Every now and then, I’ll watch the occasional episode of “CSI” (usually just the New York version, as that one seems less, well, stupid than the other versions), or bland, by-the-numbers procedurals of that stripe. But there are shows that I actually make time out to watch. The problem is, I seem to be one of the very few people who actually watches these shows, as invariably when I bring them up in conversation, most people have no idea what I’m talking about. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) a lot of these shows are on paid cable networks like Showtime and Cinemax, and 2) a lot of these shows won’t win mainstream awards, but then again, “Two and a Half Men” has won a hell of a lot of awards, and we all know that is one of greatest crimes against humanity. That’s not to say the shows on this list haven’t won awards, only that that’s definitely not one of our criteria in choosing them. What is, though? The fact that they are all pretty damn kick-ass.
In no particular order…
STRIKE BACK (Cinemax) – Watch Free Episodes
Easily the best action TV series going at the moment, cable or otherwise. Not only is it ridiculously fun, but it sometimes feels like an entire season’s worth of “24″ crammed into one episode. The premise finds a former American Delta Force operator teaming up with a British commando to battle terrorists around the globe under the auspice of a British secret counter-terrorism unit. The show makes great use of its International locations, and the action is top-notch. The show has been around in a previous incarnation (co-starring Andrew Lincoln of “Walking Dead” fame, natch) that didn’t include the Delta Force operator (aka the American element, played, curiously enough, by an Aussie!), but never having seen it, I can’t speak for the show’s earlier version. I only know that the new, International-flavored “Strike Back” is one hell of a ballsy show, with each episode capable of giving the best Hollywood action movie a run for its money. Take, for example, this killer clip from the show, that features one of the best running gunfights to ever be put on TV, and you get the quality in terms of action beats that “Strike Back” goes for pretty much in every episode:
HOMELAND (Showtime) – Watch the Pilot Episode
Is he or isn’t he? That’s the question at the start of Showtime’s thrilling drama “Homeland”. Yes, I’m calling this a drama. It’s not really an action series like “24″, even though the show’s crew is heavily “24″-inspired, with the show’s producers/showrunners having previously directed Jack Bauer’s adventures. No, “Homeland” is more of an intense thriller, the kind of show where every episode could potentially blow up in your face with great ramifications for all involved. It features fantastic starring turns from “Band of Brothers’” Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, long removed from “My So Called Life”, playing quite possibly the most mentally unbalanced heroine in all of TV. Hell, that’s the one thing that sets “Homeland” apart from every other show currently on TV — just how broken and damaged its heroes are. How many shows have leading men who may or may not be a terrorist sleeper agent? The show’s Season 1 finale is easily the most intense, armchair-gripping episode in all of cable TV. WARNING! The episode preview below CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS that leads into Season 2:
WHITE COLLAR (USA Network) – Watch Free Episodes
Like the USA Network’s “Burn Notice”, “White Collar” has built up a very loyal fanbase, but it hasn’t really gone mainstream yet. I have to admit, I didn’t really “get” the appeal of “White Collar” when I first watched it. That is, until I really started watching it. I get it now. It’s one of the slickest show on TV (no, I’m not referring to the budget, which is modest at best), with a great, small cast that has terrific chemistry, very entertaining storylines, and yes, it’s pretty sexy, too. What makes the show really work is Tim DeKay’s FBI agent and his easygoing/not-entirely-trustworthy relationship with former conman turned FBI “consultant” Matt Bomer. The crimes-of-the-week aren’t the main draw of the show, it’s really the fun of watching the conman and the G-man interact, as the G-Man struggles to trust the conman, and the conman struggles to go straight. But that’s a little hard to do when you’re just so damn good at cheating, lying, and stealing. Give the show a shot, and I think you’ll like it. Definitely commit to at least two episodes, though, since one may not do it.
ALPHAS (Syfy Channel) – Watch Free Episodes
What if The X-Men was a TV show? Then it would probably look a lot like the Syfy Channel’s “Alphas”, a show that had a pretty touch-and-go first few episodes, but has since grown on me by leaps and bounds. Besides David Strathairn, the show’s Professor X, the cast is made of mostly unknowns, though you might recall Malik Yoba from his “New York Undercover” days, and Ryan Cartwright was a semi-regular on Fox’s “Bones” before getting lazily killed off. Like the X-Men, “Alphas” is set in a world where people with powers (called Alphas) are feared, and the Government is doing all it can to keep the lid on their existence. As a result, good and bad Alphas, and everyone in-between, are forced to choose sides. The show gives you the impression that it’s going to maintain this status quo for years to come, but goes and blows it up all up in a game-changing Season 1 finale. Definitely a show that’s taking chances, and it’s insistence on making all the powers as realistic as possible (or, you know, as realistic as it can possibly be for a show about people with powers) already puts it one step ahead most shows about people with powers. Try to overlook the show’s modest budget; while it’s not the slickest show on TV, it’s definitely one of the most creative.
JUSTIFIED (FX Network) – Watch Free Episodes
Look, I’ve been pimping the FX Network’s “Justified” for as long as I can remember, but that’s only because I think this show is probably one of the best damn shows on TV right now, and it just pains me that not many people have seen it, or even know it exists. If you like classic Westerns, but one where the good guys don’t all necessarily wear white hats and the bad guys can sometimes be good guys, too, then “Justified” is the show for you. Season 2′s main villain was the matriarch of a clan of good ol boys involved in a land scheme who is just as liable to brew you moonshine and raise your daughter into a proper woman as she is liable to poison your moonshine and kill you in your own kitchen. Every episode goes where you least expect it to, and Timothy Olyphant as TVland’s coolest hero doesn’t hurt, either. Look, I’m sick of telling you “Justified” is great. Just take my word for it, okay? See one episode, and you’ll thank me.
Any shows out there that you think people aren’t giving enough love to, but definitely deserves it? Let’s here it.