It’s a sad fact that the Arts movies section has a poor track record when it comes to recommendations. Just last issue, in the “Viewers Might Also Enjoy” box, we dubiously claimed that those who liked “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” would also be into “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” We’ve even plugged “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home” and “Free Willy 3: The Rescue”—without actually watching them—just because we thought it was funny.
To make amends for these derelictions of duty, I had the movies section interns compile a list of quality television shows that were conveniently cancelled after one or two seasons. Spanning the genre gamut from sci-fi to political drama, these short-but-sweet gems make ideal fare for reading period procrastinators.
“Murder One” is the “24” of legal dramas. Instead of presenting viewers with a “case of the week,” the show’s first season offers a single high profile mega-case—think O.J. Simpson-esque—which unfolds over the course of 23 episodes. Part mystery, part courtroom thriller, the intricate and riveting plot is brought to life by an elite cast headlined by Daniel Benzali as stentorian über-lawyer Ted Hoffman, and supported by stalwarts Stanley Tucci and Dylan Baker. (The show lost half its cast, the one-season/one-case premise, and most of its originality in its second season, so don’t bother with that.)
“Buffy” creator Joss Whedon’s criminally-cancelled witty, gritty sci-fi Western—which featured Nathan Fillion before he became famous on “Castle,” Adam Baldwin before “Chuck,” and Christina Hendricks before “Mad Men,” among others—is one of the bestselling TV shows of the DVD age. In 2006, it ranked #12 on Amazon’s bestseller list, above 2005 releases “Brokeback Mountain,” “Crash,” and the first two seasons of “The Office.” The catch? “Firefly” hit DVD in 2003. If you haven’t seen what Orson Scott Card called “the best space-opera sci-fi series ever on television,” now’s the time.
Imagine watching a documentary history of Abraham Lincoln’s conduct during the Civil War, intercut with scenes of his childhood which are cast as explanations for actions like his suspension of habeas corpus. “Jack & Bobby” is basically that show, except with a fictional president. As a premise for a political drama, this is absurdly reductive and patently ridiculous—but boy is it fun to watch. Stars Matt Long and John Slattery pre-“Mad Men,” and Logan Lerman—now teen heartthrob—as the cute kid who will be president.
It’s probably safe to say that Bryan Fuller’s show is the only fantasy/romantic-comedy/crime drama you will ever see. It stars, in order of appearance: a pie chef who can bring things back from the dead by touching them, but kills them again with any further physical contact; a private detective who partners with him to solve murders by asking victims who killed them; and a childhood sweetheart whom the pie-maker brings back to life, but cannot touch her for fear of offing her once more. All narrated by Jim Dale of Harry Potter audiobook fame? Sign me up!
A Shakespearean epic with stunning production values, “Kings” retells the biblical story of King David’s rise to power in a modern setting. The show’s well-realized world is so engrossing and Ian McShane’s performance as the tragic King Silas is so mesmerizing that you won’t even notice how the Prophet Samuel has been recast as the minister of a non-denominational church, despite the fact that he’s actually, you know, a Jewish prophet. Or that the entire biblical storyline for “Kings” actually appears in the Book of Samuel. Oh, you wouldn’t have noticed any of that? Well, I did.
—Yair Rosenberg is the outgoing Movies Editor. If you had his job, you could also watch TV and tell people you were “studying.”