does not apply, but you also probably already made time for “The Last Dance” while it was airing on ESPN. If you fell off or cut the cord, here’s what you need to know about the docuseries that took over TV during quarantine: It’s incredibly entertaining and significantly flawed. I’ll let Ken Burns illustrate why enlisting Jordan’s production company for the doc renders it journalistically negligent, but I will speak to its troubling justification for talent excusing abusive behavior. Yes, Jordan’s passion and drive helped him accomplish feats no other athlete has matched, but no amount of skill gives anyone the right to be such a dick to your teammates. “The Last Dance” brushes off Jordan’s hostilities as part of his winning demeanor when it deserves a much more complex conversation. That being said, so long as parents are ready to have that talk with any kiddos who watch, “The Last Dance” is mostly a damn fun piece of pop TV.
5. “Cursed” Season 1 (available July 17)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? If you’re in need of a post-“Witcher” fantasy fix, “Cursed” looks like your best bet. Based on the recently released book (written by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller), “Cursed” reimagines the legend of King Arthur by asking, “What if the sword chose a queen?” So, rather than a young Arthur pulling the kingmaker from the stone, the 10-episode first season posits that perhaps Nimue (“13 Reasons Why” alum Katherine Langford), a “teenage heroine with a mysterious gift,” has the right to wield Excalibur. Though she’s supposedly destined to become the Lady of the Lake, Nimue embarks on a quest to find Merlin alongside a teen Arthur, as the two heroes fight back the Red Paladins and their evil King. Arthurian legend may not share the same eccentric creativity as Henry Cavill’s popular Netflix adaptation, but springing out of a lake, fully clothed, sword in hand, may very well be the new “soaking in a bathtub, naked.”
Bonus Reason: With “13 Reasons Why” over, the sooner our collective culture can forget it ever existed, the better. One way to do that is for its talented first season star, Katherine Langford, to become so ubiquitous in film and television that no one can remember where they first saw her. Was it “Knives Out”? Was it “Cursed”? Was it… some other show… about something horrible… that romanticized that horrible thing… and was also a flat-out terrible show — oh, I can’t remember. Let’s just move on.
6. “Down to Earth with Zac Efron” Season 1 (available July 10)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Yes, this is the show that’s already given us the gift of “Zac Efron Looks at Beehive, Discovers the Deep Abyss of Life Itself” — and while that may seem like more than anyone could’ve ever asked for, there are probably many more meme-able moments in wait! Officially described as “a travel show [in which] actor Zac Efron journeys around the world with wellness expert Darin Olien in search of healthy, sustainable ways to live,” “Down to Earth With Zac Efron” sees the “Greatest Showman” co-star wielding swords, eating carbs, and staring in stupefied awe at a “fart bag” the size of a 747. We are all Zac Efron in that moment, even if none of us can be Zac Efron in any other. Tracking down more zen-like surreality like this should be reason enough to try an episode or two, but if not…
Bonus Reason: Listen, we are all still indebted to Mr. Efron for “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” a film as exquisite as its box office was disappointing, so watching enough of Zac’s travel show to warrant a second season is the least we can do to start evening things out. Maybe he can tally enough views for Netflix to keep funding his eXtreme international vacations. Maybe he needs that time away to continue delivering physically transformative entertainment. Maybe supporting our artists’ insane self-promotion is the least we can do while sheltering at home, unable to leave the country, because our dumbshit president has gotten us banned from Europe. If anyone deserves to escape, it’s Zac Efron — so long as he comes back for “Neighbors 3.”
7. “The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 (available July 31)
COURTESY OF NETFLIX/NETFLIX
Why Should I Watch? In all likelihood, there will be no superheroes at the summer box office (because there will be no summer box office), so if another MCU marathon isn’t gonna get you that spandex-driven dopamine high your body craves, “The Umbrella Academy” might steady your nerves until theaters open back up. Based on the comic book series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, the first season of Netflix’s hourlong action series put a dysfunctional family of adopted siblings back together. Plucked from their birth parents by an eccentric billionaire who believed he could grow a superhero ensemble to save the world, each numbered adoptee has their own special power and their own associated problems that eventually drove them apart. Season 2 picks up after No. 5 used his time-traveling ability to avert a modern-day apocalypse, but doing so also sent his siblings to different time periods circa 1960s Dallas, TX. There, they have to find each other, save the world from nuclear disaster, and get back to 2019 in order to prevent another global catastrophe. (No, sadly, it’s not the pandemic.) With “Terminator”-esque time-hopping and impending judgement days, “The Umbrella Academy” doesn’t sound like it will be boring, which is really all you can ever ask of a mass market superhero story. Get your fix!
Bonus Reason: Given that the first season felt a little too comfortable in its “X-Men”/superhero origin story, the main reason to try out Season 2 is the original story’s strangeness. If “The Umbrella Academy” leans into its wild side perhaps it can prove as exciting as intended. Otherwise, the dark and broody ensemble seems doomed to be an insufficient placeholder for more ambitious big screen action, even if that’s the bare minimum of what summer crowds are craving right now.
The Rest of Incoming TV
“Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt” Season 2 (available now)
“Deadwind” Season 2 (available now)
“Unsolved Mysteries” (available now)
“A Touch of Green” Season 1 (available now)
“Abby Hatcher” Season 1 (available now)
“Cleo & Cuquin” Season 2 (available now)
“Warrior Nun” Season 1 (available now)
“Cable Girls” Final Season, Part 2 (available now)
“JU-ON: Origins” Season 1 (available now)
“Yu-Gi-Oh!” Season 1 (available July 8)
“The Protector” Season 4 (available July 8)
“Hello Ninja” Season 3 (available July 10)
“The Twelve” Season 1 (available July 10)
“Skin Decision: Before and After” Season 1 (available July 15)
“Sunny Bunnies” Seasons 1 – 2 (available July 15)
“Indian Matchmaking” Season 1 (available July 16)
“Boca a Boca (Kissing Game)” Season 1 (available July 17)
“Gigantosaurus” Season 1 (available July 18)
“How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)” Season 2 (available July 21)
“Street Food: Latin America” (available July 21)
“Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia” (available July 22)
“Love on the Spectrum” Season 1 (available July 22)
“Norseman” Season 3 (available July 22)
“Signs” Season 1 (available July 22)
“A Cantar! (Sing On! Spain)” Season 1 (available July 24)
“In the Dark” Season 2 (available July 24)
“Shameless” Season 10 (available July 26)
“Jeopardy!” Collection 6 (available July 28)
“Last Chance U: Laney” (available July 28)
“Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons” Season 4 (available July 29)
“Sugar Rush: Extra Sweet” (available July 31)
“Vis a vis: El Oasis (Locked Up)” (available July 31)