This is an archived article from Melissa Marshall's Shelf Life section of US Airways Magazine
. I liked (and agree with for the most part) her article so much I'm going to post the whole thing for you to view right here...
Perhaps you never got to enjoy a great TV series because it ran opposite one of your favorite shows. Or maybe you recently heard rave reviews from friends or critics about a little-known TV program that’s now only an archived memory, hidden in a dusty library on some studio lot. Often in the highly competitive world of broadcast television, otherwise excellent shows don’t survive the fickle reality of early ratings. They’re off the air after the pilot or before we ever have a chance to appreciate them.
But many series that never found their audience while on-air have since found new life on DVD. The following are nine shows that earned high marks by many a TV reviewer yet didn’t thrive for a variety of reasons (but certainly not for lack of quality).
2004, Twentieth Century Fox
A recent Ivy League grad with a philosophy degree and no sense of direction is working in a Niagara Falls gift store when she gets bits of cryptic advice from various animal figurines. Is she crazy? Is God talking to her? Is it just her subconscious? The show never makes it clear, but as Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas), the show’s heroine, attempts to fulfill the wishes of her animal muses, the plots twist, turn, and, inevitably, subvert viewer expectation. The witty and cynical Jaye shines as she interacts with her bourgeois family that doesn’t “get” her or understand her and friends who accept her for who she is. The series, which was filmed on location, makes terrific use of the Niagara Falls locale, capturing its kitsch, nostalgia, and wonder.
2003–2005, HBO Home Video
The Depression-set story of young carnie Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), who is endowed with supernatural healing powers, moves at a glacial pace, but the surreal imagery and good-versus-evil theme eventually pays off big-time. Literary and highly symbolic, everything from the opening credits to each individual shot is more reminiscent of an art film than of a television series. Best, however, are the intriguing denizens of the carnival, including the blind, absinthe-swilling mystic; his bearded-lady lover; the sexy snake charmer; and the diminutive manager, whose no-nonsense demeanor holds the de-facto carnival family together.
2003–2006, Twentieth Century Fox
Despite its being adored by critics and winning multiple awards, the Fox network axed this hilarious comedy chronicling the misadventures of the wealthy Bluth family. Shot on film, with narration by Ron Howard, the show features Jason Bateman in a stellar performance as straight-man Michael Bluth as he attempts to save the family business after his father is put in prison for securities fraud. Whether it’s the sublime silliness of a Bluth son’s career as a magician, the bizarre occurrence of Michael driving a set of movable stairs, or the sharp tastelessness of the Bluths’ construction company having built homes for Saddam Hussein, the comedy always feels fresh and fearless. And, like The Simpsons, Arrested Development stands up to multiple viewings because the rapid-fire jokes are so layered and sly. Currently, rumors are flying that a cable network might pick up the show, but network switches always mean changes. For now, the best way to experience the Bluths in all their dysfunctional glory is via DVD.
Dead Like Me
A tart flip side to Touched by an Angel, this dark comedy chronicles the afterlife of Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth), an aimless young woman who dies in a freak accident and is recruited to become a grim reaper. She hangs around Earth to help usher the souls of the dead to their final destination. The show manages to pull off its heavy premise by embracing the absurdity of its own assumption while recognizing the solemnness of death itself. George (as she likes to be called) gets together with her boss Rube (Mandy Patinkin) and her fellow reapers at a waffle shop restaurant. Despite their state, the reapers must moonlight at other jobs in order to live. Assigned to “accident detail” in her afterlife, the young protagonist struggles with her role in taking the souls of those who die unexpectedly.
Greg the Bunny
2002, Twentieth Century Fox
A wicked satire of contemporary culture, Greg the Bunny features a “fabricated American” (read: puppet) who, thanks to the connections of his friend and roommate Jimmy (Seth Green), becomes the star of a children’s show called Sweetknuckle Junction. The show’s premise, in which puppets live and work among humans, takes some getting used to, but, in the end, is brilliant in the way it allows for the skewering of everything from kiddie shows to sexual mores to political correctness. Although the puppets are the real stars of the show, they don’t upstage human performers like Eugene Levy, who plays a television director, or brash comic Sarah Silverman in her role as a tough network executive.
2002–2003, Twentieth Century Fox
Joss Whedon, the man behind cult favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created this outer-space opera that imagines a future where humans, the lone inhabitants of the universe, have colonized the planets and moons of a distant solar system. Having fought on the wrong end of a recently ended war, the hardscrabble crew of the spaceship Serenity faces personal, political, and economic hardship while traveling between colonies. Led by snarky, rebel-of-a-lost-cause Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the crew ekes out a living through various legal and illegal means while protecting two mysterious fugitives. Often romantic and comical, Firefly eschews geek speak and alien makeup for character development and snappy dialogue. Small details, such as clothing that suggests a mixture of Eastern and Western culture and the incorporation of Chinese slang into English, add depth and realism to a setting that depicts Earth’s culture as it might evolve. Firefly proved so successful on DVD that in 2005, Universal Pictures released Serenity, a feature film sequel.
2002–2003, Artisan Entertainment
In a field cluttered with police procedurals, Boomtown stands out with strong writing, nuanced character development, and standout performances from Donnie Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson, and, especially, Neal McDonough as morally ambiguous deputy district attorney David McNorris. The show, in which each episode examines a crime from multiple points of view, expects its audience to pay attention and dares to present the machinations of crime and punishment as difficult, complex, and impossible to wrap up neatly in 60 minutes.
Freaks and Geeks
1999–2000, Shout Factory
In a 1980s suburban-Michigan town, geeky Sam (John Francis Daley) muddles through his first year of high school as his formerly geeky older sister Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) begins wearing a beat-up army jacket and social- izing with the freaks that smoke, get high, and skip school. The plots revolve around small yet paradoxically enormous events like school dances, keg parties, and starting a garage band. The characters’ victories are few and far between, and the period details, from hairstyles to the classic-rock soundtrack, are achingly perfect. Unlike most high school shows, Freaks and Geeks presents a world where skin has flaws, clothes don’t come from runways, and the teenage dialogue doesn’t sound like it was written by 35-year-old sitcom writers. Sam and his oddball friends grapple with innocent tortures like dodgeball, bullies, and first crushes. Meanwhile, Lindsay forges her own identity while coming to the sobering realization that life doesn’t get much better than what she’s experiencing.