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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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9. “Doctor Who
Where to begin with “Doctor Who”? No, really: where to begin? This BBC standard can seem more than a little overwhelming and off-putting at first with hundreds of episodes spanning six decades. Ten actors have come and gone as the title character, with a lanky, bow-tie-wearing bloke (Matt Smith) currently occupying the eleventh spot. Only children would be swayed by its sometimes gleefully low-budget special effects. Plus, it’s just frakking weird. But this season (and the previous one that introduced Smith in the role) is a semi-reboot, the perfect place for would-be fans to start. Tenth Doctor David Tennant is a fan favorite, and ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston brought a bit more darkness to the role, but we’ve come to love the charm of the eleventh Doctor and his two companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Davill). For the uninitiated, “Doctor Who” follows a centuries-old Time Lord as he bounces through the universe--and beyond--in his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). He appears human, but he’s as alien as they come, boasting a millennium’s worth of experience and wisdom behind his 20-something face. He jumps everywhere from a 29th-century space ship to a 17th-century pirate ship, solving problems and fighting aliens, armed with his trusty Sonic Screwdriver and joined by his companions. Even though the show is called “Doctor Who,” the crush-worthy Amy and and ever-devoted Rory lie at the series’ heart with one of TV’s most believable, affecting romances. “Doctor Who” is undeniably science fiction with all the hallmarks of the genre (and we’re admittedly pretty geeky), but at its best, it’s the best kind of idea-driven sci-fi, far more intriguing than most big-screen examples, which tend to be action movies in disguise. Showrunner Steven Moffat (writer of Spielberg’s upcoming “The Adventures of Tintin”) was behind most of the best episodes of the Eccleston/Tennant era, and he’s brought new ambition to the show now that he’s in charge, aided by intricate season-long macroplots that make the show more compelling than ever. It’s enjoyably silly at times -- and done perfectly by the affable Smith, who like Tennant, seems destined to be a giant movie star when he leaves the show -- but that’s nicely balanced by moments so heartbreaking you’ll bawl and ones so dark they seem to be made entirely of your worst nightmares.
Must-See Episode: Moffat’s “Blink” is the perfect entry point for newcomers, featuring an early starring role for Carey Mulligan, and introducing some terrifying new villains while standing alone from the show’s mythology. But, of the more recent era, “The Doctor’s Wife,” penned by sci-fi legend Neil Gaiman and featuring a villainous vocal turn from Michael Sheen, is a real classic, showcasing everything that the show does so well: terror, tears, big ideas and laughter.

8. “Fringe
It’s incredibly difficult to talk about “Fringe” and what it means in the scope of primetime television today. It began with major hype, touted as a J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi special way back in 2008 when it premiered (to pretty large numbers), but the first-season wasn’t great, mostly feeling like a freak-of-the-week “X-Files” rip-off. Since then, those numbers have dwindled dramatically, even as it’s gotten bolder and better, so much so that when it was renewed for a fourth season recently, viewers were shocked. What’s “Fringe” all about? Well, that’s exactly the problem. It’s an incredibly serialized, yet somewhat procedural show about FBI agent Olivia Dunham (the really excellent Anna Torv) and her mad scientist father-son pair Peter and Walter Bishop (played by Joshua Jackson and John Noble, respectively). These three investigate so-called fringe incidents; for those in the dark, supernatural and unexplained coincidences. It gets even weirder for those who stick with it as the science fiction quotient has recently been upped exponentially with Olivia and the Bishops finding ways into an (wonderfully-imagined) alternate universe and revealing plans for war between the two universes. Throw in some doppelgangers, shapeshifters and pseudo-science speak, and it’s easy to see why most people would ignore this totally weird show. Those people should reconsider because “Fringe” is telling stories unlike any other on television and, at the same time, reaching emotional beats that others are not. It might not make sense at first -- one of the downsides to the show is that you’ll have to start from the beginning, and slog through that inconsistent first season -- but you won’t regret starting up. And some of the formal stuff is the most surprising around: few other shows have the balls to do a noir-ish musical episode, or an episode that’s partially animated in a “Scanner Darkly” style, or spend a handful of episodes with its lead character possessed by the soul of Leonard Nimoy, complete with pitch-perfect impression. Only “Fringe,” for sure. Although fans need those ratings up to get a fifth season, as “Fringe” has been stuck in the Friday night death slot come fall.
Must-See Episode: The beautifully directed, heartbreaking “Subject 13,” entirely set in flashback, showing that the paths of star-crossed, universe-jumping lovers Peter and Olivia have been entwined for longer than previously believed.

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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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