Some Under The Radar TV

There continues to be too much good stuff on TV to be able to keep up. I watch a lot of it–it’s convenient and entertaining–to the point that I had to stop writing pieces about my favorites because it just took too long. And as part of my attempt to write shorter posts more often, I decided to pick five shows that I’ve watched recently that might not have gotten the widespread buzz of, say, White Lotus, which I enjoyed.

Let’s start with Bad Sisters, on Apple TV+. Developed in part by Sharon Horgan (who also developed the great Catastrophe and the pretty good Divorce, which was shot, in part, in Tarrytown, where I live, among other shows), it stars Horgan and a number of excellent actors as her (bad) sisters. The premise of the show is that one of the sisters, Grace, is married to a very bad man, Jean Paul, who the other sisters despise, for good reasons. They decide to kill John Paul (without telling Grace). Jean Paul turns up dead, and the show flashes back and forth between the sisters’ attempts to kill Jean Paul, and the post-mortem investigation by two reasonably hapless insurance agents with an incentive not to pay any claim. Also, one of the adjusters gets involved with the youngest sister, Becka (played by Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter). The show is hysterical, the acting is brilliant, and the ending is unexpected.

Also on Apple TV+ is Little America. The first season of the show aired early on in Apple TV+’s run, and was overshadowed by “bigger” shows like the uneven Morning Show and the spectacular For All Mankind. But I remember reading reviews saying that Little America was the best show on the network, and while that may not be true, it is damn good. The show features lightly fictionalized stories of immigrant life in the United States, and they are all incredibly interesting, charming, and uplifting. Developed, in part, by Kumail Nanjani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, and with contributions from Alan Yang and other talented writers and directors, the show highlights the breadth of the immigrant experience, and subtly makes it clear how America is enriched by immigrants. In addition to just being well done, it’s a nice palate cleanser after all of the heavy, dystopian, serious or suspenseful shows (and life).

Another generally fun show that has been overlooked is Extraordinary, on Hulu. It’s sort of a superhero show that takes place in a world where everyone gets a superpower on their eighteenth birthday. Well, almost everybody. The main character, Jen, doesn’t get her power and has to deal with her feelings of inadequacy. Plus, she’s really not a nice person, anyway. It’s fun seeing how everyone deals with their powers–some of them seem great, like flying, strength, or superspeed, unusual, like being able to channel the dead, maybe good, like being able to induce an orgasm by merely touching another person, and frankly weird, like being able to generate 3-D objects from your butt on demand. Jen’s attempts to get a power, deal with her lack of power, and relationship with a cat who turns out to be a shape-shifting man (with cat-like mannerisms), raise the question of who actually is extraordinary. It’s fun and funny. And Jen’s mom is played by Siobhán McSweeney, who was brilliant as Sister Michael in Derry Girls. Her power, by the way, is the ability to control technology, except she doesn’t really understand technology.

The English is a western limited series on Amazon Prime, created by Hugo Blick, a Brit, shot mostly in Spain, and featuring many British actors. The two leads are Emily Blunt, from London, as a wealthy British woman who travels to the American frontier in 1890, to seek revenge against the man who took her child (but not in the way that you might originally think) and Chaske Spencer, a Native American, as the man who ultimately guides and helps her. It’s a little over-plotted, and I found the ending a touch unsatisfying, but the show is beautiful and difficult to turn away from, as it deconstructs many myths of the American west.

Here’s another English show–Ghosts. I really like the American re-make of the show, which has creative involvement from some of the folks that made the original. It’s a network sitcom that, as my wife and often say, shouldn’t be so charming and fun. But the original is better, and you can see the first three seasons on HBO Max (and hopefully, eventually, the fourth). The premise of both shows is that a woman inherits a big fancy house from a distant relative, and following a head injury, she gains the ability to see the ghosts of people who died on the property since ancient times. The humor of the original is a little sharper and less “sitcommy” than the American version, and the original spends more time dealing with the interactions among the ghosts, who are just more interesting characters than the modern day couple (in both shows). If you’ve seen and enjoyed the American show, try the original. If you haven’t seen either, I’d start with the American version first.

Our featured song, “T.V. Is King,” by The Tubes, is from their great, Todd Rundgren-produced album Remote Control, which is a concept album about television and its power. I wrote more about it at Star Maker Machine a few years ago, and if you are interested, you can check it out.

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