While baseball and morning reruns of Bayside High gang do make for a fine mix, that can get real old, real fast. You need to discover some unsung TV gems to feed your voracious televisual appetite, and luckily, with all the channels broadcasting today, there are quite a few to keep you glued to the couch this summer. Crank up the AC, order the Chinese food and watch these unsung gems (in no specific order):
1. Party Down: Fittingly, this is a hilarious, unknown gem toiling in Hollywood obscurity, about a bunch of hilarious, unknown gems toiling in Hollywood obscurity. Perhaps appropriately (though unfairly) buried on cable movie channel Starz, Party Down is a look at the underbelly of stardom — the food service jobs that show biz wannabes work in while waiting for their big break. A single camera mix of cringe comedy and fanboy homage, the show, in its second season, has launched Jane Lynch (Glee), Adam Scott (Parks and Rec) and Ryan Hansen (this fall’s Friends with Benefits) to stardom. But don’t worry — like at the titular catering company, there is always enough talent to go around.
2. Peep Show: All the horrible things you think but never dare say out loud? Every last embarrassingly perverted and selfish thought run through the minds of London flatmates Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb). The difference is that, while your thoughts stay private, we get to tune right into the misanthropy of Mark and Jez’s pathetic brains with the show’s unique first person perspective. And it’s absolutely hilarious. Now in its seventh season (though in Britain, seasons are called series and run six episodes), Peep Show is a comedy about two college buddies that are barely making it in London. It’s a classic Odd Couple: Mark, the tea drinking history buff nerd accountant that pays the rent, and Jeremy, the wannabe musician that skates by on his weird charm and Mark’s desperate need for companionship.
3. Ricky Gervais Show: If you’ve seen the British (and original) version of The Office, or more recently, the Emmy award-winning HBO series Extras, you’re well acquainted with the star of this HBO series. Ricky Gervais, the best British comedic export since Duran Duran, is at times asshole, social moralist and plain goofball. Those conflicting traits are all on full display in The Ricky Gervais Show, an animated version of a series of hit podcasts that Gervais did in England in the early 2000’s. However, Ricky isn’t even the real star here: Karl Pilkington, the bald doofus that serves as a producer for the podcast, joins Ricky and comedic partner Stephen Merchant and ends up dominating the show with his ridiculous theories and oddly engaging outlooks on life.
4. Friday Night Lights: On first instinct, one would think a TV show based on a movie based on a book based on a true story would end up a watered down nothing, a derivative too far, filtered into bland clichés and broad stroke clichés. Think again, because Friday Night Lights is nothing of the sort. A Pulitzer Prize winning book about a high school football team in Odessa, Texas in 1988, it was adapted into a 2004 movie and then finally the TV series, which is now in its fourth season. It’s full-out drama, dealing with small town issues and small town tribulations. Paralyzed players, job pressure, economic decline and college admission all come into play, and it ain’t all happy endings. That’s what leaves the viewers smiling.
5. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!: If a show’s own creators refer to it as “the nightmare version of television,” well, you know it’s going to be a trip. And, when it comes to TAES,GJ!, that’s an understatement. A faux campy mishomosh of ridiculous sketches, fake public access shows, telethon music acts, 80s reference humor and just about everything you wouldn’t ever think you’d see on TV, the show works because it takes insane to a new level, all while knowing exactly what it’s doing. Oh, and if you’re looking for a star to draw you in, Zach Galifinaikis is one of the most frequent visitors, playing a whole host of zany characters. Oh, and Paul Rudd and Rainn Wilson and others. Catch it on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network.
6. Community: Thursday night has a long, rich comedy tradition on NBC, with its Must See TV moniker proving less a boast than absolute truth: in the 80’s, it was Cheers and the Cosby Show, followed by Seinfeld and Friends. Now, The Office and 30 Rock anchor that night’s lineup, but it’s the night’s 8 o’clock hour shows that truly carry on the hilarious tradition. One season in, and Community is already a cult favorite. Starring Joel McHale, best known as the host of E! Network’s The Soup, Community boasts what is perhaps the most lovable and quotable cast NBC has given us since Friends. Set at a hapless community college called Greendale, the show revolves around a Spanish class study group “led” by McHale, who shines as the lawyer-turned-slacker and pretty boy Jeff Winger.
7. Parks and Rec: A mid-season start last year gave everyone a sneak preview, and after a few uneven episodes of this Amy Poehler-starring series, a lot of viewers wrote it off as a bust. Big mistake. In its first full season, the faithful have come to love Pawnee, Indiana. A tangential spinoff of The Office, the show shares executive producers and a cringe, documentary aesthetic. It’s actually unrelated, with only Rashida Jones a shared cast member (and she’s playing a totally different character) with The Office. Honestly, this disconnect is a good thing, because this season, Parks and Rec rose far above its step cousin in both compelling story and laugh factor. Set in the Parks Department of the aforementioned Pawnee, the show provides a hilarious look at the mundane world of local government.
8. Breaking Bad: Remember that boring old high school chemistry teacher? The one you figured went home to his boring wife in his boring house and watched boring science shows all night until he returned to bore you in class the next day? Yeah, think again. Brian Cranston, previously best known as the dad in Malcom in the Middle, is a perennial Emmy winner for his kickass portrayal of a bored-as-sh*t high school chemistry teacher that needs a big jolt of meth to spark up his life. Of course, it takes a seemingly fatal cancer diagnosis to get him cooking (literally), but the desperation of needing to provide for his family (and impending baby) when he’s gone provide all the motivation he needs to cook, shoot and fuck shit up.
9. Bored To Death: Whether you’re a young, struggling, alcoholic writer in New York or not (I am), this Jonathan Ames-helmed show will give you something to relate to, and a ton to laugh at. Jason Schwartzman leads a stand out cast as a writer living in Brooklyn who, suffering from writer’s block and a recent breakup with his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby), takes out an ad on craigslist as a private detective. He’s courageous, yet bumbling and a little bit awkward, and his missions, from following a Russian lounge singer to retrieving a skateboard, are hilarious conduits to even more insanity. He’s often joined by his best friend Ray (Zach Galifinaikis), a comic book artist dominated by his mothering girlfriend. Oh, and the surprise charmer of this series is Ted Danson, who plays an eccentric (and oft-drunk or high) magazine editor obsessed with his spot in the New York culture scene. The first season excelled on HBO, and it’s coming back later this summer for more.
10. Arrested Development: There’s probably a 95% chance that you’ve watched every episode of this seminal, cult classic comedy… on DVD. That’s the point. Never forget that this show was taken off the air after two and a half seasons because not enough people watched when it was broadcast on TV. Arrested Development makes this list as a reminder that we can never forget what happened to this all-time great show, because if we forget history, we’re bound to repeat it. The above shows deserve better than cult DVD status. Watch them. For the Bluth’s sake. And then eat some cornballs. C’MON!