What Should I Be Watching?

by wjw on August 29, 2014

So I’m looking for new stuff to watch on TV.  I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the set, and I usually watch (1) when I’m running on the elliptical trainer, and (2) just before bedtime.  So I’m lookin’ for high quality stuff.

I’ve seen The Wire, Dexter, Weeds, the Sopranos, Treme, White Collar, Covert Affairs, 30 Rock, Leverage, House, Burn Notice (and man, those last two seasons were grim), Damages, Veronica Mars, Bones, Royal Pains, The Mentalist, Lillyhammer . . . hey, maybe I watch more TV than I think I do!

I’ve tried watching True Blood, which is about stupid people, and couldn’t get very far.  Walking Dead made me yawn.   House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire leave me cold— I recognize the quality of the production, but I don’t really care.

I’m a little burned out on grimdark right now, so only if it’s really good.

Let me know.  (And I’m going to be spending the holiday weekend in the mountains, far from any Internet, so I won’t be reading your recommendation till next week.)

Barbara August 29, 2014 at 4:14 am

Lie to Me is on Netflix and fits in the “if you liked…” Box with Burn Notice and the Mentalist.

If you want comedy, there is nothing funnier than Scrubs. And that’s coming from me with no sense of humor. 🙂


Mark Hughes August 29, 2014 at 5:11 am

Grimdark: Wallander, Whitechapel S1 (S2-3 were kind of awful), The Killing, Luther.
Not grimdark: Grimm, The Glades, Orphan Black.

I haven’t seen the Swedish Wallander movies, but the BBC series are some of the best, most morose crime dramas I’ve ever seen.

James August 29, 2014 at 5:18 am

West Wing, Newsroom, Game of Thrones (but surely you have seen it!), Mad Men, Orphan Black, Dr Who (Series 2/2006 onwards).

David W. Goldman August 29, 2014 at 9:33 am
TRX August 29, 2014 at 10:09 am

+1 on Luther. Also, “A Touch of Frost.” My wife is a nut for British police procedurals…

Two short-lived SF series, both unabashed but demented Trek imitations: “Starhyke” and “Hyperdrive”, both of which found my funny bone and hammered it good.

“Babylon 5,” still a favorite of mine. I never saw it on TV; a friend gave us the DVD set and we watched an episode or two per day, in order. Given the interlocking story arcs, I pity the people who had to watch it on TV…

“Welcome to Paradox.” A short-lived Canadian SF series. Some of the episodes were quite good, written by people like AE van Vogt.

“Space Precinct.” It’s just an ordinary cop show, except set on a space station run by an alien polity. I thought they did a reasonably good job of it.

“Swift and Shift Couriers” from Australia. Revenge for you mentioning “Horrible Histories” a while back…

“The NEW Captain Scarlet.” I liked it a lot.

“Jack of All Trades.” It’s sort of like the original “Wild, Wild West”, except about American and British spies on a French Pacific island in 1820. With Bruce Campbell. It *ought* to suck, but I thought it was a riot.

“Max Headroom.” I missed the original series, and all I knew of it were some really bad TV commercials with the Max character. The series was apparently never officially released to video; you have to scrounge someone’s blurry old VHS rips from the web. But I was impressed at how well they were done.

“Citizen Khan,” about a Pakistani immigrant in Britain. . It’s a plain old-fashioned comedy.

Paul Duncanson August 29, 2014 at 10:46 am

Orphan Black. It should have won the Hugo. It didn’t only because its title isn’t Game of Thrones.

Justified. Elmore Leonard in TV form.

Areteo August 29, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Any of the following that you haven’t seen:

Dollhouse, Firefly, Fringe, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Wonderfalls, Deadwood, Terriers, Sherlock, Dead Like Me, Alias, Lost, Life On Mars (British version), Orphan Black, Downton Abbey, House, The 4400, Doc Martin.

Neil W August 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Psych is not good but not great, but also not Grimdark. I like the pastiche episodes, where they find themselves in the middle of Twin Peaks or a vampire mystery. The Blacklist IS Grimdark, and I don’t think that’s it’s great either, but it has a combination of cops vs really evil (super)villians and James Spader’s character not taking the whole setup seriously, despite him being the one who has manipulated everyone into the position.

Jason Larke August 29, 2014 at 2:23 pm

The WGN series Manhattan has been surprisingly good. It dwells a bit on the sacrifices made by the scientists working on the Project and their families, but not quite Grimdark.

I second the recommendation for Justified. It’s a lot of fun.

B. Smith August 29, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Person of Interest is one of my favorites. It’s a great example of 5 minutes into the future scifi. The end of the last season got a bit dark but nothing like some of the other series you mentioned.

If you don’t mind subtitles Braquo is excellent. It’s sort of a French take on The Shield. A special operations group of police get in way over their heads as they try to protect one of their own. The first two seasons are on Hulu. Dark but not grimdark.

Definitely agree with the folks that mentioned Orphan Black and Justified.

Kinga Skorupska August 29, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I second the Babylon 5 recommendation. They don’t call it LOTR in space for nothing. Its strong point is that all the seasons were written before filming began so the plots are intertwined like in no other TV series. If you can overlook the 90s sf feel you will discover characters who are more than just an embodiment of one vice or virtue who work together towards an epic resolution.

-dsr- August 29, 2014 at 3:32 pm

It’s been mentioned, but let me put in another vote for The West Wing — all of it is available on Netflix and DVD sets.

The first half-season is a little rocky, but Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is amazing. Do his characters talk like normal people? Sometimes, but mostly they talk the way that people wish they could talk. Particularly interesting to me was that the “lead character” focus shifts several times. Meanwhile, the issues of the 1990s are still with us today.

Foxessa August 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm

For seriously not grimdark, Lost Girl. Sort of in-between: Vikings and Orphan Black. Continuum is really interesting. With the exception of Vikings, these are Canadian, so their take is somewhat, refreshingly, askew from the usual mainstream U.S. offerings.

Paul Cooper August 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm

If you are willing to go back a little ways to 1998, you might try “Sports Night.” It is a comedy (with dramatic elements) about a sports cast show.

For something more modern, try “The Big Bang Theory,” about a bunch of nerds who are brilliant scientists and social dorks. You’ve run into these guys at SF conventions, so you should recognize them. It manages to be hilarious and sympathetic at the same time.

These are two that are fun, a bit thoughtful, and definitely not grimdark.

David W. Goldman August 29, 2014 at 7:17 pm

[Not sure who/what/why/how my comment got deleted. Perhaps because it contained links to YouTube?]

In any case, and without the links, I strongly recommend “Danger Man”, known in the U.S. as “Secret Agent”. Patrick McGoohan, yes? All three and a fraction seasons available on YouTube.

The first season is pretty good, and often amusing. The second season is where things get really really good.

Geoff August 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Five shows to recommend (although your post leads me to wonder why you don’t watch science fiction or fantasy tv shows):

The Divide – just finished its first season this summer, a drama about crime, capital punishment and power in Philadelphia. Watch it now before everyone realizes how great it is.

Friday Night Lights – Nominally about Texas high school football, really about growing up in suburban America.

True Detective – Grim. And dark. But might be the best example of the genre.

Rubicon – 70s conspiracy theory movie made into a show set in a think tank. Only one season, but some great performances and great tone.

Terriers – On every “brilliant but canceled” list, Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James do a great job with some of the best dialogue of this generation.

Michael Grosberg August 29, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Another vote for Orphan Black. It’s dark but not without humor and the character interactions are wonderful.

Outside genre, watch the Australian show Rake (NOT the US one, it kinda fell flat). It’s a lawyer show, the twist this time being the protagonist, a criminal defense lawyer (well, barrister, this being Australia) , doesn’t protect the innocent. He gets guilty people out of jail. His clients are a strange lot – the widow of a suicide bomber, or a couple accused of bestiality, along with your run of the mill crime lords. He also has a gambling problem, drug problem, sex problem, and being-a-total-jerk problem. It’s all mixed in with a hefty dose of local politics and a bit of family drama, a-la The Good Wife (also a great show). It’s brilliant and funny and very, very cynical.

TRX August 30, 2014 at 10:19 am

The original Australian season of Rake rocked. It was more or less put together as a single story arc of interconnected episodes and came to a firm conclusion. The follow-up seasons simply didn’t match the quality of the original in my opinion.

But, definitely, Rake. And if you like the following seasons, that’s just gravy.

Clyde August 30, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Arctic Air

Foxessa August 30, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Plus — The Good Wife has five seasons ….

I kinda thought though, that WJW wouldn’t much care for it — though I love it, particularly the character, Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski. Among its many other pleasures, the series is hands down, the most elegantly dressed female protagonists.

The writers do, though, on occasion, rather leap over connections and — especially in the court room, plausibility, legally speaking. But it does entertain.

Glen Engel-Cox August 30, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Both of these are comedies, so not grimdark at all:

Blackadder – British history made fun through mugging about as a tweepy nerd through generations. Miranda Richardson gets all the best bits in the second season.

Wonderfalls – One season of a young woman whom has inanimate objects start to tell her what to do (“Get off your ass!”) that has some hints of Joan-of-Arc-ism. It’s odd, which is why the same creator went on to make Pushing Daisies, a show about a fellow who can bring people to live with a touch and cause them to re-die with another touch, which is even odder.

Paul Cooper August 31, 2014 at 12:31 am

I also forgot to mention “The Middleman,” a show that was a summer replacement, of all things, in 2008. Wendy Watson, a resourceful, artist finds herself working for The Middleman, a freelance superhero at the Jolly Fats Weehauken Temporary Agency, saving the world from hyper-intelligent apes, zombie fish, and a band of Lucha LIbre wrestlers with a grudge against a masked Kung Fu master. It didn’t get picked up because it was too hip for the room. There are only 12 episodes, so, even if you don’t like it, you won’t have wasted too much time.

Robert Wright August 31, 2014 at 5:00 pm

True Detective is very good but grim.

Veep is great and funny.

Sons of Anarchy, Hamlet told through the lens of a motorcycle club. Grim, funny, touching , just a very good show.

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, food and commentary.

The Thick of It, just look it up, absolutely brilliant writing and performances.

The Americans. Captures the paranoia of the Cold War in the 80’s by both sides perfectly.

Masters of Sex. Not as raunchy as one is led to believe, lots of tension, politics, gender roles, etc. very, very good.

gar logan August 31, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Listen to the people who recommended the Australian series Rake. It’s a lot of fun. Justified, starring Timothy Oliphant and airing on FX, is also pretty good. I suggest you should have watched HBO’s Deadwood first to compare and contrast the different kinds of cowboy lawman he plays in the two series. Deadwood can be violent and shakespearean at times but I wouldn’t call it grimdark.
I can’t recommend Farscape too highly. It takes a few episodes to really find itself but it is excellent wandering starfarers sci-fi. Often written by people who had watched a lot of Star Trek and worked hard to upend the tropes of tv sci-fi.

Gary Gibson September 1, 2014 at 3:38 am

Try Utopia, from Britain’s Channel Four. I don’t know if it’s on Netflix or anything. It’s conspiracy theory stuff mixed in with a heady dose of pop culture, and unbelievably, incredibly violent. I’m drawing heavily on increasingly vague memories from a year ago, but a group of killers are trying to track down the artwork for a graphic novel created by someone with some involvement in a Dastardly Government Conspiracy, and whose previous work is the subject of intensive examination by members of an online forum – who find themselves being hunted down.

Brian Renninger September 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Another vote for Orphen Black.

And, if you haven’t seen it Fringe was good. Science is nutty but it does have some internal consistency.

mastadge September 1, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Yeah, for goofy The Middleman is very worth checking out. And if you can’t stand The Big Bang Theory, Community may just be the perfect sitcom for you (it and Brooklyn Nine-Nine are the only two sitcoms I can enjoy these days).

It’s been recommended above but Justified is (or was, haven’t seen the latest few seasons) good, as is (was?) The Good Wife. Also give Fargo a try, maybe. And then of course there’s always the dependable Foyle’s War which is usually above average and occasionally rises to excellence. I also really dig Ripper Street – above average cop drama in fin de siècle Whitechapel, though the end of season 2 was a letdown.

If you count miniseries as TV rather than film, Agnieszka Holland’s Burning Bush, covering the fallout of the 1969 public self-immolation of Czech student Jan Palach, is excellent.

Dave L September 2, 2014 at 12:09 am

I second all the votes for Luther. I’d also suggest a nineties UK show called “Ultraviolet” which gives a different spin on the vampire trope. “The Honourable Woman” has just finished here in the UK and it was pretty good and seems quite timely given the situation in parts of the Middle East. A few years ago the BBC showed something called “The Shadow Line” which was fantastic – especially Stephen Rea’s performance.

Brian Renninger September 2, 2014 at 1:59 am

Also, Josh Whedon’s Dollhouse. Two seasons. Plus the Epitaphs 1 and 2.

Sons of Anarchy. It is a bit Grimdark and a bit of a soap opera. Though there are some nice Hamlet and Macbeth references.

PrivateIron September 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Fargo was pretty good. The Good Wife is surprisingly good since I don’t like the genre. Hannibal got goofy in the second season, but has some great production values. Archer and the Venture Brothers are amazing.

Sons of Anarchy is addictive, but amazingly stupid. Justified is gold if you like Elmore Leonard.

Rider September 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Another vote for Orphan Black.

Generation Kill. The single best Iraq War/GWOT show or movie, ever. Primarily because David Simon, the mind behind the Wire and Treme, was its show runner. Easy to digest at only 7 episodes.

The Shield. Grim dark but also masterfully written and acted. The last episode is the best dramatic show finale ever put in TV and completely rewards the longtime watcher. The show runner for Sons of Anarchy started as a staff writer on this, and was by no means the best writer/ director on it.

Jeff September 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Breaking Bad.

How has this not been mentioned? Very grimdark, but very good. It’s usually cited, along with The Wire and The Sopranos, as one of greatest television series ever. And it just won all the Emmys.

For lighter fare, Community and Arrested Development, though these can be a lot of work for sitcoms.

wjw September 3, 2014 at 4:45 am

I forgot to mention I’m watching “The Good Wife” right now, and that it’s my favorite new discovery. I’ve just finished Season 3, but I’m trying to ration the rest. I think everyone in this series is terrific from the kids on up. I’m very pleased that Julianna Margulies finally got a part in which she could really shine. As someone mentioned, the series often takes liberties with legal procedure, but then I don’t know a lawyer show that doesn’t.

I’ve also seen “Orphan Black,” which had a great first season and a second season that was a complete mess. I don’t know whether I’m looking forward to the third season or not.

Also been watching “Justified,” though I think the series is slowly creeping downhill. Raylan was always a charming asshole, but he now seems to be more asshole than charming.

And yes, it’s true that I don’t watch a lot of SF TV, but that’s mostly because it’s bad. Happy to see recommendations, though.

And thanks for the other recs as well. I’ll start looking for some of these.

Jodi Stinebaugh September 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Quick comment: Max Headroom WAS officially released on DVD a few years ago (available on Amazon). I still love the idea of Max but found the series, upon rewatching, uneven.
Second quick comment: Yep, try Farscape. Wild, woolly, inventive, imaginative, colorful and downright fun.
Happy viewing whatever you choose.

TRX September 3, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Thanks Jodi! I can ditch my fuzzy VHS rips then…

Uneven, yes. Kind of like Firefly, the studio gave it minimal support… and positioning it opposite “Miami Vice” sure didn’t help any…

Foxessa September 4, 2014 at 1:39 am

I just started watching Orphan Black’s second season. Already I have begun wondering — all this running around … for … ???? I’m sorry this seems to be happening.

Agree too, that Justified started to get a little less interesting with each season after season 2, and Raylan less admirable or even interesting. My favorite character is still his boss, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshall Art Mullen.

They had begun to make a nice ensemble show, but fans wanted More! More! More! Raylan and BOYD, BOYD, BOYD, which ultimately hurts story arcs, or so it seems to me. Again, too, with the focus on big city Detroit gangsters vs. the very local Kentucky and Harlan County story lines, that dims the interest, because we’ve seen these other guys before, many, many, too many, times before.

I started rather liking Sons of Anarchy but it turned to blech very quickly, in terms of stories — and I just couldn’t stand looking at all that violence done to women for the sake of keeping them in their place.

And — so sue me — I am really liking Outlander. 🙂

But there’s not much time for any serious watching or reading right now, as under the final gun with TASC as we are.

Johan Larson September 4, 2014 at 2:49 am

“True Detective” is very good, but definitely grimdark. But it has Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in rare form.

One thing you might try is a podcast series called Corrector’s Commentary. They do audio commentary of a film synched to the film itself. Very interesting. So far they’ve done Alien and Aliens.


TRX September 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm

> fans wanted more

Unfortunately, that has ruined several fantasy series and various TV series that started off as rollicking adventure, then got bogged down into dysfunctional “relationships.”

I guess the “relationship” fans make the most noise…

Even Robert B. Parker fell into that trap, when his Spenser PI books turned from gratuitous violence and smart-aleck comments to chapter-long whinings about his girlfriend.

Foxessa September 4, 2014 at 5:34 pm

More series, book and television, as well as movies, have been ruined in the last couple of decades by the fan shipper fixation, which for them seems to mean endless numbers of silly but supposedly hot sex scenes.

Good writing of any kind for any medium has to do with balance — all they want is the porn structure which is the same thing over and over. That may or may not create great porn but in other entertainment modes it’s dreary.

For another instance, many of the fans of The Good Wife want A WHOLE LOT MORE of Elspeth. Some of Elspeth, provided in judicious amounts, is pleasing spice. But a little of Elspeth goes a very long way, because, really, she is annoying and tiresome and gets boring very quickly.

Jerry September 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm

I think that you’ve watched enough.

You now should write a pilot for your own TV series or movie.

Please imagine an out-of-control audience cheering WAL-ter! Wal-ter! Wal-ter!

Bruce Arthurs September 4, 2014 at 6:16 pm

I loved the BBC’s The Musketeers; Season 1 was recently shown on BBC America. Great fun and gorgeous costumes.

Steinar Bang September 5, 2014 at 10:26 am

With your Finnish ancestry, “The Dudesons” might be of interest…?

I zapped past a channel showing it yesterday. “Finnish jackass” may be its best description. In the 4 or 5 minutes I watched, there was one broken ancle from jumping a dirt bike into a lake, and landing on something, and one house in full fire from making a bonfire on the living room table.

(It sort of fulfills the prejudices the rest of the nordics have against finns… When the Norwegian show Don’t do this at home set their house on fire, at least they tried to put it in an educational context (what really happens if you throw water on burning oil)).

jag September 6, 2014 at 2:10 am

The Tick! (live action)

Only lasted one season, but it deserved more.

Don Meyer September 6, 2014 at 6:59 am


Better Off Ted – Get past the silly title, and this is one of the smartest comedies ever.

Community – Often brilliant.

Sports Night – If you like Mr. Sorkin’s stuff, you’ll like this. I’m not a sports fan, but this show sort of made me wish I was.

The IT Crowd – Give it a couple episodes and you won’t regret it.


Second the vote for Terriers. Great show, but I’m convinced the goofy name was partially responsible for its brief run.

Being Human (British) – Dark but good and thought-provoking. And, unlike the unrelentingly serious BSG, they can toss in some humor now and then.

Don Meyer September 6, 2014 at 7:05 am

Oh, and of course – Firefly! I think it goes without saying, but I’m just going to be sure. We fell in love when it became clear the show was going to take many of the standard annoying/stupid things that people do in TV shows and not do them!

Brad Craig September 8, 2014 at 6:10 am

For coarse laughs, Archer. For whimsical reality, Mythbusters and Top Gear UK.

DensityDuck September 9, 2014 at 3:50 pm

You’ll never go wrong watching Planetes.

mearsk September 9, 2014 at 10:17 pm

“Bojack Horseman.” I just finished watching this series on Netflix and I couldn’t help but be reminded of one “Sean Mankin.” It is funny and a bit sad and has a star studded cast.

wjw September 10, 2014 at 2:29 am

I’ve watched the first season of “Planetes,” which was all that was available on Netflix. And, as series about interplanetary garbagemen go, it beat the hell out of “Quark.”

Netflix has been trying to get me to watch “Bojack Horseman,” so maybe I’ll just let them do it.

Strangeattractor October 13, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Some shows that were on tv a few years ago:

“Slings And Arrows” is a comedy about the behind-the-scenes running of a Shakespeare festival much like the Stratford Festival in Ontario. It has excellent writing and the actors are terrific.

“Being Erica” is about time travel as therapy, in Toronto.

“Around the World in 80 Gardens” is a fantastic garden documentary. You’d need to be able to play a Region 2 DVD in order to watch it. If you have a computer and the program VLC, then you probably can play a Region 2 DVD.

As for shows that are on TV now, the ones I am watching are:

“The Voice” I don’t usually like reality tv shows, but I like this one. The way the show is designed, it’s win-win-win for the performers, coaches, and audience. It actually manages to be a show about how to help make a person the best they can be in that moment. There’s not any of the nastiness that usually is present in shows of that type. It’s fun to watch the coaches joke around with each other and I get to learn more about what’s popular in music these days.

My “guilty pleasure” of tv watching is Devious Maids. It is based on a Mexican soap opera, and the main reason I like it is the music. Just as I start to get caught up in it, the music comes in and does something that reminds me not to take it all that seriously. I hadn’t realized that music could do that. So I watch and see if I can figure out how the composer is doing that. I don’t think I wholeheartedly recommend the show, but it is something that I watch that is actually on tv right now, so I thought I’d mention it.

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