Matilda Dixon-Smith: 5 Shows You’ve Been Put Off Watching…And Why You Should Just Watch Them Anyway

Posted on March 4, 2013

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Smash

“Smash”.

The Deal: A fictional series about the making of a Broadway musical (based on the life of Marilyn Monroe), boasting a meaty ensemble cast which includes Debra Messing, Katherine McPhee, Megan Hilty and Anjelica Huston. Smash struggled through a patchy first season—although it enjoyed surprisingly good ratings—and some serious interpersonal issues. Now it’s back for season two with a new title sequence, a new fake musical and a new low ratings score.

Why You Were Put Off: It’s a show about musical theatre—which might be one of the most divisive facets of entertainment culture there is. It was also a highly publicised disaster in season one; after the gorgeous pilot the show plunged into melodrama and obscurity, and critics lined up to point out why it was awful for the rest of it’s opening season. 

You Should Watch It Anyway Because: It’s got gumption, and also serious heart.

I’m not going to lie, Smash is an inherently problematic show. It’s messy, it’s melodramatic, and I think we can all agree that the only “character” on the show we actually care about (besides Anjelica Huston because, hello, it’s Anjelica Huston), is the Marilyn musical, Bombshell. But despite all of that, the show is somehow beautiful. It’s produced in the most gorgeous fashion—everything looks fantastic—and the original songs are often spectacular. And more than that, it is a show that innately captures what it’s like to produce theatre. In many ways (though I’m not sure it’s always intentional), the show mimics the very thing it’s trying to immortalise: that dysfunctional, over-the-top, hyper-real, heartbreaking theatre industry. For anyone who has ever waved from the back of a chorus line in their school production of Grease, Smash makes sense.

Even if they produce a thousand and one sad, awkward Bollywood numbersSmash will never escape it’s own big heart.

Switched At Birth 

“Switched At Birth”.

The Deal: Yes, Switched at Birth is a show about two teenage girls who discover they were switched at birth. One, radical artist (and regulation pain-in-the-ass) Bay, has been raised by a rich white family in the fancy part of Kansas City; he other—athletic, self-righteous deaf girl, Daphne—was brought up by her recovering alcoholic single mother on the wrong side of the tracks. The families move in together to facilitate getting to know their estranged children, and dramatic hijinks ensue.

Why You Were Put Off: The show has a ridiculous, high-concept premise. It also runs (in the US) on ABC Family, and has a serious Seventh Heaven vibe. Honestly, it’s pretty easy to be put off.

You Should Watch It Anyway Because: It is the most interesting exploration of diversity on television.

It didn’t take long for the show to stop being about children who were switched at birth, and to start being all about the deaf community in America. The show is bilingual, and whole scenes take place in sign language. This means, of course, that one has to concentrate quite hard while watching—but with Switched it’s totally worth it. When I’m watching these signed scenes I often think about the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer when there was no music. It took a while to get used to, but it was fascinating and refreshing. It’s even more fascinating and refreshing to watch a show where whole portions of action happen without dialogue (essentially, without sound). You also get to see how wonderful young actors can be; Sean Berdy, who plays Daphne’s deaf best friend Emmett, is perfection; he conveys so much to an audience who is essentially sign-language illiterate. Travis, played by Ryan Lane, is also doing a commendable job in Switched’s season two. 

The show’s writers have an innate ability to empathise with the triumphs and woes of the deaf community; characters will jump on a soap box and cogently explain the complicated relationship a minority group has between pride and repression. Gosh, it’s just such a fantastic show! If nothing else, you’ll end an episode thinking you’re fluent in sign language, because you remembered the sign for “thank you”.

Parks and Recreation

“Parks and Recreation”.

The Deal: Leslie Knope (played by the inimitable Amy Poheler) is an idealistic, driven, unrelentingly positive government employee working in the parks and recreation department of fictional Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie and her rag-tag bunch of friends/employees manage the extraordinary whims and complications of their oddball community.

Why You Were Put Off: The first season was garbage. Early on, the show struggled as a voiceless spin-off of The Office US series (itself a spin-off of the UK Office series). Leslie was also a difficult pill to swallow, because she had that contemptible boss vibe.

You Should Watch It Anyway Because: Everything that came after season 1 (or, more accurately, following the departure of Wet Blanket Mark Brendanawicz) is absolutely stunning.

The show is wonderful for two reasons: a truly superior ensemble class and a fabulously well-developed “world” for the show. Pawnee is this beautiful, bizarre town where loveable morons create wildly unsuccessful companies out of nothing. I want to go there so that I can have waffles with Leslie,  play Settlers Of Catan with Ben, and then treat myself with Donna (DONNA!!!). Poheler is at the helm of this fabulous group of comedians, and because they are so great at their job (and, it appears they work very well together), the result is three and a half seasons where there’s hardly an off episode. Once the show hit season two, the show’s creators realised that they didn’t need to make Leslie Knope using the David Brent/Michael Scott mould. Poheler has so much grace and smarts as a comedian that it’s impossible to have her reviled—so they made Leslie the hero, and everything fell in line around that.

More than anything else, the show is kind. This is a group of characters who really care about each other, and the focus isn’t on comedy that tears others down; it’s about friends who live to build each other up. You could just skip all of season one and start with seasons two, but DON’T be put off this show, because it might be the greatest comedy on television right now.

Girls

“Girls”.

The Deal: Lena Dunham, HBO’s wunderkind, created a show about four girls living in Brooklyn (some of which is loosely based on her own life). In addition to writing, she also stars, produces and sometimes directs the series.

Why You Were Put Off: Because of all of this.

You Should Watch It Anyway Because: If you forget last year, and the thousands of articles written about why Lena Dunham takes her clothes off and eats cupcakes, or why there are no black men, and whether or not Dunham is “NOT the voice of OUR generation” or whatever, you’ll discover that the show is quite astonishing.

Sure, it’s not perfect, and sometimes Dunham misses the mark in a big way; but the show is funny, it’s beautifully made and it is different. Dunham’s work shouldn’t be put on a pedestal as the voice of our whole generation (only to be knocked right down when something like this episode happens), and she doesn’t need to be writing about every twentysomething and their friends because that’s just crazy. It’s just a show about a very particular group of people living lives which often intersect (funnily enough, just like any sit com). You don’t need to watch it because everyone else is talking about how it’s “must-watch TV”, you need to watch it because it’s great fun.

If you don’t think watching a show where the lead screams “My urine is so daggery right now!” is hilarious, maybe Girls isn’t for you. But I’m willing to bet it might be.

New Girl

“New Girl”.

The Deal: A group of buddies share a loft and a whole bunch o’ hijinks.

Why You Were Put Off: Zooey Deschanel, probably. You either love her or hate her, and Fox pretty much pitched the series as The Zooey Deschanel Show at the beginning. 

You Should Watch It Anyway Because: It’s brilliant!

Thankfully, it’s no longer just about Jess (Deschanel) and how all the guys in the loft react to her—it’s about all of them just being mates. The creators took Deschanel’s “adorkable” schtick down a couple of notches, and beefed up Nick (Jake Johnson) Schmidt (Max Greenfield and even Wintson (Lamorne Morris) with some stronger and more interesting stories. After that, the cast medled elegantly together and the writers were free to have fun just sticking them in a bunch of stupid situations. In season one, Max Greenfield’s Schmidt was a revelation—all self-absorbed and neurotic—and his bits were always the best in the show. Now all of them have their fabulous moments (especially Jake Johnson’s slapstick, which is a beautiful thing to behold); though Lamorne Morris’s Winston still feels a touch underdeveloped.

Season two has been smashing it out of the park (if you forget the episode about how all women be cray when their on their periods), and if you’re going to spend twenty minutes a week with any wacky group of friends, I’d go with the New Girl gang. Just grab a can of Heisler and join them in the loft for a game of True American.

 

Matilda Dixon-Smith is You’re Dripping Egg’s editor-in-chief. Her column Fantasise or Perish, which details all the ways in which TV will blow your mind, happens every Monday. 

What do you think of these shows? Are they worth it, or were we put off for a reason? To the comments! 

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