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February 03, 2006

Must see TV

I don't watch much TV. (Correction: I watch a lot of CNBC (usually with the sound off) and generally try to catch Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume while at the gym, but that is pretty much it.) I also don't have Tivo or Time Warner Cable's version of it, so no time shifting and commercial skipping for me. However, I recently discovered the joys of watching TV shows on DVD, and surprisingly (at least to me) found some interesting original stuff to watch. (Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, who can usually be relied upon to point to interesting things to read and watch.)

Wonderfalls is a deliciously quirky comedy series about a Gen Y slacker with an Ivy League degree who lives in a trailer park in Niagara Falls and works in tourist gift shop, confounding and embarrassing her conventional upper middle class family. This premise doesn't seem very interesting until Jaye (played by Caroline Dhavernas) begins to hear animal figurines talking to her. Not just idle chatter, either; these critters give Jaye insistent -- but maddeningly cryptic -- advice or commands. When Jaye acts on these instructions, well, curious things happen. Here is what Amazon's Mark Englehart had to say about it:

Wonderfalls is probably the most hilarious show you've never seen. An hour-long "dramedy" about a young woman who hears the voices of inanimate objects--which instruct her to help out total strangers--the show aired on Fox in early 2004 to critical acclaim and dismal ratings. After airing four times in terrible time slots, the show was quickly canceled, but not before a hue and cry from a small but fervently devoted cadre of fans went up, begging for all 13 episodes to be released on DVD. Thus, the highest-profile DVD release of a canceled show was born, and the nine unaired episodes of Wonderfalls are finally seeing the light of day.

In spite of its made-for-TV pedigree, the show is both un-stupid and funny. Even the kids liked it, though some episodes do feature "adult themes." Check it out.

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Another very watchable, Fox Network reject is Firefly. This 2002 show follows life aboard the interstellar equivalent of a tramp freighter, roaming the galaxy in search of ways to make a quick buck. The recent film Serenity (also worth watching) was based upon this television series, and includes most of the original cast.

Firefly was made by Josh Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and features surprisingly good production values and special effects for such a low-budget production. Like Wonderfalls, this series was also cancelled before all the eposides made were aired. Only eleven of the shows were broadcast, in spite of decent reviews. The show's theme is a mix between the original Harrison Ford loveable smuggler/outlaw from Star Wars and a libertarian take on an American Western. (In spite of having the technology for faster-than-lightspeed travel, the characters appear to use modern day firearm technology and wear cowboy-style six shooters on their hips. Maybe the budget didn't extend to ray guns.)

It's interesting to watch these shows on DVD, where the TV segment pacing (with suspenseful scene endings before each commercial break) is glaringly obvious. These segues pleasantly remind you that there are no commercials to skip over. The cast is excellent, and even includes Jewel Staite, the actress who played the ex-wife of Jaye's love interest in Wonderfalls.

There is a limit to how many of these you want to watch over a short period of time, but the series is well worth the price.

February 3, 2006 at 08:27 AM | Permalink

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