When I first started watching TV there were only the Big Three: CBS, NBC, and ABC. We had just a handful of shows we loved and followed, maybe a few others we watched with family members or friends. Often we just played outside.
There were various local channels, but they offered mostly re-runs, news, or sports — not much original content. It wasn’t until the Second Era, of cable TV, that original content offerings exploded into so many choices. We had to pick what we watched among all that new content.
Now the Third Era, streaming TV, with even more original content to choose among. On the other hand, also the chance to catch up on content we missed along the way!
For me, that may be the best part of this era! I have the chance to make new friends, see shows I never watched (but wished I had) when they were on.
And also the chance to re-watch some old friends, shows I did watch and loved a lot (but which never made my DVD buy list)!
One new friend is Burn Notice, which originally aired on the USA network from 2007 to 2013. It was available on Netflix when I joined back in November, but they stopped carrying it in mid-February.
(Which forced me to binge-watch the last few seasons before I lost the chance. The show wraps things up in the final episodes, so I really needed to get to the end!)
The show follows seven years in the life of Michael Weston, former CIA spy, after he receives a “burn notice” — a complete disavowal by his agency because of supposed bad acts he committed.
The series arc follows Michael’s efforts to find out who burned him and why (he is innocent of the supposed bad acts). Basically, he wants his old job back.
The seasonal arcs typically involve a specific enemy (or provisional boss as Michael begins to work his way back into the good graces of the agency). Working his way through the seasonal arc brings Michael a step closer to finally solving the series arc.
Each episode divides itself between the overall story and an episodic story involving Michael and his friends helping someone in need.
Part of the fun for me is the cast. Jeffrey Donovan (Michael) — who is new to me — is well cast as a spy, but it was the cast known to me that made it fun: Bruce Campbell (Michael’s friend, Sam Axe) and Sharon Gless (Michael’s mom).
Campbell is well-known to horror fans as Ash Williams from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise. The latter starred as Cagney in Cagney & Lacey with Tyne Daly. (Watch for Daly’s guest appearance in season three of Burn Notice!)
One key aspect of the show made me chuckle derisively: Michael and his pals use McGyver-like skills to construct a variety of devices. The thing is, most of it is complete bullshit. As they are usually constructing implements of destruction, that’s probably just as well.
I saw Burn Notice as something of a spiritual cousin to Leverage, a personal favorite. Burn Notice is a lot harsher and grimmer, though: there’s a lot more gunfire, and many explosions (Fiona loves her C4), and people kill or get killed.
And despite a great deal of underlying love for, and faith in, each other, the characters don’t always treat each other very nicely. There are some dark under-threads in the show (Michael and his mother were abused by his father, for instance).
I rate it a fairly high Ah! I would recommend it to any fan of action shows.
One old friend is Person of Interest, which originally aired on CBS from 2011 to 2016. It is available (still, as far as I know) on Netflix.
I did see the show in its entirety when it aired, although I didn’t start following the show until late in the second season. (I often wait to see what the buzz on a show is before latching onto it.)
There turn out to be some striking similarities between this show and Burn Notice. Both:
- Involve a small group of people helping those in dire need.
- Groups operate on their own without help from authorities.
- Feature episodes with an ‘A’ storyline about providing that help.
- Feature season-long arcs.
- Feature a series-long arc.
They are unalike in that the group in Person of Interest are not just covert, but desperately trying to remain that way. The help they provide comes unasked for and almost always involves preventing a murder.
The show features an Artificial Super-Intelligence (ASI) designed and built by one of the main characters (Harold). The ASI was built at government request to prevent terrorism and has access to any networked system, including video cameras. The system watches over us and can spot terrorists before they strike.
It also detects ordinary crimes, murders, which the government ignores. Harold’s small team takes on the task of acting to prevent those murders.
For a show in which computing is central, they sure get a lot of it (badly) wrong. Some of it is laughably wrong even within the science fiction-y context of the show. Yet, I’m not sure getting it right would have made the show materially better — just less derisive laughter from certain fans.
I give this one an Ah! In fact, in the re-watching I decided it was a better show than I gave it credit for originally. It was created by Jonathan Nolan, who did the recent HBO Westworld (which was amazing).
Community. (Hulu) A bright shiny gem of a half-hour sitcom, easily in my top five best sitcoms ever for its self-awareness and fourth wall breaking. Delightful sheer genius from Dan Harmon (who, with Justin Roiland, brought us the incredible SF cartoon Rick and Morty).
Filled with intelligent nuance and pop culture references. A geek’s delight. Definitely and absolutely rated Wow!
30 Rock. (Hulu) Another bright shiny half-hour sitcom gem in my top five. This one is from (and stars) Tina Fey (who I just adore). It also has
Alex Alec Baldwin, who is truly a hoot in it — wonderful comic actor (pity he’s not prez)!
Filled with… etc (see above)… absolutely rated Wow!
Cougar Town. (Hulu) Did you just love Scrubs? Well this one also comes from Bill Lawrence and features the same wonderfully off-kilter funny bone. It also features Christa Miller, who was so much fun in Scrubs. It stars Courtney Cox.
Rated Ah! for the great writing and general sexiness.
Rizzoli & Isles. (Hulu) I’ve mentioned this one several times here as a guilty pleasure (got a thing for Angie Harmon). The show is what it is. I’m doing the opposite of bingeing on this one — re-watching episodes once in a while just for fun.
Properly should be rated Eh! but as a guilty pleasure I give it an Ah!
The Good Wife. (Hulu) I do love a good lawyer show (ever since Perry Mason), and the writing of this one was generally outstanding. As with R & I above, I’m re-watching these once in a while just for fun.
Rated a solid middle Ah!
The IT Crowd. (Netflix) A British sitcom I’d never heard of but which I found quite engaging. And they get the computer stuff right, which is refreshing.
For being an office comedy quite unlike anything I’ve seen before (and for getting the computer stuff right), I award it an Ah!
Once Upon a Time. (Netflix) I’m, in season two, still trying to decide what I think about this show. One problem for me is its star, Jennifer Morrison, who seems to be an underwhelming actor (I found her insipid in House, M.D. — she seems no better here).
The other issue is the weird mashup of story characters from Snow White to Mulan to Captain Hook to Victor Frankenstein. I liked it better when Alan Moore, twelve years earlier, brought story characters into the world in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic; avoid the movie, it’s awful).
This show seems ABC’s response to NBC’s Grimm. Both shows involve fairy tale magical realism, and both started in the 2011 fall season. I watched, and mostly enjoyed, Grimm (I did have some issues with it), and so far found it better than Once.
Which, so far, is getting an Eh! but I’m not ready to stop watching.
Fresh Off the Boat. (Hulu) I’ve been trying to figure out why I like this show so much. In many ways, it’s a standard half-hour sitcom, and those don’t usually grab me. It centers on family life, which also doesn’t usually grab me.
Is it nothing more than a mild Asian fetish for co-star Constance Wu? Honestly, I think that’s why I tried it originally, but it turns out to be a pretty good, rather engaging show. It’s getting props for its all-Asian cast, which is apparently a first.
I think the key is that, halfway through season two, nothing about the show has pissed me off. I give it a lowish-Ah!
New friends and old friends. And commercial-free to boot!
It turns out that Hulu provides all the shows I follow on Fox and two of the three I follow on NBC. I’m still stuck with CBS, though, but it’s interesting how close to “cutting the cable” I am with just Netflix and Hulu.
And, oh, I am so looking forward to telling Comcast we’re done! I do love my TV shows, but man, oh, man, have I hated Comcast.
 Leverage, at its heart, was kind of a goofy, fun family show. No gun play to speak of, and no deaths due to character actions. The heroes obtain their goals via con jobs on the villains.
I always saw it as a modern day, non-governmental Mission: Impossible, which was all about conning the villain. Others have compared it to The A-Team, but I never watched that show, so I can’t say how apt is the comparison.
 If you are a science fiction fan, and haven’t discovered Rick and Morty yet, you’re missing out on something truly great! In many ways it’s better then Futurama (which is pretty great, so you can just imagine).
Really, they’re both awesome must-see SF.