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TV Vs. Film: Ten Shows Worth Skipping The Multiplex For

by The Playlist Staff
May 26, 2011 9:58 AM
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The Playlist's brief flirtation with television continues... Yesterday, we dipped our toe into the murky waters of the debate around whether the quality of television has now surpassed that of contemporary film (conclusion: it's a silly question), and now, as the TV season wraps up this week, we're examining the evidence, the shows that keep The Playlist team going on weekends when movie theaters are bereft of anything that doesn't insult our intelligence.

We've tried to include a bit of everything: comedy, drama, science-fiction and everything in between, reflecting the taste of our hive mind. But there's some obvious absences, as you'll see. For one, we've tried to keep it to shows that aired in the tradition September-May TV season, excluding the likes of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," which aired a year ago, but would otherwise be nestling in the other reaches.

We've also tried to keep it to shows that might have slipped under your radar: no show on this list attracts blockbuster viewings, even if some are hits on their own channels. You won't agree, necessarily, but there'll be at least one show here that you haven't seen, and it's worth hitting the Netflix or Hulus of the world, or seeking out a DVD boxset, when you're sick of blockbusters over the summer months. If nothing else, it's proof that there's as much giant talent finding homes in television as there is in the cinema. Check the list out after the jump.

10. "Bored to Death"
On paper, “Bored to Death” seems like a show that, even on specialty cable, would have a very limited appeal. The series, created by New York writer Jonathan Ames, centers on a version of himself (played by Jason Schwartzman) who is plagued with writer’s block and decides to become an amateur private investigator to make ends meet. Already, it sounds like the very kind of precious, insular, navel gazing and specifically New York-set show that would appeal only to New Yorker subscribers living on the Upper West Side. But alas, “Bored to Death” is hugely entertaining, both cleverly witty and broadly hilarious, with an allure that goes far beyond Ames’ Brooklyn area code.The set-up of the series has Ames solving a different mystery each week. He gets his clients from ads he places on Craigslist but he’s usually not alone in getting to the bottom of the case. Outside of “Parks and Recreation,” we can’t think of another comedy with as solid a supporting cast/ensemble as “Bored to Death.” Along for the ride is Zach Galifianakis, in what is arguably a performance even better than his non-sequitur driven 'Hangover' turns. He plays Ray, an aspiring comic book artist who is struggling in his relationship with his girlfriend Leah (Heather Burns). But the series MVP belongs solely to Ted Danson as George, the vain, pot-smoking editor of “Edition” magazine and Ames’ best friend. Danson has never been better, riffing on the persona of the New York intellectual that those outside the states can easily identify. A program based on the New York intelligentsia runs the risk of being completely alienating, but “Bored to Death” reveals them to be filled with the same insecurities as the rest of the us, and it creates generous amount of laughs. Running two seasons now, “Bored to Death” has attracted an impressive array of guest spots from folks like Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Olivia Thirlby, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon and even, memorably, Jim Jarmusch, and with good reason: it’s simply one of the best comedies on television. The first two seasons are already on DVD so instead of seeing the disappointing “The Hangover 2” this weekend, we’d recommend a “Bored to Death” marathon that will bring you up to speed when season three hits later this year.
Must-See Episode: "The Case of The Grievous Clerical Error" has all the show's great strengths in evidence, plus more full-on emotion than any other episode, with Danson's George being diagnosed with prostate cancer and forced to confront his mortality, while blending the storylines perfectly.

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  • Christopher Bell | August 21, 2011 8:27 AMReply

    The Time Capsule episode is season 3, I believe. Honestly though, you have to give it a few episodes before things really kick in. It's a show very dependent on your affection for the characters.

  • The Playlist | July 11, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    This piece partly inspired me watching "Louie.” Or rather, my gf wanted to watch, i remember it was on this list and therefore I acquiesced. Great show.

    However, I started watching some "Parks & Recreations" -- a time capsule episode -- and it was pretty unfunny. Was that from season 1? I hope so.

  • George Otwori | June 5, 2011 6:51 AMReply

    TERRIERS is one the most ground breaking shows ever made. I know other shows are given credit to having novelistic quailties. Once you watch Terriers it gives whole new meaning to blending the TV and Novel mediums. I remember watching this show and missing the numerous of payoffs. I just couldn't place the familiarity with Novel medium until the last two episodes. This show literally shattered my perception on what is quality.

    So I only hope that in the near future someone revisits compelling organic world just as intriguing as TERRIERS was.

  • PT | May 28, 2011 11:11 AMReply

    Can anyone tell me what the soundtrack is playing in the background of Doctor Who episode 6 in the first few minutes while still in the Tardis ?
    Driving me crazy !!!!

  • The Playlist | May 28, 2011 9:35 AMReply

    Having just watched the first episode of Showtime's "Shameless" for some reason and mostly hating it, i'm really glad to see it's nowhere on this list.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | May 27, 2011 9:52 AMReply

    "Is this a joke? I haven’t seen anything except Game of Thrones..."

    Well, then how do you fucking know enough to weigh in?

  • Melwyn | May 27, 2011 9:11 AMReply

    Is this a joke? I haven't seen anything except Game of Thrones, and even in the pilot, it seemed so hollow. How could you mention an epic show like 'The Wire' in the same paragraph as GoT. Stick with films guys, this list honestly is embarrassing. "You fail me."

  • TheoC | May 27, 2011 6:46 AMReply

    But wasn't Parks and Recs mid season replacement due to Pohler's pregnancy and not how good or bad the show was doing?

    Anyway great list well written, I must check out terriers(I like me some Logue) and of course Game of Thrones.

    Well done a great read and great alternative to reading how well the Hangover part 2 is doing.

  • Christopher Bell | May 27, 2011 5:54 AMReply

    An honestly embarrassing list.


    Anyway, I'm now paying attention to TV more than I have in years... but still playing catch-up. I"m working through season 2 of "Breaking Bad" and its fantastic, but yeah, it's got plenty of acclaim. It's more that than it airing in summer that lead us to relegating it to the honorable mentions.

    I love "Parks and Rec." I watched the pilot and hated it, but I gave the first season a shot and while I didn't like it too much, Season 2 is where it's at. It's also surprising how great Rob Lowe is.

  • Sid | May 27, 2011 4:48 AMReply

    Venture Bros. is better than everything here. And Game of Thrones (the books) are the best pieces of fiction since Shakespeare in his prime.

  • scribe | May 27, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Nice article guys- Loved the piece on Louie and Parks and Rec.

  • sp | May 27, 2011 3:04 AMReply

    Thanks Playlist for giving props to FX’s “Archer". It is easily the best comedy on tv , hands down !

  • Kathleen Walsh | May 27, 2011 2:52 AMReply

    Weeds fucking sucks. The first season was brilliant, this past season is nigh unwatchable. I love me some Dexter, but that show has definitely not suffered for praise and acclaim, and when was the last season on? I'm only just beginning the third season. I love this list for alerting me to the fact that I should be watching Fringe, of all things. Need to check out Game of Thrones and Archer too. Parks and Rec is my religion, and its upsetting it got slotted to a midseason replacement, but I'm just glad it's back and so consistently amazing.

  • jonathan | May 27, 2011 2:51 AMReply

    30 Rock is the most unfunny piece of crap on television. Maybe people would realize this if Alec Baldwin's voice wasn't calming down their frustration at every other ridiculously annoying character on the show. Can not stand it.

  • Jax | May 27, 2011 2:45 AMReply


  • Misanthrope | May 27, 2011 2:35 AMReply

    Let's not forget that Curb Your Enthusiasm comes back soon!

  • Mike_M | May 27, 2011 2:10 AMReply

    I know you mentioned Breaking Bad, but that should be on the list and not a honorable mention. You cite that it hasnt been on the air since last summer is a bad reason especially since Terriers is canceled so you cant even watch it anymore.

    Also Sons of Anarchy is a great so as well.

  • samir | May 27, 2011 1:51 AMReply

    You guys are too harsh on Boardwalk Empire. It's one of those shows that youll like a lot more if you watch in a short period of time. After I finished the season and got the full picture is when I really started appreciate the characters and politics of the show. It's not the best show, and it can be better, but that's the best thing about it, it can be even better.

  • wray | May 27, 2011 1:40 AMReply


  • Brendan | May 27, 2011 1:31 AMReply

    I second the "Fuck Dexter!" sentiment, and as someone who is almost finished with a Parks & Rec marathon, I'm really glad to see it at #1 here (so much so I forgive you for that fucking spoiler...). Breaking Bad is definitely the best show on television, though. No contest.

  • Sheed | May 26, 2011 12:49 PMReply

    Sons of Anarchy and Archer, FX takes care of its business.

  • HD | May 26, 2011 12:39 PMReply

    Sons of Anarchy!

  • The Gang | May 26, 2011 12:36 PMReply

    Uh, how about some love for "Always Sunny in Philadelphia"? Last season was uneven, not surprising considering the horde of mercenaries hired to write episodes, but it's The Gang!

    Who doesn't love The Gang?

  • poagwn | May 26, 2011 10:49 AMReply

    "american dad," despite it's lackluster first season, has grown into a wonderful, wonderful show. unlike most of macfarlane's trash, a.d. feels like it actually has direction, and it's paced wonderfully - a single episode will sometimes take place over the course of months or years, which gives it an almost filmic quality few other shows have. it also has a heart. the relationships between the central characters are well defined and fully drawn, and roger the alien has grown into a tool of comedic greatness.

    american dad's major flaw is its inconsistencies. not every episode is as good as it could be, but when it hits, it's the best animated show on network television. being a seth macfarlane show, it can also be a little mean spirited. still, there are some essential episodes. "rapture's delight" is one of the most absurdly ambitious animated half hours i can think of. it really is worth checking out.

  • Michael Bay Evil Twin Brother | May 26, 2011 10:15 AMReply

    Fuck "Dexter".

    Bravo! for mentioning "Louie" !

  • Michael Bay | May 26, 2011 10:04 AMReply

    At least you gave "Breaking Bad" a mention, but what about "Dexter"?

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