A buddy of mine told me recently during a round of golf that he doesn’t really watch television; however, he and his girlfriend see nearly every mainstream and boutique movie that comes to theaters. For an avid reader and lover of the arts like my friend, I found this realization to be nothing short of tragic. My wife and I don’t get to watch as many featured films as this other couple, but there is content on television today that is simply delivering at the highest levels in the history of the medium. The stigma that once surrounded episodic TV is gone. Hollywood’s best writers, producers, and directors are all flocking to the freedom and creative open pastures that network, cable, and streaming TV offers today. It can almost be an embarrassment of riches.
At any rate, my buddy proceeded to ask me what shows I was currently watching that he and his special lady couldn’t miss. It’s funny to think that this question simply wouldn’t have been asked thirty or forty years ago. Everyone was watching the same TV shows, or at least knew what everyone else was watching. These days, though, there’s no such thing as mainstream. We all have our own nice interests. So, I thought I would expand that question to some of the HomeTheaterReview.com staff.
Since we’re all home cinema enthusiasts around these parts, we’ll also share our sources and which resolutions we’re viewing our content in. I also asked our staff what other shows they may have lined up to watch next. I’ll step up and go first…
Jerry Del Colliano: Billions (Showtime, 1080p)
For all the talk of billionaires in the media lately, they’re actually quite rare, with reportedly only about 2,150 people reaching this net worth out of 7.7 billion people on the planet. Showtime’s Billions gives you an insider’s look at the world of new-school, big-money Wall Street, though, in a way that is often jarring yet highly compelling.
Plot lines are ripped from the pages of The Wall Street Journal and New York Times and brought to life by a simply fantastic cast that includes Damien Lewis (Homeland), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), and everyone’s favorite life coach, Maggie Siff. The content is fast paced, often racy, and always fun. Politics crashes its Aston Martin into the Lamborghini of finance and the disaster is something that results in the only appointment viewing at the Del Colliano house. It is rare that a Sunday night passes without us watching Billions, and that is considering that my wife being a major Game of Thrones fan.
Dennis Burger: Critical Role (Twitch, 1080p)
There’s only one television show that my wife and I consider appointment viewing: Critical Role, in which a group of “nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons.” Sadly, we can’t watch the show live, as it often runs until 1am or later on Thursday night/Friday morning in my time zone, but I’ve learned by now to have Twitch fired up on the big TV in the media room before the missus walks in the door from work every Friday evening.
The world of Critical Role, created by Dungeon Master Matt Mercer, is rich in political intrigue and textbook D&D weirdness, but what makes this series utterly compelling and unlike anything else you’ve ever seen is the cast (whose voices you might recognize if you’ve played any video game or watched any cartoon in the past ten years, or if you watched Mr. Mom or Growing Pains back in the day), and the stories they weave together in this wonderful environment.
It’s everything good TV should be: hilarious, heartbreaking, smart, suspenseful. And best of all, nobody involved knows where the story will go from week to week, or even minute to minute, since so much of it is driven by the random rolls of the dice. That element of chaos, combined with some of the best improv ever captured on-camera, makes for some of the most compelling entertainment I’ve ever seen in any form.
Critical Role also recently completed the most successful video Kickstarter campaign in the history of crowd-funding, and will be adapting some of their earlier adventures into a cartoon series next year, so there’s that look forward to. Much as I cannot wait to see these characters in animated form, though, nothing compares to the weekly live show.
If you’re curious and want to give it a nibble, start with the first episode of Campaign 2 on YouTube (where new episodes post four days after they air live on Twitch), since the original campaign started streaming halfway through, almost on a lark, with no real backstory or catch-up, and can be a little confusing at first. The second campaign begins with a fresh story, new characters, better cameras and sound, and much better production values.
Scott Schumer: Whiskey Cavalier (ABC, 1080p)
While it looks like there won’t be a season two on ABC, producer Warner Bros. TV is shopping the series to other outlets, so if you know and love the show like I do, all hope is not lost. If you don’t already love Whisky Cavalier and you’re wondering what it’s all about, this action/comedy/drama starts with conflict. FBI agent Will Chase is partnered with CIA agent Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge, and while set as equal leaders, they each (of course) consider themselves to be the leader of the team that includes a CIA techie computer whiz, FBI profiler, NSA analyst that wants to up his game to field work, and FBI special agent Josh Hopkins who had an affair with Will’s wife, causing a break-up just prior to the assemblage of the team.
Add the sexual tension between Will and Frankie and then introduce Emma as an MI6 agent and love interest for Will during a multi-episode international cooperative operation, and you get shaken and stirred in this terrific series. We get to know all the members of the team and yes, actually care for them. I particularly like that Frankie is the logical thinking co-leader while Will is the more emotional, we-are-a-family team player. Great chemistry, plenty of action, and a really good theme song make this my favorite must-see TV. I am betting it gets picked up by another outlet and has many more seasons to come.
Dylan Seeger: Veep (HBO, 1080p)
Game of Thrones isn’t the only HBO show that ended this spring. The last episode of Veep aired two weeks ago. Asking around, it seems like I’m the only person in my social circle that’s even aware of this show’s existence. For those unfamiliar, I’d describe it as a comedy that takes the best elements of Curb Your Enthusiasm and combines them with the best of 30 Rock. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (of Seinfeld acclaim) portrays a fictional Vice President of the United States and, like Curb, her character is unintentionally placed in awkward situations thanks in part to the incompetence of her staff. Part of the magic of this show is her dealing with (and getting out of) these political gaffes. Louis-Dreyfus’ excellent acting, which is mostly improvised, has won her six Primetime Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The show overall has been nominated for 59 Primetime Emmy awards and won 17 of them.
Like 30 Rock, the show has some of the cleverest and most densely packed jokes in all of television history. Seriously, the next time you watch an episode, count how many jokes occur in just a single minute of runtime. You barely have enough time to enjoy a laugh before another one lands. Being an HBO show, Veep has carte blanche to tell some of the most vulgar jokes ever (see included video), so you may want to put your kids to bed first before hitting that play button.
Before you cancel your HBO subscription now that Game of Thrones is over, do yourself a favor and binge watch all seven seasons of Veep. Unlike most comedy shows that jump the shark after only three or four seasons, Veep follows through to the end making it a TV show everyone should watch at least once.
Steven Stone: Blue Planet II (Netflix, UHD)
As a guy who made a living as a commercial photographer back in the days of large-format film cameras, I know great photography when I see it. This second helping of Blue Planet is the most amazing high-definition underwater photography I’ve ever seen. Incredibly difficult tracking shots coupled with amazing control of depth of field make this series a must-see for anyone who admires technically brilliant image making. The soundtrack could be car horns and dishwashers and it would still be soothing due to David Attenborough’s dulcet tones coupled with his impeccable British accent. And there’s zero politics except for that niggling little problem of climate change…
Scott Wasser: Game of Thones (HBO Go, 1080p)
I’m one of the tens of millions watching, you guessed it, Game of Thrones. But there are a couple of things about the way I’m consuming it that might make me a rarity in the mass of humanity that has watched HBO’s spectacular cinematic rendition of George R.R. Martin’s writing.
For one thing, I’ve avoided the gnawing temptation to watch the series’ final season. I’d watched every episode to this point and was eagerly anticipating learning how the series would end. GOT has always been a series that did the unexpected, killing off both heroes and villains with shocking aplomb. But I resisted reading anything about the final season episodes and refused to watch them until they had all aired so that I could binge on them … for better or worse.
But something happened just about the time the final episode was released: My wife, Ronda, started asking about this show that became a cultural phenomenon. She’s not much of a fantasy fan, but she’d heard so many coworkers and friends talking about GOT that her curiosity was piqued. I told her she’d probably like it (I thought I was lying) just to get her to give it a try.
To my surprise, she did. That brings us to the second thing that at least makes me atypical of GOT fans: I’m watching the whole series over again, and still haven’t seen the conclusion. But I’m getting closer, now four seasons plus two episodes into re-watching the entire series again. Ronda and I have been digesting up to three episodes a night for most of the past 3 or 4 weeks and possibly enjoying it more than the first (or second) time I viewed most of them. I’m seeing things and gleaning insights that I missed before, and I’m having a blast teasing Ronda with comments such as, “Wait until you see how this turns out for them.” and discussing what happened in each episode we watch.
This has been a great way to relive a great show, bringing new enjoyment to it. So much so that I don’t feel cheated that I’m likely the only GOT fan in the world who still doesn’t know how the show ends.
Mark Smotroff: Attack on Titan (Netflix, 1080p)
While we are eagerly anticipating the third season of Netflix’ Stranger Things and have enjoyed Love Death & Robots, as well as various nature and baking shows, the show we are deepest into these days is Attack on Titan. That I am watching an anime program is a testament to the high quality of the storytelling going on here; while I enjoyed some early anime as a kid (Speed Racer, Gigantor, Tobor The 8th Man), I’ve never been into most modern anime as I’ve found them often one-dimensional and gratuitously violent.