Sep 29 2010
I’m writing this post in response to everyone who keeps asking me “What are good shows to watch?” which as an entertainment blogger, is a question I should naturally have an answer to. I could recommend any number of titles that are still on the air, but to me, nothing is more frustrating that watching a show on DVD, then switching to watching it week to week.
In fact, I think the way to best watch TV is to wait until the entire series is over, and then watch them in big chunks whenever you have time, finishing an entire series in anywhere from a few days to a month. If I had the willpower to wait years for many of my current favorite shows to go off the air, I’d do that with them as well, but now I only do it on occasion. I’m currently working my way through True Blood season three, and I’ll probably catch up on Entourage soon.
But as for shows that are already off the air, here are the DVD sets you should pick up (or torrents you should download), if you want to get into some really good TV that you can watch whenever you feel like, without being constricted to a mere twenty or forty minutes per week. They feature some of my all-time favorite series, and if you have any more questions about any of them, I’d be happy to elaborate more in the comments.
This is the “duh” one on the list, because I reference it on the site here more than Pokemon, but I cannot emphasize this enough, watch this show. Yes, it’s dead and no amount of post mortem viewings can extend its short life, but simply put, this is a perfect show, and its early death at the hands of Fox might have actually saved it from going downhill at some point, which as it stands, it never does.
The problem with AD when it was on the air is that each episode requires you to have watched all the previous episodes to understand most of the inside jokes, and the entire show is practically inside jokes. This was especially hard to convey via a fifteen second television commercial, and so the show died.
It’s the story of a man trying to keep together his crazy socialite family after his father is sent to jail, and features the best writing in TV history, along with a cast 100% made up of memorable characters, even background players are noteworthy in their own right (Steve Holt!), and every line everyone says is practically a quotable classic. Let it be known, that this is my number one show of all time, and that nothing else even comes close.
So check it out, and be sure watch them in order. Once you start, I don’t think you’ll be able to stop.
There are a great many HBO series I could put on this list, but most of them don’t translate very well to viewing in massive chunks. Trying to get through The Sopranos and Oz was EXHAUSTING as all are 60 minute episodes instead of the usual 42, and there are like, sixty of them.
The Wire is different. It’s equally lengthy, but it’s just so damn good it doesn’t matter. It’s the story of the drug game and its police counterpart in Baltimore, and is so well written and acted, it’s one of the only shows I’ve ever seen that doesn’t actually feel like a TV show, it just feels real.
Yes, some seasons are better than others, and it does start to veer off the deep end near the close of the series (hobo murder?), but it’s worthwhile throughout, and worth the long haul it takes to get to the end, as yes, you’ll spend more time with this show than you will with any of these others. But to me, it still stands as the best scripted drama I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, yeah, I know this sounds like the geekiest show I could ever possibly recommend, but trust me when I say it’s not. It’s just a really good action drama that HAPPENS to be set in space. I managed to get the two random asian girls who I lived with in NYC hooked on this show, when previously their TV viewing only extended to various Real Housewives installments. It’s just good TV.
It’s the story of a planet system ravaged by a machine race, some of whom are giant robots, and some of whom are perfectly engineered humans who could BE NEXT TO YOU RIGHT NOW! The Battlestar Galactica (it’s a ship) charts a course with the rest of the surviving human ships toward a legendary 13th planet somewhere in the galaxy called Earth. That’s when things start to get interesting.
The fun of the show comes from its central mysteries, what will happen when they find Earth, and who among the cast are actually evil robots. It’s enough to propel the series for four seasons (it does feel a bit lengthy eventually), but I will say I think the finale is satisfying enough to be worth the trip. But don’t get me started on Starbuck. You’ll see what I mean.
And speaking of finales, Lost‘s was only a few months ago, but it qualifies for this list without a doubt. In fact, I would argue that Lost is the best out of all these shows to watch on DVD, because when every single damn episode ends in a cliffhanger, the next one is just a click away. But be warned, this will also make this by far the most addictive show on this list.
I’ve always had a rule with Lost that has yet to be proven false. Watch the first four episodes and you won’t be able to stop. It gets that good, that quick, and yes, season one is the best, but the show as a whole is something that will be remembered in TV history for ages.
The Island is perhaps the greatest mystery in television, and the mini-mysteries that surround it are equally compelling. Pair that with a cast that grows to feel like family, and superb writing and acting, and you’ve got yourself a cultural icon.
I’ve already mentioned HBO shows when I talked about The Wire, but Deadwood is another one I feel is worth checking out. It’s only three seasons, as opposed to five or more for most other long running HBO shows.
It’s set in the Old West, and tells the mostly historically accurate tale of the town of Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickock met his end and Al Swearengen ruled with an iron mustache. Timothy Olyphant is the star as the new sheriff in town, but Ian McShane’s Swearengen steals the show and is one of the most memorable villains (and eventually anti-heroes) you’ll come across in any of these shows.
Sometimes the pace can be a bit dull, and episodes can drag as can any hour long show on HBO, but ultimately I think it’s worth the trouble, and Deadwood is a genre series that does it better than all the rest.
I realize that the slow pace and dry humor of Ricky Gervais’ The Office may polarize some people, so I’m not explicitly recommending it here (but you should watch it anyway). Rather, I’m going with Extras, his second effort jammed full of celebrity cameos, in a good way. Still plenty of dry humor, but it’s more overtly funny than his usual stuff.
Gervais plays a film extra in season one, and on set he encounters a number of celebrities including Ben Stiller, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Daniel Radcliffe and more. Every episode has at least one celebrity in it, but their appearances are almost always self deprecating. Kate Winslet moaning about how she can’t win an Oscar, or Orlando Bloom being stunned that a woman isn’t into him are two of my favorites.
Season two follows Andy when he gets his own show, a low-brow parody of The Office, and it starts to mimick Gervais’ actual life a bit more. And after that? There is no after that. There are only twelve episodes of this show total, plus a Christmas special. You could knock it out in an afternoon if you really wanted to, but I’d recommend spreading it out a little more than that.
Speaking of short lived, there is no more tragic story than the death of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s space western that was yet again, too good for Fox. But while Arrested Development was at least allowed a four episode arc to wrap-up, Firefly just was flat out cut in the middle, and the series just kind of ends midway through.
But never fear, the fan outcry was so great after the show’s demise, that the two thirds of a season was bolstered by the release of Serenity, the full-length feature that is the perfect bookend to the show. This is the only time I’m actually pairing a movie with a show in this list, but once you’re done you must watch it.
The cast becomes family, and the sci-fi universe is incredibly unique, and more importantly funny. You don’t see that very often in this genre. Unlike say, Lost, which is addicting after a handful of episodes, Firefly takes getting used to, and I didn’t particularly care for it until five or six episodes in. But after that, I’ve rewatched the series three or four times, and it’s among my favorites as you can see by its inclusion here.
Freaks and Geeks
Once upon a time before Judd Apatow’s name was overused in Hollywood, he worked on brilliant TV shows. Freaks and Geeks, the story of Michigan high schoolers in the eighties, some will argue is his best work, and I could be persuaded to agree.
The show launched the careers of Jason Segel, Seth Rogen and James Franco, and though it lasted only a season, is full of brilliant comedy and moving drama. It’s hour long format sometimes wears thin (I’m not a fan of comedies being an hour, it’s why I can’t watch Glee), but as the show is only a season, when it ends you’ll wish it had been even longer.
This segues right into Undeclared, Apatow’s next show when NBC killed his first. But this time Fox didn’t even wait around to the end, as Undeclared ends mid-season a-la-Firefly.
It’s the story of a group of college freshman adjusting to life at school, and I personally prefer it to Freaks and Geeks as each and every episode is pure hilarity. It has Segel and Rogen as well, but is also where Jay Baruchel and Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnan got their start. After seeing this show where he plays a British ladies man, I never thought his next role would be as a hardcore American biker.
It’s just so well written, it’s no wonder why Apatow made the jump to writing classic movies like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up after this. But I would trade all those if Undeclared was allowed to run for a few more seasons.
At long last, Fox finally learned its lesson about axing shows, which as you can see, killed four of the ten on this list prematurely. Somehow, for Whedon’s latest effort, they felt pity and gave Dollhouse a second season, it’s long enough, and makes the show a perfect and abridged work of genius, and something unlike anything else on television.
The show starts off like a procedural, and I hated it. “Dolls” are imprinted with personalities and sent out on various jobs. The star, Echo, might be a hostage negotiator, an assassin or a sex slave on any given day, and each week she’d undergo a different personality swap.
But something happened, and midway through season one, the show realized it was something bigger than a run of the mill Alias/CSI wannabe, and started dealing with overarching plotlines and complex issues of morality and science. When I say it’s one of the smartest shows ever written, I’m not exaggerating, and I’m recommending it here because not many other people appreciate it as much as they should.
So there you have it, if you’ve seen all these, I probably have a few more I can suggest, but hopefully this is enough to get you started.
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