What It Is: Think about what you were doing in the winter of 2015. Now realize you could have been watching Galavant instead. The first 10-episode season was advertised as a one-time New Year’s special event so it left viewers all kinds of surprised when the show not only left on a cliffhanger but was then revealed to be slated for a second season the following year. There was even hope for a third, but the second season ended on a satisfying enough conclusion to leave fans without rancor.
Galavant is the most famous knight in all the land, slayer of dragons and rescuer of fair maidens, so the world is watching with bated breath when his sweetheart, Madalena, is kidnapped by the evil King Richard. Yet, in a shocking twist of events, Madalena decides that marrying a wealthy, powerful man isn’t such a crap deal in this day and age after all, dropping Galavant like a hot potato. This is the first five minutes. Watch the other 17.7 episodes to see Gal & Pals go on the ultimate quest for love. Oh, also… it’s a musical.
Why It’s Great: Let’s state the obvious. The musical numbers. Most of them are written by Alan Menken, and if you’re not familiar with his name you’re still definitely familiar with his work. He pretty much wrote the music for all of your favorite Disney movies growing up, from The Little Mermaid all the way up to Tangled, and the man’s decades of experience within the genre show. Each song is exquisitely crafted in tone and theme to fit the needs of a scene or a piece of character growth, and the lyrics are equally catchy and hilarious. (Sidebar: most of the songs are available on Spotify, and if you love the show I highly recommend adding them to your queue for a delightful sing-along).
On the same note, there isn’t a member of the cast who’s not exceptionally gifted in the more musical side of their role, and there are more than a few moments where they might just blow you away (I’m looking at you, Jester). Although skilled singers is hardly a novelty of musicals, rather more like a necessity, and as such the series also boasts a long list of musically talented guest stars from Kylie Minogue, as the owner of a medeival gay club, to Weird Al Yankovich, one of a group of monks who take a vow of singing.
Even the actors who don’t have a long history with these types of productions, more than manage to keep up with their musical theater colleagues, and in some cases overshadow them through other feats of performance. Yup, I’m talking about Timothy Omundson, more commonly known for his work as the tight-laced Detective Lasseter on Psych, or possibly as the calm and collected Eli on Xena: Warrior Princess. In Galavant, he plays the evil King Richard, and anyone familiar with his work prior to this point could read that sentence and think, ‘yup, that tracks, surly old king, classic Timothy.’ And in a sense, you’d be right.
But in a bigger, more grander sense, you’d be wrong, because Omundson’s performance as Richard is one of the most unexpected, right-out-of-left-field parts of the entire show. This guy is funny. I mean really funny. He somehow manages to believably portray an evil tyrant and a spoiled, effeminate ponce simultaneously. Omundson brings a childlike naivety to the otherwise wicked king that makes you want to see him learn and grow. Even when he’s doing things you don’t want to happen, it’s all such fun that you just can’t look away.
At the end of the day, Galavant is good, semi-wholesome fun. Whether you’re drawn in by the musical numbers, the guest stars (Hugh Bonneville as a pirate king is quite excellent), the romance, or the gut-busting laughs, odds are there’s going to be something about this fairy tale of epic proportions to enrapture you. Galavant encourages us all to believe in people just as much as it encourages us to believe in magic. Because when you super believe in something, even a lizard can prove itself to be a dragon.
Where You Can Find It: You can watch both seasons on Netflix, or rent the episodes on Amazon Prime, YouTube, or Vudu.
What It Is: If you’re not super into anime, or even run in the same circles as someone who is, you’ve probably never heard of Steins;Gate. Which is frankly a tragedy, considering you hardly have to be a fan of the medium to appreciate this masterpiece in storytelling. Unlike a lot of the shows in this column, Steins;Gate doesn’t only have one season because it was cancelled. It’s because it was only written to have one season. It’s a single, self-contained story that accomplished what it came here to do and had the decency to end rather than drag itself out for no reason.
The cult series follows a group of college students, chief among them Rintarou Okabe, resident Mad Scientist, as he attempts to unravel the strange occurrences only he seems to be noticing. Turns out, Okabe and his gang of science misfits accidentally created a time machine, capable of sending digital data through time. Their attempts to better understand what they’ve created eventually spiral into a conflict greater than any of them could have ever seen coming.
Why It’s Great: Oh man. I’d be remiss not to start with the refreshing quality of knowing a story was planned out from start to finish before a show started. Sometimes flying by the seat of your pants can work for a writer to keep things fresh, fun, and unpredictable. But more often than not, if you go into any kind of drama without a plan ahead of time, you will end up disappointing your audience. And it’s that much more satisfying when you can perfectly see all of the breadcrumbs on a rewatch. The kind of show, where everything you saw in those early episodes, even if you didn’t know it at the time (or ever caught on to it later in the series) was important. Shows where when you finally have the last piece to the puzzle, all of the other pieces suddenly fit together. Steins;Gate is not only one such show, but one of the best examples of it I could possibly list.
When you first start watching Steins;Gate, you are very likely to be confused. That is okay. Good even. The characters are confused too, and one of the things this show does really well, is giving you information exactly as the characters on the show get it. So trust me, it’s worth muddling through those early episodes for the answers, and trusting that they will be given to you just as soon as the main characters learn them themselves.
One of the other interesting aspects of Steins;Gate, is its origin as a visual novel, and how that affected it’s adaptation into a TV series. The visual novel was essentially part dating sim, an aspect that was largely removed from the plot of the show, but the result was that the overwhelming majority of its characters were still women; all distinct, detailed, and compelling in their own individual ways.
Kurisu is a snarky, taking-none-of-your-bullshit, girl genius who graduated from university before she even turned 18, and has a brain the size of an airplane hangar. Suzuha is a bicycle riding tomboy with an infectious joie-de-vivre whilst simultaneously being ready to throw hands at the drop of a hat. Ruka is a sweet girl with a quiet strength, who by the way also comes out as trans (and while there are certainly aspects of this that could have been handled more respectfully, the fact that this was even a part of her character in a 10 year old anime is bananas, and the treatment of her identity was something it’s sequel series Steins;Gate 0 sought to help correct).
Even the characters you don’t expect to be anything more than surface-level archetypes get an opportunity to prove they’re so much more than that. Mayuri first appears to be a childish, simple girl perfectly content to just do what she’s told, but she ultimately proves to have an emotional intelligence far surpassing any other member of the cast and a heart perhaps even larger than Kurisu’s brain. Faris especially isn’t a character you start the show expecting anything more from than being a cat-girl who works in a maid cafe, but whoda guessed it, Faris is actually an entrepreneur and business owner who not only owns a decent-sized chunk of this city but shaped its very culture.
The greatest thing about Steins;Gate however, is that it may very well be the only story about time travel to create a set of rules about how it worked, and then fucking stick to them. There is a clear idea of what can and can’t be done, and when those ideas are changed, they do so because we’re figuring this shit out as we go. At no point do we directly contradict something that was previously 100% known to be a hard and fast rule.
Along the same vein, it may also be one of the only time travel stories where the core thesis seems very clearly to be: don’t fucking do it. Don’t mess with time. Nearly the entirety of the second half of the show revolves around them having to steadily and systematically undo everything they accidentally changed in the first half. So take it to heart kids, don’t fuck with time. And don’t put bananas in the microwave.
Where You Can Find It: If you’re in the UK or Japan, then you can watch Steins;Gate on Netflix. You can also watch the subtitled version on Hulu, or pick your choice of language (English or Japanese) on Funimation or YouTube.
Dirk Gently (2010)
What It Is: No, not Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, that’s the name of the book series it’s based off of, as well as the name of a previous adaptation by BBC Radio 4 in 2007, and yet another US adaptation in 2016 starring Elijah Wood. Now I won’t speak to the quality of those other adaptations, as I’ve not personally seen them. But I already feel confident enough to say that this one is the best.
Based off of the books written by Douglas Adams (author of the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Dirk Gently was a distressingly short-lived British series (four episodes about the length of a TV movie each). It quite naturally followed the exploits of Dirk Gently, as well as his trusty sidekick Macduff, as they utilized his rather unconventional method for solving crime: the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. It’s based on a similarly named principle in quantum physics stating that every single thing in the universe is affected, however minutely, by every other thing. Therefore, by following the trail of interconnectedness, one would inevitably (eventually) be led to the answer they seek. It’s an absurdist, science fiction romp, and exactly the kind that could only come from the twisted mind of Douglas Adams.
Why It’s Great: So let’s start with our titular character, Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective. He is, by all accounts, an asshole. He’s maddeningly cheap, aggressively disinterested in other people, and slips into a lie (or cover story) as easily as a pair of flip-flops. It would be ridiculously easy for Dirk’s entire character to be insufferable, yet Stephen Mangan brings a sort of working man’s charm to the always down-on-his-luck detective; with his disaster of a car, messy, falling down apartment and surly secretary he keeps refusing to pay because she keeps showing up hoping that he’ll pay her, and if he pays her she’ll stop showing up.
It is this exact kind of circular logic that permeates the entire show, to great comedic effect. Whether he’s investigating the disappearance of a billionaire in order to track down the whereabouts of a missing cat, or working out the best reason to invade Switzerland, his cases are just as intricate as they are ridiculous. And true to theory, everything is connected. You might think the knowledge that everything you see is a clue would make the mystery easier to solve, yet it’s always a surprise when Dirk manages to pull the curtain on how all of the pieces fit together. Partly because you never quite expect the truth to be so out there; a truth that only someone as insane as Dirk could recognize.
As much as Dirk Gently asks you to suspend your disbelief in regard to the nature of its crimes, there are certain aspects of it that are far more realistic than many similarly premised shows. Most series surrounding private investigators (Sherlock, Psych, etc.) have their protagonist have either a buddy on, or work directly with, the police force; despite the fact that every one of these shows makes a point to specify how much cops don’t like private investigators. Dirk on the other hand, has a solely antagonistic relationship with local police, who are just dying for an excuse to arrest him.
Rounding out Dirk’s absurdity and tendency to alienate just about everyone he meets, is partner Richard MacDuff (portrayed by Darren Boyd), a classic straight man in every sense of the phrase. He spends a great deal of his time desperately attempting to get the two of them paid, which, spoiler alert, they basically never are. Ultimately, Mangan and Boyd have an infectious friend chemistry that expertly rides the line between ‘Ride or Die’ and hostile. He’s a Watson without the hero worship of his partner, and is more than willing to call Dirk out on his bullshit. At the end of the day, Dirk Gently is a compelling and hysterical ride from start to finish, and more than worth the single day it would take to complete.
Where You Can Find It: Currently, you can watch Dirk Gently on BritBox, or on Amazon Prime (with a BritBox subscription). Either through Amazon, or through BritBox directly, there’s also an option for a 7-Day Free Trial (more than enough time to watch four episodes), with an option to keep it up for just 6.99/month.