I got to be a nerd sometimes.
I write about movies a lot, but really, I really like TV.
As much as a movie can be long and exhaustive, it’s also often like an excerpt. You only get to see a character’s life in a snippet, imagining the rest.
Well, unless it’s Citizen Kane.
But for non-three-hour-movies, you only get so much.
Television then offers a haven. You get to live with these people for a while, in the case of a great show like The Simpsons, for nigh on 20 years now.
But I don’t need write about The Simpsons. Or Mad Men or Futurama or Arrested Development. If you haven’t seen those shows, you don’t like the genre, but at this point you’ve probably at least heard of them.
Instead, I’ll write about some great TV shows that are on the air right now (or coming back) that I think are both underwatched and particularly deserving of attention.
As always, feel free to comment.
BREAKING BAD- So as I said, many people have seen Mad Men already. That show’s great though Season 1 was certainly better than the last one. Breaking Bad is “that other show” on AMC, though great in its own light. The star is Bryan Cranston, last seen as the goofy father on Malcolm in the Middle and the subject is Meth. This is not some sex-comedy farce like Weeds, that makes drug-dealing funny; this is making stuff that kills people or fucks up their lives to support your family. Now that the economy has gone sour, this show has even more resonance. Cranston is a science teacher with a side job as an auto mechanic (something taken from Nick Ray’s Bigger Than Life) who finds out that he’s going to die in seven months or less. His teenage son has MS, his wife is devoted but jobless; he can’t support them on legal means, so he “breaks bad”, a term meaning to cut loose or to go wild. The show is as dark as its Arizona setting is blaring burnt-out sunny and this in its own way feels like a type of noir, an American Gothic where the only way to survive is to manufacture death. This show had just seven episodes for its trial season and Cranston’s performance earned him Emmy, much deservedly. He has been compared to De Niro in Taxi Driver and Humphrey Bogart. This is truly the finest television acting you’ll find. It comes back to AMC on March 8th.
BROTHERHOOD- The best way to describe this show is that is like Methadone for people coming off The Wire. That show was probably the greatest show on television ever. Brotherhood is not. However, if you were a fan of the white working class cast of Season 2 of The Wire, you’ll probably like Brotherhood. The show is on Showtime, which has generally not impressed me with the quality of its writing, but this show seems to be the exception. The concept is fairly simple: A dying Irish working-class neighborhood of Providence, RI houses two brothers, one a gangster, one a politician. Like The Wire, we follow the “good guy” and the “bad guy” and see that neither is clear cut in their role. The show has several weaknesses (some of the actors, some of the writing), but their covered up mostly by two of the leads, Jason Isaacs, the gangster Michael and his mother, Fionnula Flannigan. Both are high-caliber UK actors, trained in the theater, who bring a great quality of presence and professionalism to the show. Watching wither one of them absorbs you fully, so that when the next scene comes, you get a little shock of disengagement. I started it on a suggestion and have been hooked ever since.
BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD- Ah and my inner nerd shines. As a huge fan of the show Batman: The Animated Series growing up, I have had some happiness and some disappointment since. That show is unparalled in its haunting, noirish feel, but there was still a lot of things going on in Batman Beyond particularly and also the Justice League series. Both of those shows are worth watching to comic fans who never grew up. However, most recently, we’ve been treated to the hideous “The Batman” cartoon on WB, a self-ignorant parody of the greatness of the original. Leave it to Cartoon Network and the smart writers over there to bring Batman back to salvation in an unexpected way with Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This cartoon is emphatically not the original Batman. The screwball sidekick from The Drew Carey Show is Bruce Wayne’s voice for godsake. What it is is a playful, sometimes campy, but often clever series of non-sequitur team-ups between the Batman and some lesser mortals. That means while we might not get the great story arcs of some of the previous series, we get a sense of the fun and Bam-Pow sensationalism that Batman might have instilled in our parents. And even if it is a little kiddy, when our most famous current Batman sounds like a German Shepard fucking a Hippo, it’s nice to have a little bit of camp.
EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS- A show that’s been on for a while now that I’ve advocated but jumped on and off. It’s a situation comedy. Now to look at most situation comedies, let’s look at The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Funny, right? In that one, an upper-class Black family with their own butler has to deal with their flippant but lovable ghetto cousin coming to live with them. Lots of laugh and love. Those upper-class folks might just learn a little from Will and him from them. And everyone’s happy.
The situation of Everybody Hates Chris is that young Chris Rock is poor, his father works three jobs, his mother is a rage addict who can’t hold down one and he goes to a school full of racists who beat the shit out of him every day and write racial epithets on his locker.
Ha ha ha?
Everybody Hates Chris represents a new modality in the situation comedy, one that tries to address life more specifically. Since it more or less based on the comedian Chris Rock’s actual growing up, there is a lot of pathos along with the laughs. You can’t help but feel for these character because they are so real and such American underdogs. There’s also a lot of talent here, certainly more than you might see in Tyler Perry’s horrifically moralistic House of Payne. There aren’t really morals in the episode. There’s just life and having to deal with it. This is a show that should be seen regardless of race, class or ethnicity: anyone can understand.
Finally, two shows that are watched but notable.
30 Rock is the best show on television right now arguably and certainly the best comedy. It has the best writing, the best cast, the best guest stars. If you have the time, there is no reason not to watch it, it’s hilarious and even available for free on NBC.com.
King of the Hill recently recieved a deserved revival on Adult Swim after its cancellation on Fox. And Adult Swim is the perfect place for it. This show’s brand of understated comedy addresses American values and the last 8 years politically better than any show on television. Next to The Simpsons and Family Guy it might have been smothered, but allowed to shine in its own hour time slot, I feel it will do well.