Each year there are just a handful of television shows that take us by complete surprise and knock our socks off; yet because they are not usually launched on big network, it is nearly impossible to see them coming. It then becomes a heady feeling of “love at first sight” – all the more treasured because we were not simply seduced by glamorous posters or sizzling preview trailers. Instead, these are shows that were intriguing on concept and deemed worthy of a peek; and once seen, we know that we had fallen head-over-heels in love.
Each Fall, avid TV viewers anxiously await the debut of the traditional Fall season of television shows that launch and find places on our viewing lists. But with the ever-expanding market of cable and off-cable networks launching television shows all year round and offering some of the best shows on television, it has become intriguing to see what new crop of shows will slip under the radar and capture our hearts.
While 2013 is by no means anywhere near close to being over, so far there have been five new break-out series that deserve mention and honors for being such “fall in love” shows: ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America), BANSHEE (Cinemax), THE AMERICANS (FX), CONTINUUM (Syfy), and ROGUE (DirecTV).
I can just hear you scratching your head right now as you wonder where on earth I came up with these shows. Most are shows you will not have heard of, and if you have heard of them, it was perhaps just in passing. These are not shows that the average viewer even knows exist. But they should.
These are the shows that will make you glad you are a TV addict; for trust me, if you are reading this article, you are an “addict” and television viewers who read about TV shows do not take their obsession lightly.
So what makes these particular five shows so spectacular, let me count the ways:
Making its U.S. debut on Saturday, March 30th (following the return of DOCTOR WHO on BBC America), ORPHAN BLACK offers a fine sci-fi twist for the modern era – clones. It poses the question: what if someone out there had the audacity to ignore the warnings and had inserted cloned humans into our population? People who did not even know that they were copies and who were simply living their own lives. Yet one fateful day, one ran into her identical twin while on a train platform only to watch her jump to her death before an oncoming train. Then what? ORPHAN BLACK invites viewers to discover this murky and dangerous world of Sarah, who dares to step into her clone’s shoes to reveal the answer to that deep, dark secret.
The concept of the series is intriguing enough, but what really makes it addictive is star Tatiana Maslany. In all her various forms, she is fascinating to watch. She is like a chameleon that shifts in colors, personality, and persona right before your eyes. Adding to her glistening world is fan-favorite Jordan Gavaris (last seen in the short-lived Cartoon Network series UNNATURAL HISTORY), who plays Sarah’s best friend Felix; a young man open with his sexuality and the only one privy to Sarah’s eye-popping discovery. Between the spot on casting, riveting characters and a seamless integration of science fiction into the modern world as we know it, ORPHAN BLACK sets itself up as instantly addictive. You literally cannot wait to see what happens next.
Having just concluded its highly successful first season on Cinemax, BANSHEE was one hell of a wild ride. It was ultra-violent, ultra-sexualized, and ultra-fun. It offered a solid 10 episodes of shock-and-awe that surprised and seduced simultaneously. Smartly cast with the likes of Antony Starr, Ivana Milicevic, Hoon Lee, Ulrich Thomsen, Frankie Faison and Ben Cross, the series leapt off the screen and immersed viewers so deeply that it felt real. Taking an ex-con thief who assumes the local sheriff’s identity so that he can protect the family he never knew he had was just the sort of story that grabs our attention. A reluctant hero with a heart of gold — and 15 years in prison did not make him soft, it made him rock hard – and determined more than ever to reclaim everything he had lost. From the outset, it was a subtle romance encased in crazy world where violence ruled. Yet it was more than that, BANSHEE offered a tantalizing tale of chiseled redemption. Plus, with a villain named “Rabbit,” the show offers a clever play and allegory on that name. Trust me when I say, find a way and just watch it. Thank me later.
Currently in the midst of its first season on FX, the new spy series THE AMERICANS is a mind-bender. It asks viewers to literally root for the bad guys. It features are pair of compelling KGB agents in the early 1980’s living right amongst us, spying on us and doing their best to bring down our government. But once you meet Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, phenomenally portrayed by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, you will feel conflicted. You will want to root for them. However, this is not just a slick spy story, THE AMERICANS is at its core a love story. It is about two KGB agents, who had a family, and it was only years later once their lives were in jeopardy that they began to fall in love. Spying is not for the weak. It is a vicious, cruel and distrustful business that requires a moral flexibility that most people do not have. But balancing all those detractors are characters that we cannot but help being drawn to. Our own conflict wanting Elizabeth and Philip to succeed, as well as their own conflicted seduction by each other and the American life all around them, creates a duality that makes the show irresistible. Make a date and check this show out on Wednesday nights.
Also having just concluded its first season on Syfy, the Canadian time-traveling series is a sneaky little thing. It took its time to introduce its characters and its tricky time-loop storyline in such a way that it surprised us by becoming must-see TV before we knew it. Time travel is hard to capture in a television series and risky to embrace because it requires ensuring that the two different worlds equally interesting so that the viewer is invested in both. To our delight, CONTINUUM knew that little secret and continued to employ it deftly throughout its freshman season. Offering the premise that terrorists from the future escaped their execution by traveling 60 years into the past; but with an unexpected hitch-hiker, a government agent with a suit of surprises, CONTINUUM had its hook. Yet bringing the future to our present, as well as highlighting the difficult task of thwarting and apprehending the terrorists before they could destroy their future timeline, was fascinating. It was a delicate balance and it required cheer-worthy hero to bring it to life. Yet employing the considerable talents of Rachel Nichols as heroine Kiera Cameron, the perfect match was found. Intriguingly, the show constantly asked us to wonder how much of what happens now will change the future – and is that a good or bad thing? For true sci-fi buffs, they will be thrilled to the bone to discover this amazing sci-fi series and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Give it time and it will delight you as well.
Even more obscure in the televised world are shows that can only be viewed by those who subscribe to a particular satellite provider. But after the success of such shows as FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and DAMAGES, which made the leap from primetime to paid-subscriber viewing on DirecTV, this is a whole new series that makes it worthwhile to consider making the switch from cable to satellite – the new series ROGUE. Starring film star Thandie Newton as an undercover police officer who son ends up murdered and who turns to the criminal world for answers, ROGUE is a dark look at how cops and criminals may find themselves on the same side of the law in the search for justice. Exploiting its freedom, ROGUE utilizes sex as a weapon and violence as an everyday tool of the trade, and invites viewers to walk on the edge of a knife and endure the pain and blood along the way. But also offers a gripping look at what people will do to get exactly what they want – both in and out of the criminal world. Casting again is key in this finely taut series. Fleshing out equally complex characters in ROGUE include Marton Csokas, Kavan Smith, and Ian Tracey. Give ROGUE an hour or two and I hazard to say, you will find yourself unable to look away. Its gritty, it’s raw and it’s addictive. The mystery behind who killed the boy and why will leave your head spinning. ROGUE premieres on April 3rd on DirecTV.
All five of these new series are worthy of your time and I heartily recommend that you give each a peek.
Then for the infinitely curious, my 2012 hot discoveries included: LONGMIRE (A&E), THE NEWSROOM (HBO), JANE BY DESIGN (ABC Family), and COPPER (BBC America); and my 2011 hot discoveries were: SUITS (USA Network), TEEN WOLF (MTV), AWKWARD. (MTV), HELL ON WHEELS (AMC) and LUTHER (BBC America). All of these are still very near and dear to my heart. If you have not discovered these fine series yet, from one TV addict to another, they are worth a peek as well.
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