In my last article, I revealed my most embarrassing television blind spots. Now it’s time for a little redemption because despite all evidence to the contrary, I do watch copious amounts of television. My tastes just tend to favor things that are offbeat, especially if those things happen to be one season wonders or cult classics. The five shows I chose to highlight this time around are shows that I believe should be on everyone’s pop culture bucket list. They are all sharply written and chock full of stunning visuals and nuanced performances. In my humble opinion, they represent the very best television has to offer. As an added bonus, they also all happen to be just the right size to make them optimum weekend marathoning material.
Police procedurals crowd the networks, each one barely distinguishable from the other, but every once in a while one will come along and do something interesting with the format. The original Life on Mars didn’t settle with just doing something interesting, it had to go and do something brilliant.
Sam Tyler, a British police officer from modern times is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. From that point on nothing about the series was straightforward and it was all the more fun for it. The audience was left as baffled as Sam, never quite knowing if he was dead, in a coma or just plain crazy. The series managed to pull off being both a time-twisting puzzler and a case of the week procedural with ease. This was thanks in large part to the amazing chemistry between John Simm and Philip Glenister whose characters’ uneasy partnership gave the series both heart and a healthy shot of humor.
If you need even more incentive to watch, it also has the best series finale ever committed to film, and yes, I will stand by that incredibly hyperbolic proclamation. It is just that good.
If I could make one show required viewing for humanity at large, it would be Deadwood.
The town Deadwood is a dusty western settlement in South Dakota full of corruption and brawls, a place that is still wild in many ways, despite hovering on the edge of more civilized times. Over the course of the series, creator David Milch meditated on the themes of community and American history, filling each episode with dialogue that was grandiose and profane, but always beautiful. The sprawling cast is full of familiar faces; many of them character actors who were finally given a chance to shine after years of “that guy” roles and it is a testament to the show’s quality that each one was indispensable to the story.
I promise after one visit to Deadwood you will never want to leave.
Everyone loves an underdog, and Terriers was an underdog in every sense of the word.
Not only was it about two scruffy PIs who couldn’t catch a break, it also suffered from ratings that bordered on negative numbers for the entirety of its one season run. That didn’t stop it from delivering one flawless episode after another though. The fact that only one season of this show exists is both a tragedy and a blessing, while I will always want more of Hank and Britt and their beat up old pickup truck in my life, the thirteen episodes as they stand are as close to perfect as any television series is likely to get.
If shows like Glee and Smash leave you jonesing for more backstage drama, but fewer musical numbers I would like to direct your attention to Slings & Arrows, a Canadian import starring Paul Gross and a pre-Hollywood Rachel McAdams.
Each of the three seasons follows the production of a different Shakespeare play at the fictional New Burbage Festival. Gross plays the show’s lead, Geoffrey Tennant, a man who left a promising career in the theater after suffering a nervous breakdown on stage and he is absolutely mesmerizing in the role. He’s not the only draw though, Slings & Arrows is overflowing with moments both comedic and poignant, and the rest of the cast is equally compelling. It’s a show in love with theatrics and trust me, that love is infectious.
The UK has cornered the market on smart, inventive genre television thanks to shows like Doctor Who, Being Human, The Fades and the aforementioned Life on Mars, but I think they outdid themselves with Misfits.
It is ostensibly a superhero drama, but it happens to be one about a bunch of superpowered kids who are very rarely heroic. Mostly they just try to get on with things, whether those things are their various romantic entanglements or doing the bare minimum of work required to satisfy their community service requirement. In between they encounter all manner of weirdness: an evil lactose-manipulating villain, zombie cheerleaders and power swapping drama. If I had to sum up Misfits in one word I would have to go with cool. It plays within the defined parameters of a superhero story and then defies expectations at every turn.
It’s an aggressively youthful show, full of belligerent and unabashedly sexual young adults who it is impossible not to root for no matter how many social workers they accidentally kill.
Now that I’ve shared my (much abbreviated) list of essential shows, I would love for you to share yours. What shows do you think should be required viewing? Let me know in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter @sljbowman