If all the storms, dark days, and bad news are giving you the January blues, it might be time to stream your way into a far away land, the distant past, a summer romance, or a wildly fun new world. We’ve rounded up a guide to the best series for an escape watch.
The story: The epic family drama follows four generations of a Korean family that moves to Japan in the midst of war, alternating between two different timelines: one follows matriarch Sunja’s humble beginnings in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 1900s through to her later marriage and resettlement in Japan; the other takes place in 1989 and focuses on Solomon, her grandson who returns to Japan to settle a business deal. Based on the novel of the same name by Min Jin Lee
Why it’s worth your time: A real feast for the eyes, Pachinko explores how family, heritage, and war conspire to shape each generation. Featuring sweeping shots of South Korea and Japan, Pachinko will also give you serious wanderlust. You’ll learn about Korean history and politics, as the creators did some serious research to ensure that the show is historically accurate.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to find it: Apple TV+
The Gilded Age
The story: Set during the late 1800s, the tumultuous years of rapid growth before the turn of the century, the series follows the strife between the “old money” and the “nouveau rich” in 1880s New York.
Why it’s worth your time: Created by Downton Abbey‘s Julian Fellowes, The Gilded Age immerses you into another extravagant world from an earlier time in history, one that has something to reveal about the class divides between the British of Downton and their American equivalents. Filled with decadent costumes, lush sets, and the same wit and biting one-liners as its predecessor, Gilded Age also embeds real-life events into the plot line and sheds light on worlds we’ve rarely seen, including the Black upper class of the post-Civil War era. It’s a soapy, visually transporting history lesson, but unlike the PBS friendly Downton, allows for HBO-worthy sauciness. The multiple subplots, upstairs vs downstairs (contrasted between old vs new money), and Christine Baranski and Carrie Coon make this a binge-worthy escape.
Go deeper: “What HBO’s ‘Gilded Age’ gets right that ‘Downton Abbey’ didn’t – Patia Brathwaite, Bloomberg
Where to find it: HBO
The Summer I Turned Pretty
The story: Based on the bestselling novel trilogy by Jenny Han, The Summer I Turned Pretty follows Belly, a high schooler who’s always been “the smart one” in the shadows, secretly harboring a crush on the son of her mom’s best friend. One summer, she suddenly finds herself the center of attention, and winds up in a love triangle she only could have dreamed of growing up.
Why it’s worth your time: The Summer I Turned Pretty is the rare rom-com that appeals to multiple generations, with an equal focus on the parents as on their teens. Smart, warm, and endearing, the characters act like real teenagers, with decisions that can be downright questionable. Yet the series is mostly lighthearted and escapist, with gorgeous characters and beach shots, and it’s a romance that parents and their kids (13+) could enjoy together. Where to Find it: Prime Video
The story: In this modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a group of friends head to Fire Island for their annual holiday. They quickly learn that their surrogate mother is getting ready to sell her house, so they better make this the best summer ever. Noah, the stand-in for Elizabeth, shares a romance with Will, the stand-in for Mr. Darcy. And yes, their romance is just as fun as it is in the original source material.
Why it’s worth your time: Fire Island is one of the cutest rom-coms to come out in years, one that’s funny, heartfelt, and layered. It may be a classic story but its told through a fresh point of view and specific lens, and it dives into relatable themes — class, racism, and the exclusion in cliques — but with a light touch and a lot of humor. Conrad Ricamora, who plays Will, interjects the character with an awkward charm that makes him particularly swoonworthy, and there are some hilarious moments, such as when Noah’s friends get a little too wild at a fancy party.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to Find it: Hulu
Our Flag Means Death
The story: Based on the real-life adventures of aristocrat Stede Bonnet, Our Flag Means Death follows his rash decision to escape his fancy-pants life behind and become a real-deal 18th century pirate. He’s not exactly prepared for pirate life, of course, which leads to hijinks and hilarity.
Why it’s worth your time: Our Flag Means Death will drop you into a 1700s world of treacherous ships, outlandish costumes, and overboard beards. The humor itself harkens back to Monty Python’s, as Bonnet’s choices are utterly ridiculous: at one point, he urges his crew to engage in group therapy. Not to mention the fact that the whole show is about escapism, which all of us can relate to in one way or another.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to find it: HBO Max
A League of Their Own
The story: Loosely based on the 1990 film of the same name, A League of Their Own follows a new set of fictional characters and the formation of the WWII-era professional women’s baseball league.
Why it’s worth your time: A League of Their Own the series justifies the need for its existence. Unlike other reboots, the series takes a different approach to its source material, staring directly at the racism and sexism the women were subjected to, as well as what it was like to be a part of the queer community in the 1940s. While the themes are a bit heavier than in the original film, the update retains the same joy, camaraderie, and wit. You’ll feel ready to take down the patriarchy after watching these gals hit multiple home runs.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to find it: Prime Video
The story: After a rapper samples one of their hit songs, a 90s girl group decides to get back together. However, they’re not 20 anymore – these ladies are now mothers, married, and feeling way too old to be a pop star. They don’t let that stop them, and in the second season, the ladies record their first album.
Why it’s worth your time: Tina Fey is one of the executive producers of Girls5Eva, and the series incorporates much of her zany satirical humor. The best gags are directed at the toxic pop culture of the late 90s/early 2000s, but there are also plenty of jokes about aging. The chemistry between the four leads, which includes Hamilton’s powerhouse Renée Elise Goldsberry and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, is what makes the show work so well. And seeing these ladies create music on their own terms is downright satisfying.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to find it: Peacock
Everything, Everywhere All at Once
The story: Evelyn Wang may seem like your typical Chinese immigrant trying to manage her taxes, her daughter, and her day-to-day struggles. But her life is turned upside down when she discovers that she can jump across multiple universes and connect with alternate versions of herself.
Why it’s worth your time: One of the top Oscar contenders for its originality, Everything, Everywhere All at Once is weird. Very weird. But its absurdism is what makes it so mind blowing. Seeing Evelyn visit different “verses,” including one where she has sausage fingers and another where she’s a Kung Fu star, is great fun, but the real MVP is Ke Huy Quan, who flips between being Evelyn’s meek husband and a James Bond-style alter ego.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to Find it: Showtime
LOTR: The Rings of Power
The story: Set centuries before the events of Lord of the Rings, The Rings of Power focuses on life in Middle-earth after the brutal war with Morgoth. The residents, including dwarves, elves, men and women have to figure out how to rebuild – especially with a new evil lurking on the horizon.
Why it’s worth your time: Like the previous entries in the Lord of the Rings saga, The Rings of Power is stunning and engrossing. Each set is its own world, but the divine set of Lindor is the magical stand out. Since each group of characters is so distinct and sprawling, you have to stretch your mind to keep up. But it pays off for the committed, and it’s hard not to feel like you’re stepping into Middle-earth itself.
Go deeper with the Watercooler’s take. Where to find it: Prime Video