When the comedy-focused streaming service Seeso launched in January, it heavily promoted its line-up of classic licensed shows. That makes sense when you’re just trying to establish yourself and can build a name on such iconic shows as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Saturday Night Live, Kids in the Hall and Parks and Recreation. Even its first original exclusive, The UCB Show, banked on a name that looms large in the modern world of comedy. To keep a customer base, though, Seeso has to cultivate a deep roster of exclusive original programs, just as Netflix and Hulu have done, and so far Seeso’s done a great job on that front. Their latest show, HarmonQuest, launches this week, with Community creator Dan Harmon leading various comedians (including Aubrey Plaza, Ron Funches, Chelsea Peretti and Paul F. Tompkins) through Dungeons & Dragons games. It’s far from the only show worth watching on the service, though. Here are the five best original programs currently available on Seeso.
5. Night Train with Wyatt Cenac
The most admirable thing about Night Train also makes it a little hard to watch. It aims to recreate the experience of going to Wyatt Cenac’s long-running Brooklyn stand-up showcase as closely as possible, which means every episode runs well over an hour long. So the comedians who take the stage don’t have to cut their sets short for TV, and routinely do ten minutes or more, giving the audience an extended view of their style and material. Cenac’s a gracious, charming host, and producer and booker Marianne Ways picked a fantastic roster of comics for the show’s six episodes, so the time goes by quickly while you’re watching it. Just make sure you have a lot of time available before you start watching an episode, unless you don’t mind watching it in chunks.
4. Hidden America with Jonah Ray
Jonah Ray’s travel show parody nails the look and feel of an Anthony Bourdain show so much that you might be bummed that you don’t wind up learning anything useful about the cities Ray visits. That just makes the jokes even better. Hidden America is at its best when it embeds its comedy in the unique culture and identity of the city the episode is about, like when Ray interviews a group of Red Sox fans who look back fondly on beating up Yankees fans during the 2004 playoffs and can’t remember anything about the actual games. It’s not just a satire of a genre of TV show, but of how eight American cities are viewed by themselves and by the rest of the country.
Thingstarter is a hybrid of workplace cringe comedy and a real-world prank series. Its scripted portions mock the inanities of the tech industry, focusing on a company whose business is building products based on a weekly online vote, no matter how ridiculous or impractical those products might be. Those products are then focused grouped with real-life citizens and experts in scenes that recall Nathan For You. It’s a biting and funny take on Silicon Valley’s delusions, as well as the vacuity of modern marketing.
2. Bajillion Dollar Propertie$
Reality shows are so formulaic and so baldly unreal that parodying them might be too easy. Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ doesn’t rely on the easy jokes when mocking real estate reality shows, though. Smart writing and great performances elevate Kulap Vilaysack’s parody of shows like Million Dollar Listing, which is as much a commentary on the shallowness that pervades our culture today as it is a parody of any one kind of show. Paul F. Tompkins, Dan Ahdoot, Tawny Newsome and Mandell Maughan all find entirely different registers of self-obsessed vapidity, and somehow without coming off as stereotypes.
This co-production with Britain’s Channel 4 stands out amid Seeso’s original programming because it’s not a parody, stand-up or improv show. Written and directed by Will Sharpe, Flowers is a dark sitcom about a depressed, dysfunctional, artistically inclined family in England. Julian Barratt (of The Mighty Boosh and Nathan Barley) plays another unfulfilled, self-defeating sad sack in the form of a suicidal children’s book author, and Olivia Colman makes just as strong an impression as his less overtly anguished wife. Their grown children are similarly troubled in their own ways, and the show explores how all of their particular problems feed off and support each other. It’s not just the best original show on Seeso, but one of the best new shows anywhere this year.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.