Category: Retro Fix


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Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

Manda

One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

Grimm

So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

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Before Greg Berlanti became a household name, responsible for creating, writing, or producing hit television series like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and Riverdale, he created a successful drama for the WB network that would help propel his career forward–Everwood.  What could have been a flop on paper–a family drama about a widower who takes his career as a neurosurgeon and his son and daughter to a small town in Colorado to start again–became an engaging and enjoyable series with an electric cast and powerful writing.  The entire four seasons, all 89 episodes of the 2002-2006 series is now streaming via CW Seed online for free.

Treat Williams (The Empire Strikes Back, 1941, The Phantom, White Collar) starred as Dr. Andy Brown, an immensely successful big city neurosurgeon who, while intruding on the turf of the pompous local family doctor, Dr. Harold Abbott, played by Tom Amandes (Arrow, Fairly Legal, Leverage), begins to become an invaluable and influential member of the community.  Standout in the cast was Debra Mooney (Dead Poets Society, Tootsie) as Dr. Abbott’s mother Edna, whose snarky attitude was perfect as she helps the new doctor with his clinic across the street from her own son’s competing clinic.  Stephanie Niznik (Star Trek: Insurrection, Enterprise) played Dr. Brown’s friendly neighbor Nina, and Brenda Strong (Dallas) played Dr. Brown’s late wife in flashbacks.

But Everwood, which has not been available on any previous streaming service, will probably be best known for the breakout roles of two Marvel Cinematic Universe stars, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord Chris Pratt and Captain America’s love interest Sharon Carter from Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, Emily VanCamp.  VanCamp and Pratt had significant roles on Everwood.  Portraying Dr. Abbott’s teenage kids, VanCamp was Amy, the target of affection of Dr. Brown’s son Ephram (Gregory Smith, selected for the role over Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki), and Pratt was Ephram’s not-so-bright new friend, ironically named Bright.  Both actors shined in these early performances (and were a real-life couple for several years).

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Eliza Dushku Tru Calling

Between 2003 and 2005, Fox aired one of the best supernatural thrillers to date. Fans of Eliza Dushku, missing her superb performance as vampire slayer Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, could get their fix with Tru Calling.  After years of sitting on the shelf Tru Calling is finally being re-broadcast Wednesday nights on the Chiller cable network.

Eliza Dushku’s first starring vehicle of her post-Buffy days, Tru Calling had an excellent sci-fi premise, Medium meets Groundhog Day.  Medical student Tru (Dushku) gets a part-time job in the morgue and discovers that the recently deceased can ask for her help, causing her to relive their final days, in the hopes of saving their lives or solving their murders.

Tru Calling is one of those forgotten series that made our borg.com10 TV series that didn’t make it (but should have)” list back in 2011.   Lots better than Dushku’s role on Dollhouse, Tru Calling also was the first time we noticed many current genre favorites.  Tru’s co-worker mentor in the morgue was played by The Hangover‘s Zach GalifianakisMatt Bomer (White Collar, Chuck, Space Station 76) played Tru’s boyfriend.  But several more actors were barely known then, and featured in guest spots on the show.

Tru Calling

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Psych 100th episode

We’re beginning Hour 31 of the “99 Psychs on the Wall” Marathon on the cable channel Cloo here at midnight Monday morning.  Have you seen all 99 Psych episodes?  We have.  Many times each for some, like the Halloween episode “Tuesday the 17th,” or when Henry goes undercover in “The Old and the Restless,” and Juliet dons roller skates in “Talk Derby to Me.”  And we have found a pineapple (or something that looks pretty darned close) hidden or not-so-hidden in almost every episode.  The funniest ever detective-crime-drama-comedy beat the odds to get renewed for yet another season with next year’s Season 8, and hits the rare benchmark of 100 hours on television.  We’re eager to watch the 100th episode premiere Wednesday, March 27, 2013, on the USA Network.

If you haven’t watched Psych before, tune in any time to the Cloo cable channel before Wednesday night and pick any episode.  Psych stars James Roday as Shawn Spencer, a guy who was raised by cop father Henry (Corbin Bernsen) to pay incredibly close attention to details, and he uses this to fake psychic abilities with a detective agency of sorts called “Psych” with lifelong best friend Gus (Dulé Hill), who at any time may be randomly renamed on a case by Shawn as anything from Ghee Buttersnaps to Lavender Gooms to Lemongrass Gogulope.  Shawn and Gus create a perfect buddy team-up and once you get on their wavelength you’re in for a lot of fun keeping up with pop culture references dropped sometimes wrong and sometimes right.

Psych banner

Early episodes began with a flashback of Shawn and dad Henry, leading to some kind of parallel experience later in the episode.  Young Shawn and Gus were as funny as old Shawn and Gus.  Corbin Bernsen’s Henry is a great codger who knows about his son’s fake business and disapproves but never lets on to anyone else.

Shawn and Gus are often hired on by a likable and trusting police chief, Karen Vick, played by Kirsten Nelson.  The change-up compared to other detective shows is Chief Vick knows Shawn’s tactics are a little off kilter but he gets results time and again so she ignores his eccentricities and keeps bringing him back to help with Santa Barbara Police Department cases.  The SBPD actually is filmed in Vancouver, BC, which can add its own humor as actors can be in a scene wearing shorts on a typical California afternoon yet you see their breath when they speak.  The SBPD includes two other key characters, Shawn’s late season love interest Detective Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), and her partner, Detective Carlton (“Lassie”) Lassiter, played like Sergeant Joe Friday by Timothy Omundson.  Lassiter never approves of Shawn’s methods, yet Juliet believes in Shawn’s “powers” no matter how strange–a bit like Lois Lane not recognizing Superman is Clark Kent.

Shawn and Gus

Other great recurring characters are Officer McNabb (Sage Brocklebank), the hilarious coroner Woody (Kurt Fuller), Shawn’s sweet and equally quirky high school crush Abigail (Rachael Leigh Cook), Shawn’s mom Madeleine (Cybill Shepherd), the really, really strange Mary Lightly (Jimmi Simpson), the psychotic Mr. Yang (Ally Sheedy), Juliet’s love interest Declan Rand (Nestor Carbonell), and Lassiter’s criminal girlfriend Marlowe (Kristy Swanson).

Countless episodes should be included in the annals of classic television, and many bring in some of the best big actor guest stars as well as many blasts from the past.  If you miss the Cloo “99 Psychs on the Wall” marathon this week, nearly all the episodes but only the latest from this season can be found on streaming Netflix.

Here are twelve episodes that are not to be missed:

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Our DVR broke this week.  I won’t go into the trauma of missing the last installment of Zen on Masterpiece Mystery, or of losing the final three (still unwatched) episodes of the now cancelled Men of a Certain Age.  The upside of this technological crisis, however, was that it spurred us to unearth old TV favorites on streaming video from Netflix and break out some DVDs.  There’s always something kind of bittersweet about that, though, especially running across old friends that were cancelled well before their prime, and in some cases even before they quite hit their stride.  And so, in memoriam, tonight borg.com will spotlight a few of our genre favorites that were cancelled too soon.

Life (2007-2009/NBC/21 episodes)
NBC’s short-lived quirky police procedural about a mild-mannered homicide detective wrongfully convicted of murdering his partner’s entire family starred English actor Damian Lewis (Assassin in Love, Showtime’s new series Homeland) and Sarah Shahi (USA’s Fairly Legal).  Its offbeat mix of gruesome murders and weird-but-lovable cast members was probably a little too offbeat for most viewers, but we loved Lewis’s Zen-meditating Charlie Crews and his efforts to fit back into his life and job after eleven years in prison and an undisclosed multimillion dollar settlement with the LAPD.  An intriguing series-long mystery plot (who really killed Crews’s partner?) might have made it more difficult for new viewers to join mid-season (although we had no trouble getting hooked after just one episode), but was thoughtfully resolved in the series finale.  Standout performances by Donal Logue and Adam Arkin only compound our sense of loss for this series.

The Riches (2007-2008/FX/19 episodes)
Before the days of Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, FX broke every rule of tasteless TV in this outrageous series about a family of Travellers trying to make it as “buffers” in an upscale suburban neighborhood, after assuming the identities of a family killed in a car accident.  Starring standup comic Eddie Izzard as title character “Doug Rich,” and Minnie Driver (Phantom of the Opera), The Riches featured scams, drug abuse, murders, robbery, and a host of other illicit goings-on–and that’s just by the heroes!  Alternately appalling and hilarious, ultimately The Riches just couldn’t hold on to its early impressive ratings, and was cancelled after only 19 episodes, leaving loyal viewers without even a semblance of closure to the Riches’ compelling storyline.

Tru Calling (2003-2005/Fox/26 episodes)
Eliza Dushku’s first starring vehicle of her post-Buffy days, Tru Calling had an excellent sci-fi premise, sort of Medium meets Groundhog Day.  Medical student Tru (Dushku) gets a part-time job in the morgue and discovers that the recently deceased can ask for her help, causing her to relive their final days, in the hopes of saving their lives or solving their murders.  Co-starring The Hangover‘s Zach Galafianakis in a wonderful role as Tru’s morgue mentor, and White Collar’s and Chuck’s Matt Bomer as Tru’s love interest, Tru Calling was gearing up for great things, the mysteries surrounding Tru’s power only building, just as the series was unceremoniously axed by Fox.

Eleventh Hour (2008-2009/CBS/18 episodes)
This American adaptation of the even-shorter-lived BBC medical thriller (with Patrick Stewart) starred accomplished English actor Rufus Sewell (Zen, Knight’s Tale, Pillars of the Earth) as Dr. Jacob Hood, FBI consultant solving baffling scientific crimes.  Not an outstanding series by any standards, Eleventh Hour was nevertheless competent and entertaining, and one had the feeling that the performers were better than the material they had to work with.  I firmly believe the show could have gotten even better, but it was trapped in a dead-end timeslot (Thursdays at 10 pm) and ultimately failed to interest the CSI viewership the network hoped would bolster ratings.

The Dresden Files (2007/SyFy/12 episodes)
I’m still stinging from the cancellation of this great adaptation of Jim Butcher’s bestselling urban fantasy series. Starring the always-solid Paul Blackthorne (guest appearances in Burn Notice, Monk, Leverage, Warehouse 13, and others), the show featured excellent writing, engaging paranormal storylines, and an absolutely winning cast, but wasn’t given the same network or fan support of later SyFy hits like Warehouse 13 or Eureka. Fortunately, all twelve episodes are currently available via streaming video on Netflix.

Tomorrow, C.J. Bunce will continue the list with the rest of our list of TV series that ended too soon.

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