Although I grew up consuming a steady diet of Saturday morning (and weekday) cartoons and a lot of syndicated sitcoms, I settled into my young adult life considering myself someone who “doesn’t really watch TV.” When people asked what TV shows I liked to watch, I would say, “Cubs games.” Even that became less true as my fandom hibernated along with the team’s winning percentage over the last few seasons.
There were some exceptions though, thanks to the onset of Hulu and other online streaming services. A while back I binge-watched both “Lost” and “Arrested Development” over a year’s worth of lunch breaks at work. And my family would frequently rent seasons of favorite bygone TV shows from the library to leisurely watch on summer nights and weekends.
But for better or worse, chemotherapy has made television watching into one of my primary activities. While I still don’t watch very much live TV (Cubs games are making a comeback this year), Netflix and my Apple TV have been my saving grace at a time in my life when I’ve been largely forced to remain indoors and seek idle entertainment that won’t leave me winded or exposed to the dangerous germs of the outside world.
I thought it might be fun to recount everything that I have watched over the last three months, and thankfully Netflix has been silently keeping track, making this an easier laundry list to compile.
I’ve decided to offer a quick (non-spoilery) review of each item, using the Lumpy Rating System (0-4 Lumps). In this case, the more lumps, the merrier. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve vegetated over for the past three months.
Sherlock (entire series) 4 Lumps
Maybe I shouldn’t kick off this list with the best show, but the BBC’s Holmes reboot is simply fantastic. Unlike American shows, each season (called a “series”) contains only 3 episodes, each of which is as slickly produced and nearly as long as a short cinematic movie. The dialogue is snappy, the mysteries are compelling, the production value is creative and the acting is superb. The last scene of the first series’ finale is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever watched. Also, if you don’t get the hype over Benedict Cumberbatch, you will after you watch this show. Martin Freeman is awesome as Watson, too. Can’t wait for the Christmas special and Series 4 later this year!
Prison Break (Season 1) 2 Lumps
The premise of this show is really creative and really unrealistic: An architect willfully robs a bank so he can join his wrongfully convicted brother in prison and help bust him out. I was really excited to watch this show, as Theresa and others had hyped it up a lot. While I did enjoy the numerous (yes, quite unrealistic) twists and turns of season one, it was only enough to keep me hooked for one season. By a few episodes into the second season, we’d grown a little weary of the increasing depictions of anti-social prisoners and gratuitous prison life violence. As with many unrealistic shows, the unrealism was also beginning to be a little too much to bear without provoking unwanted laughter from this viewer.
The Tick (the only season) 3 Lumps
This 2001 show has a cult following and it’s easy to see why. It’s about a reject group of superheroes (including a Latino hero hilariously named Batmanuel) led by Patrick Warburton in a giant blue rubber suit. That sounded like a cult worth joining to me, even though Theresa disagreed. The show refreshingly never takes itself very seriously and has quotable dialogue such as this: “Arthur, listen to me carefully. I believe in you! I always have! That’s why I’m here. Destiny dressed you this morning my friend, and now Fear is trying to pull off your pants. If you give up, if you give in, you’re gonna end up naked with Fear just standing there laughing at your dangling unmentionables!” Hard to believe it was canceled after just 9 episodes, huh? The world wasn’t ready.
Freaks and Geeks (only season) 4 Lumps
This is another gone-too-soon show with a cult following and another one of my favorites on this list. It recreates the ups-and-downs of high school in the 1980s, featuring lots of before-they-were-famous celebrities as the freaks (James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen) and a lot of incredibly-talented-but-never-did-anything-else actors as the geeks. Perhaps it’s because of my own high school geekiness, but I enjoyed the geeks aspect of the show much more than the freaks. The freaks plot lines seemed unrealistic and dramatic, while the geeks were authentic and just plain funny. This show also features lots of cameos by other actors you’ll recognize: Back to the Future’s Biff is the high school gym teacher, The Sandlot’s Squints is an insecure bully who picks on the geeks (that was hard to watch…why, Squints, why?!), Ben Stiller plays a secret service agent at one point and a very young Shia Lebeouf even shows up. This show is worth binging on just to meet geek Bill Haverchuck. He bears more than a passing resemblance to how I looked my freshman year and he should be in the TV Character Hall of Fame. If you’d like a taste, here are the geeks finally having their day as team captains in gym class.
Alias (Seasons 1-5) 3.5 Lumps
This was our most recent television conquest and it was quite a fun ride. Featuring Jennifer Garner as secret agent Sydney Bristow, this J.J. Abrams joint has several ground rules that you must
put up with allow to fully enjoy it: 1) All criminal operations are fronted by a night club or bar to allow Sydney to wear the skimpiest disguises imaginable. 2) If someone is pointing a gun at you, just hit them in the arm really fast and you can subdue them before they shoot you.
3) Even if someone seems like they should have died, they probably didn’t. If they did die, there are so many ways to bring them back to life. We watched four out of the five seasons, as the plot twists (and resurrections) started to really go off the rails in the later seasons (See also: J.J. Abrams’ LOST). We scanned episode summaries for season five and felt really good about our decision to move on. Aside from cool gadgets and exciting spy stuff, this show is also an opportunity to see a young Bradley Cooper as Sydney’s friend Will, Victor Garber (of Titanic fame) as Sydney’s father, and LOST’s John Locke even shows up for a season of fun as well. This show deserves popcorn.
Parks and Recreation (Season 2 & 3) 3.5 Lumps
Ah, an old reliable that’s always good for a laugh, no matter how much the chemo might be getting you down. On chemo days, I tend to get home around 5:00, pass out for an hour and wake up feeling like a ton of bricks hit me. I need flat-screen entertainment, but I’m in no mood to follow the high stakes hi-jinx of Sydney Bristow. Enter the government workers of Pawnee, Indiana. I was late to the party when this show originally aired, which was a good thing, because the show took a season to really hit its stride. Much like its comedy mockumentary brother The Office, Parks & Rec has moments of brilliance and wonderful character actors, but also stuck around for a few too many seasons. Enjoy the gold of seasons 2 and 3. You will litralee laugh out loud.
Chuck (Pilot and 2 episodes) 1.5 Lumps
With my Alias run coming to an end, I was looking for another spy show to keep me occupied. Chuck–about a Best Buy employee who accidentally becomes a secret agent when he unknowingly downloads state secrets into his brain (yeah, it’s a comedy)–seemed like a good bet. This is another show that has a cult following, and I believe it was even resurrected after cancellation through the power of fan lobbying. That’s pretty impressive. Alas, I watched the pilot and a couple episodes, but never really connected with the characters or thought the jokes were much to write home about. The thing about having Netflix is that the buffet of show choices at my disposal makes it extra easy to have zero patience for shows that don’t quickly reel me in. Goodbye, Chuck.
Marvel’s Daredevil (Pilot) 1 Lump
Given the horridness of the Ben Affleck film, I was confident that this Netflix original series would do better justice to this blind lawyer by day/crime fighter by night. The pilot was dark (like, so dark that it was difficult to see some scenes on my TV…Are viewers meant to feel like Daredevil?) and honestly pretty boring. I’m giving this 1 lump only because it answered the question of what ever happened to Mighty Ducks Bash Brother Fulton Reed (pictured on the right). Apparently he went on to be the Daredevil’s law partner and is kind of pudgy now. The more you know.
Cheers (Season 1) 3 Lumps
I grew up watching the Disney Afternoon on WGN on weekdays, which was followed immediately by syndicated “family” sitcoms like Full House and eventually more grown-up programming like Cheers. I’m not sure where “doing my homework” fell into that TV-watching schedule, but I got good grades and I also got to know those Boston barflies pretty well. Theresa had never seen the show before, so we decided to start at the beginning. I actually had not seen much of season 1, so it was interesting for me to watch all these well-known characters introduce themselves. While it sometimes takes itself a bit too seriously and is not as laugh-out-loud hilarious as other comedies (or even its spinoff, Frasier), there’s still something really charming about it. It was perfect viewing on my phone while we waited around the emergency room for me to be admitted to a room. Plus, it’s got one of the greatest TV show theme songs of all time.
Frasier (various seasons) 4 Lumps
This is another show that I watched heavily in syndication, so our viewing of it during the chemo era has really just been a whistle stop tour of my favorite episodes as I introduce Theresa to Seattle’s favorite radio psychiatrist. But let’s be honest, the real treat of this show is his hypochondriac, Daphne-loving brother Niles. The nerd-mocking humor runs deep and the writing is superb. If you’re looking for quality laughs, I suggest strolling through seasons 1-4. More specifically, “The Two Mrs. Cranes” and “Moon Dance” are among my all-time favorite episodes. This is another TV show that overstayed its welcome (why can’t networks just cancel high quality shows before they’re forced to jump the shark?), but there’s so much treasure here that it still gets my vote as one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of TV.
Brain Games 3 Lumps
I’m not sure if this is a Netflix original series or what, but this fascinating show turns your TV into a device for viewing optical illusions that mess with your brain. Then the host explains the science behind why your brain was tricked the way it was. We only watched a couple episodes, but it provided an evening of high quality edutainment.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 2.5 Lumps
This straight-to-Netflix series (Remember when TV shows actually had to be on network TV? How quaint.) is the brainchild of Tina Fey and it shows. Much like 30 Rock, Kimmy Schmidt exists in a world where everyone–regardless of age, race, educational level or any other factor–is capable of firing off a Tina Fey-esque witty one-liner or incisive cultural reference. That means that the plot doesn’t really matter, so it’s all on the jokes. When the jokes are funny, the show is funny. When the jokes fall flat, the show feels a little off. In general it’s an offbeat kind of humor that’s not as broadly appealing as Cheers or Frasier or even The Office, but some of the one-liners leave me gasping for air.
The Office 4 Lumps
Speaking of The Office, how great is The Office? Pretty great. Even though I once again have to deny the existence of the later seasons, I love revisiting the Scranton branch as a post-chemo pick-me-up. At its finest, this show achieves a perfect blend of comedy and pathos, but always with an emphasis on the laughs. If it’s been a while since you watched the early seasons, I urge you to return. You’ve probably forgotten just how good it was. And how quotable!
Saturday Night Live 3 Lumps
In its 40-year history, SNL has obviously had its share of ups and downs, but the advent of YouTube has made it easier to weed out the downs. Theresa and I will frequently peruse whatever was uploaded from last week’s show, enjoying the good sketches and skipping past the bad. We’ve also used the 40th anniversary app to revisit a lot of hilarious sketches that I previously hadn’t seen since they originally aired. My Apple TV lets us stream all this from my phone to our TV, too! This app has also been great for on-the-go entertainment when we’re sitting around hospital waiting rooms or if I need a quick laugh while I’m getting my chemo.
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon 3.5 Lumps
Again, this is not appointment TV viewing, but a weekly YouTube perusal has brought us much joy: from emotional interviews with Ben Stiller to musical impressions with Christina Aguilera to impromptu rapping with Will Smith. I’ve long said that what Jimmy Fallon lacks in comedic talent, he makes up for in his power to arrange spectacles with celebrities. And he’s just so dang likable! You can’t help but be entertained.
Survivor (current season) 3 Lumps
This is the lone exception on this list: a TV show that we actually watch in real time as it airs on network TV! Theresa has long been a Survivor Superfan (seriously…she listens to podcasts with “experts” who break down what happened in a given episode) and, being the good husband that I am (and perhaps as a little payback for her sitting through Cubs games with me), I told her I would watch the current season with her. I have always maintained that reality shows are the furthest thing from reality: they are completely contrived by casting people who are willing to play a certain character (the ditz, the jock, the leader, the loner) and carefully edited to be as dramatic as possible.I stand by my assertion, but that doesn’t mean the show isn’t entertaining to watch. I’ve gotten into following the strategies the players are using to try to win the game. Plus, some of the players–no matter how fake–are very fun to watch. Others are incredibly annoying or just plain mean, and it’s fun to watch them get their comeuppance as well. I’m nowhere near becoming a superfan or checking out any podcasts, but it’s a fun way to spend a Wednesday evening and it’s fun to be able to talk to Theresa about it.
So that about covers it. I was going to add in reviews of all the movies I’ve watched in addition to these TV shows, but this post is long enough as it is. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Think I have no taste? Do you have more TV recommendations for me? I’ve got three more months of chemo, and while I’m sure more hours will be spent outside in the (hopefully) warmer weather, I’m sure I’ll still be putting in a lot of screen time. Leave your thoughts in the comments!