It’s summer and there’s a massive heat wave and chances are when you’re not at work, you’re going to be somewhere else with air conditioning. And perhaps also a television set and more importantly, a DVD player.
See, having cable is all well and good, but who wants to wait up to seven full days to see the next show in their favorite television series? Who has that kind of time and patience? We prefer dedicating one solid sleepless weekend to watching the whole run on DVD — even the ones we’ve already seen before. At the end of the weekend you usually feel like the cast of Bones knows you better than you know yourself and it can be a bit of an effort to integrate yourself back into society. But it’s well worth it.
Here are some of Team Autostraddle’s favorite TV series to watch on DVD!
Golden Girls has been a part of my life since before I was old enough to understand the jokes. I have early memories of watching the Season 4 episode where Blanche considers breast implants at my grandmother’s house when it originally aired in 1989…I would have been five. Obviously it took a little while for the show to catch on, and I didn’t REALLY get into it until I was a freshman in college. My friends and I would have what we called “ladies’ nights,” where about nine of us would regularly cease homework at about 10:45, head up to the dorm room of our one friend with a working television, watch an hour of uproarious Golden Girls reruns, then immediately return to our studies.
Golden Girls has always resonated with me because it isn’t just a show about senior citizens – it’s a show about four close friends who experience personal tragedies, relationship drama, insecurities, political issues and other things that affect women of any age. Although the first few seasons have their after school special moments, the show later managed to touch on a variety of topics including Alzheimer’s, HIV, assisted suicide, teen pregnancy, nuclear war, sexual harassment, homosexuality, artificial insemination, drug addiction and aliens – all while maintaining a sharp sense of humor and an earnestness that never felt overly cheesy. Also, I have NEVER seen women this age speak so frankly about sex; I have a barely-realized dream of one day having a Dorothy and Sophia-style uncensored relationship with my own mother some day. A sexually confident character like Blanche was revolutionary and important for women of the 80s – I mean, let’s be real; without Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia, there would have been no Sex and the City and THEN WHAT?!?! I’ve always loved how sometimes they’ll use an actor in a few different roles and hope nobody will notice, and the way Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan Zbornak always introduced himself by saying “Hi, it’s me, Stan!” as though they needed reminding. Begin a story with either “Back in St Olaf…” or “Picture it! Sicily, 1934…” and I promise, I will listen.
For what it’s worth, here is a Sophia quote from the episode where Dorothy’s friend Jean develops a crush on Rose: “Jean likes girls instead of boys – some people prefer cats instead of dogs. I’d rather live with a lesbian than a cat.” I would also like to point out that the 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD comes IN SOPHIA’S PURSE.
Recently I was trying to list the things in my life that have had a profound impact on me creatively. Most are from my childhood (Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, Jim Henson’s Muppets, the films of Christopher Guest, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and Joss Whedon’s Buffy series spring to mind immediately) but the most recent addition to this list is Tina Fey and her brilliant series 30 Rock. I know it’s not particularly unique or interesting to even claim this as an influence anymore – I’m a muppet-esque 29-year-old female after all – but when I think about recent pop culture affecting me nothing stands out as much as 30 Rock.
I have been watching 30 Rock on NBC since it began airing in 2006, but the show didn’t become the giant force it is for me until repeat viewings on Hulu and eventually on DVD. For the better part of 2011, I’ve fallen asleep to 30 Rock DVDs every single night, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily bringing me any closer to Tina Fey brilliance in my professional life, it’s making me a far happier person in my personal life. There is something so madcap, ridiculous, absurdist and somehow still human about the series, and now that I have the DVDs I’ve begun studying the show; the nuances of the characters, the commentary from the cast and crew, the outtakes. I’m a huge tv nerd and repeated DVD viewing is very commonplace for my favorite series, it’s like a companion to viewing the show week-to-week.
Another show that I adore is Summer Heights High, but unlike 30 Rock, I didn’t discover this one until years after it aired in the US on HBO. My roommate at the time had the DVD and after watching it with her I ordered myself a copy as well. Much like 30 Rock (and Newsradio, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Parks and Rec, and seasons 2-4 of the US Office) I can watch SHH over and over again and it never gets old. If you haven’t seen it do yourself a favor and get a copy of the DVDs immediately. There are only 8 episodes so it’s a quick viewing.
FAMILY GUY & SQUIDBILLIES
JULIE AND BRANDY, THE TALENT
What do you do when living in LA has made you hate actors, acting, and the television industry?
You watch CARTOONS! Subversive, hilarious, inappropriate, adorable cartoons. And you watch them over and over. On DVD. The best thing about cartoons is that they can go on forever and no one ever changes! The kids never grow up, the parents never get old, and the old people never die. Imagine a world where the Olsen twins stayed babies (with red hair!) forever and Kimmy Gibler was always your annoying neighbor.
FAMILY GUY is on it’s 9th season and still going strong. It’s getting funnier with each passing year and creator Seth MacFarlane shows no signs of slowing down. Family Guy is genius to watch on DVD because the shows (and the jokes) are independent of each other and do not need to be watched in sequential order (unlike shows like Arrested Development where much of the comedy is built on inside jokes from previous episodes and if you miss one you feel like you’re out of the loop). And after you get hooked on Family Guy, you’re gonna want to revisit your favorite episodes again and again and again and again. (We have watched the episode where Peter turns gay at least 67 times. Literally.) Your obsession will start with Stewie, the snarky, gay baby with a pseudo-british accent, but it won’t take you long to fall in love with Peter, the dumb-butt father, and all the other characters. Even the 97 year old, pedophile neighbor who always tries to lure boys into his house will become one of your favorites. HE’S SO FREAKIN’ CUTE!
The good news is- you can get 8 of the 9 seasons in a dvd set that comes in an ultra-adorable Stewie head!
SQUIDBILLIES is not for the faint of heart. This is a late-night, adults-only cartoon that airs in 15 minute episodes on the Adult Swim portion of the Cartoon Network. The show revolves around a family of hillbilly squids. They are the ABSOLUTE CUTEST, crystal-meth making, boonie-living, redneck trash that you’ll ever meet! They squish around their junk yard in the Appalachian mountains on their long, tentacley legs, and their sound effects and thick (nearly unintelligible) accents are intoxicating.
This show is good for people who LIVE to be shocked and aren’t afraid of being appalled. Like, for example- Riese wouldn’t care for it because she doesn’t like violence (which is a quality we love about her, btw), and actually- most people won’t care for it because it can be somewhat racist, misogynistic, sexist, homophobic, violent, gory, crude, stupid, ignorant, and gross (a lot like The Real L Word). Squidbillies is proudly defiant and offensive to EVERYONE. No one is safe and that is exactly what we love about it.
If you enjoy shows like Jackass, Tosh.0, South Park or Strangers with Candy– then you should absolutely get these dvds. (They’d also be a great gift for your unemployed, druggie brother or guy friends).
If you’ve ever read any of my articles you know that I have a rich fantasy life where I think I’m rich and can buy all the cute clothes I want. This is why I love Gossip Girl. Actually, I only started watching because I heard Hilary Duff kisses a girl in it. This is true and highly relevant to my interests, but Gossip Girl is so much more than that. In care you don’t know, Gossip Girl is about mega rich high school (and later college) students living on the upper west side of Manhattan. Thus, it’s basically the best show for anyone who wants to escape their life without running in to Doctor Who territory. It’s one of those shows where the plot line makes insane jumps and characters have complete personality changes over the course of an episode. Luckily you’re too distracted by how Unbelievably Good-looking everyone is to notice. Seriously, between Blake Lively and Leighton Meester you basically have all your basis covered. Chuck Bass (played by Ed Westwick) basically makes the best male-identified attempt at a hot butch lesbian that I’ve ever seen.
Gossip Girl is particularly good to watch on DVD because the plot lines are so entangled, that unless you watch it all in a row you’ll be all mixed up by the end of the season. Best of all, Gossip Girl is one of those shows you can watch with anyone. It might take some coercing, but as soon as anyone watches a few episodes they’re hooked. Your mom will love this show. You sister will love this show. Your dog will love this show. By the end of last summer my friends and I had two Australian golfer dudes more glued than us. They wanted to go as the cast for Halloween. Obviously it’s a winner.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show I was way too cool for in the late 90s. I’d repeatedly watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer THE MOVIE as a 12 year-old, and frankly, this television remake felt childish and unnecessary, so I didn’t even give it a chance. I was a very smug teenager.
After getting involved with the queer girl community on this magical internet, it became clear pretty quickly that I’d missed something. Not only was I not kissing girls in high school — like I should’ve been — but I had also missed out on this apparently amazing tv show. So I put aside my teenage snobbery and plowed through Season 1 over the course of a weekend (via Hulu, god of the Internet TV Show-Watching K-Hole). When that was over, I promptly purchased the entire set (and Angel! What?) on Amazon and never looked back. BTVS is witty, hilarious, campy as hell, empowering, GAY, feelingsy and I love love love it all so freaking much.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I didn’t watch it when it first aired. And I no longer lose sleep at night wondering if I would’ve realized my queerness sooner if I’d only been into Buffy instead of… whatever I was into then. Who has time to dwell on the past when you can ponder a world without shrimp?
People always assume I know a ton about Sci-Fi because I can tell them what iPod to buy and I have a comprehensive genealogical knowledge of the Marvel universe. Confession: I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek and when people talk about Star Wars, I just play along so I don’t lose friends. I may be an infidel in those respects, but boy howdy did I get hooked on Battlestar Galactica.
I haven’t had cable or watched much TV over the years, so like every other show, I didn’t know about Battlestar Galactica (the new one, not the kitschy old one) until it had already ended. Before I watched the pilot, I was skeptical — I’m not into campy sci-fi stuff or horror so I went in pretty closed-minded, like a total asshole, really. As it turns out, BSG is just a really fucking mind-blowingly good drama that happens to be set in space in a future world where the human race is not quite so on top. To me, Battlestar Galactica seems like science fiction at its purest: rather than using futuristic technology, alien races, and interstellar travel as the focus, these aspects become the backdrop of brilliantly layered ethical dilemmas that would be otherwise impossible to conjure in say, Friday Night Lights.
This show is smart as all-get-out, incredibly hot (have you seen Starbuck?), respectably queer, and completely, utterly compelling. Of course, you’re not going to have much interest in our own mundane not-so-interstellar universe once you dip your toes into Battlestar’s tense, sexy, politically-charged spaceworld — so plan to your sick days accordingly.
Get the complete series on Amazon.
Next: The X-Files, Bones, Firefly, Queer as Folk and more!
I didn’t get a chance to watch The X-Files series when it first came out, because I was five. I mean I guess I could have watched it but I think a lot of it would have gone over my head, and it would have been a little too soon to make me gay. But I started watching them casually at someone else’s house last year, and then casually noticed every season was on Netflix Instant, and then started blocking out parts of my weekends to devote to it. I’d like to be really highbrow about this and claim it’s because it’s so well-written and had better protagonists than any show that’s on the air now, or else get a lot of gay street cred by playing the Scully Card. Both those things are true, but also, man! Monsters! Aliens! Creepy dark woods in small rural towns where teenagers disappear! What’s not to love? The best part about watching the series all at once is that I feel like I’m somehow smarter or at least luckier than the people watching in the ’90s — whereas they had to wait like six weeks to find out whether Mulder actually died in that underground bunker full of smallpox aliens (uh, sorry for the spoiler I guess?) all I had to do was click “next episode.” TAKE THAT, PEOPLE IN THE ’90s. You may have had jobs, but I have the beginning of Season 4 in under 30 seconds. It all evens out in the end.
QUEER AS FOLK
I used to wish I was a gay man. I don’t know why, really. I think it was because I was gay but there weren’t any images of gay women in the media so instead I focused on gay men, which was a suitable derailment. I’d get jealous if I watched movies or TV shows about gay guys because it’d just make me wish I was one, and I couldn’t be, so I often avoided gay shows to avoid the jealousy. I avoided The L Word, too, because I was afraid it would make me wish I was a gay women, but eventually I watched it, and I was right, it did. And only then was I ready to start watching Queer as Folk. It was the winter of 2006, and I worked late, ’til one or two in the morning, and I’d be itching all night to get home and get back to my friends: Brian, Justin, Michael, Lindsay, Mel, Emmet and Ted invaded my consciousness.
This was before I’d started recapping teevee shows and I didn’t think too critically about QAF’s representation. I loved them all uncritically and fully, and for weeks after I finished the last season I found myself depressed, I missed them like I’d missed The Fishers, and still do.
I know I’d find Brian Kinney less hot if he was straight, I’d find that dance scene ending Season One less romantic, less Top-Ten-Best-Scenes-Ever-Worthy. In fact, I’d probs find him chauvinistic and unkind. It’s not that I wanted to date Brian Kinney, but if I’d been a gay boy I would’ve. I was about to write: “He’d probably break my heart,” but no one ever thinks that’ll be them, that guy with the broken heart, right? You’re going to change Brian Kinney. You’ll be the one to break Jordan Catalano or Shane or Frankie or Brian Kinney right open; and you can’t do that simply by getting them literally naked, because we all know they’ll do that for anyone. Maybe that willingness for physical revelation is what makes the illusive, walled-off interior so much more appealing.
Anyhow Brian’s storyline with Justin was as tender and full of tough Relationship Moments as ever. The lesbian couple, Mel and Linds, were probably my least favorite characters ’cause all they talked about is babies. Emmet Honeycutt is just so funny and lovely. It’s a queer show about queer people and so if you’re gay or lesbian or bi or queer I think you’ll like it.
Get the complete series on Amazon.
Firefly was one of the first examples of great shows that built their fandom around DVD sales. Hardly anybody watched it when it was TV, as FOX made damn sure that no one heard about it. They also marketed it wrong, aired the episodes out of order… all the usual cases of shows being killed by their networks. But somehow, someone discovered the DVDs on Amazon, told their friends, who told their friends, and little by little, a fandom was born.
That was how I discovered the show, too: through a friend. My best guy friend, who loves sci-fi as much as I do but knows considerably more about it (due to both parents sharing that interest, whereas my mom hates sci-fi and she always controlled the TV), introduced me to this show in my sophomore year of college. I had heard about it before, but not enough to really take the initiative and watch it. (I was a few years too young for Buffy, so I wasn’t aware of the cult of Whedon.) But the fact that he liked it was enough to get me curious, so I followed the link he sent me to the show on Hulu. It didn’t take long before I had watched all five episodes and I was feeling anxious that I couldn’t find more. This was before I knew much of anything about Megavideo or file-sharing, things that would help me in the coming years. So I resorted to begging everyone I knew to buy me the show on DVD for Christmas. I was apparently such a pain in the ass about it that I got the same DVD from two different people. I quickly watched the remaining episodes and became obsessed with it enough to try to pressure all my friends and family to watch it. (Friends, I was mostly successful with; family, not so much). It would be the first time, but not the last, that I did that with a TV show.
See, I was never a big TV person before college (I only watched cartoons), so Firefly, along with Glee (which hit me around the same time), was the first big TV obsession I had. It is interesting to note the difference between the way the two affected me, since I watched Glee on TV and saw it unfold little-by-little. Firefly, though, I got all at once. So for Glee, a lot of my obsession was that excitement about not knowing what’s going to happen next. With Firefly, it was because I got to know the characters very deeply very quickly. They felt like my friends, and I could discuss them as if I actually knew them. In that sense, Firefly is a lot more like something like Skins than your typical sci-fi show, and that’s probably why its fandom is so huge: it transcends genre boundaries. Firefly has all the beautiful world-building typical of its genre, but none of it really matters; its yours to take or leave if you want it. Because ultimately, the futuristic technology and outer space scenery are really just backdrops to the real point of the show: the characters’ development and relationships. The people are what made the show for me.
Of course, that’s also the problem with Firefly: you get super-attached to those characters, but before you know it, they’re gone. Because the show only lasted half a season, we only got 14 episodes to get to know them. Even a Skins generation is longer than 14 episodes! The DVD fandom was enough to bring us a movie, Serenity, but it didn’t perform so well at the box office. We’ll probably never get anything else about the crew of the Serenity, other than fanfiction and, like Buffy before it, the comic books (I own 2 out of 3 of them, and they’re quite good!) But don’t let the disappointment keep you away from it! The show is one of the best things ever aired, it’s very feminist and, anyway, it wouldn’t be a Joss Whedon show without it playing with your heart! (And oh, it does. Especially Serenity.)
Oddly enough, Firefly was also one of the things that helped me discover my bisexuality. Because I realized that I found almost everybody attractive on that show (though Simon, Inara and of course Saffron stick out). I have discovered through the Internet that this is a very typical bisexual reaction to this show. So if for no other reason, watch Firefly for the sexy people!
Get the complete series on Amazon.
THE GOOD WIFE
About a month ago I watched an episode of The Good Wife with my mom. I’ve now seen every episode. The thing the show is that every single character is interesting. I don’t care what critics say about all the “you go Alicia!” moments, I could (and have) watched Alicia Florrick kick ass all day. Obviously I’ve got a thing for bisexual, aggressive, femmy Kalinda. I’ve found myself rewinding scenes where Eli Gold chews up and spits out Becca, Alica’s son’s bratty high school girlfriend, because Alan Cumming is just that good. I even like Cary in all his smarmy Havard-boy-ishness. If you enjoy underrated dramas, Law and Order: SVU, shows that acknowledge that we live in an unequal society, Angus from The L Word, and/or pretty women tearing shit up, this might be a show you want to watch.
TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES
I didn’t watch Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles while it was originally on TV because I was pretty into Dollhouse and it’s hard to be into more than one likely-to-be-canceled-at-any-moment-sci-fi-show-featuring-Summer-Glau at once. Also in my head Terminator was still something that involved Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Linda Hamilton’s pull-ups didn’t make quite the impression when I was three as they do now. And then someone told me how good it was, and also pointed out that Lena Headey, who plays Sarah Connor, was in Imagine Me & You, and that was that (Lena Headey and Summer Glau are basically the best parts of this series. Recurring dreams in which your MacBook is secretly Skynet is the worst.)
The Sarah Connor Chronicles isn’t going to make you use your brain the way something like Mad Men or The Wire might make you use your brain, but it’s awesome all the same. Watching all the episodes at once, you get a sense of a narrative arc that might have been easy to miss if you were only watching once a week, and you can feel better-outraged at the less feminist-friendly aspects of the show, like how Sarah Connor is the title character but her idiot kid is the future leader of humanity. Also fair warning: the show was canceled and the ending of season two was the ending of the series, and when you get there it will feel awful.
DEXTER AND BONES
TV on DVD is not only the best invention since tabbed browsing, it’s also the perfect answer to my shocking ability to procrastinate anything and everything. I pretty much only watch hour-long dramas (plus Modern Family), but which ones in particular changes with the seasons. In January, I’m usually all about The West Wing. For some reason I feel more capable of thinking about things like national security and budgets when it’s cold.
But if I can’t go outside because my flip flops will melt to the sidewalk, I only want to watch Dexter and Bones. These are both shows that I don’t have to think too hard about, but they still pack some serious entertainment value. I mean, all I really want are dead bodies and witty people who talk about (and/or create) those dead bodies.
So, Dexter. It’s one of the best written shows on television and certainly has the best opening credits. There are seriously shocking twists, tons of interesting moral conflict, great villains, very attractive people, and of course Miami. Who doesn’t want to watch Michael C. Hall run around a gorgeous, sun-soaked city eating Cuban food and taking his boat out for a spin? It makes me feel like I’m actually participating in summer while remaining cozy in my air-conditioned house. And you’re guaranteed to yell “WHAT THE F*CK” at least once every season. Great stuff.
Bones is definitely lighter fare. It follows the forensics show model a little more faithfully. They start with a gross crime, throw around some science words, and then arrest the bad guy. But they also show you personal relationships between characters, which makes me keep coming back for more. The chemistry between Boothe and Bones is crazy, but hopefully you already know that because you watched that episode with Julie Goldman in it, right? You better have. Don’t you want to know what happened before then?! Of course you do. Also Samantha Ronson loves Bones just as much as I do. Have we mentioned how attractive Samantha Ronson is in person? Very. Go watch some Bones. Season 1-3 are on Netflix and season 5 is on Hulu+.
Next: Dara, Six Feet Under, LA Ink and more!
THE WEST WING
It was maybe a few months after George W. Bush was elected for his second term when I came home from work and found my roommate Krista crying on her bed and eating rice pudding from the tub with the tiny television on. On the screen I saw some sort of surprisingly soft-lensed political event. Presidential colors. I asked her what was wrong and she wailed, he’s so perfect, he’s just so perfect, why can’t we have a president like him?
Jed Bartlet. (dramatic pause) On The West Wing.
I thought, “What?! You’re crying over an inauguration on a television show?” but a few months later when I’d caught up to that scene I cried, too. I think every time someone I respect is either sobbing or cracking up over a teevee show, I check it out. Krista owned some of the discs, or her friend did, and she’d been re-watching the first five seasons (the last two had yet to air) in some sort of post-2004-election-therapy cleansing. Also in 2005, Bravo had West Wing Mondays and I was still young enough then to feel watching television was an acceptable way to spend an entire afternoon.
I had a job then where I was mostly unsupervised and when we were busy, I was busy, and when we weren’t, I was watching The West Wing on DVD. In addition to the DVDs we owned, at this point Krista and I both had 3-disc Netflix plans as well. They never seemed to come fast enough.
By all means, the show looked — and by “looked” I mean literally how it looked on the screen for a newbie — really boring. But it wasn’t. It’s government porn. It’s everything you’d ever wanted government to be, and with these brilliant sharp clever evolving characters, too, including kickass women CJ Cregg (Allison Janey) and Abigail Bartlet (Stockard Channing).
Jed Bartlet is at once passionately religious/spiritual as well as politically liberal and entirely logical. He’s memorized the Bible, so he can go head-to-head with Conservative Bible-Beaters and win every time. His idea of a fun secret field trip involves a used bookstore. He was just so JUST, so fair, so smart — and when Obama ran for President, I voted for Obama partially because I voted for Bartlet. Then oddly the 2008 election almost exactly mirrored the contest between Barlet’s successor, Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits), and Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). It turns out during the summer of 2004, when the writers were constructing Santos’ character, “they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician – not yet even a US senator – by the name of Barack Obama.” During the 2008 campaign there was a lot of chatter about West Wing parallels — Aaron Sorkin constructed a read-out of the “imaginary meeting” between Obama and Jed Bartlet. The Guardian UK compared Obama’s White House to Barlet’s. Ultimately the difference between Obama’s White House and Bartlet’s was probably that Bartlet’s wasn’t controlled by lobbyists and money.
Also! There’s a rotating roster of impressive guest/reoccurring roles for actresses you love like Kristin Chenoweth, Mary McCormack, Mary Louise Parker, Lily Tomlin, Anna Deavere Smith, Jorja Fox, Marlee Matlin, Janeane Garafalo, Elizabeth Moss, and Evan Rachel Wood Bisexual.
The first time the song Ave Maria struck me as something I needed in my earbuds a lot was when I heard it on The West Wing. When I’d been writing for too long and my brain hurt, I’d turn out all the lights and lie on my bed and listen to Ave Maria over and over until time slowed down and my limbs got cold. Then I could sit back down, turn on Firefox, go to my Google Home Page, see the CNN headlines, and remember that George W. Bush is president, not Josiah Bartlett, and then I’d go stick my head in the oven.
I moved to Atlanta for a summer less than a week after graduating college. Packing was a blur, having to move everything from university flat to home to new room in the ATL, but I made sure to bring the essentials: laptop, bottle opener, tank tops because that is all you can wear there because of the heat, a couple of travel guides for urban exploration and summer roadtripping, and, of course, a bootleg copy of the complete series of Daria on DVD, a.k.a. the Best Graduation Gift Ever. During the week, I would come home from the office knackered and usually a humid, sweaty mess and look forward to winding down with my favorite ’90s TV heroine and the other denizens of Lawndale.
Daria has always been a summer-viewing show for me for some reason. This probably has a lot to do with the nostalgia effect — summer is an explosion of nostalgia. Freeze pops, Third Eye Blind, summer romances, fireworks. All the things that bring you back to being young and stupid and deliriously happy. If there’s a show that takes me back to that kind of blue-tongued, sunburnt bliss, Daria is it.
The ’90s, in particular, were a great time to be a girl, too — ‘Girl Power’ may have been a marketing ploy for EMI to sell albums, but I feel like then more than now, girls & young women had a lot of visible role models and figures we could relate to, especially in television. We had Clarissa Darling, Alex Mack, Shelby Woo. Everyone on My So-Called Life (a show that gives me similar feelings). Lisa Fucking Simpson. Lori Beth Denberg, Amanda Bynes and Alisa Reyes had all the best sketches on All That. Buffy and Willow, of course. And Xena and Gabrielle too, for your earliest dose of Ho Yay. And then there was Daria Morgendorffer, in all her sarcastic, filterless, combat-booted glory. Her wit may be as biting as a winter storm, but in watching the show, I will always find an invincible summer.
Get the complete series on Amazon.
As far as I’m aware, LA Ink never aired in Australia. I stumbled across the series accidentally while looking for The L Word in the ‘alternative’ section of my local DVD store.
While I generally loathe reality tv shows that are not based on cooking challenges, I was working on a concept for my next tattoo and thought a reality series about an LA tattoo parlour might provide some inspiration. It didn’t, but it did give me weeks of quality entertainment. LA Ink definitely falls into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, there is so! much! drama! Kat Von D and her shop manager Pixie are hot messes and (unintentionally) hilarious, by the second season I had developed a strong sympathy-based emotional investment in the tattoo artists that had to deal with them on daily basis.
SIX FEET UNDER
I want to explain to you how much I love Six Feet Under in words, but it’s been a long day, and maybe we could just settle in bed and watch half a season tonight instead? To say that Six Feet Under is a show about a family of undertakers isn’t inaccurate; it’s just not the whole story. I guess alternatively you can say that it’s a show about what it means to be human. Neither description is particularly informative, which is why, you see, I think you should just watch the whole series instead.
Six Feet Under is a show that forces you to confront mortality within the first few minutes of every episode, which says a lot about the gravity of what the series can make you feel. Because, yeah, the show centers around a family – the Fisher family, – but it’s also about what it means to be in a family. The loyalty, the obligations, the struggles and breakdowns and the absolutely heartbreaking, frustrating, manic kind of love that you experience when you realize that people who have been around you your whole life are complete strangers. It just talks about being fucking crazy, or feeling fucking crazy, or going fucking crazy — quietly — while being surrounded by other crazy people all trying to be loved. When main characters die, they remain on the show, the same way that loved ones never truly leave your mind.
It’s catharsis. It’s something to live and hide inside of. And I’m telling you, I think this show is actually perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s literature.
You have to see the series the whole way through, if for nothing else but to watch it end. By the time the final episode of the fifth season rolls around, every moment is so developed that the story and the experience become so devastatingly meaningful, dammit. It is the greatest finale because it’s the end of a journey of lifetimes. You get to say goodbye to everyone. You get to see them to their very end. Jennifer Beals loves it. And you know she’s always right.
Okay, wait, here. Watch this clip of the final scene of the series and think about it some more. I’m crying here. Crying.
Get the complete series on Amazon.
My freshman year of college I was introduced to a lot of things. Notably, frozen yogurt, the hours 3-5 a.m. and Grey’s Anatomy. Prior to my stay in Bingham Hall, I had not seen a single episode of the medical drama. One of my suitemates had the first two seasons on DVD and managed to get the four remaining girls hooked. The last holdout, I popped the omnipresent DVD into the player during a moment of weakness. I was hooked…we all were. We watched episodes in the awkward gaps between lectures, during classes we deemed “canceled” and any time procrastination called (which, for me, was all the time). No matter the day, no matter the hour, there was an 83% chance someone would be in our common room catching up on the first two seasons. Season 3 premiered that fall and every Thursday night our common room was packed bargain poster to mini-fridge with girls babbling over McDreamy and guys whose presence I’m unsure how to explain. I regularly camped out 30 minutes in advance to ensure I got a spot on the futon.
I never questioned my allegiance to the series until Season 5 when more than a dozen of my friends joined me around a television in Myrtle Beach. Foregoing our constant quest for the ever-allusive Myrtle Points (awarded for debaucherous and/or lecherous activities) in lieu of the season finale was when I realized we were all addicted to what was becoming an increasingly shitty show. I continued to watch anyway and felt vindicated when during Commencement Weekend and flanked by two of my freshman year suite-mates, I saw Jessica Capshaw. She waved back at me and offered her congratulations. What could have been a cute full circle kind of moment was sullied by me thinking how hot she was.
Next: Friday Night Lights, Weeds, My So-Called Life and more!
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
I don’t watch sports. I don’t know the rules to any sports game. When I was in high school, football, particularly, seemed like this dumb set of guidelines set up with the sole purpose of letting guys throw themselves into each other and express various other macho skills. I wasn’t at all involved in all the hubbub surrounding my high school’s football team (constantly State Champions for private schools). And I certainly wasn’t going to watch a TV show about football.
That’s why I didn’t watch Friday Night Lights when it was on TV. BECAUSE I WAS STUPID. First of all, I clearly misunderstood what football was and what football teams did and meant. And second, I was way off-base in thinking that Fright Night Lights was a football show. Yep it centers around a football team or two, the players, the coaches, the culture, and in most episodes there was a game with an impressive throw or tackle. But the show was about a small town. It was about a marriage. About family. About adolescence. About early adulthood. About older adulthood. I’m going to stand by what I’m about to say: It had the strongest developed characters and best-written and acted dialogue of any TV show I’ve ever watched. And did I mention that the music supervisor of the show was veteran KCRW? Most of the incidental and score-like music was written and performed by Explosions in the Sky and the more explicit tracks (like an understated cover of “Devil Town”) she uses fit the scenes perfectly and expand their meaning into multiple dimensions. The shots of Texas are beautiful. The emotions run deep. What more can I say?
Friday Night Lights is without a doubt one of the best TV shows to have ever existed. After five seasons, it aired its series finale this month, probably because of all the assholes like me who thought it was just a football show.
Since Californication airs on Showtime, this series didn’t slink into my life until 2009- two years after it premiered in 2007. A few of my friends were Hank Moody devotees and decided I bore a striking resemblance (in both looks and personality) to one of the main characters, Marcy, also known as “coke smurf”. From that point onward “coke smurf” became my sophomore year nickname, and many times I had the compromising (yet hilarious) experience of hearing “YO COKE SMURF” bellowed across campus, drawing bemused glances from both faculty and students.
Californication is an irreverent, hedonistic, and vivid portrayal of the life of author/father/alcoholic/perhaps sex addict Hank Moody and his struggle to be the family man his daughter needs while still retaining unique sense of self. He is both crude and charming, drawing women left and right- each episode is pretty much guaranteed to provide a cheap thrill of naked ladies. Underneath a plethora of one liners and dry slapstick Californication has real soul. The show un-apologetically displays people with unsanitized or glamorized flaws and desires, and is one of the few shows airing unafraid to portray humans at their best and worst without inviting judgement.
THAT ’70S SHOW
Watching TV was forbidden in my parents’ home when I was growing up, so I never got to experience That ’70s Show when it originally aired. A decade later, I was flipping channels and stopped on a sitcom where the father was berating his son for doing a “half-job” in cleaning out the garage. I can’t tell you how many times my own father has used that exact same phrase when I didn’t complete a chore to his satisfaction. Seeing it play out on screen was both cathartic and hilarious.
So while I started watching the show for Red’s tirades, I ended up buying all of the DVDs for other reasons too. I’ve always had a preference for the music and fashion of bygone eras (although as a trans girl, I’m so glad that I don’t actually live in one), so the fact that this show takes place in the late 70s is a huge draw. It’s also perfect to watch when you’re not quite sober because this is not a show to be taken seriously; you can even make a drinking game from the number of ridiculous gender stereotypes in each episode! Plus I have a teensy crush on Mila Kunis in bellbottoms (by the way, Mila, if I ask you out to a queer dance on Autostraddle, will you say yes?).
Get the complete series on Amazon.
[this section is adapted from Riese’s Team Pick: The Wire]
The Wire follows a few cops and detectives and the criminals they prosecute in the city of Baltimore. Season one of The Wire focuses on the illegal drug trade, Season Two on the seaport system, Season Three on the city government, Season Four on the school system (MY FAVORITE SEASON) and Season Five on print news media.
The first few episodes of each season can be a little slow, but give it time — by mid-season you literally won’t be able to think about anything else. It’s masterful, brilliant, careful storytelling and these are stories we rarely hear — at least not presented with this degree of compassion.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!
Back when it premiered in 2002, AfterEllen pointed out that the series would feature “the first regular Asian-American lesbian or bisexual character on television and only the second regular lesbian police officer in TV history.” Kima Greggs, played by African-American/Korean-American actress Sonja Sohn, was described later as serving as “a moral center for the series, one of the only cops in the group not willing to lie, cheat, and steal to promote herself or to help the case.” Also she’s hot:
And, in one of the show’s many daring/interesting/compelling choices, they made Omar Little, a “renowned stick-up man who lives by a strict moral code and never deviates from his rules, foremost of which is that he never robs or menaces people who are not involved in ‘the game,'” apologetically gay, with an extended network of other gay men who meet up at a gay bar owned by a really nice blind guy named “Butchie” who I wanted to hug a lot.
Omar was hands down one of my favorite characters on the show — and FUN FACT! President Barack Obama says Omar Little is his favorite television character (his favorite TV show is, of course, The Wire) — “that’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character.”
Season Four introduced Snoop, a drug gangster played by lesbian actress/rapper/ex-con Felicia “Snoop” Pearson.
Mostly I’d like you all to watch it so that we can all talk about it. It feels so realistic that after devouring five subsequent seasons of The Wire, I find Law & Order really disappointing.
Also Holly from The Office is in it.
If you don’t already watch the Mary-Louise Parker show, you gotta get on it. (Oh, sorry. You may be more familiar with the show by its more common title, “Weeds.”) There are a lot of reasons I’m into the show, but most of them don’t really matter. I mean, who cares if Nancy Botwin is one of the most compelling characters on TV or that Weeds is an interesting, well-written, suspenseful and darkly comic show about a widowed housewife who pays the bills slinging marijuana? So what, if with each season, the show’s plot gets twistier than…something that’s really twisty. (Sorry, guys. I spent upwards of ten minutes on that metaphor and couldn’t come up with anything better than “Whitney from the Real L-Word’s dreadlocks.” And that is clearly not good enough.) What matters is that Mary-Louise Parker is in it, being all Mary-Louise Parker, with her Mary-Louise Parker mouth and those Mary-Louise Parker eyes and that perfect little Mary-Louise Parker nose. Mary! Louise! Parker!
You may have questions while you’re watching the show, like, “Why doesn’t Nancy Botwin just get a regular job?” or “What’s wrong with these people?” or “Why is everything Mary-Louise Parker says so god damn sexy?” I can’t help you with the first two, but I’ve figured out the last one. It’s because she leaves her mouth open a little bit at the end of her sentences, whatever word they may land on. If you don’t believe me, go give it a try in the mirror. Instant sex appeal! Or maybe you just look crazy!
MY SO CALLED LIFE
LANEIA, EXECUTIVE EDITOR & RIESE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Laneia: Basically I will never not be in love with My So-Called Life. I recorded (with a VCR!) every episode after the pilot because I was obsessed with Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano and Leaning and Processing Feelings and that plaid shirt. I felt weird in jr. high, like most people do, and the only thing — the actual only thing — that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my weirdness, was MSCL and Sassy magazine. My friends didn’t talk or act like Angela or Rayanne (ok one friend sort of acted like Rayanne, but just re: drinking) and I felt like if they did, I’d be a lot happier. So in lieu of an older sister and any hope for self-realization, it was up to Winnie Holzman and Jane Pratt to show me the way. I mean, MSCL is the reason I had a Jansport backpack, bobbed red hair and that Violent Femmes cd.
I feel like Riese and I talk about this show constantly, but honestly, the only way I can really know if someone can understand me on a fundamental level, is to vet their feelings about Angela Chase. And like, which episode is better: Halloween or Betrayal?
Riese: After every episode I had a phone date with Amelia, and I’d have to take it on the crazy phone in my brother’s room because I didn’t have a phone in my room. So I’d wind the cord around to the bathroom and talk to her there. I always had so many thoughts in my head afterwards because Angela Chase read my brain out loud on the TV. I was in 8th grade.
I died my hair Crimson Glow and already wore the oversized flannels. I had the soundtrack and an entire wall of my bedroom dedicated to photos and magazine cut-outs about the cast of My So-Called Life and I subsequently patronized all of their subsequent projects. When MTV had MSCL marathons, after it’d been canceled/ruined my life, I’d tape them, so I could watch them over and over.
It’s really hard to communicate with people who’ve not seen this show, who don’t know what I mean when I say, “I love the way he leans” or “you’re so beautiful, it hurts to look at you” or “my feeling is… whatever happens, happens” or “there’s something about Sunday night that makes you want to kill yourself.”
I’ve never loved a how like I loved this show and fourfour breaks it all down for you in this video.
Get the complete series on Amazon.
What are your favorite series to engorge upon?