These are dark times for TV lovers. On Nov. 5, the Writers Guild of America went on strike over a disagreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over residuals for online streaming of television episodes. (Those damn whiny writers wanted to get paid when someone streamed an episode of something they wrote. The producers feigned shock and refused.) As a result, many TV shows began to shut down within days; Steve Carell, himself a WGA member, didn't show up on set at The Office that first day, and NBC's only cultural touchstone shuttered 48 hours later. By now, pretty much every (scripted) show you like is closing its doors until this whole mess gets settled.
But for all my fellow TV junkies out there, I'm here to offer hope in a time of sorrow, and diversion in a time of repeats and reality. I've compiled a brief list of TV series worth catching up with on DVD. Some of the list's entries might seem a little obvious, but my goal here isn't to be cunning, just to give you some great TV shows to add to your Netflix queue or scoop up at Everyday Music. The strike might not have an end in sight, but this should help ease the suffering:
Friday Night Lights, Season 1: This is nearly pitch-perfect TV, capturing the small-town lives and epic dreams of the citizens of the fictional Dillon, Texas, where high school football is the only way of life. Shot naturalistically near Austin, the series' first season is full of rich characters, compelling plots and the kind of genuinely heartwarming moments you probably forgot TV could produce. It's a championship season in every sense.
i]Alias,[/i] Seasons 1-2: J.J. Abrams's spy show grew decidedly weaker as it aged; by the time the fourth season rolled around, it wasn't uncommon to see psychotic Russian zombies used as villains. But the show's first two seasons, before Abrams grew distracted with plans for Lost , are a fantastic look at modern action-adventure storytelling that always used complex character relations as a catalyst for the suspense.
Freaks and Geeks: Paul Feig and Judd Apatow behind the camera; the introductions of James Franco, Seth Rogen and Linda Cardellini; and some of the most heartbreaking and honest portrayals of the hell that is high school to ever make it to air. What else is there to say?
30 Rock, Season 1: If you think The Office is NBC's best comedy, you're not watching 30 Rock kick The Office's ass all over the place in wit, intelligence and sheer verve. The show builds inside jokes and milks them for payoffs several episodes later better than any show since Arrested Development , and it shares that series' left-field free-association and quick cutaways. Tina Fey may be the anchor, but Alec Baldwin is doing some of the best comedic acting of his lifetime.
Crime Story: Not enough people know about Crime Story . It ran for two years on NBC in the 1980s, and though it was executive produced by Michael Mann, who had a hit at the time with Miami Vice , it couldn't be further from the pastels and wicker shoes of Crockett and Tubbs. Crime Story was a dark, complex drama built on season-long story arcs following a Chicago P.D. special crimes unit in the early 1960s. Dennis Farina and Anthony John Denison turned in some fantastic work as the respective cop and gangster whose exploits propelled most of the stories forward.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Seasons 1-2: Everything about this show is morally reprehensible, but I still laughed like an idiot when one character dressed like a Vietnam vet in order to earn sympathy and free lap dances from strippers. The crudity is so extreme that it's easy to overdose, but it's still one of the freshest and sourest comedies on the air. Well, off the air for now. But here's hoping for a quick return.