Friday, July 1, 2011

Some great TV, courtesy of Netflix

One of the great things about being able to stream Netflix directly to my TV is that I'm free to experiment with new shows that I would never have rented on DVD. One of the happiest of these discoveries is Heroes, the NBC series about a world in which mutants (aka superheroes without the masks) are drawn together to act against a prophesied destruction of New York City.

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I finished the first season in a little less than a year, polishing off an episode every few weeks. Now? Count me as a fan. Aside from the Nikki/Jessica subplot, I found the characters well developed and the storyline impressive. I think the season finale was a fitting denouement to the overall story arc, one so impressive I'm loathed to push on into further seasons - all of which, according to scuttlebutt, pale in comparison.

On the other hand, I was no so fortunate in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin in a series billed as a spooky ancestor of the X-Files.

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Uh, no.

It was cartoonish, poorly written, and about as scary as the crowd at a harpist concert. C-

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To break the tie, let me introduce Parks and Recreation, a sitcom done in the pseudo-documentary style of The Office. Lisa and I finished the first two seasons in the blink of an eye and were left hungry for more.

I think this show succeeds for a simple reason. Well, two. One, it's funny. Two, it refuses to settle for taking the easy road and making the characters one dimensional. Grumpy libertarian boss Ron would normally be written as a straight jerk; instead he's given depth and feeling. Amy Poehler's character, who by rights should be pigeonholed as a dorky, ineffective bureaucrat, is instead a multi-faceted human being. A

I have fond memories of watching Buck Rodgers as a kid, and I wasn't let down by rewatching it on Netflix. Oh, sure it's cheese, but you know that going in. All in all its a pretty darn good show for what it is, and having the super hot Erin Gray around doesn't hurt.

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Roseanne, alas, lacks a resident beauty, unless you wait around for Becky #2 to pop up in later seasons. I saw nearly every episode during the series run, but harbor a bit of a resentment towards the show. No, it's not about the star' I grew up in a home not dissimilar to the Connors' and it's too close for comfort. Yet I have to admit, the writing holds up well after a quarter century, and the love between Roseanne and Dan is palpatable.

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The biggest suprise to come via Netflix? Babylon 5.

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I'd never seen a single episode, and had the show sitting unwatched in my queue for ages. When I began watching it last week I found the special effects appalling, hardly top of the line for a video game of the era much less a television show. Still, the writing of J. Michael Straczynski (whose screenwriting book I read and owned as a kid) hooked me. By the time I began season two I was mesmerized.

Naturally, it was then I discovered Netflix was losing the streaming rights begining today. Great timing. I've completed season two, and for now that's where I'll have to leave off.

It is a remarkably well crafted show. Not a single episode is a 'throw away'. Each show provides some nugget, however small, that adds to the overall story arc. It is a single story, carried out in multiple acts over a five year run. The twists and turns, the development of characters - how the Narn and Centauri defy the intial impressions we have of them, for instance - wow. Wow.

I can't wait to see more of the series. Three notes:

One, I much prefer Capt. Sheridan to Commander Sinclair. Sinclair, played by Michael O'Hare, always seemed to be in contention for Overactor of the Year.

Two, Bruce Boxleitner has excellent hair.

Three, I should make a drinking game. Every time Security Chief Garibaldi puts his hands in his pockets, take a shot. You'll be drunk in half an hour.

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