We find ourselves in that weird transitive period between the bowl season (that never even happened) and spring camp, counting the freckles on our arms and pretending to care about the NBA. So instead of scouring for news about the football team and trying to expand snippets into sonnets, I will just post the occasional article on OBNUG to keep us Nuggies (we Nuggies?) connected.
Of course, this list is according to my opinions, and perhaps a few inclusions have been forgotten over time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not ABSOLUTELY RIGHT AND YOU PROBABLY DON’T BATHE IF YOU DISAGREE!
Okay, okay, you can. That’s the point, I guess. If you liked something better, feel free to share, and maybe I’ll pick it up and add it to my favorites!
These aren’t in any order, other than that’s how they came into my mind.
1. Malcolm in the Middle
This sitcom from the mind of Linwood Boomer captured something completely true for me, where I grew up in a family sandwiched between two brothers. It depicted Malcolm Wilkerson (whose last name I had to Google because it’s never mentioned in seven seasons) navigating the perils of child- and teen-hood, while his middle-class parents struggle to make ends meet and raise semi-normal humans. This might sound like a pretty generic setup—and believe me, this doesn’t even do it justice—but the show is belly-laugh brilliant. It’s the first comedy I recall ever being shot film-style and having no laugh track. Every actor in this is perfectly cast, with Bryan Cranston probably being my favorite in his portrayal of Hal. He is outmatched by nearly everyone on the show, but somehow manages to hold his own. Watch this interaction between him and Jane Kaczmarek’s Lois:
Some standout episodes are the bowling episode (S2-E20), which shows two parallel timelines where either Hal or Lois takes the kids bowling, the episode where Lois envisions if she had all girls instead of boys (S4-E10), the clown fight, and the Komodo 3000.
Available on Hulu
I wasn’t sure I would enjoy a family drama coming into this, but it is probably one of the best written and acted dramas I’ve ever seen. I think the best compliment I can give it is that the characters talk and act like real people. Sometimes, they speak over one another, and the characters’ motivations are spot-on. The main problem I have with most television writing is that oftentimes, characters are given lines to speak just because that is what is needed to move the plot along, even if it is out-of-line with their personalities. This show says what you or I might say, and miraculously, keeps you interested and involved the whole time. You’ll actually care about the plight of these fictional people, to the point where you’ll shed tears of joy and sorrow (Spoilers) for them. (Bonus: the humor is natural and genuinely hilarious. No “jokes.”)
Available on Netflix
3. Arrested Development
I’ll be honest: At first, I didn’t “get” Arrested Development. Granted, I watched an episode in the middle of a season and didn’t know the characters. But then my brother convinced me it was the funniest thing on TV, and so I started from the beginning and was hooked. The wit of this show is unparalleled! You can watch the show a hundred times and still catch a new call-back or reference you hadn’t noticed before.
This show was picked up by Netflix after it was cancelled by Fox, but trust me, the magic all happens in the first three seasons. As soon as they took the focus off of Michael (the “straight” character through whose eyes we try and make sense of his bizarre family), the show loses its charm.
This show has the cleverest back-and-forth I’ve ever heard (and unfortunately unavailable on youtube). It’s in reference to a running gag with Ann (her?), when Michael’s sister Lindsay is counseling him on how to deal with his disappointment with his son’s (George Michael’s) plain girlfriend, Ann (who also was in the aforementioned Parenthood).
Lindsay: If you don’t stop saying no to him, you’re going to drive him straight to Ann.
George Michael (entering room): Hey, dad, can you drive me to Ann’s?
Available on Netflix
4. Mr. Bean
Best sketch comedy ever! Rowan Atkinson rivals any silent film actor for their ability to tell a story physically.
Most sketches are available on Mr. Bean’s official Youtube channel.
The most tragic show cancellation ever. I will admit, I was part of the reason it was cancelled, since I didn’t discover this show until after they made a movie of it (Serenity). This show is part sci-fi, part western, part suspense, part drama, and part comedy (and each part succeeds marvelously)!
This show is about a ragtag group of space travelers taking on odd jobs just to stay alive while flying in their “Firefly” class ship, Serenity. It was the show that helped catapult Nathan Fillion’s career (you may know him better as Castle or The Rookie). It seemed like each episode was written in a different genre, but they each were interesting, and the characters really have interesting backstories and motivations. I really like science fiction that takes the “science” part seriously enough to help me accept the “fiction.” (No sound or gravity in space, amirite, Star Wars? Just kidding; I know Star Wars is fantasy, but when ships run out of fuel *ahem, Last Jedi*, they won’t slow down and start falling.)
If you haven’t already, please give this one a try. Besides, you only have to commit to 11 episodes. (Then watch the movie for a good resolution.)
Available on Hulu, or just come borrow it from me on blu-ray or DVD (yes, I bought it twice).
You want TV’s biggest badBW? That would be Timothy Olyphant’s Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens.
This is the most “mature” selection I have on here, since Game of Thrones has too many bosoms for my taste. (I could make a joke about being too old to nurse here, but… I think I just did.)
This show is about a Deputy Marshall who is reassigned to his home county of Harlan, Kentucky after shooting a suspect whom he may or may not have goaded into pulling on him. When he goes home, he is confronted by a whole slew of deplorable folks who want a piece of him. Raylan Givens is fast enough to take someone down with his sidearm, but oftentimes, it’s far more entertaining when he talks in his cool, calm way to assuage a sticky situation.
Available on Amazon Prime
7. Downton Abbey
Come on, I know you have heard of this one. But for some reason, you can’t bring yourself to invest in a period drama set in England for six seasons. Plus, some of you might think this means handing in your man card. I can assure you, watching this will make you more of a man. (At least to your wife, whom you should share this with if she hasn’t already watched it and begged you to get with it.)
The writing had me hooked from the outset. You may wonder what could happen in these characters’ lives that would be interesting enough to care about, but they start the show with news that the Titanic has sunk, and this has repercussions for this prestigious family living in the halls of Downton Abbey. Then it gets better from there.
This show is so well acted and the characters so well rounded that you can’t help but get caught up in their individual plights. You genuinely care what happens to them, and fortunately for you, you don’t have to wait for the next season to come out on PBS before resolving any season-ending cliffhangers.
One of the coolest things about this show is the dynamic between the servants and the served. They all live under the same roof, but there is a definite divide between classes. The setting of Downton Abbey is a character unto itself (played with stoic gusto by Highclere Castle), and the soundtrack is instantly memorable and appropriately moving.
For those of you who are already fans, did you know this is coming?
Available on Amazon Prime
Sticking with BBC on PBS, I have to include Sherlock. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts about Sherlock Holmes being set in the present, but actually, this is the most definitive and faithful depiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved characters. (Honestly, I was surprised to read how well the first episode mirrored A Study in Scarlet, and how ahead of his time Arthur Conan Doyle was.) And from a filmmaker’s perspective, this is absolutely cutting-edge cinematography and editing. I mean, just check out these transitions!
Each season is only three episodes long, but they are each as long as a movie and self-contained, so watch them at your own pace. Just try the first one. Go on, do it!
Available on Amazon Prime
9. Everybody Loves Raymond
Above, I alluded to how I wasn’t really a fan of “sitcom” writing and laugh tracks (where character A states condition A and then immediately contradicts it to canned laughter. Predictable and bo-o-oring). Raymond was different. The humor was in the interaction between characters, and the studio audience was real and genuinely entertained.
I found I could really relate to them, and the plots were situations we’ve all been in. I mean, who hasn’t been here on both sides?
I seriously don’t know how Patricia Heaton kept from laughing through that scene.
Available on TV Land
10. MacGyver (1980s)
I really had a hard time deciding this last one. I still had a few on my list (Lost - For the journey and speculation as it was being made, not necessarily the cheap, film-school student, easy-path ending, the one everyone on the internet said, “It had better not be _________”; Daredevil – For the gritty but realistic depiction of a hero conflicted by faith; The Happy Place – For its unpredictable humor, but the jury’s still out on the ending; Lark Rise To Candleford – Long name, amazing results; The Office; Dollhouse).
I ultimately decided I wanted to include a show that really influenced my childhood, and this was it. We only had one channel growing up (ABC), so whatever was on that channel was what we watched. I remember popping popcorn and gathering for the Disney Sunday Movie on Sundays, but Mondays were reserved for MacGyver. The theme song would wind me up like a top, and then after the show, I was pretending to diffuse a bomb with a toothpick and tin foil. Sure, it’s become a cliché now, and even spawned a pretty weak imitation and a few parodies, but it was novel and fun when it first came out.
And think; without it, we wouldn’t be “MacGyvering” ourselves out of situations.
Available on Amazon Prime
So, what have I missed? Certainly not Walking Dead. What do you agree with? Favorite episodes? Sound off in the comments!
Which Should Be My #1 Show?
This poll is closed
Malcolm in the Middle
Everybody Loves Raymond