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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After Zeptember comes Rocktober—not, repeat, not, Trucktober or any other “-tober” extrapolation. Those are consumer market mind-control operations perpetuated by the Deep State government, aka the alien lizard people who run the planet. If you listened to my short-wave radio show, you’d know this already.

Anyway: The scripted rock ’n’ roll TV series has been attempted many a time, but few ever crack the two-season mark. This makes sense, because rock that goes on and on for an interminable amount time just devolves into “progressive” or “jam” (both also evil creations of the lizard people), and no one needs that.

Here are 11 rock ’n’ roll series to stream in honor of Rocktober:

Metalocalypse (Seasons 1-4 on Amazon and iTunes)

One of the rare exceptions to the two-season rule, Brendon Small’s Metalocalypse thrashed on Adult Swim from 2006 to 2013, chronicling the exploits of death-metal superstars Dethklok. The band members may be morons, but they rule the world and throw down insanely brutal grooves that concert attendees only occasionally survive. The heaviest show ever.

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu)

Denis Leary’s 2015-16 comedy Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is the Spinal Tap-esque tale of The Heathens, a notoriously volatile ’90s rock band who released their debut album and broke up on the same day. Twenty-odd years later, they reform with the help of Leary’s young rocker daughter (Elizabeth Gillies); egomaniacal hilarity ensues. SDRR isn’t a thinker, but it is rock ’n’ roll.

Vinyl (Season 1 on HBO Go and Amazon)

One-season wonder Vinyl presented a skewed dramatization of New York’s ’70s rock scene that didn’t quite nail the take—even with Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and Mick Jagger producing, it wasn’t excessive enough. It’s still a fun ride, though, with faux New York Dolls and Velvet Underground stand-ins, and glimpses of the Boogie Nights greatness that could have been.

Flight of the Conchords (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Go and Amazon)

After 22 perfect episodes between 2007 and 2009, New Zealanders Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie quit their very-loosely autobiographical HBO series Flight of the Conchords, because writing music and comedy was too much work—what do you people expect of a musical comedy duo? Kanye West could only dream of creating a jam like “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros.”

Garfunkel and Oates (Season 1 on Amazon)

Comedy duo Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci’s 2014 IFC series Garfunkel and Oates was sold short on arrival as a “female Flight of the Conchords,” which doesn’t do it justice: G&O is also dirty AF. Not to mention educational: “The Loophole” teaches young girls that anal sex is cool with Jesus, while “Weed Card” should be an anthem for medical marijuana. Women ahead of their time.

Roadies (Season 1 on Amazon)

It should have worked: Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) made a 2016 tribute to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of touring starring Luke Wilson, Carla Gugino, Luis Guzmán and Imogen Poots; featuring drop-ins by Eddie Vedder, Lindsey Buckingham, Jim James and Gary Clark Jr.; and it all … went nowhere. Roadies mostly corrected its rom-com vs. rock course over 10 episodes, but it was too late.

The Get Down (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix)

While not as much of a mess as Vinyl, Baz Luhrmann’s 2016-17 musical history tour The Get Down, about the rise of hip-hop in the ’70s, still suffers from being a bit much (because, Baz Luhrmann). After a bloated debut episode, it gets waaay better and redeems itself over 10 subsequent hours, and the music is undeniably fantastic. Lament the coulda-been ’80s season.

Major Lazer (Season 1 on Hulu)

Major Lazer, a gonzo cartoon series that’s a mash-up of ’80s-style animation (think He-Man and G.I Joe), superhero culture, hip-hop and electronic dance music, premiered on then-obscure FXX’s even-more-obscure late-night ADHD animation block in 2015. Like the musical group it’s vaguely based on, Major Lazer is best experienced on quality drugs for maximum euphoria.

Dead Last (Season 1 on YouTube)

In 2001, The WB (known these days as The CW) launched and aborted a supernatural comedy series about a struggling bar band who stumbled upon the power to talk to ghosts—and then help them cross over from this realm. Yeeeah. Still, Dead Last’s Scooby-Doo charm and dark humor (the band doesn’t give a shit about the ghosts; they just wanna rock) is worth a YouTube binge.

Z Rock (Seasons 1-2 on Hoopla)

One of the more WTF? series in IFC’s WTF? history, 2008’s Z Rock followed the fictionalized hijinx of real-life Brooklyn power trio ZO2. By night, they were aspiring rock stars; by day, they were a children’s party band. ZO2 were apparently connected, with guests like Dave Navarro, Dee Snider, Gilbert Gottfried, Steel Panther and dozens more making hilarious cameos. But still, WTF?

Yacht Rock (Season 1 on YouTube)

In the mid-2000s, hipsters and music snobs alike were held rapt by Yacht Rock, a 12-episode mockumentary tribute to ’70s/’80s SoCal soft rock. Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins, Toto, The Doobie Brothers, Hall and Oates, The Eagles and even Van Halen are recreated (intentionally terribly) here; despite the grainy 2005 resolution, Yacht Rock is still vitally important. Just ask Weezer.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The back-to-school time of year is special to people—not me, but, you know, other people: the kind of people who still have high-school graduation tassels hanging from their rearview mirrors, or still refer to their college ball teams as “we” and “us,” or whine incessantly about still-not-paid-off student loans.

Essentially, the kind of people who cause me to ponder the potential real-life benefits of The Purge.

However, just because school and those who love school suck doesn’t mean there’s no value in school-based TV shows. Here are nine series—well, eight plus one dishonorable mention—to watch in the spirit of back to school:

Daria (Seasons 1-5 on Hulu): Everything from the dissonant opening chords of theme song “You’re Standing on My Neck” to news-show-within-the-show Sick, Sad World still feels fresh-ish, as perpetually unimpressed high-schooler Daria Morgendorffer sighed for our myriad D-U-M-B sins. With smart social observations and sharp execution (if not great animation), the 1997-2002 MTV series remains the school-daze gold standard.

Clone High (Season 1 on iTunes and Google Play): Another inspired—but quickly canceled—MTV production, 2002-03’s Clone High, satirized teen dramas though the animated angst of the young clones of Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra and John F. Kennedy. In particular, Clone High played like a better-written take on Dawson’s Creek. Unfortunately, India really didn’t appreciate the show’s depiction of Mahatma Gandi, and MTV nixed a second season.

Bad Teacher (Season 1 on Crackle): For reasons known to no one, CBS produced a TV version of the 2011 Cameron Diaz film Bad Teacher in 2014—and then gave up on it after three episodes. Too bad, because Diaz replacement Ari Graynor (currently of Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here) was a far more appealing lead as a dumped trophy wife forced into elementary-school work—and this Bad Teacher was more often funnier than the movie.

Teachers (Seasons 1-3 on Amazon and iTunes): If you’ve ever wondered, “Why is there no all-female Super Troopers set in an elementary school?” you’re just fucked-up enough to appreciate Teachers, a cult comedy that’s been flying under the radar on cable since 2016. Six-woman improv troupe The Katydids (their first names are all variations on “Katherine”) take Broad City’s vanity-free pursuit of way-inappropriate laughs to another, gonzo level.

Freaks and Geeks (Season 1 on Netflix): Journalism law states that any article about school-set TV shows must include 1999-2000 NBC series Freaks and Geeks (and occasionally producer Judd Apatow’s follow-up, Undeclared). In a single, revered season, F&G played like an 18-hour indie-flick that captured early-’80s adolescence perfectly, and launched the careers of Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini and countless others (including Dave Franco’s brother).

21 Jump Street (Seasons 1-5 on Amazon): The Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill movies are funny, but they’re nothing compared to the hilarity of watching the original 1987-91 Fox cop drama and knowing that Johnny Depp & Co. were taking this shit Dead. Seriously. Sure, 21 Jump Street addressed teen issues from AIDS to alcoholism, set to a killer soundtrack, but the undercover high-schooler shtick was stoopid from the—wait for it—jump.

My So-Called Life (Season 1 on Hulu): The 1994-95 series that gave the world Claire Danes and, for better or worse, Jared Leto, only lasted for 19 episodes, but My So-Called Life (a sooo ’90s title) took on teen issues like no show before it. MSCL treated teenagers like humans, didn’t portray adults as buzzkills, and offered story perspectives from all—an approach that subliminally influenced everything from The West Wing to (!) The O.C.

Riverdale (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): Without warning, The CW’s Gossip Girl-meets-Twin Peaks Archie Comics mutation Riverdale arrived in 2017 as a ridiculous, ready-to-rumble romp. The gang's all here: a ripped-but-sensitive Archie, a broody Jughead, a jittery Betty, and a smarter-than-the-room Veronica, throwing shade and pop-culture references with hyperbolic glee (not Glee—those kids wouldn’t stand a chance at Riverdale High).

Saved by the Bell (Seasons 1-5 on Hulu): Funny or Die’s referential web series Zack Morris Is Trash doesn’t go far enough: Everybody on Saved By the Bell is trash. The wrongly-beloved 1989-93 series introduced the misogynistic hellscape of Bayside High, where Zack harasses, dupes and manipulates teachers and classmates—and, most horrifically in hindsight, his female “friends.” No one acted, so all are to blame—including you, Gen X.

Published in TV

We all have friends—mostly on Facebook, the whiniest of all social-media platforms—who have been threatening to “move to Canada!” for almost two years now. They haven’t; they won’t; and they’re certainly not going to shut up aboot it.

Too bad, because Canada has far more to offer than brutal hockey, legal weed and free health care: There is also some damned fine TV in the Great White North. Some of it can even be viewed down here in the Formerly Great and Still Mostly White South—in fact, you may already be watching some Canuck shows and not be aware of it. The moose’s nose in the tent, eh.

Crack a Molson, and stream these eight Canadian TV series while you’re filling out your passport application:

Letterkenny (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Neckless redneck Wayne (series creator Jared Keeso), his buds and a cavalcade of characters fight, drink and generally laze about in Canada hick town Letterkenny, trading verbally dense rants and takedowns with the hyper-speed virtuosity of an Eddie Van Halen solo (or, to keep it Canadian, Alex Lifeson). Letterkenny is like a flannel-shirted meld of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and a live-action South Park, but also wholly original—and a decidedly love-it-or-hate-it donnybrook.

Trailer Park Boys (Seasons 1-12 on Netflix): Speaking of hating it, I couldn’t stand Trailer Park Boys at first—and nearly avoided Letterkenny due to comparisons. Now … well, I’m not completely sold, but the long-running series does have its charms. The mockumentary about a group of Nova Scotia trailer-park fuckups and their perpetually-doomed moneymaking schemes strikes a consistent balance of hilarity and cringe—but should you find yourself relating to any of these characters, discontinue watching immediately.

Schitt’s Creek (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix): Attention: Schitt’s Creek is not a Netflix original, nor is it even ’Merican. Like Arrested Development à la Canada, Schitt’s Creek pits dumb ex-wealthy folk against small-town rubes for ridiculously funny results: Broke Johnny and Moira Rose (SCTV comedy treasures Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) are forced to live in a hotel in the dump town of Schitt’s Creek, which they once purchased as a joke. More so than Arrested D, Schitt’s Creek is also a stealth heart-warmer.

Orphan Black (Seasons 1-5 on Amazon): Attention: Cult sci-fi series Orphan Black isn’t British—it’s another Canadian production. A small-time criminal (Tatiana Maslany) assumes the identity of a dead police detective she eerily resembles, only to learn she’s a clone, and that there are more cloned versions of herself out there. And then it gets crazy. Orphan Black plays outside of its genre as an engrossing, personal drama, and Maslany’s performance—multiple distinct performances, to be exact—is stunning.

Mary Kills People (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas has starred in U.S. series like Wonderfalls and Hannibal, but Mary Kills People is the first to fully realize her oddly chilly-sexy potential. Dr. Mary Harris (Dhavernas) kills people—specifically, those who are terminally ill and want to go out on their own terms. Her secret Angel of Death gig spills over into her life, echoing dark-side classics like Weeds and Dexter, and Dhavernas’ complex Mary is a near-equal to Nancy Botwin and Dexter Morgan.

Due South (Seasons 1-4 on Amazon): The setup for 1994-1999 crime dramedy Due South was weird, even in the decade that spawned Cop Rock: Canadian Mountie Benton Fraser (Paul Gross) relocates to Chicago with his trusty sidekick Diefenbaker (a deaf wolf-dog hybrid) to find his father’s murderer and solves cases-of-the-week with local a detective. Gross’ cartoonish good-guy routine delivers the laughs, but Due South also had a dark underbelly in line with grittier era cop dramas like Wiseguy—and it still holds up.

The Kids in the Hall (Seasons 1-5 on Amazon): Along with American series Mr. Show with Bob and David, Canada’s The Kids in the Hall defined subversive sketch comedy in the late ’80s and ’90s, leaning heavier in the surreal, cross-dressing direction of Monty Python. KITH featured five equally brilliant improvisers, all of whom still show up regularly in movies and TV today, including Scott Thompson, a then-rare openly gay comic who owned it to full effect. See also: The Kids’ 1996 cult-classic flick Brain Candy.

SCTV (Seasons 1-6 on Amazon): An offshoot of Toronto’s Second City sketch-comedy troupe, SCTV was a quiet contemporary of the original (read: dangerous) Saturday Night Live, launching in 1976 in Canadian and U.S. TV syndication. SCTV was on fire in the early ’80s as SNL was flaming out, making stars of John Candy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, and the aforementioned Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, eventually creating 135 episodes of all-killer/little-filler comedy anarchy. See also: 1983 uber-Canadian SCTV spin-off movie Strange Brew, the Citizen Kane of beer-and-donuts conspiracy thrillers.

Published in TV

Are we living in the end times? Yeah, probably—what are you going to do about it? Rage against the dying of the light and/or the Machine? Sorry, neither Dylan Thomas nor Zack de la Rocha are going to save your ass from annihilation.

Instead, binge some apocalypse-centric TV shows while waiting for the end of civilization—and there are plenty from which to choose. While the genre is currently dominated by The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Talking Dead Careers With Chris Hardwick and the like, there are other end-of-days series out there in the streamverse that are more fun, or think-ier, or at least somewhat sanitary. (Take a moment to imagine what Rick Grimes’ facial hair smells like—organic beard oil, it ain’t.)

Here are nine apocalyptic TV series to binge while standing by for sweet oblivion.

Blood Drive (Season 1 on Syfy.com and Syfy app): What makes 2017 Syfy series Blood Drive even better than a Grindhouse Cannonball Run? It’s a cross-country death race in which the cars Run! On! Blood! Blood Drive follows ex-cop Arthur (Alan Ritchson) and trigger-happy Grace (Christina Ochoa), an odd couple forced to partner up in the race across an environmentally ravaged ‘Merica in the “distant future” of 1999 (yep), deliriously emceed by homicidal host Julian Slink (Colin Cunningham). It’s dumb, violent, sexy, meta and utterly over-the-top—no wonder it only lasted one season.

The Strain (Seasons 1-4 on Hulu): When it premiered in 2014, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s FX series The Strain had to face vampire fatigue in the wake of Twilight and True Blood. This was anything but a hunky-vamps show—The Strain’s bloodsuckers are creepy AF. When an international flight full of “dead” passengers and crew lands in New York City, CDC agents Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Martinez (Mia Maestro) slowly decipher a grand conspiracy to transform Earth into Planet Vampire, and NYC is ground zero.

Continuum (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): In the year 2077, the world is ruled by a corporate oligarchy in a constantly surveilled police state, and most everyone is cool with it—including Vancouver cop Kiera (Rachel Nichols). But when Liber8, a cleverly named group of time-traveling terrorists go back to 2012 to stop the rise of the corporatocracy, it’s up to Kiera to chase and stop them … or re-evaluate everything she thinks she knows. Continuum’s brain-bending rules of cause-and-effect are as detailed as they are occasionally confusing, but time-travel geeks should be enthralled.

Wayward Pines (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Like CBS’ sorta-similar Under the Dome, 2015’s Wayward Pines was meant to be a single-season Fox summer series with a conclusion—and neither network kept their word. Matt Dillon stars as a Secret Service agent who, after a car crash, winds up in Wayward Pines, a charming Idaho town with no roads or communication out. (All the phones are landlines!) Disorienting weirdness and escalating clues that Wayward Pines may be a governmental human terrarium ensue. M. Night Shyamalan nailed Season 1; don’t even bother with Season 2.

Dominion (Seasons 1-2 on Amazon and iTunes): In 2014, Syfy already had a pricey, post-apocalyptic series on the air, the cowboys-and-aliens future Western Defiance, but Dominion was something darker and weirder. Based on rogue-angel movie mess Legion and set 25 years later, Dominion’s Earth was in ruins and terrorized by archangels bent on wiping out humans, who now live isolated in high-tech bunker cities like Vega (formerly Las Vegas). “Chosen One” plot nonsense aside, Dominion established an intriguing, if over-acted, Game of Thrones-lite stratagem over 21 episodes.

Z Nation (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): Syfy’s answer to The Walking Dead is meant to be a cheap, played-for-laughs misdirection—it was the audience who fucked up in taking it seriously when it debuted in 2014. (C’mon, It’s produced by the Sharknado people.) Three years after a zombie virus has ravaged the country, a ragtag band of survivors transport an ex-military test patient from New York to California for the possible formulation of an anti-zombie vaccine … and it just gets more ridiculous from there. Z Nation: the fun, road-trippin’ side of the zombie apocalypse.

Dark Angel (Seasons 1-2 on Amazon): The series that brought us future Honey star Jessica Alba, 2000’s Dark Angel. Fox laid out truckloads of cash for James Cameron’s futuristic dystopia—set in 2009!—and it shows in every frame of the spectacular two-hour pilot episode. An electromagnetic pulse bomb has turned ’Merica into a computer-less mess, and genetically engineered warrior Max (Alba) is on the lam from the military, undercover as a bike messenger and, of course, master thief. After a killer start, Dark Angel lost the plot (and the budget), but oh, what could have been.

Woops! (Season 1 on YouTube): On the other end of the Fox money scale, there’s 1992’s Woops!, the conceptual ancestor of the network’s more recent—and far better—Last Man on Earth. After a nuclear warhead is accidentally launched during a military parade (paying attention, Mr. President?), the world is blow’d up, and only six survivors (including eventual Sex and the City and Californication star Evan Handler) are left to rebuild humanity—too bad they’re all morons. The “post-apocalyptic Gilligan’s Island” actually aired 10 episodes, because what else was on in ‘92?

Life After People (Seasons 1-2 on History.com and History app): So, we’re gone—what happens to the planet and all the stuff we leave behind? Scientists, engineers and other experts postulate all manner of crazy shit in Life After People, a History Channel series that imagines a de-populated Earth. Rats take over Las Vegas! Structures fall apart! War arsenals self-destruct! Supermarket inventories rot! Cities flood! Animals and vegetation run wild! Worst of all, solar-powered radio stations broadcast “Hotel California” eternally! Life After People is quite soothing, actually—bring on The End.

Published in TV

Beware the Ides of May!

(Suck it, Shakespeare—I can fabricate ominous phrases, too.)

For those of you not hip to the inner workings of the TV biz, May marks the end of the traditional television season, when networks start cancelling underperforming series. In other words, they’re gonna kill your favorite show! It’s personal vendetta against you and your impeccable TV taste! I know; I’ve been there.

No amount of critical buzz, and especially no “Save Our Show!” online petition, can stay the execution of a barely watched gem. Many great series have been put down after only a single season, most infamously Firefly and Freaks and Geeks. Neither will be discussed here, because … infamy.

Instead, this month’s Content Shifter will turn you onto 13 under-the-radar shows that met their untimely demise after Season 1:

Terriers (Season 1 on Amazon and iTunes): This confusingly titled show was cancelled by FX in 2010. Ex-cop Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) runs a low-rent, beachside private-detective operation in Ocean Park, Calif., pining for his ex-wife and generally slacking off. But when a small-time case leads to a big-time political scandal, and bodies start dropping, he’s in way over his head—and, like a terrier, Hank won’t let go. Thirteen episodes of SoCal crime-noir at its finest (and grungiest).

Action (Season 1 on Amazon and iTunes): In 1999, Fox produced a bitterly pointed, caustically funny dark comedy that took a Schwarzenegger-sized shit all over the Hollywood business of show, led by a scumbag character named “Peter Dragon” (Jay Mohr)—and yet somehow Action didn’t catch on. HBO or Showtime would have been a better home for Action (Fox only aired eight of 13 episodes, dumping the rest to cable), but glorious asshole Peter Dragon wasn’t built to last.

Wonderfalls (Season 1 on DailyMotion): Star Caroline Dhavernas once described her 2004 Fox series Wonderfalls as “Touched by an Angel on acid,” and I won’t even attempt to improve upon that. Dhavernas (later of Hannibal and obscure treasure Mary Kills People) and writer/producer Bryan Fuller created such a weird world of talking toy animals and existential angst that it’s a wonder that Wonderfalls managed to air 13 episodes on network TV. Best watched with herbal enhancement.

The Grinder (Season 1 on Hulu and Crackle): Again, Fox? Why you gotta cancel everything? In 2015-2016’s The Grinder, Rob Lowe played an actor who played a lawyer on a hit legal drama call The Grinder—follow? After the show is cancelled, Lowe returns to his small Idaho hometown to work in a law firm run by his attorney brother (Fred Savage); life-imitating-and-irritating-art shenanigans ensue. The Grinder was supremely stoopid, but still smarter and funnier than most everything Fox has produced since.

Constantine (Season 1 on CW Seed): After a rocky start in 2014, NBC’s Constantine (based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer) evolved into a highly entertaining supernatural series … just in time to be cancelled after 13 episodes. British actor Matt Ryan injected sorcerer/demon hunter John Constantine with a snarky cynicism that did the comic justice; NBC just didn’t know what to do with him. Constantine, the character, lives on in The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow.

The Middleman (Season 1 on Amazon and Google Play): Another comic-book adaptation, 2008’s The Middleman was a goofy romp notable for its rapid-fire pop-cultural references, odd-fit home (ABC Family?!), and co-star Natalie Morales in leather pants (inappropriately, yet magnificently, bootylicious for a Disney channel). The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) battles alien and supernatural threats, Men in Black-style; Wendy (Morales) is his wiseacre apprentice; much big dumb fun is had.

Trophy Wife (Season 1 on ABC.com and ABC App): A party girl (Malin Akerman) falls in love with and marries an older man (Bradley Whitford), much to the dismay/disgust of her BFF (hey, Natalie Morales again) and his two ex-wives (Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins). Saddled with a divisive and misleading title, 2013’s Trophy Wife had a killer cast, sharp writing and critical acclaim to burn, lasting 22 episodes before the ax dropped. Whitford can’t catch a break.

The Good Guys (Season 1 on Amazon): Case in point: The Good Guys, a 2010 Fox (ugh …) series that was 50 percent buddy-cop drama and 210 percent lunacy, featured a mustachioed Whitford at his freak-flag funniest, only to be shut down after 20 episodes. Dallas detective Dan Stark (Whitford) is an old-school, loose-cannon cop who hates “computer machines” and “smarty phones”; Det. Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks) is his by-the-book partner. A cop show for people who hate cop shows.

Warren the Ape (Season 1 on Amazon and iTunes): This whole column could be about single-season MTV shows, but 2010’s Warren the Ape (an unlikely spinoff of equally unlikely 2002 Fox series Greg the Bunny) was easily the most eff’dup. Thespian monkey puppet Warren’s career spirals into drug-debauched chaos following the cancellation of Greg’s hit kids’ show, leading him into exploitation flicks, cheap porn and, worse, off-off-Broadway theater. Dr. Drew (as himself) is no help.

Death Valley (Season 1 on Amazon and iTunes): Another one-and-done MTV series, 2011’s Death Valley followed the twilight cop cases of the Undead Task Force, charged with policing vampire, werewolf and zombie crimes in the San Fernando Valley. MTV wasn’t the place for a bloody blend of dark comedy and genuine horror; Death Valley probably would have lasted longer than 12 episodes on Syfy, or any other cable outlet. Still, it gave Tania Raymonde’s (Lost) eyebrows a chance to be funny.

Quarry (Season 1 on Max Go and Amazon): Quarry was the Memphis-barbecued second season of True Detective everybody really wanted—too bad it went unwatched on Cinemax instead of HBO proper. This ’70s crime-noir series was grittily crafted and spun with jarring twists, and Logan Marshall-Green’s seething performance as a Vietnam vet-turned-reluctant hitman should have won all the awards. Instead, Cinemax cancelled Quarry after an eight-episode run in 2016.

Moonlight (Season 1 on CW Seed): Not so much “good” as “so hilariously bad it’s ironically good,” 2007 CBS vampire drama Moonlight was either a ripoff of Angel or an attempt to cash in on pretty-vamp Twilight mania. Whatever the plan, it didn’t work: CBS staked L.A. private dick Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) after 16 ridiculous episodes. Even funnier than a vampire detective was his girlfriend, a “famous” “Internet journalist.” In 2007? And she’s not on TMZ? Please.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Season 1 on Amazon and iTunes): Now here’s a supernatural investigator and a real journalist, Carl Kolchak! Kolchak: The Night Stalker only lasted 20 episodes over 1974 and ’75, but actor Darren McGavin’s rumpled Chicago newspaper reporter inspired myriad sci-fi series over the decades—most famously, The X-Files. Sure, it looks cheesy now, but Kolchak was groundbreaking, disturbing stuff in the post-Exorcist ’70s. Warning: Avoid the 2005 reboot, as it suuucks.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

Published in TV

There will never be another Friends. Not just in the sense that the 1994-2004 series was a one-of-a-kind comedy that defined a generation, but also in that there will literally never be another Friends—as in, there will be no money-grabbing, nostalgia-drunk reboot. The show’s stars could not be any more disinterested.

Which is commendable, considering the megabucks being thrown around to dig lesser ’90s series out of the grave. The recent Will and Grace revival isn’t all that loathsome, but who knows how the upcoming recycled takes of Charmed, Roswell, Party of Five and Murphy Brown are going to fare?

And then there’s Roseannehard pass.

Back to Friends: All six stars—Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox and David Schwimmer—have collectively and individually said “no way, no how, no thanks” to a reunion. Millions of Netflix viewers are apparently just fine with the 10 seasons already available; Friends is one of the streamer’s top draws, especially among (!!!Marketing Buzzword Alert!!!) #millennials.

But where do you go once you’ve binge-watched all 236 Friends episodes? Here are 14 (ish) shows starring The Artists Formerly Known as Monica, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross and Rachel outside of Central Perk. (Sorry, no Gunther.)

Cougar Town (Seasons 1-6 on Hulu):The most successful—or at least longest-lived—post-Friends solo project was also the most Friends-like. Courteney Cox’s Cougar Town evolved from a sitcom about a man-hungry 40-something divorcee into a genuinely funny ensemble comedy about—spoiler—six friends. There’s also no laugh track, favoring the rapid-fire delivery of producer Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs, and each of Cougar Town’s 102 episodes is named after a Tom Petty song.

Dirt (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Cox’s first series after the end of Friends didn’t fare as well. In 2007-08 FX drama Dirt, she starred as the editor-in-chief of a muck-racking celebrity-gossip magazine who wrecks lives for print and profit. (Remember the days when magazines could profit from print? Good times.) Dirt showed an unexpectedly dark and ruthless side of Cox, but the series eventually became too twisted even for FX, which killed it after 20 episodes.

Misfits of Science (Season 1 on DailyMotion): Before Friends, Cox co-starred in another NBC series, 1985-86 sci-fi oddity Misfits of Science. Unfortunately, this piece of retro-kitsch is ridiculously unavailable, existing only on import DVDs and random Internet sites. Kind of a stoopid dollar-store X-Men, Misfits of Science centered on a gang of superpowered teens; only Cox stood out (though co-star Mark Thomas Miller did go on to lead the cinematic triumph Ski School).

Joey (Seasons 1-2 on various sites): Nearly as hard to find and only half as funny was Matt LeBlanc’s Joey, the only “official” Friends spin-off. The 2005-06 sitcom should have been a slam-dunk right after Friends, with an impressive cast that included Drea de Matteo, Andrea Anders and Jennifer Coolidge … but, man, did it suck with the force of a thousand black holes. Apparently, the plan was to move “actor Joey” to Hollywood to fail miserably. Mission meta-accomplished.

Episodes (Seasons 1-5 on Netflix): Speaking of meta, here’s Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc! After disappearing upon the demise of Joey, LeBlanc resurfaced five years later in a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque Showtime series as an exaggerated version of himself—with brutally hilarious results. R-rated inside jokes about Friends and Joey fly furiously, as do jabs at Hollywood vanity and toxicity, with “Matt LeBlanc” leading the way as Dickhead Supreme. The best Friends follow-up.

Man With a Plan (Seasons 1-2 on CBS All Access): And now the worst. Before Episodes had even finished its run on Showtime, LeBlanc had lined up a new gig straight out of the CBS sitcom-clone factory: Man With a Plan, the kind of hackneyed network shit that his fictional self would have mocked mercilessly. He’s a stay-at-home dad! His kids are assholes! His wife thinks he’s a dope! How is this different from Kevin Can Wait? The wife isn’t dead … yet.

The Comeback (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Go): In 2005, Lisa Kudrow co-created and co-wrote The Comeback, wherein she starred as actress Valerie Cherish, a D-lister who had a hit sitcom in the ’90s (meta!). After Season 1, the Season 2 followed … more than 9 years later. The Comeback is “raw footage” of a reality show called The Comeback, chronicling Valerie’s Hollywood comeback on a new sitcom (kinda meta!). Kudrow’s ballsy, uninhibited performance is as uncomfortably funny as anything Ricky Gervais has ever pulled off.

Web Therapy (Seasons 1-4 on various sites): Speaking of meta: Kudrow created Web Therapy in 2008 as an online series, but it eventually moved to Showtime, and now it can barely be found streaming anywhere. Here, she’s Dr. Fiona Wallace, a self-proclaimed “groundbreaking” therapist who conducts 3-minute sessions via Skype with a dizzying array of celebrity patients (including several Friends). Silly on the surface, Web Therapy is a darker comedy than it first appears to be.

Feed the Beast (Season 1 on Hulu):Give credit to AMC: The cable network sinks serious money into serious failures (see: most every show that isn’t The Walking Dead). Feed the Beast, a gritty 2016 drama starring David Schwimmer as a sad-sack sommelier (that’s a wine expert, PBR-heads), was like Breaking Bad meets Kitchen Nightmares: Two buds open a fine-dining restaurant in the Bronx, only to be seared and deconstructed by the local mob. Ten episodes, done.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (Season 1 on Netflix): Earlier in 2016, however, Schwimmer killed—too soon?—as defense attorney Robert Kardashian in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, a sprawling, ambitious, entertaining mess dramatizing the Juice’s 1995 murder trial. Stars John Travolta and Cuba Gooding Jr. received most of the attention, but Schwimmer was fantastic (and nominated for an Emmy) in a freak-show of a series.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Season 1 on various sites):Matthew Perry was poised to become the biggest post-Friends breakout TV star, and in 2006, he wound up on NBC’s hella-hyped Aaron Sorkin dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which went … nowhere. Set behind the scenes at a Saturday Night Live-style sketch show, Studio 60’s initial episodes were sharp and funny, but then dragged and died on preachy politics. (Sorkin later got the mix right with HBO’s The Newsroom.)

Mr. Sunshine (Season 1 on various sites): Perry’s losing streak just kept streaking with 2011’s Mr. Sunshine, a half-hour comedy that found him playing the unlucky-in-love manager of a San Diego sports arena. Despite a solid cast that included Allison Janney, Andrea Anders (who also did time on Joey) and Portia Doubleday (later of Mr. Robot), Mr. Sunshine grounded out after one meh season. Perry had better luck playing himself on Childrens Hospital that year.

Go On (Season 1 on various sites): Another one-season wonder, the funniest thing about Perry’s Go On was the hashtag that NBC used to promote it on Twitter: #goon. How could anyone not find laughs in the story of a recently widowed sports-talk radio host (Perry) forced to attend a grief-therapy support group? Comedy gold! America didn’t agree, sending Go On to the sitcom graveyard after 22 episodes. A darker version probably would have thrived on HBO, but whatever.

And Then There’s … Jennifer Aniston (Jen streaming on JustWatch): Aside from a few brief post-Friends cameos, the former Rachel has stayed the hell away from TV—after witnessing Chandler’s trajectory, who can blame her? Instead, Jennifer Aniston has starred in 50-odd movies, not including her first (and finest), 1993’s Leprechaun. Other great roles in the Aniston canon include Office Space, Rock Star, The Good Girl, Derailed, Management, The Switch and Horrible Bosses; avoid Marley and Me and Mother’s Day like Rachel’s Thanksgiving Trifle.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

Published in TV

Even though it premiered 21 years ago in March on The WB—it was The CW of ancient days, kids—the ongoing influence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV is nearly inescapable.

Buffy Summers (as played by the future-unemployable Sarah Michelle Gellar) was a tough, vulnerable, snarky and tenacious young woman the likes of which hasn’t been seen since BTVS left the air in 2003 after seven seasons. The same goes for the writing (a seamless balance of scary and quippy, scripted by a team of now-major Hollywood players, and led by series creator Joss Whedon), and the crack ensemble cast (most of whom, like Gellar, can’t get arrested today).

Behold, there are eight newer shows carrying the Buffy the Vampire Slayer torch … or stake:

Crazyhead (Season 1 on Netflix): Few Buffy the Vampire Slayer descendants have gotten the series’ classic blend of horror and humor as effortlessly right as British import Crazyhead, created and written by Misfits creatorHoward Overman. When 20-something Bristolian Amy (Cara Theobold) discovers she’s a “seer” who can recognize the demon-possessed hiding among humans, she forms an initially rocky alliance with fellow seer-turned-hunter Raquel (Susan Wokoma); ass-whipping and sass-quipping ensue. But the core of Crazyhead’s six episodes is neither wisecracks nor action—it’s the funny and believable friendship between Amy and Raquel. Also: The show has a killer soundtrack, and some of the most exquisite public restrooms ever committed to screen.

Wynonna Earp (Season 1 on Netflix; Season 2 on Syfy.com): A trés Buffy setup: Wynonna Earp (Melanie Scrofano) is a modern-day descendent of Old West gunslinger Wyatt Earp, who also happened to be a supernatural demon hunter. Now it’s Wynonna’s turn, as she returns to her hometown of Purgatory to re-smite the escaped evil souls (aka Revenants) taken down back in the day by Great Grandpappy, with help from her sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), the immortally-hunky Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon), and her big-big-big-ass gun, Peacemaker. Wynonna Earp, a Syfy series, holds mostly enough to its ’90s IDW comic-book source material, and Scrofano brings her to life like a goofier, slightly less-boozy Jessica Jones.

Sweet/Vicious (Season 1 on Amazon): Sorority-girl Jules (Eliza Bennett) and outcast computer-punk Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) team up to beat down sexual predators on their college campus—think Kick-Ass steeped in Jezebel. It’s a heavy balance, avenging rape survivors while dropping post-feminist snark (not to mention keeping up on classwork; how do vigilantes do it all?); Sweet/Vicious’ Serious Issues half isn’t quite as compelling as its Violent Fun half. Still, give credit to first-time creator/writer Jennifer Robinson for hitting on a (unfortunately, always) timely topic, with far more empathy than a Law & Order: SVU episode. As they do with all intriguing, original new shows, MTV canceled Sweet/Vicious after one season.

The Magicians (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): First dismissed as “sexy Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts College,” the debut season of The Magicians introduced an angsty-pretty cast with personal probs and supernatural challenges—but not much in the way of humor or personality. It was a slow burn, but the series began to show more signs of life as it progressed. The Magicians later found its dark footing, a relatively spectacular first-season finale pointed the way to a more-promising second season. That, it delivered, with more perpetually gray skies and hair-in-the-eyes moping—but also flashier special effects and a deepening narrative that’s funnier and smarter, not just sexy. But it’s still damned sexy—no worries there.

iZombie (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix): Writer/producers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero (who ran could-be Buffy cousin Veronica Mars long ago) de-weirded Vertigo comic iZombie somewhat for TV, but it’s still out-there: Perky Seattle medical resident Liv (Rose McIver) gets infected and turns part-zombie, withdrawing from life and becoming a “goth” coroner to feed her brain diet to retain her human consciousness and keep herself from going “full Romero.” Since she also absorbs the memories of the crime victims whose gray matter she turns into brain lo mein (among other Food Network-worthy recipes), she starts solving their murders. iZombie’s pop-cultural zingers ratio would do Buffy proud, as would the increasingly-rich story arc.

Van Helsing (Season 1 on Netflix; Season 2 on Syfy.com): Please take a moment to forget that Hugh Jackman movie. Moving on: This vampire hunter is a woman (Vanessa Van Helsing, played by Kelly Overton), but that’s not the only twist. Vamps in this universe age; they can be turned back to human by being bitten by Vanessa; and VH’s showrunner is contentious indie-film director Neil LaBute. Van Helsing’s bleak vampire apocalypse isn’t long on laughs, and for an action-drama, the pace can be glacial. But Overton delivers on both the visceral and emotional fronts, and the show’s long-game ambitions feel more in line with an HBO series than typical Syfy fare—kind of like how Buffy the Vampire Slayer once seemed out of place on a kiddie-centric network.

Reaper (Season 1 on Hulu): Not all Buffy kin are women—there are some dudes dealing with evil, too. Like Sam (Bret Harrison), a 21-year-old slacker who’s just learned that his parents sold his soul to the Devil (Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise, the best Satan ever) before he was even born (and you thought your mom and dad made poor life choices). Now he has to pay off the debt by becoming the Devil’s bounty hunter and dragging escaped souls back to hell, with a little help from pals “Sock” (Tyler Labine, Deadbeat), Andi (Missy Peregrym, Van Helsing) and Ben (Rick Gonzalez, Arrow). Reaper would probably fly on current-day cable or streamers, but The CW was not having it circa 2007-09, canceling the series after two seasons. Factoids: Kevin Smith directed the pilot episode (!), and Louis C.K. auditioned for the Devil role (!!).

Ash vs. Evil Dead (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): When the O.G. King Mac Daddy of demon slaying, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), was hauled out of retirement by Starz (it’s a cable channel—no, really) in 2015, almost years after the Evil Dead movie trilogy, reactions ranged from “Woo!” to “Why?” Upon its Halloween-night premiere, those takes unified into: “Holy shit! So! Much! Blood!” Ash vs. Evil Dead finds an older-fatter-and-certainly-not-wiser Williams battling a new Deadite uprising with his trusty old chainsaw hand; new sidekicks Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo); and a familiar face from the universe of producer/director Sam Raimi, Lucy Lawless (Xena!). Raimi shoots modern bloodbath technology over the top of the top while Campbell hams it up with manic glee, making Ash vs. Evil Dead the most gonzo half-hour on television. Raimi and Whedon should team up, drop a Buffy Summers cameo—and blow all the minds.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

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Love is in the air—unless that’s something else slowly choking the life out of you.

February is the month of Valentine’s Day, so what else is there to recommend but romantic(ish) comedies? There aren’t a hell of a lot of streaming series to connect with World Cancer Day or Chinese New Year, and we all know how damned touchy Presidents Day is anymore. (It’s also my birthday month, so feel free to send presents and cash c/o this newspaper.)

TV rom-coms have been around as long as Westerns, cop shows and a certain Sunday-night news program that runs for 60 minutes. (What’s it called again?) Consequently, there’s as much shit as there are spoils, but television has noticeably stepped up its game in the 2000s, producing more quality love-adjacent shows than all previous centuries combined. Just try and find a decent TV series from the 1800s; I’ll wait right here.

Here are eight love-adjacent comedies—there are way more, but I have as much faith in your attention span as I do my own—currently available in the streamatorium that are worth a cuddle:

You’re the Worst (Seasons 1-3 on Hulu): It’s sequential suicide to begin with The Greatest Comedy of All Time, but screw it: Here’s You’re the Worst! Chris Geere and Aya Cash play a pair of self-absorbed Los Angelinos who are profane, chain-smoking cartoon characters—in the best possible sense. Despite their exaggerated flaws and penchants for terrible, terrible choices, Geere’s pompous British novelist, Jimmy, and Cash’s semi-competent music PR agent, Gretchen, are smart, charming and, from the second they meet, obviously meant for each other. They could carry the show on their own, but YTW subtly expands into a full ensemble of characters who become instantly indispensable, most notably fantastic freaks Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Edgar (Desmin Borges). You’re the Worst is a dark, cynical, bitingly funny love story—but not necessarily a romantic comedy: Rom-coms don’t typically involve bathtub cocaine and spitting on vaginas.

Love (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): You’re the Worst’s introverted cousin, Judd Apatow’s Love, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, drawing wildly mixed reviews from both real people and TV critics (who, it should be noted, are not real people). Apatow has been making films for so long that we’ve forgotten his early TV shows (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared) wherein teens and 20-somethings relationshipped awkwardly. Love is an older, certainly-not-wiser closer of an unofficial Apatow trilogy, as well as a brutal/hilarious portrayal of modern dating. Aimless radio-station programmer Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) spends most of her time stoned, partying or obliviously falling out of relationships. When she meets up with recently dumped Gus (Paul Rust), it’s ... something at first sight. Love can be frustrating and messy (just like love!), but it’s also oddly addictive.

The End of the F***ing World (Season 1 on Netflix): Their censorship, not mine. Imagine a sweeter, British, teenage Natural Born Killers. Then purge it, because The End of the F***ing World ain’t that, or anything else you’ve ever seen. High school outcast James (Alex Lawther) has an urge to graduate from slaughtering animals to his first human kill; budding wild-child sociopath Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is desperate for a new non-conformist companion; a co-dependent young kinda-romance is born. Soon, the odd couple find themselves on a road trip/minor crime spree set to an exquisite soundtrack with no viable happy ending in sight (hence the eight-episode series’ title). As unpredictable as it is endearing, TEOTFW is a dark rom-com that plays like a four-hour movie with a definitive conclusion. (Read: A second season would just be psycho.)

Married (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Judy Greer, Nat Faxon, Jenny Slate, Brett Gelman, Regina Hall, John Hodgman, Michaela Watkins—2014-15 FX series Married starred an alt-comedy dream team, so of course it was cancelled. Greer and Faxon play Russ and Lina Bowman, a long-married couple whose three daughters drain them of any impulse for Sexy Time—one of them, anyway, though Russ’ wife-“sanctioned” quest for a mistress only lands him a puppy. Married walks the line between sweet and caustic more smoothly as it progresses (Lina and Russ come into better focus as real people by the second episode, partially in contrast to their waaay damaged friends), and portrays long-term couplehood better than most any comedy seen before on TV. Watkins went on to headline Hulu’s excellent Casual, another contender for this list.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): There’s nothing else like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on TV—which is barely on TV itself, according to its sub-basement broadcast ratings. The musical-dramedy was originally developed for Showtime, but wound up on The CW, where you have to imagine your own profanity and nudity (though the show pushes network censorship boundaries relentlessly). The setup: Successful-but-lonely New York City lawyer Rebecca (Rachel Bloom, a former “YouTube star” with actual talent) impulsively moves to California to pursue/stalk her high-school sweetheart. True to its title, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t gloss over Rebecca’s mental issues, which grow more apparent and oh-shit-we’re-really-going-there as the series progresses—fortunately, there are plenty of musical uppers to balance out the dramatic downers.

Looking (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Go): Showtime’s Queer as Folk did all of the groundbreaking, taboo-shattering and whatever other-ings well some 15 years ago, but there hadn’t been a high-profile American drama centered strictly around gay men since. Looking wasn’t the new QAF, and it certainly wasn’t high-profile nor the gay answer to Girls and Sex and the City, as it was wrongly hyped; it was something new, different and already out-and-proud. The series followed the lives of San Franciscan Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and his circle of friends, none of whom rang false or over-the-top “TV gay,” just real people with real stories, romances and problems (and too many social-media accounts). Looking only lasted 18 episodes over 2014-15, concluding with a wrap-up movie in 2016—but hey, if Will and Grace can make a comeback …

Billy and Billie (Season 1 on DirecTV): From noted comedy auteur Neil LaBute (!) came the story of two New York step-siblings (Adam Brody and Lisa Joyce) succumbing to lust and falling in love—even in the obscure media environs of DirecTV’s Audience network, Billy and Billie was pretty much doomed from the start. But damned if Brody and Joyce didn’t give it their all with killer performances in this surprisingly engaging dramedy, which lasted all of 11 episodes and now only lives in DirecTV’s on-demand dungeon, lacking resolution. (The final episode was titled “Incesticide”—Nirvana references aside, did LaBute really expect Season 2?) If you’ll tolerate incest in your Game of Thrones and your PornHub (just admit it), Billy and Billie is a charming, occasionally heart-rending, alternative—and, come on, they’re only steps.

You Me Her (Seasons 1-2 on DirecTV): Since Audience found no audience for Billy and Billie, the next logical rom-comedic step was a three-way: You Me Her, an indie-flick-esque dramedy they promoted as “TV’s first polyromantic comedy,” starring Greg Poehler and Rachel Blanchard as a bored suburban Portland married couple who inadvertently end up hiring/sleeping with/falling for the same young female escort (Priscilla Faia). Naturally, they decide to bring her on full-time and make their marriage a threesome, because, Portland. It’s all funnier, and sweeter, than it sounds, and certainly not without drama and hurt feels. (Someone was bound to eventually be third-wheeled, and it’s not who you’d predict.) You Me Her returns for a third, and likely final, season in March 2018, after which I demand Audience’s next rom-com be about furries.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

Published in TV

Way back in 1992, several states and Canada attempted to boycott or outright ban the sale of Eclipse’s “True Crime” trading-card series, a hot-selling item depicting notorious serial killers instead of baseball players, replete with artful portraits and murder stats. In pre-Internet days, this was an outrage.

Fast-forward 20 years later: People can’t get enough of serial killers—books, podcasts, Etsy subcategories (go ahead, search it) and, of course, TV series. Movies? Not so much, because you can’t spell “serialization” without “serial”: Only so many murder victims can be squeezed into a two-hour flick, but a six-to-13-hour serialized TV show? Now we’re talkin’ respectable body counts.

Here are eight of the best serial-killer TV shows currently available in the streamverse (“all killer, no filler” setup not included—you’re welcome):

Mindhunter (Season 1 on Netflix): FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathon Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) team up with psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to learn from incarcerated murderers how to profile future serial killers—it’s 1977; this isn’t a thing yet. The individual backstories and character quirks are slowly unveiled over 10 episodes featuring the trio kicking against skeptical Bureau pricks with their “egghead” approach, but it’s the killers themselves who steal the show. Particularly, Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) is such an intelligent, amiable nerd that it’s almost easy to overlook that he decapitated his own mother and had sex with her severed skull. (“Head” joke goes here.) Producer/director David Fincher lends Mindhunter a tense, cinematic sheen, but he should can his music director. (Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”? Really?)

The Killing (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): Based on Danish TV series The Crime, The Killing debuted on AMC in 2011, back when the cable network was still trying to figure out how to blow all of its new Walking Dead money—turns out dark prestige crime dramas were not the way to go. As the title implies, The Killing initially followed a single case of a teenage girl’s murder, but the murder count eventually escalated—we’re still more-or-less in serial-killer territory here, so relax. Seattle Police Det. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is wholly unique in the cop-show genre in that she’s a real, three-dimensional person, not a “troubled genius”; likewise, The Killing is a slow, slow burn that subverts the episodic payoffs of Law and Order-type series in favor of a moody long game. (Maybe a little too long: Season 4, which went straight to Netflix, was unnecessary.)

The Fall (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix): Yes, Jamie Dornan was terrible in Fifty Shades of Grey, but to be fair, everyone was terrible in Fifty Shades of Grey … I mean, never saw it. In British series The Fall, he’s Belfast family man Paul Spector, a serial killer who stalks, strangles and then stages women after cleaning them and painting their nails—other than the whole murder thing, he’s almost boyfriend material. He meets his match in Det. Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who discerns his identity early on, setting up a tense, quasi-sexy twist on the psychological thriller. Dornan is effectively deadly-dreamy, but Anderson’s zero-bullshit woman-on-a-mission is the real draw here. (After this, it’s easy to see why she doesn’t want to go back to playing second fiddle on The X-Files.) The Fall wraps tidily at 17 episodes total, with little fat or filler.

Marcella (Season 1 on Netflix): If The Fall is the gold standard of contemporary British crime dramas, 2016’s Marcella takes the silver—but it’s still deeper than most American cop shows. (God, I’m such a hipster.) This one comes from producer/writer/director Hans Rosenfeldt (who created FX’s late, great The Bridge—another murder-y thriller), with Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies, The Girlfriend Experience) in the title role as a troubled London detective pulled back into the case of a suddenly-active-again serial killer. Marcella also has 99 problems: Her husband (Nicholas Pinnock) has just left her for a younger woman at his legal firm; said woman is among the killer's latest victims; Marcella suffers from rage blackouts from which she sometimes awakens covered in blood (!). Friel is fantastic; Season 2 arrives later this year.

Hannibal (Seasons 1-3 on Amazon Prime): This actually aired on primetime broadcast network television—though some NBC affiliates opted to pre-empt it after they finally figured out that Hannibal, based on not-at-all-obscure film The Silence of the Lambs, was about a serial-killing cannibal. And a dandy one, at that: Lead Mads Mikkelsen so artfully and lovingly crafts human-based dishes, an argument could be made for giving him his own Food Network show. Likewise, producer Bryan Fuller—who went on to realize, then abandon, American Gods—uses gorgeously gory imagery and psychological density that somehow thrived within standard TV constraints. Hannibal is a prequel, chronicling his pre-Lambs days assisting the FBI in tracking like-minded (but, of course, inferior) serial killers. A 39-episode work of pure art.

True Detective (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Now): In True Detective, creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto envisioned an anthology series that would introduce new plots and casts in subsequent seasons—and he screwed himself by producing an incredible first run, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turning in some of their most memorable performances ever. The two play disparate detectives (Harrelson’s Martin Hart is a linear-thinking traditionalist; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is hyper-smart profiler who monologues about the futility of existence) investigating an occult-style murder in 1995 Louisiana. The twist: The two are telling the story from their own viewpoints in the present, being interviewed by police about a similar recent killing. And don’t believe the haters about Season 2: It holds up … just not quite as well.

Bates Motel (Seasons 1-5 on Netflix): The origin story of young Norman Bates (played to maximum creep-out effect by Freddie Highmore) doesn’t quite end where you think it will, knowing Psycho lore, but the journey is profoundly N-U-T-S. Norman loves his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga, who was rightfully nominated for all the awards for her fiercely protective/alluringly unhinged portrayal). Like, really, really, really loves her—we’re talking Lannister-level “Incest Is Best” fan fiction. He also has blackout-and-kill episodes, not to mention the occasional tendency to become Norma, posh vintage dresses and all. Thing is, you genuinely feel for the kid, and Bates Motel’s other surprisingly fleshed-out characters as well. Even when going off the rails, the series maintains its eerie, suspenseful trajectory toward an end you only think you know.

Dexter (Seasons 1-8 on Netflix): The murderer who only takes out murderers—Dexter! Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of self-narrating Miami PD forensics specialist Dexter Morgan swept pop culture when the Showtime series debuted in 2006, and “Dexter” became shorthand for “serial killer.” The more-recent shows on this list make Dexter look like a relative lightweight in comparison, but at the time, it was dark stuff, and Seasons 1-4 are unassailable as great, twisty drama (Season 4, with John Lithgow’s acclaimed Trinity Killer turn, in particular). Dexter had a sly, underlying sense of humor as well: “It’s said there are seven stages of grief. I suppose killing someone with my bare hands in a men’s room was my way of working through the anger stage. Whatever the other six stages are … I don’t have time for them”—that’s comedy. Maybe just skip Seasons 5-8.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

Published in TV

I only needed to hear “from the creators of Crank” to be all-in for Happy! (series debut Wednesday, Dec. 6, Syfy). Based on the Image comic, Happy! follows disgraced ex-cop Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni, killing his old Law and Order: SVU character once and for all), now a druggie fuck-up and assassin for hire. After being gunned down and left for dead, Nick awakens to a cartoon winged unicorn named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who needs his help in rescuing a little girl who’s been kidnapped by Santa Claus. Yep: Insanity, violence and a gonzo-command performance from Meloni ensue. Happy! is too bizarre to last long, so drink it in.

What Vikings did for, well, Vikings, the new, terribly titled Knightfall (series debut Wednesday, Dec. 6, History) hopes to do for the Middle Ages tale of the Knights Templar. The Knights were warrior monks charged with protecting Christian relics—most notably, the Cup of Christ, aka the Holy Grail, which they, of course, lost. Knightfall stars the requisite amount of beardy, semi-familiar British actors from period dramas like Downton Abbey, Spartacus and The Tudors, as well as basic-cable swordplay and sex, but it’s nowhere near the Vikings 2.0 or Game of Thrones-lite epic it thinks it is. The network’s companion videogame, Knightfall: Rivals, is more compelling. Not a good sign.

Shut Eye (Season 2 premiere Wednesday, Dec. 6, Hulu), a dark dramedy about a Los Angeles crime syndicate of gypsy psychics, was one of 2016’s more interesting, if overlooked, streaming debuts. Charlie (Jeffrey Donovan, Burn Notice) is a cynical fortune-teller conman desperate to get out of the gypsies’ racket and start his own with his wife, Linda (KaDee Strickland)—and also, thanks to a head trauma, he might really be clairvoyant now. In Season 2, Charlie and Linda are still struggling to get away from the gypsy syndicate, while boss Rita (Isabella Rossellini) is under federal investigation. Unlike with some other Hulu shows, all 10 episodes of Shut Eye are dropping at once (a see-the-future gag?).

It was inevitable that Psych: The Movie (Thursday, Dec. 7, USA) would happen because, after all, the series ended three whole years ago—a lifetime in revival years. After eight seasons of wacky crime-solving in Santa Barbara, fake psychic Sean (James Roday) and partner Gus (Dulé Hill) relocated to San Francisco and renamed the business PsychPhrancisco (sure, why not?), but now the gang (Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, Corbin Bernsen and, to a lesser extent, Tim Omundson) is reunited to bring down another mid-level bad guy. The details matter not; Psych: The Movie is full-tilt comfort-food fan service, and that’s not downplayed in the least. Bonus treat: A loving David Bowie tribute, personified by Zachary Levi (Chuck).

Aside from Jean-Claude Van Damme, himself, who exactly is Jean-Claude Van Johnson (series debut Friday, Dec. 15, Amazon Prime) for? This can’t be part of Amazon Prime’s “We’re the new HBO” plan … can it? Anyway: Jean-Claude Van Johnson is JCVD’s under-thought alias as an unhappily retired international superspy now forced to slum it as a Hollywood martial-arts star—can you smell the meta comedy? Jean-Claude Van Johnson is funnier, more action-packed and definitely more expensive-looking than it should be—a nice surprise, since this series is arriving to zero expectations, probably not even from the Prime members who’ve forgotten they upvoted it.

I’ve worked as hard as I can to stop the scourge of stupid that is Fuller House (Season 3 winter premiere Friday, Dec. 22, Netflix), but ’Merica is apparently beyond saving. We’re now three—three!—seasons into the most moronic, soul-eating, Sept. 11-times-1,000 reboot that television has ever excreted, and the second half is dropping right before Christmas! Oh, the laugh-tracked humanity!

This column launched in 1998, three years after the blessed demise of the original Full House; since then, I’ve tried to warn you away from hundreds upon hundreds of shit TV shows. It’s like you people aren’t even listening to me! Pay attention! I’m brilliant and fascinating! Argh! Chokes on burrito; turns blue; falls forever silent

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