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4 TV Series That Should Not Be Missed

Serial TV is the best way to get a mini-escape into another land, another life, another person’s head -- here are four shows that will help you understand where the country is.
 
 
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The following is the second article in a three-part AlterNet series appearing on Fridays on television and culture by Vanessa Richmond.

Humans are full of contradictions. I distrust the status quo, but I love TV, the piece of furniture that among other things, manufactures consent. Why? In part, because TV is rocket fuel for any conversation about that status quo.

And because though I like friends and kittens and books and “real life,” as much as most people, TV can be as delicious as the chocolate chip cookies I often gobble while goggling.

Really good serial TV is the best way not only to get a mini escape into another land, another life, another person's head, it's one of the best forms of cultural shorthand there is -- the fastest way to discuss values, politics and psychology with everyone from your boss to the delivery person.

AsI mentioned last week, yes, most TV is utter mind-rotting crap. But I'm here to suggest we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is good TV. And with some critical thinking added to the mix, TV can be a golden cultural artifact.

You want to talk about whether the suburbs work with someone other than a college professor? Well, you can try summarizing the recent urban planning tomb you read, hoping your friends don’t fall asleep in their wine before you finish, so you can actually get to the juicy bits in a particular theory about little boxes made of ticky tacky.

Or you can mention two words: Betty Draper (from Mad Men). Because so many people watch that show, that's all most people need to start a really heated conversation about urban planning, car culture and isolation -- then get into chestnuts like traditional marriage, gender, motherhood, depression, addiction, infidelity, beauty, consumerism and other favorite tropes. Think of it as a performance-enhancing drug for chewy debate that includes everyone.

And in the quest for discussion highs, it's worth looking to sources other than what's on the boob tube right now. Some series have wrapped, but are worth renting in their entire 60-plus-episode glory, partly because the way that they tackle certain issues -- drug culture, gangs, terrorism, racism -- is as good or better than in any other media being produced now.

And partly because, full disclosure, good serial TV episodes can be like a gateway drug. You watch one here and there, then suddenly, one rainy Sunday afternoon, you realize you want the whole season. And with a wrapped series, you can get your mittens on next fix, gorging yourself, without having to wait a full week or a full year for your next fix.

The Wire

Five seasons, 2002-2007

It's not a drug war; it's a drug game. There aren't two opposing armies, but well-matched teams in a giant league, each with smart, lazy, conniving, greedy, innocent, charming, inept, adept players.

The Wire is about the drug game. But it isn't simply a story of good versus bad or a documentation of social systems gone wrong. The series is "great modern literature, a shattering and heartbreaking urban epic" about Baltimore's drug culture and the characters on both sides of the line.

The dealers and the law have careers, marriages, sex, family, friends and identity tied to the game. Each has characters that are simultaneously irresistible and repellent, mundane and horrifying, victim and agent.

Like Omar, a gay, ethical, rogue drug-dealer robber and murderer, who often forges partnerships with the drug trade's untouchables and outcasts -- like women -- who is technically homeless, yet very much at home, and speaks in near Shakespearean dialect.

 
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