We recently cut the cable cord. It turns out that you can get an HD antennae that feeds a Tivo well enough, and that covers anything on Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, and CW. AMC is the big exception, but it’s cheaper to buy the episodes on iTunes than it would be to maintain the cable bill. I was gonna get HBO in the spring to watch Game of Thrones, and HBO does not do downloads for non-subscribers, but c’est la vie. Also I lose a lot of the NBA playoffs. Thankfully there are sports bars.
Anyway, for the sake of the decision-making process I thought hard about what I actually watch.
Things That Are Good
Breaking Bad. I’m catching up on this, mid-way through the third season. It’s carried by the acting. Vince Gilligan is sometimes too cute for his own good, and the world exists on the border between realistic and cartoonish; it’s interesting to see the real pain of Walt and Skyler’s marriage contrasted with the over the top menace of the Cousins, for example. But the acting is really, really good across the board. Also, there’s a lot to be said for a show that isn’t afraid to let the leads be bad people.
Friday Night Lights. Man, almost done forever. So sad. The acting is varied, although I have nothing bad to say about Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. The writing is really good, though. And, like Breaking Bad, it’s unflinching. The signature moment for me was back in the first season, when the usual triumphal sports montage is undercut by Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town.” They haven’t always stuck to that, but ultimately the show says a lot about the nature of obsession while still allowing for the hope of redemption.
But only the hope, not the guarantee. Tim Riggins is in jail.
Fringe. After half a season in which Olivia looked like yet another weak female “protagonist,” someone figured it out and let Anna Torv rock the house. So now you have the most empowered female FBI agent to grace the small screen. Sorries are in order to Scully, Prentiss, and J.J., but Olivia is the proactive engine that drives Fringe. Meanwhile you’ve got John Noble playing his role fearlessly, plus some very sharp SF writing. It’s not high art but it’s the best genre television running at the moment, and has been for a couple of years.
Criminal Minds. Speaking of FBI agents. At its best, it’s genuinely chilling, and it’s always entertaining. Jury’s out on the effects of the recent cast changes. Great acting. Yes, I do like depressing shows. I love that it maintains thematic continuity without being as continuity-laden as most of the other shows I watch.
Mad Men. Fascinating historical window, plus great acting, plus I want to find out what happens to (most) of the characters. Betty Draper is a pretty big exception. I suspect this one is sliding downhill but ask me again next season.
So You Think You Can Dance. Superb when the gimmicks don’t get in the way of the kids. Really tacky when Nigel et al indulge their preferences for contemporary dancers. Mary Murphy is coming back next season as a judge, which should improve the quality of ballroom judging. Nothing is going to help the show’s preening condescension towards hip hop, which is sad. But you’re still gonna get some awesome dance on this, without the celebrities.
The Walking Dead. I missed an episode during the initial season so I need to catch up. I think this is on probation. Conceptually I love it, but it’s the least well-acted of any of these shows, so it’s going to have to survive (or not) on vision and execution.
Things That Are Not Good
Glee. I watch it cause I like covers. Also because it’s academically interesting to see how misanthropic Ryan Murphy can be. (Answer: very.)