I will run the meeting since I have the bribe list
February 21, 2006 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Need some Meta-recommendations: what should I watch next?

Sorry to take up a question spot with such an inane matter, but I can't decide what TV series to watch next. I need something I can get on DVD so I can take it on the road with me. I've been astounded by the first season of Deadwood and the first couple seasons of Alias. I seem to like character driven shows with strong writing and some action. I was thinking about that MI-5 ("Spooks") show - anyone seen it? Can anyone offer any other recommendations? Thanks!
posted by Dallasfilm to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Spooks is defintely recommended. Have you watched any of the series of 24? Final one to try is the early seasons of West Wing
posted by lloyder at 6:23 AM on February 21, 2006

"Prime Suspect" and "Sopranos" fit your specific requirements. I believe season one of "Lost" is on DVD.

Non-action-based (i.e. more character-based) series I've loved include "Upstairs, Downstairs," "I, Claudius," "To Serve Them All My Days," "The Charmer," and "Freaks and Geeks."
posted by grumblebee at 6:31 AM on February 21, 2006

Buffy may be a bit too "fun" for your tastes, but Angel sounds like it's up your alley if you liked Alias.

Oh, and Battlestar Galactica is VVG.

Is Homicide out on DVD? NYPD Blue?
posted by mkultra at 6:36 AM on February 21, 2006

"Lost" gets my first vote, but it's a close thing between that and "Firefly" - both are totally awesome!

Not sure if you will be able to get hold of them - they were incomplete series, and are probably only available by downloading - but "Jake2.0" and "Odyssey 5" were both pretty awesome and insidiously drew me into their storylines... and I'm the kind of person who could quite happily live without TV access whatsoever. Download and burn your own DVDs, perhaps?

If you want some humour and have a geek/IT background, then "The IT Crowd" on (UK?) TV at the minute is pretty damned fantastic. Would be worth watching to see if it ever makes it to a DVD release...
posted by Chunder at 6:39 AM on February 21, 2006


It sort of fits your profile, but then again, I think it's kind of universally appealing. My roommate and I have watched whole seasons in a day, which is a really awful way to live your life, heh.

Undeclared is out on DVD if you liked Freaks and Geeks. If you haven't seen the British Office yet, do so. Beautifully understated, a real masterpiece and at 12 (13?) episodes, you can probably cruise through it on your trip.
posted by GilloD at 6:39 AM on February 21, 2006

Not sure what you mean by "some action," but maybe this will help. Instead of subscribing to the cable and the HBO, my wife and I watch shows via Netflix. We finished The Sopranos and are halfway through Six Feet Under. Next will be, I think, Deadwood (astounding, I hear) and Carnivale.
posted by booth at 6:45 AM on February 21, 2006

Oh god. character driven? LOST!
I lurves me some lost!
posted by JonnyRotten at 6:45 AM on February 21, 2006

posted by viewofdelft at 6:49 AM on February 21, 2006

There's no question, The Wire.
posted by OmieWise at 6:53 AM on February 21, 2006

I second (Third? Fourth?) Lost. Also, what little I was able to catch of MI-5 really drew me in. It was like a police procedural with real characters having human reactions to their situations. I also enjoyed the fact that the writers counted on the viewer to be intelligently paying attention and did not have the characters wave important plot clues in front of the viewer like L&E still does. If/when I get netflix, I intend to catch MI-5 in its entirety.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 6:55 AM on February 21, 2006

posted by desuetude at 7:06 AM on February 21, 2006

I'm going to back up OmieWise. If I remember correctly, The Wire was the creation of one of the writers of Homicide. A warning though, it's fairly linear within a season so you'll want to start at the beginning of season one and work up.
posted by mikeh at 7:10 AM on February 21, 2006

Seconding the recent revival of Battlestar Galactica; "character driven.. with strong writing and some action" indeed.
posted by S.C. at 7:17 AM on February 21, 2006

Nobody has mentioned The Shield yet? Character driven, pretty good writing, and some action.

The first 4 seasons of The West Wing, at least. You can watch the remaining with the understanding that it falls from a very, very great height.
posted by Hildago at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2006

MI-5/Spooks is a good choice. Battlestar Galactica's first season was fantastic, but it's losing me lately.

You should also consider Firefly, but you will be very sad when you've watched all of the 14 episodes (plus the movie, Serenity), and realize there is no more Firefly. Very sad indeed.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:24 AM on February 21, 2006

Lost does sound exactly like what you're looking for. I'd also highly recommend Boomtown. It had a crappy time slot (Friday night, ugh) and nobody watched it, but I loved it. It's more or less a crime drama, but each story was told multiple times, from each character's perspective. It sounds like a gimmick, but it really worked.
posted by Sibrax at 7:26 AM on February 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Alias is one of a handful of shows that I got so into that I felt the urge to become active in the fan community. The others were The X-Files and Farscape. I think Farscape definitely fits the "character driven show with strong writing and some action" criteria, but I don't know how you feel about sci-fi type shows. (And you may spend part/most of the first season getting past the whole "muppets in space" thing. But it's worth it, I swear. The show gets stronger and more engrossing the further into it you get.)

My roommate and I recently started watching the first season of La Femme Nikita, and the plot is close enough to that of Alias to give it a similar vibe. I'm enjoying it, though not as much as I did the first two seasons of Alias.

And, as others have mentioned, Lost and Battlestar Galactica are shows that might fit the bill. (I watch and enjoy Lost, and since it's from the same creator as Alias, there are definitely some commonalities. I can't manage to get into BSG, but many of my friends love love love it.)
posted by alyxstarr at 7:26 AM on February 21, 2006

After watching some episodes on a long plane flight, I have become completely hooked on House, the Fox medical drama. The main character, a cranky, obnoxious, witty and devastatingly sarcastic genius doc is one of the best I've seen on TV. I blew through the DVDs in a weekend and wanted more. If you have any misanthropy in your soul, this is the show for you.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:34 AM on February 21, 2006

I third The Wire, seasons 1 & 2 are both great. Gritty realistic cop show that spends as much time on the characters and lives of the drug dealers as it does the cops. Lost-yes. But because nobody else has mentioned it, Nip Tuck, about a pair of plastic surgeons--one is married, nice, follows the rules, the other is a shallow, pretty playboy, but each with doubts about the choices he's made. The show is much wierder, more intelligent and sexier than you'd imagine.
posted by tula at 7:35 AM on February 21, 2006

Another vote for Lost (as if it needs it). Sleeper Cell is a lot of fun, out on DVD shortly. If you liked 'Spooks' aka MI-5, then keep an eye out for 'Hustle', another sharp UK series which is worth catching.
posted by grahamwell at 7:36 AM on February 21, 2006

Let me be opinionated for a moment, responding to the other commenters.

The first two seasons of West Wing are good, but there's no action. Great writing, but it's all talking. (Well, there's lots of talking while walking, too, but that's not really action.) Follows a fictional liberaly White House staff.

Similarly, both Upstairs, Downstairs and Freaks and Geeks are brilliant (the former might be the best television series EVER), but again: no action. Upstairs, Downstairs follows the lives of a wealthy London family during the first part of the 20th century, and the lives of their servants. Freaks and Geeks is a short series that examines the lives of some high-schoolers in a midwest town during the early eighties (1980 or 1981). Undeclared is sort of "what happened to the Freaks and Geeks kids after high school". It's not as good as the earlier show, but it has it's moments.

Battlestar Galactica is pretty good, much better than the earlier version, and there's plenty of action, but the writing isn't top-notch. It's good, but not great. And some subplots drag on forever. Firefly has its moments. I know many people love it and are passionately devoted to it; I think the writing is too twee.

Lost is earnest, pretty, and slick, and does have some action to it. But good writing? Eh... It's from the same team that created Alias, which you like, so you'll be familiar with the endless snail-like progression toward some unseen (and possibly nonexistent) goal. This is a show where you want things to happen, but they never really do. Think X-Files. I'm not saying it's bad — I watch it from time-to-time — it's just not nearly as good as it could be.

The IT Crowd is abysmal. It's not funny. It's forced inane humor of the worst sort. (And I've worked in IT.) Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

That being said, my recommendations would echo those that have said Homicide or The Wire. Homicide is a police drama set in Baltimore during the 1990s. There is some action, but mostly it's a character-driven show. The first three or four seasons are great, but the last few descend into soap. The Wire is from the same creative team, but set free from the bounds of network television, allowed to go wild on HBO. It, too, follows Baltimore cops, but features violence, swearing, and sex. Once in a while it goes over-the-top, but I can forgive that because it is the best television show I've ever seen. The first season of The Wire left me stunned, much the same way I felt after watching Saving Private Ryan the first time. This is a world completely foreign to me.

My recommendation: The Wire.
posted by jdroth at 7:40 AM on February 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Prime Suspect.
posted by dydecker at 7:50 AM on February 21, 2006

If you can find it, Waking the Dead.
posted by yerfatma at 7:56 AM on February 21, 2006

posted by jne1813 at 7:57 AM on February 21, 2006

Firefly. Best series I've seen in a long time. Watch it even if you don't normally like science fiction because it's really a western that happens to have some spaceships.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:04 AM on February 21, 2006

I'll jump in and also endorse Boomtown, The Wire and House.
posted by Heminator at 8:06 AM on February 21, 2006

I'm fourthing or fifthing the recommendation for Firefly, with the caveat that its tragically short life will break your heart.

And maybe I'm alone in this, but I never found Buffy to be particularly twee or "fun." Yes, there's plenty of flippancy, but it's a crackle glaze over something very dark.

My friend Katie had this to say about the two: "Angel tells me that there can be grace in darkness. Buffy tells me that you can get a damn generator and turn the lights on." The common thread of both is the constant struggle against our baser nature. It's dressed up in brighter clothes on Buffy, but it's very much there.
posted by jesourie at 8:08 AM on February 21, 2006

House, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, for sure. Lost has been losing me lately.

I would also suggest Rescue Me, the NY fire department drama starring Denis Leary. Intense, character-driven, well-written, profane, witty and with some action.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:11 AM on February 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

For dramas, the West Wing (first few years) is definitely good, and if you want to go back a few years, you could always try to record Hill Street Blues (as I don't think it is out on DVD).
posted by Todd Lokken at 8:12 AM on February 21, 2006

First season of Twin Peaks
Prime Suspect
Absolutely Fabulous.... not a drama, and the action is drunks falling down, but very fun to watch a few in a row, and all out on DVD.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2006

The most under-the-radar great show on television is: Veronica Mars. The first season is devoted to a season-long mystery. There is some action, but it is mostly about the characters. This is one of the best shows that no one watches because it is on UPN. I think it is one of the top 5 shows on TV. Watch the first season on DVD and you will be hooked.
posted by bove at 8:33 AM on February 21, 2006

Lost - Lots of fun to be had with the characters, especially in the first season.

Firefly (plus Serenity) - my favourite non-sitcom ever. After watching all of the episodes, throw in the movie (Serenity) and see how it "ends".
posted by grum@work at 8:48 AM on February 21, 2006

Wow! Thanks to everyone! I have a nice little list now to take to the store with me today. I appreciate everyone taking the time to chip in.
posted by Dallasfilm at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2006

Not much in the way of action, but for character-driven shows with great writing, I recommend Arrested Development and the BBC Office.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:19 AM on February 21, 2006

I reiterate the first four seasons of West Wing, and I'd like to add Six Feet Under.

I myself am going to give Lost a try, since I caught a random episode recently and it reminded me (delightfully) of The Twilight Zone. (You know, if TZ was one long story instead of stand-alone episodes).
posted by lampoil at 9:24 AM on February 21, 2006

I'll X+1th The Wire. Omar is one of my favorite TV characters ever. The DVDs has some good replay value as you go back to watch commentaries or catch up on a subplot you may have missed (Major Valchek vs The Union in Season 2 is A+ awesome).

I don't know how you feel about animated programs, but the Timm and Dini produced series based on DC comics characters (Batman: the Animated Series, Superman, Justice League, etc) are really good for what they are. You can get Batman and Superman on DVD by season at the moment.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:29 AM on February 21, 2006

Nth for the recent Battlestar Galactica. Agree with Zed_Lopez on Arrested Development--not much action, but very character-driven with great writing and acting.

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Babylon 5 yet. At least seasons 2-4. The first season is kind of uneven, and the final (fifth) season is definitely not as good as the rest, save for the finale. But seasons 2-4 are very strong, and match your requirements.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:34 AM on February 21, 2006

Homicide (7 seasons), NYPD Blue (3 seasons), Lost (2 seasons), and Hill Street Blues (1 season) are available on DVD from Netflix.

Fox aired the episodes of Firefly out of order. Wikipedia has a list of episodes in their intended order.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2006

Is the thread title a reference to something?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2006

I heartily second Veronica Mars, it's smart, has plenty of action, great characters... I love that show to pieces.

All the HBO shows that have been recommended are fantastic, but no one has yet mentioned the brilliance that is Oz. The writing and acting are just top-notch, and while it does devolve into a bit of a soap by the end, the first 4 seasons are gold. It's my #1 favorite tv show.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:53 AM on February 21, 2006

Nothing new from me.

Lost is amazing on DVD, I watched the whole first season (23 episodes x 45 minutes each) on a rainy weekend in about 24 hours. It's addicting. 24 is a great show as well, and there's always CSI. If you want strong characters, you can't go wrong with the CSI: Vegas (the original).
posted by charmston at 10:40 AM on February 21, 2006

Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Lost. All good, all already recommended, so i'll just add a Me Too! here.

But you may also want to consider the BBC show Spaced, (from the creators of Shaun of the Dead) and while it's not a storytelling series, the show Top Gear is very fun. All episodes are available from FinalGear.com.
posted by quin at 11:11 AM on February 21, 2006

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Babylon 5 yet.

I don't think it stands the test of time. It was good when it was first aired, because there had been so many years of terrible SF television. But in retrospect, the acting was terrible (with a few notable exceptions, including Jurasik and Katsulas), JMS' dialogue writing is really poor compared to his plotting, and the direction was spotty at best.

There are a select few episodes that stand out as being really excellent, but as an overarching arc show, it doesn't work for me like it did ten years ago.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2006

the acting was terrible...

Boy, do I agree. I never saw it when it was originally on, but SO many people recommended it that I rented the DVDs. I made it through 20 minutes of the first episode. The acting was SO bad, I had to stop. (Who was that actor who played the big-haired alien's assistant? The little pudgy guy. UGH! Was he reading cue cards?) Maybe it gets better, but it was extremely extremely extremely bad! And the SFX, which I know were somewhat groundbreaking at the time (for TV), don't stand up well. And they're not even quaint -- like 1950s SFX -- they just look like shoddy CGI. Dialogue: horrible.
posted by grumblebee at 12:39 PM on February 21, 2006

Who was that actor who played the big-haired alien's assistant?

Stephen Furst. He gets much stronger as the series progresses, ironically.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2006

I think we can all agree that Mira Furlan has been equally bad in both B5 (I agree, it doesn't hold up the test of time) and Lost. YEESH.
posted by mkultra at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2006

n+1: Veronica Mars, Buffy, Angel, Firefly, House, west wing seasons 1-4 (and if you like that, check out the equally good SportsNight which is a comedy but also written by sorkin), x-files seasons 1-5, ER seasons 1-4.

Raise: Gray's Anatomy (first season just out on DVD) ... character-driven hospital dramedy without the annoying 'crisis-of-the-week' that made ER jump the shark.
posted by softlord at 1:35 PM on February 21, 2006

DevilsAdvocate: the title "I will run the meeting since I have the bribe list" is a line from Deadwood. It's not an exact quote - I couldn't remember the precise wording. But that's the general gist of it. I just thought it was funny :)
posted by Dallasfilm at 2:19 PM on February 21, 2006

Stephen Furst is probably best known as Kent "Flounder" Dorfman in Animal House. He's a legacy.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:20 PM on February 21, 2006

I would go as far to say that The Wire is the best show that has ever been on TV. Best acting (Dominic West is just beyond belief, but even the very minor characters are amazing). Best writing (Richard Price penned a couple of episodes). Everything is just pitch perfect.

You should watch them in order. Give them time. Pay attention to everything. Enjoy.

BTW - the sound designer for the show, Blake Leyh, has a fantastic music blog at tenthousand.org. I even think he is or was a mefite.
posted by vronsky at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2006

First, yes to Veronica Mars. No matter what she is asking.

Second, let me say this about Firefly. I basically watched the entire series in the past week (hey, the wife was out of town). It was among the best TV shows I have ever seen (but you must watch it in the originally intended order, not the aired order), but watching the movie Serenity afterwards was so painful that the whole experience has left a bad taste in my metaphorical mouth. Get the DVD of the series, but pretend the movie never happened.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:02 PM on February 21, 2006

First, yes to Veronica Mars. No matter what she is asking.

posted by desuetude at 6:37 PM on February 21, 2006

This question is *easy*

Several friends (male and female if that means anything) and I get together to watch a TV series every Sunday night at 8:30.

It all started with Firefly - we watched three episodes every week until the movie came out and then we saw that twice opening weekend.

Then we picked the first season of Vernonica Mars - a truly excellent show which I'm very surprised isn't recommended more here.

After seriously condsidering Alias, we just started the first season of the Wire on Sunday and it looks from this thread that we're in good company.

I've mentioned Freaks and Geeks, and SportsNight for the next round, but I'm lobbying hard for The Gary Shandling Show too.

I thought that we had some pretty sophisticated TV tastes, but after reading this thread, I realize that we simply have MeFi tastes - and that's a good thing.
posted by marc1919 at 7:39 PM on February 21, 2006

I forgot to mention Action! with Jay Mohr. It was a great series that pioneered bleeping out curse words on primetime tv - before the Seinfeld episode, I believe and certainly before Arrested Development, which I hope will have a longer life on DVD. Also you might consider downloading Fastlane since it's not on DVD yet, but in the mean time it's playing on G4.
posted by marc1919 at 7:59 PM on February 21, 2006

The best TV series ever is The Prisoner, which had about 19 one-hour episodes, and is widely available on DVD.
posted by neuron at 8:44 PM on February 21, 2006

Veronica Mars is a great show. Firefly too, if you have any appreciation for sci-fi.
posted by tysiva at 3:37 PM on February 22, 2006

posted by stratastar at 9:20 PM on February 23, 2006

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