Wednesday, January 4, 2017

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming

The end of the year brought the usual countdowns of music, movies, news stories, and of course 2016’s seemingly long, and supposedly tragic list of famous people who died.  To be honest, I don’t really care much about celebrity, and the deaths of people like Carrie Fisher, Abe Vigoda, and George Michael don’t even give me pause.  Sure, I pause to watch the story that lists them, but while I enjoy movies and TV, probably too much, their celebrity doesn’t interest me in the least.  Sure, I paused a little longer when Nancy Reagan and John Glenn died, but those are people I respect. 

Lists can be a relatively easy story for a reporter to put together, and in the same way, an easy topic for a blog.  Not to say that they aren’t good topics though.  I enjoyed reading Juvat’s take on Christmas movies with death and destruction, and Sarge’s top war films.  I also like the posts about favorite books, or “What’s on my bedside table?”  And while one could consider compiling these lists as lazy blogging, I disagree wholeheartedly and find them quite entertaining.  After all, these aren’t just 10 lines of text, they’re full of vivid descriptions of the movie/story and why they deserve to be on the list.  All of which make them entertaining, worth the discussion (or critique) in the comments, and the subsequent development of one’s own list if they had a “Blogfather” and readership with whom one could share.   If we only had a catchy name for the readership…Hmm.

I’ve weighed in on these lists of course, and thought of my own, but I don’t remember ever writing one myself.  Since I had a couple four-day weekends during the holidays, I did a fair amount of TV watching.  Like I said before, probably too much, but that makes for some blogging material.  You’ll be the judge of whether or not it’s good material though. 

Anyhoo, I now interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this one.  So in no particular order, here’s my list of what I consider some really good TV.  Very little of it is on network TV, as the cable or pay networks have been kicking network TV’s arse for several years now.  Maybe it’s because to me, real gore, immorality, death and destruction and unique interesting stories make for far more compelling TV.  And the networks seem to be a little bland, formulaic and corporate these days.  C’mon CBS, just how many variations of NCIS do we really need?  Especially in cities with no Navy presence.  Law and Order and its many spin-offs?  Good series, but not great, and now its writers are lazy, copying every titillating news story like “Rich Ivy leaguer raping a drunk girl,” “Transgender pre-teen being bullied online,” or “Gay closeted politician being blackmailed before the election.”  I’m tired of leftist social issues being thrust on me in the form of entertainment, so original TV shows from Netflix, AMC, Amazon, and HBO will dominate this list.

1. Breaking Bad.  Remember the first time you saw one of your teachers out in town?  It was almost mind-blowing to realize that your teacher had a life outside the classroom.  In Breaking Bad, that teacher, mild-mannered and almost milquetoast Chemistry Teacher Walter White not only has a life out of school, but it’s one filled with crime, deception, and tons of suspense.  While he’s using his smarts and his failed chem student assistant to cook meth, you root for him as he tries to stay ahead of the cancer treatment bills, other more ruthless drug dealers, and his relentless DEA-Agent brother-in-law.  It has completed its run, but AMC just ran a marathon and I re-watched several episodes and you can catch them all on Netflix.  My wife and I loved this series.

2. The Amerikans.  Remember the 80s and the Cold-War?  The best show on TV that nobody watches is on the almost unknown FX Channel which authentically uses that era as the background for a family of Russian spies deeply integrated into the suburbs of Washington DC, complete with a neighbor who happens to be the FBI’s top Counter-Intelligence Agent.  Like Breaking Bad, you find yourself on the edge of your seat when it seems that the FBI’s net is about to close in on them, and you’re relieved when it doesn’t, despite every patriotic bone in your body needing it to.  You keep coming back as the characters are faced with ever-more difficult and dangerous missions (stealing Stealth Fighter plans, bugging the FBI’s C-I office, Bio-Weapons, and turning their innocent teen daughter into a second generation spy).  They do this while slowly realizing that Mother Russia only cares about the mission and little about the safety of their family.   Remember I mentioned that is isn’t widely watched?  That includes my wife.

3. Ray Donovan.  A well written series on Showtime following the deeply flawed Ray, a fixer for celebrities and the well-connected in Hollywood- duties which jeopardize his career, his freedom, his dysfunctional family, and his soul.  I like it because the show doesn’t spoon feed the viewer (so you better pay attention), and its plot points with undertones of Ray’s family’s upbringing as a Catholic on the Southside of Boston, are subtle yet powerful.  While the show details the lengths to which Ray will go in order to protect his clients, sometimes far from legal or moral, down deep he’s a devoted family man who goes to even further lengths for them.  Wife?  Nope, not this one either.

4.  House of Cards.  A political thriller series that President Clinton once touted as “99% real,” it follows the lives and steady rise of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) from the statehouse in South Carolina to the White House.  Frank, initials F.U., is brutal and ruthless in his aspirations, leaving a trail of bodies in his path.  His wife Claire, is probably just as brutal, but even more cold and calculating.  I think Clinton’s statement is funny in that he doesn’t see how the Underwoods, with their power plays and unconventional relationship, seems to be mirroring the Clintons and their political history.  The political games played, which I suspect are very close to reality, are scary as hell.  Now awaiting season 5, it’s a very binge-worthy show which fascinates my wife.

5.  Game of Thrones.  It's like House of Cards, but set in a medieval fantasy.  Its power plays are far more brutal, with characters I love so much that if George R.R. Martin kills one of them off (Arya Stark above,) I’m driving to New Mexico to throat punch him.  It’s got Kings and Queens, Advisors and Assassins, Witches and Wolves, and death by dragons!  The scenes are epic, the villains are some of the most hated ever in all of fiction, and sniff! there’s only two seasons left.  Somebody is going to win that game and I’m going to be upset when it’s over.  Wife?  I don’t dare watch an episode without her.

6. The Walking Dead.  I had no interest in seeing a show about zombies, and I successfully avoided it for six seasons.  I was bored one weekend last spring when my wife went up to Oregon to help her mother after hip surgery, so I took a look.  By Monday morning I was through 2 seasons and fully hooked.  The thing is, is that the show isn’t actually about zombies- it’s about how this group of people survive when stripped of everything- their safety, their humanity, their dignity.  And that’s usually from other survivors, not the zombies.  Another show with tremendously brutal and hated villains, you can catch season 7 on AMC or binge it on Netflix.  Zero spousal interest.

7. The Man in the High Castle.  Probably my favorite show right now, it’s set in an alternate early 60’s history that has the US occupied by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, because they were the victors in WWII.  I’m only 8 episodes into the series’ first of two seasons, but they won’t last long.  It’s a little sci-fi-like, and probably the most unique show on TV, showing what life could be like under fascism.  The main antagonist and head of the Reich in the US is a die-hard Nazi and family man, who grew up in…Munich?  No.  Berlin?  No, guess again.  Cincinnati Ohio!  However, not is all as it seems and the American resistance isn’t futile.  One interesting scene praised the German engineering which enabled a three-hour trip from Berlin to NYC on the transport below.  I started watching this past Friday after dear wife went to bed so I'm flying solo on this show also.

8. The Crown.  My wife loved this show, which had a short 10 episode arc following the first years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.  It’s a very authentic and well-done dramatization of history, so there’s no real twists or turns.  However, it’s a great peek into the life of a young monarch and the constitutional pressures put on her by Parliament, including what her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, can and can’t do in his off-time, which is pretty much all the time; who her sister can date and marry, and what her Prime Minister must tell her, but often refuses to do.  Netflix’s most expensive series, it’s worth the time.

9. Better Call Saul.  One of the lighter series on this list, it's a spin-off of Breaking Bad, but set before that series.  It follows the sometimes questionable exploits of Saul Goodman, an ambulance chasing lawyer who is a total sad-sack.  Slower paced than BB, it's witty and original, and the writing makes you really like the guy.  But just as soon as he gets ahead, he often gets kicked to the curb by a judge, his clients, or even his brother, a semi-crazy and dysfunctional partner in his own mega-firm.  It's another AMC show of course, available on Netflix, and my wife loves it.

10. The Goldbergs.  I realize that every one of those shows are dramas, and other than Saul- all are uber-serious.  But that's not all I watch.  I enjoy some comedies, but there really aren't that many good ones.  We love The Goldbergs however, which features the hilarious antics of a real-life family in the 80's, an era in which I came into adulthood, so I remember it well.  Documented by the youngest- Adam, through his many hours of family VHS tapes, it centers on nearly every fad and pop-culture reference from that time.  Wendy McClendon Covey humorously plays the crazy and ultra-protective mother (or Smother) as her kids call her.

Honorable Mentions

Anything by Marvel on Netflix.  That includes Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage- all which are dark, serious, and tied together.  Thankfully, they're mostly absent of the cheesy costumes from TV shows of the past.

The Last Ship on TNT.  Not the best show, but the Navy supports it and it's done well, at least as far as shows about a post-apocalyptic Destroyer crew go.  More of a guilty pleasure for me than must-see TV.

Mad Men.  Old and gone, but it was a great series.  Set in the 50's and 60's, but ending in the early 70's, it focuses mainly on the flawed, but brilliant Don Draper- an ad-man extraordinaire on Madison Avenue, and his ever expanding and contracting ad agency.  And it's got Christina Hendricks!

Love or hate any of these?  Love something else?  Let me know.


  1. The lovely missus got me turned on to "Longmire". The series started out on A&E and was one of it's highest watched shows ever, but they cancelled it because it didn't pull in the right demographics. I guess us geezers and geezerettes don't count for much in the entertainment world anymore. Luckily Netflix picked up the series and produced two new seasons. Alas, the upcoming season is its last. The lead character is great with his sense of right and wrong coming from an earlier time in history. It was well worth subscribing to Netflix even if this was the only thing we watched.

    1. That's how we felt about House of Cards, but now there's so much more on there and we love it.

  2. Replies
    1. Not a TV person I take it?

    2. Apparently Scott and I have similar takes in shows. I started watching Arrow on Netflix until it got too "Woe is me" and quit early into season 2. I'm a couple of shows into "The Flash" and have high hopes. We'll see.

      Re: your list. I've heard of a couple of them, but not watched any. Might give "The Crown" a shot, provided it doesn't descend into chick flick status.

      I'm not a big TV watcher in general, and I've got enough drama in my life to not need to enhance it by watching Drama on TV. Couple that with a general dislike for politics coming out of Hollywood and their insistence in including that in the show (e.g. "Last Man Standing" with their subtle endorsement of the anointed one) , there are few TV shows that I want to watch.

    3. Not really, Tuna. When I realized that basic cable was $80.00 a month, and all I watched was Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, Alton Brown, and Trains and Locomotives on RFD network, and if it was a rerun, I wouldn't bother, it could cost me $40.00 to watch a TV show. I have a TV, but it is only used to watch DVDs, and VHS tapes.

  3. We enjoy House of Cards, The Flash, and my wife watches a couple of network shows. But the telling is in the gifts under the tree: for Christmas, we bought gifts for ourselves. The complete boxed set of all the James Bond films, and Seasons 1-6 of Game of Thrones. Yes, I know the Bond flicks aren't TV shows, but it's my wallet. :)

    1. We caught Season One of Game of Thrones during an HBO freebie, and we bought 1-6 on DVD. We found out that we could not watch just one episode. We got the Bond flicks a few years ago and have enjoyed revisiting the films.

  4. The Man In The High Castle. That's Philip K. Dick. The fellow who brought us "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?", aka "Bladerunner." Might be worth a read, but also might ruin the television series for you.

    I don't own a tee-vee anymore. I do watch vids on the laptop but the only series I follow is Grand Tour, which is rather disappointing and not as good as Top Gear was bitd.

    Fun and interesting post. Thanks!

    1. No TV? Man, I knew you were hard core, but that's HARD CORE! How long did it take for the DTs to stop? :-)

    2. It's not hard core by any stretch of the imagination. It's cheapskate and blood pressure control. As for DT's, I really haven't missed it and being without is kind of liberating. Unless I'm delusional, but if I am, I don't know it, so it's a wash.

    3. I understand the BP Control. (Hence my comment of "Drama" above.)

  5. I'm mostly with juvat, without the drama. I used to watch NCIS and Madam Secretary, but lately even those shows have lost my interest. I'd rather spend my time on the computer or reading a book.

    Speaking of the anointed one ( as juvat did ), I just read several books about the Clintons. All by the same author, so the viewpoint was rather limited.

    Paul L. Quandt

  6. Hhmm, don't do much TV other than Amazon and Netflix, and typically I watch those on my computer. (The big TV is for sports, when I bother, and watching BluRay discs.) I did like Longmire, though I haven't watched it in a while. I watched the first episode of The Man in the High Castle and was intrigued, though as an historian it bugs me, a lot. I think I need to read the book.

    Game of Thrones is a favorite, for all its flaws. Loved The Crown, it felt very accurate and true to the period. Love the cast, they do an excellent job, looking forward to the next seasons. (Last I heard there would be six.)

    I started watching Breaking Bad, while it had its moments, I just couldn't get into it. Hated The Walking Dead, for a number of reasons.

    Like I said, not a big TV guy, but great post Tuna, you've given me a couple of series to check out.

  7. I don't watch TV, & don't have any desire to, but finally heard enough about The Walking Dead that we checked out Season 1 from the library, & we were immediately hooked. Just got Season 6 Saturday, & it's due back this Sat., so I've been cutting my blog reading short of an evening in order to enjoy it.
    Zero spousal interest? Maybe in your house, but certainly not in mine. My GF (of 14 years) is more antsy than me each year, waiting for the DVDs to get to the library.
    Gotta go--have to find out what happens next.
    --Tennessee Budd

  8. For about the last three months I haven't watched much TV and haven't missed it.
    Before that I was slowly working my way through the series Justified on Amazon Prime.
    Also was watching Red Oak.
    Outside of that I will turn on the tube to watch a basketball game occasionally.

  9. 'Colony' is good, and not your usual alien invasion show.

    'The Expanse' is sci-fi done right, with Newtonian motion, real science and so forth (kinda like Babylon 5 without super-aliens.) The differentiation of the human species after long-term exposure to gravity variants and radiation is interesting (and those pesky Mormons...)

    'Homicide Hunter' is a great 'real' show, as the main character and narrator is extraordinarily funny in a drole way to listen to, and the sad reality of death investigation (in comparison to fantasy tv show deaths) is interesting.

    'Nightwatch', about the 8pm to 4am First Responders in New Orleans, is a great 'reality' show. The greatness and stupidity of N'awlins is really laid out for the viewer to see.

    'The First 48' is another addictive series to me, as it follows real homicide investigators involved in, well, real homicides. The unfortunate truth of young black males, drugs and prostitution as the major connectors of most person-caused death investigations really comes through. You will find yourself mentally cataloging all your security preps and your driving/shopping habits after watching a few episodes.

    'Forged in Fire.' What can you say about a show where they make edged weapons while you watch, and actually test them against such things like pig carcasses, metal sheeting, cow thigh-bones and rope (all using the same blade)? Except for that walking pussy (sorry folks) Doug Mercado, a supposedly super blade expert martial arts dude who can't hold his wrists straight during a plain fore-arm strike while cutting through (watching his wrists roll during while using claymores was painful, and actually caused one sword to break while warping the snot out of the other. What a jerk!) Other than Doug M., the rest of the cast and the show overall is fantastic, so much so that my spousal unit watches it and loves commenting on the action (and all the pretty, pretty blades.)

    'Blacklist' was good for a while, as James Spader's portrayal of the super evil dude 'Red' is superb, as he gets away with saying and doing things that many of us find ourselves thinking of doing to our fellow 'man.' But the show just got a little too ponderous for our (me and wife) tastes.

    1. Forged in Fire sounds excellent. I might have to check that out. Edged weapons have always fascinated me.


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