Are you watching these shows?

This year I thought I’d combine my “what I watched on my summer vacation” post with some talk about shows that you might not be familiar with that I think are great. I might have a bit of trouble describing what really makes them good, but all the following shows are worth checking out.

The 4400
For decades, people have been disappearing without a trace—abducted. One day a ball of light brings all 4400 of these people back at the same time. They haven’t aged at all, but it turns out that some of them have superhuman powers. Who took them? Why were they returned? How did they get their supernatural abilities? This show has an interesting history with me. I tried to watch it when Space showed it, but I couldn’t get into it. As fun as it was to watch people learn to deal with some cool abilities (see also Heroes, a new NBC show this fall), it just seemed like a low-grade wannabe “X-Files meets the X-Men” (superhuman teen angst—Are you kidding?) kind of show, so I gave up and stopped watching. This summer, as the 3rd season began in the US, I wanted to give the show another try—now I’m a huge fan. What changed? The show evolved and the on-going story grew up a bit to become pretty interesting. Most of the teen angst was gone, replaced by cooler stories: superhuman terrorism; plagues affecting and caused by the 4400; alternate realities; lost memories; government conspiracies, etc. The show is no longer a wannabe. It really combines some of the best aspects of the X-Files and the X-Men with its own flavour and twist. (4 out of 5) Airs weekly on Space.

The Colbert Report
First off, I am not interested in US politics at all. However, ever since I saw a segment of this show at church (of all places) I’ve been a fan. It’s kind of a satire, but not really. Stephen Colbert hosts a news comment show with an extremely conservative bent. He blindly supports George W. Bush and continuing the war in Iraq, and stands up for Christian and family values, but it’s all played with a subtle-but-not-subtle irony and tons of humour. There’s a segment called “The Word” where Colbert does a monologue around a keyword or phrase in a sincere, conservative way, all the while words on screen sarcastically contradict him and make jokes as he’s speaking. He also conducts interview with authors, other opinionated individuals, as well as real-life congress representatives who interact with his conservative persona to often very funny results. Not being a show full of cheap laughs (no humour about bodily functions here!), it’s also hard to describe what makes the show funny without overanalyzing. You just have to check it out. (4 out of 5) Airs daily on the Comedy Network.

Invader ZIM
This is another difficult-to-describe-but-so-hilarious show. It’s actually a show that ended a while ago in the US, but is now coming to YTV in Canada—the perfect time to find a new audience here (it’s also available on DVD). Invader ZIM is a cartoon about the alien runt of an invading armada. ZIM messed up so many times that he got sent to the insignificant planet Earth with an insane robot—whose computer brain is made from junk parts—as his assistant. Spurred on by massive delusions of grandeur, ZIM poses as a little green kid with his dog to make good on their mission to learn and prepare for the invasion of Earth by staking out the local school. His nemesis is a geeky kid named Dib who’s constantly trying to foil ZIM’s plans and expose him. The humour is “off the wall” and it’s not exactly kid humour, though I’m sure some kids would like the show. It would probably appeal more to sci-fi fans, since it does have a lot of those elements in it—it’s just plain weird. In one episode, a microscopic ZIM entered Dib’s body in a mini ship to try to destroy his brain. Dib got his own remote controlled micro mech to take ZIM out (Dib’s video game freak of a sister unknowlingly took over the mech’s control for the battle between two enemies within Dib’s body (Talk about your symbolism!). Another episode had ZIM trying to pass his robot parents (who are mindless puppets meant only to answer the door when strangers come to ZIM’s house) as real parents for a parent-teacher conference. Insanity ensues. I love this show so much that even the theme music (a pulsing anthem to the invading IRKan army) gets me excited. (4.5 out of 5) Starts Sept. 8 on YTV.

Medium
Tragically overlooked (though it does OK in the ratings) and unspoken-about, Medium is one of my favourite network shows. It’s ostensibly the story of a psychic who helps the Phoenix District Attorney’s office solve cases. But there are two things that make this show so much better than what that brief description suggests. First, the supporting characters (especially the main character’s family) are really well-acted and real. The husband of the main character (Allison DuBois) reacts to situations very much like how you or I might react (given that his wife is a true psychic whose dreams often reveal clues to finding killers), and the two daughters are not only cute, but just as natural. The second aspect is that the stories are often structured very creatively and varied. Sometimes Allison has dreams through the killer’s eyes (done in 3-D as a ratings stunt), other times they include Red Riding Hood symbolism, or resemble 60s-style educational films. Her visions might lead to the victim, or maybe she’s meant to do something to avoid future events. There’s always a twist or something unexpected about where the story take the audience each episode. (4.5 out of 5) Season 3 premiere date has not been set, but it will be airing weekly on NBC once it begins.

So I hope you’ll give a few of these shows a try (especially Medium). I think they’re great and deserve as much attention as Lost or 24. Everyone could use more on their TV-viewing plate! Enjoy.

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