6 for Xmas

By Johanna Rigby

I’m taking this week to do something a little different: talking about completed TV series. By “completed,” I mean series that are 1) no longer on the air as part of a prime-time line-up and 2) complete in the sense of being aware that they were going off the air and, hence, got to finish their show and give viewers closure. In other words, I’m not including series that were canceled and didn’t get to do any sort of wrap-up final episodes.

Now is a great time to do this, I think, because with the holidays upon us, some people are trying to come up with gift ideas. Others are on the lookout for a good series to watch online in order to more comfortably ignore the chaos going on around us. With this in mind, I limited my choices to shows currently available in disc format as well as online streaming services. I didn’t check every service; I’ll leave it to you to check your favorite.

Here, then, are ten shows definitely worth stealing away to your quiet place to watch.

1. The West Wing. 156 episodes. Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece is well-crafted, intelligent, and consistently brilliant. The cast is incredible, the writing impeccable. Even the politically apathetic person will have difficulty not appreciating this show. Frankly, it ought to be required viewing for high schoolers before they’re allowed to graduate, just for the nuances of government and constitutional law it illuminates. Aside from the educational and artistic merits, I want to live in Jed Bartlett’s United States where the people who govern are strong, idealistic movers and shakers who can get good things done even when compromises have to be made.

2. Six Feet Under. 63 episodes. A show about a family who runs a funeral home sounds a little morbid, no? There’s definitely enough here to satisfy those with a morbid curiosity, but it’s not overpowering enough to frighten the squeamish. The show opens each episode with a death, and follows the thread of meeting with family, making funeral arrangements, restoring the body, funeral, etc. But that’s generally just the counterpoint to the bigger story going on with various family members. It’s a forensics show, a family show, a dark comedy, a surreal piece of postmodern art – whichever aspect appeals to you. Characters regularly see and interact with their dead father or husband, and corpses often sit up in the morgue to chat. The teenage daughter driving the lime green hearse may be the sanest one of all – or maybe not. It’s a fascinating, well-done show, and just like driving by an accident on the highway, you won’t be able to look away even if you do think it’s a little morbid.

3. The X-Files. 202 episodes. UFOs, conspiracies, ghosts, vampires, monsters… oh my! This is the show that opened the door for so many of the paranormal-themed shows we’ve seen over the past few years, for better or worse, but no one since has done it quite like Mulder and Scully. Chris Carter’s classic brought us the fantastic and made it believable in a way that we haven’t really seen since then, achieving it not so much through special effects (though there are enough to make things spectacular) as through understatement and allowing room for imagination to fill in the unseen. Settle in for a long break if you plan to watch this one straight through – or you can skip Seasons 8 & 9 and take a shortcut to the final episode without missing anything of great importance. Things start to get a little silly in Season 7, and Mulder is basically out of the show by Season 8, making only sporadic appearances until his return at the end to wrap things up. It’s not that Scully can’t carry the show alone, it’s just that it sort of veers off in a different direction without the partnership, and we never really adapt to her new partners. With that caveat, Seasons 1-6 are excellent viewing, Season 4 being especially so. You do need to watch them in order; even though there’s usually a “monster of the week” storyline, there’s also a long-term story arc going on (another thing this show introduced to TV, much to the consternation of network execs who feared people wouldn’t be able to keep up).

4. Boston Legal. 101 episodes. James Spader and William Shatner together – what more can I say? The David E. Kelley legal drama is also roll-in-the-floor funny, full of satirical wit. Serious issues are addressed, not so subtly as on The West Wing, but very effectively. Is it coincidence that on one of Alan Shore’s cases, Rev. Al Sharpton makes an appearance to bellow, “Give us a black Orphan Annie!” and now we have one? To balance out the profound, there’s a generous portion of the ridiculous as well – for instance, Betty White using a frying pan to kill a man, Spader in a flamingo costume, and Shatner belting out tunes at the company Christmas party. Casting is great, guest stars are plentiful; you’ll recognize nearly everyone in every episode, though some were new to TV when the show aired (Christian Clemenson as an attorney with Asperger’s, T.J. Thyne as a plaintiff who was injured by his toaster when he poked a fork in it). Well worth watching.

5. Fringe. 100 episodes. This is that rarest of creatures known as good sci-fi on TV, although you don’t have to be a sci-fi aficionado to appreciate it. J.J. Abrams and several of the X-Files personnel brought us this one, and it has all the polish and high production standards you’d expect from that combination. It’s a hybrid of sorts, having a little of the flavor of both The X-Files and Alias but going beyond them into parallel universes and other quirks. The stories might be farfetched in other hands, but there are strong characters played by a great cast, and the writing is superb. Peter Bishop is enough of a skeptic to give voice to our concerns about things like isolation tanks and reading the brainwaves of corpses, but not in such a way that it interferes with the fun. The eccentric Dr. Walter Bishop may be one of my favorite TV characters ever, and it’s a travesty that John Noble never won an Emmy for his performance; he did garner a Critics’ Choice Award and a Saturn Award. The final season is very different in many respects – dystopian and disconcerting – but it does answer many of the recurrent questions and ties everything together reasonably well.

6. Alias. 105 episodes. Primarily a spy action show with an occasional dash of sci-fi and humor, interspersed with down-time moments as Sydney Bristow tries to have a life despite her all-encompassing work as a spy. Jennifer Garner leads an excellent cast including Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin and Bradley Cooper, and the Bristow family may be one of the most lethally dysfunctional you’re likely to meet. The music by Michael Giacchino is perfectly crafted for each episode. Seasons 1 & 2 are strong, fast-paced and adrenaline-filled, and it’s nearly impossible not to binge-watch due to the cliffhangers at the end of each episode. Season 3 showed a distinct departure as Sydney found herself experiencing amnesia and trying to recover memories of her previous two years. I find Season 3 fascinating, though I’m aware that a lot of fans were perplexed and perturbed by its shift; apparently you either love or hate Season 3, but that’s actually when I started watching the show while it was on the air (specifically, during the David Cronenberg episode). ABC tinkered with the format for Season 4, insisting upon standalone episodes, and as a result, the momentum was broken and the last couple of seasons are not as compelling. The show runners were aware that Season 5 would be the last, so there was a return to the serial format and an attempt to tie up loose ends, resulting in something closer to the original but of somewhat lesser quality. Still, definitely worth watching.

That’s it for now. If your favorite was overlooked, it wasn’t an intentional oversight; there are many other high-quality shows that weren’t on the list. I could have written until well past Christmas on the Star Trek canon alone. This was just intended to be some starter suggestions from shows I’m very familiar with and can recommend to get you through the holidays. Happy watching!

From:: Not Now, I’m Watching TV

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Saturday Concert Series #4: Regina Carter at Newport Jazz Festival

This week’s Saturday Concert Series features jazz violinist Regina Carter at the Newport Jazz Festival, August 15, 1998. We’ve admired her style for some time, and if you’ve never heard her, be sure to check out this outstanding performance. Regina Carter by Bob TravisStephane Grappelli’s influence is acknowledged, but she goes far beyond into her own art.

Even if you think you don’t like jazz, give it a listen. She’s really something.

Regina Carter at Newport Jazz Festival, August 15, 1998

Photo By Bob Travis [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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The Weirdness Magnet

Scene from a Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania and Bottom by Edwin Landseer

Artwork: “Edwin Landseer – Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom – Google Art Project” by Edwin Henry LandseerqAFcRhWcRy2Zeg at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

by Erin Abernethy

You have a weirdness magnet
It sits inside your head
It sucks in strange phenomena
It pulls me to your bed

spider-strings & angel-wings
the stories of public strangers
whispered like confessions to a faceless priest
dying clocks and sentient rocks and
circles in the greening fields
conjunction upon convergence upon coincidence
and all the streams run full and flood
when breath and blood break
dry and brittle

but you…

You have that weirdness magnet
that sits inside your head
It sucks in strange phenomena
and pulls me to your bed

like a 3 a.m. porch full of pigeons
the halfheard voices in some back corridor of the universe
Aztec dreams with books in streams
of consciousness

(And you never scream.
How can you never scream?)

when the
mathematics of order
become the
numbers of chaos
and the agents of fortune paint signs of synchronicity

I know you know…

You have a weirdness magnet
It sits inside your head
It sucks in strange phenomena
It pulls me to your bed.

© Copyright 2002 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2003, 2004, 2011, 2014.

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WindowStill

WindowStill by NEZ

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