Six TV Shows That Are More Than Worth A Watch Before You Die. by Jamie
09/05/2009, 6:06 am
Filed under: Lists | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The summer blockbuster season is upon us and before long we shall all be sick and tired of movies. Well, probably not but I’ve spent so long now worrying about things such as Deadpool and just how ridiculously big Devastator will be that I needed to back off from it all for a moment. So I decided to visit with that other great visual medium of our age, Television.

Before Television there were only the dark times and man was a brutish, violent creature I assume, without the flickering glow of the screen to keep him from going on extreme rampages of rape and pillage. Finally, TV was invented by the baby Jesus and finally the world was saved from it’s self. Who wanted to slaughter their neighbours when you could watch 14 different TV shows involving celebrity chefs in cook off contests? Who could be bothered to set fire to cows when home makeover shows could be watched literally anytime during the day or night? That’s right, no one. No one in their right mind.

With that in mind, let us take a look then at some of the greatest TV shows that have graced that flickering screen in recent years. The rules are simple. The show must have completely run it’s course, so there will be no appearances by Dexter, Heroes or Ramsay‘s Kitchen Nightmares, and the series must be available to purchase on DVD. With that in mind, let us begin.

6) The X-Files

There was a time when I was not the Sceptic I now consider myself to be. In fact, I was quite the opposite ready to believe any paranormal nonsense that I heard about without stopping to consider the evidence. Some of that, in part at least, probably had to do with the X-Files. It turned a generation of kids and adults into crazy conspiracy nuts, at least until the show started to go downhill.

You simply couldn’t escape the paranormal when this show was at it’s height. Every other week there was a new documentary exposing the “truth” behind the 1947 Roswell incident with real actual footage of an alien autopsy or a startling exposé about how man never went to the moon. In other words, we had become uncritical, unreasoned believers in practically everything and only now is the tide beginning to turn again with scepticism becoming more and more acceptable, though admittedly as long as the internet remains a paradise for the paranormal believers to gather and spread misinformation, we shall have a long way to go.

So you’d think, considering all the damage it is partially responsible for, that I would hate this show. In truth, however, I love this show. Ok, so the later seasons where David Duchovny and even Gillian Anderson leave are weak but you have to remember the good old days. Episodes such as Home, a truly chilling episode in which Mulder and Scully have to investigate a rural inbred family regarding the murder of a baby. Or Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, a humorous episode which sees the two agents consulting psychic Clyde Bruckman regarding a serial killer. The X-files often managed to achieve a good mixture of terror and humour.

In general, I always preferred the so-called Monster of the Week episodes to the mythology episodes in which Mulder and Scully would have to deal with an unexplained case that would begin and end within one episode. The monsters they had to investigate included such creatures as the sewer dwelling, parasitic Flukeman, the elastic limbed, liver-eating Toombs and the death fetishist, serial killer, Donald Pfaster . These episodes tended to be more fun, almost Scooby Doo-esque, compared to the long, complicated and often confusing aspects of the alien conspiracy storyline.

Overall if you’ve never seen the X-Files or just haven’t seen them for a while, I’d definetly recommend giving them a re-watch, in particular the earlier seasons.

5) Spaced/Black Books

When it came to deciding between these two shows, I decided I couldn’t. Now it’s possibly breaking one of the rules as there’s always rumours that there will be a new series of Spaced or a special or some such thing but it’s been long enough for me to just say fuck it.

So what makes these series so great? Well, Spaced is the definitive comedy series for those of us obsessed with what has been dubbed pop culture and Black Books is fantastically surreal and manages to do great things with a cast of essentially three characters.

Spaced tells the story of Tim and Daisy, two people in their early thirties who suddenly find themselves in need of a place to stay. They manage to get one by lying to the alcoholic landlady, Marsha, and pretending that they’re a professional couple. The building is also occupied by Brian, an artist with a penchant for the quirky, who paints the entire emotional range as exhibited in a brilliantly shot sequence. The rest of the cast is filled out by Mike, Tim’s best friend who’s more than a little obsessed with the military, and Twist, Daisy’s best friend who’s more than a little obsessed with fashion.

Every episode of Spaced is filled with constant film references, be it Tim’s nemesis, Dwayne quoting Darth Maul (Incidentally Dwayne is played by Peter Serafinowicz, who voiced Maul in Episode 1) or a practically shot for shot re-enactment of the death of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. Seriously if you love film and you’ve never seen Spaced, what the fuck is wrong with you, you fucking fucktard. Fuck. Especially if you love Star Wars.

I could go on and on about Spaced for the remainder of this article so I’d better stop myself now and talk about Black Books. This series is centred around a bookshop called, coincidentally enough, Black Books. The shop is run by the eternally pissed Bernard Black, a man who loves wine and despises people. He’s helped in this commercial endeavour by his enthusiastic employee Manny Bianco, who is genuinely outgoing and helpful. The cast is rounded out by Fran Katzenjammer, Bernard’s oldest and possibly only friend, who runs a shop next door which seems to sell nothing but pointless crap.

The series is wonderfully surreal yet not obtusely so allowing pretty much anyone to find something to love about it. The storylines are generally grounded in reality but it’s the quirkiness that these storylines are dealt that make it awesome. For example, in one episode Bernard finds himself locked out of his shop/home for a cold, rainy night. He spends all of his money on a film ticket and some popcorn. Fran is unable to help him and so he wanders the streets, ending up in a porn shop just to stand by the radiator for a while before being kicked out and eventually taking a job in a fast food restaurant until the rain has passed. Meanwhile Manny finds himself locked in side the shop with only some absinthe and dead bees for sustenance. Awesome.

4) Planet Earth

Earth. It’s where we all live, for the time being at least, and apparently we share this planet with other living things called animals. Planet Earth is a series which deals with these things. Now, in my mind this is the definitive general nature documentary. What I mean by this is that this is the best documentary to give an overview of the natural world. Others may dig in and focus on a more central topic, such as Life in Cold Blood, Attenborough’s documentary specifically dealing with reptiles and amphibians.

Speaking of David Attenborough, he narrates this documentary and really, who else would you want other than the legend himself? Well, apparently in America, his narration was replaced with Sigourney Weaver. Really? Hell, I like Sigourney Weaver as an actress but you’re going to replace David Attenborough with her? I wouldn’t put David as Ripley in Aliens and I wouldn’t let Sigourney narrate a nature documentary when you could have Attenborough.

Anyway, the series is notable for a number of things never before seen on television. Like humpback whales being shown to blow bubbles out of their blow holes in order to corral fish into a manageable ball in order to devour them and chimps killing and eating one of there own in one of those disturbing scene which chills you to the bone just because of the freaky similarity between us and them. Perhaps one of the most fascinating scenes involves a pride of desperately hungry lions who hunt and kill an elephant at the dead of night. The whole thing is shot on a night vision camera which just makes the whole thing seem incredibly eerie.

Seriously, the series is an amazing achievement in documented the creatures that inhabit this planet with us, showing us behaviours that sometimes shock and amaze. The whole thing is filmed beautifully and, though I already own it on DVD, since getting a Blu-Ray player and an HD-TV I’m seriously considering getting the series on Blu-Ray. Watch it!

3) Father Ted

Ah, what can you say about Father Ted? The eccentric Irish comedy has gone down in history as one the greatest fecking comedies known to mankind. The series concerns the misadventures of three catholic priests living in a parochial house on the desolate wasteland that is Craggy Island. Ted is a man who dreams of fame and fortune and getting off of the godforsaken island and never seems to achieve any of these things. He’s accompanied in most of his exploits by Dougal, a man with the intelligence of something of very little intelligence, and Father Jack, an alcoholic who’s vocabulary is limited, for the most part, to drink, feck and girls.

The show lasted for three seasons and seemed to get funny with each and every episode. Such highlights include meeting Richard Wilson of One Foot in the Grave fame and tormenting him endlessly with his catchphrase of “I don’t believe it.”, Ted being mistaken for a racist by the local Chinese community, an incredible parody of Night of the Living Dead and of course, the Christmas episode involving a fantastic parody of war films. Speaking of which, one of the actors from the next series in the list makes a cameo appearance in that very episode. Also, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about Father Ted. It really just needs to be watched.

2) Rome

Roman society is often regarded highly, as some sort of pinnacle of civilisation in an otherwise uncivilised ancient world and whilst it’s true that we owe much to the Romans, sometimes we need to reminded that the distance of history often puts a shine on things. Too often we see documentaries detailing the wonders of Rome, their great battles, glorious leaders and architectural accomplishments. The brutality of their world also comes up, generally when discussing the gladiatorial battles of the arena.

Thank the Gods below then for Rome, an historical drama set in the ancient world. Is it one hundred percent historically accurate? No of course not but it’s as damn fucking close as a fictionalised account of the events leading up to, during and after Caesar’s reign can possibly get. The series splits it’s focus between two sets of main characters who occasionally cross paths. There are the nobles as represented by Caesar, his friends, family and enemies and these provide most of the political intrigue and betrayal within the series. The second group are the commoners, the main characters being Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo and the various people they interact with. Vorenus and Pullo are actually based loosely on two soldiers of the same name who are mentioned in Caesar’s ‘The Conquest Of Gaul’, his account of the Gallic wars.

The series touches on a number of historical events, tweaking them occasionally for the sake of plot but always in a brilliant and interesting way. We see such things as Caesar marching on Rome with his army, the leader’s assassination and the love affair between Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Despite all of this massive moments in history, it’s the characters which really drive the plot forward. From the manipulative Atiia of the Julii to the tough but naïve Titus Pullo, it’s these greatly written and acted characters that really bring the ancient world of Rome to life.

A warning though, Rome is not for the squeamish or easily offended. It doesn’t hold back in it’s portrayal of ancient Rome as a violent and sexually charged place. There’s many a scene of horrific violence or a master fucking his slave. The language is a sound to behear as well, with many a proclamation of such wonderful phrases as “By Juno’s cunt!” or “I fuck Concord in the arse!” So if you’re a goddamn pussy who can’t handle violence, sex and swearing then I really can’t recommend this for you, otherwise you have no fucking excuse.

1) Battlestar Galactica

Anyone who’s had a conversation with me since I’ve watched this series shouldn’t be surprised at it’s placement at the top of this list. There is absolutely no way that I can even hope to describe the balls out awesome that is this television show. It contains everything I could possibly ask for in televisual entertainment. Political intrigue, realistic personal relationships, robots and kick ass space battles.

In the pilot mini-series shit is kicked up a notch right from the beginning. The humans, who inhabit the twelve colonies all named for our star signs, is reduced to a fraction of it’s population during a devastating attack by the robotic Cylons and so from the outset we are presented with our heroes and villains. Or at least we would be if things in Battlestar Galactica were as simple as that. In actual fact there are several times throughout the entirety of the series where your perception of what is good and right is challenged. Not only that but it deals with a lot of really rather heavy subjects such as terrorism, religion and whether or not being alive is defined purely in biological terms,

Like Rome, these heady subjects are dealt with whilst focusing on the characters within the story. Even though the plot concerns itself mostly with the possible extinction of the human race, it is the people (and robots) who find themselves within this situation and how they deal with it that really pushes the story forward. There is the stoic, yet completely untrusting of anything mechanical, captain Adama, played by the fantastic Edward James Almos, the Cylon Number Six who’s fascinated by living things, Starbuck, a tough Viper pilot who also has incredible emotional depth, and my personal favourite character, Gaius Baltar, the scientist who bears at least some responsibility for his species predicament and is primarily concerned with his own personal survival. The cast is quite large yet every character seems to be incredibly well defined.

Damnit, there’s so much to say about this damn series and yet not enough time for me to sit here and write it all. Also my wrists are beginning to hurt a little bit, Stupid wrists, so let’s just cram in a few other things that make this series awesome. The shots in space are filmed as if they were being shot by a cameraman with a handy cam and all of the sound is provided from within the ships themselves not ignoring space by actually living up to the fact that there’s no damn sound in space. The special effects are awesome, from people being sucked into space to the non-human looking Cylons, though sometimes they do seem a little too CGI-ish. Also the last episode made me cry, not so much because the ending was sad, though it was, but more because that was it, I would no longer get to spend anytime with these characters. It was truly moving.

So there you go. Six TV shows to entertain yourself with as you while away the hours waiting for the impending icy-cold grip of the reaper around your heart. Enjoy!

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