TV shows that I’ve given up on

I watch a surprising amount of TV in among all the more productive things I also do. I watch virtually nothing as it’s broadcast (other than Match of the Day), but rather I mostly consume complete seasons of shows that have been recommended to me.

One of the shows that I DID watch all the way through — several times.

Among the great discoveries over the years have been Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Firefly, The West Wing, House, Arrested Development, Elementary and Rick & Morty. But there are some other shows that I’ve made a start on, but never found a reason to complete. Here are some of them.

The Wire. For a while, everyone was saying this crime drama was the absolute best thing on TV. I tried it. Got only a few minutes into the first episode before giving up because I basically couldn’t see or hear anything. The screen was so darned dark, and the speech so slurred and accented that it felt more like work than fun. Toss in the fact that almost every word I did hear was a curse, and I lost interest pretty quick.

Of all the series that I mention here, this is the one that I most feel I should perhaps try again, that I didn’t give it a fair go. I guess its reputation has earned it more than the ten or fifteen minute audition I gave it. On the other hand: will it be fun? Based on what little I saw, maybe not. With the possible exception of The West Wing, all my favourite shows are fun.

Farscape. I watched one episode, found it OK, but didn’t feel a need to watch more. I think this was a case of mis-selling, though. The person who recommended it to me led me think it was Sort Of Like Firefly, which in retrospect set an unfairly high bar. It’s not like Firefly. But maybe it’s worth returning to on its own terms.

Ally McBeal. This is an odd one. I watched the first season, and enjoyed it in an uncomplicated Friends-like way, without ever really finding that I was starting to care about, or like, any of the characters (which come to think of it is a big difference from Friends). A year or so later I thought I might as well watch the second season, but I lost interest half way through and I’ve never felt the need to go back.

I guess this is the opposite of The Wire. I criticised that for not being fun, but now I am criticising Ally McBeall for not mattering. Looking again at the list of shows that I love, up at the top of this post, I see that all of them except Arrested Development have things to say about life, the universe and everything. I guess with so much TV available these days, I have become picky. I want laughs and profundity.

Daredevil. I’ve enjoyed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a fairly minor way, so I thought I’d try something else from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s TV spin-offs. Someone had mentioned liking Daredevil (I don’t remember who) so that’s the one I tried. One and a half episodes in, I realised I was basically waiting for the episode to end. Again, I wasn’t finding the fun. A lot of violence, some of it quite unpleasant, and in among it nothing that felt magical.

The Flash. And then I went in the exact opposite direction. I got maybe ten episodes into The Flash, sort of enjoying it, but waiting for it to step up and start mattering. It never happened: I never bought into the family backstory, and I never started caring about or even believing in the characters. So many of the plots were driven by stupidity: easily-resolved misunderstandings that the characters contrived to avoid resolving, simple facts that they inexplicably didn’t tell each other, and so on. The Flash is a dumb show about a dumb character with dumb friends.

The Expanse. Another one that got recommended to me as sharing some of the qualities of Firefly. Once more, that was probably a misleading flag to fly. I’ve seen the first two episodes and found them OK without being really gripped. I like that it’s pretty darned hard sci-fi, and the whole thing is very convincingly put together. Where it doesn’t come close to Firefly is of course in the characters. It took about ten minutes minutes for me to love Mal, Zoe, Wash and Kaylee. I can’t even remember the name of any of the Expanse characters.

That said, I’ve not exactly given up on this one. I may return to it, hopefully having recalibrated my expectations.

Gravity Falls. My fifteen-year-old son loves this, and he usually has excellent taste in TV shows, so I thought I’d give it a go. Three episodes in, I’ve yet to see anything that says more to me than “kids’ cartoon”.

My So-Called Life. Another show that’s been hyped to the skies. The immediate point of comparison is Freaks and Geeks, which is also a fairly straight drama about teenage life in general and high-school in particular. But F&G scores over MSCL in two important respects. First, it follows two separate groups of kids, in two different age-groups: the freaks and the geeks of the title — and seeing the same situation from multiple viewpoints gives it more depth. And second, it’s very easy to like Linda Cardellini’s lead character Lindsay Weir, but much harder to like Claire Danes’s Angela, who mostly comes across as whiny and entitled. I’ve watched the first episode: it’s currently 50-50 whether I’ll go on to the second.

So, folks, what do you all think? Which of these shows have I been unfair to? Which should I give another go? And what else am I missing?

41 responses to “TV shows that I’ve given up on

  1. I think Gravity Falls is a good show (and I’m pretty far outside the target audience), as a kids show. Things don’t really come to a head until the end of the first season, when it finally turns out some of the weird things are connected. If you come at it looking for similarities to Rick and Morty or Venture Brothers or that kind of animated series you’re gonna be disappointed, because it is still for kids (the two leads are… twelve, I think?), and the first few episodes are so-so, but once you’re actually in it’s pretty good.

  2. The Expanse got moving more in season 2 – it may even be worth just starting there. I kind of lost interest in the time it took to set everything up in the first few episodes, but S2 is much more SF (and interesting in what characters as well as civilizations are doing).

  3. Those are my favorite shows also! Then, there is Dr. Who! :-) Who can’t love a Dalek!

  4. Megan, my sons have suggested that maybe I should read a summary of season 1 of Gravity Falls, then leap into season 2. I might, but I’m not strongly drawn to it.

    Bill Keel, I suspect that if I do persist with The Expanse I’ll go from the start. I’ve sometimes told people it’s OK to start with season 2 of Buffy, but then I keep thinking “Oh, but you’ll want to catch this season-one episode, and that one, to properly understand season 2″.

    Rubberman, I can’t believe I forgot to mention Doctor Who! I guess because my love affair with it long predates my present viewing habits, so it’s not one of those series that I discovered via a recommendation and a season-long binge.

  5. I really liked The Expanse books, and I think the show is a good adaptation of the first two (I’m sure it helps that the show writers have the book writers to keep them in check). I thought the relationship between Jim and Naomi was surprisingly authentic, and avoided the usual “damsel in distress” cliches, but I admit that doesn’t come through very well on the show.

    It’s still the closest thing to what I’ve wanted for a long time: a realistic, near-future, hard sci-fi TV show, without aliens or warp drive or other magic.

  6. The Wire is really slow starting. I’ve seen quite a few folks giving up after first episode, David Simon likes to set up the board for an episode or two before things really get going. After that it’s really hard to stop watching.
    I would not call it fun though. It’s gripping, dramatic, feels extremely real, throws a joke here and there, but definitely not fun. I still strongly recommend watching it. After reading your political posts I suspect you might enjoy the exploration of various social themes there.

  7. Steve, thanks for the words in support of The Expanse. I do believe I will pick that one up again at some point.

    Serge, did you miss the political post where I said I was done with politics? Aside from the very occasional recidivism, I’ve stuck to that resolution, and been much happier for it. So the idea that The Wire might draw me back into that slime-pit does not help to sell it to me :-)

  8. You don’t mention Breaking Bad, which is really terrific and also has a quite profound theme, which is: You might think that you could dabble in the illegal drug trade a little bit, while remaining a mostly good person with mostly good intentions. Like what if you were a high school chemistry teacher with six months to live, who just wanted to make some quick cash to support his family after he was gone, and certainly, certainly didn’t want to hurt anybody? But you can’t keep your hands clean: the business of making a chemical that occasionally kills people and routinely induces people to kill will, in the end, corrupt you absolutely..

    Better Call Saul, the spin-off prequel series, is also very good and has a certain Veronica-Mars-ish-ness about it, but one should watch Breaking Bad first.

  9. Have you tried Dark Matter, Eureka, or Pushing Daisies?

  10. The Wire is one of the best shows ever to have been made. And it is most decidedly not fun.

    Gripping and gritty, yes, but not fun.

    Its theme, across all seasons, is that all institutions corrupt; you might also take it to see that the average suffering joe may do bad thinga for good reasons, or do small bits of heroism in their meaningless life .. but its about dark themes; that nomatter what, its all going to crap :O

    Great show; then you need Scotch :)

  11. I’ve given up on television. When I was a kid, I could just watch an episode here and an episode there, and I could enjoy what I watched. Now, watching an episode is a commitment to watching a season, and watching a season is a commitment to watching all the seasons. That’s dozens and dozens of hours. It’s like having to read the entire dictionary just to look up one word.

    I have heard that The Wire starts out way too “arty” to be watchable, but after a few episodes it lightens up a bit and becomes watchable. It’s about institutions: the press, the schools, the docks, the drug war, and supposedly it does a good job with them, assuming always that you want to read a few thousand pages on those subjects in fictional form.

    I agree with you on My So Called Life. That show was awfully whiny.

    I had a similar problem to yours with The Flash. It was mutant of the week, and no one seemed to learn anything. I gather that the stories started getting better at some point, but I had checked out by then.

  12. Farscape is definitely worth another try. It doesn’t start off that well – I think it took about 5 episodes to grow on me. Certainly the first season is eclipsed by the others. But you’ll need the first season for context. I highly recommend persevering – it’s more like Firefly than you might think.

    Also, if sci-fi is your thing, check out The Orville – it’s funny too. And I’ve been enjoying the latest Star Trek (Discovery). I’m not a die-hard fan of the series, though I did enjoy The Next Generation (probably largely because of Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and the many well-written episodes, and despite Jonathan Frakes and Will Wheaton) and the older Enterprise.

  13. Crash Random: thanks for the recommendation. I’ve heard a lot of people saying good things about Breaking Bad but never seen any of it. Somehow the premise just doesn’t appeal. But then I probably would have said the premise of Buffy was silly, and that turned out to be a great show, so maybe I should try it anyway.

    Jeshua: I’ve not even heard of Dark Matter or Eureka. I watched all of Pushing Daisies and enjoyed it without ever quite tipping over into loving it. Its distinctive visual style was a delight, but I never felt the stories really took on their own life.

    Jeff: thanks for more on Breaking Bad. I think that corresponds pretty well with the impression I had of it, and your recommendation sort of confirms me sense that it’s not a show for me :-)

    Kaleberg: Regarding “watching an episode is a commitment to watching a season”, I feel your pain. But that’s much more true of some series than others. You could, for example, watch almost any given House episode as a self-contained 45 minutes. Sure, there is a season-long plot, but that’s not what the show is about.

    dafux0r, thanks for the Farscape encouragement. I’ve never heard of The Orville, but I’ll hold its name in mind so I recognise it if others recommend it. I’ve never really been able to get excited about any of the various Star Trek incarnations for much the same reason as Kaleberg is sceptical about most shows: there’s just so darned much of it.

  14. Here’s another vote for Eureka. It manages a perfect blend of comedy and sci-fi shenanigans and you find yourself actually caring for the characters – or, at least, I did, which surprised me. Other shows in the same sort of category are Warehouse 13 and, my personal favourite, The Librarians, but they could all be dismissed as lightweight fluff (certainly they don’t really have any sort of hidden depths.)
    Farscape was ahead of its time I think. It definitely deserves a reassessment, although – as you say – there’s so much “stuff” out there, that just keeping up with the new things is enough.

    In the end, I don’t think anyone needs to watch a show if it doesn’t work for them. I bounced off Breaking Bad very hard, but I can see why it’s so highly regarded.

  15. I wholeheartedly recommend the Wire. If you can’t always puzzle out the accent, consider what I, humble foreigner, do all the time: subtitles.

    It’s easily one of my favorite shows, and it deserves its reputation. It’s not “fun” as in comical (although it can be), but it’s not a tragedy either. There is a real story, told through the lens of real less-than-perfect people in a wholly imperfect system. To me it’s the anti CSI (a show I think best left in the dumpster): instead of a laughably smooth and asepticized high-tech police force, you get a gritty, disfunctional but realistic (yet likeable) cast of characters.

    The whole of it is truly excellent, but I think the first season is actually my favorite, because it’s where the narrative is at its most taunt. If you don’t enjoy that season, I wouldn’t bother with the others.

  16. Dammit, Scurra and Norswap, stop telling me how great the shows I’ve abandoned are! How am I ever going to move on if you fill me with regrets? :-)

    Seriously, it does seem that both The Wire and Farscape warrant more attention than I have paid them so far. I may well return to both. Thanks for the prods (and the mention of Eureka).

  17. Better Call Saul, the spin-off prequel series, is also very good and has a certain Veronica-Mars-ish-ness about it

    To elaborate on this thought of mine, some of the major characters on Better Call Saul include:
    * a smart, ambitious, smoking hot blonde lawyer
    * a wisecracking, pop-culture-reference-making former small-time con man, now trying to make good as a two-bit lawyer
    * an older, bald, battle-scarred ex-cop, now working as a freelance operative
    * a young Mexican-American gangster, wary of letting his family be dragged into his criminal career

    It is almost like one took some Veronica Mars characters and made each of them 10-20 years older.

    The sense of humor on Better Call Saul is also similar to that on Veronica Mars. However there is not the same sense that justice will eventually prevail.

  18. Well, so far Better Call Saul is sounding to me like a much better bet than its parent series!

  19. Mike, from your taste I think you’d like a show no one has mentioned yet, Dead Like Me. I would definitely give that one a try.

    There’s also the obvious suggestion of iZombie, if nothing else because it’s by the same guy who created Veronica Mars. It’s fun but pretty lightweight. I lost interest after the 2nd season.

    On The Expanse, yeah, it’s nothing like Firefly, but it is excellent in it’s own right.

    On Firefly-likes:
    Killjoys is the closest one I can think of so you might give that a try. Moderate your expectations though, the writer is no Joss Whedon.
    Farscape isn’t a very good show frankly. I did watch all the way to the end, and there are like 7 seasons so there must have been something there, but ultimately I wouldn’t recommend you bother.
    Dark Matter. Watchable, could have done more with what it had. Writer is no Joss Whedon. (Hey, I think we’re zeroing in on the problem here :) )

  20. Hi Mike – I wrote a comment on your page that hasn’t turned up. Initially I thought it was because wordpress required me to change my posting account, but I resent it, and no show. Have I been banned from posting here?

  21. Clearly not – I’ll try again!

    I think whoever recommended Farscape wasn’t really saying it was like Firefly, at least not in tone, but they do contain a lot of the same appealing elements, and often have the same fanbase. Misfits stuck on a ramshackle spaceship, on the run from the law, with a sense of humour that something like BSG is sorely lacking.

    Farscape is increasingly wonderful television, and by far the best thing I’ve seen on the small screen since Firefly. It has a charismatic, compromised protagonist who ends up getting his hands rather dirty, and an antagonist who certainly rates as one of the best on television. He doesn’t turn up until about half way through season 1, which is the point at which the series begins to gain forward momentum, although I had really begun to like the show by episode 6. In terms of scope, I would say the overall story arc is reminiscent of Babylon 5’s huge ambition. It contains a lot of sci-fi ideas that other shows would resolve immediately, and subverts them. I started watching it with my hard-drinking brother, and instead of going out for New Year’s Eve, we ended up staying in and ploughing through the whole thing. That hasn’t happened before or since. My girlfriend ended up so hooked, our first born, if it’s a girl, will have the middle name Aeryn. The show it actually most reminds me of is Buffy. There was a point when Buffy found its feet that you stopped worrying if the quality would ever seriously dip. There are lesser episodes of course, but some of the arcs and multi-part runs hit a very high bar that never really drops. Buffy has a stronger ensemble, but Farscape has by far the better villain.

    The primary recommendation above all these is that ultimately Farscape is an old fashioned love story, and one told with a lot of heart, replete with a visual imagination that I haven’t seen matched since

  22. rjubber (and anyone else): no-one ever gets banned from posting here except either (A) for spamming, or (B) for repeated personal abuse that continues after a clear warning — and in fact neither of these has happened yet, in over 10,000 comments. If it ever does happen, I will certainly inform the banned person. So if you don’t know whether you’re banned, you’re not.

  23. Well, that is a resounding recommendation for Farscape! I guess I will try again, then!

  24. There are four DC series that are interconnected, and The Flash is by far the worst of them IMO. I adore Supergirl exactly because it’s mostly a fun show to watch – Kara loves being Supergirl, and one of the core conflicts is that she’s in danger of giving up on her human side to just be a superhero all the time. But it’s got characters who are memorable and that you care about – Alex (adopted sister), James (Olsen, ie Jimmy), Lena Luthor (a good person who no-one trusts because of her brother), etc.

    The other two are Arrow, which also has great characters, but is fundamentally about a lead character with PTSD trying to deal with his pain and recover while also being an arrow-shooting vigilante, so not exactly fun.

    And Legends of Tomorrow, which is a complete romp, but has never managed to get the structure of the show to function. The standalone episodes are far better than the ones tied closely to the seasonal arc, and they’d be much better off just giving up on a greater theme and letting their well-acted interesting characters shine in a monster-of-the-week format (this is pretty much the criticism I have of modern Doctor Who: connect the weekly stories through character development, not through season-long plot arcs).

    Curiously, Legends is also a time-travel show.

    And The Flash has by far the least memorable set of characters of any, which is definitely a problem compared to the other three.

  25. Oh, and… Grant Gustin’s Flash is so lovely and charming and interesting when he crosses over into Supergirl that it’ll tempt you to try The Flash again. So I don’t think the problem with that show is the central character or the actor, but the writing and the secondary characters.

  26. Thanks, po8crg. You’re the second person to have recommended Supergirl to me (the other one by email), so that goes on my Maybe list. Sounds right up my street.

  27. Here’s another vote for Farscape.
    Also, a vote for The Expanse, with one caveat: I’ve just recently read the books, so I know the story the shows are following and can fill in where the script might falter. I’m only 6 episodes in and I think they’re following the first book pretty well.

  28. I am one of the people who continually bangs on about The Wire being the best television show ever made. But from what you’ve written in this post, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to you. It has moments of levity, but on the whole: not fun.

    Breaking Bad is also very good, but I’m still not 100% sure if I’m glad I watched it. Again: often *funny*, not fun.

  29. +1 for watching The Wire with subtitles. I largely agree about Daredevil. The violence is over the top. I made it through season 1, but wasn’t engaged enough to try season 2.

    In the Netflix arm of the Marvel universe, though, I can highly recommend Jessica Jones.

  30. Please disregard all the previous comments. Based on your preferences, the correct TV series for you to watch is The Office (the original UK version).

  31. As it happens, I am currently part-way through re-watching The Office with my middle son. It is truly brilliant. So unflinchingly, bleakly hilarious.

  32. Mike, well said. As long as the essentials are taken care of, I will actually second the recommendation for Breaking Bad. It has quite a unique tone and style, so you should get a good feeling for whether you like it within an episode or two.

    Bonus suggestions:

    Fargo – having loved the film, I didn’t have much confidence that this could work. It does. So well.

    Black Mirror – hard sci-fi quite well done. Each episode is stand-alone. At least a couple of episodes are thought-provoking enough to stick with you for years.

    Stranger Things – intriguing, nostalgic, great performances (even by a couple of the child actors). Holding together pretty well after two seasons.

    Westworld – oozes quality.

    The Newsroom – typical Aaron Sorkin, with unrealistically fast-paced, witty and (mostly) intelligent dialog. With the usual Aaron Sorkin drawbacks. Since you enjoyed The West Wing, it’s pretty likely you’ll enjoy this too.

    BoJack Horseman – not recommended for watching with kids. Darkly humorous, sporadically profound (much like Rick & Morty, though this is a very different beast).

    Archer – also pretty adult (I feel I need to add this disclaimer for animated series). The sense of humour took a little while to grow on me, but once it did I started eagerly anticipating every new episode. Can’t guarantee that it will click with you, but worth a try.

    I could write much more, but I tend to enjoy things more coming in cold, so I’m trying not to diminish anything.

  33. Thanks, KG! I’ve watched almost all of Black Mirror, and found it pretty uneven but, yes, with the best episodes very memorable. I watched season 1 of Stranger Things and liked it a lot; season 2 awaits. All the other shows you mention, I’ve not seen at all yet: the last two, I’ve not even heard of.

  34. Oh, sorry, I’m a regular reader, should have remembered that you wrote about Stranger Things :)

    I’ll comment a bit on the superhero series, since they came up quite a bit.

    The problem with the DC series for me is that they never make me think or feel anything. The best I can say is that after watching an episode, time has elapsed. Occasionally I get a little spark of hope that one of the more obnoxious characters will die, but if they do they’re inevitably resurrected or cloned or flashbacked incessantly. There are no stakes, and even if there were, I wouldn’t particularly care about the fate of any of the characters.

    Marvel’s offerings generally have better writing, acting and cinematography, and tend to skew considerably darker in tone. I’m sorry you didn’t like Daredevil, because despite some flaws I think that’s one of the more solid examples. Jessica Jones, as someone else suggested, may well be your best bet. Legion is its own weird thing that I quite enjoy, although they pushed the weirdness a little far. The recent Punisher was also rather good. I wouldn’t be particularly confident in recommending any of those to you, though.

    I forgot to mention that if you enjoy Elementary, I recommend Sherlock (though I suspect you will already have seen it). For my money, it’s the classier choice :)

  35. The best I can say is that after watching an episode, time has elapsed.

    That must be about the most withering compliment I’ve ever heard.

    For me, the elapsing of time is an unfortunate side-effect of watching TV. I would no more watch a show in order to pass time than I would drink vodka (i.e. drink for the sake of intoxication).

    And, yes, of course I know and love Sherlock! I picked up Elementary as Sherlock methadone. It turned out to be better than I expected, and of course very much its own thing. But Sherlock is something else altogether!

  36. Further “wow _The Wire_ is great” from me, as if it’s needed: but it’s so dark, and unlike say the pointlessly grim Battlestar Galactica remake the darkness is both so pervasive, so realistic, and so unavoidable, that after watching some of it I have to go and watch a nice funny happy thing like, say, Buffy season 5 episode 16 to get my spirits up again.

    I mean, this is a work whose pervasive theme is not that institutions are corrupt, but that systems of humans will force even the well-meaning and competent humans within them towards the same dark ends, considering not only the police as a system but the schools, newspapers, the political system as a whole, and even *the drug runners* who you’d think would have an optimal state of just selling drugs quietly but who get pushed almost against their will towards positions of maximum violence for minimal return… and then you look at the news and note that though it was hugely influential and had a significant effect on Baltimore, Baltimore has continued going downhill more or less nonstop since it was made, and is now reportedly much *worse* than is depicted here. So, yeah, intermittently funny stuff aside, this is not humorous. Brilliant drama, superbly plotted, and a great many competent people doing their jobs well… but not uplifting. Not at all.

  37. Haha, nice Buffy call-out!

    But seriously: I do appreciate your careful explanation of exactly what is so outstanding about The Wire. It’s helped me feel better about not having watched it, and directed my attention to other shows.

  38. One of the things I enjoyed most about The Wire was that it *didn’t* hold your hand and spoon-feed you like so many other shows do.

    The content is exactly as dark as others have pointed out, but the way it’s presented is what makes it so great. Other shows have the characters explain exactly what’s doing on, just in case you missed the obvious (or, perhaps worse, with the assumption that you’re not smart enough to pick it up).

    The Wire follows the principle of “show, don’t tell”. No pointless exposition. There are plenty of great scenes where no-one says anything and it’s no less engaging or entertaining for it.

  39. Veronica Mars has some of that quality, too. I’m watching season 1 for at least the fourth time right now, and I am spotting plot details that I’d not picked up on any of the previous runs.

  40. Andrew Fermor

    Mike, have you ever seen the Librarians? I find it similar in some ways to Dr Who, but perhaps less serious(!). Possibly too silly/cheesy for your liking, but it may be worth a try.

  41. Not even heard of it — thanks for the tip, though!

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