Some of us celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks and some of us celebrate it with flags and some of us—hi there!—celebrate it by watching TV. This list is for you. And these shows are those shows that riff/expand on Core American Values of scrappy, underdog, little-c conservative exceptionalism; as in, every one of the characters here would probably make a better congressperson than your congressperson.
Each of the below is streamable at one or more of Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/etc. In the interest of interest, we have eschewed the obvious in favor of the real and even the controversial. So much realness! So little Band of Brothers.
Blue Mountain State (Netflix)
The American higher education system is, within reason, totally fucked. But then it produces shows like this, about dudes like this, who are every contradiction about the curving horizon of modernity, privilege, and masculinity. Alan Ritchson was designed in a Ford factory many years ago just for this millennium. He has been waiting for us since the founding. Watch how his teeth gleam.
Season 4 of 24 (Amazon Prime)
The fourth of Jack Bauer's unterminal days involves, actually, a lot. That is: Gregory Itzin, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Logan Marshall-Green; foiled executions, successful sudden deaths, and a lot to do about the pitifulness of peace. Season 4 is without question 24's best season and it is b a n a n a s, an abjection of the many subterrulean nightmares that would (have!) come to dominate mainstream political discourse. The country has never looked worse. I mean that as a compliment.
John Adams (HBOGo)
There is only one way to watch HBO's John Adams: in just two or three days with your father. The miniseries is better than you remember, every part of it is, and the feeling you're left with is nothing less than unadulterated. A kind of civic euphoria. This, we have always argued, is how history is to be remembered: not whitewashed, nothing so simple, but burnished—so that every human-sized fact of life feels impossible without us.
King of the Hill (Amazon, iTunes)
The harder I try to drill down into the profound greatness of Fox's animated sitcom, the farther away I get from any profundity. Let's just say: King of the Hill was the beginning of the end of the hold the culture wars had on our national psyche. And also! It took the time, alone on TV, to pay attention to the specific spectacle of Boggle.
Friday Night Lights (Netflix)
The people who always try and sell you on Friday Night Lights with the caveat that, "Hey, it's not really about football"—those people are liars. FNL is deeply, intrinsically about football; and ever more deeply and intrinsically about the ways in which the particular rules we play by help shape the people we become; and the disservices we do to one another in ignoring our own capacities for change. It is a riot of semiotics. This is what we imagine ourselves to be like: From many disparities between religion, gender, class, race, and age, we come to see a whole.
Teenagerdom is an explicit construct; and the narratives that literalize this metaphorically (your Buffys and your Vampire Diarieses) are fecund. Roswell is not the genre's best face. Instead it is a wildly ardorous Southwestern series about reincarnated monarchical aliens that one time made me cry. You would not expect me to say that the series speaks in strange, valuable registers about the immigrant experience because that would be insane, but it does. It has an interrogative sense of place-as-personhood (who/how/where are we) and then, like a harpsichord, bangs on itself until a melody comes out.
Terriers, about two private investigators on the beaches of California, ran for one season on one cable network and it is all anyone can talk about, ever, as though the series' successes in the areas of sleuthing, wryness, and reinvention were new, week to week, and the fact that they should not be was no impediment to the impossibility that they were. This is the America we have built. For the record, Donal Logue is Irish and Canadian, not American. But he does strive, which is all that we can ask.