Weird Shows You Should Be Watching
Historically, I’ve done a few blogs about shows that were excellent, and doomed, called Too Good Too Last, and while I have no doubt the networks will feed me more content for that in the fall, today I thought we could try a less fatalistic spin on the format. Instead of talking about great shows that won’t likely continue, I’d rather focus on some odder offerings that are still enjoyable to watch. I really don’t know how in danger any of these are. Some are popular, others operate under such managed expectations that it’s hard to imagine they need much to break even. My one caveat here is that not every show is of impeccable polish and quality, but they do all offer something interesting enough to be worth watching.
What Would Diplo Do?
Between this show and Don’t Trust the B- In Apartment 23, I’m starting to realize that James Vanderbeek doesn’t receive nearly enough props for his talent and skill in picking projects. It follows around James as a fictional version of an actual DJ named Diplo, which is sort of confusing enough in itself. Rather than veer into a standard sitcom comfort zone, however, the show whips around wildly in terms of tone and context. It feels very inspired by another contemporary program that will have its own entry at the end of this list: Atlanta.
There’s a similar flair of experimentation, and a desire not to be locked in on a format. Our first episode is a standard set-up, but immediately followed by one that shakes up the way the story gets told. From there we veer into flashbacks, parodies, and all kinds of set-ups. Few things are concrete or dependable, but the characters remain our constant touchstones. Thanks to the odd style and format, that’s really the most I can say on this without giving away actual plot points. This one may not be for everyone, but at only 5 episodes and available on Hulu, I hope you’ll be willing to give it a shot.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
My elevator pitch for this one: Imagine if instead of being set in the superhero genre, One-Punch Man was a slice-of-life/satire anime instead. That’s more or less what Saiki K is, with some details muddled. The protagonist, Saiki, is a psychic (I did warn you it was satire) with incredible powers. Teleportation, telepathy, flight… just a shitload of power, to the point where if it was supposed to be about him feeling challenged it would be ridiculous. The drawback is that all those powers have limits and costs that complicate Saiki’s life. He wants to live as a normal person, but his classmates (eventually friends) refuse to leave him alone, and sometimes he has to use his powers to deal with them. That’s more or less the set-up for every episode.
I like this one because it does an excellent job of being a satire that skewers anime/manga in general, which is hard enough, while also managing to stand on its own in terms of story and character. Interestingly, because Saiki is so powerful there’s almost no real plot to follow through the series. Each installment is 5-10 minutes, with episodes being made of multiple installments, similar to what I did with Fred, the Vampire Accountant. Now normally that would get boring, fast, but the writers were clever. Since they knew there was no plot, instead all progression happens through character development. Couples meet and break up, new people come and go, and most importantly: people can change. It offers a great way to do a show with virtually no actual stakes yet a compelling reason to keep watching.
The first half of Season 2 just dropped on Netflix, and all of Season 1 is on there, so this is an easy one to give a whirl. My one caveat is that since I watched this as it was released, I’ve never tried the dubs, so I can’t make any promises on whether that version is quality as well.
Yeah, I know, I gave this away already, but honestly would a blog about unique, interesting television programs be complete if I didn’t have Atlanta on it? Created by and starring Donald Glover, the premise of Atlanta is that it follows an up-and-coming rapper named Paper Boi, along with his friend/roommate/comic relief, and his manager, played by Glover. There is so much to unpack in this show it could be a thesis, let alone a blog entry. Today I’m just going to be focusing on the interesting style and format, but trust me when I say there are dozens of other topics that could be mined from this complex and compelling program.
While Diplo plays with format, breaking it and conventions as desired, Atlanta takes the idea to its extreme. Nothing is set from episode to episode, save only for the characters. Settings will change, formats, even genres. There is an episode structured as a fake web-show, complete with false commercials and everything. There’s a horror-based one that does an incredible job of dialing up the tension and uncertainty through the whole episode. There are sitcom classics that ape the style we’re familiar with while turning the outcomes and locations on their head.
Not every swing is going to connect for every viewer, that’s the risk of doing something unique, but I still respect the misses because it’s clear they were going for something interesting. Glover is one of the most intensely creative people of our generation, and getting to see what he does with a show he’s got substantial control over never ceases to be entertaining and interesting. If you haven’t checked this one out, you really should. The first season is on Hulu, and it airs on FX if you have cable and want to catch the new ones.