TV that’s almost as good as the Wire

[box]Sean Anderson
Oliver Milne [/box]

Yesterday, Dasha suggested cycling day trips. That’s just a little bit on the active side for Oliver and Sean, who would prefer to shut the curtains and stare at a small window of artificial light all day.

You’ve probably had the Wire recommended to you by umpteen friends. If you haven’t, get better friends. Presuming you’ve inducted yourself into the 21st century and watched the greatest TV show of all time, here are some alternatives to sitting about like a living death watching The Voice. You know what’s good for you.



Back before ITV crammed their schedules full of “Celebrity Jungle Dancing on Ice: The Reckoning” they, for a brief period in the 90s, made what is commonly considered good television. Cracker focuses on Eddie ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald a heavy drinking, chain smoking, criminal psychologist suffering from a gambling addiction as his family falls apart. Fitz, played masterfully by Robbie Coltrane, forces confessions from criminals and killers by exploring their psychological motivations. British television has always been good at the antihero-driven crime drama, see Luther, Jonathan Creek or Inspector Morse (all of which are well worth watching), what makes Cracker different is the quality and depth of writing that clearly went into the characters and their relationships. As boundaries between criminal acts and the police continue to blur you feel intensely attached to even the most loathsome of characters.


Twin Peaks

The original pop culture whaddafuck tv show, Twin Peaks knocks any J. J. Abrams nonsense for six. Expect few answers, just an unnerving feeling that your world is falling into the velvety abyss of the Black Lodge, and a profound curiosity about what happened to Laura.

Honourable mention here to the BBC’s classic tale of nuclear espionage and environmentalism Edge of Darkness which preceded Twin Peaks by five years, and has some similarly hard-to-interpret conclusions. If this is all too much for you Paul Greengrass loving realists, check out the BBC’s utterly riveting 2003 miniseries State of Play, which has that dubious honour of being so good Hollywood made an inferior movie adaptation.


This American Life

We may be hearing more about my favourite person, Ira Glass, and his radio show later in the month, but for now let’s contain my passions for his output to the TV show. The programmes are available on iTunes for $1.99 each, and these half-hour episodes on a big concept each will fit snugly into your day. In case this gets you kickstarted on the world of internet video, also check out Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, have a wee explore of vimeo, and watch out for releases from the peerless documentary showcase Storyville to appear on iPlayer. If you’re as boring as I am, you may also find endless joy in watching How It’s Made videos for hours on end.


Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip & Sports Night

Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The Social Network, definitely has a style. His shows and films normally focus on the behind the scenes humour, romance and drama. Nothing illustrates this more masterfully than The West Wing, which for seven seasons turned the life of the President of the United States and his staff into a highly compelling TV feast combining the best elements of high minded drama, situation comedy and soap opera. It’s not to be missed.

But bookending this masterpiece are two other shows which explore Sorkin’s obsession with behind the scenes worlds and the people in them: Sports Night and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip show the evolution of Sorkin as a writer and are some of the best drama produced for the small screen.

Sports Night was made before the West Wing and is really Sorkin in an embryonic form. The dialogue lacks some of the bite and pith which would characterize his later efforts and with the early series featuring a laugh track and a far too obvious romantic relationship feels a little too heavy on the 90s cheese. But if you battle through the faults what emerges is a charming soap opera set at a late nights sports show with a believably human characters and a humour that makes you keep watching far longer than you expect.

Following The West Wing, Sorkin returned to television as the background for a series and made Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Set behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live-esque sketch comedy show. The dialogue is Sorkin at his best and the show flows from comedy to tragedy masterfully. This is the best of The West Wing, on crack. Unfortunately it launched the same year as fantastic comedy 30 Rock, which shares the sketch comedy show premise, and suffered as a result being cancelled after only one season. The last arc of the season is one of the best build ups to a season finale in recent years and never fails to bring a couple of tears to the eyes.


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is probably the funniest thing on tv just now, except perhaps the Leveson Inquiry. Following five characters who utterly lack any sense of moral fibre it chronicles the various outcomes of their selfish, unremorseful, vengeful manipulative and deceitful behaviour.

The show is perhaps one of TV’s most offensive – with episode titles like “The Gang Goes Jihad”, “Sweet Dee’s Dating A Retarded Person” and “Mac Fights Gay Marriage.” But it’s shocking and potentially offensive comedy the shows strange charm. You’ll laugh until you cry and hate yourself for it.


The Armando Iannucci Shows

From the creator of BBC’s The Thick of It, and HBO’s latest comedy Veep, comes his scintillating early TV work nobody seems to appreciate any more. Time Trumpet, The Day Today, Election Night Armistic and I’m Alan Partridge. Spend the night watching clips on YouTube. Armando for Glasgow University Rector 2014!


Oliver and Sean also recommend …

Breaking Bad
Forbrydelsen (the Killing)
Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle

We’ve no doubt missed some important stuff here. Comment, email or tweet us and we’ll add it to the list.


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Aw naw, I can’t believe we forgot to include Bored to Death!