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8th September
2009
written by Steph
For people who own a television but who don’t have cable (or even rabbit ears), Tony and I do pretty well when it comes to keeping current with must-see tv.  Just to be clear, we don’t eschew cable because we’re those snotty folk who turn up their noses at television; far from it!  Mostly we don’t have cable (or as we refer to it, “don’t have tv”) for two reasons: 1) the local cable provider here is SUPER expensive (in Toronto, I recall not having to pay more than $60/month for cable AND internet; here a comparable package would set us back some thing like $100… I am not willing to pay that kind of money for tv... or really any monthly service); 2) it is probably for the best we can’t just watch tv whenever we want, because we would literally watch it all the time.  Buh bye reading time.  Say hello to the glazed look that I inevitably take on after having watched 5 hours of HGTV or Animal Planet straight. (Seriously, so little is my self-restraint when it comes to watching the idiot box, I will watch hours worth of “When Animals Attack”, which pretty much no one should watch.)  Essentially, it’s in our best interest to have our tv watching limited to what we can rent through Netflix, or watch online (and with Netflix’s “Watch It Now”, Hulu, and all of the major networks streaming their stuff, we’re not doing too bad!). Anyhoodle, normally Tony and I take the summer to purge bad shows from our repertoire that we no longer enjoy, and to seek out potential replacements.  Often times this involves us cottoning on to shows that are long since done, but that’s what DVD is for, right?  This summer found us watching:
  • When you've watched the best, do you need to see the rest?

    Top Chef Masters & Top Chef (S5)
    – This was really just meant to tide us over until the latest season of Top Chef Non-Masters, but I wound up loving it so SO much.  The level of culinary prowess was really impressive and inspiring, and now Tony & I have at least 5 new cities to visit purely on the basis of restaurant visits.  I still rue the fateful decision we made to skip Rick Bayless’s restaurants when we were in Chicago because they seemed too expensive, but we will not make that mistake again!  Also, I love Hubert Keller, and maybe we will go to Las Vegas for my birthday this year, in part so that I can eat something that he has devised (but not his truffle burger, because I think spending over 1k on a burger is kind of steep, even for Vegas).  This show made me excited about cooking again, and I really hope they do a second season.  It was really refreshing to see them focus on the cooking and none of the other manufactured interpersonal drama and douchey behavior that the Non-Masters version seems to relish (ha!).  That being said, there are clearly some very strong cheftestants on the current season, taking place in Las Vegas.  Of course there are some jerks and some weak links, but I think the Top Chef franchise is officially my favorite reality tv show on at the moment.
  • Yes, the pizza really was that big. One slice was bigger than a baby!

    Man V. Food
    – But while we’re talking about food, we’d be remiss if we overlooked this little gem from the Travel Channel (the first season of which you can watch online through Netflix, provided you have a Netflix account, that is!).  The basic premise is that the host, Adam, takes you around the country seeking out America’s greatest eating challenges.  He’s tackled things like a 75-ounce steak, the spiciest curry in NYC, 15 dozen oysters, and even oysters of the rocky mountain variety… but even if professional gluttony isn’t normally your thing, Adam is wonderfully charming and funny, and is a real joy to watch (Tony claims he is secretly my brother… which might be true).  I also really like the other restaurants he features in each challenge city as he leads up to his gustatory gauntlet.  I don’t always want to eat what he does, but it’s a pretty fun and mouthwatering culinary tour of the U.S.  If only we could get him to Nashville to try some hot chicken!  But maybe don’t watch when you’re full…
  • His name is Chuck, and he wears Chucks! Get it?!? Hilarious!

    Chuck
    (S1 & S2) – When Chuck first started airing, I caught the first few episodes (because I essentially am the one who ferrets out shows and then tells Tony what is worth watching… like a canary down a coal mine), but didn’t feel compelled to keep watching.  And then S2 started, and all these people whose taste in tv I trust said how fantabulous the show was, and I said I would try it again, so Tony & I started watching, and we stuck with it, and it turns out the show IS pretty good.  Shotgunning episodes back-to-back perhaps reveals some of its weaknesses (the constant vacillating on Chuck’s end about whether he can be in a relationship (fake or otherwise) with Sarah, and the never-ending will-they-won’t-they? gets REALLY tiring, as does Chuck’s inability to learn how to be a good spy despite having the Intersect in his head and an allegedly high IQ.  Seriously, he may be challenging Sydney Bristow for worst spy ever, something I never thought would come to pass.  Also, given that Chuck is really not a desk jockey but clearly keeps going out in the field, maybe someone should teach him how to do some fighting or how to fire a gun?  Just maybe?  Sigh.), but we would still stay up late into the night watching episodes one after the other, so the show must be doing something right.  Season 2 had lots of good twists and turns, I just really wish so many of the Buy More key players (Morgan, Lester & Jeff, namely) hadn’t been so sidelined.  But it’s a good mix of humor and action, and the season finale had lots of good stuff happen and made it seem like we’re finally making some progress, so we’ll be watching in 2018, or whenever it is that S3 finally airs.
  • Sadly, not another cooking show...

    True Blood
    (S1) – I was a big fan of Buffy, but hate Twilight, so when it comes to vampires on the screen, I am iffy.  I am not one of those people who was in lurve with Six Feet Under when it aired on HBO, so I had no real investment in this new Alan Ball show.  But I was bored one day and looking for something to watch after burning out a bit on Chuck (see above), so suggested we give this a shot.  I am not entirely convinced that this is actually a good show, but it knows how to rock the cliff-hanger, so we wound up feverishly watching many episodes in a row, unable to wait to see what would happen next.  I was a bit disappointed with the pacing this first season, as I felt like the writers only figured out who the killer would be in the exact same episode they reveal him/her (see, I’m spoiler free here!), and I wish they hadn’t done so just one episode before the end of the season, so that pretty much jack all happens for 11 episodes, and then there’s all this action because they have to tie everything up.  Also, Jason Stackhouse is a dillweed, and all of his trippy, drug sex was really boring to watch, and there was SO MUCH OF IT.  That being said, I am intrigued by the dynamics and rules governing the vampires and other mythological creatures in this universe, and I think the analogy for homosexuality (and other marginalized groups) is interesting and well done.  Oh, and the theme song is great.  We’ve been waiting for Season 2 to finish before we start watching it, because we know that we will not want to wait impatiently each week for a new episode.
  • We love you Gus!

    We love you, Gus!

    Psych
    (S1) – I had heard from a few people that Psych is supposed to be a pretty funny show, and everyone knows I’ve been long trying to find a suitable means to fill the hole that the cancellation of Arrested Development left in my tv-watching schedule, and also my life.  Combined, The Office, 30 Rock, and How I Met Your Mother almost do it, but not quite.  Well, Psych is not a substitute for AD, but it is really quite funny.  Really, the best comparison I can make is that it’s like Scrubs (good Scrubs, mind you, not whatever the last 2 – 3 years has been), but with a best-buddy private-eye duo rather than a surgeon and a doc.  Shawn & Gus give off very strong Turk & J.D. vibes, so even if this show normally does air on the USA Network, I’d say it’s worth watching.  Sometimes the episodes feel a little long, and generally the mysteries are pretty weak, but you’ll watch for the laughs not the crimes.  Also, I *heart* Gus.
  • I still love you Gus, even if your name is now Charlie!

    The West Wing
    (S1) – Speaking of Gus, we also watched the first season of The West Wing, which features a younger Gus (or Dulé Hill, if you insist on calling him by his real name) as the personal aide to President Bartlet.  Hurrah!  I can’t really say why I decided to give this show a try as I fastidiously avoided it like the plague when it originally aired (the theme song was familiar to me, because of all the Golden Globes & Emmys the thing won)… maybe if someone had told me it was funny I would have watched!  Because it is actually funny!  I think I also appreciate it more because I now live in the United States, so it’s an interesting perspective on how the government works (and by all accounts, fairly accurate).  Also, it has Allison Janney, whom I have a girl crush on, so that is another point in its favor.  Season 1 ends on a crazy cliffhanger, so we had to frantically find the next two episodes of the next season to watch, and already those have been really rewarding and fulfilling, so I think we’re in for another great 22 episodes.  Some of the twists and “humorous moments” are fairly obviously telegraphed well in advance and are thus unsurprising, mostly because I guess I have been watching tv for a while, but also because I think many of the things they did were surprising to audiences back in the late ‘90s, but not so much now.  Oh, how far we’ve come in just 10 years!
  •   Sadly, not that many beets or bears... yet!

    Sadly, not that many beets or bears... yet!

    (Beets, Bears,) Battlestar Galactica
    (S1) – Remember how everyone in the world (galaxy? universe?) was watching this show and LOVED it?  Well, take that number and subtract 2 from it at least, because Tony and I only started watching it a few weeks ago.  We figured we would give it a shot because of the aforementioned universal love, but we also remembered that everyone also seemed taken by the first Transformers movie, when it was in fact really awful and painful to watch (we rented it on DVD, and I would keep getting up to do other things while watching, but insist that Tony not pause the movie, and in fact encouraged him to fastforward that sucker while I was gone).  So, we watched the first episode of the first season, and that was kind of a mistake, because much of it is predicated on the viewer having seen the 3-hour miniseries beforehand, which we had not, so we watched the first ep, and were kind of confused and also unmoved.  But we decided to do it right and watch the miniseries, which was very helpful and illuminating, and made a lot of the stuff from the pilot make sense.  And now we are about 9 episodes in, and I am still not sure how I feel about it. Tony says it’s a very good example of sci-fi tv, because I guess sci-fi tv normally sucks (I’ve never really watched it, because based on our many discussions, Tony informs me that I tend to like Fantasy, but not really Sci-Fi… perhaps he can comment and make the distinction between these two things for us again.  I think the idea is that Sci-Fi involves technology (but not magic) that we do not currently have, whereas Fantasy is not based on a distant future with advanced technology.  Or something.  I don’t know.  I like Harry Potter, but generally not books that involve intergalactic travel.), but I get annoyed because I don’t want to grade my tv on a curve, and at first I found the show kind of boring, but now it’s not so much boring as it is INFURIATING because all the people onboard the Galactica walk around doing stupid things.  They deserve to be annihilated by the Cylons if they continue to be such dumbasses.  I particularly loathe Dr. Gaius Baltar, even if he was Bridget Jones’s gay best friend.  He has all the worst personality traits a person could have, and I want to punch him in the face.  I also do not really care for Madame President, and anytime they want to stop with the weird “seductive” hallucinations involving Blonde Cylon, that would be awesome.  Also, I had been a bit grumpy early in the season because I wanted the show to have some humor (I mean, The West Wing is a drama but you will still chuckle a few times per episode), but then in the most recent episode we watched there were all these supposedly hilarious hijinks happening and I wanted to burn my eyes out because it was so awkward.  So, let’s just go back to the maudlin drama, shall we?  Oh, and I don’t like how they do a fast little montage right after the credits each episode, giving you a preview of what’s going to happen, because then when it does happen, you kind of already know how things will go.  Clearly every single one of you has watched this show, so does it get better after the first season?  I’m not saying this season is bad, just that based on what I have seen thus far, I cannot figure out how it is so beloved on this alone.  But you know what is always fun?  Playing spot the Canadian!  A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it, but now I can totally hear the accent, and successfully identified Colonel Saul Tigh and the Chief as canucks (I already knew going in that Blonde Cylon was one).  And they’re worried about a Cylon infiltration…
  • Really, these are the only people I care about... and maybe not even Heidi

    Really, these are the only people I care about... and maybe not even Heidi

    Project Runway
    (S6) -  We’re already an episode behind for this most recent season of PR.  I don’t know if the long delay between seasons has somewhat suppressed my love for this show, or if it was overload in the last few seasons, but so far I’m finding this season a bit lackluster.  Normally I can’t wait to find the episode and watch it online, but I just don’t find myself thinking about this season once the episode is done.  In part I feel like there are too many competitors at the moment and no one is really standing out for me yet.  I don’t think I know the name of a single person on the show other than Heidi, Tim, Nina Garcia, and Michael Kors.  Maybe for my fashion fix, I should just watch this instead
So are we tv-watching freaks, or did you find yourself watching anything good this summer?  Anything we should have had on our list, but didn’t?

15 Comments

  1. Love this post!!

    We do have satellite TV (because my husband is a sports buff), but decided NOT to get wrapped up in episodic television for the most part, because it ties us to the TV (b/c we don’t want to pay for a DVR).

    So we mostly watch TV on DVD as well, and I think we have similar tastes. Top Chef is one of the shows we watch weekly, and our current DVD series is the West Wing. We actually were fans when it was on, but it is SO good watching it over again back to back in entirety. We are in Season 5 now. Please keep watching!

    I do occasionally watch Psych, simply because of “Charlie” (as he is to me, not Gus), but I think you summed it up well. I love their relationship, but the mysteries are pretty weak.

    I am dying for the latest season of HIMYM to come out.

  2. 09/08/2009

    Thanks for commenting, Jennifer! Sometimes I think having cable with a DVR would be nice, because I’ve definitely gotten out of the habit of watching tv when it originally airs, but the temptation to just turn the tv on whenever I had nothing else to do would be too great and I know I would wind up watching way more stuff than I need to. The internet is bad enough as it is! I surely don’t need a second way to avoid getting things done! 😉
     
    I don’t see us quitting The West Wing any time soon. The politics can be interesting and prompt thoughtful discussion (Obama is great, but wouldn’t it be awesome to have a Nobel winning president?), but I also really like the characters. I am a bit worried that from S5 onward it might be a bit downhill as I know Sorkin left that season, but that’s still far in the distant tv watching future!
     
    I think of all the current 30-minute comedies on tv at the moment, HIMYM is my favorite. So yes, I’m definitely looking forward to the new season! Maybe we’ll finally make some headway on who the mother is (I really like their attention to detail and continuity – it reminds me of AD in that way!)!

  3. 09/08/2009

    Top Chef is also our fave reality show here! We’ve been able to follow every season except the Masters, as hubby has been very very busy. But we are anticipating every bit of it! Soon..

  4. 09/08/2009

    Yes, with your husband a professional chef, I can see how Top Chef would be popular in your house! I’m glad I didn’t spoil the winner of TCM – there were two good choices, in my opinion, when it came down to the final three, and I’m certainly not disappointed with who wins! I’m sure you’ll enjoy!

  5. Sim
    09/08/2009

    Aha! A post I have some experience on 😉 You’ve inspired me to watch The West Wing as well as Psych. As you already know, I feel the same way re: Battlestar, though I’m rewatching it now. True Blood is still a staple in this house (although we’re playing the weekly game…).

    Can’t wait for Dexter, Breaking Bad, Californication, and United States of Tara to come back!

  6. 09/08/2009

    @ Sim: I’m super excited for Dexter to start up again soon, too! It feels like it’s been aaaaaages since the last season, which I thought was really strong. We fell behind on Tara, though I have the episodes kicking around, and we’ll have to watch them at some point. Haven’t tried Breaking Bad (though the first disc of S1 is on our Netflix queue) or Californication (which I think we can watch online through Netflix), but they’re on our radar and we’ll eventually get to them!

  7. 09/08/2009

    I refuse to get cable for the exact same reason you do. Seriously how many episodes of E True Hollywood Story can I watch? Umm… a lot. Sometimes the same episode twice. And one episode of that is too many. But I do sometimes feel slightly behind on the cultural zeitgeist because, unlike you guys, I don’t like watching TV on the computer, so I mostly wait for DVD.

    BSG does get better. I liked it from the start, but it didn’t seriously rock until season 2. Then again, I love scifi on TV, so I might not be the best judge. (My current addiction is the new Dr. Who/Torchwood.) On the whole scifi/fantasy thing, Orson Scott Card has said that fantasy has trees and scifi has rivets. 🙂

    I might have to try Psych. I’ve been tempted because I love Charlie/Gus, but I hadn’t heard much about it. I loved early Scrubs, so if the humor is anything like that, it seems worth a try.

  8. 09/08/2009

    I watched mostly PBS this summer. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was on a while back, some Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and now Inspector Lewis. And, of course, I watch Arrested Development on Hulu.

  9. 09/08/2009

    @ Teresa: I don’t know that Psych is as consistently funny as early Scrubs, and the humor is a little less random I suppose, but it’s quite witty and as I said, the best part is the dynamic of the two guys playing off one another.
    Oh, and I would absolutely be all over E! True Hollywood Story if given the chance. Especially ones featuring casts of shows from the ’80s, but you know I’d watch them about shows and stars I have really no interest in whatsoever!
    Also, I like Card’s distinction between Sci-Fi & Fantasy – Tony did too!
     
    @ charley: Ah, you just reminded me that we have two episodes of Wallander from some Masterpiece Theater broadcasts earlier this summer that we need to watch. We’ve been watching the Hercule Poirots with David Suchet through Netflix off and on for the past year or so and I adore it!

  10. 09/09/2009

    Great post! We have cable, but I swear it is always going out and we still wind up paying close to 70 bucks for it every month. So, I wind up watching tv shows on dvd all the time. Also, I end up buying the dvd of the show I like because it seems every show I like conflicts with one another and well I just would rather watch them all unfettered. As for the shows you mentioned, I have seen season 1 of True Blood and I loved it! What a great show!! I truly enjoyed watching what an idiot Jason Stackhouse is and seeing how the books translate to the show – I just started reading the series and I think that is what got me to really enjoy the show. Can’t wait to watch season 2. With regards to Buffy – I too am a huge fan. Must admit that I never watched it on tv and wound up watching it on dvd about a few years after it had gone off the air. Loved that show!! Maybe I will re-watch it next month. As for The West Wing, I am re-watching that for about the fifth time now. I love that show!! Bartlett for America!! I too am a fan of Project Runway and feel as if this season is mediocre. I think it has to do with not having watched the show for so long (because of their super long break) and these designers not really catching my attention. Oh well, I’ll still watch it for Tim Gunn! All in all, great tv show picks! My other faves are House, The Office, Grey’s Anatomy, The Big Bangy Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Can’t wait to watch them. I just got House on dvd and am enjoying it! TV bliss!

  11. 09/09/2009

    @ Nadia: I haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse books, but I think I might try the first one from the library, provided the queue for them ever budges! I know they won’t be high literature, but sometimes my poor brain needs a reprieve (which is generally when we watch tv and movies… 😉 ).
    I also didn’t get into Buffy right out the gate, though I did start watching it near the near the end of its third season. Of course we have all 7 seasons on DVD PLUS Tony bought me the official S8 comic books a while back (but because I’m supportive of him, I’m waiting until we’ve rewatched the series together (he’s never really seen it) until I tackle those puppies). Yes, I am a geek!
    Tim Gunn makes all things better. He’s like the bacon of Project Runway. Or is bacon the Tim Gunn of the food world? Mmmm… bacon.
    Used to watch House, but after something around season 3 or so, I found the episodes started to get a little repetitive and I eventually let it fall by the wayside. Same thing with Grey’s though it wasn’t so much that the episodes got repetitive as I hated essentially every character (which is what has happened for us with Brothers & Sisters), so I stopped watching it too. I do hear some good things about Big Bang Theory, but we watched an episode once and I found it really painful and unfunny… could have been an off episode, perhaps?

  12. I don’t have cable for the exact reasons you don’t — money and time. The problem is that my parents have satellite and a DVR, so when I go home I go on tv watching binges of a lot of the shows you mentioned! Chuck and Psych are both funny, but not my favorites. I did three, I think, seasons of The West Wing, but quit when the friend I borrowed them from moved. And I always love a Top Chef or Project Runway marathon.

    This summer I watched a lot of tv on DVD including Flight of the Conchords, Wonderfalls, and Weeds. Now that school started, it’s back to The Office on Thursdays and maybe watching Glee on Hulu. Otherwise, too much to do!

  13. 09/09/2009

    @ Kim: With some of these shows, it’s hard to know if any will become favorites, as it feels too soon to tell. Clearly we enjoy most of them a good deal, but I’m very picky when it comes to allowing shows (or movies, or books!) into my upper echelon of favorites. One thing I always try to consider is would I want to buy the show on DVD (rather than just renting it) because I believe it will have good rewatchability. Some shows are good the first time through, but you don’t feel a lasting bond.
    Of the shows you watched this summer, well, we’re BIG Flight of the Conchords fans (I hope you checked out that last link in the above post!). I saw the whole season of Wonderfalls a few years ago and thought it was fun, and I watched the first season of Weeds, but then stalled out there. Definitely looking forward to the new season of The Office. I think we are still undecided as to whether we’ll follow Glee or not – I thought the pilot was fine, but I wasn’t quite as enamored as most (which is weird because of how I love musicals!).

  14. 09/10/2009

    Really enjoyed this post! We DO have cable, but only because the ONE channel my husband really likes watching (the geek/tech channel) is about number 204, and he can’t live without it. *grin*

    So, I’m a huge BSG fan, and I can assure you it DOES get better in Season 2. However, if you don’t really have a character you really like, that might not change, and Blondie features largely in the episodes to come. It just might not click for you – my mom could never really get into it.

  15. 09/10/2009

    So far I don’t have any favorite characters on BSG, but that’s not to say I hate absolutely everybody. I think I am interested in seeing how things turn out, and I believe the first season is supposed to end on a cliffhanger, so maybe that will jump me to warpspeed fan level (sorry, I’m mixing my sci-fi shows!). Here’s the thing that really bugs me right now: I don’t know if he is, but I suspect Gaius could be a Cylon. Why wasn’t HE the very first person they tested with the fancy cylon-detector to make sure he’s legit. He might just be a slimy cowardly human, and I recognize they have no way to test for that (yet), but I would think they’d at least rule out that he was a cylon before having him test everyone else on the ship. I mean, I don’t know how to run a battleship, yet I sometimes think I could do it better than these people!

    Anyway, I’m willing to give the show a bit more time to develop its sea (space?) legs; as I said, I don’t find it uninteresting, I just am not seeing the unmitigated awesome yet.

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