On the Box:12 TV shows to put on your radar

Posted by admin on Nov 10, 2009 in news, Television |

best_tv_2009There are a lot of new shows available at the moment, but just because something is new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth wasting 30 precious minutes of your time. I realize the ones I select won’t be to every-one’s taste, but seeing as I have penchant for streaming niche US shows, at least your attention will be drawn to a wider variety. I tend to favour eclectic, eccentric shows, that are clever, insightful, and if there’s a little bit of fantasy in there as well, so much the better.

The new ones:

These have either just been released in the UK, or are on Season 1 in the USA.


A high school show based around musical numbers may sound like your idea of hell, but let me explain! This is no soppy High School Musical spin off, it’s a cynical satirical look at a high school Glee club, complete with bumbling energetic teacher and OCD therapist. It’s sharp, smart and witty, and yes, there is some singing and dancing. Enjoy watching stereotypes disintegrate (the chaste cheerleader becomes pregnant and plans to sell the baby) and they even have Joss Whedon on board to direct an episode. Yes, the WHEDON man, creator of Dollhouse and Buffy. The cheerleaders are called the ‘Cheerios’, there’s a fabulous gay kid, and somehow the show manages to really hit home with tangible points. Should be coming to the UK soon, but the first 5 episodes or so are available online *cough*.



The stereotype of the female prostitute is an ancient one, with women plying their trade as ladies of the night for a variety of reasons. The male side of the profession is largely ignored, with men who venture into this considered studs and players, with no real thought as to the emotional damage they’re creating for themselves. Movies like Deuce Bigolo make a mockery out of what can be a difficult career path, and Hung deals with this issue sensitively, albeit with a couple of slapstick jokes. The protagonist is a divorced father whose house burns down and is left broke and camping in his garden. Money is tight, and his only asset is.. his asset. Yeah. A self help group inspires him to realize sex is what he excels at, and he joins forces with a scatty office worker to start pimping himself out. Problem is, he didn’t envisage quite how hard it is to set up any sort of business, that he’d have to have sex with 60 year old women, or that he might fall for a client. The first series started slowly, but got interesting after three episodes.  You do wonder just why he sticks with his harebrained ‘pimp’, but you’re left guessing, and eagerly awaiting the next series. And no, you DON’T GET TO SEE IT.

Being Erica

We’re half way through the first series in the UK, but the US is already on Series 2. It’s an enjoyable series that gets a little repetitive- think Joan of Arcadia but aimed at adults. Erica is a 30 something girl whose life has gone awry, as she’s single, unemployed and generally miserable. Despite this she still manages to live in a fantastic apartment (pretty standard for all American shows) and starts seeing a psychiatrist. Dr Tom is no ordinary therapist though, as he makes her create a list of regrets (like they do in My name is Earl) and every episode sees her addressing one of these, by flashing back in time. Cue eighties crimped hair, scuffed up hi-tops and stonewashed denim. The younger Erica manages to make new mistakes when she’s sent back, but her decisions then actually come true when she flicks back to the present, learning some important lessons about herself at the same time. The crux of the matter is her brothers death, which she really CAN’T change, and series 1 ends with this being resolved and goodbyes being said.

Series 2 starts with Erica on the path to happiness, yet she still manages to regularly mess up her life with  her own insecurities. I’m not sure where this show can really go, but it’s a pleasant journey getting there. Erin Karpluk is great as the neurotic Erica as well.


Flash Forward

Sometimes a show can have so much hype you actually don’t want to see it. I felt that way about the film 1uP (which I really want  to see now, after everyone keeps raving about it) and Flash Forward was another of those. I thought about it, downloaded it, but the thought of watching it made me go ‘meh’. Big mistake, as when I FINALLY got round to watching it I likes it so much I watched 5 in a row and turned up to work with lovely red eyes and shadows. The show revolves around the concept that the whole world blacks out for 137 seconds, during which they all have pre-cognitive dreams of the future in six months. When they awake the world is in shock, with cars having crashed, people drowning and general disarray.

The FBI starts an investigation, headed by a recovering alcoholic who saw himself investigating the case in his vision. The visions seem to match up between people and they’re worried about future occurrences- and the rare people they’ve spotted who didn’t black out. The gorgeous Joseph Fiennes  stars as the main agent, Mark Benford, and does a great line in anguished intensity, whilst the revelation that his wife is having an affair in six months add a personal element. Gripping viewing.

Series that are still going strong: Catch up on these! ( I envy you- I love watching multiple episodes in one go!)


Dollhouse, Season 2

Anything with Eliza Dukshu and Joss Whedon involved is bound to get  me excited, coming from the hardcore Buffy fandom. The second series of Dollhouse sees a darker more twisted plot emerge, with even the unflappable tech Topher gaining a little more human emotion.  Echo (played by Eliza) remains equally innocent and chilling by turn, and we learn that unlike other dolls she’s able to retain memories. Topher Brink continues to push boundaries in genetic research, enabling the ‘dolls’ to take on physical as well as mental characteristics of their clients- lactating, for example. Emotions run high as the Dollhouse is compromised by outside influence, and the idea of morality is raised when it becomes obvious there are corrupt influences inside the actual structure of the Dollhouse.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Dollhouse is a place where humans go who are looking for money or escapism. They sign up for a tenure, after which they will be handsomely paid and let go (possibly). Their minds are wiped and they dedicate their days to becoming perfect human specimens through exercise, training and nutrition They are hired to go on assignments which vary from dating wealthy men to negotiating hostage situations and each time they’re imprinted with manufactured memories and emotions, which are then wiped at the end of an assignment, and spookily called a ‘treatment’.


Season 3 Greek

This show follows the trials and tribulations of sorority and fraternity houses in Ohio. Some may discard this programme as lightweight fluff, and to be fair, they do have a point. Troubles are never more than deciding whether wearing undies in public is appropriate for feminists, or how to deal with two boys, but from someone who has experienced the Greek System (UCLA Kappa Delta chapter) more often than not this is strikingly true to life. The bitchiness, the vacuousness, and the sisterhood all reflect my own personal experiences of the Greek system, and though you may think that the exceptionally attractive denizens of the Greek system aren’t really representative, the house I was in featured 1 Miss California and one girl who’d posed for Playboy (who was then thrown out of the house for indecency).

The storyline follows Casey (head of the sorority) and her brother Rusty (geek who makes it into a frat) and their adventures at school. The third season takes a more adult turn (ish) with Casey realizing she’s about to graduate and has to decide just what to do with her life, cue reminiscing flashbacks, and an accidental evening on hash brownies. This may be fluff, but it’s the toffee coated kind, which is always a pleasure. Spencer Grammer is great as the flaky Casey, but I feel that her best friend Ashleigh is the true  star (played by Amber Stevens ) who thankfully gets more screen time in this series.


Dexter, Season 4

‘It’s hard to be a Dad and a serial killer’, says Dexter (or something of that nature) as the likable serial killer now has to deal with sleepless nights and nocturnal violence. This change of pace doesn’t reflect well on his secret profession as a few episodes in we see him lose control of his car, on the way back from a kill. A spell in hospital and a blank memory make him worry about capture, alongside dealing with his day job (police forensic) and his personal life (wife doesn’t like him working so late). This series has always worked despite itself, which may have something to do with the fact that he only murders those deserving of death such as criminals and rapists. Micheal C Hall seems like he was born for the role of Dexter, with his on show sister Debra Morgan bizarrely being his real life wife Jennifer Carpenter. Chilling, gripping and unexpectedly funny from the moment it turns on, this is THE show to watch this season.


Gossip Girl, Season 3

Gossip Girl is the kind of show that shouldn’t appeal to me, as the standard blurb reads like all those other trashy teen shows (One Tree Hill/The O.C- you know who you are). Bored rich over privileged girls battle the oh-so terrible youth of having to much money and relationships with model like students. On paper it sounds abysmal, especially when the love interest becomes the down-and-out perfectly cheek-boned boy from Brooklyn. However it’s much more than it pretends to be, being a witty insightful (and yes, bitchy) look into bored Manhattanites lives. Yes, it’s OTT, and no one seriously believes people get limos to school, but it’s gripping nonetheless. Love the fashion, love the cut throat exchanges, or the pure evilness of the so-called Queen B, beautifully played by Leighton Meester. Season 3 sees the gang leave high school behind, and venture into NYU, where it seems a credit card and penchant for hairbands is not enough to assure popularity amongst the hippy student population. Immensely entertaining, with a great voice over from Kristen Bell (she of Veronica Mars and *gulp* Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame.) You even get Hilary Duff making a showing as the movie star turned college student who just wants to be one of the gang, poor dear.

my-name-is-earlMy name is Earl, Season 4

This show follows a pretty basic premise- every episode Earl aims to cross someone off his list. The list was created after he realized he wanted to make up for all the bad things he’d done in his life, and it contains a variety of entertaining topics such as ‘stole a leg off a one legged girl’ and ‘ruined my kids birthday party’. Thought the format is repetitive it means each episode generally stands on its own, and is great if you just want a quick half hour burst of entertainment, This series showcases his brother Randy in an acting role (great to see Ethan Suplee move away from the Randy character) the local Crabman Darnell goes on the run due to his secret identity being blown, and a tornado hits the Trailer Park. Fun all the way through, excepting two exceptionally dull episodes at the end of the series.

burn_notice-showBurn Notice Season 2

A burn notice is what ex-agents get if they’re discredited from their duty. This series follows one such agent who wakes up in Miami, bereft of money, clothes and any sense of the seriousness of his situation. Michael Weston (played by Jeffrey Donovan) is great as the impassive looking agent, who excels in lack of expression and tough guy karate moves. The show follows his quest to find out just who discredited him, as well as playing P.I along the way for some cash. Miami is where his estranged mother lives, and his trigger happy ex Fiona (wonderfully played by the amazing Gabrielle Anwar). The show is fast paced and frenetic with a large quantity of explosions, gunfights and parental tension.

Every episode brings Michael a little closer to discovering just what happened to him, and Season 2 sees him liaising with agents to help learn who had a grudge against him- for a fee, naturally. Though you get the feeling if he ever discovers the truth the show will end, in the interim the interplay between the characters is very compelling with the dialogue between Fiona and Michael sizzling with sexual tension. N.B There is now a 3rd series, but as I haven’t seen it yet I can’t comment on it.

madmenMad Men Season 3

Another series of Mad Men, another selection of dresses to ogle, and the weird urge to take up smoking. The show follows a group of advertising men at the ad agency Sterling Cooper. It’s set in the 1960’s and the main character is played by the divine Jon Hamm, who excels as the square jawed Don Draper, he of the whisky drinking, philandering, man-with-a past tortured ways. Season 3 takes us back to the ad agency, but everything is not so happy in Draper land. Young colleagues are snapping for promotion, his wife Betty finally says enough is enough to his cheating ways, and Don is thinking of striking out on his own. The scenes of family separation are as poignant today as they would have been then, showing some emotions are universal, and not dependant on the time, whilst the conniving clients and staff provide a backdrop of dissension and complex arbitration.

I love Peggy Olson’s role as the plucky secretary promoted to ad-girl, and the way she battles discrimination and sexism daily express the current fight for equality. I love how she never compromises her femininity, and find her struggle very compelling. This season  is a bit of a slow starter, but stick with it and you’ll find yourself drawn into their world.

true_blood_series2True Blood

Based on the novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood follows the antics of a small Southern Town who gets its first vampire. Due to a good PR campaign vampires have come out of the crypt and are accepted into mainstream society as long as they drink True Blood, a synthetic blood drink. Despite this many people still have reservations about bloodsuckers whilst some actively embrace it- who are known as ‘fang-bangers’. Sookie Stackhouse (played by Anna Paquin) welcomes the vamps to town, as she loves the fact that her telepathy can’t read their thoughts (mindreading can be a real bitch if you’re dating). Series1 saw her becoming embroiled with town vamp, Bill Compton, and Series 2 sees their relationship develop.

Series 2 also expands on the towns newest visitor Maryann Forrester who turns out to be a maenad who lives off peoples fear and enjoys a tasty human heart for dessert. She weaves her magic over the town, and Sookie is nowhere to be seen as she is off investigating the disappearance of Eric’s maker, Godric. Eric, played by a smouldering Alexander Skarsgård, is Bill’s sheriff, which means he owes him a certain loyalty. Sookie uncovers a vampire bashing cult and tries to put an end to it, whilst back home home her town is taken over by evil forces. Incredibly gripping and gory, and the missing Godric (Allan Hyde)  is equally creepy and angelic as the ancient vampire.

Let me know if there any shows you think I should include- I’m always happy to add to my TV knowledge!

NOTE: There are many great older shows that are no longer running, and there will be a separate post dedicated to the likes of Arrested Development, Drop the Dead Donkey etc.

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+ 8 = seventeen

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