TV: This is Entertainment’s Top 5 under-rated US shows

Television shows travel worldwide now more so than ever before. Series are sold and re-made in different countries on a regular basis, and with the internet age thriving, content is available from anywhere across the globe instantly, often long before it makes its debut airing in the UK.

With this in mind allow me to present This Is Entertainment‘s favourites from across the pond. All of these American TV shows can be found in your local DVD shop, or, for those so inclined, can be viewed online up to the minute that they are being broadcast on US TV.


1) Futurama

This is the future!The need to know: Poor Futurama has had a rough time since its first airing over 10 years ago, back in 1999. On the verge of the new millenium, the show threw audiences into a world 1000 years in the future, following simple-minded delivery boy Philip J. Fry. From the outset the show distanced itself from the family friendly image of The Simpsons, creator Matt Groening’s most popular work, and for a long time the show has struggled to get out of Homer and the gang’s shadow. The show ran until 2003 when it was cancelled, and then was revived in 2007 for four feature films before being cancelled again. The future of Futurama looked bleak but then its saviour arrived in the form of Comedy Central, who picked up the show for new episodes in 2010.

The reason to watch: From the wise-cracking, self-proclaimed “lovable rascal” Bender, who is a humanoid robot, to the relentless positive attitude from down-trodden lobster Doctor John Zoidberg, the cast are all as insane and loveable as you could come up with on any series.

Over the years there have been musical numbers, surrealist trips and bizarre alien creations – in fact I think they’ve had that all in one episode – and the latest episodes stand up as some of the best of the show, producing consistent quality far beyond that of it’s temperamental yellow ancestor. Countless sci-fi and pop culture references mean amusements for geeks and normal human beings alike, and not an immature fart joke in sight.

The latest: The current series of the show is just episodes away from finishing in the US, and it has just been picked up for another full series on Comedy Central, meaning there is a solid future for the first time in years. You’ll have to be patient though, with the next new episodes set to air half in 2012 and half in 2013.


2) Dexter

Cross him at your perilThe need to know: Imagine you are a serial killer. Imagine you HAD to kill someone. Imagine you also worked for the Miami police department. What better way to find nasty people who deserve a bit of your own brand of ‘special attention’…

Being in the mind of the ‘bad guy’ makes this show a world away from the crime dramas of CSI or NCIS, to the extent that Dexter is confined to pay-per-view channel Showtime in the US because of its potential to “empathise” with its main character, running only majorly edited versions on other networks. To date there have been five seasons, with a sixth well on the way.

The reason to watch: The believability of Michael C. Hall as the titular knife-wielder is very compelling television, with you routing for Dexter to escape the police whenever they pick up his trail through the series. There is generally one over-arcing ‘bad guy’ in each series which Dexter spars against and drives the story forward as well as the individual cases he handles in his day job as a blood spatter analyst. The supporting cast, particularly Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s sister Debra Morgan, are fantastic and the villains in particular are often as rich and complex as the main characters.

The latest: The new series will air from October 2 in the US, meaning it could make its way to the UK next year, sharpen your killing tools now.

3) Supernatural

"You talkin' to us?"The need to know: The things that go bump in the night are real, and these are the boys that bump back – with shotguns. Supernatural takes monster-hunting and adds a dash of cool, a slither of violence and a handful of comedy to create one of the most instantly watchable fantasy shows around.

Launched in 2005 the show has grown in popularity steadily as its universe has become increasingly complex, far from just ‘monster of the week’, this show can see characters recurring across several series, sometimes in different bodies than first time around.

The reason to watch: Like all good TV shows, this is a character-driven tale, rather than just a swathe of explosions and special effects (though they have their fair share). First and foremost it’s a story about two brothers who don’t always get along, one a jock and one a nerd, and how their journey together changes them.

Plus there’s all manner of exciting creatures to contend with, in particular demons, which range from the sarcastic to the meglomaniacal, and episodes can have a tone just as varied. There’s time travel, possession, explosions and death – lots of death. The main characters alone die countless time, but in Supernatural, there’s always a deal which can be done.

The latest: The show has aired six seasons generally split in half by a Christmas break, which are now almost all available on DVD in the UK, but the latest season will première on US network The CW on 23 September.


4) American Dad!

That's what the terrorists want!The need to know: With Family Guy returning to the animated comedy scene back in 2005, you wouldn’t have thought a new show in a similar style would go the distance, but here we are 6 seasons later and American Dad! is still going strong. Centred around CIA Agent Stan Smith, who has patriotism which borders on the xenophobic, and his family, the show differs from Family Guy by not using “I remember the time when…” style gags, and instead developing more traditional, but still distinctly wacky, comedy situations.

The reason to watch: After a slightly OTT beginning in season 1 (Stan turns his garden into a terrorist holding camp at one point…), the show finds its feed and delivers a balance of political satire and mockery of the show’s home nation. The characters are far less one-note than the caricatures found in Family Guy, and the inclusion of Roger the alien as comic relief is a masterstroke.

Random bursting into song in this show fits neatly rather than being a “oh not again” moment, meaning that American Dad! Not only seems better by comparison, but generally has more amusing stories in its own right. Patrick Stewart and CIA Director Avery Bullock is constantly hilarious, with you having to stop and remind yourself that this is indeed the accomplished Thespian who brought us Professor Charles Xavier.

The latest: The show’s sixth season will soon be released on DVD in the UK, and the announcement of the start date in the US for season seven is imminent. In the meantime, various episodes can be found on BBC Three now and again.


5) Leverage

The con is...KABOOM!The need to know: The least well-known show in our selection is two-parts Ocean’s 11 to one-part Hustle, as Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton leads a band of crooks to reset the balance in an unfair society in this modern Robin Hood tale. The show began in 2008 and so far has managed three series.

The reason to watch: Hustle may have the template set out for this kind of show, but Leverage delievers a ‘cool’ factor which you just can’t get from a UK production, you only need to look at the current all-guns-blazing iteration of Torchwood to see the difference between US and UK productions. Storylines are complex, twisting and turning tales of deceit and subterfuge, with the team putting the world to rights one crooked businessman at a time.

The crew in Leverage are more of a motley crew than Hustle‘s, and from a cast which starts off as fairly one-note characters (one crazy thief, one geeky black sterotype, one lethal thug…), very quickly fleshes out into a rich and varied group. Plus there’s a token Brit in there in the form of Gina Bellman from Coupling, and, later, Mark Sheppard, of Doctor Who (and fellow top-fiver show Supernatural) fame. It’s Hutton who remains the star though, with his plethora of different characters-within-characters as mastermind Nathan Ford puts on an act to fool the marks, with comedic results.

The latest: The fourth season is currently in full swing over in the US, finishing its 10 episode initial run on 28 August. The first two series are already available on DVD and the third is due for release soon, having just been released over in the US.


James Michael Parry


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