There’s something about television as a medium that I really adore, and I especially love plowing through whole seasons or series all at once, particularly on long winter nights when it is wet and cold outside. Like now. I’ve also been known to rewatch over and over again to get more out of the narrative, just like I reread books.
I have a particular soft spot for fun, slightly quixotic television shows that never seem to have enough staying power to get renewed for more than a few seasons, if that. Apparently they’re too sleepy and dull to compete with “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” I always warn people that if I like a television show, chances are high that it will be canceled within two seasons, and I’m usually right.
Thus, I have a whole array of “complete series” box sets that consist of a woeful handful of boxed discs, testifying to brief glory days gone by. I realize I’m kind of in the minority here with the whole buying DVDs rather than just using Netflix thing, though, so I doublechecked to make sure all of the following were also available on Netflix, which they appear to be, before compiling this list of recommendations for your viewing pleasure.
I’m in the mood for tragicomic series about people struggling to find themselves, so that’s sort of the theme of this list. My current television tastes are probably a reflection of my current brainspace, but seriously, even when you’re not feeling slightly dire, they’re all good shows. I swear.
“Wonderfalls” revolves around the life of Jaye Taylor, who’s returned to her hometown of Niagara Falls after earning a college degree to work in a gift shop and discover who she is. At the start of the series, she’s “overeducated and unemployable, like you said in the yearbook,” as a former high school acquaintance so kindly puts it. As someone who’s returned to my hometown after college myself, I find something in common with Jaye, although I’m thankfully not as affectedly ennui-laden as she tries to be. With such a formulaic setup, this could end badly, but it actually turns out to be rather fun.
Jaye’s life turns upside down when inanimate objects start talking to her, and she’s launched into a series of adventures. Her family is weird, her friends are weird, the things that talk to her are weird, and she ends up in an assortment of awkward situations as she tries to follow the guidance of the conflicting voices in her life.
Fundamentally, “Wonderfalls” is about the romance that unfolds over the course of the all-too-short series, but fortunately the romance manages not to distract from the fun. If I was going to pick a single word to describe the show, it would be “quirky,” but it’s quirky in a good way, not a tired and overdone one. Jaye is acerbic and rather adorable, and you can’t help but fall in love with her, at least a little.
Georgia “George” Lass is killed by a falling remnant of Space Station debris, and she becomes a Reaper, charged with collecting the souls of the dead and ushering them along to the next stop on her journey. Like Jaye, she’s driftless and unsure about what she’s supposed to do with her life (see a theme?), even as a Reaper.
The best part of “Dead Like Me” may be her co-workers, who run the gamut from soured by time to relentlessly and almost alarmingly cheerful. Also, Mandy Patinkin. Each week brings around a new assortment of bizarre deaths, which reminds me of another old favorite of mine, “Six Feet Under"1. George also messes up, a lot, and starts to face real consequences for her actions for the first time; for her, it takes dying to become a grownup.
She tries to adjust to life as a Reaper while her family tries to adjust to life without George, and the show is both funny and deeply nostalgic, with a nice balance between the two. There’s something deeply sad about it and the characters, even as they try to cover the sadness with a veneer of bravado and humor; “Dead Like Me” explores death and grief in a surprisingly deep way.
I love pie, and so I was sort of set up to love this series from the start. It revolves around Ned, a talented pie maker, which is grounds enough for a television series in my opinion, but he has a secret talent; he can bring dead things back to life. It comes, as one might expect, with some catches, and those become critical themes in the show.
In addition to baking pies, Ned works as a consultant to a private investigator, Emerson Cod -- played by Chi McBride, who is incidentally fabulous in his role as a knitting tough guy -- because, well, his talent sure comes in awfully handy when it comes to investigating murders. Ned also finds himself in a complicated romantic entanglement, thanks to a dead girl he just can’t stay away from.
“Pushing Daisies” blends noir with a twist with baking with romance, and it’s absolutely delightful.
The characters on “Pushing Daisies” are larger than life, and they’re accommodated in sets and a world that is also larger than life. In a world where fantasy is rarely allowed to be whimsical, “Pushing Daisies” went full-bore with rich, color-saturated sets and costumes and a bright, lively, vibrant world. It really stood out from everything else airing on television at the time, and continues to do so. Sadly, that aesthetic is probably what doomed it, because the masses don’t seem to want things that come in technicolor any more.
Any delightful but sadly not captivating enough for primetime shows you're currently mourning? (Or rewatching?)
1. Not included in this list because it is a lot of things, but “fun” and “quirky” are not among them. Return