In an era where reality TV thrives, I’ve decided to compile and share MY list of the best TV shows to grace our screens that were both underrated and underappreciated by the masses. Quit worrying about the poor quality of television programming- grab a boxset from the list below and tune out the junk.
1. Freaks & Geeks
Thanks to Judd Apatow for bringing us this gem, Freaks and Geeks follows the lives of 7 main characters as they grapple with the pressures of being a teenager in 1980- trying to find their place at school.
The dialogue is spot on. The characters are authentic, a genuine reflection of the time and are still relevant today. Issues addressed include social status, stereotyping, drugs, alcohol, sex, broken homes, bullying and being ‘cool’.
The show ran for one season and wasn’t picked up for a second. It was filmed in 2000, so re-creating the 1980’s was done with great attention to detail. The music in each episode is outstanding, whether it’s Alice Cooper or Cream. There are plenty of huge, laugh out loud moments and for the ladies out there: 2 of the main characters are played by James Franco and Jason Segel.
2. Arrested Development
Where to start? Arrested Development had a cult following of fans who were mad as hell when it was announced that the 3rd season would be its final. The style of humour is such that you either love it- or don’t get it. The show centers on the Bluth family, where Michael Bluth (played by Jason Bateman) constantly has to rescue his offbeat family members from hilarious, bizarre situations. While his father, George Bluth Snr sits in jail for fraud; Michael must keep the Bluth Company afloat.
His brothers Gob (pronounced ‘Job’) and Buster steal plenty of scenes- whether its Gob failing at his magic tricks (sorry: ‘illusions’) or Buster having his arm bitten off by a seal the first time he ventures into the ocean (as a fully grown adult male) its clear that Michael has his hands full. When not dealing with his brothers, Michael must deal with his twin sister Lindsey, her well meaning but total weirdo of a husband (perfectly played by David Cross) and their daughter, Maybe. I left my favourite character for last: Lucille Bluth- the family matriarch. She is a bitch, a spoilt, wealthy woman of questionable morals who drinks like a fish. She has some of the sharpest one-liners in the show.
Interested in the Bluths? They do a mean chicken dance and get drunk at interventions. Look out for big name Hollywood cameos. And a somewhat racist puppet.
3. Black Books
Bernard Black is not a happy man. He owns and runs a bookstore, but hates most people- customers included. He’s constantly drunk, chain-smokes and his personal hygiene is questionable at best. So why does this make for such a great show? Bernard has an employee named Manny (played by the comedic genius, Bill Bailey). The dialogue between these two is razor sharp: Manny never gets things right and Bernard isn’t afraid to tell him, usually with a raised voice and a bucket load of arrogance.
Enter Fran, the female lead who owns a store next door. She sells knick-knacks but never seems to actually be in her own store. The trio makes for solid laughs as neither Bernard or Fran suffer fools, and quite often Manny IS the fool (Or is he?).
Another show that ran for 3 short seasons but has earned its place in cult television royalty, thanks to the acerbic writing and acting of Dylan Moran, who plays Bernard Black with finesse- and a healthy pinch of cynicism and anger.
‘Community’ follows the relationships and interactions of a group of adults studying at community college who are thrown together as ‘study buddies’.
The alpha male ‘Jeff’, played by Joel McHale, is a failed lawyer sent back to community college to sort out his education. As he does this, a study group forms and we are introduced to a diverse and unpredictable lineup of characters that have differing reasons for being there. They don’t start out as a cohesive group, but along the way, often under the hesitant leadership of Jeff, they begin to stick together to face whatever college life throws at them.
Standout performance as a creepy senior citizen student goes to Chevy Chase who is portrayed as a groping airhead who is just behind the 8 ball. However, ask any loyal followers and they will tell you the best part of this fantastic ensemble cast is‘Troy and Abed” played by Danny Pudi and Donald Glover. These two are a dynamic duo that rap, host their own radio show and deliver the funniest lines in the show. They also have comic timing down pat. I’m giving a shout out to Ken Jeong who plays the Spanish lecturer, Senor Chang.
If you love Arrested Development, then Community is for you.
5. Nurse Jackie
Edie Falco is best known for her work on The Sopranos. However, in Nurse Jackie, she plays the title role of Nurse Jackie Peyton, a senior nurse at a busy New York emergency department. She has a loving husband and 2 daughters but also has a secret- she’s a drug addict.
Jackie steals pills from the hospital. She has an affair with the hospital’s pharmacist to keep her supply up. She treats her patients with dignity and respect, but does not suffer fools- and usually these ‘fools’ are colleagues. Jackie saves her sharp tongue for Dr Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli) a young, arrogant doctor with a strange, uncontrollable compulsion: he grabs women’s breasts and can’t let go.
Jackie has to balance her life- between the pressures of shift work, emergency care nursing, and an addiction to pills, she is also a devoted wife and mother. Her best friend on the show is a feisty British doctor, Dr O’Hara (Eve Best) in whom Jackie is able to confide. Nurse Jackie is the kind of nurse you’d want in your corner if you were critically ill. Just don’t piss her off.
There are many, many more shows on my list, but I’ll leave them for another day.
What are your favourite TV shows that don’t necessarily garner the commercial respect they deserve?