Tag: Chris Lilley

Seven shows that just don’t get enough love

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to put together a list of my favorite television moments before the end of 2008, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the tube. (Come to think of it, maybe my television addiction was the reason I didn’t have the free time to write about the best of 2008. Hmm.)

Anyway, here is a list of seven terrific shows that seem to be flying under the proverbial radar.

1. “True Blood” (HBO)
Alan Ball, the writer of “American Beauty” and the creator of “Six Feet Under,” brings us a series based on vampires in the Deep South. The series is based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series of books and stars Anna Paquin — whom I argued, under the moniker of Eli Cash a few years back, would have made a better Penny Lane than Kate Hudson — as a mind-reading waitress in a small town in Louisiana. The first season was excellent, though it got off to a bit of a slow start. Paquin is the key, but her best friend Tara (played by Rutina Wesley) often steals the show.

2. “Dexter” (Showtime)
Everyone’s favorite serial killer is back for a third season. Dexter Morgan works for the Miami Police Department as a blood splatter analyst and he spends his night hunting and killing the worst criminals in South Florida. This series has been excellent from the start, and shows no signs of slowing down. This season brought in Jimmy Smits as an Assistant District Attorney with a serious dark side. After “Six Feet Under,” I thought I’d always see Michael C. Hall as the openly gay David Fisher, but now I can’t imagine him as anyone other than the dark and secretive Dexter.

3. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (FX)
Maybe this show just too crass to be mainstream, and thinking about it, that’s probably what makes it so great. “Sunny” really hit its stride in the third season, and the fourth season was even better. The show follows a group of friends (and Danny DeVito) that own a bar in Philadelphia. Every episode has its own completely ridiculous premise, but once you accept that every single character is a selfish, narcissistic moron, it becomes that much funnier. As far as sitcoms go, for me, the excellent fourth season put it in the same tier as “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Weeds” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and that’s some good company.

4. “Summer Heights High” (HBO)
Anyone who dug the U.K. version of “The Office” should check this series out. It’s an Australian mockumentary that follows three characters — the effeminate drama teacher Mr. G, the snotty private school transfer Ja’mie and the disruptive Tongan student Jonah — which are all played by the same actor, writer/creator Chris Lilley. Watching a grown man run around in a school dress is ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun. Lilley is extremely talented; it can’t be easy to morph into three very different characters every week. The humor is outrageous and the situations (especially involving the clueless Mr. G) can be David Brent-type awkward.

5. “Supernatural” (CW)
This sci-fi/fantasy series started off in typical “freak of the week” fashion with a different monster to defeat each week, but as it got into its third season, it really developed some serious, serialized chops. Now in its fourth year, the show continues to follow two brothers who are “hunters,” i.e. they fight all manner of evil — demons, vampires, ghosts, etc. Even in its first year, the show held my attention, but with all the happenings of the last two seasons, new episodes don’t sit on my TiVo for very long. Viewers who like sci-fi/fantasy should definitely check out “Supernatural.”

6. “The Unit” (CBS)
I think a lot of people write off “The Unit” as a typical CBS show like “CSI” or “NCIS” (or some other acronym), but as the show as worn on, it’s simply gotten better and better. The subject matter is ripe with storylines; the show follows members of a Special Forces unit (led by super-badass Jonas Blane, played wonderfully by Dennis Haysbert) and their families. A quick look at the production staff reveals a couple of big names — David Mamet (“The Untouchables,” “Glengarry Glen Ross”) and Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) — that instantly give the show some serious credibility. Early on, the series could get a little “hooah!” and focus on the wives a bit too much, but the later seasons have struck the perfect balance between the professional and the personal.

7. “Brotherhood” (Showtime)
It doesn’t have as high of a profile as “The Sopranos” and maybe it’s not as addicting, but “Brotherhood” has the same feel and the same quality of writing. It follows two brothers in Providence, Rhode Island. One is a corrupt state congressman trying to do right by his family and the other is deeply involved in organized crime. Those that miss “The Sopranos” or “The Wire” should definitely rent the first season of “Brotherhood.”

Greetings to the New Show: “Summer Heights High”

Already a sensation in its native land of Australia (where the show is the best-selling TV-DVD in the country’s history), it’s probably best to go into “Summer Heights High” knowing as little about its various accolades as possible. After all, “Kath and Kim” was also supposed to be an Australian critical darling, and while that may be true of the original series, the American remake starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair is so terribly unfunny that we can’t imagine that’s the case. That isn’t to say that “Summer Heights High” isn’t completely deserving of its rave reviews, because even though it isn’t technically produced by HBO, it could very well become the network’s surprise hit of the fall season.

Best described as a mockumentary in the style of a Christopher Guest film (though it’ll also draw comparisons to the BBC version of the “The Office” for its awkward brand of humor), the series stars creator Chris Lilley as three different subjects of a high school documentary. There’s Jonah, a foul-mouthed, Polynesian delinquent who enjoys break dancing; private school mean girl Ja’mie, who’s at Summer Heights on a student exchange program; and Mr. G, the school’s eccentric drama teacher known for such unconventional productions as “IKEA: The Musical” and “Tsunamarama ’06,” a disaster musical scored entirely to the music of Bananarama.

Discussions will no doubt take place over which of Lilley’s characters are their favorites, but the great thing about “Summer Heights High” is that they’re all so unique that it’s virtually impossible to favor just one. It’s actually a little scary at just how good Lilley is (especially as Ja’mie, whose girlish mannerisms are spot-on), and his work here is nothing short of genius. Lilley isn’t the only star of the show, however, and though a majority of the other characters are played by actors, the fact that they’ve been mixed into a real-life environment (the series was shot at an actual Australian school) really helps the validity of the documentary style.

“Little Britain USA” may be the one getting all the press of the two imports, but by the time “Summer Heights High” has finished its eight-episode run (beginning on November 9th at 10:30 PM), it’ll likely be the bigger success. It’s just a shame that there won’t be a second season to look forward to, because not only would it be an excellent addition to HBO’s annual line-up, but the opportunity for an hour-long team-up with “Flight of the Conchords” is almost too good to pass up. That shouldn’t deter you from tuning in, though. “Summer Heights High” is one of the most original comedies I’ve ever seen, and if it accomplishes anything during it’s time on HBO, it’ll be to transform Chris Lilley into the next Ricky Gervais.

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