5 Obscure Shows That Are Better Versions Of Ones You Watch
It always pays off to be prepared and have a spare everything. At least that's how I justify my second, secret family in northern Canada. I know you guys and gals won't tell my wife about the "Yukon Cezaros" because you're all cool like that. I thought I'd repay that coolness by telling you about a bunch of lesser-known TV shows that you can use as awesome spares for when your favorite televised waste of time goes off the air. Because you're so cool. Not because I'm bribing you into silence. Who gave you that idea? Whoever it was, they are filthy liars. Anyway, here are some alternatives to the most popular TV shows out there:
Done With Sherlock? Try Elementary.
BBC's Sherlock is like Christmas: Whenever it comes out, it's the most magical time ever. Every adventure of Breakdance Cranberrysauce is packed to the brim with smart dialogue, fascinating characters, and suspenseful stories, from secret government projects to military weapons and matters of national security. Because of that, we should consider ourselves lucky when we find Bromblepunch Crazylegs and Watson under our tree.
Plus, Babadook Cranekick is pretty easy on the eyes. Right? I mean ... he is considered attractive ... right?
Sadly, another way Sherlock is like Christmas is that we get like one episode of it per year, on average. That's why, if the wait ever becomes too much for you, you could try checking out CBS's Elementary, like I almost didn't. I mean, a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes set in New York with a female Watson? So CBS just remade Sherlock but with a couple that straight people can masturbate to? Actually, no.
But also YES.
While I still love Sherlock, I'm now a bigger fan of Elementary. For one, the former has like 10 episodes out, in contrast to the latter's 100+. It's not a question of mere quantity, though. Because the adventures of Barcelona Cuckooclock come out so infrequently, it feels like each episode has to be bigger, darker, and more complex than the last one. The first episode was about a series of mass poisonings. The third one is about blackmailers putting people in explosive vests. The last one will probably be about Bastardneck Crumbcake fighting Satan in the center of the earth.
Elementary, on the other hand, can take its time and focus on smaller cases like home invasions, overdoses, hit-and-runs ...
Shirt thefts, apparently.
What it doesn't have, though, is a romantic relationship between Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu). They are colleagues who respect each other, and nothing else. In fact, over the course of the show, Watson grows into a full-fledged detective whom Holmes greatly admires, and it's inspiring to see such character development in a story as done to death as Sherlock Holmes.
But that doesn't mean Elementary disregards the canon completely. CBS's Sherlock actually works closely with the police and occasionally expresses his respect for the good work they do, and vice versa, just like in the books. This is a welcome improvement on Sherlock, where Detective Inspector Lestrade has been turned into idiotic comic relief who by now would do anything Bikestand Cocoapuffs told him.
"You need me to stick a rabid vole in my ass to solve the murder? CAN DO!"
I'm not trying to convince you the American show is objectively better than Sherlock. My point is that Elementary isn't the cheap copycat I initially thought it was, though it does do a lot of stuff the other show doesn't. Bopyourtop Custardrash. OK, I'm done.
Miss Firefly? Check Out The Expanse.
I recently realized I'll never get over Firefly, seeing as I'm still holding out hope for it to return as an animated series, even if most of the actors have moved on to better things/places. I just hate that so many questions about the show will never be answered. Will the stark divide between poorer and richer planets escalate into a new civil war? Will the good guy rebels win this time? Will Nathan Fillion ever stop an episode halfway through to thank me for all of my support?
Is Jayne's hat OK?!
However, I have started getting over the loss of Firefly ever since I discovered the Syfy series The Expanse.
Let me set the stage for you: It's the future, the solar system is colonized, and Sherlock's fourth season is about to premiere. More importantly, there's also a Firefly-esque interplanetary civil war brewing. The three major players are Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt, the redheaded rented step-mule of the system, which supplies most planets with vital resources. Most everyone looks down on the poor, blue-collar Belters who, due to toiling away in zero gravity, develop emaciated bodies and have such fragile bones that they can't function on Earth. NASA, of course, has refused to comment.
Hell, exposing a Belter to Earth's gravity is known as gravity torture, i.e., the show's version of waterboarding.
Correction: a super-not-subtle version.
So, the Belters are the equivalent of Firefly's heroic, underdog Browncoats, right? Hahaha, NO. Most of them are dicks.
That's the beauty of The Expanse: There is no clearly defined bad guy here. Literally everybody sucks. Earth is controlled by the U.N., Mars is a militaristic, possibly fascist superpower, and Belters, fuck, a lot of them support terrorism to further their cause. But their cause is just -- the creation of an independent Belter homeworld where they can have full access to air and water, which the bigger planets are denying them. Sort of like in another sci-fi series where food on poorer planets was worth more than gold because of rich assholes billions of miles away.
Now, there IS a group of scrappy underdogs who basically go against every major power in the show:
But unlike a lot of science fiction shows where each character fits a loose archetype of either liking science a lot or hating it, every character in The Expanse is clearly defined, while leaving a ton of room for them to grow and surprise us.
Also, just like Firefly, a lot of stuff in the Syfy channel show is old, broken down, and rusting away. It all just helps make the world of The Expanse more ... expansive, and thus a great substitute for the series we lost. Still planning to charge Fox with treason if I ever become president, though.
Forget The Walking Dead. Watch Z Nation.
I can't tell you that I'm still a fan of The Walking Dead, but I can tell you what I used to love about the series. I really liked that it moved slowly, that zombies were more in the background, and that the real monsters were the humans. Basically, I liked the fact that the show took a solid "The real bad guy in Frankenstein is the CREATOR" approach to things. But even the best things become unbearable if you use them too much or in the wrong way. I call it the "Can of whipped cream up the ass" principle.
For me, the biggest problem with the latter seasons of TWD was that the people became just too monstrous. My last memory of the show is me shouting: "STOP KILLING EACH OTHER! YOU HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER, YOU SHIT-BRAINED ASS-CLOWNS!" before rage-quitting the whole thing. Look, I get that it's about "the darkness of the human soul" and other favored high school sophomore writing themes, but at a certain point, you just kind of want to see how they'd do if they finally got their farm all sorted out.
"AND HOW IS THIS TURD-PUPPET STILL ALIVE?!"
But, hey, it's thanks to my disappointment that I gave Z Nation a try, because it's almost the exact opposite of The Walking Dead. For one, it's incredibly fast-paced. There are few dull moments in the show (a welcome respite from TWD, which has become the Dragon Ball Z of pondering, clumsy emotional moments), and the plot moves from place to place all the time. More importantly, the series is brutal (and has balls; I honestly stopped counting how many kids it killed), but the violence is always the inevitable result of a hopeless situation. It's never gratuitous.
There's this thing called the 8th Sacrament in the show, which is a practice of killing people near the end of their lives to stop them from becoming zombies, kind of like assisted suicide. That's nothing groundbreaking, but here it's just so ... normal? No crying over having to shoot a loved one, no fake-ass drama, just giving out mercy and accepting death as the new reality of living in a fucking zombie apocalypse.
And having loads of fun with it. Remember fun?
That's another great thing about Z Nation: It uses the word "zombie." You know, like the actual world would, unlike TWD, which uses "walkers," like it's embarrassed to be in the same room as itself. Oh, and Z Nation has a purpose: to find a cure for zombieism. It's its goal from episode one.
And I'm not saying that all of this makes Z Nation better than The Walking Dead. I'm saying that the latter is the yin to the former's yang, and together they cover almost every possible approach to a TV show about zombies. And that's awesome.
Done With Orange Is The New Black? Start Wentworth.
I have yet to meet an Orange Is The New Black fan who likes Piper, the show's main character. It honestly feels like the show succeeds and rocks despite her. Think about it, what do YOU like about it? I bet it's the backstories of all the characters.
"Yes, that is correct. I watch it for the stories."
There is just so much heartbreaking human drama in the show's flashbacks, from star-crossed lovers to human trafficking rings, hippie cults, and good old-fashioned bad luck. But if you want all of that, minus Piper, then you don't have to pirate the show and learn video editing. You can just tune in to the Australian show Wentworth.
The greatest strength of this show from Down Under is that it sticks to one genre. OITNB has some good comedy in it, no doubt about it, but it's more of a bonus that we could live without. Wentworth, on the other hand, opens with an inmate blowing a guard for cigarettes. It's not explicit, though, so it's not done for pure shock value. It's merely an early taste of things to come.
Could I have phrased that better? Yes. Am I sorry? BUAHAHAHA.
Similarly to OITNB, the main character in Wentworth is a regular person who found herself in a very irregular situation. But unlike Piper, she isn't a clueless woman-child who got locked up because of her stupidity. Wentworth's Bea is a victim of abuse and spousal rape, and the flashbacks to her backstory are more uncomfortable than the time my wife walked in on me repeatedly rewinding Wentworth's numerous lesbian scenes. And, no, I'm not burying the lede here because, and I can't believe I'm saying it, the show's lady-on-lady action isn't that important, with the possible exception of Bea discovering her lesbian/bi side, which is actually done very tastefully. This is refreshing, especially when you consider that most American TV series think that all lesbians act like the grinding vampires in a Blade film.
The violence on the show is a whole other thing, though. It's explicit, and brutal, and sort of reminds me of another grossly underrated show, Banshee, because it always goes too far but in a good way. Think of a regular "violent" TV scene, which, even when denouncing the violence, still wants to make it look rad as hell. Now picture it going way too long, until you want to yell "Stop it! They're already dead, for fuck's sake ..." For it to be effective, it has to be uncomfortable. For it to have any kind of emotional impact, you kind of have to wish that it would stop.
Though, to be fair, this, too, is Wentworth.
Over American Horror Story? You'll Love Channel Zero.
Look, I really do like American Horror Story, but whenever I try to explain the plot of Season 1, I end up sounding like a crazy person. By the time I get to the part about a ghost of a school shooter possessing a gimp suit and raping an older woman in order to impregnate her with the Antichrist, people have already locked themselves in the bathroom and called the men in white coats on me. But I swear that the series is creepy. It's just that the creepiness mainly comes from how convincingly the actors react to everything around them, and isn't that enough?
As in: enough to forgive this?
I mentioned before that I'm a fan of Stephen King, and this series really reminds me of his writing. It is silly on the surface, but it treats itself seriously and you cannot help but be sucked in by its persistence that "this shit is scary, yo." I really do respect it for it. But I also think that it would be nice to have a subtle horror series ... that wasn't The Twilight Zone. You know, for variety's sake. That's where Channel Zero comes in.
Like a secret family from northern Canada.
You might remember when the series was first announced and how it was meant to be based on "creepypasta," i.e., internet campfire stories. I immediately checked out when I read that, but you shouldn't, because the show actually makes this dumb idea work. It's just one of the many ways it reminds me of AHS: On paper, it sounds like the worst thing that has ever happened to televisions.
The first season of Channel Zero centers on a weird-ass TV show that only kids seem to be able to see and is connected to the disappearances/deaths of a few local children. And ... that's it. The series uses this simple plot point to explore the evil sides of humanity. Past secrets, murders, lack of trust -- those are the things to be scared of in Channel Zero.
Plus the freaky tooth monster.
But you can find all of that stuff in Super Serious Critically Acclaimed Prestige Drama Of The Season #142. What makes it a horror show? See, there's still plenty of supernatural elements to piss your pants over in this show as well. It's just, the paranormal is a BIG thing here. You are never asked to just accept that otherworldly stuff happens. During many scenes, the characters are as freaked out about the unexplained as you should be, and that's what makes Channel Zero so good at being scary: It leads by example.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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