Quality vs. Quantity: The Making of Good TV

Firefly Mal Inara and Jayne

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We’ve lamented before over the loss of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western epic which was tragically cut down in its first and only season. Even though we eventually got to see the ending as a movie, fans continue to wish for more adventures with Captain Mal and the crew of the ship Serenity.

However, if fans did receive their wish and Firefly had lasted for multiple seasons, would we still consider it one of the finest sci-fi shows on television? Would the romance between Simon and Kaylee have been drawn out for a ridiculously long time, only to fizzle out when they did get together? Would actors leave the show halfway, making us hate their replacements? Would Firefly have eventually jumped the shark?

The Simpsons Family

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In a perfect world a television show would play only as long for as long as it was still engaging and the last episode would air right before the show became tired and boring. Once-quality shows like The Simpsons and The Office would be put out to pasture while at the top of their game, instead of suffering for years. Is it even worth having so many episodes of The Simpsons that the show could support its own cable network when fans only care about the earlier seasons?

Maybe we should take a cue from across the pond and set up our shows the way they do in England. That would mean only a few seasons of a show, and only a handful of episodes per season.Spaced might have had a small run by American standards, but it’s a work of pure genius that similar shows like The Big Bang Theory couldn’t hope to reproduce.

Spaced Tim and Mike

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Smaller shows mean smaller budgets, allowing networks to take greater risks on weird shows like The Mighty Boosh.  Given the same limitations over here, there’s no doubt that we’d see a golden renaissance of American television and terms like “jump the shark” would be obsolete.

On the other hand, consider how different shows like Parks and Recreation or Community would be if they were cut off after only six episodes. Many television shows don’t hit their stride until the second or third season as the actors further develop the characters and writers weave a complex world. We’ve all found ourselves telling a friend “Once you get past the first couple of episodes, this show is really great.”

Cast of Arrested Development

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Maybe the creators of Arrested Development were the only ones who got it right. Although the show only aired for three seasons, it was enough time for the cast to develop an amazing chemistry and for the writers to build up a number of inside jokes and catch phrases. The show was taken off the air just before it began to show any flaws and is now scheduled to return to TV once again.

In the battle between quantity versus quality, the winner may in fact be both. The ideal TV show would be one with unlimited episodes that are always consistent in quality.

Five Mad Predictions for Mad Men Season Five

Cast of Mad Men on AMC

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The last time we had a new episode of Mad Men to watch was back in October of 2010. Since then we’ve watched shows like Pan-Am and The Playboy Club try, and fail, to recapture the retro-dramatic intrigue that makes Mad Men so popular. March 25th marks the debut of Season Five on AMC and with such a long gap in between the production schedule, we’re guaranteed to see some changes to the show. Here are just a few things we think will be different when Mad Men returns from hiatus.

Time Travel

Mad Men Cast

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Mad Men season premieres have been known to fast forward the story ahead a few years. With an almost two-year hiatus between seasons, we can be sure to see another time jump this year. We left the show in 1965, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what year the next season will be. Could Mad Men jump five years ahead and become the next That 70’s Show?

The Next Mrs. Draper

Don Draper and Fiance Megan

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The finale cliffhanger from last season was Don proposing to his secretary Megan. The couple didn’t have a long courtship, so we’re thinking that a long engagement is out. We’ll start the season either with Don and Megan’s wedding or with a happily married couple who are expecting their first baby together.

Sally the Teen

Mad Men Sally Draper

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We watched Sally mature in Season Four and it’s sure to be a continuing theme as the show progresses. With Sally going through puberty we can expect plenty of clashes between her and Betty—and possibly new stepmother, Megan. Sally is likely to be a bigger part of Don’s life as he struggles with his little girl blossoming into a woman of the 60’s.

Joan the Widow

Mad Men Joan with Husband Greg

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We all know now that the Vietnam War was brutal and bloody, but Joan will probably find that out the hard way. As the only main character with a loved one serving in the war, the odds are not in favor of her husband Greg returning home safely. However, Joan is also carrying Roger’s baby, so her husband’s death might just make a complicated situation much easier to deal with.

Peggy Breaks Out

Mad Men Peggy Olson

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We’ve watched Peggy go from meek typing girl to full fledged copywriter, but she’s not done getting hers just yet. She seemed unsure of her future with the company when we last saw her—could this be the season where Peggy breaks out on her own? It would be entertaining to watch the student take on her teacher and have Peggy working at a rival company, competing with Don over a client

TV Couples That Should Get Together for Valentine’s Day

After watching characters on TV for an extended period of time, you start to feel like they’re your best friends. But unlike your real best friends, you can’t tell TV characters that their constant flirting is getting tired and that they should probably just date already. This Valentine’s Day, let’s hope that Cupid’s arrow finally finds these TV couples so that they can drop the romantic tension act and finally consummate what we’ve all known was going to happen for awhile.

Jack and Liz – 30 Rock

Jack and Liz 30 Rock

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Jack and Liz’s relationship might be best described as a ‘bromance,’ but it’s one that could easily turn into something real. Jack provides Liz with the tools to become a responsible adult while Liz provides Jack with an opportunity to relax and enjoy life. Jack’s recent meddling in Liz’s relationship even further confirms how desperately these two should just admit that they need each other.

Sookie and Alcide – True Blood

Sookie and Alcide True Blood

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There have been so many guys in Sookie’s life—Bill, Sam, Eric– but none seem quite the right match as Sookie and werewolf Acide. Maybe it’s because she sees him as a friend that she allows herself to be so much less annoying when she’s around him—or maybe it’s because we feel sorry that Alcide is stuck with crazy Debbie as a wife. Either way, these two should become the new alpha couple in Bon Temps.

Britta and Troy – Community

Community Britta and Troy

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Even though Jeff spent the first season trying to get with Britta, that romantic plotline has since fizzled out to make way for Britta and Troy. These two loveable dummies feel more natural than Jeff and Britta ever did. Jeff is callous and calculating, while Troy is sensitive and sweet—which is a better match for bleeding heart Britta.

Carol and Daryl – The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead Carol and Daryl

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Despite their unfortunate rhyming names, these two survivors seem like they’re a zombie attack away from jumping into a relationship together. Carol sees the good in Daryl that even Daryl himself isn’t able to see. Now that Sophia is dead, it’s time for Daryl to step up and be that good man that Carol needs.

Damon and Elena – The Vampire Diaries

Damon and Elena The Vampire Diaries

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Sure, getting together with your brother’s ex-girlfriend is going to make family gatherings that much more awkward, but that shouldn’t stop Damon and Elena from going official. Even if Elena and Stefan fans were so upset that they sent death threats to the show’s creators when Damon kissed Elena, we think ‘Delena’ is here to stay.

 

 

 

Bucket List Ideas for TV Fans

Reaper from Dead Like Me

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Death is a mystery, but there are two things we know about it for certain—everybody has to go at some point and nobody knows when it’s going to happen. Composing a bucket list helps you to make sure you get everything you can out of life while you still have time.

Most people fill up their bucket list planning grandiose adventures such as going skydiving or visiting Niagra Falls—but what if you’re the type of person who just likes to spend a quiet evening in front of the TV? If your dream is to live the life of a TV fanatic, then here are a few ideas for your bucket list.

Get on Television

Audience of The Today Show

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Everybody deserves their fifteen minutes of fame. Whether you’re a contestant on Wheel of Fortune or stand outside the big window on The Today Show, every TV fan should experience the thrill of seeing their own face on a television screen at least once.

Try Out for a Reality TV Show

American Idol Hopefuls Standing In Line

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You know what they say, you have to play to win. It doesn’t matter whether or not you actually are America’s Next Top Model or one of the Worst Cooks in America the important thing is that you try. Even if you don’t make it, you may discover something new about yourself when you create your audition tape.

Meet a TV Star

Bob's Burgers Cast Signing

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You don’t have to live in Hollywood to meet a famous person. Check out local events in your area to see if any TV stars are coming to town on book tours, fan conventions, live shows or other events where you can score a meet-and-greet.

Travel to a Location from a TV Show

Fans at Monk's Diner from Seinfeld

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Every TV fanatic should see at least one location from a TV show in the highest definition possible—real life. Whether your destination is the diner from Seinfeld or the entire town of Scranton from The Office, be sure to pick a comfortable pair of walking shoes before setting out to explore the wild world of television landmarks.

Sit in a Live Studio Audience

Audience of The Price is Right

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If you’ve ever wanted to see how the magic of television is brought to life, there’s no better place to do so than in a live studio audience. Not only do audience members sometimes end up being featured on televised segments, you also have a chance of walking away with some fabulous door prizes just for showing up.

Eat a Meal You Saw on TV

Man vs Food Pancakes

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Seeing a delicious meal on TV is not the same as eating one. Try cooking one of the decadent meals from the Food Network or dine at a restaurant featured on the Travel Channel. Even your taste buds deserve a little TV time now and again.

Five Reasons Why Video Games Would Adapt Better to Television than Movies

Live Action Pac Man

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Despite the fact that movies based on video games are never a commercial or critical hit, Hollywood continues to go back to the video game well for new ideas. It’s no surprise why tinseltown executives do it—after all, video games are a billion-dollar industry with a built-in fan base. Even the US military associates itself with video games in order to reach a broader audience.

The problem is that video games would make better television shows than movies. Other than a handful of low quality cartoons for kids, there hasn’t been much of an effort to adapt video games into TV shows. That’s a shame, because we can think of at least five good reasons why video game adaptations belong on the small screen, not the silver screen.

B-Actors and Limited Budgets

Doom Movie Cast The Rock

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The problem with video game movies is that they are given a small budget to work with, which means they can’t afford many A-list stars or decent special effects. While this is a hindrance to attracting a movie audience, it’s how television thrives.  The expectations are not as high on television and even the most successful shows only have one or two big name stars on the cast. A limited movie budget could go a long way in television.

Hours of Storytelling Potential

Elder Scrolls V Skyrim

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Most movies clock in around two hours in length—however most video games take several hours to complete. An epic game like Mass Effect or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would be better suited for television where long-form storytelling is possible. Instead of trying to cram every concept from a video game into one film, directors would be able to slowly build over a multiple episodes and seasons—much like how a video game has different levels and sequels.

Cross-Genre Appeal

Real Life Tetris Game

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A game like Tetris would never make for an entertaining flick, but elements from the video game could be incorporated into a game show. How about an obstacle course based on Angry Birds or a cooking show for kids based on Cooking Mama? There is no limit to the treasure trove of program possibilities that could be dug up from the world of video games.

Animation Domination

Bioshock video game cutscene

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Forget about those cheesy Saturday morning cartoons from the 80’s— today’s animation is made to be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Since video games are already produced with CGI cutscenes, it would be easy to translate that leftover data into an animated program. Animation is a cheaper way to tell epic, sprawling stories in a fantasy world while not being bogged down by a limited budget.

Colorful Cast of Characters

Cast of Resident Evil Video Games

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To tell a story on television you need a primary cast, some secondary characters and a stable of one-shot and reoccurring guest characters to move the plot along. The same is true with video games where you have the characters you can control, the characters that assist you and the characters you interact with along the way. Television would give audiences more opportunities to explore a diverse cast other than a movie where there’s little room for anyone other than the stars.

Best of the Best: Community

Cast of Community

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It’s easy to hand out titles like “best show on television,” but a title is just a meaningless collection of words unless you can back it up with some evidence. In Best of the Best we pick the five best episodes of the finest shows on television to give you an example of what makes them so special.

If you were within earshot of a Community fan when the show was put on hiatus by NBC, then you’ve probably already heard about how creative, original and streets ahead this comedy is. Community is a TV show about TV shows for TV fanatics like us.

Contemporary American Poultry

Community Contemporary American Poultry

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“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be in a Mafia movie.” – Abed

In an effort to keep his friends flush with chicken fingers, Abed gets a job at the school cafeteria. It’s not long before Abed’s kickbacks to his friends spiral into an underground chicken finger racket in the style of Goodfellas. Underneath all this lampooning is a great character story about what happens to the group when someone other than Jeff is calling the shots.  

Cooperative Calligraphy

Community Cooperative Calligraphy

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“Accidents don’t just happen over and over and over again, this isn’t budget daycare.” – Annie

Annie’s pen goes missing and it turns into one of the most frantic witch hunts ever televised. With nowhere to go and nobody else to accuse but one another, this character driven episode shows the characters getting raw and naked—literally. The episode ends with the gang forgetting about the pen and the audience finding out that Troy’s monkey was the culprit all along.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Community Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

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“This is why I wanted to play Chutes and Ladders.” – Troy

The gang plays a game of Dungeons and Dragons with a suicidal classmate in order to cheer him up, but Pierce crashes the party to punish his friends for excluding him. What follows is an epic tale of good versus evil that takes place entirely in the viewer’s imagination. Except for that haunting image of Chang looking as stealthy as a B-2 bomber in dark elf makeup– that’s something we could never imagine.

Modern Warfare

Community Modern Warfare

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“I thought it was paint but I’m just bleeding. Talk about luck!” – Jeff

Jeff takes a nap before a game of paintball assassin and wakes up to find himself in a warzone covered in paint. This episode had the monumental feat of riffing on every action movie under the sun, while also breaking the will-they, won’t-they tension between Britta and Jeff by having them hook up.

Advanced Chaos Theory

“This is the darkest timeline.” – Abed

Only Community could deliver seven different alternate timelines in one episode. With the simple roll of a die, we get to see what Troy and Abed’s housewarming party would be like under different circumstances. Some of the results are grim, while others hint at things to come—but the final result is driven by choice, not fate, and ends with a happy gathering of friends.

Top Ten Twins on TV

They say that the best things in life come in pairs—and that rule is especially true when it comes to TV shows. Whether they’re identical, fraternal, opposite gendered or evil—twins give any television twice the amount of appeal. Here are just a few of the twins on TV who rock our socks off.

Patty and Selma Bouvier – The Simpsons

The Simpsons Patty and Selma

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These animated twin sisters share a love for smoking cigarettes, watching MacGuyver and torturing their brother-in-law, Homer. Patty is one of the few reoccurring gay characters on The Simpsons, while Selma has had a string of failed marriages and recently adopted a Chinese baby named Ling.

Mary Kate and Ashley Burke – Two of a Kind

Mary Kate and Ashley Two of a Kind

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Sure they’re best known for sharing the role of Michelle Tanner on Full House, but this was the first television series where the Olson Twins got to play their own characters. Mary Kate was a tomboy and sports enthusiast while Ashley was a studious girly girl.

Zack and Cody Martin – The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Suite Life on Deck

The Suite Life of Zack and Cody

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Your kids know Zack and Cody from their two Disney Channel series. On Suite Life the brothers lived in an upscale hotel with their mother, while spin-off On Deck features the two attending high school at sea.

Dennis and Dee Reynolds – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Dennis and Dee It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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Dennis and Dee may not look alike, but they share the same undeserved air of confidence and apathy towards other human beings. When these two aren’t backstabbing each other, they’re teaming up to backstab others and they do a pretty good job of it.

George and Oscar Bluth – Arrested Development

Arrested Development Oscar and George Bluth

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Although both are played by Jeffery Tambour, these two brothers are polar opposites. George is a sleazy executive with a bald head while Oscar is a pot-smoking hippie with long, beautiful locks.

Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell – Sister, Sister

Sister, Sister Tia and Tamera

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Imagine running into a clone of yourself while shopping at the mall. That’s what happened to Tia and Tamera, who were separated at birth and adopted by different foster parents.

Hank and Dean Venture – The Venture Bros.

The Venture Bros. Hank and Dean

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There have been multiple clones of the Venture twins, Hank and Dean, but the originals were always twins. Although the brothers are close, Dean wants to follow in his family’s pursuit of science while Hank just wants to be a rock star.

Brenda and Brandon Walsh – Beverly Hills, 90210

Brenda and Brandon Beverly Hills 90210

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Although both of the Walsh twins eventually left the show, Brenda and Brandon provided us with an outsider’s view of Beverly Hills in those early formative seasons. Brandon’s nice guy routine was a great contrast to Brenda’s nasty personality.

Phoebe and Ursula Buffay – Friends/Mad About You

Phoebe and Ursula Buffay Friends

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Actress Lisa Kudrow had a small part as clueless waitress Ursula on Mad About You before hitting it big on Friends. Eventually the two characters on different shows were made into twins sisters.

Zan and Jayna – Super Friends

The Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna

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These are the twins you want on your side if you’re ever kidnapped by Lex Luthor. The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, can transform into water or animals respectively, but only when they combine their efforts.

Seven Deadly Sins of Reality TV

Bad Girls Club Fight

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If you ever need proof to support the argument that society is immoral, look no further than reality TV shows. If the seven deadly sins are a representation of the worst aspects of mankind, then reality shows are a look into the darkest facets of humanity. You can find each of the seven deadly sins in today’s reality programming—so if the world really does end in 2012, we know what to blame.

PrideProject Runway, Top Chef, American Idol

Project Runway Models

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If there’s one thing every reality TV contest suffers from it’s a sense of pride. In order to put your art or your passion out there to be judged in front of an audience of millions, you have to have pride in your work. But nobody ever told these people that a little goes a long way.

Greed – The Apprentice, Fear Factor, Joe Millionaire

The Apprentice Contestants

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When a reality show comes with a life-changing prize like cash or a job opportunity, contestants fight tooth and nail to get it. We love watching people backstab, form alliances and play mind games all for that sweet prize. TV shows where people consume animal semen for cash are a sign of how desperately greedy we’ve become.

Lust – The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Next,

The Bachelor Contestants

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Dating shows are always about a bunch of attractive meat bags burning through romantic partners in a rapid-fire race to find a compatible match. Leave it to reality television to make romance seem tawdry.

Envy –  Made, Wife Swap, The Buried Life

MTV's Made Reality Show

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Everybody on reality TV wants to be somebody else. People are ready to trade lives in a heartbeat just to see what else is out there, but in the end the lesson almost always boils down to being grateful for what you have—your fifteen minutes of fame.

Gluttony – The Biggest Loser, Fat Chef, Intervention

The Biggest Loser Contestant

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In a world of overconsumption these reality shows try to preach a message of self-control while allowing viewers to indulge in the pleasure of watching other people lose control. It’s hard to admit to your own gluttonous behaviors when there are so many people on reality TV that are worse off than you.

Wrath – Jersey Shore, The Real World, The Bad Girls Club

You have to tread lightly around reality TV stars because they can go from zero to crazy in the blink of an eye. There’s a very simple equation to these types of reality shows—gather a bunch of people with volatile personalities, trap them in an enclosed space and add alcohol. The result is a steady stream of swearing, screaming and drunken fist fighting.

Sloth – Hoarders, Supernanny, What Not to Wear

Messy House on Hoarders

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No need to do anything for yourself anymore because reality TV crews are ready and willing to clean out your house, raise your children and make sure you don’t look ridiculous when you go outside. In China, they have shows where contestants go after their dream jobs, while in America we have shows about how to not let our kids act like monsters.

When Bad Characters Ruin Good TV Shows

Scooby Doo Scrappy Doo

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Nobody’s perfect. Even if your TV show is cooler than a hotel made out of ice, you’re still bound to have that one little flaw that otherwise spoils a perfect series. Scooby-Doo had Scrappy-Doo, Saved by the Bell had Screech and Lost had Ana-Lucia. It’s too late for these shows to polish off their blemishes, but there are still characters on TV right now that are ruining perfectly good shows.

Gabe Lewis – The Office

The Office Gabe Lewis

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I like to rag on how much The Office has slipped in quality over the years, but you know —Gabe is a big part of that. Gabe was introduced as Jo’s brown-nosing assistant but after Kathy Bates left the show for her failing drama Harry’s Law, Gabe is just a leftover creepy little worm. The only thing that could redeem him is if they revealed that he was the Scranton Strangler all along—but even that would be a shark-jumping moment for the show. 

Vince Masuka – Dexter

Dexter Vince Masuka

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I get why Masuka is a part of the show—you need the other lab tech guy to be a complete idiot in order for Dexter to get away with killing people. The problem with Masuka is that he’s just so gosh-darn unlikeable. In a real police department he’d be out on the streets after countless sexual harassment charges. The worst thing about Masuka is that he’s always a one-note sex freak, like a 13-year-old boy. Every time you think he’s matured, he goes out of his way to prove you wrong.

Tara Thornton – True Blood

True Blood Tara Thornton

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The end of Season 4 saw Tara and her partner driving off into the sunset, possibly leaving Bon Temps behind forever. We can only hope. The problem with Tara is that the writers never know what to do with her and every attempt to reexamine the character just makes you hate her even more. This last season was the straw that broke the camel’s back as Tara was partially responsible for the whole witches-VS-vampires fiasco going out of control.

Joffrey Baratheon  – Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones Joffrey Baratheon

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I know you’re supposed to hate Joffrey, but I just can’t stand the sight of this little twerp anymore. Whether he’s picking on little girls or running home to mommy, this sniveling coward of a king is always annoying. However, Joffrey crossed the line when he had Ned Stark beheaded instead of sparing him. I can only hope he gets his comeuppance soon.

Ben Chang – Community

Community Ben Chang

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It might seem sacrilegious to put Chang on this list, but really there hasn’t been anything for the character to do since Season 1. Ken Jeong is a hilarious guy and he made Chang the perfect crazy college professor in the first season—but after losing his job, Chang’s just been hanging around because he’s got nothing better to do. His weird Gollum act is no longer funny, just creepy. If Community needs to trim the budget in order to stay on the air—Chang should be the first to go.

 

 

Series Primer: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy Title Card

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Sons of Anarchy is like the TV show you don’t want to take home to meet your mother. On the outside it looks rough, angry and unapproachable, but on the inside it’s familial, passionate and heartwarming. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy on wheels and the kind of compelling television that will make you never judge a book by it’s cover—or a biker by his jacket—ever again.

Sure, the Sons of Anarchy are a bunch of booze-drinking, skull-cracking, woman-using gangsters who make their money from selling firearms and pornography—but they’re also a family. These men of mayhem care deeply about one another and all of their actions, no matter how despicable, are always for the good of the family and the good of their community.

Sons of Anarchy Jackson and Clay

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The show’s strongest suit is its use of colorful, yet complex, characters. Series lead Charlie Hunnam plays Jackson Teller, the club’s VP and son of a founding member who finds himself trapped between the ideal club his father wanted and the state of the club as it is today. Leading the motorcycle club is Jackson’s stepfather Clay Morrow, a founding member played expertly by television vet Ron Perlman.

These two have an antagonistic father-and-son relationship that mirrors the conflict between Hamlet and King Claudius. The two feel deep love and respect for one another, but find themselves butting heads on how to run the club—and who should really be in charge.

Sons of Anarchy Gemma

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Caught in the middle is Clay’s old lady and Jackson’s mother, Gemma Teller-Morrow, played by Katey Sagal. Gemma is a strong-willed, manipulative momma bear and Sagal portrays her with such conviction that you barely remember she once wore a red bouffant wig on Married with Children. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jackson’s girlfriend Tara Knowles, a neo-natal surgeon played by Mad Men’s Maggie Siff. Her character’s development from doctor to old lady, as well as her complex relationship with Gemma, makes for some of the best moments on the show.

I never thought I’d find myself getting into this “biker” show, but Sons of Anarchy is about much more than just a motorcycle gang. Not since The Wire have I found myself loving such a colorful bunch of misfits who all intersect and connect with one another. You root for killers and thieves and outlaws because the show does such a good job of making you want to root for them.

Sons of Anarchy on Motorcycles

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Sons of Anarchy was recently renewed for another two seasons on FX, which means that these boys of SAMCRO are here to stay. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Sons or if the idea of a biker show has previously turned you away, drop your preconceptions at the door and check out the earlier season on-demand or on DVD. Then get ready for two more heart-pounding seasons of must-see TV.