The summer is the ideal time for many of you to catch up on shows you’ve missed over the last few years, so you can finally tell your friend, family member, co-worker, or friendly website publisher to shut the fuck up already about the show he or she has been ragging you about for years. But at this point, you’ve either already seen “The Wire,” or “Friday Night Lights” or “Doctor Who,” or you’re not going to out of spite. I understand that.
The summer is also a time of erratic schedules — certainly, days or weeks can go by when you don’t have a chance to watch any television, but then you’re given a Saturday afternoon of free time, perfect for marathon-ing a season or even a complete series. Maybe you’d prefer an episodic series you can swallow down in an afternoon or five rather than devote your entire summer to a series that you’re likely going to be disappointed by in the end (“Lost”). So, here are five series that were either cut short or still early in their run, which means that you can watch the entire series or catch up on it in a matter of hours. Moreover, in all five cases, they are wildly addictive programs perfect for summer viewing.
“Party Down” (20 Episodes. Total Time Commitment — Less than 10 Hours): “Party Down,” which airs on Starz, is one of those shows that’s been very slow to pick up an audience, but it’s beginning to pick up steam, just in time to gain a massive cult following ahead of its inevitable cancellation. Catch it now and you won’t feel guilty about bitching about its cancellation next year, like the “Arrested Development” late-comers. And don’t worry — “Party Down” is largely episodic in nature so there are no unfinished story-lines to inevitably feel disappointed by. It also sports one of the funniest cast on television (Jane Lynch, Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ryan Hanson, and Ken Marino), and creators that include Paul Rudd and Rob Thomas (“Veronica Mars”). It’s witty as hell, endlessly amusing, and each episode seems to feature a cool guest star, including Kristen Bell, J.K. Simmons, Ken Jeong, and Steve Guttenberg (as himself), plus half of them are directed by Fred Savage. Think: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” crossed with “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” set in the Los Angeles catering business.
“The Inbetweeners”: (12 Episodes. Total Time Committment — Less than 6 Hours): “The Inbetweeners” is a British coming-of-age sitcom akin to “The Wonder Years” crossed with In the Loop set in a high school. Over in Britain, it’s a favorite with both critics and audiences. The writing is hilarious, the dialogue is downright raunchy, and yet it maintains its wit throughout, and like “The Wonder Years,” each episode somehow ends with a touch of whiplash pathos about the value of friendship and the difficulties inherent in coming to terms with yourself. Mostly, though, it’s just balls-out hilarious and addictive enough that you might find yourself watching the entire two-season series in one afternoon. This is not your average lame American teen-oriented comedy. It’s a foul-mouthed gem. See:
“Better Off Ted”: (26 episodes. Total Time Commitment — Less than 13 Hours): Of all the shows that claim to be so, “Better off Ted” is the real successor to “Arrested Development,” containing the same off-the-wall, spastic, and dry humor, only contained within the workplace. It takes a few episodes to get into the rhythm of its humor, but once you identify it, the comedy washes over you. There aren’t a lot of workplace comedies that manage to find new angles, but this one does so while serving up cutting satire on corporate America, best embodied by Portia de Rossi’s Veronica Palmer. “Better Off Ted” was the best sitcom on network television over the last two years, and the shame of it is, nobody watched it. And though it was cancelled, you won’t be left with an unsatisfying end, just an unsatisfying feeling that the show will no longer continue.
“Sons of Anarchy”: (26 episodes. Total Time Commitment: Less than 24 hours): “SofA” is the only serialized drama on this list, but it’s still early enough in its run — and so insanely addictive — that it shouldn’t take long to catch up before the third season airs in the fall. Some describe “SofA” as “The Sopranos” set in the world of a biker gang, which is true, as is the fact that it follows the template of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” but if anyone had tried to sell me on the description, I’d have never given it a shot. While it is a heavy drama, what sets it apart from shows like “The Sopranos” or the more bleak “Breaking Bad,” is that the characters — despite the activities they are involved in — are immensely likable. I know it’s a critic’s job, but explaining the addictive appeal of “Sons of Anarchy” is something I can’t seem to do. It has to be experienced, but I guarantee that 90 percent of you will be hooked by episode three.
“The Thick of It” (16 episodes. Total Time Commitment: Less than 8 hours): If you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated British movie In the Loop and loved it, then you’ll no doubt love “The Thick of It,” the series prequel to the movie, which features more Malcolm Tucker than you could ever hope for. It’s like “The West Wing” mixed up in a blender of British slang words for vagina. It’s incredibly foul-mouthed, quick-paced, and really funny, skewering the inner PR workings of a government administration with a dry, acid-laced dirty mouth. It is a beautiful show, infinitely quotable, and it goes down quick and easy. Like your mother, you twat.