In this new era of television, it’s rare for a series to be forgotten. Thanks to DVD, iTunes and streaming media, there’s a good chance that you can find most modern series if you look hard enough.
Here are five series that you might not have watched the first time around, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve your attention.
1. The Wrong Mans (2013-2014)
“What would happen if something of that magnitude would happen (an American high stakes action movie)and it happened to just two ordinary guys.”
– James Corden (creator/co-star)
For those of you who are just now discovering James Corden through his popular late night talk show, The Late Late Show – and its carpool karaoke sketch – or experienced him for the first time in the film adaption of Into The Woods as The Baker, let me introduce you another James Corden.
James is a Tony award winning actor (One Man, Two Guvnors) as well as the talented writer/co-star of the highly popular U.K. series, Gavin & Stacey. His Hulu and BBC Two’s dark comedy The Wrong Mans, co-written by Corden, Tom Basden and co-starring Mathew Baynton, contemplates the notion of what would happen if two regular guys were thrown into an action film.
After witnessing a car crash and then passing out, County Council worker Sam Pinkett (Baynton) discovers a phone near the crash and keeps it, hoping to return to its rightful owner, who he assumes is the injured man from the crash. What happens next is that an unlikely hero, alongside office oddball Phil Bourne (Corban), finds himself unwittingly thrown into one outrageous incident after another.
Where Last Man On Earth (which I recommended in a previous column) has me exclaiming, “Well that surprised me, what will happen next?” The Wrong Mans is more, “How CAN they get out of this one?” Believably and comically, they do find a way out.
The first season of The Wrong Mans is a roller coaster ride of high volatility. Although the second season is good, the shorter season of episodes makes it difficult to build the mystery with the same high octane momentum as the previous season.
Still, the continued chemistry of its two leads and the comedy itself more than make up for any shortcomings within season two. My overwhelming excitement for James Corden’s success (For Doctor Who fans like myself, he will always be our little Craig!) is only sullied by the fact that we won’t see a season three – or more writing from him – in the foreseeable future.
2. Jekyll (2007)
“I think there’s a commonality between writing comedy and writing thriller-based, horror-based stuff. It’s about punchlines.”
– Steven Moffat (creator)
Before there was the U.K. phenomenon known as Sherlock, there was Jekyll – as in Mr Hyde.
Yes, Steven Moffat, co-creator of Sherlock and current showrunner (for one more season) of Doctor Who, the man who brought you the world of weeping angels, The Silence and unleashed the Cumberbatch on us all…first dipped his toe into similar territory with Jekyll. Since first shown to me by a friend several years ago, this series has held an high place on my go-to list of recommendations.
I have often remarked how shocked I was that this U.K. drama hadn’t yet been redone or rebooted…until now. Deadline.com reports that Jekyll will become a film, written by Moffat, and starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans, in the foreseeable future. This gives you even more of a reason to watch this series now.
Unlike Sherlock, this take on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not just a modern retelling, but also a sequel of sorts. Jekyll: The Next Generation. What’s the real story? Is this some kind of genetic disorder? These are topped with an amazing performance by James Nesbitt (as our main character, Doctor Tom Jackman), and some Moffat favorites you may recognize from Doctor Who and his classic sitcom, Coupling (The U.K. version, its first and only one).
The twists and turns of each episode of Jekyll will have you gasping out loud. Surprising and engaging, it will have you on the edge of your seat. Don’t make the length of this recommendation persuade you; but, like many of my recommendations in my top five column, I don’t want to ruin the surprises that can only be described as an old time serial-type format without the cheap theatrics.
Make no mistake – there are plenty of theatrics, but none cheap. Unfortunately, Jekyll was only one season, and in the U.S. would be considered more of a mini-series; but it is very much worth your time. You will be wanting more, but it will still leave you completely satisfied.
3. Green Wing (2004-2007)
“It’s a bit of a hybrid, isn’t it? It’s a sketch-meets-comedy-drama-meets-soap. It’s kind of unique, it hasn’t got a forerunner, really.”
– Victoria Pile (creator)
Another U.K. Show…I know, but bear with me. Now a show I don’t have on this particular list (but would happily add to another list soon) is Showtime and BBC Two’s Episodes, which I mention because it happens to star two of the leads of Green Wing, Tamsin Greig (The Second Greatest Marigold Hotel), and Stephen Mangan (Houdini and Doyle), my initial draw to the show.
Mangan and Greig along with Doctor Who’s Michelle Gomez, are the major factors that I would consider my “gateway drugs” into enjoying this series. Green Wing’s two seasons of comedy tell the tale of a group of wacky, and sometimes not so wacky, doctors and administrators in the green wing of the fictional East Hampton Hospital. Often described in the U.S. as a “British Scrubs”, Green Wing feels more like Grey’s Anatomy if it were stuck inside a Monty Python sketch.
Greig (Dr. Caroline Todd) plays the new doctor in town acting as the audience’s eye – and “straight woman” – into the madcap (yes, I just used madcap – deal with it) world and characters of the show. Mangan (at his best, as Dr. Guy Secretan) plays a pompous doctor with big ideas (e.g. he has invented a game, “GuyBall”). Julian Rhind-Tutt (as Dr. ‘Mac’ Macartney) plays the good guy on staff. Gomez (as Sue White)…well, let’s just say she plays the liaison officer, almost like a head of H.R., who is the craziest of them all.
Anyone who may already know Gomez from her turn on Doctor Who, and therefore know her great talent for taking a character off solid ground and into the glorious heighten stratosphere, will not be disappointed. However, those just discovering her will be a fan of Sue White’s for life. I’m not usually a fan of broad comedy, but this has the mix of broad strokes, callbacks, word play, and sight gags (e.g. Gomez does everything from wearing very long arms to literally flying from the ceiling). And for those of us who were first introduced Olivia Colman in Broadchurch can get a kick out of comic turn as Harriet.
The comedy in Green Room is off the wall, surreal…and, often, flatout bizarre. It isn’t a surprise that the creator and writers hail from sketch (of Victoria Pile’s sketch show, Smack The Pony). But, there was a dramatic shift, from my perspective, during the season one finale (Episode 9), that switched this show for me from “just funny” to “highly recommendable”.
The shift felt so drastic that, if I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed the finale episode of the season one was in fact the first episode of season two. I understand I am in the minority in this, as many people feel season two is the weaker of the two seasons. Maybe it’s my sense of humor, or maybe it was because by the end of the season I had grown to love these characters and cheer on in all their foibles and successes.
Oh, and baby-faced John Oliver has a few lines in the pilot, so keep an eye out for that.
4. The Riches (2007-2008)
“The Riches is The Sopranos meets The Beverly Hillbillies. It’s a show about outsiders, and through their perspective we experience America and see how we live in a whole new light.”
– Dmitry Lipkin (creator)
When The Riches first aired, the immediate draw for me was comedian, actor and literal (and figurative) marathon runner, Eddie Izzard. I stayed for the show. Most importantly, The Riches became the reason I finally knew Margo Martindale by name (Four years before her career-changing, Emmy-winning turn in Justified) instead of by the usual moniker for great character actors, “That woman who was in that thing.”
The Riches is a dark comedy, if not dramedy with a capital D. Wayne and Dahlia Malloy and their three kids are Irish Travelers, con-artists, married to the family they travel with in the same way we would look at the Italian mob: the only way out appears to be death.
When Dahlia (played by Minnie Driver) is released from jail after two years, only to find her family worse for wear and her teenage daughter about to be married off, Delilah and her husband Wayne (played by Izzard) decide enough is enough and run.
When fellow travelers run a couple off the road in the chase of them, the runaway family (The Malloys) stop to help the couple (the Riches), only to discovered the couple are, in fact, dead – gruesomely so. Fearful their fellow family members will return for them, the Malloys decide to lay low in the dead couple’s new home until the coast is clear.
What they don’t know is that the Riches bought their new home sight unseen after the husband, a lawyer, was hired by his CV alone; and, you guessed it, everyone assumes the Malloys are now the Riches.
The Malloys ran away to go legit, and becoming the Riches becomes a proposition too good to pass up – getting the American dream the best way they know how, by stealing it.
The dark humor of the series comes from the family balancing their lies with their true identities, all while dealing with serious issues, e.g. Delilah’s drug habit.
Not to mention the rich suburbanites of Edenfalls (Yes, that’s the name of the town) aren’t far from strife themselves: their neighbor and soon-to-be friend, Nina (Martindale), whose marriage to a gay man has left her lonely…to Wayne, a.k.a. Doug Rich’s new boss, Huge (played by Gregg Henry), whose money, prestige, and ego epitomizes the dark side of the American Dream.
The Riches is about the darkness of our shared human experience and that the old adage of “the grass is always greener” is right on the money, pun intended. Not to mention, The Riches was the first time I ever saw a transgender character on television dealt with in a non-mocking way.
An aspect of the show before Izzard was brought on board (Izzard identifies as transgender himself), the Malloys’ youngest son prefers to dress in what western society refers to as “feminine” clothes, and his family has no problem with it.
At its core, The Riches is a fish-out-of-water dark comedy about identity. Also, keep an eye out for a very “meta” moment when Izzard and Driver, both Brit’s playing Americans in the series, pretending to play two british characters, by using their real accents as covers.
5. Happy Endings/Marry Me (2011-2013; 2014-2015)
“I think the issue is the pace of it and the realism. I know we go to some weird places as a story, but there’s a kind of gritty realism to it in places, and some heart that I think would maybe be lost in multi-cam”
– Jonathan Groff (showrunner)
Much like Parks and Recreation, many would agree that Happy Endings didn’t really kick into gear until the second season; and, much like the first paintball episode of Community, things just started to gel at that point. Now, if you just had no idea what that first sentence just meant, this may be a big reason why Happy Endings wasn’t renewed for a fourth season, in what Vulture called, “[one of the] worst TV decisions of the 2012–13 television season.”
In fact, when the recent Vulture Festival in New York City featuring a reunion of the cast went on sale, it sold out within minutes. Much like many shows you hear are great, but have never seen before, this show has a rabid fandom. And why is that? Think of Happy Endings as a mash up of Friends and Gilmore Girls on double the coffee: snappy, fast, witty dialogue mixed with millisecond pop culture references on acid.
Happy Endings is the story of a tight-knit group of friends who, after the first scene of the pilot, are left to pick up the pieces after one of the friends jilts the other at the altar. You have the dizzy sweet one and ex-bride, Alex (Eliza Coupe); her uptight, Type A sister Jane (Eliza Coupe); Jane’s sharp, funny, sexy husband, Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.); adorable, single gal-about-town, Penny (Casey Wilson); freeloading Max just looking for Mr. Right (Adam Pally); and the ex-groom and food truck extraordinaire, Dave (Zachary Knighton).
You’ll be happy you stayed and sad it ended. That’s why I tagged on the first season of Marry Me, an NBC show from Happy Endings creator David Caspe. Also starring Casey Wilson (who, by this time, had married Caspe and served as his best muse), Marry Me was meant to take you from engagement to marriage, but only lasted one season.
It co-stars the comedic chops of Ken Marino (The State), John Gemberling (Broad City), Sarah Wright Olsen (House Bunny), Tymberlee Hill (The Hotwives), Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal; Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life), and Tim Meadows (SNL). Written for Casey, and with a smaller group of friends, Marry Me gives you a few episodes to say goodbye with, making the pain more sweet than bitter.
And then you should start the show all over again and catch the jokes that were so quick, you missed them the first time. Don’t cry because it’s over, cry because Happy Endings was a thing.
A big, funny, crazy thing. And you’re gonna love it.