What's worth watching?
September 26, 2010 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I've just canceled HBO in an attempt to save money... leading me to immediately realize that, aside from "Community", I don't watch anything on network TV. What's worth watching -- and which definitive episodes will have me hooked?

To give you some idea of network shows that I've loved before: Buffy, Veronica Mars, first few seasons of Grey's Anatomy, first few seasons of Lost. HBO shows that will have me going through withdrawal: Dexter, True Blood, Six Feet Under replays. Each one of these shows had one episode that stuck with me and made me want to go back for more.
posted by avidreader to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (56 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Mad Men.
posted by amethysts at 4:41 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

amethysts: "Mad Men"

Mad Men is AMC, so not really network TV. But if AMC is in, check out Breaking Bad. You need to start at the pilot.
posted by sharkfu at 4:47 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you still in Montreal? Do you have Rogers cable? Rogers on Demand is offering Mad Men for free.
posted by maudlin at 4:50 PM on September 26, 2010

Running Wilde is a new show starring Will Arnett; it was co-created by Mitch Hurwitz of Arrested Development fame. First episode just aired last week.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:53 PM on September 26, 2010

I've seen a couple episodes of Modern Family and thought it was entertaining.
posted by emilyd22222 at 4:53 PM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

The only episode of Breaking Bad I've seen was the season 3 finale, and it was fantastic. I'm told the episode before was even better.

As I understand it, Community was created in the mold of The Office and 30 Rock. I haven't watched much of the the Office, but Seasons 2, 3, and 4 were pretty good, I heard. You should watch season 2 of 30 Rock. MILF island. We no longer want to hit that. Tracy Jordan and the uncanny valley of porn. Etcetera.
posted by boghead at 4:57 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Community" is the pinnacle of "big three" network television, IMO. I'm also particularly fond of two quasi-documentary/reality shows, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Primetime: What Would You Do?", but that may be because I'm a giant marshmallow of a man. But both are awesome and will kill any given bad mood, even if they are a bit cheesy.

It's too early to tell, but it looks like "The Event" might be worth following.

If you get FX, watch "Archer" and "Louie." Both are amazing. And if you get AMC, watch "Rubicon."
posted by jbickers at 4:58 PM on September 26, 2010

My roommate and I do a (hulu) night of Modern Family, Community and Cougar Town. You may want to check out the other two.

Caveat: Cougar Town was not awesome in the beginning of season one but they have completely changed direction to an ensemble comedy show that is hilarious.
posted by magnetsphere at 5:02 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seeing emilyd's Modern Family and raising The Middle as well. They're on one after the other on Wednesday's, which makes it easy to catch both.
posted by Golfhaus at 5:02 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Parks and Recreation is hilarious (sort of along the lines of The Office, but less cheesy/tired and with better female characters). I'd start with Season 2.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:02 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Louie on FX or Hulu
posted by outlandishmarxist at 5:03 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

30 Rock and Parks and Recreation are both so hilarious. I can't decide which I like better. Check out Rosemary's Baby and Jack the Writer to get a good feel for the 30 Rock vibe.

DO NOT bother with season 1 of Parks and Recreation - the writers and actors have publicly admitted that they didn't have a good handle on the shows' characters and tone until season 2, which is phenomenal. I'd written off the show entirely until I accidentally saw Hunting Trip one day when my roommate was watching it and was hooked.

If you start watching Mad Men, just start with season 1, power through the mediocre first episode, and then prepare to have your mind blown.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:14 PM on September 26, 2010

Monday: House (Fox) & Intervention (A&E).
Wednesday: Modern Family & Cougar Town (ABC)
Friday: Supernatural (CW)
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 5:14 PM on September 26, 2010

Since you liked LOST, take a stab at The Event. NBC. It's second episode is tomorrow night, and the first one left me intrigued. Shades of FlashForward, with the good mystery of early LOST.

That, and watch House. In it's current season (6,7?), it's still very awesome.
posted by deezil at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2010

Fringe. FRINGE! Modern Family is hilarious and I like it, but Fringe is gripping and compelling the same way that Buffy and the first few seasons of Lost were.
posted by kate blank at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Fox's Fringe has been pretty great lately. The AV Club recently put up a list of must-see episodes for newcomers in their review of this season's premiere:
With Lost over and the new slate of fall shows leaning more episodic than serialized (with the exception of The Event, which is its own kind of crazy), I’ve been hearing from people curious about whether they should start watching Fringe. Some used to watch and then bailed; some have never seen a minute. But a lot of folks have heard that Fringe took a turn from the hit-and-miss to the pretty consistently awesome toward the end of its second season, and they want to know whether it’s worth watching all 40-plus existing episodes in order to hop on the bandwagon.

Luckily for them, the very thing that makes Fringe problematic for some—the sometimes awkward blend of overarching mythology and MOTWs—also makes it easy to catch up. If you want to start watching Fringe, I’d suggest watching these 20 episodes, in this order:

From Season One: “The Arrival,” “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones,” “The Equation,” “Safe,” “Bound,” “Ability,” “Bad Dreams,” “The Road Not Taken” and “There’s More Than One Of Everything.”

From Season Two: “A New Day In The Old Town,” “Momentum Deferred,” “August,” “Snakehead,” “Grey Matters,” “Jacksonville,” “Peter,” “Olivia. In The Lab. With The Revolver,” “White Tulip,” “The Man From The Other Side” and “Over There.”

Some of the mythology might be a little confusing at first, but it’s not that hard to pick up. And with a few exceptions (like “White Tulip,” included because of its overall excellence), these episodes aren’t Fringe stand-alones. They do advance the story, and will prepare you for the start of Season Three.

Or if you don’t have time for all that, just watch “Ability,” “The Road Not Taken,” “There’s More Than One Of Everything,” “Peter,” “The Man From The Other Side” and “Over There.” That should get you up and running.

Or just start here, with “Olivia.” You can piece together the backstory later.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:18 PM on September 26, 2010 [9 favorites]

I find The Good Guys, Friday nights on Fox, to be pleasant treacle. YMMV.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:19 PM on September 26, 2010

Absolutely watch Modern Family. Watch seasons 2-4 of The Office. Watch all of 30 Rock. Watch at least season 2 of Parks and Recreation (Community-Parks and Rec-30 Rock-The Office made a great Thursday night last year).

Also, a strong second to Archer.
posted by good day merlock at 5:23 PM on September 26, 2010

As I just proclaimed in the '17 comedians' thread, Party Down is/was brilliant and funny. It's downloadable/Netflixable I'm sure.
Also, I really like Weeds which is still (literally, now) running, even if it has veered far, far from light escapist comedy in recent seasons.
posted by Flashman at 5:24 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bones is pretty good (again). It sort of stumbled, but the season premier was a return to its roots. It has a fairly well rounded cast of characters and the plots remain interesting, if not wholly plausible.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:26 PM on September 26, 2010

If you loved Buffy, you might enjoy Vampire Diaries. I don't say that because it's another vampire tale, but because it actually has (surprisingly) good storytelling, excellent pacing, and wonderful twists. Each episode leaves me eager to see what happens next week. It started off a bit cheesy, but really got quite excellent by the mid-point of the first season.
posted by litnerd at 5:37 PM on September 26, 2010

Fringe. As Rhaomi says, the end of the 2nd season is where it starts to get really good. The season 3 premiere was good, too. I wouldn't start with "Olivia," though. The payoff will be better if you don't.

I like V, but it's not quite as compelling as LOST or Fringe. It comes back in November, I believe.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 5:37 PM on September 26, 2010

Leverage, if you get TNT. It's light, comical heist fare, but it's excellent. Standout eps: "The Wedding Job" (season 1 ep 7), "The Juror #6 Job" (season 1 ep 11), "The Bottle Job" (season 2 ep 11), "The Zanzibar Marketplace Job" (season 2 ep 12), "The Studio Job" (season 3 ep 6), and "The Rashomon Job" (season 3 ep 11, but requires *no* real backplot knowledge).

The Glades, on A&E, is Mr. F's guilty-pleasure crime show now that he's not so much into CSI: Miami any more. It starts off pretty poorly, but the overall character arc for Matt Passmore's disaffected, kind of douchey homicide detective gets better as the season rolls along. It's a little trashy, a little sexy, and very character-driven. Good eps: "The Girlfriend Experience" (S1E5), "Cassadaga" (S1E7), "Second Chance" (S1E10). Only one season so far and it's just winding up, so you stand a good chance of catching a marathon between now and ep 13 on the third of October.

I am actually a little surprised and appalled at how much I love Criminal Minds, on CBS; it's about a team of FBI profilers. It's reportedly fallen off in quality over the last year or so-- but seasons 1 through 4 are just fantastic TV, with a great ensemble cast. It can be gory (but you like Dexter!), but it's anchored in great performances-- even when they lost Mandy Patinkin, Joe Mantegna stepped in and it was still a ton of fun to watch. Standout ep for me is season 2, episode 10, "Lessons Learned," where Patinkin's character and a subset of the team travel to Guantanamo to chat up a suspected terrorist. Also season 3, eps 7 and 8 ("Lucky" and "Penelope"), which give you the origin story of Kirsten Vangsness's terrific hacker character Penelope Garcia. Vangsness is half the reason I watch-- such a charismatic actress in such a competent and compelling role-- and Matthew Gray Gubler and Thomas Gibson are the other half.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:45 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

We cancelled our cable subscription in favor of Netflix to save money, and I'm not sorry about it. While it's up to date shows are lacking, it has plenty of older seasons of shows on there, along with some newer stuff. And now that they have a deal with NBC Universal, I can recommend Battlestar Galactica on Instant Streaming (yay!).

Oh, and they also have Firefly and Doll House if you're a Joss Whedon fan.

So yeah, cheaper than HBO, but still plenty of great options.
posted by mikeweeney at 5:56 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing Fringe. V is great if you can unplug your brain.

For cop shows, Castle is kind of charming and old school (no forensics and flashy graphics) but not really the kind of show you get hooked on just from one episode. Same with Burn Notice.
posted by kenliu at 6:11 PM on September 26, 2010

Criminal Minds and NCIS - neither are as gory as CSI, nor as depressing as Law and Order SVU.

How I Met Your Mother is cute (and can be streamed online)

I also recommend netflix, totally worth the 10 bucks
posted by Neekee at 6:27 PM on September 26, 2010

Archer on FX is hilarious.
posted by clearly at 6:28 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's a new show named "Lone Star" about a scam artist I thought was pretty good.
posted by xammerboy at 6:34 PM on September 26, 2010

I love Louie on FX, nthing Madmen, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation. I also really like Parenthood on NBC, though it always ends in feel-goodness that is sometimes forced. Breaking Bad is great, but definitely one you want to catch from the beginning and watch in sequence. And Glee! You might like these shows if you miss Arrested Development. (RIP)
posted by shortyJBot at 6:46 PM on September 26, 2010

Lone Star is probably headed for cancellation within weeks; Running Wilde started with heavy expectations and may be on a short rope.

Now's a good time to catch up with Fringe. Castle isn't exactly in your wheelhouse, but it's got comfortably embedded in Bones territory, i.e. a chalk & cheese cop procedural for people who aren't really into cop procedurals.
posted by holgate at 6:50 PM on September 26, 2010

I second Vampire Diaries. The first few episodes were pretty terrible, but it got so much better. It moves at a fast pace and is the only show that's made me shout in surprise so loudly that my roommate came in to check on me. It's on at the same time as Community so I usually DVR both. (I have the exact same viewing habits as you except for Lost and Six Feet Under.)
posted by loulou718 at 7:47 PM on September 26, 2010

Definitely: Modern Family, Fringe, How I Met Your Mother
posted by nightchrome at 7:50 PM on September 26, 2010

The Good Wife on CBS is excellent network television. Agree on Modern Family and 30 Rock - some of the best comedies ever, really. If Mad Men counts, then YES.
posted by visual mechanic at 8:14 PM on September 26, 2010

The Office

Mad Men is OK but nothing ever happens. Also, each episode consists of Don sleeping with someone and making a advertising pitch to a new client. Take away those two revolving events and you're left with Betty whining about something irrelevant at home and Roger drinking.
posted by WhiteWhale at 8:14 PM on September 26, 2010

Friday Night Lights. Can't believe that hasn't been mentioned yet.
posted by jz at 8:16 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jane Espenson (writer and producer for Buffy) has a new show called Warehouse 13 that you might enjoy.

Terriers is brand new on FX and has just started (2 episodes.) It's about private eyes from the wrong side of the tracks and has a Veronica Mars feel to it, for me.

I also have enjoyed Covert Affairs, Lie to Me and Justified, as well as many of the shows already listed.

Getting rid of cable is good. TV is best on DVD anyway.
posted by acheekymonkey at 8:30 PM on September 26, 2010

30 Rock? Any episode. Except for the one guest starring Jennifer Aniston. My two personal favorite episodes of 30 Rock are any episode that has Dr. Spaceman and the episode with Fred Armisen (from SNL)

Also, nthing Running Wilde. Only one episode has been on, but it was half decent. I'm predicting it will be cancelled immediately since it has Arrested Development connections. I fear for its future already.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:31 PM on September 26, 2010

The only must-see TV for me these day are Mad Men and Vampire Diaries. I love, love both shows. I also agree The Glades, Supernatural, and Criminal Minds are all fairly enjoyable. If you have access to BBC America, I love Doctor Who, Being Human, Inbetweeners, and The Choir. Other than that, there's reasonably entertaining fare (Project Runway, Top Chef, Jersey Shore, Bones) but nothing I couldn't live without (except Fox Soccer Channel and GolTV; if not for my need for weekly professional soccer I'd catch everything online or via Netflix).
posted by JenMarie at 8:37 PM on September 26, 2010

Oh, sorry, but yes, I agree that Covert Affairs is a very entertaining show. Not profound or subtle or anything, but I almost always enjoy it.
posted by JenMarie at 8:38 PM on September 26, 2010

if you're the "self-aware nerd" type, you might like Big Bang Theory.

also, Better Off Ted was worth watching, but they only made one season.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:41 PM on September 26, 2010

On CBS, The Big Bang Theory can be quite funny.

If you get TNT, there are two cop shows that I like: "The Closer" and "Memphis Blues". Both center around a main character played by a good actor with a good supporting cast.
posted by valannc at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2010

If you are going to get on the AMC drama train with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, you might as well take in Rubicon. It is such a beautifully shot show with very nice character studies and a pace that is unlike anything on broadcast/basic cable.
posted by mmascolino at 8:56 PM on September 26, 2010

Detroit 1-8-7 was pretty good. Also agree with: Louis, Community, Modern Family.
posted by Choppy at 8:57 PM on September 26, 2010

Must-see TV in our house includes: Fringe, Mythbusters, Antiques Roadshow, The Closer, and Wipeout (though I think that last one is a summer show, and their season just ended).
posted by crunchland at 9:10 PM on September 26, 2010

Justified on FX is definitely worth watching. Actually there were 2 seasons of Better Off Ted, and they both were great. Season 1 is out on DVD. Season 2 is available electronically on ITunes and Netflix, among other places.
posted by gudrun at 9:19 PM on September 26, 2010

Technically not network TV but rather non-premium cable: Southland on TNT.
posted by roomwithaview at 10:33 PM on September 26, 2010

+1 for 'Louie'. Also available on hulu.
posted by palacewalls at 11:04 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of shows that haven't been mentioned yet (unless I missed it in skimming previous comments), FX's "Sons of Anarchy", a drama about an outlaw motorcycle gang in a fictional Northern CA town, is my favorite
posted by The Gooch at 12:01 AM on September 27, 2010

also, Better Off Ted was worth watching, but they only made one season.

Better Off Ted was terrific, and they actually made two seasons! However, both were about 13 episodes long, so pretty much the equivalent of one.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 6:11 AM on September 27, 2010

I'm hooked on Mad Men - The New Girl and Three Sundays are fantastic episodes, though all Season 2 and it's such a subtle show that you really need to watch it from the start. I went into it after all the press talked about how it was a 'when real men were men and everyone smoked and drank', expecting it to be full of 'How funny those 50s people were' moments. It's not like that at all - fully realised, richly textured, and says a lot about how unfulfilling it was to be female back then. It is slow, but rewarding. Peggy is an amazing character, and I would be gay for Joan Holloway.

I don;t know if UK drama does it for you, but I do like The Street (which is self-contained by episode) and Life on Mars. We were hooked on The Shield and Arrested Development, but both you really need to watch from the start. I find Big Bang Theory terrifically grating but I did like Parks and Rec a lot - the first season is, as people say, not that great, but the second is ace.
posted by mippy at 7:17 AM on September 27, 2010

Ok -- this is totally dependent on taste. We tend toward comedy, crime/detective serials, and sci-fi. These are all non-cable that both me (tend toward sci-fi and crime shows) and my husband (tends towards comedy, action) enjoy.
Network (also on Hulu):
Comedy: Modern Family, Chuck, 30 Rock, Good Guys
Detective/Crime serial: Bones, Castle
Drama: Fringe (slightly sci-fi), House
Action: NCIS Los Angeles (personally I like the LA version better). Note: Available through CBS.com not Hulu.
Syfy: Warehouse 13
USA: Action: Burn Notice, In Plain Sight
Netflix streaming:
Comedy: Weeds
Sci-fi: Sanctuary*, Torchwood
(I like Sanctuary, but I don't think it has a wide appeal)
posted by ejaned8 at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2010

A little left field, but since you like Community, you might like the show Home Movies which has all 4 seasons on DVD. It's an animated show about a kid who likes to make movies in the suburbs. It's hilariously accurate to being a kid.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:15 AM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your list overlaps heavily with mine, so I'll tell you which network shows I DVR:

Mystery(ish): House, Bones and Castle

Comedy: Modern Family, Community, 30 Rock (formerly the office), Hell's Kitchen (in comedy because that's what I watch it for)
I'll add Big Bang theory to that list soon, but I'm still getting caught up. I'm not a big fan of "laugh track" shows, but this one reminds me of my undergrad friends, ymmv

Action: Chuck

-Survivor (mostly because I think throwing Jimmy Johnson out there is an interesting twist)
-The Apprentice (I had never watched the Apprentice until Blago was on, but it's decent. )
- Undercover Boss - the first season was hit or miss, but the hits made it worth it.

Netflix: Weeds, Doctor Who, the IT crowd
posted by chndrcks at 10:00 AM on September 27, 2010

We look forward to:

The Big C
Nurse Jackie
The United States of Tara
Breaking Bad
posted by Studiogeek at 11:18 AM on September 27, 2010

This list. Is awesome. Rhaomi pasted that detailed Fringe episode viewing list, so I might start there and work my way through the other suggestions, being sure to hit Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, maybe Vampire Diaries and Criminal Minds on the way down.

Those who posted Breaking Bad are dead on, I *love* that show and can't believe I forgot to mention that. Maybe I'm in denial that it won't be on again till next summer.

I do get Rogers, so I'll check out Mad Menn on demand to see if enough happens for me.

And hey look, Netflix Canada is $7.99 ....
posted by avidreader at 1:22 PM on September 27, 2010

I've got to second or third Burn Notice. No, it has nothing in common with any of the shows you've listed but it just plain entertaining week in and week out. And Bruce Campbell!

I'll be the one voice of dissent on Fringe though...I just can't stand the hand wavey crap they try to pass off as science fiction. I think you could relocate it to SyFy and it would fit right in. Sadly, it's one of my wife's guilty pleasures so I've been forced to see almost every episode.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:56 PM on September 27, 2010

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