Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TV editor Todd VanDerWerff posed this question to the TV Club writers, and we were so fascinated by the diversity of the answers that we decided to throw it your way as well: If you could make a New Year’s resolution for other people to check out one show or one type of show in 2013—ideally, a currently airing one—what would it be?
Todd VanDerWerff: I’m incredibly proud of our top 30 list for 2012. I dare say it’s the best list out there, with a great mix of just about everything TV has to offer. But the way we vote means that the shows everybody watches rise to the top, then the bottom half is dominated by cult favorites that a handful of our writers are passionate about. For me, that cult favorite is NBC’s family drama Parenthood, a show that should be far, far more popular than it is. It has a bad reputation as a schlocky melodrama based on a Steve Martin movie, but it made my top 10 for 2012 for a damn good reason, and I’m guessing it didn’t make a lot of my colleagues’ top 10 lists simply because they don’t watch it. It’s finishing out its fourth season in the next few weeks, but it’s the kind of show you can dive into whenever you want. (Anyone with a family will probably immediately grasp what’s going on, and it’s not hyper-serialized, beyond character relationships.) If you do want to dive into the deep end, there’s rewarding stuff in all four seasons of the show, but particularly in the third and fourth years, when showrunner Jason Katims and his team really nailed down the precise mixture of comedy and pathos they pursue every week. (Katims also ran Friday Night Lights, and this show captures a lot of that series’ spirit, while being looser and more immediately funny.) There’s plenty of time to get caught up before fall—hopefully!—brings a fifth season.
Rowan Kaiser: In the email thread in which we were asked to send in our nominees for the best-episodes list, the first responders often had something in common: They nominated episodes from shows like Rev., Misfits, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, The Thick Of It, Doctor Who, and The Line Of Duty. Abbey and Who aside (two cultural phenomena having off years), the immediate response suggests two things to me: First, that we may not have had have enough voters watching and rating these shows, and second, that those of us who do watch these shows really like them. Thus my suggestion is that everyone try to catch more British shows on Hulu, which has done a great job of acquiring the rights to a variety of non-American series. In addition to the shows’ own charms, the shorter British seasons make them easier to catch up on, as well as giving them refreshingly different paces and structures. Me, I’m leaning toward trying out Fresh Meat, a comedy about arriving at university, from the creators of Peep Show. Hulu will begin airing the second season on January 13.
Brandon Nowalk: I recommend sampling the weird experiments on Adult Swim, America’s riskiest, freest, best network. When I watch Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, a stop-motion puppet sex farce inspired by Gothic literature, or Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, a cable-access parody turned surreal late-night pastiche, there’s an intoxicating sense of getting away with something. I can hardly believe the absurdist, Mary Hartman-inspired Southern soap The Heart, She Holler actually aired last year. Childrens Hospital is especially sharp in its attacks on narrative, but NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Eagleheart are also plenty funny. Better yet are the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it specials like the three-part infomercial parody You’re Whole and the title-credits reenactment turned celebration of television and fandom The Greatest Event In Television History. And I can’t wait to catch up on The Venture Bros. in time for its return this year. Adult Swim is full of true originals challenging television norms one non sequitur at a time. Plus: 11-minute episodes!
Phil Dyess-Nugent: My first thought was Peep Show, which is currently in the middle of its eighth season on Hulu, with the promise of another to come later this year. It’s a major comedy, and its low visibility in this country bewilders me and pisses me off. (Only the first season is available on Region 1 DVD, and it’s so much weaker than the later seasons that this amounts to misrepresentation.) But it’s technically covered by Rowan’s recommendation. So instead, I’ll risk appearing to be passing out homework assignments by urging people to keep up with the documentary-series trifecta on PBS: Frontline, P.O.V., and Independent Lens. I don’t think these shows are obscure, but I do suspect that a lot of TV-literate people take them for granted, “respecting” them more than they actually watch them. Frontline is the last outpost of a great tradition in TV journalism, and it really puts out a number of exciting episodes, often dealing with issues viewers might not have even known were issues, such as the high cost of dentistry and the fact that there are parts of this country where, apparently, any doorknob who’s watched half a CSI and can sit in a courtroom witness chair without falling off can get a job as Chief Medical Examiner. The other two series don’t produce original work, and they both have the deplorable habit of chopping up feature films to fit an hourlong slot, but they still provide exposure to some excellent films that otherwise would never get seen outside the festival circuit. If an upcoming title sounds like it might be your thing, I recommend taking a few seconds to look it up on IMDB and checking the original running time.
Zack Handlen: While we missed it in our inventory of 2013’s most anticipated entertainments, it’s safe to say we here at TV Club are looking forward to the return of Venture Bros. later this year. I know I am, and after watching (and reviewing) the series’ Halloween special last fall, I’d say there’s ample reason to get excited about the show’s return. The voice cast is as lively as ever, the animation is a pleasure, and while mixing pathos and pop-culture riffs certainly isn’t anything new in animation, show creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have hit on a particular balance of both that remains unique. Mentioning it here is probably the resolution equivalent of a coals-to-Newcastle moment, but if any of you are still on the fence about giving Venture Bros. a try, I recommend it. You should have just enough time to get caught up by the time the new season debuts.
Molly Eichel: The Hour, which just wrapped up its second season on BBC America, is one of those shows that’s frustrating because I just want more of it. Going behind the scenes of a news-magazine show in late-’50s England, the 12-episode (six per season) series is exactly what The Newsroom should be, but isn’t. The writers pack in the plot, but even a tertiary plot thread about parents searching for a daughter they gave up for adoption was more compelling than the full-blown premise of other dramas. The depictions of the inner workings of a newsroom are frighteningly spot-on, and the writing weaves in history without making it seem like the characters were the catalyst for a changing Britain. That’s not to mention, an all-around stellar cast, including Romola Garai (who should be so much more famous), Ben Whishaw (who might be too famous for a third season), and Dominic West (who is always welcome on my TV screen). This season featured the addition of Peter Capaldi, and I hope he sticks around if there’s a third season. Take a weekend and mainline this.
Donna Bowman: Don’t automatically dismiss the venerable reality category. Over the holidays, I’ve gotten obsessed with Shark Tank, which brings a sort of financial realism to the gimmicky American Inventor setup, but also lays bare the role of emotion and gut feeling in business decisions without gamifying them too much. And if you were surprised by the enthusiasm for the last two seasons of Survivor (and, I would argue, the last two seasons of Amazing Race as well), then it might be time to add it back into your queue. Sure, Sturgeon’s Law still applies, but there’s so dang much reality TV that the 10 percent that’s worthwhile adds up to quite a few shows.
Carrie Raisler: It seems as if it’s time to start placing more of a critical eye on USA programming. Between Political Animals and the increased (and very successful) serialization of Suits and Covert Affairs during their summer seasons, it feels like the network is slowly edging away from its “sunny day” edict and into something more interesting. Even the failed pilot Over/Under, which recently aired as a standalone movie, showed a willingness to stretch the USA brand in a way that’s promising—even though it was ultimately a failure. All of this could be a giant coincidence, and the network could devolve right back into meaningless light drama with its next development cycle, but it feels like something potentially very good is happening here. My personal goal is to give all new USA shows a fair shake in 2013, even if they start out a little shaky. After all, Suits’ great season two wouldn’t exist without its (decidedly less interesting) first season to build upon.
Ryan McGee: Look for a network on your dial that you’ve never watched before and explore its programming for diamonds in the rough. My specific advice? Start with the Ovation Channel, which is trying to recreate the early days of A&E.
Noel Murray: Fans of traditional three-camera sitcoms (and three-camera sitcom stars) might be surprised by how reliably funny and enjoyable Hot In Cleveland has become. The fragments I’ve seen of the other TV Land sitcoms have struck me as too broad and crude, but HIC’s cast is likeable and seems to be having a ball, which makes a huge difference in how the material plays. Plus, I’ve come to appreciate the show’s semi-serialized qualities; the characters make choices that play out over several episodes, much the way that Friends and that ilk used to be. There’s nothing remotely innovative or edgy about Hot In Cleveland, and if people who don’t find old-fashioned sitcom farce even remotely funny are likely to find HIC excruciating. But anyone who likes to watch professional entertainers being entertaining should give it a try—or another try, for those who bailed on it after the first episode.
Kenny Herzog: Flip on a couple of episodes of The Neighbors via On Demand. It’s silly, but it makes me laugh, and it evokes nostalgia for a specific kind of retro-quirky sitcom innocence. At the very least, there are two-minute teasers of each episode on YouTube.
Pilot Viruet: Obviously my No. 1 is The Chris Gethard Show, but based on all the British/Peep Show love, I’d recommend checking out Fresh Meat on Hulu, which has somewhat filled the void in my heart that Undeclared left.
Caroline Framke: +1 to Fresh Meat! It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and perfectly acted to boot. If there were Fantasy TV Actor leagues (and really, why aren’t there?), I’d recruit Jack Whitehall and Zawe Ashton, stat. For my resolution, I’m determined to branch out genre-wise; it’s far too easy for me to get stuck in a half-hour-comedy rut. In that spirit, I don’t usually watch procedurals (I’m skittish and the cold opens freak me out), but I marathoned CBS’ Sherlock Holmes riff, Elementary, over the holidays, and was surprised by how much I liked it. It boasts solid character work, the leads have great chemistry, and it’s one of the unexpectedly more gorgeous shows I watched last year. At this point, any Sherlock mythology is just a bonus.
Steve Heisler: My resolution for the world is to watch The Colbert Report every day. I admit, I used to be one of those, “I’ll watch the clips online every once in a while, but THE DAILY SHOW is where it’s at!” people, but after catching a string of episodes in a row, I realized Stephen Colbert was doing the best, number one show out there for so many reasons I kicked myself for not following this advice sooner.
David Sims: +1 to The Chris Gethard Show, which you can download free via iTunes or just watch on YouTube—it’s a fascinating thing watching the show evolve into the loose, enjoyable talk show/live-action podcast/thing it’s become from its first episode, too.
Dennis Perkins: Since everyone is so cool and all, I’m sure you’re all watching Burning Love already, but watch Burning Love already. Also, I’m not the only one excited that Psych is coming back, right? That sort of effortless buddy/goofing-around dynamic doesn’t grow on trees, and the James Roday/Dule Hill dynamic is pure televisual comfort food.
Marcus Gilmer: Justified. I’m so glad I’m finally caught up. It’s just a fun, pulpy show with fantastic performances every week.
Les Chappell: Unfortunately, my list of shows that I’ve resolved to watch this year is far longer than my list of shows I think people should be watching, but I would encourage everyone to give Raising Hope some attention. It’s fallen off the radar of Fox comedies this year, thanks to the unabashed love for Ben And Kate, the qualitative surge of New Girl, and the utter disappointment of The Mindy Project, but I still think it’s a wonderful show with a terrific sense of humor. Garrett Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton play the best married couple on television right now, the relationship between Jimmy and Sabrina has fallen into a nice groove after the often-problematic will-they-won’t-they dynamic of the first season, and even Cloris Leachman’s Maw Maw isn’t as painful as she was in the early going. There’s a heart to the show that a lot of its cruder humor often obscures, and the world of Natesville has become surprisingly fleshed out as time’s gone on. It has the sad tendency to produce some episodes that are just disasters (the season-two finale was one of the worst things I saw on TV in 2012), but its batting average is still better than most other shows, and more often than not, I just feel good after watching it.
Margaret Eby: I second Phil’s suggestion for Peep Show and Donna’s reminder to keep digging for reality-show paydirt. There are some riveting, amazing, and just plain entertaining things going on in the murky depths of The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, and particularly on The Food Network, which has a monopoly right now on frantic-looking contestants desperately trying to mold a hunk of sugar into the likeness of a visiting D-list celebrity. Plus, everyone watches Misfits, right? Because, man, Rowan is right about Misfits.
Erik Adams: It took me a while to get into Enlightened’s first season—the initial episodes came off as too ponderous and inert to warrant much enthusiasm. Until, that is, it became clear that the contemplative pace and stakes that are high only for the show’s protagonist (Laura Dern, in a performance that deserves more awards-season notice this time around) are kind of the point of that first season. You have to learn to speak Enlightened’s language, and that process is considerably condensed now that the first 10 episodes are available on DVD and HBO Go. I recommend shotgunning them in time to check in with the show this coming Sunday, when its second season debuts alongside that of Girls. HBO made a huge gesture of faith in Enlightened by renewing the low-rated series and then pairing it with the buzziest show on the network’s slate—I’m hoping the second season does better than the show’s immaculately flawed characters and manages to make good on someone else’s trust.
Sonia Saraiya: At the risk of sounding entirely too social-justicey, I’m spending this upcoming year looking for shows with some racial diversity. This isn’t to judge anything on TV already, because this is a complex issue, but I noticed as I was catching up on television at the end of 2012 how few compelling characters of color I found. I don’t think anyone needs to go out of their way to be politically correct. It’s more that I’m looking for shows that are willing to even include people of color. In that vein, I really admire TNT’s Southland, coming back for a fifth season in February. It’s a consistently interesting show on race and identity—plus guns and corruption and (if you’re in season four) Lucy Liu! You can’t go wrong! Also, having just mainlined everything I could find starring Peter Capaldi, I wholeheartedly throw my support behind both The Hour and The Thick Of It, two British imports that have been slightly overlooked, but that people ought to watch, especially viewers who liked Sherlock. The Thick Of It just concluded its run, but if The Hour gets enough momentum, it might come back for a third season. Go watch.
Robert David Sullivan: Besides the ton of drama series I need to catch up on, I’m going to make it a practice to DVR Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Based on the clips that have been popping up in all of my social-media feeds, Fallon has come the closest to replicating the cocktail-party atmosphere of the original, Steve Allen-hosted Tonight Show of the 1950s, of which I’ve seen entire episodes only at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York. I grew up on the snarky humor of David Letterman, but it’s refreshing to see Fallon get around the boring plug-your-latest-project premise of late-night TV not by distancing himself from his guests, but by inviting them to get sloppy and silly. Parlor games, sing-alongs, ugly-Christmas-sweater giveaways… for some reason, Late Night’s sheer frivolity makes it the only talk show I never feel is a waste of my time.
Claire Zulkey: I plan on studying this list closely, because after my son was born, my husband and I watched all the shows we currently own on DVD or have streaming on Netflix to death, most especially 30 Rock and Parks And Rec. We didn’t have room in our brains for anything new. But now, we kinda-sorta know what we’re doing, and the kid is more cooperative, so we’re ready for something new, so my resolution is just to pick at least one new show. Justified? Leverage? Downton Abbey? We’re going to pick one or two and finally catch up with the rest of you guys.
Nathan Rabin: Over vacation, I retreated into the entertainment equivalent of comfort food: Best Show Gems podcasts, old Neil Hamburger albums, and reruns of Conan. I used to watch Late Night With Conan O’Brien religiously back in the day, or at least I watched the monologue and first comedy bit and then went to sleep, but I never quite got into the habit of watching him on The Tonight Show, and I’ve been scattershot in watching Conan since his move to TBS. But my Yuletide Conan binge reminded me why I fell in love with the guy in the first place. O’Brien’s commitment to absurdist, oddball conceptual humor is as strong as ever, and the show has a breakout star in writer and performer Deon Cole, as well as an ace repertory company including folks like Eddie Pepitone and Brian Stack. O’Brien isn’t news anymore. He is no longer David in late-night’s great David vs. Goliath battle. The late-night wars are over, but Conan remains as consistently hilarious and original as ever. In this new year, it’s very much worth giving a new look to an old name and face.
Kevin McFarland: I’ll stick up for a bunch of other animated shows that don’t get a lot of publicity. Sure, there’s Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, Bob’s Burgers, and The Legend Of Korra—those are great, and definitely more than worth the time. But I’ve recently caught up with Regular Show, another quarter-hour show in the same vein as Adventure Time, that’s just rambunctiously wonderful; American Dad is still consistently right up there with Bob’s Burgers in terms of network animated programming; even The Cleveland Show has made some great strides to return to respectability. And my personal vote would go to Tron: Uprising, a Disney XD show that in less than a season has restored my desire to see more stories from that world. It’s got a great voice cast and stellar animation—fans of Reboot will definitely want to check it out. It’s probably just a one-season wonder at this point, since it’s not even on the main Disney Channel, but it’s still worth seeking out.
Cory Casciato: Ideally, I’d like to pick Alphas as my one show to recommend to any and all people in TV land looking for something fresh to enjoy in this glorious new year, but it looks less and less like it will actually return for a third season (why, SyFy, why?), so that seems kind of pointless. Instead, let me point in the direction of Gravity Falls, Disney’s latest animated tween-bait. Wait, don’t run off! In spite of its home and target audience, Gravity Falls is quality TV through and through. Kristen Schaal heads up a talented voice cast, the writing is sharp, and the art and animation are genuinely gorgeous. And it’s all in service of some genuinely weird, funny stories of the small-town supernatural, like The X-Files reimagined as a Saturday-morning cartoon.
Alasdair Wilkins: Since my go-to choice, Gravity Falls, has already been discussed (though seriously, everyone should give that show a try), I’m going to jump forward roughly 12 hours in the TV schedule and talk up everything Saturday morning has to offer. Admittedly, keeping up with these shows can be as difficult as keeping an actual New Year’s resolution, considering the ungodly hour at which they air, and their propensity for long, indefinite hiatuses. But Young Justice has only just returned, and The Legend Of Korra is confirmed for another 14 episodes sometime in 2013, with both offering a terrific blend of fantastical action, gorgeous animation, sophisticated themes, strong voice casts, and storytelling that belie their kiddie timeslots. While on the subject of comics-indebted shows, Arrow is either about to settle into a groove of enjoyable, winningly goofy pulp—probably the more likely option—or make the leap into a legitimately fascinating exploration of what it means to be a superhero or a vigilante, albeit filtered through a CW lens. Either way, it should be a lot of fun in 2013.
Farihah Zaman: I would like to second Phil’s vote for the three PBS documentary series, but while on the subject of documentary, I’d also like to mention Final Witness, a high-end true-crime drama and the first show I ever reviewed for TV Club. While the “unique documentary-fiction hybrid” label the show was touting in press releases is highfalutin code for “really good reenactments,” the quality of the production, the intimate background provided on the people involved in every story, and the conceit of having the victim narrate each episode, Desperate Housewives-style, just worked. The show was somehow less salacious and more entertaining than many similarly themed programs. Finally, there’s ABC’s Nashville. Oh, Nashville. Yes, it’s repetitive. Yes, it fails to live up to its full potential most weeks. But it’s also had a handful of the most clear, perfect, barely contained, emotion-drenched moments in television last year, generally when there was a duet involved. The songs are not only excellent, but they often function exactly as they would in a classical musical: to express the inner state of the show’s characters better than the dialogue could. The cast is great, and there is a lot of chemistry going around on this show. Eat your heart out, Glee.
Joel Keller: I’ll give our readers the same resolution I’m going to give myself: Watch more episodes of Archer and Bob’s Burgers. I know both are pretty damn good shows, and both are at or near their creative peaks. But for some reason, both have fallen off my radar, and with the glut of other shows to watch and tape—especially on Sundays, where Bob’s often falls victim to marquee-show overload—both have become a low priority to me. But I am a fan of just about everyone involved in both shows, and have laughed my ass off at both, so I should just set the damn DVR already and not worry about it.
Will Harris: Although cynics will no doubt suggest that my resolution is merely an excuse for self-promotion, I’ve been a fan of The Middle since long before I started reviewing the show for TV Club, and even though it’s now in its fourth season, it still needs to be seen and appreciated by far more eyes. A number of people initially dismissed the show as just another family sitcom, but creators DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler, who cut their teeth on TV classics like Roseanne and Murphy Brown, have taken great pains to create a universe for Frankie and Mike Heck (Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn) that is, in its way, more realistic than any other sitcom on television. Maybe “realistic” isn’t quite the right word, since there’s definitely a heightened silliness to the goings-on, but it’s by far the most relatable sitcom: Money is always tight, the house is rarely clean, the kids—from the overenthusiastic Sue (Eden Sher) to the semi-ungrateful Axl (Charlie McDermott) to the generally eccentric Brick (Atticus Shaffer)—are often neglected in favor of their parents just wanting a little bit of time to themselves. Yep, that sounds just like my house. This season is arguably the best the show’s ever been, so for those who have never given The Middle a chance, there’s no time like the present.
Myles McNutt: One of the most rewarding experiences of the past year has been writing about CBS’ Elementary; this is not just because the show has done a good job of using its character dynamics to build a compelling weekly procedural, but also because it made me realize how enjoyable it can be to dig into a kind of show many viewers normally treat so casually or dismissively. As much as I value the pleasures of intense serialization, reviewing a procedural has foregrounded the charm and the complexity of weekly drop-ins with familiar settings and characters. As much procedurals can work as background viewing while doing laundry, diving deeper has revealed the value of taking these shows more seriously. While Elementary would be a fine option, I’d encourage everyone to consider adding any procedural to their media diets in the new year and seeing what they discover.