TV shows you should be watching

Here’s a few TV shows that I’m watching right now that I think you might enjoy too…

Treme

Treme, The Wire creator David Simon’s latest television effort, has followed a similar pattern to his previous show. Now recognised as a true classic, The Wire was watched by few when it originally aired, gaining in popularity when it was released on DVD.

Now the same is happening with Treme, Simon’s study of the residents of a neighborhood of New Orleans after the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina. Natural in style and light on overly-dramatic story-telling, the day-to-day life of the Treme is easy to slip into. Central to the story is the world of New Orleans music (every episode has extended sequences of New Orlean’s legends playing music in various situations and settings) and the Mardi Gras Indians, yet as with Simon’s previous hit, the scope shifts and evolves, revealing the different ways people were affected by the disaster.

Its been announced now that the current third series will be followed by a reduced fourth series, that will wrap things up. Now is the time to start watching – in future years, you can be one of the guys who can say ‘I watched that when it was on TV!’

Parenthood

If I were to read a synopsis of Parenthood, I’m fairly confident I would have little interest in watching such a show. Luckily, the first thing I read was that it was created by Jason Katims, the executive producer of the near-flawless Friday Night Lights (just don’t mention that thing that Landry did…).

That was enough for me, as it should be for you. Having watched three seasons now, I’m confident that Katim’s touch is essentially gold – few show runners seem to have the skills that this man does when it comes to creating and guiding sympathetic and likable characters. There have been few shows where I have been this emotionally involved and, whilst it might be a cliche to say it, it does feel like hanging out with old friends each week.

The trials faced by the Bravermans – an extended and character-filled American family – are varied, ranging from life-changing issues such as mental illness, adoption, religion and divorce through to everyday concerns like becoming school president and hitting a home run in the little league. And if this all sounds like something you have seen before, rest assured that the characterisation and writing are strong enough that it feels like these topics are being tackled for the first time.

Currently in its fourth series, Parenthood has settled into a good rhythm and seems to have a strong enough following to ensure we will see more of the Bravermans over the next few years.

Parks and Recreation

Somehow, the cast I love the best – that holds a place closest to my heart – feature in a 20-minute single camera sitcom. When you first enter into the lives of the Parks and Rec team for Pawnee City Council, it is easy to dismiss Lesley Knope as a cheap knock off of The Office’s Michael Scott. Yet over the years she has evolved into a genuinely warm character who believably earns the respect of those around her.

And those around her take the show to even greater heights. Be it the lovable man-child Tom Haverford (with his never-ending parade of strange money-making ideas), Ron Swanson (an all-American anti-government government worker who loves nothing more than steak and hunting), or Andy and April (one of the oddest and most refreshing couples to grace our screens), there is no shortage of enjoyable characters. And then in series 3 they added Rob Lowe into the mix!

And Parks and Recreation is funny. Possibly the funniest show on TV. If the idea of strong characterisation and laughs isn’t enough for you, I don’t know what it. You should watch Parks and Recreation because, now in its fourth series (where The Office, How I Met Your Mother and other shows started to show a few cracks) it is stronger than ever, and showing no sign of slowing down. I am looking forward to the years we have in the company of Pawnee’s finest yet to come.

Louie

I find it hard to believe anyone isn’t watching Louie, yet I thought it prudent to mention it here anyway. Stand-up comedian Louis CK’s self-written, self-directed and self-edited show defies all attempts at catagorisation. Disguised as a single-camera comedy, Louie can be whatever the creator wishes it to be on a week-by-week basis.

This makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. There is no slavish devotion to structure here – Louie takes whatever form CK needs to tell his story (though the story is often minimal). CK’s ideas are central and whilst his alter-ego’s musings on parenthood, relationships, loneliness and life in general are often funny, the humour is derived from the situations and never feels forced.

Occasionally surreal, frequently hearth-breaking and always honest, Louie is unlike anything you have seen before. As CK takes a year off to recuperate from the punishing demands of creating the first three series, you have plenty of time to catch up and be ready for whatever the hell he has in store for us in 2014.

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Future releases: Zombie time!

I love Zombies. I know that isn’t an unusual claim in our zombie-saturated pop-culture world, but its true. I suppose it is something to do with the post-apocalyptic connection – the arrival of zombies is rarely a positive event for the human race – but there is also something genuinely terrifying about them as a horror antagonist. Those who are currently watching series 3 of The Walking Dead will undoubtedly agree with me; after countless movies (not to mention comics and novels) somehow the slowly shuffling shadow of a zombie still gets my heart racing.

World War Z

2013 will see the arrival of two new zombie cinematic outings. One has been on my radar for quite some time, yet it is the less anticipated of the two. Click here to watch the trailer for World War Z.

The die-hard zombie fanatics amongst you have almost certainly already read Max Brook’s World War Z, an exhaustive account of a global zombie plague, encompassing the downfall of humanity and ultimately its fight for survival, that also manages to tell personal stories for a number of compelling characters.

The film version looks to be quite a bit different from the source material, which is a disappointment, but not an unexpected one – any adaption of the book would cost in excess of $100 million and a faithful adaption would never draw in sufficient audience numbers to justify that kind of cost.

So I remain quietly hopeful that the film will entertain on some level. Director Marc Forster has some strong films under his belt (in particular, Stranger than Fiction). Yet the production has been troubled (to put it lightly) and the trailer has started the internet horde braying about CGI-zombies. I have to say, the trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with hope, but I will keep an open mind and, fingers crossed, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

Warm Bodies

The other zombie release is Warm Bodies, a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com (thanks Edgar et al)! Check it out here.

I’ve always enjoyed my horror with a touch of humour – after all, is it really possible to take the concept of the walking dead entirely seriously? Warm Bodies may appear on the surface to be appealing to the Twilight crowd, but I do think there will be more to it than that.

Its directed by Jonathan Levine, whose The Wackness and 50/50 I enjoyed quite a bit. Both his previous efforts play against expectations and hopefully Warm Bodies will too. Telling the story from the zombie’s perspective is a nice spin (I feel like it has been done elsewhere, but can’t quite remember where…) and the idea of a zombie falling for a apocalypse-hardened, yet still cute-as-a-button girl might just be ridiculous enough to work.

Plus its got Malkovich in it! Someone has managed to put Malkovich versus zombies on our screens and – frankly – it would be rude not to go see that.

Watch, repeat

I’m not sure why, but I used to watch certain films obsessively when I was in my teens. More so than any time since, I would identify these films as ‘the films for me’ and watch them. A lot.

Perhaps it was because they were simpler times, when there was not such a huge mass of available media. When I was growing up, if we wanted to watch any movies (other than the recent releases) I only had a few ways of getting hold of them. I could watch one of  the four television channels we had (Sky was a mere fantasy) or buy or rent a video.

However, the majority of the films from this list (yes, fine, it’s a list) are from the former two camps, since films recorded from television or bought on VHS could be watched numerous times over many weekends without repeatedly renting them out.

These films have all been seared into my brain. Some of them have stayed with me, becoming films I now recognise as classics. Others, I would probably no longer watch, but for the sake of curiosity. Those that fall into the later group might still have a place in my heart, and just the memory of a key line of dialogue (‘It can’t rain all the time.’) will make me feel nostalgic.

The Lost Boys

This cult horror staple has stayed with me throughout my life. I saw it most recently at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in 2006. When I arrived in Melbourne, alone and in a new country for the first time, and saw that The Lost Boys was playing, I was delighted to have a movie so familiar to go and see.

The story of Santa Carla’s Vampires and the boys determined to take them down is witty and comically violent. There’s something quite child-like about this movie, despite the it’s graphic content. It’s a kind of childhood-adulthood transitional film, as if the filmmakers set out to make a horror film for teenagers.

As a kid, I would have loved to have friends as fearless and unpredictable as the Frog Brothers, self-confessed vampire hunters (when they aren’t working in their parents comic book store). I love the pure eighties vibe, the comic-book violence of the vampire deaths and, of course, there is one of the greatest last lines in the history of cinema.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura was my introduction to Jim Carrey, the funny man with the elastic face, who would become an near-obsession for me in my teens. I bought every movie he was in on VHS the day it was released (up until Liar Liar).

The film has dated a little and does look like a TV movie, but the laughs are still there as are the catchphrases, many of which have stuck with me until today (Alrighty then!). The story is a little wierd and the other characters are incidental. Really, its all just a showcase for Carrey’s brand of rediculous humour and that’s fine by me.

The Crow

This is a film I haven’t watch since my teens, yet I remember how intensely cool I thought it was. The film follows a man who returns from the dead, self-stylises himself as a scary clown / crow man and goes about taking down those who were responsible for for his murder and that of his girlfriend.

The subject matter seemed grown-up and the violence graphic (but not morbidly so). As a quiet and non-violent teenager, taking revenge on the people who messed with you seemed very appealing somehow. Add in the fascination of the lead actor, Brandon Lee, dying during the shoot, and film was a sure-fire winner.

Oddly, I haven’t watched it more than ten years, so I couldn’t say whether it holds up now.

Evil Dead 2

I haven’t seen it in ages, but I know in my heart that I still love Evil Dead 2. I’ve always been a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror movies. Certainly there are horror movies I have enjoyed, but I’m not a big fan of gore and scares for their own sake. When I discovered Evil Dead 2, I was pleasantly suprised to discover that horror movies could be funny as well as scary.

Of course a great deal of the fascination comes down to Bruce Cambell’s mesmirising, gurning turn as Ash, a role reprised from the orginal film (of which this is a kind of remake). He truly sells the absurd situation in which his character finds himself. When he does battle with his own severed hand, it really does feel like a fight for survival as well as being hilarious at the same time.

And the ending is awesome too.

Withnail and I

When I discovered Withnail & I, I watched it countless times. There was something wonderfully subversive about Richard E. Grant’s Withnail; he was living on the edge of society. He appeared to be quite possibly permanently cracked and yet he didn’t seem to care.

The simple story of two out-of-work actors who go for a much-needed holiday in the country sees very little happen. Yet it is populated by wonderfully memorable characters and grounded by a bleakly hilarious script. Thinking of certain scenes will still bring a smile to my face, especially Withnail, when faced with a large pub bully, breaking down into tears and sobbing…’I have a heart condition…if you hit me its murder….my wife is having a baby…’

Stand By Me

Another film that I still regard as a geniune classic. Four kids in fifties small-town America hear a rumour about a dead body and set out on a journey to witness this gruesome curiosity for themselves.

The central group are an odd mish-mash of personalities. They seem thrown together, yet comfortable with each others quirks. Their friendships are the kind that can only form in childhood; fleeting, but meaningful and important in their time.

My English teacher showed us this film when we were fourteen or fifteen (along with To Kill a Mockingbird) and it has stuck with me ever since. Its a brilliantly funny and imaginative film, whose characters are grounded in real-life, yet still capable of using their imaginations and having an adventures.

The Flight of the Navigator

During my teenage years, I certainly wasn’t beyond watching films deemed to be targeted at kids (nor am I now). The Flight of the Navigator is representative of the children’s films that bled through to my teenage years (see also Labrynth and The Goonies).

The movie concerns itself with a boy who is abducted by a charistmatic alien, who takes him on an adventure around the world in his super-cool spaceship. This movie had enough adventure and wit to keep me returning time and time again.

A glimmer of hope for a future classic

Lizzie and Sarah was one of those rare beasts, a genuinely originally British comedy show. Created by and starring Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Gavin and Stacey) and Jessica Hynes (Spaced), Lizzie and Sarah tells the story of two down-trodden suburban housewives who take extreme measures to escape the drugery of their daily lives.

The show was awarded a pilot episode despite the unusally dark subject matter. Unfortunately, the BBC panicked at the last minute and consigned their excellent-but-potentially-controversial show to a late night premier. It was duly ignore by the majority of the public (thanks to the time slot and the near-complete lack of advertising).

As a result, Lizzie and Sarah was never awarded a full series. For those of us who were lucky enough to stumble upon this little-seen gem, it was a tragedy that a full series was never commissioned.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope. Julia Davis is reportedly still very keen to get the series made;‘I’d happily explore more,’ she said. ‘We have a lot more ideas and I would love to work with Sarah again.’

Although I haven’t seen it, Davis has just finished work on a show called Hunderby with Sky Atlantic, a channel fast developing a reputation for giving comic artists the freedom to create original material. Atlantic recently commissioned a TV-version of Adam Buxton’s BUG (search Youtube).

British television comedy is something I have fallen out of love with recently. Not since the golden age (well, my golden age, at least) of shows such as Black Books, Spaced, Big Train and Red Dwarf, has a show come along that has inspired me as much as Lizzie and Sarah. Nothing would make me happier than seeing a show this hilarious and shocking given an opportunity in this TV-comedy wasteland.

Thanks for the heads up, Chortle.

Gervais has a promising new vehicle

I must admit I had become a little disillusioned with the career of Ricky Gervais. Since the conclusion of The Office, and with the exception of projects that focus on his curio-oddball buddy Karl Pilkington, little that he has put out has really grabbed me.

His movies have been enjoyable enough, but Extras left me cold and his stand-up output has decreased in quality. Even so, I’ve always liked Ricky (I’ve enjoyed recent cameo performances in Curb your enthusiasm and Louis) and have been quietly waiting for a suitable vehicle for his particular talents to come along.

Now it would appear that vehicle might be here in the form of Derek, a single-camera comedy about a care home worker who might not be the sharpest tool in the box, but whose heart is in the right place.

The pilot episode in April was well-received and established an unusual focus – such a character in such a setting is an unexpected study for a prime-time television show.

I hope that Derek is successful. It seems to me the ideal vehicle for Ricky’s particular talents and I’m interested to see where he takes this simple, well-meaning character that is so unlike anyone  usually seen on our screens.