Somewhere, somehow we wandered into television, it started with an Angel Martin reference which got us wondering where Rockford Files stands in the "greatest tv shows ever" rankings, here's a hint .........really high . We spent three or four minutes discussing our thoughts on this topic, mostly the various merits of Seinfeld vs Larry Sanders vs Sgt. Bilko vs the Friendly Giant but then somehow we were back talking about bandwidth, Vancouver real estate and the horrible choices we have to make at election time.
Long after the coffee session ended and I was back at home I began to wonder more about the best television shows of all time. I've had an interesting relationship with television, I grew up in small town in Eastern Ontario and until I left home for University at 18 I lived in a house with only one television and one television station, the local CBC affiliate . As a result I didn't watch much TV, other than Hockey Night in Canada, though as a young child Sunday night television with Bonanza and The Ed Sullivan Show was a sacrosanct event. Once I was in University there were really too many other distractions to watch much TV, though some shows I generally took the time to watch, like the above mentioned Rockford Files and then of course I spent a good portion of my adult years working at night. Still as with most adult North Americans in their fifties I have a long and enduring relationship with the tube.
Anyway I spent a couple of hours the past two days putting together a short list, that I realized actually wasn't that short, of what are my must see tv shows. Essentially this is a listing of the shows that I always tried to watch, that I really enjoyed when I did watch them and that I would love to own the entire series of, just to be able to watch when I wanted.
There is very little on television right now that fits into this category and since I don't subscribe to HBO my choices are further limited, there are a number of shows that friends of mine say I should be watching that I'm not such as Ray Donovan, Veep, True Detective and The Newsroom. Anyway over however long it takes me to go through this list I'm going to blog about television shows for awhile, though not exclusively television shows, I'll still try and spend some time writing about food, wine and life in general.
Today I'm going to talk about shows that never got the chance, shows that I found really, really good but that just didn't stick around very long either through lack of audience, cost of production or network mishandling.
Gone too Soon, in no particular order
Firefly - 2002, 14 episodes
Many, many articles have been written about the too soon demise of Firefly, Google it and over 8.6M results show up. It has a cult following that persists today despite having a run of only 14 episodes, the demand for closure was so great that in 2005 Universal Pictures produced the feature film Serenity to wrap up the plotline. In truth the Space Western set 500 years in the future was really, really watchable, it came from one of America's hottest commodities at the time Josh Whedon and was his first "non Buffy" project. Whedon has gone on to great things as have many of the cast. Available on DVD
Life - 2007-09, 32 episodes
This was my first introduction to Damien Lewis' work as an actor, the show was riveting to me and I was pissed off that it was cancelled . The show followed Lewis' character LAPD Detective Charlie Crews, Crews had been wrongfully imprisoned for murder and is released after 12 years, despite a huge financial settlement Crews returns to work as an LA detective. The show is loaded with conspiracy theories, zen philosophy and themes of loneliness, the effects of imprisonment and the speed of technology. Writing and acting was superb with the cast also featuring Adan Arkin, Sarah Shahi and Donal Logue. Available on DVD
Carnivale - 2003-05, 24 episodes
This show was just strange, set against the backdrop of the depression it revolves around two different storylines that eventually converge. One thread deals with a faith healer, who has real healing powers, in a traveling carnival while the other thread involves a fire and brimstone Methodist preacher. There is so much mysticism and good vs. evil going on it's hard to keep track and the show is over reaching in it's message but it was just so atmospheric and well written that I really, really liked it. Costs were huge, over $2M per episode and though it debuted with a huge audience it couldn't sustain it with overly complex plotting and dark themes. Available on DVD
Boomtown - 2002-03, 24 episodes
This show's failure was a mystery to me, it was a police procedural set in Los Angeles, had a great cast, including Donny Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson and Neal McDonough was well written etc. but it never caught on. The show won a Peabody award among other acclaims but couldn't sustain and audience. Unavailable on DVD
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - 2006-07, 22 episodes
Sigh, just another example of how great acting and clever writing so easily fails in mainstream television. The "show within a show" about an LA based Saturday Night Live style program was maybe just too clever for its' own good, an Aaron Sorkin project with, not surprisingly, great acting and writing it didn't make it past season one, too smart and too expensive. Available on DVD
Sports Night - 1998-2000, 45 episodes
Another Aaron Sorkin series loosely based on real life, ESPN's Sportscenter, Sports Night again featured great writing and acting, a cast that included Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Robert Guillaume and Felicity Huffman. Gassed after two season Sorkin had offers to take it to other networks but chose to keep his focus on The West Wing so Sports Night went away. Available on DVD but insanely expensive.
Brimstone 1998-99, 13 episodes
Oh I knew this one was doomed from the get go, it was just waaaay to dark for regular consumption but the play between John Glover, as the Devil, and Peter Horton as Ezekiel Stone was fabulous. Stone is a cop who plants evidence to get a conviction against his wife's rapist, who is then murdered, when Stone is killed in the line of duty he is sent to Hell but when 113 souls escape Stone is dispatched to bring them back. The carrot for Stone is if he brings back all the escapees he gets a second chance at life. Unavailable on DVD.
Rubicon 2010, 13 episodes
Honestly not as good as many on this list but had potential, it was a classic political conspiracy theory plotline with good writing and acting but it just moved too damn slowly to keep an audience, it was AMC's first miss, lasting only 13 episodes despite critical acclaim. Available on DVD
Millennium 1996-99, 67 episodes
Okay so it really probably wasn't "Gone too Soon", Millennium was dark, weird, unfocused and far too serious for it's own good but anytime I have the chance to have Lance Henriksen come into my living room for an hour a week I'm all over that shit. This was Chris Carter's vanity project rewarded to him for the success of X Files and it just wasn't good enough but still.......Lance Henriksen. Available on DVD.
Terriers 2010, 13 episodes
This one hurts the most, Terriers was simply brilliant, it was essentially a much grittier Rockford Files for the new age. Starring Donal Logue as a disgraced ex-cop and recovering alcoholic operating an unlicensed private investigation business it has humour, drama, real life issues and just great writing and acting. Somehow it was on FX and between the wrong network and the totally confusing name it just got lost in the cracks . Despite high critical acclaim and a rabid, though very small, fanbase it was a one & done. There have been innumerable rumours of a tv movie/mini series to wrap up the plot but it's been five years so I think it's time to admit it's not gonna happen. Unbelievably Terriers is not available on DVD .
So that took way too long, at some point I'll come back to this with a list of British imports you should have watched, and maybe can watch on DVD or streaming.