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TBTS’s Best TV Shows You’re NOT Watching (Part 1)

August 4, 2010

http://inventorspot.com/lost_remotesDespite the fact that we don’t have cable, we watch a lot of TV at my house. The wife and I once calculated that during peak TV season last year, we watched a total of about 13 hours of TV a week. That doesn’t sound like much, but it breaks down to almost 2 hours of TV per day (though sometimes we did mini-marathons on the weekend.) And remember, when you remove the advertising, your average one-hour show is about 44.5 minutes of actual entertainment while half-hour shows average about 22 minutes of real content. It’s exhausting, to be sure, but we just can’t bring ourselves to cut the list down any further. Between the popular, marquee shows and our guilty pleasures, we’re down to the bare minimum.

Everybody loves the marquee shows. Your Community. Your Modern Family. Your Glee. Your Mad Men. Your Arrested Development (may the FSM extend a noodly appendage to its dearly departed soul.) These are the shows that people speak of as they gather excitedly at the proverbial watercooler, or that digital watercooler that we call Facebook. (You call it that too? Small world!) But what about the lesser television programming? The small-screen equivalent of the sleeper B-movie?

Yea, verily, nestled in between episodes of Who Wants to Make a Deal With a Desperate Jersey Bachelorette Idol (hosted by Dane Cook) are the unsung gems of the boobtube. There is a vast assortment of quality entertainment to be found in this Siberia of the airwaves. Even after you’ve eliminated the big names and cleared out the chaff of reality programming. Even on basic cable! Here are a few we’ve enjoyed.

Warehouse 13

You know that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? The one where the government’s “top men” are seen crating up the Ark of the Covenant and wheeling it down the aisle of a huge warehouse full of other crates containing other ostensibly important relics? That’s essentially what Warehouse 13 is about: a huge, underground, government warehouse full of technological and/or supernatural wonders. Two government agents, Pete and Myka, are recruited by the mysterious Mrs. Frederic and old-timer Artie (Saul Rubinek, whom I best remember as movie producer Lee Donowitz in True Romance.) Their job: to recover, catalog, and safeguard strange and powerful artifacts.

Most of the time, these artifacts belonged to someone famous. Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass traps you inside and drives you insane. The disco ball from Studio 54 releases sexual energy (natch.) Poe’s quill pen brings to life all your ill wishes. Sylvia Plath’s typewriter makes you suicidally depressed. Nikola Tesla’s car runs on the human body’s bio-electricity. You get the idea. The show is mostly episodic, with a larger story arc involving a former Warehouse agent gone rogue.

Warehouse 13 was co-created by veteran Firefly, Dollhouse, and Battlestar Galactica writer Jane Espenson; certainly a sci-fi pedigree that is beyond reproach. It’s campy as hell; there’s really no other way to put it. And it’s loads of fun. What’s more, there have been some amusing cameos: Firefly alums Jewel Staite and Sean Maher make an appearance in the second season, as well as Jaime Murray, who played Dexter‘s crazy, British girlfriend.

My wife doesn’t care for this show, and I’m not entirely sure why. Regardless, she’ll occasionally sit and watch it with me. (Hey, it’s either this or I break out my 80’s Buck Rogers box-set…again.) Warehouse 13 has absolutely no desire to take itself seriously. The relationship between Pete and Myka is more sibling rivalry than the forced (and ultimately unsatisfying) sexual tension attempted by, say, The X Files. It’s just good, bubblegum n’ popcorn wackiness. Tuesdays at 9 on Sci-Fi (I, like all good Americans, refuse to call it “SyFy.”)

White Collar

I would call White Collar a light-hearted crime procedural. Perhaps a little lighter than Castle, but nothing close to a comedy/farce like Police Squad. It centers around the charming and clever Neal Caffrey, an expert forger and con-man. Caught by the FBI and hoping to avoid jail time, he agrees to consult with the Bureau’s “white collar” (DING!) crime unit under the supervision of Agent Peter Burke.

Caffrey is played by the alarmingly good-looking Matthew Bomer (seriously, just look at the guy), also known as “Bryce Larkin” from Chuck. Interestingly, Agent Burke is played by Tim DeKay who was “Kevin,” the “bizarro Jerry” in the classic Seinfeld episode. White Collar is your basic heist-of-the-week show, where Burke and Caffrey have to figure out whodunit and howdeydunit, usually making use of Caffrey’s unique skills and (*ahem*) connections. As with most good shows, to keep things interesting there is also a greater arc to the story: a mystery involving an ornate music box and Caffrey’s old girlfriend who dies under mysterious circumstances. (Or does she?)

The heists themselves are smart, and the dialog is snappy and clever. Mrs. theGeek likes this show more than I do, mostly because of  Bomer, but I enjoy it quite a bit and try not to miss an episode. Also, it’s good to know that Tiffani Thiessen can still find work (as Burke’s wife.) Tuesdays at 9 on USA.

Hung

Now we’re getting into the pay channels. Hung is on HBO, so of course there’s gratuitous nudity and bad words. (Or is it bad nudity and gratuitous words? I’m a fan either way.) In a nutshell, it’s a slight twist on the “hooker with a heart of gold.” Down-and-out, middle-aged Ray Drecker (a grizzled Thomas Jane) needs money. He’s divorced, his house almost burned down, he doesn’t have insurance, and he lives in Detroit. The only thing he really has going for him is his…dick, or his rod, or his…johnson. (Johnson?)

In the first episode, Ray hits rock bottom and sleeps with Tanya, a frumpy high-school acquaintance played quite convincingly by Jane Adams (who had small roles in Happiness and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). He soon finds himself thrust (ha!) into a job as a male prostitute, with Tanya bumbling along as his ersatz pimp. Ray juggles his new business as a “Happiness Consultant” with his day job as a high-school basketball coach, while trying to keep it secret from his ex-wife, Jessica (Anne “When did I get so hot?” Heche), and their teenage son and daughter. Cold, calculating, high-society “life coach” Lenore joins the mix and constantly tries to muscle Ray away from Tanya.

The best part of the show is watching Tanya as she tries desperately to gain some self-respect and stand up to Lenore. Tanya is gracelessness personified and virtually inept as Ray’s pimp, but she tries so hard. Ex-wife Jessica is also fun to watch as she neurotically bounces around trying to salvage her identity from her new husband Ronny (Eddie Jemison), her live-in mother, and her troubled kids. Perhaps ironically, the weak spot is Thomas Jane’s Ray. I know he’s supposed to be a bit of a meathead, an ex-jock with a big…jock, but sometimes he puts an annoying amount of “gee whiz” into his performance. That said, I initially felt the same way about Bill Paxton in Big Love but I got used to it; maybe Ray will grow on me (ha!). Even if you, dear reader, find this peccadillo difficult to overlook, Hung is still a great show which, combined with Big Love, Eastbound and Down, and the upcoming Game of Thrones, just might make HBO worth the extra few bucks on the cable bill. Sundays at 10 on HBO.

Tune in next week for a few more of TBTS’s Best TV Shows You’re NOT Watching!

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