Done: LOST, BSG, The Wire, Dead Like Me, Rome, Sopranos, ... Next: ?
January 18, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Recommend us some Tee-Vee!

Hi all,

My wife and I are needing some new time killers while basically snowed in. Most recently we've been watching Lost, and while I'm enjoying it myself, she now thinks she dislikes more things about it than she likes about it. She told me it makes her feel uneasy and on-edge. Plus, we both kind of scoff at some of the writing and the ever more ridiculous plot turns.

We do like the mystery of it, as well as a lot of the character development. Although I guess we like characters who don't take six episodes to solve a problem we found obvious from the beginning.

We loved BSG, except for what we felt was a predictable and anticlimactic ending. We enjoyed Rome, but the political intrigue made it hard to really like any of the characters. The Wire has been excellent all around, although we haven't gotten past the first season yet. Sopranos was good too, but we got a little bogged down around the third season and haven't gone back, yet...

Dead Like Me was probably the most flawed show we watched, but it somehow kept us coming back. We also both enjoy true stories and documentaries. We loved Band of Brothers and will watch the Pacific, and This American Life is blowing my mind on radio and TV.

I am aware of a few current popular TV shows (Dexter, something else about dead people), so I should say that I don't think we're looking for vampires or serial killers.

Crappy network shows don't usually do it for us (there's just so much bad TV that it's hard to filter). We much prefer shows produced by companies with a stronger focus on consistent quality (HBO, Showtime, FOX, etc.). We haven't ever had cable and don't really follow The Latest Thing. We're quite happy to catch up on film and TV, even several years later, so long as they're well made.

Can you recommend some things to watch with all of that in mind? Actually, movie recommendations would be fine too...

/I know these threads pop up a lot, so please disregard if it's not your thing.

//Wow, reading this on preview I realized we are serious TV snobs! Thanks for reading!
posted by hamandcheese to Media & Arts (64 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Keep going with The Wire. Season II is the slowest imho, and it picks up again with season III.

You might also enjoy Luther, with Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from The Wire). The UK remake of Sherlock was excellent, but a short season at only 3 episodes (but each episode is about 90 minutes, so that's cool).

Southland is an excellent cop show that's not too formulaic, not too much of a procedural.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:27 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go old school and get Homicide: Life On The Streets. Multiple seasons, plenty to keep you occupied.
posted by jaimystery at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

You want Friday Night Lights, especially season one (and not really season two). It's network TV, but it's incredible quality.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I loved the Wire and the Sopranos, liked certain things about Lost and Rome, so I hope my recommendations are of some help to you.

Veronica Mars (3 seasons, excellent writing, good overarching plot threads in seasons 1 and 2)
The Shield (7 seasons, and I felt like the show ended better than any show I've ever seen)
Terriers (1 season, which just ended, but was awesome. Find it when it gets released on DVD)
Fringe (in its 3rd season, I wasn't sold on it in the first season, but I've been engrossed in this season, and I look forward to watching it more than any other show I try to keep up with)
Damages (3 seasons so far, I loved season 1, and seasons 2 and 3 were good enough to keep me watching)
Homicide: Life on the Street (7 seasons, and although overall quality tapers around season 5 or so, some episodes are still excellent. And the first 3 or 4 are excellent)
posted by joan cusack the second at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Terriers. There was just one season of it, but it was incredible, and I think you can stream the whole thing now.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: BREAKING BAD!!!! it's the best thing that has been on TV since The Wire.
posted by capnsue at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

Life on Mars, the original British version (never saw the US version or the second UK series, Ashes to Ashes, so I can't comment on them). Clever dialog, appealing lead actor, some creepiness and a series arc of sci-fi mysteriousness.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There's only three episodes at the moment, but BBC's Sherlock (airing on PBS) is fantastic.
posted by kimdog at 1:35 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Drop everything and finish The Wire. That's really the only correct answer here.
posted by BurntHombre at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Always Sunny in Philadelphia is funny.
Dexter as mentioned is good
posted by zeoslap at 1:37 PM on January 18, 2011

Oz might stray into serial killer territory for you, but it's definitely worth a try if you like The Sopranos. I thought it was better.
posted by cmoj at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2011

Best answer: Deadwood. Mad Men.
posted by dzot at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

seconding breaking bad.
posted by qnarf at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll third Fringe because that show rocks my socks. And do carry on through season one, because midway through season 2 you'll be really happy you did.
posted by New England Cultist at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2011

Seconding keeping up with The Wire (season 4 was the best, in my opinion), Life on Mars (UK version only, US version was awful), and Fringe.

Also check out the UK show Survivors. Short (too short!) series about the survivors of a plague that kills off most of the population. I think it's got both the mystery and the character development that you're looking for.
posted by dayintoday at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2011

I'll second Sherlock. It's short-but-sweet for now, but there will be more episodes someday!
posted by pemberkins at 1:46 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Justified is crazy good. On the face of it, it's a show about a federal marshal who gets sent back to his old hometown in Kentucky after shooting a drug lord in Florida. But it has a running plot about a crime family in Kentucky that is very enthralling. The writing and the acting are both top-notch, with Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood in the leading role.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:46 PM on January 18, 2011

A lot of what has been mentioned is good.

Did you watch Deadwood or Carnivale? You'd probably enjoy both.
posted by BZArcher at 1:47 PM on January 18, 2011

Walking Dead
The Shield
Lie to me
Dr. Who (the new ones)
posted by pyro979 at 1:48 PM on January 18, 2011

The rest of The Wire
John From Cincinnati
Six Feet Under
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Bored To Death
Boardwalk Empire

Non-crappy network/cable shows:
Arrested Development
30 Rock
Trailer Park Boys
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Breaking Bad
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:50 PM on January 18, 2011

Echoing Breaking Bad, Damages, Deadwood, and Terriers. Maybe try Downton Abbey - it's a BBC period series with lovely production value, and the writing's excellent.
posted by tautological at 1:50 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

An underrated Showtime show: Huff
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks for the responses guys. It'll take me a while to look through them. I forgot to mention we watched (and loved) Sherlock, and were disappointed when we realized there were only three episodes to date.
posted by hamandcheese at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2011

nthing breaking bad, madmen and sixfeet under. i share your thoughts on lost, and some other things you mention. i have to skip some of the series you like though when there is graphic violenc...i'm a little squeamy. but just to point to our similarities in taste.

no one has suggested the united states of tara or nurse jackie -- i've only seen what's available on netflix and have been thoroughly engrossed in each.

taking a different turn though, when i can't find something 'quality' and really need *something* on, my tastes have been satisfied alright by the closer and bones. SERIOUS flaws with each series and i definitely don't make time to catch either one, but i think they have some value.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 1:56 PM on January 18, 2011

I don't get into many serial dramas, but I can't get enough Mad Men.

If Lost makes your wife uneasy and anxious, then I'd approach Breaking Bad with caution. While brilliant, I couldn't watch more than a few episodes for the same reason.
posted by lilnublet at 1:57 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The makers of The Wire also launched Treme last year, centered on New Orleans. It's just gotten started (1 season complete) - but so far, it's pretty great.

Also, I second the Friday Night Lights suggestion. It can be a tad melodramatic, but in a deeply earnest way, and the characters and the acting are fantastic.

Mad Men!!!!!!!!!
posted by marlys at 2:02 PM on January 18, 2011

Best answer: The wife and I really enjoyed Foyle's War, a WWII period detective mystery/drama series from the BBC. Each episode is ~1.5 hours, so they play more like movies. The characters and the mysteries are well-developed. Period authenticity is predictably good. The episodes are often suspensful and rarely maddening in the 'Get there quicker! It's so obvious!' kind of way (that also put me off Lost a little bit.)
posted by JohnFredra at 2:02 PM on January 18, 2011

I'll second the HBO shows, and mention a few of their comedies* that haven't gotten any love yet:

Flight of the Conchords, especially season one is just brilliant.
Both seasons of Extras are ROFL funny. Ricky Gervais at his absolute best.

*or at least comedies they aired in the US.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2011

In addition to many of the shows here, I'm going to heartily recommend Slings and Arrows. It was a Canadian show a few years back about a Shakespeare festival theater company. It's surprisingly good, and is short (three six-episode seasons), which I'm finding to be important these days, as I'm something of a completist, and really really tired of watching nine seasons with eleventy-seven episodes each only to watch a show crash and burn at the end.
posted by nushustu at 2:05 PM on January 18, 2011

Oh, and sorry if I'm stating the obvious, but have you considered The Simpsons? People who have only seen the embarrassment that presently airs under that name are sometimes unaware that seasons 2-8 or so is literally the most brilliant comedy to ever air on television.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2011

We're quite happy to catch up on film and TV, even several years later

If you haven't tried them already, you might take a look at The West Wing and Northern Exposure.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:15 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Current preferences:

Lie to Me

I also have a soft spot for Aaron Sorkin, so I own box sets of Sports Night and The West Wing and often return to them.
posted by Tknophobia at 2:19 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Good Wife (available on Netflix. pleases both guys and gals)
Sons of Anarchy (on FX. a little raunchy but we LOVE it)
Lights Out (new boxing drama on FX. about boxing but I think we can all relate to the career vs life issues it addresses)

I also loved OZ but I don't know anyone else who does besides Kurt Sutter (actor/writer/producer for The Shield and Sons of Anarchy)
posted by cda at 2:20 PM on January 18, 2011

Downton Abbey is kind of great. It's not provocative like most cable shows but rather a relief from it.
posted by cazoo at 2:30 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

i don't usually watch things that are "so bad they're good" but the new series of "V" is pretty awesome esp. when it comes to its message of Aliens=Democrats=BADBADBAD delivered with all the subtlety of being clubbed in the head with a brick.

also check out the recent movie "Repo Men" (the one with jude law)'s pretty gory, but it's now up in my top 5 favorites of all time...very 'Brasil' meets 'the Professional'
posted by sexyrobot at 2:36 PM on January 18, 2011

Breaking Bad. Although, beware, it has its effects. Yesterday I declared to my family that if I had the main character's fundamental problem I'd OD on heroin.
posted by angrycat at 2:38 PM on January 18, 2011

V was so fucking bad it even destroyed my crush on the actress who was the alien leader. Now that's sad.
posted by angrycat at 2:41 PM on January 18, 2011

Also suggesting Six Feet Under. It really is one of the best shows ever written for cable tv. Don't get turned off by the dealing with dead people stuff. It takes place in a funeral home, but that's not really what the show's about. Ghosts (not really, more like subconscious, symbolic protjections) occassionally appear but they aren't scary. If liking the characters is important for you enjoyment of a show, this is the show for you. It's easy to love each character and their flaws are beautiful rather than irritating.
posted by dchrssyr at 2:41 PM on January 18, 2011

Another vote for Friday Night Lights. Way, way more compelling than you'd think, and one of the best portraits of a marriage on television. Also, we're watching British show The Misfits right now - kind of an pseudo-SF anti-superhero story. It's excellent.
posted by media_itoku at 2:42 PM on January 18, 2011

2nding Veronica Mars -- re-watched not too long ago, and it never ceases to amaze me that some of the best contemporary detective noir writing (along with the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was for a UPN/CW show.

The West Wing - Surprised it hasn't gotten any love yet. I love the Wire, the Shield and Mad Men as much as the next guy, but I do get a little tired of the current network sensibility that quality "prestige" programming for grown-ups has to be heavy, gritty and bleak. The West Wing proves otherwise -- it has a lively, theatrical tone and can vacillate between humor, tension and sentiment more deftly than any show since.

Mad Men - Don't you sometimes want to watch a drama about people other than cops, crime-solvers, criminals, lawyers and doctors? These professions are easy to dramatize because they literally deal in life and death - it's a shortcut around the first question an audience implicitly asks, "why should I care about these people?" In Mad Men, Matthew Weiner takes no short cut. His cast of employees at an ad agency live mostly ordinary lives, but they're drawn so richly and with such nuance, that their travails take on all the urgency we imbue in our own mundane goings on.

Firefly - Most Joss Whedon fans will direct you to Buffy or Angel, and while I enjoyed them at times, they were both pretty uneven, veering awkwardly between sappy and self-serious to self-aware and cutesy from episode to episode. But Whedon's space western, Firefly, managed to shoot straight down the fairway; the sentiment, humor and excitement grew organically and in equal parts from the premise and from characters whose motivations seem more honest and true than in most genre fiction I've come across.

Terriers - A beautiful novella in 13 parts about quite possibly the least hard-boiled private detective ever. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond James give pitch-perfect performances that never feel overt or showy, and their chemistry is phenomenal.
posted by patnasty at 3:01 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

All of these appear to be available from season 1 onward via netflix instant queue

Arrested Development

Rescue Me
Lie To Me

The Office (with Golden Globe host Ricky Gervais!)
A Bit of Fry and Laurie
Chef! (No longer on instant queue - but awesome)
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:11 PM on January 18, 2011

We have similar viewing habits. No cable, we'll wait for anything on dvd. In addition to lots of others that have been recommended already (especially the Wire), I highly recommend Prime Suspect seasons 1-7.

FWIW, my husband loves the Shield but I can't get past the 2D portrayal of the main character in the first season. (I'm assured it gets better but can't tough it out.) And we loved and faithfully stuck with Friday Night Lights into the beginning of season 3 before we took a break because it got so overloaded with extreme drama and teen angst. Maybe we'll return to it eventually.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:35 PM on January 18, 2011

Wow. I agree with pretty much everything above, but thought I'd just toss in a couple of sadly canceled-too-early recent broadcast series that are still worth a watch...

Terminator: The Sarah Conners Chronicles -- it takes about four episodes to get rolling, but an amazing example of a series that made something amazing out of a basic concept that should have had no legs at all (set in the gap between two of the movies).

Life -- An LAPD detective pardoned from a murder frame-up who sued to get his job back finds being back in the department that framed him "interesting".

Boomtown -- Another "high concept" series around the LAPD that was probably too smart for its own good (not quite as recent as the above two).
posted by nonliteral at 3:42 PM on January 18, 2011

Best answer: Also... I re-watched Deadwood over the holidays and it still holds up immensely well. It could have gone on a few more seasons, but where it ended was plenty good enough as a place to wrap up.
posted by nonliteral at 3:43 PM on January 18, 2011

My suggestions have all been mentioned but I'll mention them again:

Breaking Bad
Friday Night Lights
posted by roomwithaview at 4:04 PM on January 18, 2011

I came in here to recommend Downton Abbey, but have predictable been beaten, so I'll just second it. The Mrs and I seem to like a lot of the same TV you do, and Downton Abbey is our favourite recent discovery.

I'll also second Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. It completely passed me by when it was first released, but it's surprisingly good. Just don't get too attached with it, because it was cancelled with some pretty significant unresolved issues.
posted by damonism at 4:08 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just to add another vote for both the spectacular and riveting Deadwood, and the amazing Breaking Bad.

Also, if you missed Arrested Development like I did, you are in for a major treat.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:40 PM on January 18, 2011

If you like the new Sherlock, definitely try the new Doctor Who (currently headed by the creator of Sherlock). You should be aware (as some North Americans don't seem to be) that Doctor Who is and always has been a kids-of-all-ages/family show, and thus will obviously seem a bit "kiddish" at times. But it is still more profound and complex than 95% of "adult" tv.

(the following repeat titles from above, please consider them just reinforcements)

Firefly rocks.

West Wing is excellent.

Slings and Arrows is one of the finest tv series every made and I might even *gasp* like it better than Doctor Who. (And I went all the way to West Ham just to see the Doctor Who shop). It has ghosts and weirdness without annoying unsolved mysteries. Also brilliant writing and acting and directing and everything.
posted by jb at 4:51 PM on January 18, 2011

Oh yes! Slings and Arrows. I was just raving about it last night. Can't believe I forgot that.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:58 PM on January 18, 2011

Has no one any love for Spooks?

A chopped-up version airs on A&E under the name "MI-5." You don't want that version.

posted by cyndigo at 5:18 PM on January 18, 2011


It's great.
posted by beccaj at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2011

One show that (I'm probably in the minority about) is Rubicon, which was on AMC. It starts out slowly, but by the end of the season/series that slowness creates so much tension and anticipation it makes the penultimate episode awesome.
posted by cavs33 at 7:25 PM on January 18, 2011

Big Love!!! This is my current favourite show on TV, produced by HBO. It's about a modern polygamist family living in suburban Utah. It has a whole family of interesting characters and their changing relationships with each other and mainstream culture. There's also mystery and action involving a local religious compound.

Here are my additional votes for good TV shows with developed characters and not about serial killers/vampires:

Rescue Me
Northern Exposure
Six Feet Under
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 7:55 PM on January 18, 2011

The first season of Veronica Mars is really, really great. Latter seasons are ok, but the first is the best. Given that you Luke mysteries and character development, it's perfect.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:56 PM on January 18, 2011

Stargate: Universe
posted by Glendale at 8:35 PM on January 18, 2011

Best answer: I would certainly echo The Wire, Flight of the Conchords, and Arrested Development as things we'd missed the first time that rocked our world on DVD.

I just wanted to underscore one show. You see, I don't have a ton of time for TV anymore. When I watch it, I want to be entertained. I want to laugh, I want to be amazed, I want to be taken on an imaginative adventure. I want to care about the characters but I want things to be wrapped up neatly in an hour. And I want to crave the next episode.

I want Firefly.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:53 PM on January 18, 2011

Many great suggestions in the thread!!

Nthing Firefly and also Buffy if you haven't seen it.
Heroes season 1 -- DO NOT continue after season 1, no matter how tempted you are!
Desperate Housewives. Give it a chance!
posted by hansbrough at 9:02 PM on January 18, 2011

ALSO: Freaks and Geeks!!! It's so good.
posted by hansbrough at 9:02 PM on January 18, 2011

Free on Hulu (and probably therefore on Netflix):

Note: I'm only mentioning what hasn't been above.

- Daybreak
- Thief
- Flashforward
- NY-LON looks good to me
- Traffik (the English series)
- The Office (the UK version)
- Prime Suspect
- Band of Brothers
- Episodes (new on Showtime)
- True Blood (give it a chance, this show has a sense of humor)
- John Adams
- I. Claudius
posted by xammerboy at 10:00 PM on January 18, 2011

Seconding Southland, fleshed out and flawed characters that are just fascinating to watch. Reading the Wikipedia entry about season 2 makes me sad as it sounds like it may have been gutted due to budget cuts but the first season was superb.

Every episode that featured the perfect storm of passive aggressive that is Sammy and Tammi Bryant had us howling at the screen 'No! Wrong answer! Oooh boy, shes gonna make you pay for that".
posted by Ness at 4:09 AM on January 19, 2011

Definitely finish The Wire.
For drama:
Breaking Bad
Mad Men
Friday Night Lights (but skip season 2 entirely)
Freaks & Geeks

For comedy:
Arrested Development
Parks & Recreation (seasons 2-3 only)
Party Down
The Office (UK)
The Office (US, seasons 2-5 only)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
posted by andrewraff at 7:44 AM on January 19, 2011

Do you have Netflix? National Geographic *just* released a shedload of its programs for instant view, and these are all expertly made and very interesting. My wife and I watched the first episode of the NG Africa series and it's really excellent and gripping.

If you liked Dead Like Me for its characters, Wonderfalls (available on DVD) is by the same people and features a female protagonist who, like the protagonist of Dead Like Me, stubbornly pushes against her strange and magical realism-hued circumstances. If you liked it more for its quirkiness (and even if you didn't) I recommend Pushing Daisies, a 2-season series that features fun plots and lovely set design (how lovely? I almost *never* notice set design. That said, you'll hate it if you don't like in-your-face artful set design). The characters are lovely and the one British actor pulls off a pretty flawless American accent (see if you can figure out which one without cheating). Pushing Daisies is instant view on Netflix.

Farscape is awful, really, really dreadful acting and tepid plots but somehow still very entertaining, and if you are at all attracted to somewhat campy sci-fi (and muppets) give it a chance. Also on instant view, I believe. Babylon 5 is more serious sci-fi and a serious commitment. Possibly available for streaming somewhere, otherwise enjoy several years of show-watching.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:50 AM on January 19, 2011

Don't skip season two of Friday Night Lights. Definitely don't skip any of it. It's great.

I know everybody already said Firefly, Dexter, Six Feet Under, but those bear repeating.

I'm surprised more people didn't mention Freaks and Geeks. Also great.

Two maybes, because they may not be for everyone: My So-Called Life, which could easily be written off as just another teen show but is so much more, and United States of Tara, which I find very funny and quirky and decently touching but not everybody loves it like i do.
posted by dithmer at 7:20 PM on January 19, 2011

Farscape has at times cheesy writing -- but the acting (particularly Ben Browder) is brilliant. So say the two trained actors in my house.

A lot of people mistake writing for acting, or even acting/directorial choices they don't agree with for bad acting. Acting should be judged like writing: given when the creative goal is (not what you want it to be), how much do they succeed? how much skill do they deploy?
posted by jb at 12:01 PM on January 23, 2011

« Older Why does my new Apple TV give audio but no video...   |   Help me figure out my savings and debt situation.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.