TV to watch irons go by
August 16, 2012 1:50 AM   Subscribe

I like watching light drama/90s sitcoms while I'm doing chores or want to relax for a bit. I've run out of my favourites, and there's probably a lot of stuff I've missed due to being too young or not staying in enough when they were broadcast. What next?

I love Mad Men and The Shield, and I'd like to start watching Six Feet Under, The West Wing, Twin Peaks and The Sopranos, but these are all programmes that need my full attention and, as I'm doing a massive de-clutter and general clear-out at the moment, I don't have that to give. (It could be my reward at the end!) A lot of drama series that are about at the moment are quite immersive and I don't want to 'waste' them on chores, but I also want to make chores less boring.

Recently I've been watching and enjoying NewsRadio and Just Shoot Me! because I like 80s/90s sitcoms, but I've run out of both. I've seen all of The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy (though good god it's awful these days), American Dad, and am nearly out of King of the Hill and Drop The Dead Donkey. I like Parks and Rec and 30 Rock, can't get into Community, and really haven't liked The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother too much - I think mainly I like the nostalgia factor of watching older stuff. Is there anything I've missed out on or overlooked that's great? I'm in the UK so there may well be a load of great stuff we didn't get here (we only get Parks and Rec and Community on DVD, Seinfeld wasn't really shown much when it was big). I've realised I do really like ensemble comedies. Frasier is one of my all-time favourites but I like to give it the time and attention it deserves - something equally sharp would be nice.

As far as drama goes - quite like Without A Trace but it can be fairly dark. I like procedurals and got really into The Mentalist a while ago, but I find CSI a bit too ridiculous really. My SO got really into House for when he was doing his ironing, but having only seen episodes out of sequence I wasn't so sure. I have seen a few episodes of Drop Dead Diva which is completely ridiculous but somehow a little bit intelligent and loveable. Is there anything that fits both? I've never really seen things like Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy or other Channel 4 imports - should I give them a go?
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (60 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh yeah - no films. I'm really funny about Watching Films Properly. I can't even sit down to watch one if I know someone needs to potter about in the living room, because I hate being accidentally interrupted (or feeling like I'm in their way as well). They're not something I can watch whilst doing other stuff.
posted by mippy at 1:53 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find sex and the city to be good for this sort of thing. I have similar tastes as you and even though SATC is pretty lame it's also hard not to watch once you start.
posted by greta simone at 2:01 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you like 90s sitcoms, and you haven't watched Father Ted, you need to get. on. that. right. now.

I cannot emphasise this enough. Run, do not walk to see this.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:02 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I think of mindless 90s sitcoms: Will & Grace, Dharma & Greg, Ellen, Mad About You.
posted by knile at 2:05 AM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you haven't seen them already: Cheers and Night Court. Cheers can be practically listened to like a ball game.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:24 AM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Because it was so popular, I sometimes think Friends gets a short shrift; the middle seasons are especially light hearted nostalgic fun.

On the opposite end of the spectrum and perhaps a little older than your looking for, lately I've really been enjoying reruns of All in the Family because every episode is like a tightly plotted, well acted play.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:34 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: ominous_paws - I'm British and spent a lot of Friday nights in in the 90s. Assume I've seen all the Britcoms! I do love Father Ted. I need to rewatch it.

I don't want mindless per se, I like a bit of bite. Friends was incredibly overexposed here (it was as big as Seinfeld was in the US) and I lived in a houseshare with someone who watched it whenever it was on E4 for one of its four times a day repeats, so I can't watch it now! Will and Grace didn't do it for me either, even if I love Megan McThingy in Party Down.

I've never seen SATC much - my SO has (his friend would watch a Korean horror film if he agreed to watch a whole season) and tells me that Carrie ditched someone who MADE FURNITURE WITH HIS HANDS to go out with a rich dickhead. But maybe that doesn't seem as ridiculously stupid in context.
posted by mippy at 3:06 AM on August 16, 2012

Wings is a fun one -- very simple and mindless but sweet and funny.

A little bit later and not really a sitcom, but I think Gilmore Girls is good for this kind of thing -- it's talky and moves quickly but still light and fun for the most part and easy to just listen to while you're doing other stuff.
posted by darksong at 3:50 AM on August 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Came in to suggest Gilmore Girls, also Buffy (which together sustained me through several months of data entry).
posted by ChuraChura at 4:09 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

For drama/procedurals, I think you'd probably like the shows on USA (a US network), which tend to be funny and not super-violent and way less dark and angsty than most American procedurals. The big ones are Burn Notice, Psych, Monk, and White Collar. All have multiple seasons out; all but Monk are still on the air.
posted by pie ninja at 4:15 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Night Court. Also worth mentioning is its creative predecessor, Barney Miller (previously) which you might also enjoy.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:39 AM on August 16, 2012

Norm and The drew carrey show were both enjoyable 90s sitcoms; I also very much enjoyed Ellen and Mad About You.
posted by frobozz at 4:42 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the drama side, I just recently 'discovered' Nip/Tuck. Addictive, and also very explicit in sex & surgery goriness. Cleaning is a good excuse to not watch the bloody parts
posted by Fig at 4:48 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Light drama: The Commish. Not sure how it holds up 20 years later, but I loved it when it was on.
posted by fso at 5:03 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I recommend you give Ugly Betty a go. It's based on a Latin American soap opera, well acted, funny, has a heart, but doesn't take itself too seriously. Perfect housework television.

Sports Night was a good late 90s/early 2000s show, created by Aaron Sorkin. Even if you don't like sport, you'll probably like it. Pretty much everything Sorkin has done is compelling, funny, and dramatic. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is also great--came out the same time 30 Rock started, similar subject handled differently. Short-lived, but hour-long (well, 45 minutes or whatever), so a lot happens.

I second Mad About You, which I used to stay up late nights watching as a young person. Sweet, quirky, and fun show.

SATC is a truly stupid show, but it's great filler. It was on quite a while, so there's a lot of it. I admit, I've seen nearly all of it, and it's compelling, if not really very realistic (for most of us, anyhow).
posted by 6 of 1 at 5:03 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Buffy is pretty much the antithesis of SATC, and the perfect way to start becoming obsessed with Joss Whedon's shows and films. Watch it. (And Angel, Firefly+Serenity, Dollhouse, The Avengers...:))
posted by 6 of 1 at 5:06 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: and also very explicit in sex & surgery goriness.

I have a phobia of hypodermic needles, perhaps this won't be the one for me. I had to turn away when the defibrillator came out on House.
posted by mippy at 5:08 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: Norm - is that The Norm Show? I loved it when it was repeated very late night here in 2000 or so but when I came across an episode on YouTube a while back I found it irritating - the laugh track, maybe? I'm not sure.

I don't really understand why people are desperate to possess shoes in which they cannot walk, which I think made me think SATC was not for me. I liked The Devil Wears Prada, but we were encouraged to empathise with the lowly assistant. (Although with Just Shoot Me, thinking about it - the ex-model character there was a little dim and very bitchy but still likeable.) That and the 'dating' thing doesn't really exist here - you meet someone and if you like them you go out with and/or sleep with them, rather than juggling multiple partners. So it seemed a bit unrelatable. But then, it's TV where nobody has bad teeth.
posted by mippy at 5:14 AM on August 16, 2012

Frasier? Definitely scratches the same itch as NewsRadio and has 11 seasons.
posted by Katine at 5:15 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh yes - should have said, I'm not averse to documentaries. I do, however, find the US style of reality TV difficult to watch - here there tends to be less mediation and people talking to camera in between the action. Unless it's something crazy like Hoarders or Extreme Couponing, it gets on my nerves a wee bit.
posted by mippy at 5:16 AM on August 16, 2012

oh derr, should've read through the whole OP! Ignore me!
posted by Katine at 5:17 AM on August 16, 2012

There is a wealth of Light Drama coming out of basic cable nowaways - White Collar, Leverage, Psych, and Monk are the ones I'm familiar with, in so much as I'd put them on while doing other things. They don't require a lot of attention, but are some fun formulaic fluff.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:19 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Must they be 90s sitcoms? I enjoy listening to I Dream of Jeannie and Perfect Strangers in the same way you describe.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:20 AM on August 16, 2012

I think Spin City fits the bill.
posted by arianell at 5:22 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good Lord! Has no one mentioned The Golden Girls?!!!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 5:24 AM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

We appear to have very similar taste in sitcoms!

The Golden Girls is a must. I am not even going to justify it to you.

3rd Rock From the Sun was brilliant - funny, subversive, absurd. It might be the sort of thing you like to pay attention to, though? Worth your time, if you decide it is.

Roseanne, although it can get a little serious business at times, is an absolute classic, but you might want to skip the last season.

Ellen was wonderfully big-hearted and charming, and of course there's the famous coming-out plot that, as a sitcom connoisseur, you would enjoy.

Did you ever watch the Cosby Show? A must-see, that's funny and warm and sometimes unbelievably on-point. A thoroughly ensemble show, too.

Boy Meets World gets all emotional and, being a Disney creation, always has a lesson, but you can't help but love the characters at some point. It's kind of infectious. I used to watch it after school, completely zonked, so it's definitely good for when you can't spare it much attention.

I really liked Caroline in the City when it was originally airing, although I'm not too sure how well it's held up.

Wings is one of those workplace sitcoms that people forget, but for me it will always have a place in my heart. It's got a great pile of cameo appearances too, because it's about a small airport so everyone's always cycling through.

The Nanny is an acquired taste, but I loved it. Fran Fine is my spirit animal. Awesome clothes, silly plots in the spirit of I Love Lucy, wacky family hijinks, the occasional Broadway star cameo, and an oddly believable but extremely drawn-out romance amongst all the shenanigans.
posted by Mizu at 6:02 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would recommend Home improvement and Sledgehammer. I believe you will enjoy both.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:06 AM on August 16, 2012

All these are more recent than 80s/90s but otherwise fit the bill. The US Office, as has often been said, diverges from the English version after a few episodes and is very good in its own right. Better off Ted (beloved by Mefi), Modern Family and New Girl also worth having a look at (all four series happily free of laugh tracks).

The Larry Sanders Show was very good in the 90s and blazed a trail for 30 Rock, Curb, Annually Retentive etc. BBC2 used to show it back to back with something equally excellent, but I've forgotten what, possibly Seinfeld.

Also, how about a box set of Columbo?

I remember loving Mork and Mindy and Three's Company, but haven't reviewed that since passing through adolescence, so maybe not as good as remembered.
posted by Gomoryhu at 6:24 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kids in the Hall? Canadian skit show (Dave Foley - Newsradio - started out here).
English, but did you like League of Gentlemen at all?
Wings is great (previously recommended), as is 3rd Rock from the Sun (and it's great to watch that right now seeing as Gordon-Levitt is becoming some sort of super-star right now)
And if you can go back to the 80's: The Wonder Years!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:24 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use TV as a sort of background thing to what I'm doing and definitely find that for dramas, what you want is really consistent structure and lots of talking, which is why House works great - everything that happens on screen is immediately commented on by the doctors: patient begins to bleed out his ears, followed by Chase saying "He's bleeding out his ears!" and Foreman saying "Why didn't you tell me he was bleeding out his ears, so I could have told House, thus fulfilling my only function around here, which is to pretend to be important?" and then 13 saying "Because we just noticed, dumbass."

I've been watching Quantum Leap for the nostalgia / don't need to pay that much attention factors. It's very, very sincere. Not much on an ensemble, though.

It might squick you out given other things you've said in the thread, but what about ER?

Lawyer shows are good for listening to because they tend to be talky -- Law & Order (there's 20 years of this, so it could keep you busy for awhile)? LA Law? The Practice? Ally McBeal? (The last might have too many sight gags to work.)
posted by jacquilynne at 6:27 AM on August 16, 2012

Just popped in to say two things: (1) Mad About You was often overlooked in the '90's "Must See TV" echo chamber and should be given a shot; and (2) thank you for backing me up on Watching Films Properly.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:29 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cheers was always a favorite, although out of the 90s context that you are looking for. Frasier was a spin off of it.

And of course, how has anyone not mentioned the seminal 90s shows: Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place? I think both would be great watching, if only for fashion of the early 90s and Shannen Dougherty's perpetual pout.

Hubs and I love watching TJ Hooker (another 80s gem) because it showcases William Shatner at his height of absurdity.

SNL from the early 90s was also good (although hit or miss). The Dana Carvey/Ross Perot years were GOLD.

China Beach was also good, but it had some ick factor given the whole medical unit in Vietnam aspect.
posted by Leezie at 6:41 AM on August 16, 2012

Most of these suggestions are great. Don't forget about "Moonlighting." This is 80s, but still good. (Although I'm not sure how well it will hold up. Haven't seen it since.)

I just watched "Kingdom" and while it's only 18 episodes, that's 18 hours of smart and sweet TV.

Seconding The Larry Sanders Show and Frasier and Wings.

Ugly Betty? The Commish? Not so much. But that's just my taste I guess.
posted by gjc at 6:54 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: My mum loved The Nanny! Home Improvement big here in the 90s, not keen on the family/kids thing so much. It worked for me in Roseanne as the kids had defined personalities rather than just being cute or grounds for Very Special Episodes.

I have seen episodes of Cheers here and there, it might be worth picking up again, though the first episodes I saw were the Kirstie Allie ones so I missed out on Sam and Diane a bit. Loved The Cosby Show as a kid but find it a bit corny now. Couldn't get into Larry Sanders (which was annoying given how much of a precedent it set). Ally McBeal suffered from the same overexposure here as Friends thanks to the dancing baby whatsit, but I could have written it off unfairly. SNL isn't or wasn't shown over here, not even if a famous-in-the-UK band or performer is on it (hence Kristen Wiig being heralded as a 'comedy newcomer' over here).

Two things I should have mentioned that I liked: Popular (the high school turned vaguely surreal drama with a pre Less Than Perfect Sara Rue) and Cybill (LOVE Zoe and Mary-Ann).

Ellen I haven't seen in years. Not sure if they kept showing it here up until the coming-out. I remember the bookstore crew being fun!
posted by mippy at 6:55 AM on August 16, 2012

I liked Homicide, Life on the Street. Dark humor, great plots, some arcs, some not, especially in the first season, before the network kept re-tooling it and adding a bunch of drama among the detectives. This is a David Simon creation, he did The Wire, so you know it's good.

The X-Files, it's been awhile, I'll bet that would be worth watching again.

How about The Mary Tyler Moore Show? And if you like that, Rhoda. It's seventies, but it's good.

That's a good start.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on August 16, 2012

The Drew Carey show was quite good from that era, Sports Night is amazing. Alias is good. You don't seem to be going for the soapy at all, but Dawson's Creek and Felicity are a lot of fun if you like that genre at all. Cold Case is good in the crime genre. Psych is more modern, but the early seasons were quite good.
posted by dadici at 7:29 AM on August 16, 2012

Yes to giving the C4 imports you mentioned a go, Desperate Housewives, Greys Anatomy, Ugly Betty.

Desperate Housewives is good as background, recaps every episode, narrator telling you what people are doing / thinking. I get though episodes of the last series on DVR while doing chores. Plus you get to play the 'guess what colour Bree is wearing' game. 'I guess bottle green'.....look up at screen..'ooh, rust, close'.

Bonus game for the last two seasons: does the show stylist still hate Renee? Look up, 'oof yes, what a hideous outfit'.

A similar narrator structure with Greys Anatomy would make it good for background too.

All suffer a bit in a drop in quality in the later series, I had to stop watching Betty after the first few seasons as it suddenly became quite awful, but thats no biggie for background TV.
posted by Ness at 7:29 AM on August 16, 2012

The X-Files, it's been awhile, I'll bet that would be worth watching again.

The X-Files is actually really hard to watch as background, I found. There are long sequences in the show of people doing things quietly, and not talking about them, as well as plot points that hinge on visual clues.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:31 AM on August 16, 2012

A couple I don't see mentioned are "That 70's Show" (skip the last season) and the Star Trek stuff - most any of the series are good "background" stuff.
posted by dotgirl at 7:41 AM on August 16, 2012

Freaks and Geeks

90210 (the original)
posted by Sassyfras at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: I like Popular, which is soapy, and Drop Dead Diva has that quality too. (US soaps are much more glamorous and silly affairs than they are here, which is a novelty). I was a teenager when Dawson's Creek was big and most of us didn't like it - mainly because the male stars we were all meant to fancy had 'American hair' (that kind of long shaggy thing that kids don't have here). (Yeah, teenagers are shallow. We all fancied boys with curtains - what that was about, I don't know.) and the dialogue got on my tits. Maybe because it seemed too teenagey just as I was getting into Grown-Up Things. Who knows.

From what I've seen of That 70s Show and 90210, I don't think they'd be for me. I imagine the latter will have dated really poorly. I loved Alf as a kid, and looked up an episode on YouTube for nostalgia reasons, and found it literally unwatchable. Some things were just meant to exist in their own time.
posted by mippy at 8:44 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: I only know Night Court from 30Rock! I didn't know it was a real programme!!
posted by mippy at 8:45 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh! If you want some serious style nostalgia and sassy American Southern feminism, there's Designing Women.
posted by Mizu at 8:47 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: Oh yeah, I didn't get into Serenity. I think for me fantasy/space stuff is very hit and miss - Red Dwarf wasn't remotely serious even about itself, and Game of Thrones is historical fantasy and I loved it - but I have wondered if I've missed out on Buffy. Back in the late '90s, there were four TV channels for those of us without Sky (which few had) and so you had to catch this stuff when it was on. By the time I'd heard about it, I'd missed two or three seasons and presumed it was too late.

But now we live in a world of box-sets and shiny little discs that can be posted to us through the letterbox, so such things are less of a concern...
posted by mippy at 8:48 AM on August 16, 2012

(I remembered about Designing Women because you mentioned knowing Night Court from 30 Rock and there's that episode where Liz gets all empowered from a Designing Women marathon - I think there's maybe an 80/20 ratio of real to fake tv show references on that thing. When in doubt, it actually existed.)
posted by Mizu at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, I found out about Murphy Brown that way, though I haven't got round to checking it out. I found out about NewsRadio thanks to looking up Drop The Dead Donkey on Wikipedia, strange that.

I'll stop commenting now as I'm in danger of threadsitting...
posted by mippy at 8:59 AM on August 16, 2012

If you like American Dad I’d try Bob’s Burgers. It is weird to hear the voice of Archer coming from another character. Oh, and Archer.
posted by bongo_x at 9:36 AM on August 16, 2012

The writing on Sports Night was great and Better Off Ted was wonderfully smart but light and fluffy. Since you haven't yet been down the Buffy rabbit hole, I'd highly encourage it. I just discovered Buffy two years ago and I think I've watched all 7 seasons at least three times through now!
posted by platinum at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2012

Malcolm in the Middle is pretty entertaining, especially early on. It's very much an ensemble show.
posted by Quonab at 10:53 AM on August 16, 2012

Nthing Sports Night. Murphy Brown, too, though that one seems to be exceedingly hard to find on video.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:57 AM on August 16, 2012

That 70s Show was the first thing that popped in to my head, although it runs in to the problem of all high school shows in that you can't stay in high school forever. I also watched some Parker Lewis Can't Lose recently (which is only two seasons and doesn't run in to that problem), and although I still liked it, it's very much a product of its time. Another one I like that's a bit before the period you gave is Hogan's Heroes.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention MacGyver. Because, MacGyver.
posted by ckape at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reno 911! It's funny but you don't have to pay close attention to every second of it, and the group of comedians on the show are awesome.
posted by the twistinside at 4:28 PM on August 16, 2012

I would knock out the old NBC Thursday Night lineup.

1) Cosby
2) Family Ties
3) Cheers
4) Nightcourt
posted by jasondigitized at 7:54 PM on August 16, 2012

I noticed no one mentioned Newhart
The sweaters worn by Marty Frann alone are worth the half-hour time investment
posted by seawallrunner at 9:33 PM on August 16, 2012

Any of the BBC shows are great--Poirot, Miss Marple...Top Gear...We love the show LIFE and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
posted by msleann at 10:43 PM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: Poirot isn't a BBC show, and I'm afraid I fucking hate Jeremy Clarkson. It is a source of bafflement that people in the US love the guy. Over here, he's seen as a it of a right-wing bore.
posted by mippy at 1:58 AM on August 17, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry, re-reading that it sounded a bit snarky - I didn't mean it to be! I'm trying to eat cereal and type at the same time.

We didn't get Family Ties here. I'm iffy on shows which involve kids as they tend to be a bit sugary for me - the exceptions being Roseanne and Cybill, and Outnumbered if you know that. Does it fall into this category?

Newhart I want to see having read about it and its influence on NewsRadio, but it's a pain in the ass to get here.
posted by mippy at 2:01 AM on August 17, 2012

I take Top Gear in stride. Jeremy is a right winger by US standards too, entertaining in that he is a clod. I rather like Hamster, though. And Captain Slow is good for a laugh (on his behalf).
posted by 6 of 1 at 5:13 AM on August 17, 2012

Response by poster: I can't drive and I'm not into cars, so I've never really seen much of it. Not being a fan of Jeremy Clarkson always made me feel there were two reasons why it wouldn't be my thing!

(Hamster's accident happened a couple of days before my dad died, so for me he just reminds me of sitting in a hospice leafing through all the newspapers as a distraction. It's not his fault, but it's one of those tainted by association thingies.)
posted by mippy at 5:17 AM on August 17, 2012

Actually, it's weird. In defenc(s)e of Top Gear, I can't drive and I hate cars (traumatic formulative car accident experience as a toddler, even!) and I agree that Jeremy Clarkson is a complete and utter fuckface. But Top Gear remains extremely watchable. I actually haven't sat down and deliberately watched it because it's perfectly ideal for when I'm completely out of it. Like jet lagged or having the flu or recovering from dental surgery - I can watch an episode of Top Gear from like 8 years ago and be entertained, because I won't have seen it before and I know nothing about cars so the info isn't sticking out to me as dated, just amusingly presented. They do dumb shit like drive across salt flats in Africa in cars that are too heavy so they have to take off the doors Mad Max style and then drive through dust storms, or try to destroy a truck by way of letting it get sunk into the tide and setting it on fire, or toodling around inside BBC offices in teeny tiny electric car things while news presenters look on in bemused horror. And Jeremy Clarkson does a heck of a lot of suffering throughout. So do the other two. It might just be that it's got that added gloss of Britishness that I, as an uncouth American, find amusing enough to let me find entertainment in the most unlikely of places, but at this point in my anglophile lifestyle I don't think so. There really is something there that you might enjoy on occasion.
posted by Mizu at 2:00 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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