Dinner Theater: Three Netflix Series to Watch Between Bites

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Dinner Theater: Three Netflix Series to Watch Between Bites

By Mike Roorda | Seriously Random Lists | August 30, 2013 | Comments ()


When I was growing up, my mom made a huge hairy deal of making sure all of us were home for supper and that we “ate at least one meal around a table as a family.” Further, under no circumstances were we allowed to eat in the living room. It was sacred ground. “But we’ll be careful!” my siblings and I would protest. “No way,” said my father. “You’ll spill on the couch or on the carpet, and then it’ll be ruined.” So we ate in one room and watched our television in another. Maybe popcorn could be consumed during the odd family movie viewing or special events like the Olympics, but that was the extent of it. Never any drinks, and certainly nothing that had a sauce or crumb component.

Now that I’m married and on my own, my wife and I own a dining room table. We rarely use it as a surface to eat off of or around. Not all, but certainly the majority, of our meals are consumed while perched on our couch watching something on television. (Don’t worry dad, the couch has a cover we can change if a true sauce-based disaster were to unfold.) What we watch while eating is important. It can’t be too good, because when you’re focusing on sopping up all of the stray ketchup on your plate with a half-eaten burger, you’re bound to miss out on some of the finer plot points.

The story also shouldn’t be so dense that you can’t walk away for a minute or two to fetch something. If I have to run and grab some napkins off of the dining room table but my fingers needed the napkin about a minute earlier, I’m not going to want to put my grubby paws on the remote to mash the pause button. There shouldn’t be too much gratuitous violence either because I like eating pasta, and staring at assorted viscera while I do so isn’t impossible but definitely not on my short list of things I want to repeat.

With this in mind, here are three shows viewable on Netflix Instant that have been on our Dinner Theater ticket in recent months.


This is a BBC America offering that follows a young Irish (of course) cop in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City. If we’re being completely candid, you should know there’s not much by way of meaningful plot here. I’ve watched entire episodes and immediately had to go online to read the recap before starting the next one. You know when sometimes you’re reading, and your mind wanders, and you realize five minutes later you’ve read the same paragraph for the eighth time and still haven’t soaked any of it up? This can be like that occasionally. The saving grace for the show is the setting and set building. The time period is the 1860s and holy hell do the Brits spend a mint on making it all look authentic. Or as authentic as my brain tells me it should be. I wasn’t there, so I can’t actually vouch for the overall aesthetic being accurate. It’s all so visually appealing that even when I have no f*cks to give about what the characters are discussing, I find myself amused simply by the spectacle of it all. The main difficulty I have with the show is that I keep getting it mixed up in my head with “Ripper Street,” the infinitely better and also British show about police in 1880’s London shortly after the Jack the Ripper murders seem to have ceased. “Ripper Street” has better acting, more compelling plot and similar set and setting. It’s a bit too engrossing for our purposes, though, so watch “Copper” with dinner, and start “Ripper Street” when you move on to drinks.


SyFy has been trying for a while now to find another original series that can bring the number of eyeballs to bear that “Battlestar Galactica” used to. This is not that. The story is more or less a police procedural but with folks who have super powers filling in for the cops. Their leader/mentor is a doctor who is studying them while he helps them come to terms with their abilities and learn how to harness them. The bad guy of the week is usually another “Alpha” with a strange new ability that the team has to figure out and then adapt to. The series gets better as it progresses, and it begins teasing out moments of genuine emotion and introspection in season two. The first two seasons of “Heroes” did the random people with random powers thing better, but it eventually fell apart under its own weight, so that’s not really saying much. “Alphas” has not great but consistently passable acting. Ryan Cartwright, a TV regular who also plays one of the squints on “Bones,” consistently outshines the rest of the cast with his depiction of Gary Bell, an autistic guy who can see and sort through any of the many signals we beam wirelessly through the air. The tone gets a little dark in the latter episodes, but not so much so that you feel like putting the dinner rolls anywhere but your face.

“Hell on Wheels”

This is an AMC drama that desperately wants to sit at the cool kids table with “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” but just can’t stop tripping over itself long enough to make it across the cafeteria. The story surrounds a post-Civil War Confederate soldier whom we meet while he’s hunting down the Union soldiers who killed his wife. His hunt leads him to a mobile tent city set up by Union Pacific as they race to build the first railroad spanning the U.S. The city is populated entirely by the laborers who are laying the tracks and the entrepreneurs who are willing to travel with them in order to provide food, alcohol, hookers and/or church services. Our avenging angel, Cullen Bohannan, is played with zealous glee by Anson Mount (a TV bit player with lots of “that guy” roles on shows like “Lost” and “Third Watch”). Mount nails the malice required of a man whose moral code includes “shoot him in the face” if he finds reasonable cause to do so. Cullen’s sometimes sidekick, Elam Ferguson, is played with surprising effectiveness by Common (American Gangster, Smokin’ Aces). Granted, Common is rarely called on to do much other than look pissed off or put upon, but he does that really, really well. Colm Meaney (the American version of “Life on Mars” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) plays the ruthless railroad representative who is driving the whole enterprise and probably, maybe not on the straight and narrow. The whole thing plays like a western, which as I’ve stated, is my favoritest genre to watch of all. However, as a television show and a sort of western, it’s impossible to watch without comparing it to the still reigning champ of serialized westerns, “Deadwood.” “Hell on Wheels” makes an honest and still entertaining effort, but just isn’t up to the task. There are too many eye rolling moments for it to be taken as seriously as it’s written, and some of the side plots feel a lot like filler, which is why it’s perfect as dinner theater viewing.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • AudioSuede

    It might occasionally be too graphic to watch while eating, but I've been really impressed with Ripper Street. What starts as a sort of traditional procedural (albeit with a much better script and great actors) throughout the series moves forward in surprising ways.

  • mrsdalgliesh

    Yes, yes, yes. This is a great show, easily topping Copper, in my estimation. Streaming on Netflix.

  • I watched The Goodwin Games recently on Hulu on my Roku. The pilot is a bit if a mess, but the other episodes make up a sweet, charming comedy about adult siblings, perfect for watching while eating or folding laundry. The cast is pretty great - Scott Foley, Becki Newton, Beau Bridges.

  • Jeff

    FYI: Meaney was only in the original Pilot of the American version of Life on Mars. He was replaced in the role of Gene Hunt by Harvey Keitel.

  • Berry

    Replace "wife" with husband, and the first two paragraphs could have been written by me.

    Lately especially there has been no chance of eating away from the television, because we've been falling head over heels in love with someone new and have wanted to spend every waking hour with her. Or at least I have, the husband is more in intense like. She's tiny, blond, and can annoy like the wind. By your criteria, she might actually be too good to spend the dinnertime with, but what can we do? We have to find out everything that happens to her, soon as possible, and there are only so many hours in a day.

  • googergieger

    NO. Heroes does not get the credit! It ripped off 4400 to bejesus and back.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Got all three on my bought list on amazon. I was so annoyed when they cancelled Alphas.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    By the way, Copper has the creepiest child actor I've ever seen. Annie has an adult voice and tries to seduce the adult male leads. It's incredibly disturbing.

  • YES. That plot line creeped me out and they spent A LOT of time on it.

  • Alan

    3 episode into Hell on Wheels and it just leaves me missing Deadwood. Might just watch that again.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    But... but... ANSON MOUNT! *ahem*

  • ami

    My friend went on a fishing trip with a group that included Anson Mount last year and said he was an arrogant dick, and he did some pretty awful thing during their short trip. I've found that I just have no interest in watching Hell on Wheels since all of that happened.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    That's disappointing.

  • junierizzle

    I wonder if Low WInter Sun will end up on this list next year.

  • RilesSD

    Could be. But you would miss all of the overacting Lennie James does!

    (I actually am loving this show. And I didn't know that Ziggy from The Wire was capable of acting like a non-asshole.)

  • BWeaves

    I'm a House Hunters gal myself, especially House Hunters International. It's interesting to see what you get in another country (or different parts of my own country) for various amounts of money. Plus they repeat everything 5 times, so you don't miss anything while you're sopping up your gravy.

    What I can't stand are when rich people buy vacation homes. I just can't watch those. (High pitched, whiney voice), "I can't believe this is all you get for a million dollars." "It's my money, so I want what I want." Just go away.

    Or my absolute favorite (sarcasm font), "I want a real, French country kitchen," and then they're appalled when the real estate agent shows them a room with a dirt floor, a fire place, no running water, no electricity, and no cabinets. What they really wanted was a state of the art kitchen with stainless steel appliances and wooden beams on the ceiling.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I love the millionaire ones. When they're not whiny, it's the best house porn in the world. When they are, oh man is it a high-quality, harmless vent for my hate.

  • kirbyjay

    HH and HHI. I have dozens of them lined up on my DVR. When there is nothing to watch, there is always House Hunters.

  • Green Lantern

    "Alphas" was good. REALLY good. Almost great...and then it was canceled. ON A CLIFFHANGER, no less!

    And yes, those I know that have also seen it tell me Gary is their favorite character, too.

    Still, I think that "Alphas" is the show "Heroes" wanted to be. YMMV.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Skiffy needs to throw Alphas a BSG or SG bone and give them a movie or miniseries to wrap shit up (preference for miniseries). I think a lot of the show's major problems came from simply an episode count that didn't fit the plot. So many shows (*cough*DEXTER*cough*) could benefit from shorter episode orders, and I think that would've been the case here. Annual miniseries at six eps would've been really good for getting to the core story and avoiding filler.

    I'd disagree about this being the show Heroes wanted to be, though. This was clearly about being sort of, "What if you did L&O for X-Men?" kind of premise, where I think Heroes was more, "What if we did a character-driven show built on comic book storylines?" sort of a deal. Heroes always wanted to be a little deeper/more serious than was possible when the writers insisted on being very comic book-y in terms of the basic plotting. Alphas could be really simplistic, which I think worked beautifully for them when they started trying to grow beyond it. Heroes started out barely being able to fill its own shoes.

    And while I will give all the peromance kudos to Ryan Cartwright as Gary, the thing I'll miss most is having Azita Ghanizada on my TV once a week for twelve weeks in the summer.

  • foolsage

    The scene for which "The Only Living Boy in New York" was the soundtrack was devastating. I don't want to spoil the show for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. What a powerful ending, even if it wasn't planned that way.

  • I have found 'Alphas' to be fairly interesting to watch. Not sure how season 2 came about, but am glad to be able to pick it up.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    On my own? No qualms about eating in front of TV. With just an SO, fine on an occasional basis. Festive eating in front of the tv, for things like football or Oscars, or movie night? totally cool. But I also grew up eating in a dining room away from the tv, and I think it is an important together time. Hopefully something I'll be able to do if/when I have little ones myself. It seems to work for my sibs' families, even minus the kid at soccer practice or what have you.

    Btw, never eat while watching The Soup. There will invariably be something stomach turning.

  • We eat around the table almost every night. It gives us time to catch up and check in with each other. But I'm not fanatic about eating in the living room. Then again, I have hardwoods and dogs, so clean up is a snap.

  • kirbyjay

    I agree. Once you have kids it's important to focus on each other rather than the squawk box. We had dinner together every night until my oldest got her first job at 15. I think it has tremendous importance in the way they turn out, along with other things like right and wrong, responsibility...blah..blah...blah.
    I know this wasn't the focus of the story, but it is important. Now that my kids are grown I always eat in front of the tube.

  • Tinkerville

    Oh, Copper. I tried. For the sake of Donal Logue, I tried. But it seemed like they poured all their money into the production design and didn't leave a single penny for any dialogue coaches, because my god those accents are painful.

  • faxbretscher46ox

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    By the way, Copper has the creepiest child actor I've ever seen. Annie has an adult voice and tries to seduce the adult male leads. It's incredibly disturbing.

  • Bea Pants

    I got sucked back with Donal Logue also but I just can't bring myself to care about any of these characters.

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