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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Four shows that shine, even between seasons

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

This TV season is rife with hits and great entertainment, with shows like “Grimm” and “Law and Order: SVU” churning out new episodes every week. There is, however, another group of shows that deserves mention—shows that are not currently airing episodes, but between seasons or on a temporary hiatus. These shows, in many ways, are at least better than most shows currently airing, and should be prioritized among students.

At the top of the list is HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which is based on the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” by George R.R. Martin. The show chronicles the infightings of the Noble Houses of Westeros as they struggle to win the Iron Throne, the alleged seat of power for all the land. Also adding to the series’ tension is the rising threat of the Targaryen family, who were exiled following a brutal civil war roughly 15 years before the series takes place. The Others are supernatural beings who dwell to the north of Westeros, behind an incredibly large wall designed to keep others out. This medieval plotline may bear similarities to many stories of political infighting before it, but ample amounts of wit, black humor, and sex-appeal keep the show from becoming stagnant.

Each episode’s multiple plotlines (continued throughout subsequent episodes) require the audience to watch every episode or else become hopelessly lost in the complex machinations of the realm. The show also maintains the authenticity and integrity of the book series, which has served to solidify its fan base. Overall, “Game of Thrones” is one of the best TV shows to date, and thanks to the continuing series of books, has many more brilliant episodes in its future.

Just under “Game of Thrones” is the critically acclaimed show “Breaking Bad,” which has swept its fan base along for a five-year psychological roller coaster ride. It chronicles the tale of chemistry teacher Walter ‘Walt’ White (Bryan Cranston) after he delves into the dark underworld of ‘cooking’ methamphetamine to secure his family’s fiscal security after his diagnosis with an advanced cancer.

He teams up with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a small-time drug dealer who provides the ‘street smarts’ for their operation. Further complicating their lives is the fact that Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is a DEA agent. While this is a novel plotline (and sufficiently amusing given Cranston’s more known role as Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle”) the true appeal of the show lies in its audacity. “Breaking Bad” has no qualms about showing exactly how vicious the drug world is, bringing Mexican cartels into the plotline, as well as showcasing hit-and-run attacks, assassination attempts and brutal murders. As the show progresses, the audience members find themselves sympathizing with Walt and Jesse, even justifying the horrible acts they commit. Any show that could so utterly confound its audience’s sense of morality deserves praise, and “Breaking Bad” may finish out its 5th season as one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

USA’s “Burn Notice” occupies the number three slot. “Burn Notice” is about how former spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) attempts to reconstruct his life after receiving a ‘burn notice’ from the CIA—a brief phone call that tells him that he is no longer affiliated with the CIA, turning his life upside down.

This puts him in a dangerous predicament, as he winds up in Miami with “no cash, no credit, [and] no job history,” according to the show’s introduction. As he tries to figure out who burned him and why, he does odd jobs around Miami that require a specialized touch. Along the way, he is helped by former Navy SEAL Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), his explosives-wielding ex-girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless).

The show presents these events through both serious and more light-hearted perspectives, which can be seen by both the intense moral dilemmas Westen finds himself in as well as the explosion-riddled car chases that seem to spontaneously occur around him. Additionally, the wide variety of guest stars the show brings on keeps the audience from becoming tired of the same characters. The odd jobs Westen undertakes during each episode keep the overarching plot of his ex-CIA status from being too intense for the viewer. Overall, “Burn Notice” comes highly recommended for anyone who enjoys thrills, car chases, explosions and spies.

Coming in at number four is “Newsroom,” written by Aaron Sorkin. “Newsroom” follows the production of a news segment on the fictional Atlantic Cable News, emphasizing the personal struggles that lead-anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his staff experience as they attempt to rebuild their network’s reputation among viewers. They try to avoid becoming a “trashy” network, or one that mainly focuses on gossip and tabloid-esque news.

McAvoy is also forced to deal with an entirely new staff at the start of the show when his executive producer transfers to a different segment and takes most of his employees with him. Further complicating this situation is the fact that the new group is headed by McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). To keep “Newsroom” lively and entertaining, Sorkin has peppered the show with a healthy dose of awkward situations, sarcastic quips and snarky rapid-fire exchanges, which work well. Criticism has arisen, however, over “Newsroom’s” apparent liberal bias. This is understandable given Sorkin’s past work with “The West Wing,” which was derided by some critics as the “The Left Wing,” and critiqued by many for its liberal slant. Despite this, if you ever watched “The West Wing” and enjoyed it, “Newsroom” definitely merits checking out.

In short, there are simply too many good TV shows on the air to stay current with all of their episodes. This should not deter a viewer from enjoying them, however, as catching up on a show while it’s on hiatus is a great way to stay as up-to-date as possible.