Shows I watched all the way through
Note: This is not necessarily an endorsement of most of these shows, just some general impressions.  However, I do recommend several on here, which are noted in their decription.



30 Rock - Well-written and clever, but I understand why it failed to connect with as large an audience as might have appreciated it.  There were a lot of characters who really didn't work directly with one another.  That made it easy to write for (i.e., a character could walk in and out of a scene at any time), but it didn't feel like, say, The Office where you had something of an aquarium full of meaningful interactions.  And unlike The Office, there was simply no momentum to the characters' respective lives.  There really was no believable culmination of romances or professional achievements.  Brilliantly funny, but perhaps at the expense of making a great show.

Addams Family - Certainly more clever and subtle than its rival, The Munsters, but that's perhaps the all-time worst use of the word "subtle."  It was still filled with the same sort of slapstick humor, and the worst thing about it was how often that same slapstick humor was repeated episode after episode.  The show relied entirely too much on using neighbors as foils so that many scenes hinged on someone being shocked or offended by the family's eccentricities.  Sure, there were other angles the writers tried, but those were overplayed as well.  Where the show exceled (and why it is fondly remembered) was in its subtext that this was a family who loved one another and weren't bound by repressive societal norms.

ALF - I watched this when it aired while I was in high school.  It was complete fluff (no pun intended), but the performance of the title character was terrific.  I didn't actually finish the series until recently, however.  I somehow missed the last episode when it was first broadcast, so I assumed ALF went home.  In reality, it was a cliffhanger that was never resolved until a tv movie years later that the fans mostly hated.  Can't really recommend the series since it has few merits, but I can't hate on it either because the preposterous combination of it's premise and format really took some balls.

Alias - J.J. Abrams is the master of the McGuffin.  If you've never heard the term before, a McGuffin is a plot element (e.g., the Death Star plans) that serves as the impetus for the action.  The show managed to be compelling even when it was preposterous.  And Jennifer Garner was fun to look at (especially in her gratuitously sexy disguises), even if it's hard to believe she's a spy.  Complete fluff that will keep you wanting more.  It was the cotton candy of its genre.

Ally Mcbeal - People find it very easy to knock this show (and often for good reasons, but those aren't the ones I usually hear/read), but the first couple seasons especially were willing to address a lot of issues of relationships (suggestions of polyamory even!), gender roles, and related subjects honestly and occasionally head-on, even though they almost always couched these discussions in humor that was sometimes literally cartoonish (Recall all the CGI caricatures whenever a character had to react to something... or that stupid dancing baby).  I FFwded through all the musical segments and instead focused on what worked about the show.

Ark II - I watched this as a small child, then again years later when I picked up a bootleg VHS of the complete series on eBay.  It's a kids' show.  Nothing especially amazing about it, although it was novel to see a live-action show on Saturday mornings.  I can't think of another one until you get to Pee Wee's Playhouse.

Arrested Development - The cult behind this show could tell you volumes about it.  It's one of the most post-modern, effectively self-refferential series ever put together.  I suppose it's too smart for its own good and never was going to have the success it deserved for the work put into it, but intelligent viewers should check it out.*

Battlestar Galactica (1978) - It's campy, but they genuinely tried to create a little universe that everyone took seriously.  It probably would have worked better as a mini-series because they weren't even through the first season when the writers were clearly already out of ideas on what to do with Baltar and the Cylons.  It's enjoyable fun though, and the series is hard to dislike if you're anyone but George Lucas.

Battlestar Galactica (2004) - A classic series.  My partner Dani doesn't even like sci-fi especially, and this was the one show where she couldn't wait for the next disc.  I won't even bother giving a summary of the show.  Just watch it cold; you're going to like it, and anything else I could say about it would just be a mild spoiler.  It is highly recommended.*

Blake's 7 - What a depressing show.  Cast changes are never pleasant, but in this oppressive, bleak future, no one ever just "finds their place" and hops off like a Dr. Who companion to take up some important work.  I hate to give a spoiler here, but I would have enjoyed the show more if I wasn't puzzled through the second half of it (i.e., two entire seasons) wondering why it was still called Blake's 7 when the title character wasn't even in the series anymore!

Buck Rogers - The only show campier than the original BSG.  And yet it works!  The cast genuinely tried to sell the premise all the way through, and they had a lot of fun doing it.  Interestingly, the series was re-tooled halfway through its two seasons, and become something like a Trek show (i.e., ship traveling through un-explored space), which introduced more variety in the storytelling, but it lost something along the way.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I have a penis, so I have to admit that I like this series (and only marginally at that) for completely different reasons that the rest of its almost-entirely-female fanbase.  In fact, the seasons I like best (4th and 7th/last) are the ones most people don't like: Because the writers just went, "Aww, fuck it," and went kind of nuts.  It wasn't the kind of series that should have been taken all that seriously anyway.

Caprica - Coming off the epic that was the re-booted Battlestar Galactica, I wondered how they could make a prequel series interesting with this narrow a scope.  In fact, not much happened for the first half the first (and only) season.  Apparently the network must have cracked the whip, because when the 2nd half kicked in after the hiatus, it really ramped up.  Unfortunately, by that time more than half the viewers had given up.  It's a shame too, because literally the last five minutes of the final episode pans across all the developing storylines and reveals where the series was headed... and it was awesome!  Worth it if you have the time.

Cartoon Planet (original series) - I'm pretty sure these guys got drunk or high and improvized about 90% of this show in the recording studio, then animated it to fit the tapes.  It was a spin-off of Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast with SG and a couple villains doing short-form sketch comedy and songs, some of which can barely be considered the latter.  It was insane, and I watched this nightly when it originally aired.  Cartoon Network has since ressurected the series in modified form (i.e., pilot episodes of potential new series interspersed with the comedy bits).

Cold Feet - Sometimes it was a bit too much of a soap opera, but overall this is probably the closest thing to a BBC version of thirtysomething.  It really sold the characters as believable, grounded people and found the drama in the daily struggle to be a grown-up.  I
liked all of it but the unneccesarily bleak ending, but that's life isn't it?  It isn't an ending, really.  It's just another point in their lives.  (See Tim's soliloquy in the final episode/xmas special of The Office for an expanded bit on that point.)

Crank Yankers - Prank calls came back with a vengence around the time this series aired.  We were downloading tons of them on Napster and played them for friends.  Jimmy Kimmel ingeniously figured out how to get them on tv: Have puppets lip-synching to the audio he and his comedian friends created.  The humor was considered too raunchy for a lot of people, but that and the blend of reality and social engineering (i.e., getting regular people to say funny things) made for great tv.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - It looks like this show is probably over, which is characteristic Larry David, isn't it?  He just sort of walked away from it when he got tired of it.  For me, it'll be one of those shows like Monk, where Dani would often elbow me, point at the screen, and simply say, "You."  Maybe it was because I empathized with Larry's neuroses that I liked it, but I think it was because he had the ability to go to uncomfortable places in normal social interactions and find how to turn up the heat until there was a crust of humor around it.  Funny show, though understandably not to everyone's taste.

Dave's Old Porn - This was basically the MST3K of classic (read: hairy) porn.  With Dave Attell and another comedian and/or porn star(s) riffing on it, there was plenty of comedy to be had.  I like Dave and the creative process, especially if it involves found media, so this was great for me.  If you're easily offended, then you probably could stand to watch it for therapeutic purposes, but it's just plain funny to the rest of us.

Dexter - A usually great series that managed to sustain its suspension of disbelief.  It had a great core cast, not just its lead.  Each season worked especially well as a series of "novels," with only two of the eight seasons ending with cliffhangers.  Unfortunately, it tarnished its glory with a depressing last episode that really came out of left field (see also True Blood below).*

Doctor Who (new series) - The first season was a rocky start.  I personally think the first new Doctor didn't do the series a whole lot of good, although I will concede he at least made the character appropriately edgier.  However, the first scripts were terrible.  Thankfully the series has gotten increasingly better with each season.  In fact, I have honestly thought they had peaked and couldn't be outdone with each season, only to be proved wrong almost every time.*

Dungeons & Dragons (animated series) - I grew up watching this, and I think it was on in syndication for many years after production ended.  Given that my viewing was spotty, I went back and watched it all the way through recently to watch missed episodes for the first time and revisit the rest.  The story-telling wasn't especially sophisticated, but there was a tremendous amount of variety in the locations and creatures each week, given that they were drawing from the Monster Manuals and other game books.  There is the added bonus of a "lost episode" performed as an audio play from the script of the last episode that concludes the series.

Entourage - It's been said before, but it really is just Sex and the City with guys.  They're pretty much a bunch of self-involved douchebags working in a superficial industry.  I have a hard time recommending it even with the eye candy, but it had its moments.  Obviously I'm not a fan.  In fact, I gave up on it at one point, and we only started watching it again because Dani asked me if they were still making the show; she liked it.  That points out the difference between us and whether you'd like the show: She thinks shows should be escapist entertainment, whereas I want to watch something that has some core idea couched in action surrounding a conflict.  Entourage contains no ideas; it's just stupid, escapist fluff.

Extras - No one will ever say this was on the level of Gervais' The Office, but it was clever and pointed just the same.  Actually, it was really like three separate series, with each of the two seasons and then the xmas special having a different style, setting, and focus.

Farscape - I originally came into this part-way into the second season and watched it until I canceled cable when I moved.  Those were great episodes.  I tried to get my partner Dani to watch it from the beginning (several years after the series had ended), and I was embarrassed by how bad the first few episodes were.  I highly recommend the series, but it really takes an effort to get through those first half-dozen or so shows.  Eventutally the writers figure out what to do with all the characters so that it's about relationships instead of over-acting.  Once they find their footing, it's one of the most interesting and satisfying and diverse and expansive series I've ever watched.  To date, I think it's the ending of a series I've been the happiest with, so it's worth viewing to conclusion.  (Note: I'm counting The Peacekeeper Wars as the end of the series since it was technically a compact Season 5.)  Check it out.*

Firefly - You still haven't seen this?  Seriously?*

Freaks and Geeks - One of the most honest and deepest shows I've ever seen.  A surprising number of alumni from this short-lived series went on to write and act in their own projects, so clearly there was a pool of talent here.  To date, I think the scene with Bill making lunch and laughing at Gary Shandling on tv is the most poignant moment I can recall in any series I have ever seen.  It is highly recommended.*

Gilmore Girls - They talk fast and there are virtually no plot developments.  It's a quirky town, sort of like Twin Peaks with Prozac in the water supply.  No one gets murdered; they just heckle self-important people at town hall meetings and get annoyed at over-bearing parents from one generation to the next.  The mom looks great in jeans.

House - Great show, but it always seemed a bit confused how to make it about anything other than what it was good at: House solving medical mysteries and abusing everyone around him.  Instead we had to put up with some very forced storylines about romance between doctors even the title character never really cared about, plus an even more unbelievable relationship with Wilson whose massochism was never adequately explained when every other pathology was dissected in HD CGI!

Insomniac with Dave Attel - There was sometimes too little material and too few interesting things to do  after the bars closed in some of these of these towns, but it was generally entertaining.  Dave knew how to have fun with regular folks who were up all night either at play or at work.

Invader Zim - It has a cult following with tats of characters to prove it.  This show just inspires that degree of devotion for some reason.  I enjoyed it as well.

Invasion - Almost nothing happens.  It's like Lost without any plot developments.  There's just a big question, "Where are the aliens?"  You never see them.  There was a talented enough cast and characters worth doing something with, but no one ever bothered to.  There's a lot of waiting for something to happen, and it never does.  Well, something does: It gets canceled.

Jason of Star Command - I grew up watching this as a very young child.  It was a throwback to those Saturday morning "space ranger" series from the '50s, only with whatever effects were developed in the interim.

Jericho - It was a bit overly dramatic in ways that weren't as convincing as, say, The Walking Dead (which shares similarities in its premise), but it was enjoyable enough.  For those who undertake this series for the first time (and I do guardedly recommend it), be aware that the 2nd season differs markedly from the first in its approach and themes.  It's almost like a different series entirely.

Jonny Quest - Amazing series that puts so much of what's on tv to shame.  One of the things that really stands out for me is the quality of the background art.  Absolutely beautiful settings over which the action plays.  It was more like an unconnected series of adventures than a cohesive story, but I enojyed it for the variety that approach brought.  That unmatched variety is comparable to, say, a James Bond film delivered as a serial.  There's only a whiff of continuity though, and that's a shame.  Everyone agrees it was canceled far too soon, so there was never enough story to development Dr. Sing into what, say, Dr. Doom was to the Fantastic Four.  He only appears in a handful of episodes, and with few revelations about his background or motive.  That's a minor concern though, what with the shift across genres from one episode to the next: spy story, monsters, military battles, sci-fi, etc.  Highly recommended viewing.*

Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List - This was surprisingly entertaining for a reality show.  Griffin actually made it all the way to the B-list by the time the series ended, but that kept it interesting.  I'm not enough of a reality-show viewer to judge these things, but it didn't seem especially scripted or manipulative, just a series of documentary footage mixed with experiments she tried (e.g., meeting with other celebs).  They were up-front that it was for the show, even if that was never explicitly stated.  It was entertaining regardless.*

Kolchak: The Night Stalker - Honestly, I prefer this to The X-Files (which I never could get into and don't regret missing out on), but it was too much of the same.  I could literally look at the clock and know when we were going to get to the climax of every episode in which Kolchak would stumble around an empty building late at night with a flashlight until he was attacked by the creature one last time.  It's no wonder the series only lasted a season.  Good premise and a good first few episodes, but it never evolved beyond those.

The L Word - Women + women = Lots of drama.  The series was a soap opera, albeit one with a good-looking (and frequently naked) cast.  Everyone says I should have just watched Queer As Folk instead, but that series arrived too early and was too heavily playing the "Look at how gay I am!" card.  This was maybe improbable at times (e.g., too many different types of lesbians in the same clique), but at least it was about gay women instead of about being gay.

Liquid Television - A great grab bag of animations styles.  Note that I said "styles."  Substance was in short supply with only a few shorts or recurring series offering much of interest.  There was some nacent CGI as well as live action.  There was occasional bits like "Dog Boy" that were interesting to look at but went nowhere.  The show is best remembered for introducing Aeon Flux, which was easily the best material on all levels.  Beavis & Butthead debuted here as well, although it wasn't their finest material.  On the low end were plenty of pointless projects of dubious value.

Lost - This series proves J.J. Abrams' ability to make a series compelling.  Every episode leads to more and more questions, so you can't help but keep watching even though very little gets answered.  The bottom line is that this is an emotionally satisfying series if not especially intellectually satisfying.  Frankly, a lot of it doesn't make any sense.  When it is all over, there are still loads of unanswered questions, but not so much that they nag you.  There are some really weak seasons, but overall I enjoyed it.*

Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends - Sort of a spiritual forerunner of Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, but this being a BBC production, it's snarky in only a very, very dry way.  The concept was to look at fringe groups and subcultures from an outsider's perspective, and the subjects are varied and entertaining: UFOlogists, white supremacists, crash derby racers, etc.  Louis is too polite to ask what we're really thinking, instead delivering the ridicule in glances at the camera or oblique interview questions that confuse the subject while winking at the audience.

Mad Men - I never loved this show, but it was original.  It's the only series besides The Sopranos that was able to break away from standard story arcs and have things play out more like real life, just a series of vignettes.  The writers were also brilliant at pulling out reversals with absolutely teasing the audience with foreshadowing or build-up.  I'm surprised as many people liked it as did.  There's a lot more there for those who are interested, but I was just a casual viewer and still enjoyed it.


Masters of Horror - There are some great episodes in the first season, but the quality was lacking in the majority of episodes.  Actually, all the episodes look great, but many of them go absolutely nowhere.  They try to be horrific, scare the audience with monsters and/or gore, but they simply don't have a point.  A story needs more to it than, "...and then he died."  Most of the best episodes in the series were like Clive Barker writing O. Henry stories.  The worst were simply blood thrown at the camera.  However, the absolute best by nearly unamimous concensus is John Carpenter's episode "Cigarette Burns" which defies description.

Max Headroom - It feels dated now, but this series was so avant garde and cutting edge at the time it aired that viewers bombarded the network with letters asking what the hell the show was about.  I loved the idea of "Five minutes into the future..." that implied this was an alternate timeline that we might have gone down if things were just a little bit different at the right point in history.  This wasn't a distant future; it was one we might have had, even if it drew a lot of its inspiration from Blade Runner (e.g., smokey, dimly-lit environments; the future is everything we have now, just older with a little bit of technology stacked on top, etc.).  Dissonance in all the right places.*

Monk - It was a throwback to earlier times.  A simple detective show.  It sometimes suffered for that because simplicity poorly executed over time is merely monotony.  Its family-friendly tone made it hard to believe any of the characters were ever in danger (except the victim, of course, but they always, always got that out of the way before the opening credits).

The Munsters - I know most people prefer the Addams Family because the humor was a least a notch or two more sophisticated, but I like that this show was an extension of the Universal Monsters tradition.  There was definitely magic and the supernatural to act as wild cards in each week's script.  Of course, I'll be the first to concede that I am embarrassed at how dumb the characters are.  They're simultaneously iconic and two-dimensional, like cardboard cut-outs going through the same animated routines each week.  The revamp of this series, Mockingbird Lane, had the opportunity to update this series, but NBC blew it by passing on the series after Bryan Singer delivered a really classic pilot.

My Name Is Earl - I always describe this show as "If John Steinbeck wrote a sitcom..."  It was ostensibly slapstick comedy, but there was far more to it.  The entire series deconstructed and then inverted the strife of Americans living in generational poverty.  In other words, what if instead of stuggling to get whatever you could for yourself, you worked to help others?  What would that get you?  Turns out, it gets you an insightful show that was actually very laugh-out-loud funny.*

Northern Exposure - I didn't watch this when it first came out because it seemed to be an attempt to make a tamer version of Twin Peaks, which I resented, quite honestly.  The characters were quirky but safe.  No one ever got murdered or burned down the saw mill for the insurance money.  It had its charm, but I'll always prefer something that veers edgy and creative over a show that plays it safe.

Numb3rs - This series took a while to figure out what it was about, but the writers learned how best to juggle a cast that was more than just a pair of unlike brothers.  It was perhaps too unrealistic in how quickly and/or accurately the math netted that week's criminal, but they at least demonstrated the value of math in describing the world and sometimes predicting it.

The Office (BBC) - I know the focus is on Gervais' character David Brent, but I always think of this as the best, most solidly-written love story I have ever seen on the small screen.  The show had astounding emotional range too.  It managed to alternate between screamingly funny and cringe-inducing and then heart-wrenching scenes, all within the space of minutes, sometimes cycling all the way back again.  It is one of the most highly-recommended of all the series on this list.*

The Office (US version) - It took a while for this series to climb out of the shadow of the critically-acclaimed original, but it found its stride in due time.  While it lacked the depth of the original, it surpassed it in terms of comedy.  The writers also excelled in developing minor characters into integral components of the show.  The later seasons had to uneven writing though, not just in terms of quality; they also abandoned some threads when they either took on too much or just didn't know where to go with them.  The most frustrating developments for most viewers are the cast changes, particularly when Steve Carell left the series, but I merely saw that as opportunities to explore different directions, even if many of those weren't as successful.  I'll take an interesting failure over so-familiar-it's-gone-stale any day.*

The Outer Limits (original series) - This show aired when science was on everyone's mind.  Television sets had become a standard feature in most homes in the country.  The world was under constant threat of complete destruction by atomic weapons so powerful that no one could get their heads around them.  This wasn't about ironic punishments for unsympathetic characters or devilish versions of the O. Henry twist the way its perceived sister series The Twilight Zone characteristically employed.  No, the message was that science would either save us or destroy us, depending on which crossroads we came to.  And that was up to us in how we confronted whatever fate dealt us.

The Outer Limits (1995) - I feel like this is one of the most under-rated series on this list.  It falls in the shadow of its original series, which itself is compared unfavorably to The Twilight Zone.  However, whereas the original Outer Limits was very much a "monster of the week" series, this production was far more story-oriented, often adapting short stories by notable names in science fiction.  Additionally, while it was an anthology show, there were attempts to tie episodes together within the same universe, both by having episodes with shared elements, as well as a more strained effort to use the end-of-season episode as sort of a retcon to make independent episodes appear to suggest a larger design.  The latter usually wasn't very effective, but it was entertained to see this attempted repeatedly.  While there were a number of weak episodes, there are enough gems among the series run to make it worth watching!

Pee Wee's Playhouse - What an amazing and original series!  It was simultaneously chaotic and grounded in routine (e.g., the weekly "secret word," a visit from the King of Cartoons, etc.), like watching Mr. Rogers on acid.  I haven't watched the series in its entirety in years, but the clips I've seen recently suggest it still holds up.

Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t! - The best criticism of this series I read pointed out that the show merely ridiculed bullshit rather than provoking the conversation and pushing morons into the Enlightenment era (i.e., "Meet science, stupid!").  At times it was even very bad, biased bullshit itself, such as episodes on recycling and going green, concepts which were at odds Penn Gillette's libertarian philosophy.  For example, there was the claim that landfills are good because they make methane.  Reality check: Aluminum cans and glass bottles do not break down into methane!  Another time they tried to prove a Prius got poor mileage, so they floored it, then showed that it got mileage lower than the sticker, same as what always happens when you floor the accelerator in any car.  Reality check: I'm a guy, and I drive like one, yet I get just under 50MPG most of the time.  The stated mileage is 47MPG.  It was usually a good and entertaining series (lots of gratuitously naked girls, for example), but they tarnished their own legacy for those times when they were full of their own bullshit.

Red Dwarf - I always cite this series alongside Farscape as an example of an unbalanced cast that was eventually righted.  In this case, it took a few years before Kryten came onboard and worked as a foil that wasn't so obvious as the Oscar/Felix dynamic of the pairing of Lister/Rimmer.  (In the case of Farscape, it was the addition of Chiana that balanced out the cast.)  It's a funny series that unfortunately ended on a sour note when the last few seasons jumped the shark.

Robotech - It was the improbable union of three separate series into an epic generations-long narrative.  There are plenty of holes and continuity gaffs.  However, the first third of the series is classic and epic.  I watched this series every morning before school as a 6th grader, then again in the Netflix era, and I'm still a fan of it today.*

Rome - I have mixed feelings about the overall quality of the series, but it was an interesting attempt to turn actual history into living, breathing drama.  I hate to give away anything along the lines of a spoiler, but it's worth talking about the end.  Apparently the show was in trouble and knew it.  The latter portion of the series rushes through literally decades of history in only a handful of episodes, and it glosses over some important events, which is strange, especially since the players don't age commensurately with the histories they've passed through.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You? - This was the original series.  It's interesting to see just how much of the show was there right from the beginning.  The characters are fully realized (minus the romantic angle that was introduced in recent years between Shaggy and Velma), and they had a solid formula from the start, even if it gets a bit tired because they hit every note of it exactly the same way every time.  It's still a great show, and the artwork (backgrounds in particular) are actually quite beautiful in ways I don't see in most series currently airing.*

Seinfeld - Years ago I wrote that I believed this was probably the funniest show ever, and would almost certainly make a great primer on urban American culture for visiting extraterestrials.  I can't think of another series that is this quoteable or that has examined the nuance of relationships this effectively.  Most shows try too hard to be big and loud.  The funny here came from specificity, and it worked no matter what volume the characters said it.*

Sex and the City - My biggest criticism of this entire series is the rapidity with which characters burned through relationships.  The show was about starting a relationship, never about maintaining one.  They'd break up over just about anything, almost always something incredibly trivial (e.g., the boyfriend always showered immediately after sex, another time the guy was too short).  Also, not nearly enough sex, which felt like false advertising.  "Sex" gets the top billing, but all they kept showing was the city.  I would have enjoyed seeing a lot more sex than hearing the vacuous conversation about it by four shallow women over lunch the next day.

Six Feet Under - It had an appeal, but I couldn't figure it out at first.  After all, this series first aired when Sex and the City and The Sopranos were grabbing all the headlines: Sex and Violence.  This was about death.  And it was just a family.  So what was the appeal?  Largely it was the fact that there was an anchor for everyone in the audience.  Straight thirty-something brother.  Gay one too.  Teenage girl.  Middle-age mom.  There were a lot of demographics covered in the cast, and so there was always someone to identify with.  On top of that, it was grounded.  For all the drama that ensued, very little of it seemed especially contrived, and that appealed to a lot of us who find that there's too much manufactured drama around characters who in real life probably never would have given a shit.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The surprising thing about this series is how most problems in the future are solved by people sitting around a table and having a conference.  There are so few personal problems in the future, that there isn't much room for personal development because everyone is so goddamned content that even the civilians look like they're in uniform.  I admire many components of this vision of the future, but it doesn't make for interesting viewing, honestly.

Strangers with Candy - Amy Sedaris is probably the funniest woman in Hollywood (or, more often, New York), but this is the only big break she ever caught, even though she gets lots of work in supporting roles.  She's a genius performer, and this series showcases some of that talent (though nothing approaching the full range of it).  It's very entertaining, but for some reason the movie prequel that followed the show just didn't work, although I can't exactly say why.  Skip it and you'll enjoy the series much more.

The Prisoner - Most people don't understand this series.  I don't understand it either.  I mean, I get what's going on in any given episode (and some of them are actually pretty good), but the series never really seemed to have a believably-sustainable premise.

The Sarah Silverman Program - This was almost cartoonish, but it was brilliant at pulling non sequiturs in the middle of already preposterous and absurd situations.  It lacked any driving storylines, but it worked well for what it was.

The Sopranos - I was never a big fan of this show, but I admired it and found it compelling for its ability to operate in a realm closer to life.  No, I'm not talking about the thing where they made tough guys seem vulnerable or the writers tacking on everyday stuff into the scenes of high drama (Pulp Fiction did that first and better).  I'm refering to fact few story arcs ever seemed to resolve themselves.  There were few scenes where a seemingly-inevitable confrontation came to an inevitable conclusion.  Life's like that.  Tv almost never is.

Sports Night - I didn't discover this show until it was over and in syndicated re-runs on Comedy Central.  I don't even like sports, but it was a brilliant series at playing out behind-the-scenes drama (in a funny way; it was a comedy, after all) at a stand-in for ESPN.  Excellent cast.

Tales from the Darkside - A very hit-or-miss anthology series.  The hits weren't that great, and I'm afraid that the misses outnumber those by a wide margin.  The show had a good pedigree of George Romero producing and some talented directors, but the tone was horribly inconsistent (i.e., slapstick one episode, then bleak the next) and the actors were often complete unknowns with only stage credits before or since!  Yes, there are a few gems and great theme music, but unless nostalgia draws you in (like it did me; I grew up watching the show syndicated on a UHF station), you may as well skip it.

This American Life - A beautiful, contemplative show that took what the radio show was good at and made even better for tv.  You can't be as quiet on radio as you can be in a visual medium, and so they went in new directions appropriate for this territory while still being as amazing and innovative as they have been for years on NPR.  Highly recommended.*

Torchwood - The first couple seasons of the series really didn't seem to have any logical direction, but I was kind of okay with that.  I mean, if the writers had no idea what they were doing from week to week, the viewer can never know what to expect either.  I thought the "Children of Earth" story that followed ran too long, but it was redemed by the much richer "Mirale Day."

Transformers - I watched this cartoon for its first couple seasons when I was a kid, but somehow lost track of it after the theatrical (animated; not Bay-directed) movie.  I recently went back and picked up where I left off, catching the rest of the series at the point where it jumped ahead into the future.  I thought this played much better for a number of reasons, not least of which was that futuristic vehicles that change into robots yield robots that look more like robots than the first generation, which I always felt looked like scrapyard art (picture the Muffler Man outside almost any muffler shop).  Unfortunately, the stories were usually very weak, and even the animation was poor.  However, I enjoyed the futuristic setting and Easter eggs like a couple of implied crossovers with GI Joe characters.

True Blood - The premise offered tremendous potential, and the show was structured around seasons, treating each as a "novel" (which was in keeping with the idea of adapting the show from the series of novels).  However, it really just lost focus.  The quality was inconsistent from one season to the next, and there were many plot cul de sacs that left viewers collectively scratching their heads (assuming they cared).  Personally, I felt like the series escalated too quickly to sustain itself.  Even when the last season promised something apocalyptic, it felt anti-climactic.  This is in addition to the infamously poor conclusion that left absolutely every viewer unhappy with the majority of the outcomes.  There are wonderful character, storylines, moments of action and humor, and loads of great sex scenes (or at least gloriously unapologetic gratuitous nudity, but the show was such a let-down that I have trouble recommending it.

Twin Peaks - An absolutely must-see series.  Even with all its flaws (the 2nd season in particular), this series set the bar for what tv could be if networks stopped pandering to the masses and relying on common denominators.  I could say so much more about this, but everything would be a potential spoiler.  Instead, I'll just recommend it on almost every level: Original writing, the best, most original soundtrack of any tv series, and a phenomenal cast of actors playing the most interesting characters you will ever meet.*

Ugly Betty - It was based on a soap opera (well, telenovella), so it's hard to criticize it for being so much of a soap opera.  However, it was amazingly effective at working with characters that were at once both cartoonish and yet very human and multi-dimensional.  I grew tired of too much of the same thing at times, but I stuck with it because it actually was an entertaining show.

V (1983) - It was maybe too obviously a retelling of the Nazi rise to power, but having a good set of characters and interesting storylines made it a great series that died too soon.  It will be remembered as a classic and is a must-see for sci-fi fans.*

V (2010) - Should have died in the story meetings.  Whereas the original series worked with a cross-section of Americans (e.g., entire three-generation families, lone wolves, etc.), this attempt failed to do anything but bring a bunch of the same gritty, stoic characters together in a basement week after week to be angsty and accomplish nothing.  No good stories and no suspense (remember how the original series had so many great segments where people were sneaking around about to be caught... and possibly eaten?  None of that here).  And the inconsistencies in the alien technology alternated between barely-21st-century and being so advanced at surveilance and tracking that you wondered how there was a resistance beyond the first episode.

Veronica Mars - The only thing more amazing than Kristin Bell's abs is how impossibly smart many of these characters are when they're still in high school.  That's part of what makes this show work.  That and Kristin Bell's abs.

*Essential viewing.  Check out this show.





Copyright 2013, 2014 Ale[x]plorer
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