5 Shows Worth Binge Watching

As the dog days of August threaten us with late-summer malaise and our DVRs verge on starvation, you might be sitting at home, carving hashmarks into your wall as you count up to the impending whirlwind of fall premieres.  A steady diet of Under the Dome just ain’t cutting it; you’re not in the mood for the consistently dour and wholly pretentious episodes of The Leftovers collecting dust in your DVR; the thought of spending one more second with Marco and Sonya from The Bridge makes you want to find one and take a header yourself.  What’s a TV addict to do?  Fear not, friends and neighbors, for it is time for me to unveil to you five television shows that may have previously passed you by but are totally worth binge watching.

For our purposes here, let’s define the oft-used term “binge-watching,” okay?  For me, what makes a show binge worthy (Ha! Seinfeld!) is simple: quality.  Yup, that’s all there is to it, folks.  It’s society’s biggest kept secret: the words “great” and “binge-worthy” are synonymous!  How’s your mind?  Did I just blow it out the back of your gourd?!  #TVTruthbomb

When a show is great, you’ll want to gobble up as many episodes as possible.  Some people will decry that this Netflix-inspired model of television consumption plays into our societal need for instant gratification, and to that person, I say…you’re probably very likely onto something! But you know what?  Who cares?  Quality is quality is quality, and life’s too damn short.

So without further delay, five shows worth binge-watching.

**Note: Breaking Bad will not appear on this list because if you haven’t seen it already, then what the hell are you doing?  Why are you wasting your time reading this?  Go watch Breaking Bad now!**


1) Six Feet Under

It’s likely the most emotionally devastating series ever to hit the air, and guess what?  That’s a good thing!  For a show that opens each episode with a death, there’s something positively life-affirming about this brilliant series.  The Fishers are one of television’s best families, so even when the show descends to darkness (and, wee doggy does it), Ruth, Claire, David, Keith, and–to a lesser extent–Nate are there to guide us through.  When you finish all five seasons, you’ll emerge with a new perspective on life, and that’s not an overstatement.  Oh, and if you need one more excuse to dive in, SFU boasts (warning: opinion approaching!) the single greatest series finale in the history of television.  Emotionally resonant, bitingly funny, and genuinely contemplative, Six Feet Under will never leave you.

2)   Orphan Black

A masterclass in serialized science fiction storytelling, Orphan Black uses its two ten-episode seasons to unfurl a narrative that draws you in deeper with each passing installment.  I’ll be honest, I just finished season one and find myself clambering for the second.  Tatiana Maslany, she of the irate Emmy snub, wows as Sarah.  And Cosima.  And Helena.  And Katya.  Et cetera.  It’s a series that you need to experience yourself; even the most basic of plot synopses will take away from the journey, so dive in and marvel at BBC America’s brilliant Orphan Black.

3) Scandal

Don’t laugh at me.  Or do, I don’t care.  Because the fact is: Shonda’s DC drama about political fixer Olivia Pope knows exactly what it is and succeeds wildly in its ability to weave a season long arc that will have you pulling a straight-up Clockwork Orange  on yourself as you speed to the finish line.  In its attempt to be as apolitical as a political show can be, it becomes clear that Scandal‘s not here to change any minds–though jabs do pop up now and then, directed at very deserving facets of the DC machine.  Entertaining you is Scandal‘s chief reason for existing and with its high-stakes storytelling and compelling performances (Oh, hi there, Joe Morton, you menacing rapscallion you), there’s no shame in climbing aboard this runaway freight train of a series.

4) Hannibal

Bryan Fuller, of Pushing Daisies –another show worthy of binge-watching come to think of it–fame, goes for broke in his one of a kind crime series.  You might be thinking: do we really need another Hannibal story?  And the answer is no we don’t need another but we do need this one.  Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen spellbind as Will Graham and Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.  I’m shocked that this show airs on NBC.  Not only does it consistently push the envelope for what network television can depict, but it remains psychologically astute and genuinely disturbing.  Not for all tastes (ha! cannibalism puns!), Hannibal is nonetheless a delectable treat (ha! can’t stop me now!) for fans of crime shows looking for something a little different.  NCIS and CSI this show ain’t.

5) Game of Thrones



Thanks for reading!  Any shows you’d readily label as binge-worthy?  Sound off in the comments!

Top 5 TV Shows of 2014 (so far)

I know, I know.  You’re thinking, “This dude sure loves his lists!”  Hey, it’s what we critics in the television and film biz–or, as in my case, those of us desperately clawing at the door in the hopes of one day being invited into the party of said biz–do.  I mean, yeah, lists are plenty arbitrary as I’ve discussed on here previously, but TV critics the Internet over seem smitten by this idea, so like a good lemming, I’ll jump on board!

Plus, I love lists.  Deal with it.

The following are shows that have left an indelible mark on my television psyche already this year.  For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to put them in alphabetical order because I’m not really in the mood to stir up a whirlwind of controversy, okay?  For the purposes of clarity, let me also say that the shows I included here began their seasons in 2014, so beloved series like The Good Wife, Person of Interest, and Parks and Rec didn’t make this list simply because of my revised criteria….You don’t care about any of that, but I told you anyway.

Here they are!

The Americans, FX

And you think your family is tough to handle?  The Jennings household battled unrest on all fronts this season, both personally and professionally.  Few shows can replicate the greatness of their inaugural season, but even fewer can find that elusive second gear and launch into a stratosphere of uncompromising excellence.  Yet somehow, The Americans–buoyed by incredible performances and sharp writing–managed just that.  Two overarching narratives (the clandestine operation to pilfer American stealth technology and the ongoing operation to track down the murderer of fellow operatives) lead us down roads with few easy answers** and, by season’s end, forced Philip and Elizabeth to consider what the future holds not just for themselves but their children.  It’s a parable, a cautionary tale, an allegory–oh, and just about the smartest, most cooly confident series on television.

**Seriously, the reveal of who killed Elizabeth and Philips’s friends and fellow operatives?  Absolutely chilling.

Fargo, FX

The season isn’t yet over, but this show has already been teaching us a masterclass in how to tell a short form narrative.  Seriously, each episode feels like you’re binge-watching an entire season; there’s not a scrap of filler but, miraculously, nor is there a dearth of characterization.  In managing that perfect balance between propulsive plot and attention to character, Fargo has managed to create a television event that isn’t a revisiting of the Coen Brothers’ outstanding film so much as an extended jazz cover of it.

Martin Freeman, currently giving Walter White a run for his money, has turned Lester Nygaard into television’s most dramatically transformed character–all in a span of eight episode–as Fargo uses Lester’s dark tale to explore the nature of evil and its seductive allure.  Will critics be talking about this one when it comes time for their Best of the Year lists?  Ya, you betcha!

Game of Thrones, HBO

Westeros, am I right?  If Thrones‘s fourth season has accomplished anything (and, in truth, it’s accomplished a great deal), it’s this: Westeros is a place where zeal, passion, honor, and integrity have no foothold and can, in fact, bring about one’s ruin.  Sound familiar?  When a work of fantasy has become the most damning allegory of our current times, you know you’re in the presence of great art.  

Plus, this continues to be the most shocking series on television.  From nuptial poisonings to deflating trials-by-combat, no other show can disarm its audience so completely while still remaining true to its central conceit.  Swirling around this narrative tapestry is an enormous menagerie of characters, each so distinctive, so expertly drawn, that the ever-expanding cast manages to deepen this world without confounding its audience.  In virtually every facet of its story, Game of Thrones remains simply brilliant.

Also, hurray, Joffrey’s dead!  Best TV gift of the season so far!

Louie, FX

Unlike anything else on television, Louie manages to ground its narrative predictability–paradoxically–in its consistent unpredictability.  Without missing a beat, this show can oscillate from the insanely hilarious (the garbage man bit in the beginning of the season) to the awkwardly funny (everything in episode two, “Model”) and veer three-sixty to the movingly dramatic (the brilliant speech about what it means to be a single fat woman in New York).

Comedic genius Louis C.K. took a considerable amount of time off between the third and fourth seasons, but when this is the result, then who would dare complain about such a hiatus?  Although the excellent opening credits are sorely missed, that’s about the only negative I can attribute to this amazing season, which has grown in scope in terms of its storytelling and aggregation of recurring secondary characters.  We’re also seeing Louie revisit and build upon an ever-complicating joke over the span of several episodes (Hurricane Jasmine Forsythe anyone?) much in the vain of Seinfeld.  In short, C.K. continues play to his proven strengths while continuing to challenge himself.  I’m loving everything about this season thus far, and I’m so, so glad it’s back.

True Detective, HBO

What else can we say that hasn’t been said already?  Time is a flat circle, and no matter where you are on that geometric continuum, this is hands down the Best Show of 2014.

Besides, some genius TV blogger already waxed poetic about the glories of this show: http://overstuffeddvr.com/?p=215


Honorable MentionsVeep, Silicon Valley


Keep up the amazing work, HBO and FX!  All other networks can bow down to you now, as your dominance is hereby commemorated and therefore official!

Well, that about wraps it up.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2014 brings to us on the small screen and not just because it means I can make another list.  (But mostly it’s because I can make another list tbh.)  Hurray lists!  #Listology #ListlessWithoutListsofLists

Greetings from “Fargo”

*Disclaimer: Read the following in your best Fargo-inspired Midwestern drawl. OK? Ya, you betcha!*

Well, hiya there! We sure hope you all are enjoyin’ that warm weather because, well heck, it’s colder ‘n a moose’s buttocks in December here in Bemidji. Storm of the century some are callin’ it. And, heck, it ain’t the only storm that’s been clearin’ its throat ’round these parts of late.

There’s this real strange fellah by the name of Lorne Malvo cuttin’ his bloody swath right through the center ‘a town, don’t cha know? Shootouts in the snowbanks, crickets in the produce aisle, duck-taping co-conspirators to firearms, blackmailing, and the like. Something’s fishy with that one…


…but don’t worry because Molly Solverson and Gus Grimly from Deluth are on the case. Sure, Gus accidentally shot Molly in the chaos of that humdinger of a storm, but she’ll get over it. She’s a tough one, that Molly Solverson, a gal of real grit. Plus, she’s got to keep her eye on Lester Nygaard because of that nasty business with the Chief and Lester’s poor wife, Pearl. When she looked in on Lester in his hospital room, nursing his previously infected hand, didn’t ya just feel her grit? She’s got real grit does that Molly. Ya, you betcha she does.

Now, gosh, my ma told me it’s better to say nothin’ rather than say somethin’ rude, but that Lester Nygaard, he’s a real slippery such-and-such. I mean, heck, he’s not only dodgin’ the police but even seems to be enjoyin‘ it, don’t ya know? Now he’s even tryin’ to cast suspicion on his own brother by plantin’ a firearm in his nephew’s backpack! He’s just Bemidji’s own Walter White now if ya want to know the truth. Ya, I know. Ya. It’s bad.

Fargo 2

I hope this is gettin’ you real excited to join us in Fargo, but I can see you might need a little more convincin’ because I can tell you’re not the cold-weather type. Still, this is one of the best shows of the year, you betcha it is, so ya should really drop on by. We’ve got some great locals here, like Stavros Milos the supermarket king (don’t mind his little religious crisis right now as he’s goin’ through a rough patch what with the blackmailing, biblical plagues, his son passin’ and all), interim police chief Bill Oswalt, and diner own Lou Solverson. There’s some real strange things to keep ya on yer toes, too, like fish falling from the sky for one. Sorta strange, wouldn’t ya say? Lucky for us, we got lots of pretty landscape to look at when the goin’ gets tough, and the cameras don’t miss an inch of it. Real cinematic stuff.

Oh geez, would ya look at the time there? That sidewalk ain’t gonna shovel itself. Did I mention they’re calling it the storm of the century? I’m not one for much guess work (I’ll leave that to Molly Solverson and her grit), but somethin’ tells me the storm’s far from over. We here in Bemidji haven’t seen the last of it yet. Not by a long shot.

Fargo airs its final two episodes of the season this and next Tuesday at 10 pm on FX. You betcha it does. Don’t go missin’ it now.

You Should Be Watching, Vol. 1: “Nurse Jackie”

While critics herald shows like HomelandMasters of Sex, and (inexplicably) Ray Donavan as the crown jewels in Showtime’s line-up, Nurse Jackie  has quietly established itself as the best comedy on the network and very likely one of the best shows you’re not watching.  This past Sunday, Showtime debuted the sixth season premiere of its dark comedy alongside the seventh (and final) season premiere of Californication.  Neither of these shows put up big numbers, even by Showtime’s admittedly lower ratings standards, but while the latter has been in a steady decline for awhile now, Nurse Jackie continues to improve, which in and of itself qualifies as a small miracle.

Let’s just say it.  Showtime’s track record of sustaining its comedies deep into their lives has not been the best, whether that meant beating a beloved show to death (see: Weeds), axing it before it had the chance to build a sufficient audience (see: Huff), or completely failing to capitalize on its premise and cast (see: House of Lies).  With Nurse Jackie already renewed for a seventh season and its quality seemingly untarnished, that–at least–requires more than a perfunctory mention.  Nay, ’tis a cause for celebration!  Huzzah!

I’m going to be honest: I love this show to pieces, and it’s one of those series I genuinely look forward to each spring.  The other is this little show you might have heard of called Game of Thrones.  Pretty impressive company, don’t you think?

Sunday’s opener found Jackie Peyton once again at the mercy of her drug addiction, and despite the inevitability of this, the show continues to find new ways to make her addiction compelling.  For starters, there have been–and will no doubt continue to be–real, tangible consequences to Jackie’s actions.  At the end of last season, she conceded full custody of her two daughters (Grace and  Fiona) to her husband, Kevin.  But even more alarming is Grace’s own struggle with addiction, a habit she picked up from Mommy Dearest.  I loved the cross-cutting employed in that opening sequence; as Jackie clandestinely scored drugs from her gym’s towel girl, we watched Fiona’s dalliance with powder unfold in a powerful and quietly damning way for this frustrating anti-hero.  She’s been a disarming and fascinating centerpiece to this show all along, and it seems like Nurse Jackie has found new ways to deepen her.

Jackie’s addiction has, of course, grounded this series since its inception, but it became increasingly evident over the years that drugs were the least of her worries.  Ms. Peyton’s true addiction is deception.  For much of the show’s earlier run, Jackie had to hide the truth of her usage and her infidelity, and she felt the rush of maintaing those lies.  This year, however, her manipulation of the truth comes branded as a horse of an entirely different color.

Now, she has to play the role of the recovering addict for the likes of her family and friends, so hear her roar!  Except of course, she’s still sneaking out of AA meetings to swallow handfuls of pills and hiding her stash behind the kitchen light switch plate.  The thought of Jackie now having to balance that external representation of herself as a reformed addict with her private reality of ongoing addiction will no doubt prove fascinating.  Plus, homegirl’s got a legit sponsor, played by Julie White (who you might remember as annoying the ever-loving crap out of you as Six Feet Under‘s Mitzi Dalton Huntley).  A self-professed loudmouth, something tells me Jackie’s sponsor will see right through her lying before too long.

I dug the water motif throughout the premiere as well: Jackie as a swimmer bookending the episode, while a perspective shot from a sinkful of water grounded the middle stretch.  While not original, the ablutionary symbolism of Jackie’s rebirth into a new breed of liar seems particularly relevant by the episode’s end.  When Jackie learns her drug supplier’s been fired for, ya know, supplying drugs to members, Jackie stares into the myriad reflections of herself, as if drowning in a sea of her various identities: nurse, mother, addict, liar.  The list, like those reflections, seems to stretch forever.  If that shot taught us anything, it’s this: Jackie hasn’t hit rock bottom yet.  Oh boy.

Nurse Jackie also earns big bonus points for featuring the beyond-superlative amazingness that is (#EmmyWinner) Merritt Wever’s Zoe.  Seriously, nobody on television slides across a floor in a rolly chair like Ms. Wever.  I love her so much, even though I wish they gave her more to do than flit into and out of relationships.  Still, I’ll endure that because her friendship with Jackie is one of the funniest female pairings on television.

And that’s to mention nothing of the phenomenal gallery of supporting characters: lovable goofball Dr. Cooper (whose impending fortieth birthday fills him with existential dread), uber-administrator extraordinaire Gloria Akalitus, ER chief (and Zoe’s not so secret bedroom companion) Dr. Prentiss, pill dispensary and veritable horn dog Eddie, and let’s not forget–though how could we?–the diabetic, football-loving male nurse Thor. It’s a kooky clan for sure, but All Saints Hospital, and television itself, wouldn’t be the same without them.

Even if you’ve never caught an episode of Nurse Jackie, don’t let that  stop you from jumping in now.  You’ll pick it up immediately and likely fall for it just as quickly. With its excellent characters, sharp writing, and nuanced performances, Nurse Jackie is one show you most definitely should be watching.

How “True Detective” Changed the Game

Thanks for the elevated blood pressure, True Detective!  If last night’s finale didn’t send you to the precipice of hyperventilation or, at the very least, quicken your pulse, then I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I think you might be dead?  Seriously, the episode’s middle section, with Rust and Marty descending upon the Childress house, served as an intense centerpiece to an already excellent final hour.  I’m not surprised that True Detective stuck its landing, but what did surprise me was the way in which the show delivered such a stunning and satisfying conclusion.

It was clear from the outset that True Detective meant to subvert our expectations not just of the cop drama but of drama period.  Its masterful manipulation of cross-cutting between and amongst several narrative timelines had us questioning not just the reliability of Rust and Marty but the plot as a whole.  The internet exploded with speculation for eight weeks, as each subsequent episode challenged us and forced us to revisit our previous theories.  The most engaging part of this show was that we could never quite get our hands on the damn thing; just when we thought we figured it out, it slipped through our fingers like sand.  I, for one, swore halfway through the season that Marty was involved somehow, but–as the season wore on–that became increasingly unlikely.  But this didn’t frustrate me in the least; instead, it lured me deeper.

It’s precisely because True Detective refused to pander to its audience that it achieved such instant devotion from a legion of fans and critics.  But when the show began dipping its toe into the realm of weird fiction by peppering literary allusions to Chambers’ “The Yellow King” and Bierce’s city of Carcosa throughout, the depth of the analysis and debate reached greater heights still.  Rather than concretize and clarify an already opaque story as the season progressed,  True Detective gleefully made it murkier.

A great deal has been said about the show’s title; with two detectives at its center, the decision to apply the descriptor “true” to just one of them seemed an intentional choice.  (For me, this detail simply added to my theory that we would somehow find Marty culpable.)  But, now that the credits have rolled on the season, the true meaning behind the title seems even more clever.  It’s not Marty or Rust or Gilbrough or Papania who are the true detectives.  All along, the audience–you and I–have been the true detective, the participatory viewer whose myriad theories and memes have fueled and deepened a show that was, at its inception, already deep.  We attached string between seeming disconnected people; we speculated; we questioned.  True Detective presented a bleak, almost impenetrable mystery and we, as the true detective, willingly followed its plunge down the rabbit hole.

And follow it we did.

For those of us who watched in slack-jawed suspense as the eighth episode enfolded, it became clear that True Detective had a final trick up its sleeve.  Since the pilot, dread permeated the narrative, a palpably disturbing tone that refused to shed light into its darkness.  Having acclimated to this vision of unrelenting despair, I entered last night’s finale with the expectation that Rust or Marty (or, more likely, both) would die at the hands of Errol Childress.  As Childress stabbed Rust in the gut and flung a hatchet at Marty’s chest, my worst predictions seemed on the verge of actualizing.  But True Detective‘s  final plot twist was more disarming: it provided us with a completely earnest and well-earned hopeful ending.

In defiance of science and medicine, Rust survives his wound.  But that in and of itself does not supply the flickers of light into this dark world; it seems that his near-death experience has reconnected Rust with his deceased daughter.  Previously hiding behind a mask of contempt and cynicism, Rust confesses to Marty underneath a blanket of stars (in one of the finest end-of-season codas I can ever remember encountering) that, as death approached him, the warmth of his daughter’s love imbued his spirit.  Once a sworn pessimist, a renewed Rust even corrects Marty’s opinion of the night sky’s overwhelming blackness with a retort that “Once there was only darkness.  Ask me, light’s winning.”

Has a television show ever used its well-established tone to surprise its audience later on?  Has a television show ever invited an audience into its dense and dark mystery so well?  Has a television show ever shown the true redemption of two deeply-flawed anti-heroes?  Perhaps there have been other shows with which I am unaware, but it certainly feels like True Detective changed the game in a big way.

I can understand if some saw the resolution too simplistic after such a setup, but isn’t that the point?  Isn’t it easier to see the encroaching darkness on all sides and give ourselves over to it?  Won’t the Tuttles of the world continue to corrupt and destroy without consequence?  Of course it is, and of course they will, but that is why–as further layers of evil unfurled across these eight episodes–this became the simple story of not letting such bleak inevitability define us.  Marty and Rust nearly lost themselves to it; Errol Childress certainly did.  His seamless movement from one accent to the next as he stomped through his filthy family home showed us a man who relinquished his identity because he gave himself over to the world True Detective so painstakingly–and chillingly–presented and refused to see that the light was winning.

People far more insightful than I will no doubt wow with the depth of their analysis, but this is my take-away from True Detective, a television masterclass that changed the game by refusing to lose itself in the darkness.

Needless to say, I will miss this show deeply during its hiatus.  But, time being a flat circle, I suppose I have already seen it in some other life, so I’ll take some comfort in that.  Isn’t that right, Rust?

Valentine’s Day Love Note to an HBO Favorite

Dear True Detective,

I’ve envied you from afar for the past several weeks, but I’ve finally worked up the courage to tell you what’s been on my mind since we first met on that frigid night of January 12th.  You might not have seen me, but I saw you.  Outside, the wind chilled me to the bone; but, nestled within the warmth of my home, you thawed my heart the moment I lay eyes on you.  As your haunting opening credits began, I knew  I sat in the presence of greatness.  What I’m trying to say is that, OMG, I totes heart you forever, True Detective.  You’re smart, broody, aloof, enigmatic, stunning, and compelling, the ideal qualities for a television soul mate.

I guess I just want to know: will you be my Valentine?

Before you answer, let me tell you about your bewitching personality.  You are so incredibly adept at the fine art of characterization, making it look like the easiest thing in the world.  Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is a singular creation, a kind of Abed Nadir for the gritty crime drama set, unafraid to expound on his at times bizarre takes on religion, morality, and friendship; McConaughey (in the midst of a veritable career McConaissance) has never been better in bringing him to life, probing the depths of a tragic past–the death of his daughter–to inform his muted, almost robotic personality now.  And, please, that’s not to take away from Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, a volatile family man whose predilections hint at more darkness than Rust could fathom.  Watching these two play off each other (oh, how I savor scenes of them talking in the car) has been a joy.

But, True Detective, it’s not just your personality I’m interested in; its your complex way of weaving a story.  Dispensing with chronology, you’ve mastered cross-cutting between the ritualistic murder Rust and Marty investigated back in 1995 (thanks for playing off my innate fear of deer antlers, btw; don’t worry, I forgive you) and  Rust and Marty’s parallel interrogations in 2012 for reasons currently kept murky.  But most miraculously of all, you’ve somehow managed to keep me invested in both stories equally.  In lesser hands than showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, such a device could come across as little more than a hackneyed contrivance, but you’re something special, True Detective.

Man oh man are you gorgeous, too!  Seriously, you take my breath away!  Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (of the positively-dripping-with-gothic-sensibilities film version of Jane Eyre) captures the sweeping beauty of the Southern setting without shying away from the disturbing nooks and crannies lurking within.  How about that creepy pop-up church nestled in a field of wheat?  Or that absolutely stellar ending sequence from Sunday’s episode when Rust finds himself caught inside a Texas housing projects that explodes in a volcano of violence?  Tempering a balance between beauty and horror is never simple, but you make gorgeous terror absolutely beguiling.

You’re one of a kind, True Detective, but I think you know that already.  The confidence you exude is impressive.  You know what story you want to tell, and you tell it with a breathless abandon.  Part of me wishes there were more shows like you out there, but then–if there were–you wouldn’t seem so special anymore.  And that would be a real shame.  I know you’re going to get plenty of offers for Valentine’s day companionship, but consider my offer, True Detective.

I think I’m in love with you.



P.S. I’ll see you on Sunday.  (I hope that doesn’t sound creepy.)