Uncle Cliff's Top 17 TV Shows (That I've Seen On DVD)
Sure, a lot of the crap at Top Crap is all movies, movies, movies. Okay, so all of it. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
TV on DVD is a beautiful thing. Screw better quality, special features and all that junk; TV is what DVD was made for. The sheer bliss it brings is in not giving a crap about what’s on when, or having to remember to get your sister to tape something, it’s more about FUCK YOU TV STATION I DON’T CARE IF YOU KEEP CHANGING THE TIME OF (insert cult TV show title here) BECAUSE I’LL JUST WAIT TWO MONTHS AND GET IT ON DVD AND NOT HAVE TO WATCH THOSE UNCOMFORTABLE ADS ON WOMEN’S HYGINE PRODUCTS WITH MY NANA IN THE ROOM. Bliss.
I’ve been watching a heap of TV on DVD lately, mostly to avoid having to watch movies, since if I watch a film I have to write a review on it. Not legally or anything, it’s just a little OCD thing I’ve got. Also I’m getting old and find it hard to stay awake on a comfy couch for over an hour, although that could just be all the alcohol.
So here’s a list of 17 TV shows that I have enjoyed when I have wanted to enjoy them. Note, rather obviously, that this is only the stuff that’s been put on DVD (so no Parker Lewis Can’t Lose here) and only the stuff that I have watched on DVD (sure I love The Simpsons early stuff and Seinfeld and was slightly obsessed over Buffy for a few years there, but have yet to venture down that DVD path just yet).
Enough disclaimers, let’s get to the list.
Oh, why 17? Because I am that quirky.
17. The Ben Stiller Show
Some people seem to detest Ben Stiller and his brand of comedy, but I am not one of those people. While I realise his largely inoffensive material doesn’t exactly push any comedy boundaries, I still think the dude is funny. His over-the-top performances in Dodgeball and Zoolander and sheer laziness in Starsky & Hutch and Along Came Polly give me a whiff of why he gets on so many people’s nerves, but there’s no denying that he does shine when playing the unfortunate butt-of-all-jokes everyman in There’s Something About Mary and Meet the Parents/Fockers. I will also forever respect the man for giving us the chronically under-appreciated The Cable Guy.
Still, where Stiller really rocks is in his cameo performances, which are, no matter how small, sometimes the most memorable bits such films as Happy Gilmore and Orange County, and shows like Friends, Freaks & Geeks, Extras, Arrested Development (Tony Wonder is funnier in two seconds than his Dodgeball creation) and Undeclared. His Mission Improbable extra on the Mission Impossible 2 DVD is far superior to the actual film (“this mission just got a whole lot more Impossible”), and his many appearances at awards shows are usually highly amusing.
Since I enjoyed his cameo performances so much I always figured a sketch show would be a perfect medium for his comedy and, as luck would have it, I discovered he actually had his own sketch show back in the 90s.
The show is hosted by Stiller, usually interviewing some celebrity in what was most likely the TV stations plan on attracting a larger audience since Stiller himself was just an unknown at this time. These bits are, to be nice, bland and kind of embarrassing, but they are just the pickle in the cheeseburger (that metaphor only works if you are one of those weird anti-pickle people, and doesn’t work at all if you are one of the even weirder people who hate cheeseburgers altogether).
Stiller’s impressions are…impressive. His Bruce Willis, Anthony Robbins and Bruce Springsteen are all G-O-L-D. Sure, the pop-culture gags are as dated as glam-rock, but they will still be appreciated by anyone who grew up wishing they were Brandon or Brenda Walsh. The Beverly Hills 90210 take-offs are two of my all time favourite sketches, and I almost lose bodily functions watching his Booker P.I. spoof.
The supporting cast also provides more hits than misses. Jeanne Garofolo is as solid as ever and a perfect sparring partner for Stiller, and while Andy Dick is good, I honestly don’t see why he became such a cult figure in subsequent years. The other cast member I didn’t recognize at first, except for a vague feeling that I had seen him before somewhere I couldn’t quite place. Turns out that somewhere was a lot of places. Bob Odenkirk is one of those faces that crops up in small but funny roles all the time, and with good reason. A former Saturday Night Live writer (don’t hold that against him) turned comedian, Odenkirk is damn near hilarious in every sketch he is in. Two of the other writers on the show are David Cross, who went onto to Mr. Show with Bob, and also star in Arrested Development, and Judd Apatow, creator of Undeclared and The 40 Year Old Virgin and a writer on Freaks & Geeks – just to show the pedigree of the talent involved (if these show names are not familiar to you then keep on reading down the list – not to give anything away).
If you are not a Stiller fan already then watching this will definitely not make one out of you, but, if you like his stuff, especially in small doses, and are curious to see his beginnings, you are bound to enjoy a chuckle or two here. Especially if you still hold a torch for 90s pop-culture.
16. Lost (Season 1)
So the dude who created Alias has a new show and it’s the biggest fucking show in America…this week. If you missed the promotional saturation you wouldn’t have been able to escape the person at work telling you his theories on what was going to happen next, or hearing kids on the train talk about how they’d downloaded episodes that hadn’t aired yet - and Oh-my-God what happens next will Blow. Your. Mind!
Lost doesn’t quite live up to the hype (unless that hype tells you it’s one of the most frustrating shows of all time) but is fucking addictive – especially on DVD. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger so its easy to chew through several in a row until you realise you’ve been holding in a piss for five hours and break free of the trance it’s had you in because you were sure you’d get some answers to all the strange happenings on this kooky island if you just watch another 5 minutes…
Twenty-something episodes later you’re still waiting. I’d be very surprised if Lost makes a fourth season, unless they’re really prepared to shake up the concept. The flashbacks, while a great way to get to know the characters initially, are getting stale fast and starting to feel really fucking lazy. The cast is mostly great, the characters largely one-note but somewhat endearing, the production values amazing, and the scenery beautiful – but Lost is a super-high concept show that will wear out its welcome the longer it stays, and as the episodes roll on you just can’t shake the feeling that instead of seeing small pieces of a brilliantly thought out larger puzzle, you are actually watching some very talented guys make up this stuff as they go, and fool us all into coming along for the ride.
15. Mr. Show (all three seasons)
I love David Cross in Arrested Development, and Bob Odenkirk’s stuff in The Ben Stiller Show is the sole reason I took my chances with these DVDs in the first place, so while Mr. Show may not be consistently fantastic sketch comedy, I still find these two amusing enough to watch even when they fail.
There’s nothing safe about Mr. Show, which makes the misses all the more forgivable. This is a refreshing fuck-you to the blandness of Saturday Night Live type sketch comedy (interesting considering Odenkirk’s comedy roots) and while it never hits the highs of something like Monty Python’s Flying Circus – clearly an inspiration – there’s some real gold here to be found if you’re willing to dig a little.
Mr. Show boasts the unique formula of having every sketch bleed into the next – either a character will just leave a skit and walk into another, or the two will be thematically related, and usually by the shows end they have zigged and zagged all over town and somehow come back to the same joke they started on. A highlight is the recurring character of Ronnie Dobbs, better known as the most arrested man in America, a wife-beating alcoholic trailer trash who fills up most of the episodes of a Cops-like show on his own. Very funny in small bites, but not really solid enough to turn into a feature film – which, oddly, they did.
While it is always ambitious, and sometimes astoundingly clever comedy, Mr. Show is really only piss-yourself funny on an occasional basis so don’t go into it expecting your sides to ache afterwards. It is well worth your time however if you are a fan of either of these two guys, or are just sick of safe conservative crap like that stupid fucking Raymond show. I know I hear laugh tracks when I watch that show but I don’t hear no jokes…
14. Alias (Season 1)
My sister had been a big-ass Alias fan since the start and would insist I watch a few episodes with her every now and again. These viewings would usually last about three minutes, as I would have so little idea about what was going on that I would just start asking my sister the most obnoxiously stupid questions about the show just to amuse myself. “Who is that? What is he doing? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? What do you mean both? What is that thing they’re stealing? What does it do? How could that destroy the world? What’s with her red-wig? Does her friends know she’s a spy? Does her boss know she’s a double agent? How many fucking different spy agencies does she actually work for?”
It is not a show that is kind to the sporadic viewer. Going back to the start was going to be the only way I would ever get into this show, so thanks to the wonder of TV on DVD that’s exactly what I did.
While some may argue that nothing ever happens in Lost, Alias on the other hand is a very busy show indeed. Sidney Bristow attends university studying to be a teacher, and works long hours at her job as a banker, BUT the banker job is just an elaborate cover for the fact that she’s actually a spy. Make that a double-agent spy. You see the company she was working for told her that they were the C.I.A., BUT they are really bad guys, so she joins the real C.I.A. to bring them down, and so every mission she gets sent on she has a mission AND an equally dangerous counter-mission to pull off. Oh, and she discovers that her father is also a double agent who just may be a triple agent working for the K.G.B.
That’s not even mentioning her complicated personal life, which includes a dead fiancé and a journalist friend whose constant snooping into the shadowy world of espionage endangers all of their lives. For the first season each and every mission Sidney is sent on has to do with the hunt for a series of important artifacts – inventions and writings by a Da Vinci type character - and while I appreciate the overall season story arc over a mission-of-the-week type set-up, it still just serves as a reason to send the agents off on another exhilarating mission to another exotic (but sometimes badly faked) locale, and it becomes a letdown towards the end of the season where, like Lost, the show starts hinting at supernatural tones it should stick well clear of. There’s enough going on without talk of a Prophecy and an elixir of eternal life and so forth.
Alias can also be deeply silly – the bumbling gadgets geek that is supposed to be the comic relief provides none, the romantic tension between characters is hardly handled with a subtle touch, and if you think about things for more than a second you realise how implausible they seem. (Only a real shithouse spy agency would not be aware their best field agent goes two blocks down the road and spills all to the C.I.A on a daily basis.)
There’s a lot of talk about how Lost is falling in a heap in only its second season, and people point to the collapse of Alias as an example of where it is heading. My sister, a massive fan for the first two seasons, has long since given up on the show, but after watching the first season I can see why she was initially so compelled to catch it each week. Contrived and complicated it may be, but boring Alias definitely is not. Some of the action sequences are astounding for the small screen and give me hope for Mission Impossible 3, since Alias and Lost creator J.J. Abrams is in the director’s chair.
Bring on Season 2.
13. The Chapelle Show (Seasons 1 and 2)
This had ridiculous buzz from everyone that had seen it – the kind of buzz that had various geeks quoting it obsessively and frothing over it on the Internet (both positively and negatively) so I took a blind punt on it and snapped it up from our occasionally incompetent friends at Amazon.
Like all sketch comedy, it’s hit and miss. What makes this interesting is that Chapelle has the most in-your-face material on race since Eddie Murphy’s stand-up days. In fact there’s rarely a sketch that isn’t about race. Naturally this will put some people off, and have others screaming accusations of reverse-racism (whatever the fuck that is) and others still thinking it’s the funniest fucking thing they’ve seen in a long time.
His stand-up bits to the audience might be bland, and the rap performance interludes annoying (it really does just start feeling like a showcase for all things black when these start happening), but when it’s good the sketches are instant classics. Take the blind black guy who happens to be the leader of a KKK branch. Or a black & white sitcom about a white family called The Niggers. I don’t think its surprising that so many young white dudes love Chapelle since there is a cathartic sensation in laughing at these kinds of jokes safely tucked away at home while out in public even the most innocent conversation about race can cause furrowed eyebrows and fierce glares these days. Also it’s a well known fact that all white kids want to be black.
You get the feeling that Chapelle was just hitting his stride in the second season. The Charlie Murphy (brother of Eddie) True Hollywood Stories are particularly fucking hilarious. A third season would have no doubt been madly celebrated - had he not gone insane and turned his back on the whole thing.
12. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Seasons 1 – 3)
I didn’t know what Larry David looked like until this DVD arrived in my mailbox and I was laughing after just a glimpse of the cover. So here’s the real George Costanza, I thought. (For those of you unawares, David was the co-creator of Seinfeld and responsible for writing nearly all of the best eps.)
Curb Your Enthusiasm is Seinfeld in the real world, without the polish, laugh tracks and dodgy New York sets. It’s even easier to relate to Larry’s fuck-ups than it was with the neurotic foursome Jerry, George, Elaine and Cosmo, because they usually just come down to people pissing him off, and him pissing people off in return, whereas Seinfeld, for all its “show about nothing” claims to realism, always had just a touch of the surreal about its many famous storylines.
Half the beauty of Curb is the line that is walked between fact and fiction. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander all cameo playing themselves looking for work post-Seinfeld and Larry David plays a version of himself that still manages to make his life a misery despite the squillions he has made. The other great thing is taking the Seinfeldian approach to everyday topics – and going blue with them. It almost feels like Curb was a reaction to a lot of the material David might have wanted to do with his other show but never would have gotten away with it in a PG timeslot. I imagine he was ecstatic that day they dropped the C-bomb, among the shows many other hilariously risqué milestones.
Once you get into the rhythm of Curb it becomes pretty easy to figure out how all the different story strands will come together to eventually bite Larry on the ass (especially if you had the skill honed after years of Seinfeld), but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch it happen…again and again.
I had never even heard of this show, but the 10 people who had seen it when it aired in America a few years ago were making enough noise on the Internet about its DVD release that I got sucked into in a put an order in. It certainly didn’t hurt that it was conceived, written and produced by Judd Apatow of Freaks & Geeks fame, who had brought along a lot of his Freaks alumni (cast and crew) for what was basically a show with the same sense of humour, just without the weighty drama, set in the present instead of the late 70s, at university instead of high-school, and stuffed into a half-hour format. Okay, that description doesn’t really make them seem alike, at all, but trust me, you can definitely tell the two shows are related, and if you like one you’ll surely like the other.
At first the main character Steven is kind of off-putting, like a teenage Woody Allen impersonation gone wrong, but the goofy kid grows on you, and is really just the straight man for the other guys to score some great jokes off. The best of which is Seth Rogan, one highlight in many from Freaks & Geeks, who has recently gone on to apply his dry humour to massive hit The 40-Year Old Virgin (written and directed by Apatow). He gets a lot of the best lines, which really isn’t surprising considering he also writes a great chunk of the episodes.
What really makes this series great for me is the friendship between the four main characters. Introduced to each other in the first episode through random roommate selection they all have great rapport together, and joke to and about each other in a way reminiscent of my own group of friends, the fuckheads that they are.
The show is also about second chances, and Steven is essentially Sam and co. from Freaks growd up and trying to reinvent himself on a new stage, which of course just means there are plenty of new opportunities for embarrassing situations to arise. The best episode is one written by Rogen, where the characters realise they have become too chummy with the girls across the hall and are in danger of moving into brother-sister territory, thereby eliminating any potential sexual escapades. Their plan: set up a hilariously staged game of Truth Or Dare with the hopeful outcome of scoring some drunk ‘dared’ kisses.
While not as astoundingly clever or funny as its older, bigger brother, Undeclared is still a very funny and likeable show that is a perfect watch with a beer and a few mates, the fuckheads.
10. Sopranos (Seasons 1 – 5)
Some would claim this deserves a higher place, but as brilliant as much of The Sopranos is, it is not a series I imagine I will keep coming back to again and again like most of the comedy ones listed here above and below.
My fondest memories of the show is falling quite ill one winter and churning through the first three seasons within a two-day period. Being introduced to this world of sex, greed and shocking violence while zonked out on medication and suffering a near-delusional state courtesy of a bastard of a fever left me with some very vivid dreams and nightmares during this period, but I still couldn’t get enough of these characters, or their fantastic stories. The acting is beyond reproach and the writing, direction, and outstanding production values make each episode look better than most movies – certainly the best looking television there has been.
While my love for the show has dwindled a fraction over Seasons 4 and 5, thanks to some repetitious stories and themes, it is still fucking great TV, and my eagerness to see the closing chapters in this saga is matched only by my anxiety at hoping they get it right.
9. The Late Show
Show this to someone today who hadn’t seen it before, and doesn’t know any of the show’s stars from the numerous projects they’ve gone on to do, and they would probably wonder what all the fuss was about. Regardless of their ignorance, this is, and shall always be, the most influential Australian comedy show I have ever seen.
It’s dated horribly – but time has kind of added another level of humor to proceedings – and not just the clothes. I have to admit that watching this now you find yourself laughing at how funny you remember things being rather than how funny they are today on their own merits.
Sure, with the exception of Mick Molloy, they have seemed to have all mellowed up somewhat in their more senior years on The Panel, (or in the case of Jason Stephens disappeared altogether) but back in the early 90s this was THE show to watch, the show everyone would be quoting from come Monday morning at school. I recall traveling on a 24-hour trip from Melbourne to Brisbane, and forcing my family into a hotel just in time to catch the start of the show.
Never brilliantly satirical, The Late Show was always goofy fun from warm personalities. They say that some people that watched Friends became depressed upon realizing their own group of friends were boring as bat-shit compared to the wacky hi-jinks of these attractive and neurotic New Yorkers. Well, some of the appeal of The Late Show was imagining that these guys were just as funny down at the pub as they were on the soundstage. Only I didn’t know what a pub actually was when I was a kid.
The show’s only real controversy was the inclusion of Judith Lucy in the second season. I’m sure she had her fans, but consensus was she was shit. I have seen her do some slightly better material since her Late Show days, and the other D-Gen members vigorously defend her, but the one thing the frivolous show did not need was some pseudo-feminist rants substituting for stand-up. They may not have been as serious as some people took them, but either way they just weren’t funny.
The feel of a group of friends mucking around and making each other laugh as much as the audience (See any Graham and the Colonel sketches for further reference) is a recipe for hilarity; the sense of fun was palpable. I’m sure we are about to see a generation of Australian comics emerge owing a fierce debt to the D-Gen, and I’m surprised folk like Rove didn’t learn a single thing from watching these guys.
8. Scrubs (Seasons 1 – 3)
If Parker Lewis grew up and attended medical school this is what it would be like. With its rapid-fire jokes and left-field day-dream sequences I was always going to love Scrubs. Some may find Zack Braff a little on the annoying side (especially in the wake of his uber-pretentious directorial debut Garden State) but he is a fantastic comic find, with great timing and slapstick ability. Sarah Chalke as his on-again-off-again love interest gets stuck with the weakest of the characters but she is still a funny girl, and has a freshness and vitality, and…okay, enough skirting around it, she’s hot. Damn hot. Donald Faison (most well-known to audiences as “the black guy from Clueless”) is consistently funny in everything I’ve seen him in (even the God-awful Clueless sitcom spin-off.) and is no exception here as J.D.’s (Braff) best friend Turk.
After three seasons Scrubs is starting to show slight signs of weariness, and you can’t help but feel a lot of the main stories and themes are just rehashed from earlier episodes. The character of Dr. Cox has suffered most from the shows longevity; he was always going to be a hard character to maintain, and his trademark rants start losing their sheen in the third season.
Luckily there is one constant in the world of Scrubs. Something hilarious you can always rely on no matter how Dougie Howser the moralistic endings might seem. In fact, the real strength of this show can be neatly summed up in just two words:
7. The Micallef Program (Seasons 2 and 3)
If The Late Show is the most influential Australian comedy show then this is undoubtedly the most inspiring.
Micallef has not come anywhere close to matching the sheer genius of these three seasons (the first has very oddly yet to be released on any format – one last obtuse joke, perhaps?) either with his earlier Full Frontal offerings, with his work in other TV and films afterwards. His Channel 9 talk-show was painful to watch, like seeing a tiger trapped in a tiny cage at the zoo. Here was a man who had just a year earlier dissected such shows week after week with spoofs on their attachment to lame game-show type segments and stale ‘celebrity’ interviews, forced into a position where he had to do exactly that. Of course, he tried his best to subvert these trappings, but it still felt like out of the shows entire production cast and crew he was the only one in on the joke. It’s got to be hard to pull the piss out of blatantly sleazy network cross-promoting when interview other Channel 9 stars, while you actually have to ask them lame questions about their new role in some shitty Australian drama. So sad to see.
This just made me even fonder of his ABC years. To go into why The Micallef Program (or Pogram, or Programme) was so brilliant is to potentially ruin some truly inspiring sketch material for the uninitiated, and those in the know do not need such an explanation. If I had to show someone from overseas an example of excellent Aussie comedy I would show them one of these DVDs. This, or Hey Dad.
6. Futurama (Seaons 1 – 4)
I’m going to put this out there: Futurama is better than The Simpsons.
Okay, stopped spitting blood yet? Can I continue?
So why do I feel this way? Well for starters, the humour in Futurama is much more magnificently absurd than The Simpsons. While Homer’s stupidity rapidly reached predictability, you never can really tell where the jokes will fly from in Futurama. This is also due to the fact that while the yellow family is weighed down by a few notoriously humourless members (*cough*, Marge,*cough*) Futurama is chock-a-block with stronger comedic characters, from the crab-like Zoidberg to the sublimely arrogant robot Bender. I guess setting a cartoon in the future also gives you a limitless arsenal for jokes and stories.
Not to continually rag on The Simpsons here, but Futurama also seems to have more heart than its counterpart, with quite a few episodes turning on a dime from hilarious to touching, most notably episodes concerning Fry’s unrequited love for Leela, or the flashback-heavy episodes where we find out about Fry’s lost relationships with his brother and beloved dog back in the 1990s.
I know we all grew up with Homer and Bart and…well the others don’t really matter, but while The Simpsons is in untouchable form between seasons 2 and 5 it went so sharply downhill in the subsequent 158 seasons that on average Futurama is easily the better of the two. It was perhaps a blessing that Matt Groening’s “other cartoon” got snuffed out before it could jump the shark - although there’s rumours it may come back to life like Family Guy (unfortunately) did, thanks to excellent DVD sales and increasingly popular re-runs. We can only hope it comes back as strong as it was when it left.
5. South Park (Seasons 4 – 6)
I was waning on South Park after the first season. Maybe I was sick of every second person walking around in their ‘I Killed Kenny’ t-shirts and of the dozens of bad Cartman impressions I would hear throughout the day at university. Or maybe it was because I assumed South Park was a one-trick pony show that made people giggle at the idea of young kids swearing compulsively (they said shit again!!!) and not much else. The crudeness of it all, from the cardboard cutout animation to the cussing, just reeked of a show playing up for the adolescent market dollars. They seemed to be increasingly relying on some soft pop-culture targets and not pushing the boundaries of satire anywhere near enough for me.
What a difference a few seasons make. I jumped back on the bandwagon with the fourth season on DVD and it is everything I ever wanted form the show, and more. Every now and again there is an episode that screams ‘filler’, where it feels like they just had nothing much to say that week, but these episodes are vastly outnumbered by the piss-yourself funny and relevant episodes that pick a target and fucking assassinate it with brilliant joke after joke. These episodes are the ones you remember. The ones where they tackle subjects head on with a mix of biting critique and trademark irrelevant poo-jokes, like the one about racism (the town of South Park is outwardly discriminating against the town’s newest minority group – a bunch of rich celebrities - that just happen to all be black), child-abuse in the Catholic Church (Father Maxi travels to the Vatican to try and change the scripture that decrees priests can molest young boys – while in an irrelevant subplot Cartman learns that if you shove food up your ass you can do indeed shit out of your mouth.), or the equally important issue of film directors fucking up their greatest works by forever tinkering with them (now who could that be?).
It helps that I find myself agreeing with nearly every point the show tries to make – all religions have bullshit elements, the current batch of politicians are all as bad and uninspiring as each other, John Edwards is the biggest douche in the Universe – y’know, all the important topics. That they make an entire episode in a matter of days to keep the show as up-to-date with current affairs as they can is fucking amazing.
Of course the show can also afford to get a bit lazy and fall back on some of their patented bad taste comedy, but either way great satirical comedy is all about pushing boundaries and shocking people out of their brainless Herald-Sun induced comas, and Trey and Matt are the best in the business at doing so, by far. As long as there are celebrities and personalities out there continuing to make dicks out of themselves, South Park will be there to call them out on their complete dickishness. And in a world where the bland Rove and ultra-conservative Raymond passes itself off as comedy, thank fuck for that.
4. Arrested Development (Seasons 1 and 2)
I caught about half an episode of this when I was in America and thought it was rubbish. Great, I thought, another fast-talking American show about an oh-so-wacky family that abuses the whole documentary aesthetic. On paper this doesn’t sound great, as what I have just written may indicate. I feel ashamed to admit it now, but I had pretty much judged it overrated shite on the basis of that half of an episode and wasn’t prepared to give it another go…until I saw Season 1 for $20 and figured what the hell, how bad can it be?
Arrested Development is one of the best television comedies of all time, as far as I am concerned. When I am old and decrepit I will speak about it in the same revered tones as people will Seinfeld.
Sure the characters are all oh-so-wacky, but each has their own comedic niche and brings something completely different to the ensemble. The fans of the show, which seem to be accumulating more and more every day, often seem to be polarized only by their love for different characters. Of course its not an exclusive character-love, but its great to find a show that inspires such diversity where one fan can worship Gob (as I do) while another watches the show mainly for the mother Lucille’s exploits, and another for man-child Buster, and so on. The only character that never seems to warrant a mention is Lindsey, Michael’s twin sister, and while she brings a needed dynamic to the show it would be difficult to convince me of her comic worth over any other character on the show. Sorry Portia. The cameos are also nearly all great, (Ben Stiller’s Tony Wonder is the first to come to mind), and Arrested Development contains some of the best recurring jokes I have seen in a sitcom (Gob’s chicken dance, for one example) – good payoffs for devoted fan.
Season 1 is simply untouchable in my book. I would be hard pressed to find a better season of any comedy, let alone a first season of a new show. I mean it even took Seinfeld a few years to find its rhythm. Season 2 doesn’t quite match up to the first, but a) it’s gotta be hard to compete with the afore mentioned untouchable first season, and b) some of the stories and directions they have taken often feel really labored and quite a bit more surreal than those in the first season (although often still damn funny). You would not have seen Gob’s African-American hand puppet Winston make an appearance in Season 1, for example.
It’s great that people are starting to discover it more and more through word-of-mouth, late night TV screenings, and of course the DVDs, which are getting passed from friend to friend quicker than a venereal disease. Boom-boom. It’s a shame that the third season will most likely be its last, as even though when it was cancelled by one network it was saved by another, series creator Michael Hurtz has apparently had enough and is moving on, sounding the death knell for Arrested Development. I always wondered if they could possibly sustain that level of excellent writing, so clever and fucking fast-paced, over more than a few years, and so it doesn’t surprise me that the makers of the show might be exhausted and ready to surrender early rather than die a slow painful death.
One season is all we got. While I’d kill to see more, I’m actually kind of thankful that Firefly shall remain a shooting star, something that will remain near perfect in its brevity. Yes, it’s a real pity that the show had many stories to tell and secrets to reveal that it will most likely never get to do, but it also didn’t live to get to the stage where it is left to limp along like Buffy did toward the end when it lost all of its wit and subtly and became little more than a teen girl’s soap opera.
For those not in the know, Firefly is set in a future where Earth could no longer sustain the human race, and forced us to seek out new homes among the stars. The thought that has gone into this future is astounding. It makes you realise how hapless so much of the idea behind Star Trek truly was. In starting life anew, uninhabitable planets have been terraformed, and an all-powerful government has been erected to unite these planets under one rule – a sort of combination of super-powers of the old Earth, and interestingly English and Chinese are the only two languages that have seemed to have survived the millennia. Captain Mal Reynolds, one of those who fought for independence against this forced unity, considers this Alliance his enemy, and operates his group of petty thieves as far outside their jurisdiction as he can. We follow the very Han-Solo-like Reynolds and his crew on their beloved ship Serenity as they scramble across the universe to survive, while having to avoid the many enemies their lifestyle has made them.
The western elements of the show might turn some off (and make others think of that cool cartoon Bravestarr) but it all fits considering these are people starting from scratch, like the settlers of yore, but in space instead of the wild wild west. Whoever wrote the rule that all depictions of the future had to be of a pristine bland colourless environment (where everyone dresses identically) has just had that rule smashed and stomped upon by Whedon and co’s dirty boots. As science fiction Serenity almost makes the sterile Star Trek crap totally redundant. Instead of aliens of the week (just a dude with an extra ear on his forehead or something similarly shit like on Trek) the enemies of Firefly and its crew are deformed crazy cannibalistic humans, a corrupt Orwellien government, greedy moguls, and other down-on-their-luck humans looking to get a step up, even if it means using others as stepladders. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention that there is NO SOUND IN SPACE!!! NO SOUND IN SPACE!!!! Not that it ever bugged me in other sci-fi, but it’s such a bold and cool idea. And of course it helps that the show is consistently funny, much more so than Whedon’s other offerings.
I would hate to come over like one of those cringe-inducing geeks that claim Joss Whedon to be God, but the man knows his shit. He knows how to create great characters, sure, but more importantly he knows how to great fantastic group dynamics between all his characters. As much as I was obsessed over Buffy and enjoyed Angel (at times) they feel like little more than a warm up to this. Many would know that Firefly, given a second chance after strong DVD sales, has since been spun-off into the feature film Serentiy. As entertaining as that film is (in parts) it unfortunately feels like ‘Firefly For Dummies’, a diluted version for the masses, and just makes me mourn the premature death of the series all the more.
2. Six Feet Under (Seasons 1 – 4)
Simply one of the best television shows of all time. I sometimes cry simply because I am in awe of the fucking brilliant writing – and, yes, also because I am so totally sucked into the world and love each and every character that inhabits it that sometimes I also cry when bad shit happens to them.
Nate is unsurpassed as a protagonist. There’s something so unsettling real about the way in which he reacts to the world and can strongly sell you on even the strangest story line. He is a character that cannot be summed up in a few inadequate adjectives and played so brilliantly by Peter Krause. Of course he is not alone. All the characters are rich and void of cliché and the performances so nuanced and fucking real.
I never thought I would be such an ardent fan of a show with a gay relationship so strongly a focus – not because of any latent homophobia (although I do feel being gay is just so….so….gay) – but because the depiction of gay relationships and gay men I had seen on television thus far have been stereotypical and off-putting depictions that are seemingly trying to be so very confronting. My limited viewing of shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word leave me with the feeling that they seem like they’re jumping up and down trying to get your attention with their unsubtle salaciousness - as if homosexuality boils completely down to the sex. Six Feet Under is not without its confronting scenes, but the homosexual sex scenes are no more shocking or brazen than the heterosexual. By not trying to make the gay relationship such a statement, by treating it like any other relationship on the show, they are making a bigger statement and doing more for the depiction of gays in the media than any other shallow, sensationalist show around.
Despite the specter of death hanging over every episode, Six Feet Under is one the most consistently funniest shows around. If you just come into one episode, it is likely you will be baffled by that comment, but when you know and love the characters the humour is obviously warm and rewarding. To watch Six Feet Under is to form a sort of relationship with the show, and like any relationship, it can be an emotionally exhausting experience. You might be enjoying a character’s rare moments of joy one minute, and yet the same episode can absolutely fuck you up by the final frame, leaving you a wreck. For a show that embraces the surreal, populated with dead characters and dream sequences, Six Feet Under is the most real and affecting television can be.
1. Freaks And Geeks
I don’t want to froth on and on about why this show takes the coveted Number 1 slot, but if you have read any of the above entries then you knew this was coming.
If it weren’t for DVD my memories of this show would still be limited to those two episodes I saw on late night television years and years ago. Episodes I would sporadically recall and discuss with others who had braved the timeslot to check it out. So it was a joy that I stumbled upon the DVDs on a trip to the U.S., and when I should have been out discovering the heart of America under the Californian sun, I was instead inside excitedly devouring the entire first and only season of this show. Granted, I was also afraid that if I stepped outside I would have been shot, so any excuse to hide indoors would have sufficed.
Criminally, Freaks & Geeks is not available in Australia, so illegally download it or copy it from a friend if you have to, but see this show. As liberal with humour as it is with its drama, it is the most unique teen-based show ever created, a real-life perspective of high school and adolescent life from the fringe, instead of from the pretty and vain 90210 soap opera crowd. Who the hell really could have identified with those cartoons? Oh, and if you stumble across the show on Pay-TV; run like hell. It has had some of its soul destroyed by the removal of some key songs and their dodgy-as-hell replacement score.
Freaks & Geeks is the television show I would like to think I would make, given a big budget, fantastic cast, and some actual talent. I still carry a great love for American high school shows, and I love period productions set in America 1950s – 1980s, so this show was always going to find in me a fan. The young cast may have mostly moved on to bigger things, like James Franco in the Spider-Man movies, but they will never be a part of something better than this.
Just Missed Out (or – 18, 19 & 20)
John Safran’s two excellent series Music Jamboree and John Safran VS God were two of the first that came to mind but soon got bumped back further and further as I remembered others. I enjoy watching his interesting yet frivolous take on the music industry slightly more than his acerbic and biting attack on religion, as funny as they both are.
Big props also goes out to Quantum Leap. It’s only not in the Top 18 because I’ve only gone as far as the first season on DVD, which frankly is far from the best the show has to offer. There is nothing like Quantum Leap on television anymore and I miss that.
Also while Tom Green’s Subway Monkey Hour is up there with the funniest thing I’ve ever seen (I laughed so hard lemonade came out of my nostrils – and I want even drinking any!) it’s hardly a whole television show, rather an special event, so it got shafted too.