Sunday, October 15, 2006

What to Watch

Joe writes:

I'd like your help, Shawna. I'm tired of answering "NO" when people ask if I watch this show or that one, and my patented answer of "I don't really watch TV shows" is not helping me make friends or influence people.

If I had to watch two or maybe three shows on TV right now, which would you recommend?

They may not be enough to pry my attention away from movies, but at least I can reference your diligent blog each week and bamboozle people into thinking I know what I'm talking about.

Joe, I'm glad you came to me. If there is one thing I want to do, it is help people watch good quality television. Of course, I wish I could put you on a diet of about 12-15 shows, but I think for you, adding 3-4 shows to your diet should suffice. Your question leads me to believe that you have other motives than just watching good TV. No, you want to watch what other people are watching, to hold conversations. I suspect you've already been asked if you are watching 'Show X' or 'Show Y', so you will probably already see my answers coming. But stay tuned to the Bonus Round.

So, what should you be watching *right now*?

The 'right now' is important -- it eliminates 2 shows from contention right off the bat because they do not have new episodes airing *right now* (24 and Rescue Me). So, since we are going to work with what is airing right now, today, new episodes, we'll narrow the list. I also don't want to put you on a strict diet of one-hour dramas. That might be too much for your delicate system. I also feel it is important to give you options. If one type of show isn't your thing, there's a substitute available (consider it the vegan/vegetarian option!)

So, let's start with sitcoms. It's a shorter list.

Two shows. Two sitcoms which will sate your diet. One is animated, one is not. You get a choice on animated, but there are different reasons to choose either.

The Simpsons or South Park The Simpsons has been around for 85 years (ok, it only seems like that long), and it is still potent. You can watch any episode of the show, anytime, anywhere and laugh at least once, probably at least five times OUT LOUD. It is also a smart show (and we want to watch smart shows, don't we?) Perhaps you feel The Simpsons is just too 'been there, done that' though. And, admittedly, there are a lot of people out there who will say they watch The Simpsons, but probably haven't in about five years. Especially in Hollywood. So, what will they watch? South Park. Yes, it is long in the tooth too (Only 50 years!) but it is still edgy and hip, especially this year, after regaining notoriety for the 'Tom Cruise Comes Out of the Closet' episode. Certainly the South Park humor is a bit more crude that The Simpsons, so pick your poison.

As for live action, only one choice: The Office. If Extras were on, I'd be recommending that, but it isn't, so watch Steve Carrell and join the watercooler discussion about Jim and Pam. You'll be one of the cool kids.

Okay, so one hour filled. Let's fill the other 3 with dramas. The best dramas. Airing right now. One of these is required. The other two you can pick from a list of 5 shows.

Required: Battlestar Galactica Hands down, the best TV around. Gripping drama, great characters, relatable stories, and yet, it's on the SciFi channel. What, you missed the first 2 seasons? One word: Netflix. Get caught up. You'll be glad you did.

Okay, here are your electives. Choose two. I'll give you the pros/cons of each choice.
  • Veronica Mars - No, it is not a chick show. It is one of the best written shows on TV, great dialogue and fun characters. Downside, not a lot of other people are watching it. This though can make you hipper than your friends, however! While watching the first 2 seasons is recommended, it is not required.
  • House - Third season going strong. Again, I recommend watching the first 2 seasons, but it is not required. Some of the most clever plots on TV. And House is a larger than life character. Downside: Isn't back for 2 weeks due to baseball.
  • Grey's Anatomy - I personally HATE this show, but it is what all the cool kids watch. It's soapy, so it trends more female. So, if you watch, it could get you in with the babes, but guys might think you are strange.
  • Lost - Still the coolest show and always fun to form theories about what's actually going on. Downside: if you can't watch the summary episode of what happened the last two years (or the last 2 season box sets) you could be...well, lost.
Bonus Round!
Okay, so you've decided to round out your weeknight diet of TV, by taking extra credit. This is where you can be better than your peers, on the cutting edge of great TV. Are you ready? These shows are just starting to show greatness, and you can be in on the ground floor. You can be an early adopter! Three choices here:
  • Dexter - It's about a serial killer who stalks serial killers, and it is getting great buzz. Downside, it's on Showtime, so unless you subscribe to it, can be tough to catch. Upside: the pilot is online...or was as of this posting. (Go to Showtime's site)
  • Heroes - Not as grand and sweeping as Lost, but still has moments of greatness. It's also new this season, so you can catch up quickly.
  • Top Chef - What? A reality show?? Have I lost my mind? No! Engaging in its own right, once Project Runway bids farewell on Bravo, Top Chef takes over. It hasn't even started airing yet!! You can get in very early. Downside: if the cast sucks, it won't be as great as I predict. Upside: if the cast sucks, no one will be watching and you can stop watching it too.
So, there's the list. Anyone want to argue for substitutions?


shecanfilmit said...

I'm also not a big TV watcher. In the last few years, the only shows I've made a point to catch are Six Feet Under, Entourage, Arrested Development and Two & Half Men (guilty pleasure).

But I'm recently into Weeds. I watched the first season on DVD in two days and got a total kick out of it. Now I'm watching the new episodes as they appear. I have Showtime.

I'm not interested in Dexter - the idea of him being a serial killer just turns me off before I go any further into the story, but I love that actor...

Joe Valdez said...

I can't resist someone articulating their passion, and it's obvious you really know what you're talking about when it comes to the tube, Shawna.

I don't need to watch what other people are watching to fit in; I'm a stuck up Writer and proud of it, but have neglected TV for too long and want to try to get back into it.

Here's what I thought of your suggestions:

I've watched seasons 1-3 of "24" on DVD, and found it addictive, but comic book bordering on frequent bullshit. "Rescue Me" however looks very, very interesting. I'll give that one a try.

I've never watched an episode of "The Simpsons" or "South Park" in my life, that's how much I've avoided broadcast TV. But my avant garde brother loves both shows, so your recommendation carries heft here. He also enjoys "The Office", so I think I'll start there for my laugh fix.

I caught the pilot of "Battlestar Galactica" on DVD and yeah, I can see it's quality programming that might go somewhere, but it didn't blow my mind like "The Wire" or "The Sopranos" did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's the casting.

I'd rather start up heroin than get hooked on "Lost". It just seems like a giant jerkoff for some reason. But ...

"Veronica Mars", even if it were a "chick show", that makes no difference to me at all. If it's well written and makes me feel something, I'll watch it.

So, "Rescue Me", "The Office", and "Veronica Mars" are what you have turned me on to. I'll write you back with my reaction. Thanks again, and I'm certain after reading your blog that your career writing for television is destined.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that Simpsons can still be a good show, I think South Park is slipping, and I’ve been a HUGE South Park fan since episode one. It seems to me that the last two season, with a couple exceptions, where just Matt and Trey pushing the limits of what Comedy Central will let them put on the air, perhaps out of boredom. As far as animated shows go, I would say Family Guy is the show to be watching. It’s a kick for those of us who grew up in the seventies and eighties and it isn’t as preachy as South Park has become.

mernitman said...

So glad you mentioned EXTRAS, I show I loved and miss. Any idea if it's ever coming back?