Ever find yourself craving a good movie, podcast or book, and coming up blank in the face of an overwhelming menu of possibilities? In those moments, I’m desperate for a recommendation from someone who shares my fine taste. 🙂 So here’s the deal. I’m going to share a menu of my current favorites, in exchange for you sharing yours. Deal? The collective pooling of our recommendations will provide us all a “go to” resource next time we find ourselves fruitlessly scrolling through Hulu and Netflix. Yay!
In no particular order, here are the series I’ve binged like peanut-butter M&Ms recently. I’ve listed the streaming service where I watched them, but they may be available on other streaming platforms, too.
All Creatures Great and Small – PBS. Many years ago, I read and loved the James Herriot book series about a rural English veterinarian. Now the books come to life with the most delightful characters (both human and animal), set in the idyllic landscapes of Yorkshire, England. Nicholas Ralph perfectly portrays the endearing James, and the rest of the characters are equally lovable in spite of, or perhaps because of, their quirks. Seasons 1 and 2 are available now, with season 3 due to launch in January 2023.
Wolf Hall – PBS, BritBox. This BBC series is a period piece, set in 1500s Tudor England, about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power during the reign of Henry VIII. Season 1 covers the first two books in Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction trilogy, and Season 2, release date pending, will cover the last book. Mark Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell, and he is absolutely superb. Season 1 first aired in 2015, so it’s been around for awhile but is still gaining fans. You can probably find it on any number of streaming platforms. Definitely catch up on Season 1 so you’ll be ready when Season 2 debuts!
1883 – Paramount+. This Taylor Sheridan series is the prequel to Yellowstone. I admit that I had trouble getting into Yellowstone, but 1883 had me at howdy. I had no idea that Tim and Faith McGraw could act, but they are fantastic in this series. And Sam Elliott (be still, my heart) steals the show, predictably. I loved Sheridan’s commitment to historical accuracy in this series. He absolutely transports viewers to the pioneer West. Riveting.
Longmire – Netflix. This is an older series, but if you haven’t seen it, what’s wrong with you? Seriously, you can’t miss this one. Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor) is a quintessential cowboy sheriff in a remote Wyoming town, working with a small staff to solve gruesome crimes, many of which occur on the nearby Indian reservation. Based on books by Craig Johnson, a local celebrity in Buffalo, Wyoming, the story lines and characters have that ring of authenticity that only comes from lived experience. Much to the chagrin of devoted Longmire fans, the series came to a close in 2017 after six seasons.
The Lincoln Lawyer – Netflix. If you’ve seen the 2011 Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei movie by the same name, you might be confused. I was. The Netflix series keeps the basic setup — a cocky lawyer who practices law out of his Lincoln Town Car — but the actors and plot lines are new. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays Mickey Haller, an endearingly messed up brilliant lawyer whose personal demons and complex relationships threaten his success. The quirky characters and fine acting will hook you, I promise.
The Old Man – Hulu. This CIA spy thriller stars Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. The complex plot line keeps you guessing, but not so much that you never understand what’s happening. Roger and I cracked ourselves up when we first discovered this one. I was scrolling through Hulu titles and read aloud, “The Old Man.” We looked at each other and immediately said, “That one sounds good!” Ha! In spite of its rather dull title, the show found blockbuster success. Look for season 2 sometime next summer.
Broadchurch – PBS. This show got me absolutely hooked on British crime dramas. David Tennant and Olivia Colman are simply brilliant. The show ran for three seasons, with each season covering a single case, ending in 2018. Season one was by far the best. You’ll be my new best friend if you can recommend a new British crime drama of this caliber. I haven’t found one yet, but I keep looking.
Annika – PBS. This Masterpiece crime drama stars the superb Nicola Walker as a witty detective who takes over the Marine Homicide Unit. In a construct similar to “The Office,” Annika frequently breaks theater’s “fourth wall” to speak directly to the audience. The infusion of the detective’s dry humor and literary references keeps this series lighter than most crime dramas.
Persuasion – Netflix. This modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s last novel is pure delight. Dakota Johnson plays the heroine, Anne, who gave up the man she loved to please her family, but still pines for him eight years later. While it’s perfectly acceptable to release your inner Austen geek in solitude, this one would be even more fun with some likeminded girlfriends and a good wine.
Enola Holmes – Netflix. When you really need a pleasant escape, check out this period mystery featuring the teen sister of Sherlock Holmes. Witty dialogue, a well-crafted plot with plenty of twists, fabulous acting — what more could you ask? Good clean fun!
When I’m walking or cleaning house or driving, nine times out of ten I’ve got a podcast piping through my ear buds. Here are some of my long-time favorites and new discoveries.
Everything Happens with Kate Bowler. Kate is one of my new favorites, as I wrote about here. A professor at Duke Divinity School, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer at the age of 35. In this weekly podcast, she interviews guests who have likewise experienced a life-altering detour, emphasizing courage and faith and hope. She ends each podcast with a blessing and a Q&A with her listeners. One of my favorite recent episodes was her interview with Michigan funeral director, Thomas Lynch, titled A Good Funeral. It would be a great place to start.
The Holy Post with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani. If you’re new to this podcast, let me provide some important context. Phil Vischer is the co-creator of Veggie Tales, a beloved Christian animation series for kids from the 1990s. Why does that context matter? Because Phil is a kid at heart, and there’s a certain amount of silliness on the show that might feel off-putting at first. It’s actually a very serious show, with insightful commentary on the intersection of faith and culture in America. Airing twice a week, the first part of the show covers current news, some serious, some silly. In the second half of the show, Skye interviews a guest. With over 500 episodes, The Holy Post claims an enthusiastic fan base, including yours truly.
Good Faith with David French and Curtis Chang. Two things I love about this podcast: 1) it drops every Saturday morning, which is a dead spot in my weekly podcast line-up, and 2) David and Curtis bring diverse perspectives to relevant faith topics. Curtis is a former minister whose struggles with anxiety caused him to leave the ministry. David is a Harvard-educated lawyer with years of legal experience in the areas of free speech and religious liberty. He’s also a veteran of the Iraq war. Curtis hails from blue-state California and David lives in deep red Tennessee. I highly recommend these two episodes dealing with anxiety, something that touches every family I know: Anxiety as Opportunity, and Why Are Teens Growing More Anxious?
Advisory Opinions with David French and Sarah Isgur. Airing twice a week, David French and Sarah Isgur, analyze Supreme Court cases. As top-notch lawyers, sometimes their dialogue flys over my head, but I’ve learned so much about our legal system. Their insight on the deliberation behind these cases provides a perspective missing in media reports.
The Habit with Jonathan Rogers. Airing once a week, Jonathan Rogers from the Rabbit Room interviews writers about the craft of writing. Jonathan is not a polished podcast host, which oddly makes the conversations feel more personal. This podcast has introduced me to more books and authors than my nightstand stack can endure, but I just keep listening anyway.
Dead and Gone in Wyoming by Scott Fuller. Okay, just for something different…..this series is exactly what the title suggests. Scott Fuller recounts cases of mysterious disappearances or murders in Wyoming. This monthly podcast sometimes skips a month, for whatever reason. Maybe to build suspense. For an introduction, I recommend the July 25, 2021 episode, “Walking the Floor Over You.”
In Trust, a Bloomberg investigative reporting series by Rachel Adams Heard. Several years ago, I read the book Killers of the Flower Moon written by journalist David Grann. It’s the true story of a series of unsolved native American murders in Osage County, OK in the 1920s. Coincidentally, the murders began shortly after the discovery of oil on Osage land made the tribe obscenely wealthy. Martin Scorcese is producing a movie based on the book.
Instead of focusing on the murders, this Bloomberg report looks at how the Osage tribe slowly lost their land and mineral rights to white people. The spotlight focuses on one particular family, the Drummonds, who became one of the largest landowners in Osage County over several generations. The Drummonds ranching empire might have gone unnoticed to most of the country, were it not for the fame of Ree Drummond, a/k/a The Pioneer Woman, popular for her cookbooks and cable cooking show. You’ll definitely want to listen to this podcast before the movie comes out. And maybe read the book, too.
The Prince, an Economist special report on Xi Jinping, by Sue-Lin Wong. I’ve just started listening to this one, but I’m intrigued. My interest in China started in 1997, when I traveled to Washington, D.C. as a college journalist to cover the state visit of China’s President Jiang Zemin during the Clinton administration. (Fascinating trip, but I found myself distracted by the White House press pass hanging on my neck and by Richard Gere, who was leading a Taiwan protest in Lafayette Square…). Since then I’ve been to China twice for business, but admit my knowledge of the country is dismal. With China’s continued ascendancy and the expectation that Xi may remain in power indefinitely, this podcast seemed timely.
Pearls by Kristi McLelland. I first discovered Kristi McLelland, a professor at Williamson College, when I watched her teaching series “Jesus and Women.” The video lectures cover well-known Biblical accounts of interactions Jesus had with women, but Kristi provides the Middle Eastern cultural context, revealing a richness we miss when we only see them through Western eyes. The series blew me away! I watched it for free on Right Now Media, but it’s also available for purchase on Kristi’s website. I was so captivated by the video series, I went looking for more and found Kristi’s podcast, Pearls. Similar to the video series, each podcast takes a Biblical passage and helps us see it through a Middle Eastern lens. I absolutely love her teaching. Check it out and let me know what you think.
I was going to cover my book recommendations, but I’ll save that for my year-end book review. If you missed my 2021 review, check it out. I’m not sure anything I’ve read this year beats my top six picks from last year. So, so good.
Okay, now it’s your turn. What recommendations do YOU have for ME? Drop your favorites in the comments. I can’t wait!