My summer weekends in Pensacola consist of more than just playing videogames. Oh, so much more! In the last month or so, I have been devouring whole television series in rapid succession, and have at last run out of recent and serialized dramatic fair to sate my senses.

If anyone has suggestions on a good series or two they can recommend, I promise I’ll return the favor. Why look, here is a short run-through of what I’ve been watching lately (all of which I can recommend to varying degrees):

24 (Season 6)
Jack Bauer and his fellow agents at CTU have provided some of the most powerful moments I have ever seen on TV. The latest season was a bit of a disappointment to many, myself included, but it was still exciting enough for me to always choose it first over Heroes a few channels down. The problem was not the events themselves, but the fact that viewers have seen the same formula for the past five years. Jack has trouble, Jack makes it through trouble, Jack escapes in the end to fight another day. It’s time to take the show in a new direction, or it won’t last much longer.

Heroes
How can you screw up a fresh idea with talented cast and a dramatic take on post-9/11 fears? Heroes gets so much right in its setup, then meanders for the middle half of the show before fizzling in a thrilling but predictable conclusion. Its relative success virtually guarantees another season, but with an already bulging cast whose superpowers are known and tested, I’m not so sure a second venture into the world of Peter Petrelli and Hiro Nakamura will be very compelling.

Sopranos (Finale)
Everyone is talking about its controversial “non-ending,” and for what its worth, I don’t like it either. But the episodes leading up to it — everything after the long mid-season break they took — saw a return to the daring elements that made Tony’s mafia troubles so fascinating. At the show’s beginning, you didn’t know who was going to stay and who was headed to the meat grinder; but in the middle, you could be fairly sure to whom the writers had given halos. So when they wrap the show up, everyone, even Tony, is fair game again, and with stirring consequences.

Arrested Development
This is one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen, but you must see it from the beginning to truly appreciate how dysfunctional the Bluth family really is. The protagonist, Michael Bluth, is the only sane one among a cadre of embezzling parents, a magician older brother, a bi-curious never-nude brother-in-law, and a son that secretly lusts for his cousin. If you just see an episode here or there (as I initially did), the deadpan narrative and dry, laugh-track-less humor make it hard to jump right in. That might explain why Fox cut it short in its third season, despite being a brilliant and original show.

The Office
Going from Arrested Development to The Office felt like a serious fall from comedic grace, but that’s only because the first season is so atrocious. By attempting to mirror (sometimes line-for-line) its U.K. progenitor, it brought with it none of the original’s charm. I think the American writers realized that, and the second season was much improved. By year three, The Office stood on its own (the British version was only two seasons), and it really began to shine. Though I’d still take Michael Bluth over Michael Scott any day, the show more than redeemed itself and I’m eagerly looking forward to what’s coming next.

The Riches
I had to run out of comedies (Arrested, Office) and laughables (Heroes) sometime, and the plight of Eddie Izzard’s Wayne Malloy made for a perfect transition. At times deathly serious, the core plot is so ridiculously implausible, you can’t help but chuckle. Malloy and his family are American gypsies (which apparently really do exist), traveling around in RVs and congregating outside the confines of civilization. When a tragic car accident with a BMW (not their fault) leaves them with a dead husband and wife on their hands, the family does what any self-respecting gypsies would do. They go to their house to clean them out, only to discover the deceased couple was moving to a new place, has few friends, and looking for a new job (as an attorney, no less). Thus the Malloy’s become the Riches, and all manner of improbable hijinks ensues.

Firefly
I missed Firefly when it originally aired, as it seems did most people. What a true shame, since it turned out to be thirteen of the finest episodes of television I have ever seen. Much in the vein of Cowboy Bebop, the show is a fusion of bleak, anti-Star Trek science fiction with thematic overtones, visually, aurally, and attitudinally, of a spaghetti Western. Malcolm Reynolds is a Han Solo-esque ne’er-do-well, captain of the Serenity, and guiding light for an eclectic crew, each it seems with a little more to them than meets the eye – a doctor and his little sister, surgically traumatized by the government; a level-headed priest who knows a little more than a priest should; a courtesan/escort who sweeps into Serenty’s ports of call to pleasure its men (and women). With production values that were nearly cinematic, and a cast so cohesive, it’s more than a little bittersweet to think what might have been.

The Tudors
I avoided this show as long as I could, since it seemed to be little more than “Henry VIII wasn’t just a fat old king… he had a lot of sex, too!” Surprisingly, after the initial shock of ever-present flesh in each episode, the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn grows surprising depth, and the political intrigue gains comprehensibility as the characters twist and turn, everyone trying to manipulate the monarch for their own ends. The first season ends after only ten episodes, with more promised, and just as with The Office, the show grows on you, and I am very much anticipating where it goes next (conveniently forgetting to mention that a short trip to Wikipedia will tell you exactly how it turns out).


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