All of These Great TV Shows
Watch Instantly: All of these Great TV Shows
I’ve been going through a Netflix Instant phase, dear readers. I’ve often just watched a movie here or there, probably not taking advantage of all of the wonderful things that Netflix actually has to offer. I’ve limited my watching for a few reasons, but the biggest one is: I haven’t had Internet for the past 5 years. It may sound strange, or backwards, or something, but I’m a grad student, the university has (wildly inconsistent) internet that I’ve already paid for, and I’ve lived a mere two blocks from campus the entire time, so using WiFi never stressed me out. I used my phone as a wireless hot spot for a while, but with my current phone plan, that got to be mighty expensive, so I avoided it as much as possible.
But no longer. Now I have WiFi, and I can watch all the things without fear of exceeding my limits. And it is revelatory. So rather than just taking in a movie here or there, I can binge watch all of the TV I’ve missed over the past few years. Instead of our usual format, this week I’m going to tell you about 4 shows I’ve grown rather fond of in the hopes that, if you haven’t already checked them out, you will. None of them are deep secrets, so don’t expect any surprises, but seriously, they are worth your time now that you’ve flown through that new season of House of Cards.
Ridiculously Awesome and Still Going: Bob’s Burgers
I didn’t know if I was going to like this show at first, but within minutes of the first episode, I was chuckling to myself, and I have laughed out loud at more episodes of Bob’s Burgers than I have at most of the movies I’ve seen in recent years put together. Years, folks. It is hilarious. The show follows the titular Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin), his wife Linda (John Roberts), and their three children, hormonal Tina (Dan Mintz), nutty Gene (Eugene Mirman), and sociopathic Louise (Kristen Schaal) as they run their restaurant and negotiate their financial shortcomings in a town that hasn’t yet recognized Bob’s brilliance. One of the great things about this show is that even if the episode heads away from the restaurant for a while to explore the deeply charming and totally weird world the Belchers inhabit, the Belchers work together and everything just gets weirder. Things wrap up super creative ways. If I have to blurb it, I’d say it is a cross between The Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. The animation is very reminiscent of its yellow-hued predecessors, little inside jokes like the ever changing “Burger of the Day” specials board and the name of the store next door to Bob’s Burgers abound, and with the beautifully developed personalities of the town, comparisons to The Simpsons can’t be avoided. But one of the things that just thrills me about this show is how much the main characters really, truly love each other and root for each other (hence my comparison to P&R)—even when they are being difficult. One of my favorite things is when the kids are just being absolute shits and it makes Bob chuckle—there is something really real about these cartoon folks and their strange world, and even if the things they do are totally unrealistic and foreign to our experience, their relationships are honest, and they are so, so funny. Only Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming, but the show is currently airing its 4th season with no signs of stopping, so hopefully Season 3 won’t be too far behind. Standout episodes include “Sexy Dance Fighting” (S1E4), “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?” (S1E6), “The Belchies” (S2E1, a great “Goonies” homage), “Foodtrucking” (S2E5) and “Beefsquatch” (S2E9). No need to watch them consecutively, but the jokes do start building up, so starting at the beginning will help you get a grip on them all.
The One You’ve Probably Already Seen: Louie
I know. This totally isn’t news. Louie is a breath of fresh air in the comedy world, and is maybe some of the best television around. But Netflix just added Season 3 on streaming, and it is without question the best season of an already improbably amazing run. For those of you who don’t know, Louie is the fictionalized adventures of Louis C.K., including his struggles in the comedy world, his fears about getting older, his relationships with his two young daughters and his ex-wife, and his feeble attempts at dating. The comedy is sharp, sometimes absurd, and always refreshing. Louie doesn’t pull many punches at all, if any, at making fun of its bumbling protagonist, and it is even sharper when critiquing show business and the ridiculousness of trying to date as an aging single father. This season doesn’t miss a beat with making you feel uncomfortable, or making use of its myriad guest stars (including Melissa Leo, Maria Bamford, Parker Posey, Chloe Sevigny, Robin Williams, Amy Schumer, J.B. Smoove, Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron, and so many more comedians than I can even count) but nothing takes the cake for me more than the knock out punch of back-to-back episodes “Late Night 1 and 2.” This is one of the most fun and insightful explorations of the “late night wars” that have plagued Jay Leno’s career, and Leno himself shows up here to just slaughter a self-parody, but it is an insanely awesome turn by David Lynch as acting coach Jack Dahl that just knocks these two eps out of the park. And then Season 3 goes and wraps it up with a gorgeous, touching, and very funny Christmas episode that gently calls back to one of my earlier favorites, “Duckling” (S2E11). Start from the beginning if you haven’t already seen these—but I caution you to pace yourself. It is easy to get overwhelmed with Louie’s self-sacrificing style, and the impact of the pathos that the show can so gorgeously evoke in the midst of its absurdity can get washed away pretty quickly.
Gone But Not Forgotten: Twin Peaks
Speaking of David Lynch! All 30 episodes of Twin Peaks’ unfairly short run are available, as is the 1992 prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Not for nothing, people have been telling me to watch this show for years, convinced that I would love it, and for some reason I resisted. And you know what? That was stupid. This show is amazing. I’m honestly not going to be able to find enough adjectives to adequately describe how smitten I am with it, so I’ll just tell you a little bit about it. The show opens with the discovery of the body of teenaged Laura Palmer in the small mill town of Twin Peaks, and the appearance of quirky pie-loving FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan in probably his best role ever) to help solve her murder. The town looks perfectly quaint and charming from the outside, but as Cooper delves into his investigation with the help of local sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), they begin to uncover exactly the kind of suburban decay that Lynch’s work is always so obsessed with—anything shiny must be hiding something. The cast is stacked deep with fantastic players, including Ray Wise as Laura’s oddly grieving father, Lara Flynn Boyle as Laura’s best friend Donna, Sherilynn Fenn as the teenaged temptress Audrey Horne, Piper Laurie as conniving mill owner Catherine Martell, and the hilarious Russ Tamblyn as groovy Lawrence Jacoby, Laura’s psychiatrist, to just name a few. All of the citizens of the town are involved somehow in Laura’s murder, tangled up in an intricate web of mystery and intrigue. And speaking of intrigue, one of the most intriguing things about this show is the tone that is struck: one part murder/mystery, one part soap-opera, the show mines the depths of melodrama, pushing into overacting and cliché at times, and at others veering off into the wildly absurd—identical cousins! Mynah birds as murder witnesses! A damn fine cup of coffee! Dwarfs who speak backwards! Visions treated as evidence! The blend of the two makes for one of the most unique, and unsettling, viewing experiences ever. Combine that with characters who you just can’t help but love and an insanely interesting mystery at the heart of it all—the effect is completely winning. I haven’t even finished watching it yet (I’ve been pacing myself, savoring ever last minute) so I can’t even tell you how it ends! But seriously, it is so very fun, not to mention a breath of fresh air in a world filled with copycat procedurals.
Last But Not Least, We Jump Across the Pond: Ripper Street
I’m not going to lie to you—Ripper Street is actually one of those copycat procedurals. Set in late Victorian England during Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror on the London streets, this one looks on the surface like Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes had a child with one of the CSI franchises. This doesn’t sound like a good thing, but in a weird way, it totally works. There are “murder of the week” episodes that are wrapped up within the hour, but the background of the main players is really well fleshed out in a way that is wholly satisfying, and actually serves to complicate the relationships to the investigations at hand. Our main men, emotional and thorough Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew McFayden) and his partner, the stoic former military man, Detective Seargent Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), team up with wild-card American physician and former Pinkerton Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) to solve murders and mysteries about the London streets. There are a lot more complicated things about these men’s pasts and their histories with one another, but seeing them play out on screen is much more interesting than any summary I’m going to be able to give; suffice it to say that they are all really well drawn characters, as are the other major players. But beyond a great cast of characters, what makes this show so unique is its wonderful immersion in its time period, exploring the law, women’s experiences, the rise of technology and consumer capitalism, sex, and especially the limitations of forensic science at the time. It also isn’t afraid, as many cast driven procedurals are, to put its majors in serious harm or even kill off someone to whom we’ve grown attached, which in my mind really ratchets up the dramatic tension. It isn’t particularly groundbreaking fare, but it is well written, fast-paced, and the weekly mysteries are bonkers. There is only one season available right now, but I’m definitely hopeful that more will follow. In my mind, this is worth more than all the Downton episodes combined.