Must See TV you’ve Never Heard Of: Galavant

Galavant (2015-2016)

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.

Must See TV You’ve Never Heard of: Steins; gate

Steins;Gate (2011)

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.

Must See TV You’ve Never Heard Of:

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.

Must See TV You’ve Never Heard Of

Breaking In (2011-2012)

What It Is: You’d be easily forgiven for never having even been aware of the existence of this short-lived sitcom, as it was one of oh so many shows that suffered under the poor decision-making of its network, FOX. The first season was only seven short episodes but more than enough to make an impression, on me at least, if nobody else. It was granted one more season before FOX gave it the axe, but not without a shady shell game of shuffling cast members, fundamentally changing the show’s character dynamics. I may one day give Season Two another chance, but regardless, that brief Season One will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Breaking In was a workplace sitcom of epic proportions, following the wild antics of the employees at Contra Security, a firm that assessed the effectiveness of various security systems by, you guessed it, breaking into them. So naturally, a great number of the firm’s employees possessed… colorful backgrounds: Cameron Price, hacker; Cash Sparks, robotics expert; and Melainie Garcia, safe-cracker; all reined in by former con-man and current boss, Christian Slater’s Oz. 

Why It’s Great: As if Christian Slater (Heathers, Mr. Robot) playing a quirky ex-con isn’t enough of a delight, he’s not the only reason why this show was great. Though admittedly, his highly humorous portrayal of the eccentric business owner is indubitably one of the highlights. He brings a nonchalant and charismatic charm to his otherwise socially deficient team, and one can’t help but feel like everything Oz says and does is just Christian Slater being Christian Slater. The man is infectiously snarky and intensely quotable. 

But on the whole, a sizable portion of the show’s appeal comes from the various character dynamics between the litany of weirdos therein. Everyone who works at Contra Security is inherently strange. It’s practically a job requirement that none of them quite fit in with normal people. Whether it’s Cameron’s disinterest, Cash’s nerdiness, or Melanie’s complete lack of normal life experience, something besides their more criminal inclinations has made misfits of them. Meaning that to many, Contra is the closest thing they have to home, or to family. And who can’t get behind a team of lovable misfits? 

The only civilian out of the main cast is Dutch, Melanie’s meat-head boyfriend, played by Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, Impastor, Justice League: Unlimited). Because after seven years of required baldness as Lex Luthor, the man just really needed to jump straight into a fauxhawk. It’d be easy to push Dutch into a box (and that box would be labelled Jackass) but his layered and frankly hilarious characterization is one of the more entertaining parts of the show, fauxhawk notwithstanding. He’s big, he’s dumb, and he drives a ridiculous jeep with flames on the side but he is also… the greatest boyfriend of all time. His jackassery is only surpassed by his love for Melanie, a fact that he proves on multiple occasions, and with little to no prompting. Dutch was essentially Breaking In’s answer to toxic masculinity, proving to the most ridiculous extent possible, just how much a man didn’t have to be feminine to be wholesome. 

Plus there’s an episode where Mike Tyson plays himself so… 

Where You Can Find It: This one may be a bit more difficult to find than your average show. You can pay to watch it on Amazon Prime or you could pirate it from a vast number of disreputable websites (not that we would ever condone that 😉 ). 

What is Warrior Nun?

If you have Netflix, you probably saw the rolling ads a few weeks ago for a new Netflix Original called Warrior Nun. Or maybe you’re a normal person, whose Netflix algorithm isn’t totally fucked. 

It’s design aesthetics pop off, the concept is incredible, and it’s lore system is astounding.

But like, What is it? 

Warrior Nun is a YA series based on a popular Canadian Manga-style comic book. Or, best I can tell from skimming the wikipedia and comparing it to what I’ve just seen, very loosely based on the comic books. 

As for the story, we’ve all heard it before, a young girl is suddenly thrown into a world that is not her own. She’s witty, she’s sarcastic, and now, she’s got superpowers. In Ava’s case, it’s an ancient artifact called the Halo, which is actually an angel’s halo that’s been shoved into her back just after she died. This is, it’s important to note, an accident. Why is it important that it’s an accident? So rather than another girl hating her for no good reason, they get to hate her for reason: she’s the accidental chosen one. This can be done well in media, and I think it’s done alright in Warrior Nun, could be worse, it just distracts from the overall plot. 

Speaking of the plot, what is it? Well, we’ve got some demons to kill, that only Ava can see. They’ve got an evil corporation that has been seeking out religious relics for unknown yet nefarious purposes, and the potential murder of the last girl with the Halo. Oh, and also Ava maybe definitely got murdered by a nun. But all of this is sort of? Ancillary? To the actual plot? Which is like, Ava made a friend/love interest and she wants to run away with him? Or something? Unsure to his purpose. And why their relationship is so much more important than everything else. Ava running away from the plot in favor of her teenage love affair takes up five and a half episodes of a ten episode season. This wouldn’t be terrible, but I don’t really care about Ava, and I think that’s the main and only problem with the show. Even though she’s the main character, and on the surface she is integral to the plot, but she hardly interacts with it outside of explaining all of the exposition we can’t get any other way. 

In episode 4, all of the warrior nuns other than Ava go out on a super secret mission to reclaim some artifacts, and that’s when it hit me. This is the show I would rather be watching. Bad ass warrior nuns with Chain Mail Masks that fuckin slap doing cool ninja moves to recover historic magical artifacts is easily one of the coolest plot lines you could have pitched me. But then you’re going to make me sit through all of Ava’s storyline, if it can be called that, and not even really try to put in the effort of connecting it to the main story for more than half of the show, instead just give us a half-baked chosen-one-by-accident plotline that we’ve seen a thousand times.

This brings me to easily the best character in the entire show. Shotgun Mary. I want to know everything about her! Who is she? What was her relationship with the last Halo warrior girl? Why does she get shotguns? Why is she the best?

The good news is, it’s not totally unsalvageable. The style is great, the side characters are wonderful, and the concept is phenomenal. All they gotta do is reign Ava’s story back into the plot before it’s too late. Which, it should be noted, they do. Halfway through episode six, Ava’s little boyfriend just ditches her because she’s got weird powers (Thus proving my theory that he was totally useless as a character and plot point.) and then this shit really gets going. Warrior Nun ramps it up, and now I’m finally interested in this goddamn show. I promise, if the concept and aesthetics interest you, it is worth slogging through the first half (ugh, such a high percentage.) and if you’re a sloppy gay like me, you might even notice some very obvious tension between two of the girls. I won’t say who, spoilers, but I really hope this isn’t going to turn out to be more queerbait and they’ll actually do something about it.

Must see TV You’ve Never Heard Of

In Peak TV, It’s Easy to Fall Through the Cracks

Miranda (2009-2015)

What It Is: If you live outside the UK you’ve likely never heard of this 20-episode sitcom, and you’re only slightly more likely to have heard of it’s creator, Miranda Hart (Spy, Emma). But you’d be doing yourself a disservice to keep it that way. Not only is Ms. Hart wildly funny and a true master of physical comedy, all 4 seasons of her self-insert sitcom, Miranda, are not only a marvelous depiction of Peter Pan syndrome, but also disturbingly relatable to any person who has ever felt socially awkward. 

The series follows Miranda (who seems never to have been given a last name) as she struggles to adapt to the morays of adult life; whether those be attending her mother’s horrifically themed parties, managing her joke shop with her best friend Stevie Sutton, or using her wiles to attract the attentions of handsome chef, Gary Preston. And there’s really not much more to the plot than that. It’s a true sitcom in the purest sense, playing off of the classic multi-camera setup and fourth wall locales for that classic “filmed in front of a live studio audience” feel. 

Why It’s Great: There are so many wonderful things I could say about Miranda that I find it difficult to narrow them down. But certainly the first is Miranda Hart herself. She is the exact opposite of what film & TV has trained you to expect from a leading lady. She’s tall, she’s wide, she’s wacky, gets called ‘Sir’ far more often than she would like, and is an absolute disaster of a human being. 

Yet as the show progresses, even the more socially competent of Miranda’s friends and family are gradually revealed to have their own failings and less than ideal idiosyncrasies, playing into the shows ultimate message, that when it comes right down to it, we’re all a little bit terrible at being adults. Her mother, Penny, is a well-regarded upper-middle-class socialite (if such a thing exists), and is completely emotionally tone-deaf. Her best friend, Stevie, is a tiny business dynamo with a can-do attitude, and more nervous energy that she can productively channel all the time. 

But the dynamic most heavily at the center of the show is inevitably Miranda’s relationship with the tall drink of vitamin water that is Gary Preston. So rarely can a sitcom say that it’s main couple are compelling, funny, realistic, and well-developed all at the same time. Gary, played by the incomparable Tom Ellis, (who you actually might have heard of now that he’s widely known as the titular character of Lucifer), is a gorgeous chef who’s always standing by with baked goods (even if he does insist on doing things like making cakes out of beetroot). 

Everything about Gary and Miranda’s romance is refreshing, even besides the flipped trope of a socially awkward weirdo ending up with the beautiful girl. Their on-again off-again, will-they won’t-they romance isn’t simply a conceit of the genre either. It consistently works to maneuver them to a point where a relationship between the two would not only be plausible but healthy and balanced. There is no moment of realization that ‘love had been there the whole time,’ simply two friends who’ve always wondered if they could possibly be something more, growing together and loving each other. 

But at the end of the day, I think the truly best thing about Miranda (both the character and the show) is the sense of childlike fun at their cores. Miranda (the character, not the show) isn’t interested in abiding by the adult rulebook, she’d rather do fun things that make her happy, asserting that if adults “had even the slightest, in-the-moment joy of a child” then the world would be a far better place. 

Miranda speaks to the kid that never actually grew up inside of all of us. Watching it makes the word “bottom” suddenly hilarious, and makes the idea of playing Biscuit Blizzard (a game you can play with the common household items: a box of cookies and a blow dryer) almost impossible to turn down. As the world grows increasingly scarier and TV grows increasingly darker for the sake of putting buzz words like “innovative” and “edgy” in their blurbs, it’s nice to sit back for a half hour and relish in being weird. 

Where You Can Find It: Currently, you can stream Miranda on Hulu, Amazon Prime (free with ads or an iMDB TV subscription) as well as on AcornTV. I’d really only recommend that final option if you’re just really into British and Australian television, in which case, you’ve probably already seen this show, haven’t you.

Gone With the Wind

I could talk about the lackluster technicolour recolouring techniques or I could talk about how this story was even poorly paced for 1940, I could even write an entire page on the lackluster cinematography and practically stage-worthy performances. 

Gone With The Wind is impressive for its absolutely ridiculous framing of the south. It’s a racist, misogynistic movie that glosses over what is essentially spousal rape and frames it as a twisted romance. Scarlett O’Hara is an awful ‘protagonist’ who gets everything she wants at the expense of everyone else and yet we’re supposed to sympathise with her and want her to win? Why is everyone harkening her as a ‘strong female character’ when all she does is shoot a dude and steal her sister’s husband for little to no reason.

As previously stated, it isn’t particularly well paced. It recycles its main plot three times over the course of three hours and fifty-eight minutes, which should be enough to make it unwatchable, it trivialises and romanticizes the evils of slavery explicitly (Scarlett attempts to free them after the civil war and they insist that they love living there and don’t want to leave her? What?). It paints the sufferers of the antebellum south as the lauded elites for losing their privileges after the war, and O’Hara’s exclusive method for dealing with her problems is marrying rich guys, which she does Four Times over the course of the film, one of whom is her aforementioned sister’s fiance, who she steals and marries to save the family farm. (Would they still have been able to save the family farm if he’d married the sister? Yes. Is this addressed? No.) Finally, the central romantic plotline is abusive from start to finish. Butler’s whole appeal (Other than being Clark Gable.) is that he’s callous and cruel to Scarlet. This is enticing enough to keep her entertained across three other husbands. Finally, they get married, but he remains curel. The first time they hook up, he hits her, forces her to kiss him, and carries her up a grandiose marble staircase, all the while she struggles against him. This is the romantic climax of the film.

She wakes up the next morning, grinning and stretching in satisfaction in an almost comical manner. The fact that he totally raped her is not commented on.

They end up having a kid, and Butler is nice to the kid, sure, until the kid dies. Then he’s back on his damage, and he leaves her in her sorrow. He explicitly tells her he doesn’t care about her in the most iconic line in the film, arguably one of the most iconic lines in film history, and he leaves. The female lead is now appropriately beaten and put in her place. And the audience laps it up, they have every generation that watches it.

That’s it. That’s the movie. Three hours. And Fifty Eight Minutes.

People say the slavery was just ‘a product of the times’ but it came out in 1940! That’s nowhere near an acceptable amount of time to be still considered ‘the times’ of slavery. Marrying a bunch of dudes doesn’t make you resourceful or strong, it gives you the easy way, even considering the period, especially considering the period. 

I honestly don’t know why we study this movie, in film and history classes alike. It holds little to no relevance to the modern filmmaking scene, even if the special effects were seminal for the time, they haven’t aged overly well. It’s not particularly accurate to the times, save for a handful of fun facts here and there, and it’s not as creatively shot even as Citizen Kane, which won’t come out for another year but… still. It’s four hours long and almost nothing interesting happens, it misrepresents the south, and is horribly racist while also making Scarlett O’Hara the white knight in the situation, a theme in White Feminism that’s still prevalent today! Scarlett is irredeemable, it’s no wonder she falls for Butler, but the biggest tragedy of this film is that I had to rewind two separate VHS tapes after I finished, second only to the tragedy that the guy who plays Ashley’s name in real life is Leslie. Man, that guy cannot catch a break.