Since much of the television output has been pretty lean this year, with very few shining examples of shows that promise to be engaging and long-lived, I thought I would take a few minutes to brush you up on some of the short run shows that might have escaped your attention. Some are ancient, heralding from the golden age of television (namely the 90’s) while others are more recent. There are also shows that you may want to get caught up on so you don’t get lost as they march forward. I will try to divide these into group according to audience, so that you mucho macho hombres aren’t stuck ordering up a few dozen hours of Veronica Mars, and those of you with lives and friends do not find yourself stuck with a metric ton of anime.
General: “Why haven’t you watched this yet?”
Intended Audience: Everyone.
Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip: I will hold this as the absolute best show ever put on the air. I don’t qualify that statement with anything: This is why you should own a TV. It was Aaron Sorkin’s show after The West Wing and again follows the formula he started with Sports Night. It takes a backstage look at sketch comedy shows that is damn fascinating. Even the “suit” network executives are enjoyable as is the clash between artistic and business aspects of television. Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, Steven Weber, and breakout performances by D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, and Nathan Corddry round out a stunning cast. Honestly, when we are trying to convince our alien overlords not to slaughter us wholesale, I will be showing them this show. You will thank me when it diverts genocide.
Firefly: I know that this should go into the Sci-Fi category, but I think it has universal appeal. It does quirky better than Chuck, drama better than V, and has Nathan Fillion as a character even more charming than Castle. It has Summer Glau in a role more lovable than Orwell. It even has a two episode arc with Christina Hendricks long before anyone called her the most beautiful anything (her impressive bust line certainly makes an appearance, so there is always that). Honestly, it is a cast of people that are on other shows in watered down versions of these characters. Accept no imitations. The Sci Fi (which I refuse to call syfy, because I am literate) channel is running this show, so you don’t even need to Netflix it.
For The Ladies
Intended Audience: Generally women or effeminate men.
Veronica Mars: Oh Kristen Bell, there is nothing more lovable than her, unless you count her strangely intimidating father who vacillates between a charming and dorky dad to a truly icy cop. The performances are outstanding, and the storyline gives you a strong female protagonist set against a very odd high school backdrop. While Veronica does go through some measures of personal crisis, they do not have the preposterousness that is on display with Fairly Legal or most other female centric characters.
Wonderfalls: If this weird little surrealism comedrama escaped your notice, you aren’t alone. It follows Jayne, an overeducated girl that lives in a fictitious version of Niagra Falls where inanimate objects begin speaking to her. Think of it as TruBlood lite, for those of you that don’t get enough weird psychic drama, minus the heavy vampiric overtones, the cajun lifestyle…Ok, the only thing it has in common is a saucy black best friend that isn’t nearly as irritating as Sookie’s pal Tera. Even the damn show’s jingle is catchy.
For the Guys
Intended audience: Oh, I think you know who you are.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: I did not expect to like this show. John and Sarah Connor are hard roles to take on. Most of us still have an image of the steely-eyed Linda Hamilton from T2 opening fire on a residence in full military regalia, and we all want to believe that mankind’s savior from the machines is something a little more than either a blonde child or the somewhat robotic Christan Bale character from Salvation. This show had some truly standout performances with Summer Glau as a very likable but confused machine, while Shirley Manson is a perfect T1000 with a total void of humanity. The weirdest part is that it made me root for the machines…sad, but true. When the time comes humanity, I’ve made my choice…sorry.
Space Above and Beyond: If you don’t know what a chig is, or a tank, then you haven’t lived, chummer. Mix yourself up some good ol’ alien invasion after mankind’s war with the synthetics, as well as racial tension between human soliders and those grown in-vitro as cannon fodder, and there is enough weird to go around. The plot follows the wild cards, a group of green marine pilots as they go from boot camp to full combat. Anyone that has ever shouted a Semper Fi will enjoy this show, with the marine admiral that is convinced that chigs do not belong in his sky as well as the Sergeant that makes Jethro Gibbs look like an overdressed girl. Only one thing to say about this: Ooo-Ra!
Just for Laughs
Intended Audience: For those that like to laugh at the end of the day. Morticians, battlefield medics, social workers.
Titus: Titus is the wet dream that Scrubs tried to realize. Anyone familiar with Christopher Titus’ standup, especially his stuff from Norman Rockwell is Bleeding will recognize the material of his highly dysfunctional family. A sitcom that really dealt with some dark overtones, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, and the nightmare of just trying to make life work. It’s unbelievably clever, and died horribly about the same time as much of this list. It was what most sitcoms try to be and almost any comedy/ drama fails to capture.
Sports Night: Aaron Sorkin’s first series was the critically acclaimed Sports Night, a show about a show within a show. Before he won Emmy’s for The West Wing, and long before anyone thought of Social Networks as being an internet phenomenon, much less a wildly successful movie, Aaron was writing whip smart dialog with characters that you can’t help but like. It’s electric, fast-paced, and started the sitcom without laugh track concept that is now the standard.
If you have missed the first season of The Walking Dead, Hung, Fringe, The Good Wife, or Lie to Me, do yourself a favor and give any of those a try. I also greatly enjoy Human Target for the he-men among us.
There is good television out there that died shamefully far too young and with little fanfare. Almost anyone that has ever hunted for good television has had at least one of these recommended by well-meanings friends and family that do not want you to die in a world without culture. Believe it or not, television does not have to be pandering, and it is an art form as surely as any other expressive medium. It does not have to be dominated by the likes of the Kardashians and the E! network. I have tried to make the list as broad as possible, not choosing niche groups, but things that anyone can enjoy, if they are just a fan of decent programming.
Just remember, it could always be worse…you could be reading.