Monday, April 29, 2013

Television Worth The Binge

by Julia Buckley

Entertainment Weekly did a feature last week about the tv shows worthy of watching all at once--episode after episode--because they are addictive and provide a quality experience (and probably the same level of discussion that a good book would provide).

Since the world is now full of DVDs with complete series on them, and since many people can easily download these series on Netflix or Hulu, the idea of spending a weekend or more slamming one's way through an entire series has become a whole new form of entertainment.  (Although it's not necessarily  new: on one snowy New Year's Day back in the 80s, my husband and I stumbled across a DALLAS marathon on some tv station and ended up watching about ten episodes).

In any case, I decided to recommend my own top three, in case anyone out there might be looking for a new series to discover.  So here they are:


This, while it was on, was called "the best show nobody is watching" by one critic, and it remains the freshest, cleverest show I've ever seen on television. All three seasons are available on DVD, but thanks to the demand of fans, the show is coming back with a fourth season on May 4 on Netflix.  Before you watch Season Four, it would make sense to watch Seasons 1-3 to find out what the fuss is about.  The show has an unparalleled ensemble cast with greats such as Ron Howard (who narrates), Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, David Cross, Will Arnett, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, and Jeffrey Tambor.  Here's a quick taste of what makes this show about a dysfunctional family so funny:


If you have an aversion to swearing, sex and violence, then you might find this HBO show shocking, but it's those three things that make DEADWOOD seem so raw, authentic, and powerful. Set in 1870s Deadwood, South Dakota, it powerfully captures the paradoxical notions of lawlessness and community.  Here's Wikipedia's summation: " The series charts Deadwood's growth from camp to town, incorporating themes ranging from the formation of communities to western capitalism. The show features a large ensemble cast, and many historical figures appear as characters on the show—such as Seth BullockAl SwearengenWild Bill HickokSol StarCalamity JaneWyatt EarpGeorge CrookE. B. FarnumCharlie UtterJack McCall and George Hearst. The plot lines involving these characters include historical truths as well as substantial fictional elements. Milch used actual diaries and newspapers from 1870s Deadwood residents as reference points for characters, events, and the look and feel of the show. Some of the characters are fully fictional, although they may have been based on actual persons."

If I were able to give my own best actor awards, I would give ALL of them to the great Robin Weigert, who plays Calamity Jane as an "unkempt, foul-mooded, foul-mouthed drunkard" (to quote Wikipedia again) and steals absolutely every scene that she is in.  Here's a taste of DEADWOOD, to the tune of a Johnny Cash song:


Everyone who has watched it knows why I'm recommending this AMC series.  Initially I didn't want to watch it at all.  The premise--that a high school science teacher who found out he had lung cancer would start to make and sell meth in order to provide for his family when he dies--was not at all my cup of tea.  But more and more people assured me I should watch it, so I did.  And by the time I was three episodes into it, I couldn't stop--it was full-fledged tv show addiction.

Between the bleak New Mexico setting and the amazing character chemistry between Bryan Cranston's Walter White and Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman, this show is drama at its most powerful--and literary.  Again and again I saw Shakespearean parallels to this story of a good man gone bad--most notably to MACBETH, who starts the play as a good and honorable man, and ends as a fiend.

Here's a taste of the powerful performances in this show:

Okay, these are my top three recommendations. Which have you watched? Do any of these recommendations make you want to binge on one of these shows?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Julia, I got Netflix for Xmas, and that's exactly what I'm doing: watching series I missed or want to enjoy again all the way through. I find that the first three episodes are plenty to tell me if I want to keep watching. My greatest pleasures so far: Inspector Lewis, Prime Suspect (the original one, with Helen Mirren), West Wing. Currently watching: Brother Cadfael, Monk, Midsomer Murders. Also enjoying Inspector Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, and an occasional episode of Fawlty Towers as a palate-cleanser between binges. :)

Julia Buckley said...

LOVE Fawlty Towers, much more now than when it was originally on television.

Liz, check out an episode or two of Arrested Development. As a mental health professional, I think you would find this family particularly amusing (and certifiably troubled).

Sandra Parshall said...

Oh, I miss Deadwood! Hell on Wheels is a pretty good substitute, but not quite in the same bracket as Deadwood.

Julia Buckley said...

Yeah--what a brilliant piece of writing. I always feel weird recommending it to people because of the super-intense swearing, but it's like anything else: we got used to it and even began to appreciate the sort of musicality of the long, elaborate curses.