Coming fresh off Random Movie Talk, I bring you Random TV Show Talk! Below is a list of relatively new (as in filmed during this millennium) shows I'd recommend along with quick reviews. Fortunately for Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman, they haven't starred in any TV shows that I know of, so they get a pass from me this time.
Firefly - I remember watching the opening minutes of this show years ago and thinking it looked ridiculous. Since then, I'd routinely heard Firefly references and eventually decided to give it a second chance. I'm glad I did. It's difficult to explain what is so addictive about this show, but in short I'd define it as the more plausible depiction of rebels striving to survive a midst a growing, oppressive intergalactic empire (known as the "Alliance") vs that of Star Wars. The show which sadly only consisted of one season (followed by a movie, Serenity) revolves around a crew, led by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), aboard a cargo "Firefly-Class" spacecraft. Throughout the 14 episodes and culminating in the movie, Serenity, each character is cryptically revealed to be more significant towards the overall struggle against the "Alliance" than initially perceived. At the core of the story line is a refugee doctor and his seemingly schizo-frantic sister who possesses mysterious psychological powers along with an over-arching, esoteric purpose. Nathan Fillion has a natural appealing quality which inherently draws you to him despite his character's numerous irreparable flaws.
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) - A remake of the cheesy 1978 version, this mind-bending outer-space movie pits mankind vs a ruthless race of artificial intelligence. Though strikingly similar in many ways to the Terminator and Matrix movies, the original Battlestar Galactica was actually made prior (so if anything, the aforementioned movies stole their concepts from this series). Additionally, the "machines" are far more complicated and interwoven with mankind than you'd ever imagine. Beyond the continually-evolving plot and character development, the show focuses a lot on leadership challenges and interpersonal dynamics (similar to Star Trek) which will hold your attention and suspense, despite some of the exceptionally annoying characters (i.e. Starbuck) and unnecessary political overtones (which rubbed me the wrong way at times). As much as I resisted, I couldn't stop watching it. The ending unfortunately was a little weak and anticlimactic, but overall very rewarding.
The Wire - Very intriguing crime-fighting show set in Baltimore. Unable to effectively combat the drug gangs by conventional means, a fictitious special agency is set up to incriminate the local gangs by whatever means possible - though ultimately limited by the politics and corruption involved at every bureaucratic level. This show closely follows a wide variety of characters across the entire political-judicial-law enforcement-criminal spectrum. Of particular appeal to me was the main character, Jimmy McNulty, and his passionate struggle to overcome politics and onerous restrictions in order to accomplish the agency's mission, which ultimately ruins his career and personal life. Sadly, many elements of this show are very true to real life.
24 - Definitely a linear progressive show you want to start viewing from the beginning of Season 1. If you cut into the series or a particular season after it's already progressed, it'll be very confusing. Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland) embodies the extraordinary, ultra stoic, and ever-patriotic defender of America against relentless terrorist attacks as he heads the fictitious Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), based in Los Angeles. Every season is based on a 24-hour period of time which progresses chronologically in real-time. Though obviously a little far-fetched, this may be my favorite show ever. Every second is jam-packed with layers of plot development, subterfuge, killing, special effects, fight scenes, character development, more killing, computer hacking, drama, interrogating, politics, even more killing, and time-sensitive decisions with the fate of America hanging in the balance! After Season 4 or 5, the show takes a bit of a downturn as the plot themes become repetitive and Jack is routinely brought back from ever-dire circumstances. But, never have I been more fascinated with a character than Jack Bauer. I'd be lying if I said I didn't try to mimic Jack in my ordinary day life as I face various problems and tension with coworkers. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to perform the highly effective interrogation tactics available to Jack....
Band of Brothers - I would consider this to be the best war film ever produced. This highly authentic 10 episode series follows "Easy" Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during WW II. I really shouldn't have to explain this show, because you all should have seen it by now. If not, you need to fix yourself. But seriously, if you want a good depiction of WW II, particularly the D-Day invasion involving Paratroopers, this is the show to watch. Covering the initial Airborne training, combat preparation, parachute landing behind enemy lines on D-Day in support of the Utah Beach landings, liberation of Carentan, Market Garden, discovery of a concentration camp, and capture of Hitler's private mountain retreat, Band of Brothers provides amazingly visual battle scenes, tactics, leadership challenges, and comradeship. The parachute landing scene was unbelievable. Hat tip to any WW II vets who might be reading this.
The Sopranos - I expect most have seen this show as well. It would equate to the modern television version of the Godfather movies. Set in New Jersey, Tony Soprano is the head of an Italian mafia who struggles to maintain power with ever-increasing FBI surveillance & pressure along with competition from rival mobs. Tony is a very multi-dimensional character who at times garners sympathy as he struggles with moral dilemmas and the attempts of raising a normal family while futilely trying to conceal his brutal mafia side. The wise-cracking and eccentric underlings to Tony make for good humor as the Soprano family mob goes through one intense endeavor after another. It's still amazing how a show could make me associate with mafia members - similarly to the Godfather series.
The Shield - Essentially a more graphic and corrupt version of The Wire with elements of The Sapranos. Michael Chiklis stars as Vic Mackey, a highly aggressive and no-holds barred leader of an experimental strike force unit of the LA police department. The ending of the very first episode sets an unparalleled tone for the remainder of the series as drug wars, corrupt politics, betrayal, and Vic Mackey's paradoxical combination of corruptness and desire to protect innocent people become interwoven, resulting in a precipitous trail of destruction for all involved. Definitely not your typical good cop show as it pushes the edges of the ethical envelope. The Alpha-male character, Vic Mackey, is very compelling as he struggles in every aspect of life while providing a steady dominant form of leadership and protection to those around him. Forest Whitaker stars in Seasons 5 & 6 to provide an epic confrontation with Mackey.
Arrested Development - Under appreciated and hilarious show revolving around a dysfunctional family. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is the only sane and mature member in his extended family who attempts to salvage the wealthy family's affairs as he battles their on-going lunacy. Initially filmed between 2003-2006 (a fourth season is currently in production), this show was fortunate to saddle the young, rising careers of Will Arnett and Michael Cera along with other talented actors to include Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, and Portia de Rossi. For some reason, I originally confused this show with Malcolm in the Middle and avoided watching it until a few years ago. One episode and you'll be hooked. Looking forward to Season 4!
Breaking Bad - Oddly addictive show portraying a man, Walter White, diagnosed with cancer who uses his chemistry skills as a HS science teacher to produce a superior form of Chrystal Meth and sell it as a means of providing a nest egg for his family. This is one of those shows that seems to go from bad to worse, similar to The Shield. Ironically, his major antagonist comes in the form of his brother in law, a character very similar to Vic Mackey, who goes through a downward spiral as he unknowingly pursues Walter as the lead DEA investigator. It was interesting seeing the character development of Walter as he transforms from a passive, hesitant school teacher into an aggressively bold and daring drug dealer - while his brother in law changes in a reciprocal manner.
Game of Thrones - Based on the book, A Song of Ice and Fire, this captivating saga follows seven noble families as they strive for power over a mythical world. It gets a little confusing as the story bounces back and forth between a myriad of characters and sub-plots in addition to routine gratuitous sex scenes (which may limit the audience base), but is very entertaining. One major issue I have is the unnecessary supernatural aspects incorporated, which artificially offset the strategic balance of the vying powers. Sort of like every ending to the flawed board game, Risk, in which victory goes to whichever struggling player suddenly comes up with cards and gains 70 armies to place on the board at the right time and conquer half the world. By the way, Axis and Allies is a far superior world-strategic game, but I digress... In sports terms, it would be similar to the Diamondbacks acquiring Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling, Cavaliers drafting Lebron James, Celtics receiving Kevin Garnett & Ray Allen, Broncos rolling the dice on Peyton Manning, Raiders trading for Carson Palmer.... I digress further. But I think you get the point. A limited dose of the supernatural, such as dragons, would add an interesting dynamic, but Game of Thrones goes too far in my opinion. It's still riveting though.
Entourage - Follow the life of a movie star, Vincent Chase, and his entourage of sycophants who eagerly cling onto his success. This show provides an in-depth look into the ultra-competitive world of Hollywood agents and producers. Jeremy Piven steals the limelight as Vince's agent while Kevin Dillon (brother of Matt Dillon) performs phenomenally as the overly dramatic half-brother (known as "Johnny Drama"). I frankly grew tired of Vince's nonchalant and entitled attitude, but the supporting cast around him and their various schemes carried the series (similar to Seinfeld). I think my favorite episode was Vince's appearance on the Kimmel Show, in which Johnny Drama had a mysterious grudge towards Jimmy Kimmel. After season 5, I stopped watching as the story plateaued. I'm not sure whether Vincent Chase ever "broke out" as an actor, but I eventually stopped caring.
Dexter - In my opinion, this is probably the most overrated show. I admit the first season was tremendous, though felt the show gradually fell apart with limited paths the plot could take. Dexter is a very dark and suspenseful mystery show about a unique serial killer who only takes out deserving criminals to fulfill his warped obsession with killing. It was a bit disturbing as you feel yourself drawn into the mind of a twisted killer, though are somewhat compelled by his sense of vigilante justice. Unlike Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey though, I really couldn't get myself to connect to this guy. His hollow personality and on-going "inner-self" battle just didn't draw any appeal to me as the show provides no logical reason for why he can't stop himself. Perhaps, I was annoyed at the constant subliminal themes which attempt to garner sympathy and "understanding" for psychologically-oppressed people. Or maybe I just didn't like the villainizing stereotype of the Christian family man (as perpetuated by John Lithgow in Season 4). I'd only recommend seasons 1 and 2.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - What I would consider a younger and less mature version of Seinfeld. This show revolves around a group of four young adults who own a bar in Philadelphia and engage in endless maniacal schemes which inevitably backfire on them. Danny DeVito, as you've never seen him before, stars as the ostensible father of two of the characters. The Seinfeld-like script writing is superb and the acting by all five major cast members is absolutely hysterical. It's hard to take a break in between episodes. My favorite character is probably "Mac" (played by Rob McElhenney who is also the show's creator), though they all contribute fairly evenly to the overall humor. This is also probably the first time I've ever enjoyed watching Danny DeVito, with the exception of Get Shorty.
Archer - James Bond meets Arrested development in this animated comedic show about Sterling Archer, a spy working for his mother's privatized secret agency. In terms of laughs per minute, this show has probably the highest ratio I've ever experienced. Note of caution: definitely not a children's show.
Wilfred (American version - 2011) - Originally an Australian TV series, this American remake centers around a depressed, homely guy (Elijah Wood - who is perfect for the role) who inexplicably perceives his neighbor's dog as a full-grown man dressed in a sheepdog costume. Haunted by his irrational dialogues and escapades with this "dog", Elijah Wood's character finds his once suicidal life expanding in bazaar directions at the domineering behest of his new friend. There is no rationality to this show, however is absolutely hilarious. In some sense, the "dog" represents the inner, unrefined man in all of us, who provides "mentorship" to Elijah in an overly crude manner. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But trust me, it's worth your while.
John Adams - [Good catch by nfl391] This historical HBO single season show covers the life of John Adams (played by Paul Giamatti) and his contributions towards the Revolutionary War and development of our country, including his term as President. Phenomenally produced, this 7-episode series provides a highly authentic (and at times, disturbing) glimpse of American life during the nascent stages of our democratic experiment while focusing on the politics and behind the scenes planning & agreements that led to its success. Of particular intrigue is the portrayal of various historical figures to include Washington, Jefferson, Hancock, Madison, & Franklin and the contentious relations many of them had with each other. Definitely a must-see television series for all Americans.
*Please avoid spoilers!