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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five shows you should be watching - Hannah's Picks

In our latest blogger assignment, we've been tasked with listing five shows that can fill the void The Walking Dead has left in your life now that the current season has ended. I feel like this is a fairly basic task considering The Walking Dead was not my favorite show, but I digress...

This isn't a list of my top five favorite shows. The Wire is hands-down my favorite show, but that's already on someone's list. It's instead intended to be a nice mix of shows you  may have heard of but not yet sunk your teeth into and a few shows you  may not have heard of but should definitely give a chance.

Stealing a bit of wisdom from traditional wedding culture, I've tried to include something old, like Freaks and Geeks, something new, like Veep, something borrowed (from across the pond), like Peep Show, and something blue. That last joke won't make sense unless you've seen Arrested Development. Which brings me to my first pick...

1. Arrested Development

Where You Can See it Now:  Netflix streaming, DVD (Seasons 1-3)

What is it:  Arrested Development is the story of a dysfunctional family attempting to protect their legal assets and maintain their lavish lifestyles after the company's CEO, George Bluth, is arrested. While the premise may seem serious, the show is 100% comedy and showcases the broken relationships between family members as well as how disconnected these "1%ers" are from the rest of society.

Why watch it: Second only to HBO's "The Wire," I think this is one of the finest television shows ever made. The jokes are incredibly smart and layered, to the degree that you can watch and re-watch without tiring of the show; in the 2nd and 3rd viewings, I actually discovered some of my favorite lines and moments. Arrested Development only made it to season 3 on the air, but the show never got stale, old, or boring in its entire run. This is also a good place to see where Michael Cera got his start in Hollywood, and it also showcases other talents like David Cross, Portia De Rossi, and Will Arnett. And perhaps the best reason to pick up this show now: seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix, and Netflix will be airing a new, 4th season in late May. 

2. Freaks and Geeks

Where You Can See it Now: Netflix streaming, DVD (Season 1)

What it is: Freaks and Geeks is a comedy detailing the attempts of our protagonist, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), to move from the realm of "geekdom" to "freakdom" as she makes her way through high school. After her grandmother passes away, Lindsay has an existential crises and wants more from life than being a mathlete and achieving good grades. She starts to hang out with the slackers of her high school, the rebellious students who remain on the fringe of the social scene.

Why watch it: This show aired in 1999 and was produced by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow. Feig has since had his hands in many successful comedies and has been involved in shows like The Office and Arrested Development. You'll probably recognize Apatow from his later hits like Anchorman, The 40-year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Knocked Up, etc. If you like those types of comedies, you'll love this show. This is basically where Apatow harvested most of the talents he uses in his movies, including Seth Rogan, James Franco, and Jason Segel. A common complaint about Apatow comedies is that his treats female characters poorly, making them shrill and flat. The highlight of this show is the way the writing from Feig and the acting by Linda Cardellini create such a strong and relatable female lead. The show is consistently witty, an excellent portrayal of the late 70s/early 80s, and has surprising depth for the subject matter. The only downside is that this show lasted a single season before being cancelled. There are 18 hour-long episodes available on Netflix, and unlike Arrested Development, it doesn't look like this show will ever be resurrected.

3. Battlestar Galactica

Where You Can See it Now: Netflix streaming, DVD (Seasons 1-4)

What it is: Battlestar Galactica is essentially a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series on the surface, but at times it plays out more like a political drama. The show is set in a futuristic-looking society where humans have created robots, known as Cylons, who have eventually taken over and declared war on society. A small group of human survivors are fleeing the Cylons in an attempt to start a new civilization and keep humanity alive.

Why watch it: First of all, this show is incredibly addicting. Once you start, you'll have trouble stopping. If you don't believe me, just consult this sketch from Portlandia, which pretty much sums it up:


Secondly, this show is awesome because it does an excellent job of showing what life would be like in such a desperate situation (or one can only imagine it does, anyway). They don't make anything prettier than it ought to be for the sake of resolution or audience satisfaction. The show is very dark, and often very serious, but it also feels very genuine for such a far-fetched premise. Questions of morality, power and government come up regularly - this show repeatedly asks us: When humanity is reduced to rubble, how much room is there for a democratic process?

4. Peep Show

Where you can see it now: Hulu Plus, Youtube

What it is: First and foremost, Peep Show is a show with a unique point of view. Cameras shoot the show from the point of view of the actors involved in the scenes, so at each moment it feels like you are looking through the eyes of one of the characters. The show also uses internal dialogue to put you in a character's head while you look through his or her eyes. At a basic level, Peep Show is a dry, British comedy portraying the lives of two bachelors living together.

Why watch it:  Peep Show is very Odd Couple-esque in that the huge differences between the characters is often the central cause of conflict and comedy, but it also highlights the neuroses and oddities we all tend to think on a regular basis without saying aloud. I have literally laughed in hysterics and rewound scenes repeatedly because they were so absurd, unexpected and smart. I will warn that:

a) This show can be hard to find at the moment. It was available via Netflix streaming but was removed a few months ago. I'm hoping it'll be re-added soon, but in the meantime there are several episodes on  Youtube and Hulu Plus. DVDs aren't very accessible in the US since this is largely only popular in the UK.

b) The first season, while short, struggles to find it's footing a little bit. I'd recommend picking up at the beginning of season 2 to see if you enjoy this, because this is where the show really starts to feel like what you'll come to expect of it. Because there isn't much of an ongoing narrative, particularly in Season 1, you won't miss out much if you skip ahead.

5. Veep

Where you can see it now: This show is currently on HBO, and previous episodes are available on HBO Go and On Demand. Season 2 starts up on April 14.

What it is: Veep is an HBO comedy staring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States in a present-day setting. The show establishes early on that Louis-Dreyfus's character, Selena, initially ran a bid for the presidential nomination but lost it due to trouble with the media. Selena struggles to find power and importance and, for such an important figure, is constantly belittled and scrounging. She also surrounds herself with very stereotypical political types who are looking to get ahead however they can. 

Why watch it: Girls received a lot of accolades, and I think Veep was a little bit lost in the noise when it premiered last year, but it's arguably just as funny and has a stellar cast. Louis-Dreyfus has had some misfires after Seinfeld, but she's perfectly-cast here, as are her cohorts, including Anna Chlumsky (from My Girl) and Tony Hale (from Arrested Development). This show is still very young and about to premier it's second season, and for a show so new it's done a great job of finding it's footing early and holding it well.

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