Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lost is Over, What are You Going Do With Your Life? Five TV Shows to Fill the Void.

I know everyone loves the show and is so saddened it's over and the mystery has been solved somewhat or whatever but I'm just glad I don't have to hear about the Island on a weekly basis any longer. 

I know I might sound cruel to those JJ Abrams fanatics crying in their closets and I may not have the authority to speak on the issue since I never saw more than a few glimpses of a few episodes that my roommate was watching while I ate dinner but I have some recommendations to fill the void.  I want to help you Lost fans get out of the closet and realize that there is a world beyond the Island.  In fact there are about 700 more channels full of stuff to waste your time dissedting and creating fan sites for.

I've got two excellent dramas and if you're more in the mood for comic relief I've got two of those as well.  None will fill the mystical/puzzling aspects of Lost but will reveal glimpses of true human drama, heartache, triumph, as well as belly laughs.

1. Treme

From the creative team behind The Wire & parts of Homicide comes this loosely knit tale of various struggling artists, writers, lawyers, politicians, panhandlers, chefs and families trying to overcome the devastation of Katrina in the months that followed under the auspices of a unifying directive: the lost soul of a city that survived near total destruction.

The soul of Treme is the soul of New Orleans, its people and especially its music.  Jazz fills the foreground or background eight percent of the show, sometimes as a means of survival, other times as a mean of proof of life.  We all remember the images right after the storm, the benefits and Kanye West telling the world on live TV that "George Bush hates black people."  You won't find any of that here.  The show takes place after the national camera crews have left and the city is decimated and left to fend for itself, to reinvent itself on the backs of those that stayed and those that returned.
  It's a show about heart and perseverance in the face of what appears to be insurmountable odds.  But this isn't a foreign nation, this is a city in America, one of the true characters in our country and David Simon and crew have brought out a cast of tour-de-force performers to showcase that vitality.

The show is seven episodes into a ten episode season.  At about 4 episodes, the show truly hit its stride which is about normal for an ensemble drama with so many characters to introduce and flesh out. Actors from The Wire like Wendell Pierce (Bunk), Clarke Peters (Lester) have even meatier roles than before to flesh out, the former playing Antoine Baptiste, a skilled trombonist working from night to night taking us through the life of a per-diem Jazz musician and the latter returning as a city elder/Mardi Gras chief trying to get the city to pick itself up by rebuilding and reopening the places that people need.  John Goodman plays an professor/writer who begins putting rants on Youtube, leading the rage brigade about the state of his beloved city.  It's kind of a intellectual Walter-like role moved down into the bayou.  Khandi Alexander (Newsradio, The Corner, CSI) depicts a woman looking for her brother who was possibly in jail at the time of the storm and seems to have disappeared.  Steve Zahn portrays the kooky musician Davis, a DJ/musician who provides much of the shows true comic relief and zaniness as one usually expects from Mr. Zahn.

The most interesting aspect of the show is to see it recreating recent history while piece by piece revealing some of the post-Katrina hideous activities that were infesting New Orleans.  You heard about the roving gangs and the destroyed buildings but you probably didn't think much about where did the prisoners go, or what did the police do when they had no home for weeks at a time, or how do you try to reopen a restaurant when most of the population hasn't returned and the insurance money still hasn't come through.  The only type of recent history recreations we seem to get are on the battlefield, in war zones, or maybe a random biopic.  This is a different type of war zone, a struggle is being fought.  Treme is a biopic of an entire city represented by an ensemble cross section of its inhabitants. 

Watch it Sunday Nights on HBO.

2. Breaking Bad

Wikipedia states the original premise of Breaking Bad as:
Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a struggling high school chemistry  teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the beginning of the series. He breaks down and turns to a life of crime, producing and selling methamphetamine with his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in a desire to secure his family's financial future.
From this somewhat humble premise, Breaking Bad has evolved into so much more in it's two-plus seasons.  In the beginning, it was a show about meth, family, and hiding secrets but it truly has become so much more.  Cranston (best known as the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter White has quickly become one of the most transfixing characters on television as this season Breaking Bad has become about business, survival, divorce, cancer, Mexican drug cartels, DEA agents, advanced chemistry.  Along with this, the phasing out of some of the show's weaker characters like his petty annoying wife Skyler and his physically disabled son have run their course outside of the idea that Walter goes into protection mode on their behalf.

The writing, direction and cinematography in this show are all tops on TV right now.  To be honest, I don't want to reveal too much on this one since the joy of this show is trying to piece it together and seeing it for yourself.  the second season does revolve around a bit of a mystery but it is not integral to the story.  One of the niches that Breaking Bad has carved out for itself is its very unique sections that are placed before the title credits.  In season two, it was continually revelatory visions of a pool filled with catastrophe.  Most of season three is filled with crazy antics of South of the Border killers and it all led up to this week.

While most of the known universe was watching lost, Breaking Bad had its simplest but possibly most complex episode yet where Walter becomes obsessed with trying to kill a fly that is buzzing around his lab.  The show centers much around his perfectionism and his nonacceptance of those who don't meet with his standards of quality.

This is the type of head check episode that drive the average viewer bonkers.  I'm not a message board reader but I could see an episode like this easily being divisive and misunderstood, much like the infamous dream episodes in the Sopranos (in contrast though, those were rather underwhelming but accomplished something similar). They are episodes that take a break in the show's action trajectory and give you a lengthy glimpse at the show's driving force and his mental state without the momentary interruptions of life.  The episodes is claustrophobic, rarely leaving the confines of the lab at all if only to see Jesse arriving and departing in the parking lot.  It's an episode of context, reflection, decidedly different form the usual pacing of the series, a one-off experiment, and possibly the calm before the storm.

EW Reviewer Ken Tucker has a similar take in "I know it's "Lost" night but watch or record this episode, please." on his watching TV blog.

Sunday Nights 10 PM on AMC.

If you're a review person Treme has an 87/100 over at Metacritic (the review aggregator), Breaking Bad S2 is at 75.

3, 4, & 5: The Comedy Block - Party Down / Parks & Recreation / Modern Family

This whole post is becoming overly verbose and bit too dramatic so I'll make these short.

Party Down is a very funny show that you have probably kinda heard of, never watched (because it's on Starz), and will probably love.  The show follows a rag tag catering crew of out of work LA performers.  Each episode encapsulates one party in a humorous 22 minute segment starring Adam Scott (the evil brother in Stepbrothers), Martin Starr (Freaks & Geeks), and Ken Marino (Louie from The State).  With episodes about outrageous sweet 16 parties, porn star awards, & high school reunions, and an assortment of great guest starring turns from the likes of J.k. Simmons, Steve Guttenberg, Ed Begley Jr., Rob Corddry, and many more.  The show is in the midst of its second season (15 episodes in).  Sadly, it lost one of its best performers last year in Jane lynch to Glee but it is still worth watching.  It's on Fridays on Starz and I'm sure it is repeated multiple times during the week, as well as DirecTV's 101 Network plus you can watch every episode on Netflix Streaming, an amazing service if you love plowing through TV series on a binge.

Parks & Recreations is like the US version of The Office when it used to be funny.  I am no Amy Poehler fan but this show is the perfect environment for her talents.  For those who watched the first few rushed first season episodes and decided it was a turd, I understand.  I agree with you.  But this season was quite awesome.  Almost all of the characters hit their stride from Aziz Ansari's creepy Cristal love Tom to the lovable doofus Andy.  And don't forget about the best boss  character on NBC, not Michael Scott, but Ron Swanson.  The reincarnation of Ron Burgundy in modern day government with an extreme conservative tilt.  Oh and that mustache and hair are to die for.

At least the show was renewed after having an excellent season, but is not due to come back until midyear as a replacement.  But for you that means you have plenty of time to catch up.  All episodes are streaming for free on

I didn't expect much from Modern Family but I watched the first episode because Al Bundy was on it yet since that first episode I've been hooked.  The story lines are familiar family sitcom situations with a bit of a modern twist, showcasing a modern mash up of a family with the usual husband and wife with 3 children, the gay couple with an adopted overseas child, and Al Bundy married to one of the hottest Latin ladies this side of Penelope Cruz named Sophia Vergara.

She can also act as if that truly matters.  The hardest part of the show is trying to figure out why she would truly marry Al Bundy even if he were a billionaire but once you get over that fact Modern Family is one of the most consistently funny shows on TV.  You can watch episodes on as well as Wednesday nights.

Also, less than 4 months till It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia returns on Sept 16, 2010. Start counting the days and enjoy this treat, including an additional song from the Nightman Cometh not in the episode!

Note: I apologize if you live outside the US.  I have no idea when and where these shows would be on by you but I'm sure there is some way to find them out there (wink wink) plus if you click on the main link of each show it leads to its Wikipedia page which will probably provide you with the channel information.

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