12 Peacock Originals That Are Definitely Worth Watching
9 - 11 minutes
Peacock launched just last July, largely on the promise of The Office reruns, but it also brought the power and checkbook of NBCUniversal to bear in creating some solid original content (“creating” being, in some cases, a euphemism for “importing”). Even though the library of originals is relatively small, there’s an impressive amount of diversity in what’s there: not just in terms of style and genre, but in the representation on screen and off. It’s possible to be a little cynical about Peacock’s positioning of shows about, say, an all-Muslim punk band or an Indigenous cultural center in a small town, on an upstart streaming service rather than its TV-network sibling; but, on the other hand, streaming is clearly the future, and the fact that the network expects these shows to lure people to pay for their new streamer is promising.
Peacock, by the way, currently has free and paid tiers. All of these shows are at least available to sample at the free level, but for a few, you’ll need to upgrade if you want to watch more recent episodes. Here’s some of the best stuff from Peacock’s first year.
A comedy import from across the pond, Lady Parts stars Anjana Vasan as Amina: a nice Muslim girl whose only goals are to finish her schooling (she’s working on a microbiology Ph.D.) and to settle down with a husband. All of which comes into question when she meets Saira, Ayesha, Bisma, and Momtaz—the women who make up the title punk band. The show’s creator, Nida Manzoor, co-wrote the original songs in the show, and the result is, perhaps, the best original soundtrack a sitcom has ever had. More than that, the show is funny, buoyed by great performances from Vasan and the other leads. There’s also a natural tension that the show smartly dives into: the members of an all-female, all-Muslim punk band are naturally outsiders in almost every circumstance; even within the group, the women have very different goals in life—guitarist Amina is a shy nerd whose nerves lead her to vomit at the drop of a beat, and her new role in this band is a challenge to her own image of herself, as well as to societal and family expectations. Fingers crossed for a deserved second season.
By this point, we know what to expect with these Dan Brown adaptations: “Symbologist” Robert Langdon will put his hyper-specific skillset to use in uncovering a conspiracy the likes of which are rarely encountered by academics. And archaeologists don’t often come across lost arks and temples of doom, so this is a realm of disbelief that we’re perfectly content to suspend, especially following the Ron Howard/Tom Hanks movie series that began with The DaVinci Code. That team adapted three of the five books, but skipped this one for some reason, and so here we are: a new Robert Langdon, now played by Succession’s Ashley Zukerman, on the hunt for his kidnapped mentor as part of a mystery that’s tied up with the Freemasons. It’s talky, rather overly so, but works as a polished mystery that will absolutely appeal to fans of the films.
Amber Ruffin went from the writer’s room on shows like “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “Drunk History,” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (where she was the first black woman to write for any late-night show, which is super cool but also...WTF?) to the big chair on her own show, the signature comedy talk show on Peacock. Even though it’s relatively new, there’s really not been much evidence of a learning curve for Ruffin or for the show’s other producers: She’s consistently confident, smart, and hilarious from pretty much episode one. The show has already had a few viral moments, possibly the only true measure of success for a late-night talk show in 2021—a few weeks back, “The Wall of People Whose Shit We Were Not Trying to Hear” got a lot of play. The show’s been renewed for a second season that’ll be starting in just a couple of weeks.
It’s tough to keep up with a daily soap schedule, and, even when you can make the time, the sometimes languid pacing (to ensure that viewers who can’t watch every day are able to keep up) can make watching a little bit of a grind. There are still plenty of charms to the genre, though, and there’s a reason that Days persists over half a century since its debut. Beyond Salem works as a standalone miniseries that sends some of the show’s most popular characters (veterans, newcomers, and a couple of returning stars) to the four corners of the earth on the hunt for a set of jewels stolen thirty years earlier by a mystery woman (possibly the Princess Gina Von Amberg, who’s actually a brainwashed Hope Brady, naturally). The jewels need to be restored to their setting in the Alamanian Peacock, so we’re definitely invited to think Infinity War, but with soap stars rather than superheroes. Honestly, this is no more or less goofy and just about as much fun. It’s also a great showcase for popular recent Salem émigré Jackée Harry, who’s clearly having an absolute blast.
What’s that you say? Another girl-group-themed, sitcom-is musical series? No complaints from me! The premise here is that a very 90s group (Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Paula Pell, and Renée Elise Goldsberry) who made it big very briefly with exactly one hit song gets a shot at a comeback (they’re Girls5eva because, as they expected to be in the game “longer than 4 ever”—turned out, not so much). An up-and-coming rapper, though, samples their classic and opens a door, just slightly, for the band to get back together. Tina Fey is one of the executive producers, and the (very fun) 90s-inspired original music was composed and written for the show by the creators. It’s been renewed for a second season.
Writer/creator Lennie James also stars in this British import as Nelly Rowe, a jovial sort of man-about-town who loves a drink and has a few different women in his life, none of whom know about the others. He’s not a bad guy, by any means, but comes off as a fairly insubstantial person. That’s until the police bust in and accuse him of the kidnapping of his estranged daughter. Rowe stretches his contacts and connections to their absolute limits in trying to find out what happened to his daughter, working against and then with Claire (Suranne Jones), the girl’s upper-class mother. Lennie James makes for a great, complicated lead character in a series that’s well-acted all the way around. A third and final season is on the way, but with no set date.
I was born in Chicago in the years just following the John Wayne Gacy murders, the facts of which weren’t kept from my extremely impressionable young ears. So, you know...not big into clowns, and I have a slightly fraught relationship with the entire true crime genre. There’s a bit more going on in director Rod Blackhurst’s true crime docuseries, though, than just wallowing in Gacy’s gruesome crimes: While the common (and not inaccurate) image of Gacy is as someone who ingratiated himself with victims by performing as a clown, there’s more to the story than that. His volunteer work, his role as the head of a contracting business, as well as involvement in local politics seemed to obscure his intentions, and kept both police and the media from digging as deeply as they should have into his criminal record. Almost as disturbing as the crimes themselves is the extent to which we can be taken in by someone who meets all our expectations of an upright citizen.
Writer and producer Sierra Teller Ornelas joins Ed Helms and Michael Schur (The Office) for a warm and delightful sitcom with a challenging, unexpected premise: Helms plays Nathan Rutherford, a descendent of the guy whose statue has a prominent spot in town. His best friend is Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), who runs the local cultural center for the (fictional) Minishonka tribe. The two are on completely different sides of some of the big issues that arise when the mayor wants to take down the old statue (mostly because it’s in a bad spot and cars keep running into it), but work to maintain their friendship. It’s a big-hearted show that isn’t afraid to have some complicated conversations, buoyed by the record number of Indigenous writers on staff, as well as Ornelas herself: In addition to her writing credits for shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore, she’s a sixth-generation Diné weaver, and that perspective is a huge part of the show’s success. It’s been renewed for a second season.
Look: You probably already have a sense if this is for your or not. Surprisingly, though, Saved by the Bell has more success than some of the other recent reboots of YA-skewing, family friendly sitcoms from back in the day (RIP Punky Brewster). It was never going to be possible to appeal to new audiences and to recreate the dorky charm of the original series, so the show smartly leans more toward the former, introducing an entirely new generation of teens and letting them have their own lives and adventures with comedy that’s a bit smarter and more self-aware than the original show always managed. Of course, plenty of the old gang (meaning: almost everyone) are hanging around the old high school, too, so there’s an impressively broad appeal here. It’s been renewed for a second season with a release TBD.
The docudrama, based on a true crime podcast which was, in turn, an investigation into the story of the real-life Dr. Christopher Duntsch, is at least as terrifying as the story of John Wayne Gacy in Peacock’s documentary on that serial killer. Duntsch, played here by Joshua Jackson, was a wildly overconfident but dangerously incompetent surgeon who maimed or killed the overwhelming majority of his patients, in incidents that, according to investigators, were entirely avoidable. The series dramatizes the events that lead up to the revocation of his medical license, long after alarms had been raised about his record, as well as heavy substance abuse. The well-acted show asks exactly the right questions: Why was he able to get away with it for so long, and how did so many people and employers fall for his carefully crafted facade in the face of his horrific track record?
There are several imports on this list; Peacock is just too new to have a large home-grown stable of shows, and they’ve managed a handful of impressive acquisitions. In this British series, a young, ambitious detective with the London police department is tasked with the investigation of a soldier who’d only recently been exonerated for a war crime, but who, it seems, turned around and assaulted and then kidnapped his lawyer (well, OK: barrister). There’s plenty of police procedural drama and international intrigue, but the show has a slightly different target: it’s looking at the dangers of our reliance on CCTV surveillance, and on the dangers of a widespread assumption that cameras don’t lie. London is one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world, so there’s a particularly British point of view here, but the issues will be recognizable to anyone who’s spent time in any major city. A second season has been commissioned in June of last year, but no word yet on a release date.
It’d be, unfortunately, easy to confuse this with Manifest, that other popular missing plane drama, but while that one’s more of a Lost-style supernatural mystery, Departure has a lot more in common with 24 (there’s even a ticking clock sound effect that shows up frequently to remind us, I suppose, that these characters are in a hurry). The Canadian-British import involves the investigation into a plane that disappeared entirely during a flight from New York to London. Leading the team (in the first two seasons, anyway) is the late, great Christopher Plummer, who elevates this material as he did everything else. It’s a procedural, with many of those familiar beats, but the unique setting and impressively crafted mystery make it juicier than most, even if it can get fairly talky. It’s been renewed for a third season.