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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five shows you should be watching - Shane's Picks

In this installment of "Five shows you should be watching," Shane will be sharing his picks for five shows that could possibly fill the void while The Walking Dead is on hiatus until October.  These shows are recommended for any number of reasons, but you should be watching all of them.  While all of the shows on Shane's picks may not go with The Walking Dead thematically, Shane has provided reasons why they are still worth the watch.  As with the other two articles in this series, the shows listed here can be found currently on the air, on DVD, and/or on Netflix.  Enjoy!

1. The Following

Original Channel: Fox
Where You Can See it Now: Mondays at 9/8c on Fox

What is it: From Scream co-creator Kevin Williamson, The Following tells the story of former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) as he tracks down recently escaped serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Carroll is a literature professor turned serial killer whose killings are often inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. While Carroll was originally apprehended by Hardy, Hardy left the FBI to become a recluse. After Carroll escapes, Hardy is asked to help the FBI track him down. The task proves harder than initially expected as, slowly, Carroll begins to reveal a master plan for Hardy that involves using a cult following of serial killers. With each turn in the case, Hardy and the FBI begin to realize that Carroll's network of followers may be much larger than originally anticipated.

Why Watch it: Though The Following is still in the midst of its first season, it has already proven itself as one of the more exciting dramas on television today. While Kevin Williamson's slasher roots are sometimes evident, the thrills from The Following rarely feel like over-used horror movie cliches. The writing for this show is continuously excellent each week, with each episode expanding upon the plot without repeating the same scenario twice (yet). Kevin Bacon is excellent as Ryan Hardy, a man who has to face his own personal demons as well as the literal ones in the form of Joe Carroll. James Purefoy's Carroll is a perfect foil to Bacon's Hardy. Joe Carroll may seem a bit reminiscent of other serial killer characters in film and television, but the inner workings of the character are only just now beginning to be revealed on the show. One thing this series does so well in terms of writing is in the way the members of Carroll's cult are developed. These characters are just as fleshed out as those of our protagonists, often becoming sympathetic at times. Each week brings any number of twists and turns to the story. Some are expected, but not necessarily in their execution. As the show has already been renewed for a second season, there is no telling how deep this rabbit hole really goes. If you enjoy the thrills and tension of The Walking Dead, check out The Following for better story beats, acting, and horror.

2. Six Feet Under

Original Channel: HBO
Where You Can See it Now: DVD, Netflix

What is it: One of the most well-received television dramas of the past 10 years, Six Feet Under tells the story of the Fisher's and their family-run funeral home. After the death of their father, brothers David (Michael C. Hall) and Nate (Peter Krause) have to work through their differences in order to run the family business. Taking on various philosophical views of life and death as well as the turbulent political and social changes happening between 2001 and 2005, Six Feet Under brings new perspective on life (and death). Dramatic, touching, and, at times, quirky, the show is a must see.

Why Watch it: If one could only watch one television series in their entire life, Six Feet Under would perhaps be the best choice one could make. Death is not an comfortable topic for many, but it is sometimes not always as dreadful as our culture can make it out to be. Over the course of its five seasons, Six Feet Under took many different approaches to death, depending on the episode. Each episode would begin with the death of a (usually) small character, whose funeral would take up at least a sub-plot of each episode. Sometimes these deaths would do nothing more than serve as placeholders for the week, while most were ways for the main characters of the show to work through whatever problems they were facing at that point in the story. Much like death in real life, death on the show caused the characters to consider their own mortality. But even more than death, life is perhaps the most important theme of the entire series. In the first season, Nate is asked by a grieving woman why people die. Nate's response is a perfect encapsulation of the theme of the entire show: "[People die] To make life worth living." Perfectly written, directed, and acted, Six Feet Under is possibly the best television show in history and you should take the time to enjoy it. Plus, the show has a finale so good that, if you are not crying by the end, you are probably a robot.

3. The Newsroom

Original Channel: HBO
Where You Can See it Now: Season 1 available on DVD/Blu-Ray in June, Season 2 begins June - airs on Sundays

What is it: Following the exploits of a cable news network, The Newsroom focuses on news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). After returning to work due to a forced leave of absence, Will decides to completely reinvent his nightly news show. In this new paradigm shift, Will hopes to take on the issues other news networks are afraid to speak on, while also avoiding the more flashy stories that news networks waste time on, much to the chagrin of his supervisors. Will's purpose in this is to make sure that, if someone decides to sit down and watch his program, they will come away more informed about what is really going on in this world, making for a more informed electorate. Though Will's actions sometimes land him in deep trouble, his unwillingness to let the quality of his reporting be tarnished is admirable. From The Social Network's Aaron Sorkin, this show may be brand new, but is quickly becoming the newest must-see television event.

Why Watch it: Perhaps the best reason to watch The Newsroom is the impeccable writing displayed by Mr. Sorkin each episode. The monologues alone which Sorkin writes for these characters are amazing, but are made all the more impressive when delivered by the more than capable cast. Making the choice to focus each week around a true news event helps to make the show much more poignant than if the stories were just as fictional as the characters. In particular, the episodes dealing with the shooting of Representative Gabriel Giffords and the killing of Osama bin Laden are particularly great. While it is true that this series has been the target of its fair share of critics, the accusations of sexism on the show are debatable. Where some critics see sexism, it could also be argued that Sorkin is simply attempting to humanize people we may not normally relate to. It will be interesting to see if the show makes any changes due to the complaints lodged against it as it moves into its second season this summer. Before the new episodes begin in June, however, do yourself a favor and watch The Newsroom for some of the greatest writing on any show currently on television.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Original Channel: The WB
Where You Can See it Now: DVD, Netflix

What is it: A continuation of sorts from the film of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or just Buffy) is a show which challenged typical television gender roles, while also delivering some great moments. The show tells the story of Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a teenager gifted with the abilities of "The Slayer," a human being given incredible strength in order to fight off the forces of evil. When Buffy and her mother move to Sunnydale, California things only grow more complicated for Buffy as the entire town is sitting on a Hellmouth: a place of intense supernatural energy which attracts the dark forces Buffy is meant to keep at bay. Lasting for seven seasons, the show helped to make Sarah Michelle Gellar a star, while also truly beginning the career of a then unknown Joss Whedon.

Why Watch it: When a show runs for seven seasons, there are bound to be quite a few bad episodes in the bunch. Buffy was no exception to this. There are many episodes of this show that are close to un-watchable after the initial viewing with a first season that is more monster-of-the-week. Fortunately, the many great episodes of Buffy which exist far outweigh the okay or, even, bad episodes. After the show's first season, the story became a bit more focused, with each season containing a main antagonist ("big bad") helping to guide the story along. Perhaps what makes Buffy such a worthwhile show is the plethora of simply amazing characters. A mix of good writing and even better acting, Buffy made us care about some of the most unlikely of people. Another strength of the show would be Whedon's trademark dry humor, something wider audiences would get a taste of in The Avengers. Not only are the writing, acting, and humor fantastic throughout, but the show has quite a few episodes in particular which are so good that they rival anything still being produced today. This was the show that could have a main character die one week, a musical episode the next, and a completely silent episode the week after with each offering something satisfying to the fans (these things didn't actually happen in that order, but you get the idea). If you enjoy the supernatural action of The Walking Dead and you loved the humor/character interactions of The Avengers, make Buffy one of the next shows you watch.

5. King of the Hill

Original Channel: Fox
Where You Can See it Now: DVD (Seasons 1-6), Netflix, Re-runs on Adult Swim weekly

What is it: Meet the Hills, a Methodist family from Arlen, Texas. King of the Hill deals primarily with protagonist Hank Hill (Mike Judge), a propane salesman who loves his job, his dog, his family, and spending time with his friends by having a beer in the alley. Hank represents the typical moderate/conservative American man, simply trying to make a living in this great country. Running for thirteen seasons, the show would obviously focus on many of its other characters from time to time but never forgot that Hank, his wife Peggy, and his son Bobby were where the show's heart laid. Sometimes touching, but always funny, King of the Hill is a satire of sorts on American culture that is highly underrated today.

Why Watch it: It would be quite easy to recommend this show based on its humor alone. While it may be confusing for some as to how King of the Hill is funny, the humor becomes a lot more clear once the viewer forgets that the show is a cartoon. Despite being animated, King of the Hill very rarely feels like it is such, with most of the stories feeling completely plausible in a real world setting. The show is hilarious, but what really makes it worth the watch is in the character development. A bad episode is a rarity on King of the Hill. One of the show's greatest accomplishments is its ability to develop its characters in a way that is not only well-thought out, but, most importantly, believable. In thirteen seasons the show only made one major retcon of a character's arc, which is quite remarkable considering other popular animated shows retcon on almost a weekly basis. King of the Hill has gained in popularity a bit, mostly due to several quotes and images from the show being used for Internet memes. This is due, in part, to the show being broadcast in syndication to a larger audience on Adult Swim than it was getting on FX. Although it is not required that you start watching the show from the beginning, it is worth it to to see the way King of the Hill evolves over the course of its long history. It is amazing when you consider that, thematically, Season 13 still has similarities to Season 1.

Want more TV show recommendations?  Take a look at Hannah's Picks and Kyle's Picks 
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