Arts & Events

If You're Gonna Veg With the Tube, Watch the Good Stuff

By John A. McMullen II
Saturday May 15, 2010 - 05:45:00 PM

Lots of folks don’t watch TV. It’s a waste of time. But if you are tempted by this addictive diversion, let me alert you that we are living in a Golden Age of Phil Farnsworth’s one-eyed monster. 

I owe my friend some money from ten years ago so every year I give him a grand. This last year he said, “Hey, I haven’t bought you a Xmas or Birthday present in a couple of years. I want you to take the money you give me and this year buy yourself a big-screen TV. There’s a special on at Costco. This HD-TV the only item I’ve ever bought that I haven’t had a trace of ‘buyers’ remorse’ about.” 

So, God help me, I did. 50” inches of pure, high-definition joy. E and I used to go to a movie once a week. Now we pick and choose. Cable is more expensive and it eats my time, but I can work out on my cross-trainer while I view, which works out well. 

These disclaimers having been proclaimed, let me direct you to “the good stuff” if you‘re looking for diversion and are willing the risk of acquiring the jones. The big night of the week seems to be Tuesday (see below). 

Besides, if you don’t invest a little time to catch up on pop culture, how will you know what everybody’s buzzing about, and you’ll never get the answers on trivia quizzes. 

NOTE: The dirty secret is that you can watch full episodes of most of these shows on your computer for free (links below). 

GLEE—a unique and wacky sitcom musical that brings Broadway musical theatre stars to TV. A high school glee club with out-of-this-world voices from “teenagers” who are going through all the typical hormonal crises of sex and popularity; lots of competition with each other, other glees clubs, and the cheerleading squad led by Jane Lynch, the wackiest and most popular character actor out there. The series won the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy, and received three additional nominations for Best Actress (Lea Michele: veteran of child stardom on Broadway: Les Miz, Ragtime, Fiddler, with a drama desk award for Spring’s Awakening), Best Actor (Matthew Morrison: star of Broadway’s Footloose, Rocky Horror, Hairspray, and a Tony nomination for Light in the Piazza), and Best Supporting Actress (Jane Lynch). Its first season also earned a Peabody Award. Kristin Chenoweth—the first Glinda from Wicked who just opened on Broadway in Promises, Promises—is a repeat guest. You don’t have to follow every week—you can just drop in to check out the gay, paraplegic, overweight, pregnant, and football-playing candid characters all with daunting musical theatre talent—the perfect antidote to American Idol. FOX Tues 9 pm 

Watch full episodes at 

PARENTHOOD—Familiar stars such as Peter Krause from Six Feet Under, Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls, Craig T. Nelson from Coach, and Bonnie Bedeli lead Braverman clan in braving the storm of any extended family. Set right here in Berkeley, they deal with multi-racial families, Asperger’s, gifted children, overachieving, and the sex drives of teenager with parents who knew what they did at that age. It’s charming; catch one and relax. NBC Tues 9 pm 

Watch full episodes at 

JUSTIFIED—If you watched Deadwood, the show about the way the West really was which was noted for its nineteenth century eloquence and liberal profanity, you will recognize Timothy Olyphant who played the Sheriff. Here he’s a US Marshall who is transferred back to his hometown in Harlan County Kentucky. I’m from Appalachia, and the upsurge in rural crime (meth, terrorism, gangs, with not a mention of bootlegging) rang true to me; it’s hairy in the hinterland these days. If I were being snappy and witty, I’d call if Mayberry RFD meets Deadwood, but it really brings you a trip to a world you don’t get elsewhere. FX (different from FOX) Tue 10 pm 

Watch full episodes at 

LAW & ORDER: Criminal Intent—with Jeff Goldblum, who took over for the intriguing and unappreciated character Vincent D’Onofrio created. Goldblum is a movie star, and on TV, he just shines. Worth tuning in just to see his charming antics and acting talent. USA Tue 10 pm 

IN PLAIN SIGHT—Another off-the-beaten-path US Marshall drama, character-driven by a Mary McCormack whose banter with her egg-head partner is worthy of your time. They run the Witness Protection in Albuquerque NM, and have a great supporting cast including Lesley Ann Warren as her alcoholic mom, with lots of well-known stars appearing as witnesses-on-the-run. 

USA Wed 10 pm (also shown at 7 pm)  

Watch full episodes at 

UNITED STATES OF TARA—There are two Cable “dramedies” about women who are in deep over their head. Nice change from the white guy always being the one on the short end of the stick. Toni Collette is an Academy Award-nominated Australian actress best known for her roles in The Sixth Sense and Little Miss Sunshine. She plays the multiple roles of the multiple-personality afflicted Tara, and her transformations are a tour de force performance. John Corbett from Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, and My Fat Greek Wedding plays her long-suffering husband. As in most all of these recommendations, the supporting cast never fails. Toni Collette won the 2009 Primetime Emmy Award and 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role, while the opening title sequence also won an Emmy. It’s the brainchild of Diablo Cody who wrote Juno. 

Watch a one-minute cut of episodes at 


NURSE JACKIE—After 30 years are a waitress taking any part she could, Edie Falco hit the big-time as Tony Soprano’s wife Carmella, and it was only a matter of time before she got her own show. An addicted ER RN with a gorgeous husband and two kids, she works in a downtown NYC small hospital and has an erstwhile, self-serving and increasingly complicated affair with a pharmacist. It’s set at the just-closed real-life St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village (I used to go there for care when I was trying to be an actor). SHOWTIME Mon 10 pm 

Watch samples (this is Special Pay Cable, so nothing for free) at 

TRUE BLOOD— Ever notice that TV staples are Doctors & Nurses, Cops, and Lawyers? It’s because their jobs are life and death. Well, now there are others who have power over life and death. Gory good fun in Bayou Country led by the youngest Oscar-winner Anna Paquin as now-famous. In the first season, it won a Golden Globe and an Emmy. From Charlaine Harris's popular Southern Vampire Mystery books, its creator is Alan Ball of Six Feet Under fame. It’s gotten complicated lately, bringing in Maenads and Werewolves. I’d recommend NetFlicking the first season over a long weekend with some good red wine. HBO Sun 9 pm, starting up again on June 13. You can get “a taste” of a mini-sode at 

SONS OF ANARCHY—about a California MC gang who protects a small town ironically named Charming from the vagaries of outside crime in exchange for a place to live and do their business—the all-American small entrepreneurial endeavor of automatic weapons. It’s part Hamlet, part “The Scottish Play,” and an interesting look inside living outside the law in an organized fashion. The clannish ties give an insight into what life must have been like back in the day. Trips they take the Oakland and San Leandro will draw you in, with Beauty and the Beast and Hellboy star Ron Perlman, Married with Children’s Katey Sagal in an exceptional continuing performance as the Queen, and the charismatic Charles Hunnam as Jax, the heir-apparent with doubts. If you’re not a small(er) screen aficionado, you probably don’t know that a lot of new shows run about 13 episodes twice a year and take lots of good time to produce their good work. Thus, this one is on break now, so you have time to catch up on the Legend of Sam Crowe FX in September 2010. 

Watch full episodes at 


FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS—hooked on it; for my money the best drama on TV, spawned from the movie with Billy Bob Thornton, from the novel by Buzz Bissinger. Texas football teenagers and the Coach’s family, but it’s thrilling to watch these great young actors love, drink, and catch the game-winning pass. New season starts on NBC this Friday (imagine that) 8pm 

Watch full episodes at 

TWO AND HALF MEN—Still the top sit-com. Like the great old actor quipped on his death-bed when ask if facing mortality was difficult, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” Rumor that star Charlie Sheen is retiring. Reruns at 7 pm weekdays at Channel 44 KBCWD, new episodes NBC Mon 9 pm 

Watch clips at 

BIG LOVE—I love it when I get sucked into a story the point where I’m seeing craziness through another person’s eyes and buying it as normal. About a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family that practices polygamy secretly while integrating as civic exemplars. Bill Pullman, Jeannie Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny (Emmy for best supporting actress), Ginnifer Goodwin, and Amanda Seyfried are all film actors who join to present this novel drama that plays out like a very long novel. The engrossing plots make it another recommended for Netflicking to catch up. HBO, on break right now. 


John A .McMullen II usually reviews theatre. Comments to