I never really watched much television until around 2010. Even though the supposed Golden Age of Television started about ten years earlier, there was not much that grabbed my attention then. The handful of “prestige” shows at the time, the pioneers of the Golden Age, were the only shows that anyone really discussed, and I was on the outside looking in then. The only one of those I watched was 24. Now it feels like a million shows are deserving of our attention, and I enjoy many of them. I want to discuss a few shows that you might have heard about, but that I don’t hear a ton of people talking about. Not that I have done any real research into this, because I’m just basing this on my own informal conversations and social media connections. So, you know, the height of statistical analysis.
Starring Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman, and a fuckton of other good actors/actresses.
Seriously this show has a ridiculous cast, and they’re basically all great. If you check out IMDB, you have to scroll to the 9th name for David Costabile, who is hysterical in this, and couldn’t be any less like the other TV role many know him from: Breaking Bad’s Gale Boetticher. I can’t believe, between Twitter and Facebook, I hear almost no buzz for this show. I don’t know a single person in real life that watches, other than my brother, who I made sit down to watch with me (now he loves it too).
The show follows two opposing forces in business and law enforcement: Bobby Axelrod, a shady mega-billionaire who runs a hedge fund, and Chuck Rhoades, a US Attorney determined to drag Axe’s dealings into the light. Their cat and mouse struggle drags their families, their offices, and the entire nation into its orbit, as the two masterminds play chess on the biggest board they can find. It’s a classic tale of good vs bad; no it’s not that’s a boring premise. It’s actually Batman vs Joker: episode by episode the lines blur between good and bad, and the viewer’s loyalty shifts with each move they make.
“Billions” is tremendous. The writing is strong, the cast, as mentioned above, is great, it’s dripping with tension and suspense in nearly every scene, the production is tight, and we get a glimpse into a type of lifestyle most of us know nothing about. Check this show out, the second season just started in February.
Starring H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell, Adam Reed, and Lucky Yates.
I’m just going to come out and say it: “Archer” is the funniest show on television, and it’s not close. I know what they say about opinions, and I just don’t care. Nothing make me laugh harder than peak “Archer”. I know a handful of people who watch, but it seems to get completely left in the dust on the comedy landscape. The writing is smart as hell (honestly 10–20% of their jokes and references go over my head but the internet is a great tool) and they lob jokes and one liners at you like the Persian army flings arrows so don’t worry if you miss a few. It’s not all obscure references either, as some of the best material comes from running jokes that are easy to follow along with.
The characters are great, the voice actors are better, and the animated format allows them to push the boundaries with what they can do on screen. “Archer” is built on the core concept that old-school spying (see Bond, James) needs to be lampooned to shit. Sterling Archer, the eponymous lead, is Bond, if Bond was a raging and (barely) functional alcoholic with mommy issues.
The first few seasons are marked by a quirky setting; it exists outside of time with an anachronistic blend of technology and references. More recent seasons have been marked by a more modernized and consistent setting. The cast starts out fairly large, before it focuses in over time, as the core group and their interactions are the heart (and of course humor) of the show.
The strongest quality of the show, outside of its outrageous humor, is the outstanding consistency. There are a ton of standout, exceptional episodes, but no show can have every episode be a classic. While its seven (soon to be eight) season run inevitably has some episodes that are not memorable, there is not one that isn’t a quality endeavor. This chain has no weak links. Get started now catching up on Netflix, Season 8 is coming up in April.
Starring Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich.
I’ve saved the best for last, because make no mistake, I think that “The Americans” is nothing less than the best show on television. That’s right. My frustration at the utter lack of buzz surrounding this show is palpable (My dad watches too but I’ve never heard anyone else mention it). While “The Americans” has started to gain some — deserved — critical acclaim, I see absolutely no hype for this among regular viewers. It’s a travesty.
Set in the 1980’s, “The Americans” follows a fake-married couple of fake Americans with a fake-real family.
Ok that was confusing let’s try again. “The Americans” follows an elite couple of Soviet spies, that got fake married, have fake American identities and histories that hold up to real examination, with a real business, and real kids, who know nothing of the double lives they lead. If you’re like me, too young to remember the Cold War, this window into the American-Russian dynamic during the Reagan administration is fascinating.
The main story follows the spies, Elizabeth and Philip, as their missions escalate to higher and higher stakes, mirroring the increased desperation of the USSR at that time. How they balance the danger of their mission, the maturation of their children, the increasing paranoia in the American government, and the close presence of their neighbor Stan, who is an FBI agent (I know, just a little contrived but it’s about the only flaw in the show), lend to a tense viewing experience. With no shortage of action and active suspense, the strength of the show is in the slow burn nature of its drama, as well as the humanity of these 3 conflicted leads.
This is by far the most serious show on the list (“Billions” is a serious drama but has plenty of humor within). The life or death struggle the leads contend with on a weekly basis is grim, and while events show we should root against the Russians, it’s not so cut and dry when you watch these people fighting for what they believe in and what they treasure.
Season 5 kicked off in early March, and I’m riveted as always.