I adore a good TV show, and as I’ve been having a fair bit of downtime lately have been watching a variety of them. I could harp on about great ones of yesteryear, but I figure you all know just how awesome Buffy/ Arrested Development/ My So Called Life are, so belabouring that point would just be fruitless. Instead I’ll draw your attention to some new (ish) TV shows that have been breaking new ground in terms of humour, originality and content. Put these on your Torrent list/Sky + box and prepare for some fun nights in on the sofa.
When you’re young, waitressing is something you do to make some cash till the real job comes along. What if that never happens and you end up 35 and still working silver service? Party Down is a show focused around the ‘Party Down’ catering company, which is staffed by wannabe writers, actors etc- people still all trying to make their big break. The cast has amazing chemistry, from the awkward romance between Adam Scott (Henry) and Lizzy Caplan( Casey), to the now famous Jane Lynch from Glee! Look at the credits and you’ll be extra impressed as Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars producer) was involved, and the show zips along from the start. Filmed in an oddly appealing documentary manner, the camera work gives you a feeling of being in the action and the hapless Ken Marino (Ron) is superb at playing the team leader, unhappily trying to motivate his crew of disenfranchised self serving reprobates. You’ll notice the odd cameo from famous people pop up, and there are two seasons to enjoy (2009, 2010).
United States of Tara
Using mental illness as the basis for a comedic series storyline is a risky premise and one that fortunately took off for United States of Tara. Tara (the amazing Toni Collete) suffers from D.I.D (dissociative personality disorder) more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. She is not only a mum of two and an artist; but also a beer swilling man, a repressed forties housewife, an angry fifteen year old- and more. What’s amazing about this show is not the high profile mania she suffers from but the interpersonal relationships. Her eldest daughter, Kate (the feisty Brie Larson who is one to watch) deals with her Mum’s actions by being brash and outspoken whilst her youngest son battles with his sexuality and schooling. The husband is an interesting role, loving Tara relentlessly despite her actions and their love story supersedes all the craziness. There are extra characters in the selfish sister and alienated parents and the whole messy family infrastructure neatly captures how you don’t have to be ‘crazy’ to actually be crazy. It’s funny, heartwarming and you never quite know what will happen.
Better off Ted
Office comedies are something we’re fairly familiar with but Better off Ted turns your expectations 180 degrees. It combines wet your pants humour with chummy asides to the camera, and centres around Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a too tanned super smooth executive who battles with his need to do good versus his companies desire to make a profit out of people. The company- Veridian Solutions- takes more than people’s cash as they’re an R&D venture that could potentially change the world. Products range from learning how to freeze people alive to producing super sized veggies. Each episode starts with a spoof commercial that gives you a hint of what’s to come, for example;
‘Veridian Dynamics. We’re the future of food, developing the next generation of food and food-like products. Tomatoes… the size of this baby, lemon-flavored fish, chickens that lay 16 eggs a day, which is a lot for a chicken, organic vegetables chock-full of antidepressants. At Veridian Dynamics, we can even make radishes so spicy that people can’t eat them, but we’re not, because people can’t eat them. Veridian Dynamics. Food. Yum.’
The series isn’t afraid of being seen as politically incorrect, as we see in episode 4, where the CCTV cameras stop recognising black people.
Veronica is Ted’s boss, played by the fabulous Portia de Rossi, reprising the snooty role she was so famed for in Ally McBeal. Her need for profit and success is offset by Ted’ need to do good and the way they bounce off each other is very entertaining. Ted’s young daughter Rose also appears and for once a show doesn’t try and make the 8 year old smartass the star.. well, not too much. The two main scientists of the show fill the airwaves with a geeky yet charming rapport and Ted has to try and manage their over enthusiastic creation of robots and meat with a heart (just watch it!). Overall it’s smart, sharp and ridiculously entertaining- a shame there are only two seasons to watch.
I’m a big fan of Arrested Development,so a show that takes some of those characters and copies some of the AD show styles was born to have me interested.Did it follow through or was it just a bad Arrested Development clone? Well, irt did get cancelled before the end of Series One, but considering a long line of shows that closed before their time (Dollhouse/ My So Called Life) that’s not discouraging in itself. The story follows Steve Wilde (played by a Will Arnett who seems ageless) who is an egocentric oil billionaire. He becomes reunited with his childhood crush Emmy on her return from the jungle and tries to woo her and her daughter Puddle. The show offsets Steve’s lavish tendencies against Emmy’s eco-outlook and ideals and is touchingly funny. Emmy agrees to stay with Steve to allow Puddle to get educated and resides in a treehouse in his garden. Puddle is excellent as a smart wise cracking teen who just wants to be normal whilst Peter Serafinowicz cameos as Fa-ad, Steve’s best buddy and equally rich and spoilt neighbour. The gags come thick and fast, the plot is ludicrous and overblown and the jokes a little obvious. It still manages to be a hugely entertaining half an hour with the humour sharp and in your face, and I was saddened by the cancellation. Don’t expect another Arrested Development, but if you don’t mind a familiar formula with laugh out loud gags you’ll enjoy this.
The only cast member I recognize in this is Julie Benz (Rita in Dexter/ stripper girl in Desperate Housewives) and it’s nice to see her empowered for once, if still talking super softly and breathily. The premise is simple, it’s Alex Mack for adults. The family somehow get superpowers after a plane crash- Dad is strong, Mum has speed, daughter’s a telepath, son is Einstein. Cue helping people, getting girls etc. Luckily Mrs Powell is a sexy research scientist working in a lab with a vaguely creepy boss and a cute kooky assistant. Cue tests to try and understand their powers and weird goings on at work. They discover other people with powers- who aren’t so friendly- and a secret plot. The cast have an easy comfortable rapport, the story is strangely believable and it’s family fun with adult themes thrown in. Hopefully it has enough all round attraction to get a season 2.
Will these shows keep screening?
Typically, any type of TV show that’s slightly outside the norm of 8pm programming schedules (not reality TV fodder/ soap opera) , three of the shows above have actually been cancelled (Party Down, Better off Ted and Running Wilde). Will the others make it to more seasons? United States of Tara is on Season 3 now, and No Ordinary Family has reportedly got a Season 2 in the offing, so fingers crossed.
What TV shows do you think should be in this list?