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12 TV shows to keep your spirits up during lockdown

From feel-good sitcoms to bonkers competition series, these small-screen offerings will help you through a long winter.

(BBC)

Well, it’s lockdown… again. It can be tough to keep your spirits up as the nights draw in and the weather gets colder and wetter, but this winter in particular is a real rotter, as we enter a third national lockdown in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

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What to do but turn to the TV for comfort? Small-screen entertainment has provided some much-needed escapism for many during these tough times – especially as cinemas shuttered, denying us a similar pleasure from movies – and will doubtless do the same again.

To help perk you up, the RadioTimes.com team has assembled our top feel-good TV picks. Dive into the below for a guaranteed mood boost!

Schitt’s Creek

Schitt's Creek
CBC

Watch on Netflix

A Canadian comedy with a small but dedicated group of fans, Schitt’s Creek exploded onto the global stage when it dropped on Netflix after its third series becoming one of the breakout hits of recent years, sweeping the board at the Primetime Emmys in 2020.

From the pens of father-and-son writing team Dan and Eugene Levy (the dad from American Pie) the show follows the fortunes of the once uber-wealthy Rose family after they lose everything and are forced to start life again living in a motel in a small town which they once bought as a joke.

As with any great comedy, Schitt’s Creek brings together the perfect balance of razor-sharp scripts, fantastic performances and just the right number of emotional storylines to keep you rooting for the protagonists. With six seasons to watch right now on Netflix, there’s 80 episodes of entertainment just waiting to be discovered if you have a little more time on your hands this January. – Tim Glanfield, Editorial Director

Floor Is Lava

Floor is Lava (Netflix)
PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX

Watch on Netflix

First landing on Netflix in June 2020 (aka The Summer That Never Was), Floor is Lava was exactly the sort of undemanding entertainment we needed, just when we needed it.

Based on the children’s game of the same name, groups of budding adventurers must work together to navigate an obstacle course flooded with “lava” (bright red gunge) and the end result is both hilarious (yes, face-plants are funny) and surprisingly compelling – you’ll find yourself screaming in horror along with contestants as their teammates take a tumble and sink into the bubbling basalt…

Best of all, the show is fully aware of how ridiculous it is, with winners being gifted a lava lamp trophy (along with a $10,000 cash prize) and host Rutledge Wood compèring the madness in suitably manic fashion. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

The Titan Games

The Titan Games
NBC

Watch on Netflix

In a turbulent year, one (somewhat unlikely) show helped lift me out of the global gloom: The Titan Games. There’s nothing quite like watching the most mind-bogglingly fit humans crush cleverly conceived physical challenges while comfort-eating your way through a large pile of snacks to drown out reality.

Packaged in a way that lends itself to producing perfect TV moments of jeopardy and triumph, Dwayne Johnson’s muscle-bound competition series has become my therapy, entertainment and tonic all in one. Now, if only The Rock could literally lift me out of this pandemic… – Minnie Wright, News Editor

Two Doors Down

Two Doors Down
BBC

Watch on BBC iPlayer and Sky Go

Scottish comedy Two Doors Down has a simple premise – two middle-aged surburbanites, played by Alex Norton and Arabella Weir, continually find their house invaded by their hungry, irritating neighbours – but has spun TV gold out of the continued clashes between the Bairds and their friends.

With repeated gags, catchphrases and setpieces there’s never anything too surprising, but that’s part of its comfort. Though in yet another lockdown, there’s something odd in seeing Beth and Eric desperate to get everyone out of their house (to them, a social distance could only be a good thing) and finally get some time alone. If they only knew… – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi + Fantasy Editor

Gogglebox

Gogglebox 2020
Channel 4

Watch on All 4

While many of us wish we could travel back to a time when social-distancing wasn’t firmly planted in our everyday vocabulary and COVID-19 didn’t dominate the news cycle, the next best thing is to watch old episodes of Gogglebox – the Channel 4 reality series which films ordinary families as they react to the week’s TV.

With 10 series of the entertainment show available to stream on All4, you can be a fly-on-the-wall in houses up-and-down the country as the beloved Gogglebox cast comment on old episodes of Downton Abbey, 2016 news reports and iconic EastEnders moments. – Lauren Morris, Writer-Researcher

Modern Family

Modern Family (Sky, EH)
ABC

Watch on Amazon Prime Video and NOW TV

In need of a good ol’ laugh? Well then Modern Family is the perfect show for you!

Based on three very different groupings in Los Angeles, all linked by patriarch Jay Pritchett, the comedy shares stories of each group’s very own modern family.

You have gay couple Cam and Mitchell Pritchett, who have just adopted a baby girl from Vietnam, Mitch’s sixty-something-year-old dad Jay and his much younger (and hotter) Columbian wife Gloria who has a oddly mature young son named Manny. And then there’s Jay’s pedantic daughter Claire – who happens to be only a year older than Gloria (awks) – her ditzy husband Phil, and their three growing children.

If you’re looking for a break from the serious, this mockumentary is sure to have belly laughing as you watch the shenanigans of Cam, Phil, Gloria and co unfold. – Grace Henry, Entertainment + Factual Editor

The Office (US)

The Office US - Steve Carell
Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Watch on Netflix, NOW TV, Amazon Prime Video and Sky Go

Prepare to laugh, cry, squirm and everything in between if you take the plunge and dive into The Office (US). Beyond the first season – a mediocre copy of the UK original – Steve Carell, John Krasinski and the gang make the series their own and the office comes to life.

Fall in and out of love with Carell’s enigmatic Michael Scott and eccentric Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute while increasingly chaotic office shenanigans and romances develop around them. If you’ve forgotten what a real office looks like, this is not it. – Michael Potts, Sport Editor

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing

Mortimer and Whitehouse

Watch on BBC iPlayer

When beloved comedians and old pals Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer both suffered heart-related health setbacks a few years ago, the former decided to come good on a long held promise: to teach Mortimer the art of fishing.

The result is this delightfully gentle programme, which across three series and a festive special has taken the pair to the country’s various riverbanks, staying in some eccentric accommodation and eating lots of heart-healthy food along the way.

Although ostensibly about fishing, the series is as much about friendship and companionship, and is equal parts hilarious and life-affirming – a perfect combination for lifting spirits during another lockdown. – Patrick Cremona, Writer-Researcher

United States of Tara

United States of Tara
Showtime

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

United States of Tara single-handedly kept me sane during our previous winter lockdown with its charming and utterly compelling story about the Gregson family. Toni Collette (Knives Out) plays the eponymous Tara, a woman who attempts to live a normal life while juggling an extraordinary case of dissociative identity disorder. It’s a tour de force performance which sees Collette flip through several fully realised and distinct personalities, ranging from a spiky Vietnam veteran to a rebellious teenage girl.

Though it deals with some sensitive themes, United States of Tara never loses its sharp sense of humour (courtesy of Juno writer Diablo Cody) and packs some incredibly uplifting story arcs. Tara’s health journey is undeniably fascinating, but she doesn’t let her illness define her and neither does the show. The supporting characters are equally captivating and given just as much time to develop, with a young Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and Keir Gilchrist (Atypical) being standouts – the latter portraying the best gay character I have ever seen in a TV show. – David Craig, Writer-Researcher

Bridgerton

Bridgerton Simon and Daphne

Watch on Netflix

One day in December, when I’d just spent a good chunk of time lying face-down in bed thinking how much everything sucked, the previews for Netflix’s new drama Bridgerton pinged into my inbox. So I watched an episode. And then another episode. And suddenly I felt… cheerful? Happy? Which is to say that Bridgerton is the best kind of escapist television.

This romantic period drama is a cross between Jane Austen and Gossip Girl, with a lot more sex and a very modern feel (think: string quartets playing Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next’, and girls railing against gender roles and dreaming of going to university). The main storyline follows Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) as she starts the serious business of finding a husband. But, as you might imagine, not everything goes to plan… so she makes a new plan, involving a dashing Duke (Regé-Jean Page) who is a determined bachelor. It’s quite silly, and it’s utterly absorbing. – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor

Staged

Watch on BBC iPlayer

Staged series 2
BBC/GCB Films/Infinity Hill/Simon Ridgeway/Paul Stephenson

In the midst of a bereft arts scene in Britain, BBC One lockdown comedy Staged was and is the perfect example of cheering innovation on mainstream telly. Pre-COVID, director Simon Evans was due to helm a play in south London. Instead, he created and starred in Staged alongside David Tennant and Michael Sheen.

Now in its second season, the two bickering Good Omens co-stars are back, but with a daring twist. And if you thought a delightfully foul-mouthed Judi Dench was a brilliant celebrity cameo last season, just wait and see what the latest episodes have in store for viewers. – Flora Carr, Drama Writer

Derry Girls

l-r: Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell), Erin Quinn (Saoirse Monica Jackson) and Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan)

Watch on All 4, Sky Go and Netflix

Five fairly clueless (and pretty relatable) Northern Irish teenagers running around Derry causing mayhem is the perfect remedy to lockdown blues and it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

This hit Channel 4 series follows Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and James as they navigate life in ’90s Derry, all within the backdrop of the Troubles. Whether they’re getting themselves in a Catholic dilemma or worrying about exams, the team always find humour in darkness – a lesson we can all take on board.

Creator Lisa McGee strikes a fine balance between gentle slapstick and sharp-witted comedy. With another series promised, there’s never been a better time to delve into the wonderful wacky world of Derry Girls. – Helen Daly, Assistant Editor

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For more to watch, check out our full TV Guide