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Best in Shows (Part 1 of 2) [REPOST]

As you may remember from my article on the SlingBox a couple of months back, I am a fanatic and proponent of portable entertainment. In recent years, I have begun collecting more TV Shows on DVD and other formats as Nick-at-Night no longer plays what I like. Studios have embraced DVDs and digital formats as a way to keep old shows alive and bring them into a new generation, nonetheless find another way to generate revenue.

Now, there are many legal loopholes that these studios have to go through. The actors and producers of the shows did not usually sign contracts that included in-home distribution. That is why today many shows are available readily (like CSI: Miami immediately after the season close) and others may never see the light of day (like You Can’t Do That on Television which is owned by about four different entities and has 100 actors over the years to contend with, most of who are no longer in the industry).

Knowing that, some shows are easier to track down than others. Still, I have been looking for and watching a number of shows that are off the beaten track. That is why for the next two months I will be presenting to you a short list of ten of the top television shows (in no particular order) that you most likely have never heard of or at the very least never seen.

Without further ado, let’s get to our first five:

The Critic

📷By the mid-90’s, the Simpsons had convinced many Americans that cartoons were not just for kids anymore, but that an adult comedy/drama could be presented in animated format. That is why in 1994 ABC launched the Critic, a show about a divorced middle aged film critic living in Manhattan. The show often featured spoofs of films and contemporary news-stories in a dry, off-wit manner. ABC did not know how to promote the show and cancelled it after a short season. The show found a new home on FOX and even had a cross-over episode with the Simpsons. Unfortunately, a poor timeslot and little promotion led to show being cancelled for good. Today, the show still enjoys runs on Comedy Central late night (the home of the new Futurama in 2008) and in a DVD collection of all 23 episodes.

Veronica Mars

📷Although you may have heard of Veronica Mars, few gave this hidden gem of UPN/CW a chance. The story follows young Veronica Mars (played by the few years her character’s senior Kristen Bell) as she dealt with the many mysteries in her life. The first season focused on the unsolved murder of her best friend Lily Kane, the estrangement of her ex-boyfriend and brother of Lily, and the disappearance of her own mother after her father was kicked out of the office of the local sheriff (now forced to run a private detective agency). If this sounds like too much drama to you (or worse yet teen drama), worry not! The show had a sharp wit, good twists, deep characterization, and excellent development of the characters. As the show moves through the years, the traits that helped Veronica survive become her hindrances. She’s not always right (no Nancy Drew here) and the writers are not afraid to show that vulnerability. The show was unceremoniously cancelled at the end of the third season, after the final episode had been show, so the show ends on a cliffhanger that will never be solved. Still, all three seasons are (or rather will be soon) available on DVD.

Unhappily Ever After

📷Back when the WB was a new network, they were willing to take great risks and push to the edge of what was considered “appropriate” for network television. In 1995 they launched “Unhappily Ever After”, the story of a stressed out used car salesman who talked to his stuffed bunny (voiced by the incredibly underrated comedian Bobcat Goldthwait) and his dysfunctional family: an overpowering and obnoxious wife, a brainy and extremely gorgeous daughter, a dimwitted son, and another son that everyone seems to have forgotten about. Somehow, this show managed to stay on the year for five seasons and 100 episodes, despite constant threats of cancellation. Sadly, there are no plans to release a DVD set anytime soon, but all five seasons can be found. This show also spawned another forgotten show—the two-season “Nikki”. In that show, Nikki Cox starred as a wannabe dancer married to a pro-wrestler-in-training. You can see why I’d like that show.

The Secret World of Alex Mack

📷A long time ago, Nickelodeon decided that it was time to branch out from syndicated TV programming and start to produce their own shows. This led to man cult hits such as the aforementioned “You Can’t Do That on Television”, “Clarissa Explains it All”, “Hey Dude”, and “Salute Your Shorts”. Later in that vein came “The Secret World of Alex Mack”, the story of teenage tomboy who got doused with chemicals and had developing powers that she was trying to hide from the world (and her parents). Running for 78 episodes from 1994 to 1998, this series is most notable for introducing most of us to Larisa Oleynik (who most probably remember from “10 Things I Hate About You” or “3rd Rock from the Sun”). The show is also rare because it is a Nickelodeon show with a decisive conclusion, something they struggle at even today. Rumor has it that the fist season is coming out on October 2, 2007, so you get your orders in today!

Get a Life

📷In the forgotten world of “Herman’s Head” in the early 90’s sat the surreal Chris Elliott comedy “Get a Life”. In this sitcom, Chris plays a not-so-lovable 30-year-old paperboy who lives with his parents (until he moved out in the second season to live in the garage of a neighbor). What made this comedy surreal is how many times the main character died (at least twelve according to WikiPedia). Somehow the creators were able to mix irreconcilable elements like the main character’s death with a true continuity (though not much growth) between episodes. Only two “Best of” DVDs have been released with four episodes a piece, making this probably the rarest item on this list.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little taste of obscure television that you have never seen. Next month we’ll finish this off with five other excellent shows that got little to no air in America, including two that were born abroad. Until then!

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