Square Eyes

People sometimes say to me "Phil, you don't get out much - what's good on TV?". And once I've gone through the Kübler-Ross grief cycle, I've got a pretty good answer. And it ain't from here.

I'm as sceptical as the next man when it comes to American TV, but there does appear to be a glut of great shows that have come out in the past year. Some of them haven't made it big here in the UK yet. But thanks to the wonders of the internets, these shows can be watched in the UK the day after they air in the States. So, in my view, here are the shows that are going to make it big pretty soon (links are all to the relevant pages on Wikipedia, you can link off to official sites from there if you want).

  • Dexter - Serial killer who only kills serial killers. Genius. HBO production. Stars the guy off Six Feet Under.
  • Heroes - Cartoon-like action adventure featuring a dozen or so people who discover that they've got supernatural powers and have to save the world. Like X-Men but with more character development and distinctly different production values (slick but different)
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - Great new show from Aaron Sorkin (who wrote the first four seasons of The West Wing) which follows the production of a show similar to Saturday Night Live. The writing is simply awesome, but it's well acted too. Stars Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.
  • Big Love - Polygamous family living in modern day Salt Lake City, starring Bill Paxton of Weird Science and Apollo 13 fame. Season 1 finished a wee while ago (indeed I think they showed it on Channel 5 over here), but the next season is due to start soon and I'm looking forward to it.
You can thank me later.

Oh, and some of the perennial favorites are still hitting the mark. Especially South Park - If you haven't seen Season 10, and in particular the Make Love, Not Warcraft episode, then you are missing out. Seriously! You can watch it lo-fi here on Youtube if you like. Lost and Battlestar Galactica seem to be waning in their third seasons, but they're still worth a watch. And Family Guy, Scrubs and The Office (US version) are still LOL funny.

I really don't get out much.

Oh, and if you're wondering how I get to watch this stuff...well....lets just say that I have a friend who tells me all about them. I wouldn't dare use BitTorrent to download everything for free the day after it airs in the States. That wouldn't be legal. Oh no sir. And I wouldn't get all my torrent files from Torrent Spy or Mininova either.

Now, I want to know why it is that we can't produce great TV over here. Even something as 'innovative' as Doctor Who looks amateurish next to the American shows, in terms of production values, quality of acting and quality of writing especially. I haven't bothered watching Doctor Who since they ripped off The Matrix and about three other films in the first episode of the latest series.

Answers on a postcard, please.


Simon said…
There is good UK TV you just have to find it and persevere with it. Dr Who isn't half bad - remember it is a kids/family show not sure the American examples cited are. The acting in general is good (Billie Piper was excellent), David Tennant is good (see Blackpool) but should use his own accent.

I enjoy most of the American programs you mention but bawlk at the overly sentimental flourishes found within what are otherwise excellent shows - I'm looking at you West Wing. Thank god for HBO in that regard as they have at least the balls to put out The Sopranos and Deadwood without the aching sentimentality of many American shows. These at least allow character development, a good plot and don't treat the audience as simpletons.

A recent very good example of a Brit made show that ticked all my boxes is The State Within. Also worth checking out are: Life on Mars, Shameless, Spooks (most recent being the best), Blackpool, Funland, Nighty Night - generally anything with Mark Gatiss in it. See, all is not lost there is some good stuff out there!

Also not everyone is bowing to Aaron Sorkins new show Studio 60 as it gets a good kicking from Jonathan Berstein - http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguide/
in his Aerial View of America in the Guide. Not seen it yet but am curious mainly to see if it is as good as you say or as horrific as he says, my bet it's somewhere inbetween.
Phil Whitehouse said…
I've hardly watched any of those shows. Which set me thinking why I'm so keen to seek out new drama from the States when I can't be bothered to give English shows a chance.

Partly, I think, it's down to the excitement I felt for Lost when it first came out. It's definitely lost it's way (sorry for the pun) in the third season, but the bar was set pretty high for a while. And 24 has also kept me interested. Plus of course all the shows I've listed have floated my boat.

So far as UK shows are concerned, I watched Spooks on DVD (lent from a friend), enjoyed the first season, but then it went downhill at the start of season 2 and I haven't bothered with it since. Likewise I watched Doctor Who when it was revitalised in 2005, thought it was good, and was then very disappointed with the first show of the 2006 season (ripped off more than one film). And I happened to watch a clip of Casualty at some point last year, which was, frankly, pathetic next to the likes of ER. Completely unrealistic, awful acting, rubbish writing - and completely unbelievable as a result. And maybe those events combined have put me in my current state of mind.

I'm all for writing that appeals to the family, and Doctor Who did a pretty good job for a while, but it feels like it's appealing less to adults now. Pixar set the benchmark when it comes to producing comedy that appeals to the whole family, I think.

It's funny you mention The West Wing, as Emily and I have just finished watching all seven seasons back to back! That's 156 episodes, folks, over a six month period (did I mention that we don't get out much?). I didn't find it overly sentimental, except for the last six or so episodes when they wrapped things up in a perfect little bow. That was cheesy. But they resisted the temptation to get Josh and Donna together until then, and I was pleased about this. Maybe my tolerence threshold for sentimentality is lower than yours!

I expect some are wondering how we find the time to watch all this TV. The answer is that we rarely watch broadcast TV. Don't watch soaps. Don't watch the X-Factor. Don't watch The Bill. Don't watch the evening news. We watch what we want, when we want it.

Anyway, the FA Cup 3rd round is on so I'll leave it there.
Matt said…
I think one point worth making about British TV is that whilst dramas are generally better from the States, I'd suggest the comedy from the UK is of a far higher standard.

If you want bad tv, head to Oz.......6 channels, no real freeview to speak of.........what would we do without BitTorrent?!?! That said, there's plenty of sport on (except soccerball):-)