Television Even A Book Junkie Could Appreciate

About a year back, I wrote about the reader’s dilemma when it comes to watching television.  My point was that, while television is full of garbage, there is plenty of programing which can appeal to the reader’s more literary aesthetics.  Just as there is a gulf of difference between crappy Hollywood blockbusters and transcendent film, the difference between Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire  and The Sopranos  is enormous.

Or I assume it is – I haven’t actually watched Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire.

Anyway, as an avid television watcher as well as a compulsive reader, I thought I would highlight a few programs which might live up to the high standards of the reader.

Californication (Showtime)

This story of stunted novelist Hank Moody is, without question, one of the funniest and most tragic shows on television.  It’s also one of the dirtiest.  But, if you can look past the gratuitous sex and drug use, you’ll find a profoundly sad and touching story of squandered talent, emotional self-destruction, and painful love.  What sets this show apart from other shows which have mined this vein of human emotion is the razor-sharp writing and the phenomenal cast.  This show isn’t for everyone – aside from the raunchiness, the show goes to some very dark places, albeit masked in frivolity and humor.  Just as with a good book, however, the viewer will laugh, cry, and run the gauntlet of emotions in between, along with the characters.

Dexter (Showtime)

This series, based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, chronicles the life of Dexter Morgan, a blood-spatter expert with the Miami P.D. by day and a serial killer by night.  Yet, despite his homicidal and sociopathic tendencies, Dexter is a decent guy.  This conflict has created one of the most watchable and complex characters on television.  Michael C. Hall is brilliant as Dexter and the supporting cast is just as strong.  Like Californication, this is not a show for everyone.  As you might expect in a show about a serial killer, the violence content is quite high.  However, Dexter provides a character study as intriguing as in any good novel.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Remember the dad from Malcom in the Middle?  Now imagine him as a scowling, cancer-ridden crystal meth manufacturer.   Welcome to Breaking Bad.  This show has so much going for it – smart dialogue, great acting, beautiful cinematography.  But the brilliance of this show lies in the relationship between the two central characters –   Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned meth cooker and Jessie, his former student and helper.  Through this relationship, the writers have spun a dark morality tale of slippery slopes, rationalizations, and greed.  If Stephen King were to write a book about a meth cooker, this is how I’d imagine it would come out.

Sherlock (BBC)

This reboot of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous genius imagines Sherlock and Watson in contemporary Britain.  Far better than last year’s Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law pic (which was not a bad movie by any means!), this three-part series features Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson.  The stories are well-told, the filming fast and exciting but the joy of this show is watching Cumberbatch play Sherlock Holmes.  Far from Downey’s macho interpretation, Cumberbatch imagines the character as a quirky techie, almost Aspergerish in his arrogance and genius.  It’s a wonderful reinterpretation, one which any fan of the original would appreciate.

That’s a small sampling of what I think are some of the best television programs available.  Are there any other shows or series which you think are of literary value?  

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13 comments

  1. Really enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes series, tried Californication ( which is a red hot chilli peppers song/album ) couldn’t get into it. Like the sound of breaking bad but It’s not over here.

  2. Unfortunately, the only show from the set above I’ve seen is Californication, and even then I’ve only seen the first 2 seasons before I lost Showtime. I should just get around to streaming it as well as seeing Dexter, which I’ve heard great things about time and again.

    I’d add Weeds to this list, perhaps if you ignore some of the later seasons. Seasons 1 and 2 were funny and dark and did such a great time satirizing both the War on Drugs and suburban life.

    1. I thought about adding Weeds. The first few seasons were wonderful but the show has gone downhill a bit. It’s still very watchable, but it just doesn’t have the kick that it used to.

      Do try to catch up on Californication and start watching Dexter. Both are such great shows!.

  3. Being Human, a programme following the lives of a vampire, a werewolf & a ghost was the best drama dealing with humanity on the,BBC in a long while.

    1. @Parrish and @Mari – I watched the first episode of the BBC Being Human and, while I liked it, I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps I’ll try it again. Also, felt the same way about Justified.

  4. Showtime did a phenomenal job with their series “The Tudors”, the watered-down version of which can be seen on BBC. And of course, gotta love “Entourage” on HBO.

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