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Overrated/Underrated: TV Shows!

October 26, 2010

I don’t know why I’m stunned a show that’s about as edgy and inoffensive as a Walker, Texas Ranger (which I love quite passionately) or a Pensacola: Wings of Gold (though somehow less entertaining than both) – NCIS – is the most popular show on television. I should be in all kinds of love with NCIS, but I’m not. My goodness, NCIS’s a spin-off of JAG for corn’s sake.

I tried very hard to like NCIS because it seems as though it was designed specifically with my procedural needs in mind: a Fontanavere alum (Mark Harmon), interesting cases and plots that move about as fast as molasses, which would enable me to cycle my laundry without missing anything. Sadly, the show doesn’t work for me.

Also, can we get a moratorium on depiction of TV goths, until some future time when someone can style them in a non cheesy, cringe-inducing way? Leaving aside the fact that 24 hour gothing over the age of 25 is ridiculous, who goes to work expecting to be taken seriously dressed as though a Hot Topic store from 1997 blew up in their face? It’s with sympathy that I tell you that Ministry lied, folks. Turns out, everyday is not Halloween. Yeah, that broke my heart too.

During my own lengthy tenure as a goth, I certainly wore my share of horribly inappropriate outfits in a variety of situations, but at work I favored basic black everything as tasteful as I could stand, while I sat at my desk counting down the minutes before I could go home and really goth it out! Bop e bop bop, indeed. In the blistering (and hilarious) essay “Really, America? NCIS is our most popular show?” offers his thoughts on the show:

Look, we all understand the appeal of the American procedural. The case-of-the-week format is comforting, its stars performances now wear the predictability of an old friend, and the surprise endings aren’t actually surprising, but have just enough twist in them to leave us with a glimmer of self-respect. “OK, that was a real TV show, I have spent my hour justifiably.” But NCIS? Motherfucking NCIS? That’s not Law and Order. There’s no Sam Waterston in the building. It’s not even CSI, which we all feel a little dirty about watching, but vaguely involves science and is therefore somewhat redemptive. It’s NCIS. (And don’t think we haven’t noticed how close the letters of CSI and NCIS are, CBS. You were trying to trick us into watching and we don’t don’t appreciate it.) It stars Mark Harmon, of all people. Name something Mark Harmon was in, quick! Wrong. The correct answer is “St. Elsewhere”. All other shows you had to look up because no one’s ever heard of them. That’s who we’re supposed to tune in for.

Omg, did Raymond write this? Anyway, here are some shows that I think are overrated and a few I think are underrated. As always, your fun-to-monkeys ratio may vary and I can’t wait to hear what’s on your list!

Overrated

3. Lost – ABC

On the polarizing series finale of Lost I wrote:

I’ve watched a lot of television. More to the point – I’ve watched a lot of different kinds of shows. I already knew the big reveal of Lost and I had only seen about twenty minutes of the pilot a couple of months back. I knew it instantly because I had seen versions of it in lots of different mediums. Sure it was utilized for different reasons and under vastly different circumstances; nevertheless it was still the same trick. I don’t care what the producers said; show runners are notorious tricksters. I don’t care what kind of lush tropical disguise the trope wears; I always recognize it. I don’t even care how well prepared I am for it. I rarely find it satisfying.

Unlike a lot of Lost haters, I have no beef with its rabid fanbase. Many of my friends are rabid Lost fans – wait what do you call yourselves – and I like them all very much. Lost is a nice enough show with very attractive leads, lush, tropical locales and a reasonably engaging story – for the first season or so. That said, it didn’t grab me and I didn’t understand why it was so heavily praised. I know there’s a paucity of gripping, original television to watch on broadcast networks, but Lost just wasn’t the second coming for me it seemed to be for others.

2. Mad Men – AMC

Now I enjoy watching paint dry more than the average person, but eventually, I need to move on something a tad more productive; like watching clothes dry. I don’t even dislike the show. I just don’t think it’s the best thing ever or even currently on TV. It’s okay; adept at whatever it is it’s supposed to be doing. The people are pretty, the direction is quite great and Jon Hamm is foxy as all kinds of getout. I also enjoy John Slattery, though I’d rather watch his sultry Lincoln commercials.

1. Battlestar Galatica – SyFy

I am more than a little afraid of BSG fans. I am afraid to get stuck behind them in long checkout lines, be in close proximity to them in various waiting rooms or (Xena, help me) seated next to them on a transatlantic flight. They make Whedon fans seem docile. Fortunately, I don’t live or know many really obsessive-can’t-go-five-words-without-mentioning-BSG people up close and personal; I only know casual, watch-while-folding-laundry or “hey, it’s Stands with Fists and Lt. Castillo!” type fans who often shrug and give seesaw hands whenever I ask if the show is worth watching. Besides, why should I watch when I have La Mommie’s story arc recaps, which are always going to be light years better than whatever happens on any show! The only reason I even watched Mad Men is because La Mommie told me to. The same is true of BSC. She’s long been adept at convincing me to watch shows I would never seek out on my own by successfully demonstrating why I should watch the show, rather than waxing about why she watches the show. She’s also not a zealot and possesses impeccable p-culture taste, which cements her credibility. That said, even I was giddy when Netflix made the show available for instant viewing. The production values are on par with the original in terms of the era which each was produced. Outside Stands With Fists and Lt. Castillo, the characters aren’t particularly compelling to me and their problems rarely dire enough to interfere with t-shirt and stretchy pant folding. BSG is great background noise and falling asleep fare. So it has inadvertently become somewhat of a useful tool in my solo living arsenal.

(Dis)honorable mentions:

Breaking (Boring) Bad/AMC, Bones, Law & Order: SUV, Glee, The Office (American version), 30 rock

Underrated

3. In Treatment – HBO

Gabriel Byrne returns as Dr. Paul Weston on HBO's In Treatment

The idea that I could find a show about other people’s intimate therapy sessions so damn compelling is still pretty amazing to me. Therapy is boring stuff if you’re not the therapist or the patient or even if you are! Yet, I could watch these characters process, deflect, project and catastrophize for hours. I’ve always wanted a show staring Gabriel Byrne, but this was beyond wildest dreams. He’s pitch perfect as Dr. Paul Weston – sympathetic with his patients, rancorous with his own clinical supervisor – and totally believable. While I didn’t follow Paul when he made the move to New York after his LA life imploded, I am looking forward to resuming our therapeutic work together this season. Hey, in a recession, and In Treatment is about all the therapy I can afford right now.

2. Leverage – TNT

One of the things Leverage does exceptionally well is taking a trope – in the case of the pilot episode – and turns it on its head with smarts and cheek. The other notable thing about Leverage is I watched it from its pilot episode and was immediately hooked. This is pretty rare for me. Most shows have such shaky, stagey, slapdash pilot, crammed with everything producers think you have to know in case the damn show gets shitcanned (which is probably a reality in most cases) that pilot episodes aren’t generally very watchable. Even great shows. Ever tried sitting through the first ep of The X-Files? Shaky special effects, the characters screaming story arc exposition at each other and lots of painfully miscast extras are a few of the horrors awaiting you if you happen to catch that ep of the X-files. Not the case with Leverage! This show came out SWINGING. First up to bat, the great character actor Saul Rubinek in a wonderfully against type role. Brilliant stroke of casting! Had me invested because I am familiar with Rubinek’s numerous nice guy roles. This was followed by exposition unfolding in a leisurely and highly entertaining pace and concludes with a surprising, yet inevitable resolution. Not to mention the first instance of Sophie’s (Gina Bellman) preternatural command of accents.

1. Damages – FX/Direct TV

Damages didn’t blip for me until it was already circling the drain, so to speak. (it has since been rescued by Direct TV) I found it on the Hulu knockoff Crackle and watched the entire first season in one shot over the course of a miserable snowy weekend. I was riveted and hooked. Not just by the non-linear storytelling, sublime acting, gorgeous cinematography or taut writing, but I was blown away by Glenn Close again, playing different kind of bunny boiler. I am fascinated by Damages attempt at female power analysis seen through the character of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), Ellen Page (Rose Byrne), Marilyn Tobin (Lily Tomlin) and Claire Maddox (Marcia Gay Harden). Unlike a lot shows that require major investment, Damages always makes good on what it promises. You don’t have worry whether or not each thread will be successfully woven into the fabric of the sweeping season long story arcs, which leaves you free to enjoy every second of the ride. Many shows try to utilize the “flash forward” thing, but none do it was effectively as Damages!

Honorable Mentions:

Terriers/FX, Rubicon/AMC, Rizzoli & Isles/TNT

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 3:19 pm

    In the comedy category, I’d nominate Family Guy for Overrated, and My Name Is Earl for Way Underrated. I used to find Family Guy somewhat amusing, but mainly just Stewie. My Name Is Earl was laugh-out-loud funny every single episode.

    Oh, and I totally agree with you about Leverage and Damages. Not so much Mad Men on which we’ll have to agree to disagree… I don’t think it’s the best thing evah but I don’t think it’s overrated.

  2. October 26, 2010 3:52 pm

    Direct TV also rescued one of my favorite underrated shows, Friday Night Lights. well, I guess it is nicely critically acclaimed, but it sure as hell is underwatched.

    I’m with Lami on Mad Men, it’s not asoverrated as some. And not BSG! There are still people who haven’t heard of it that I know will love it! And by people, I mean my parents. I get what you’re saying about the hype, but as someone who watch it mostly live as it aired, it was exciting and fun to experience unfolding. But as a Lostie (?!? Is that what we’re called?) I can back you on that choice.

    Along the lines of In Treatment, have you ever watched the miniseries “Tell Me You Love Me” from HBO? that is totally one year of free counseling about your sex life and relationships. it’s also some of the most realistic doing-it i’ve ever seen tv!

  3. October 26, 2010 3:53 pm

    Direct TV also rescued one of my favorite underrated shows, Friday Night Lights. well, I guess it is nicely critically acclaimed, but it sure as hell is underwatched.

    I LOVE FNL.

    I need to watch Tell Me That You Love Me!

  4. October 26, 2010 4:01 pm

    I have never watched an episode of Rizzoli & Isles but I read all of the subtext recaps on http://www.afterellen.com/taxonomy/term/6946. Does that count?

  5. evmaroon permalink
    October 26, 2010 4:02 pm

    I’m so disheartened that you don’t enjoy Pauley Perette’s goth on NCIS, especially as I’ve written about her character right here on Fry Butter, but I don’t disagree that Gothing It Up After 25 is a practice to avoid. And while I’m a big fan of the early seasons of the show—I also think Ziva David is one of the 25 most interesting detectives on TV in a current show—I think the time is soon for them to close up the office in the Navy Yard.

    I just started watching Damages last week, and well, of course I love Glenn Close’s portrayal. She’s like Anna Wintour meets Machiavelli. It’s also nice to see Tate Donovan doing something fun since he drove a Jeep Wrangler in Spacecamp.

  6. October 26, 2010 4:49 pm

    I like the NCIS with Linda Hunt and LL Cool J, though I only watch it with my Nana. Also, I didn’t realize Tate Donovan did anything other than be BFF with George Clooney. He’s actually a decent actor.

  7. October 26, 2010 4:52 pm

    Totally agree with you on In Treatment. I only stumbled upon it late in its first season, but it’s wonderfully written, and yeah, if you told me the premise, I’d say “boring… next.”

    My favorite least-appreciated tv show (though I think it’s gotten a fair amount of attention by now) is United States of Tara. I’ll never find a replacements for my beloved Six Feet Under, but it’s close. Plus the character of Marshall, Tara’s son, is one of the most nuanced young, gay characters on tv (take note Glee).

  8. evmaroon permalink
    October 26, 2010 5:15 pm

    @Kathy: I was a fan of the younger brother on Ugly Betty, and I can’t think of many Latino gay characters on TV at all, not to mention young adults. I’m also a fan of Marshall.

  9. October 26, 2010 7:02 pm

    My favorite least-appreciated tv show (though I think it’s gotten a fair amount of attention by now) is United States of Tara. I’ll never find a replacements for my beloved Six Feet Under, but it’s close. Plus the character of Marshall, Tara’s son, is one of the most nuanced young, gay characters on tv (take note Glee).

    Might need to give this show a look-see.

  10. October 26, 2010 7:08 pm

    Omg, I loved Mark Harmon in Summer School, which I’ve easily seen like 300 times.

  11. hsofia permalink
    October 27, 2010 1:13 am

    I didn’t realize there was a tv show starring Gabriel Byrne! Oh em gee, must get my hands on that.

    I’ve seen all whatever number of seasons there were of Lost and totally agree with your assessment.

    And yeah, Damages – saw that when iTunes offered the first episode free a few years back and I was HOOKED from opening scenes. I’m looking forward to catching up on seasons 3 and 4.

    I can’t watch NCIS because a former roommate who used to be in the Navy talked about what a bunch of dweebs NCIS was in real life, and he couldn’t remotely believe that they got their own show. Plus, I hated Jag and it gave me the same vibes (is it supposed to be a spin-off?).

  12. October 27, 2010 8:36 am

    David James Elliott was a JERK to me each and every time he came into my starbucks back in the day. So nasty, that his wife frequently had to run behind him and apologize. He also had some stupid drink that involved chocolate syrup and burnt coffee.

    That’s 99% of the reason I’ll never watch more NCIS. So glad that motherfucker is no longer on TV.

  13. evmaroon permalink
    October 27, 2010 4:28 pm

    Wow, I had no idea he was a jerk! Is he trying to eradicate the myth that all Canadians are nice?

  14. October 27, 2010 5:21 pm

    I don’t mind a celebrity jerk. I just hate a C-list celebrity jerk, which is more often than not the case. The nicest celebs are always the most famous. It’s why I can’t say too much jacked up shit about Tom Cruise. He was REALLY REALLY REALLY nice and not particularly creepy in real life when I nearly ran him down in a parking lot in Malibu or Pacific Pali, when I was trying to learn how to ride a motorcycle. First and last time I was ever on one.

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