Monday, November 12, 2007

Why I prefer TV series

One of the reasons I dumped movie lists was because I was seeing just too many so-so and so-no movies. Big stars, or big directors, weren’t enough to guarantee a good movie experience. While the path to any great movie is strewn with lemons, I think I was seeing too much of mediocrity to justify my DVD subscription. Some movies meandered their way through meaninglessly as if to justify their big stars, some had wafer-thin plots relying either on their big stars on heavy special effects. To my own horror, I was forwarding some movies just to get it over with.

Then I discovered TV serials. And now, I am in no doubt when I say that if you’re looking for a sustained stream of good quality entertainment, you must consider watching TV series. One season of a TV series typically has five to six DVDs with each DVD containing about four episodes, each of just about an hour. I'd typically watch one to two DVDs every weekend and finish off one series in a month.

In terms of production values, TV series (and here I’m referring only to American ones, although I think there’s much in the British counterparts that I should be seeing) have matched, if not surpassed, big studio Hollywood movies. In terms of genres, the series span the entire gamut of drama, action, comedy, suspense, crime, etc. In terms of stories, scripts and plots, it's evident that TV series have come a long, long way from the LA Law, Ally McBeal, Picket Fences and X-Files days.

In some ways I think this is a larger reflection and an expression of America and its residents in this new post 9/11 world. I admire the way the American TV channels have expressed this via the entertainment industry. A phenomenon which we in India have yet to see, at least in a big way (an issue I touched upon in an early post here). I’d give anything for an ad-free HBO out here, but I doubt it'll ever happen.

Moving on, here’s what I’ve watched in the last one year. All the TV series below comprise one story running throughout the season, unlike say an episodic series like CSI where each episode revolves around one story. Personally I prefer the one-story-one-season format because I get hooked to it for a month.

1. 24 – Call it a neocon dream or liberal nightmare (switch that?), but I’m an unabashed fan of Jack Bauer. Purely in terms of thrills, twists and turns, 24 smokes just about every so-called “action” movie I’ve seen lately. There’s also this carefree abandon with which they kill just about every key character in the plot. Just when you’re endearing yourself to someone, he gets blown up by a car bomb, shot in the throat or gassed to death. No sentimentality or emotion, just pop off the good guys and make it tougher and tougher for Jack Bauer to win. Sure, the plots stretch your imagination to the point of incredulity, but it doesn’t matter because there’s enough to keep you gripped.

I think Season 4 was the best while Season 5 was a bit of a let-down. I’m waiting for the release of Season 6 DVD, and no I won’t download and see it. In India, AXN has shown 24 but, not surprisingly, the series never really took off here. (Also read this superb New Yorker piece on the politics of Joel Surnow, the man behind 24)

2. The Sopranos – I thank my good friend Purush for pointing me to this one. I have no doubt that it’s the best TV series I’ve watched till now. For something that I thought was “just about a mob boss”, I just loved the experience of seeing how the series was much, much more. It has a cult following in the US and rightly so. The script and the storylines are brilliant, the performances of the finely-etched characters are superb. Some of the action can get gory (well, it is about the Mafia), but there’s enough on the dialogues to keep you riveted and entertained – and I mean funny too.

Then there’s the all the symbolic stuff that I could never get, and then never get enough of. But you have to see the series. This is television at its best. I hope they never make a movie of out of it. I’ve seen the series till Season 5 and I’m waiting for Season 6, also the last of this path-breaking series.

3. Heroes – A.k.a. how the left sees 24. Not every hero needs is alone or resort to torture and maim because he has only a few hours to save the world. Nopes. But yes, the world is coming to an end thanks to the greed for power. In this case, greed for superpowers. Oh come on, don’t we all love good v/s evil? After all – and pardon the cliché – we’re all heroes in our own way. Some of us can create fire, others can re-generate, some can read others thoughts, talk with machines, move in time…. And that’s only a few of them.

Update - I've now also watched 4. Lost and 5. The 4400 after the kind comments from readers below. Thank you.

Besides the cutting-edge special effects, what I loved was that the episodes never fawned over individual heroes (and hence their powers), thanks to which the plot and the story was always central. I admire NBC’s (which airs Heroes) reply to Fox (which aired 24), if only because the viewer is the winner. I’ve seen Season 1 on DVD and am waiting for #2, which already began in the US some time back.

I’ve also seen Season 1 of "The Wire" (Purush, thanks again for this) which was also excellent, even if a bit too US-specific for my likes. And there’s of course the magnificent "Seinfeld" and its co-creators tribute to foul behavior "Curb Your Enthusiasm". After seeing all of these, I'm convinced that TV series remain a much more enjoyable option, than movies, to regular weekend DVD viewing.

So, seen any of these? Have any favs of your own? Love to hear from you.


rossoneri said...

I guess you've just scraped the surface of TV! there are loads and i do mean shitloads that are awesome..try coupling

Kusum Rohra said...

I can't say that I prefer TV series to movies, I still say nothing can beat watching a good movie in a theater. On the telly I watch

Friends (yeah I stil watch friends).
Everybody loves Raymond.
How I met your mother.

I saw a bit of lost and I remember liking that one too. Any idea about how good/bad 6 degrees is?

And are you trying to tell me you don't watch any of the series that the greeatt Ekkkkta KKkkkapoor dishes out?

Sid said...

TV favorite variety of entertainment...and man have I seen my share.

My all-time favorite in the Comedy genre is definitely F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and right now I am really into LOST and Heroes. Though with the latest episodes, I'm not really getting the direction where it's headed and my interest is starting to wane.

I followed 24 for a couple of seasons but somehow found it too repetitive and hence took a break. The same happened with Prison Break as well. The first season was simply mind-blowing but the 2nd season was total drag and now I have totally lost touch.

I have just started off with The 4400, supposedly one of the series from which Heroes was inspired. I'm just 2 episodes old and it seems interesting but can't say more than that.

Another series which I highly recommend is Boston Legal. The episodes more or less deal with separate issues but with a sort of easy continuum. But they are really humorous and have some highly eccentric and entertaining characters.

I'm sure I can suggest many more but I will restrict myself to these now. Enjoy.

Satish Krishnamurthy said...

Ah, the Heroes bug bites everyone! I live in NYC and haven't missed a single Heroes episode since it began last fall. For all you guys who want to catch new episodes of the third season (is that current in India?), here's the NBC video episodes link.

I've got that bookmarked :)

Shantanu said...

Completely agree, at least for home-theater viewing. The other serials I have enjoyed in the last several months - and recommend - are Lost (an awesome combination of mind-benders, sci-fi and adventure all rolled into one, with great characters to boot), Rome (warning: definitely not family-viewing, but everything you expect from an HBO production), Deadwood (if you ever loved westerns, check this HBO serial for the real stuff), Nip/Tuck (plastic surgeons are our heroes here), The L Word (Sex and the City with a twist!), and Dexter (I guess I am twisted, but given its popularity, there are a lot of us). Oh, forgot: Battlestar Galactica, and not because of the sci-fi but because of the great story-line and acting too.

Sakshi said...

I own Scrubs, Seinfeld, MASH, Star Trek and 4400 from the regular shows, so I agree with you that TV series are fun to watch. I am definetly now saying I prefer them over movies.
Will recommend Battlestar and Rome.

Raj said...

Nothing beats watching TV series on DVD :D

I see that 'Coupling' and 'Lost' have already been suggested. I am also a huge fan of 'Family Guy'. I have seen almost all the episodes more than once. 'Weeds' (from Showtime) is also pretty funny. 'Entourage' (also from HBO) is good too. And 'The Simpsons', of course.

Anonymous said...

You might also like the television series "The Shield" although it might be too US specific. It is about these corrupt cops in this police office station in California.

Although in the first episode (called the pilot) it seemed like they were going to make the cops very bad, in the later episodes the cops motives and actions were made to be more ambiguous.

Were these cops just "doing what they had to do" in order to maintain the safety of the neighborhoods they were sworn to protect? This is you begin to wonder as the episodes progress. It makes you uneasy when you start liking some of the results these cops are getting even when their methods were totally wrong.

Also there is politics as the head of the police station is running for public office in that community. On the one hand a relatively decent guy, but on the other hand someone not without political understanding of the effects of situations. He is torn. He wants to decrease the power of these bad cops, but on the other hand he is benefiting from the results of these cops in terms of them managing the criminal element in the community.

And there is also a racial component. The police captain is Hispanic. The community he is running to represent was traditionally an African American community but in recent years has become more dominated by Hispanics. And the top "Good Cop" in the department she is African American. She will not compromise her ethics for anything which of course sometimes puts her against the police captain when he siding with the bad cops.

It is a show distinctly about a California community, but other than that many of the themes are universal. You might want to give at least the first couple of seasons a look.

"The Shield"

(The series in some ways reminded me of the movie "Training Day" which is about a new cop's first day with an older cop who seemed to be behaving in questionable ways.)

Rohan Venkat said...

Just scraped the surface is right, there's much better out there than those three (and the Wire is definitely one of them)

Lost falters a bit on content, being a bit arcane and going for the committed viewer over the passive one, but in simply scripting, producing and acting, you'll wonder why you ever thought Heroes was good. (Every single episode is plotted to perfection. None of the Heroes cliches, and crappy acting.)

The Office, the original and it's Americanised variant make for great hilarious TV without resorting to the usual sitcommy gimmicks.

30 Rock, is well, quotable line after line of goodness.

The now canceled Veronica Mars (props to this one, you probably haven't heard of it, so get it, seriously) was brilliant when it was on air.

And if you're looking to the past, and enjoyed your Heroes outing, do consider McGoohan's the Prisoner.

A said...

24 rocks!!! Watching season 2 these days! Wonder why it never took off here in India...

Ananya said...

I have also recently taken to watching TV series on DVD.. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Grey's Anatomy Season 3 (The Medical Drama genre totally rocks! There is never a dull moment and this show maintains the perfect balance between the medical drama aspect and the personal lives of the doctors aspect)
2. Coupling (For its fabulous Brit humour!)
3. 24 (Love it for the same reasons you've mentioned)

Bombay Addict said...

Thanks everyone for your visits, comments and of course, all your recommendations. I don't think I'll be seeing a movie on DVD for quite some time now!

Rossoneri - Indeed looks like I've only scraped it! I've not seen "coupling", but will check it out now!

Kusum - Agree with you but I wasn't talking about the movie-going experience, I was just pained by all the movies I'd seen on DVD. And huh, you still watch Friends?! o0 No idea about 6 degrees, but sounds interesting. And EK's soaps? yeah right, I know you do that!

Sid - I've seen some episodes of Prison Break and they looked really good. But if #2 isn't as good, then I'm not in a hurry to see it. Never heard of 4400, but after what you - and others - have said, I think I will watch out for that. Also heard a lot about Boston Legal, will check it out.

Satish - In India, we're watching Season 5 of 24, while season 7 is set to start off in Jan-08. No, we get everything late, quite late. So, I've yet to wait for #2 of Heroes, leave alone #3, but I will check that link!

Shantanu - Exactly, I was talking only about in-home viewing. That's a nice list and good to see another fan of HBO. After reading the comments here, I'm v. interested in Rome. Have read a bit about the L Word - quite different! Dexter sounds interesting too. And that's an interesting point you made about Battleship, because I thought it was just plain sci-fi. But before all of that, I think I'm going to start off on Lost!

Sakshi - Envy your collection because you've spanned about 30years of TV in that! (oh man, I used to love MASH when they showed it here.) I'd read on Salon, that Scrubs is probably a more realistic portrayal of doctors and hospitals than House (I quite like that), do you think so? I'm gonna check out more of Scrubs now.

Raj - I haven't heard of 4400, Family Guys, Coupling and Weeds, but I'll check them out now. I don't think any of them are aired in India.

Anon - Loved your write-up. I've never watched Shield but I'd seen a few promos sometime back, never thought it'd be that interesting. I liked "The Wire" so I think this is definitely worth a try. I'm just amazed at how these series go into small details of police and society/community life out there. Doubt we'll ever have that high-quality stuff here in India.

Rohan - I guess we all have our personal choices but those three are the best I've seen so far! Yet, I agree with you - and as I said above - I've only scraped the surface! Heroes can be a bit sappy depending on what you like, but for viewing value, I think its just superb. But hang on, let me see if I still feel that way after I start on Lost!. Good that you mentioned Office, I've seen some episodes and it is really good. Heard a lot about 30 Rock, will check it out. Yep, never heard of Veronica Mars and McGoohans (I'm feeling so duh!) but I'm hoping my DVD guy has it!

A - Always nice to meet another 24 fan! I guess the concept was probably a bit different for our tastes out here. Plus you had to watch each episode. Its so much more fun seeing it on DVD. And hey, you're only on Season 2? Dude! the best is yet to come!

Ananya - I've watched a few episodes of Grey's Anatomy and it looks nice, although in hospital dramas, I kinda like House. Coupling - man, with the response its got here, I think I have to check it out!. 24 - yes!

Steve said...

I would like to recommend the series Dexter. It is about a "likable serial killer" in Miami, Florida, USA. How can a serial killer be "likable"? Well he only goes after other serial killers.

I think what makes the show so interesting besides the obvious is the supporting characters. I specifically found the character of her sister Debra (not real sister as he is adopted) and how her father effected her life very moving. And you have his girlfriend as well and her struggles and how she finds strength.

I believe why the supporting characters in this show are so important is that Dexter himself is empty. He plays a role of what he he is supposed to be and most people buy it out of their own needs. Being a sociopath and lacking empathy often he isn't fully aware of the dramas being played around him.

It is a very good series especially as you evaluate how Dexter unwittingly plays into the needs of the other characters.

I don't know if are a Star Trek fan but in many ways Dexter reminds me of Data, the android who had no emotions.

The show has irony, it has black comedy, it has drama, it has mystery. Sure, you kind of feel a little guilty rooting for a serial killer but that's part of its fun.

Steve said...

I was thinking about it and one of the things I liked best about Dexter is the difference between what the people around Dexter thought was going on and what we all knew was really going on.

Especially with the story about the sister and how she needed to see Dexter.

Bombay Addict said...

Steve - The way you've described it, the series really sounds very interesting! Thanks for the reco, I will check it out!

bincy said...

I was gonna post a comment saying OMG Lost is not on ur list... then I read all the comments and 50% of those actually suggest lost.

TV on DVD rules......

Anonymous said...

I would like to recommend "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for it isn't merely a show about a girl fighting monsters but these monsters most often symbolize the more intangible struggles of growing into adulthood.

It's teenage angst made flesh, and tentacles, and fangs and it's a drama much deeper than its title may suggest.

Vi said...

Has anyone mentioned House? I recommend House M.D. highly. Great wit, interesting plot line, and Hugh Laurie is amazing.

Alex said...

As for Comedies, I really recommend Scrubs.

It is a comedy about a Doctor and his colleagues at a hospital. It is funny but always with a serious edge to it.

Deepa said...

TV serials I can watch almost anything and everything. English, Hindi and regional too! I like comedies, drama, crime but not the gory ones(L&O yes, prison break-no). I have not hooked to sci-fi much.

Rohan Venkat said...

Good to hear you're open to the idea (of Lost), and yeah I guess it is somewhat a matter of taste, but relativity counts too. (Like the difference between the Da Vinci Code and Foucault's Pendulum)

24 was great, though the last few seasons are a bit repetitive and tired, the last one in particular which even the writers acknowledged. And now, well, with the writer's strike, we're probably not getting the next season for another year.

And just to help you out at your DVD place, the show is 'The Prisoner', I only put McGoohan's name in there because he tends to be better known for other things, like Danger Man, or his stint on Braveheart.

Bombay Addict said...

Bincy - Glad you agree, and I will check out Lost!

Anon - Thanks! I recall watching Buffy regularly and I quite liked it. But somehow towards the end (of whatever season it was), I didn't quite enjoy all the new characters they introduced (sorry, I've forgotten their names). But, yes, it was a fantastic series!

Vi - House is excellent, I catch it on AXN here. Hugh Lawrie is really good. Its interesting to see how the hospital genre has changed over the years on American TV. From ER to House, Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy. Thanks!

Alex - I've heard a lot about Scrubs - and more now from above! Thanks!

Deepa - Thanks, I still think you should check out some of the violent ones!

Rohan - I think a lot of series - even the really good ones - will look repetitive if they've been going on for long. 24, season 5 was a bit of a drag. But the way I see it is that out here, the gap between (for me to watch) Season 6 and 5 has become so long, that I'm looking forward to it anyways! Maybe after seeing it, I'll land up agreeing with you.

I also think that in case of one-story series made of sub-plots, some of the sub-plots go into tangents and you might not enjoy it that much. But that's ok, because more often than not, the bigger story is always more interesting. That's what I learnt last night when I started on - yes! - Lost, Season 1!, inspired by all these comments! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

yeah. If u'd like to have me dead,or at least feverishly ill-I'd see the blood & gore ones. actually the producer of 24 co-produced la femme nikita which I followed quite avidly. I remember it used to be gripping though depressing at times with the whole "sold your soul" stuff. I'd rather watch t&J DVDs. have a laugh. Enjoy life. And btw, I watch seinfeld too but really,seinfeld to me is at best, average- at worst, self absorbed and pompous. The other characters in the show make it bearable. Some lines are of course really bang-on and few ideas funny. But Magnificent? Aawwww gimme a break. And tribute to foul behaviour describes it best for larry david.I've used to also love house. I also like Monk of the ocb :) And have seen back to back marathon of L&O, closer.

Enjoyed this update on wot happenned to the movie lists. Your use of phrase "To my horror I found myself fast forwarding" made me laugh because it just sounded so alarmed.


Bombay Addict said...

Deepa - Thanks for the comment!

nku said...

Some of my all time favorites:
-Arrested Development

Bombay Addict said...

NKU - thanks very much, those links are very useful. I'm a fan of both MASH and Seinfeld and someone had recommended Arrested Development to me - quite a different comedy, but hilarious! No idea about Ducktales, but I will check it out!

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