I won’t even try to hide it- I am 100% “that guy”. I will harass the crap out of people about TV shows that I like. “Oh, you haven’t seen that yet?”, it starts. “Well you really should. It’s amazing”. Fast forward to the next time I see that same person. “Hey, did you ever check out _______?”. After the inevitable ‘no’, I continue the assault. “Oh, wow, you have no idea what you’re missing”. And on and on until eventually, people either tell me to shut the hell up and leave them alone about it, or they finally watch it. So what is the current checklist of TV shows that I think you should be watching?
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1. Breaking Bad, AMC
I had no intentions at all of putting this list in my order of preference. And I wouldn’t have except I really wanted to emphasize just how good Breaking Bad is, signified by its place at #1. It’s definitely my favorite show on TV, even if it’s not the best. And it’s most certainly in the conversation for best shows around. The writing is spectacular, the show is ripe with foreshadowing and dark humor, the actors own their roles, the character arcs are fully developed, and the plot is gripping. And unlike a lot of other premium cable shows (I’m looking at you, Dexter Morgan), the characters are forced into accountability for their behavior. It took me precisely one episode to get hooked on the show. Still not interested? Check out this viral campaign that AMC released before the first season. It’s customizable and found at waltswisdom.com:
2. Boardwalk Empire, HBO
It’s produced by Martin Scorsese, written by one of the writers from The Sopranos (Terrence Winter), and stars Hollywood heavyweights like Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Gretchen Mol, and Kelly MacDonald. As if that wasn’t enough of a winning combination, the supporting cast is a who’s who of actors from recent films. It includes Paz de la Huerta (Enter the Void); Stephen Graham (“Babyface” Nelson in Public Enemies); Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man); and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Jonah Hex, and others). For good measure, it also includes Michael K. Williams, who played Omar on The Wire. The show impressively carried out a three act structure across its first season (and only season to date). It played out like a huge 12+ hour movie, but broken down into very manageable bites. And the subject matter is a slam dunk- prohibition-era booze runners and famous gangsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Arnold Rothstein. After just one season, it shot right up my list of favorite TV shows.
3. An Idiot Abroad, The Science Channel
This is the second list I’ve had in the last week that’s been inspired by Karl Pilkington. Who is this mystery man, you ask- this Karl Pilkington? He’s a very good friend of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. And Karl is a bit of an idiot. He’s prone to saying things like “Whenever you buy toilet roll holders, it says, ‘Made in China’. Why aren’t they using them then?”. Gervais and Merchant take great joy in harassing Karl. As such, they came up with the idea to send him around the world to visit the Seven Wonders of the World. And along the way, they give him these inane, ridiculous, and occasionally revolting tasks. Hilarity ensues. And occasionally, Karl pops out a little nugget of wisdom- some sort of Idiot Zen. Here’s a sample of him dancing on the Egypt episode:
4. Mad Men, AMC
This marks the second show created by a former Sopranos writer on this list, which should probably tell you how I felt about The Sopranos. Mad Men works on multiple levels. It’s pure genius as a period piece, perfectly capturing the era (or at least, the American connotation of that era). It succeeds where Breaking Bad fails by speaking across gender lines- the women on the show are every bit as integral to the story as anyone else, even Don Draper. It works as sort of a zeitgeist mirror, showing us the way America works now by illustrating for us the way it used to work. And it earns bonus points with me because it revolves around marketing and the creative process. That won’t speak to everyone but it’ll definitely speak to people who work in that industry. I tend to think that the show is a bit overhyped but it gets a lot of its hype with good reason.
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO
This show is the most commonly denied show out of all of my recommendations to friends. It’s been on for seven seasons now. Reasons I’ve heard people list as to why they’ve tried it and disliked it:
-“Larry’s an asshole”
-“Everybody yells on that show. It’s so loud”
-“Everybody else is an asshole to Larry and it makes me mad”
All of those things are true. In fact, I think it’s the very essence of the show. It’s why I love it so much. There aren’t many characters who are as awkward- that make you cover up your eyes because of their behavior- as Larry David. And despite that awkwardness, it’s the shortest 30 minutes of TV that I watch. I can watch those episodes over and over and I howl with laughter every time. It’s packed with memorable moments, all driven by Larry’s neuroses. It’s really quite something and if you haven’t tried it yet after this many years, you owe it to yourself to fire up an episode or two.