02 July 2022

Good Times with the Idiot Box

My home theater is just the way I want it. A TV on one end and my recliner on the other, the remotes and earpods within arm's reach, free food and drink only one room away, no noisy crowds or dress codes, and the ability to watch what I like anytime I like. I admit my selections are limited, but much less so than they once were. I can't complain.

As for the delivery system for all this, the movies and shows I see these days are acquired in one of three ways: (1) streamed on Netflix, (2) streamed via Amazon Prime, or (3) ordered via Netflix's DVD mailing program. There are plenty of other premium services out there but I'm too cheap to subscribe to them, and besides (at least according to my wife), I have enough to watch as it is.

Now and then, not often, I'll dive into the discount DVD bin at Walmart or Big Lots, and I'll occasionally purchase an otherwise-hard-to-locate movie via Amazon. Even less often, I'll go watch a new movie in a real theater--last week my daughter and I did just that, to see Top Gun: Maverick. But mostly I stick to Prime or one of Netflix's two services. Except for the local and national news, I never, ever, watch network TV anymore, and that goes a long way toward taking the idiot out of the idiot box. I feel certain my brain cells, what few I have left, are better off as a result.

As for what I do watch, it's probably something like 85 percent feature films and 15 percent cable series. Most of these series consist of multiple seasons that eventually end in a series finale; some, like Fargo and True Detective, encompass multiple seasons but each season is a complete and self-contained story with different characters and a definite beginning, middle, and end; and a few, like Godless and The Queen's Gambit, are what's been referred to as "limited series" designed to run for only one season. Watching a limited series is like sitting down to an eight- or ten-hour standalone movie. 

I will probably always prefer actual movies to cable series, but I have to admit that some of those series--mostly those produced by HBO, it seems--have been among the best stories I've ever seen on TV or anywhere else. More on that later.

A quick clarification: The British refer to a "season" as a "series." ("I say, Nigel, have you watched the second series of The Crown?") So far as I know, they don't have a word that describes the entire run of all episodes of a show, which is what we call a series.

Now, having said all that, here are some of the cable series that I've watched all the way to their conclusions, or that I am at least current on and awaiting "upcoming" seasons. I've found all of these to be good, or at least worth watching, and I've found some of them to be outstanding:

  • The Newsroom
  • Longmire
  • The Walking Dead
  • Westworld
  • 24
  • Stranger Things
  • Outer Range
  • Fargo
  • Hap and Leonard
  • Night Skies
  • John Adams
  • Hell on Wheels
  • The Queen's Gambit
  • Black Sails
  • True Detective
  • G.L.O.W.
  • Magic City
  • Lilyhammer
  • The Crown
  • Mildred Pierce
  • Cobra Kai
  • Weeds
  • Californication
  • The 7 Lives of Lea
  • The Outlaws
  • Bloodline
  • Godless
  • The Wilds
  • Norsemen
  • Lemony Snicket
  • Castle Rock

There are some others that I watched for several seasons (and many episodes) and truly enjoyed, but for some reason I never finished--or haven't yet:

  • House of Cards
  • The Borgias
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand
  • Girls
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Wentworth
  • Squid Games
  • Outlander
  • Sex Education
  • Orange Is the New Black

And a few others that I have always intended to watch, and still intend to, but somehow never got around to starting:

  • Mad Men
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Americans
  • Oz
  • Blacklist
  • Lost in Space
  • Don't Call Saul
  • Sons of Anarchy

What I haven't listed are some really bad series. You can probably already guess the titles of many of those, and the only good thing I can say about them is that I was able to tell by watching their "pilot" episodes that I didn't want to waste my time on the rest. That's happened fairly often.

But … I have also watched all episodes of a few series that (as I mentioned earlier) I think are among the very best stories I've ever seen--or at least the most entertaining. Here are my top twelve:

  • The Sopranos
  • Game of Thrones
  • Deadwood
  • The Wire
  • Ozark
  • Goliath
  • Rome
  • Lost
  • Boardwalk Empire
  • Justified
  • Yellowstone
  • Peaky Blinders

NOTE 1: I think it's interesting that two of these series--Deadwood and Rome--were supposedly both canceled before they reached a "finale"--the producers, actors, and audiences thought there would be another season coming--and the series were still excellent. Deadwood ran for three seasons and Rome for two.

NOTE 2: As always, this is my opinion only, and the content of the above lists might change tomorrow. But that's part of the fun. (And yes, I realize I am probably the only person in the free world who hasn't seen Breaking Bad or Mad Men. One of my many shortcomings.)

What do you think? Any agreements or disagreements? What are some of the best cable series you've seen? Do you have any recommendations? Please let me know in the comments.

Next time, back to topics on mysteries and writing. Have a good two weeks!


  1. The Queen's Gambit, oh, yes, yes, yes. I haven't yet heard back about my proposal of marriage.

    You're such a pro, John. I've seen so few in comparison! I've also not seen Breaking Bad or Mad Men. John, if you don't mind, I may follow up with further thoughts tomorrow.

    1. Leigh, anyone who likes chess, and others too, should enjoy The Queen's Gambit. It was for sure one of the keepers, well done in every way.

      As for your watching off all these series, I think the fact that you steer clear of most of them is to your credit. I watch way too many. But I was dead serious about my low opinion of network TV offerings. The few "actual" TV shows I watch are limited to news broadcasts, and even those aren't as good as they used to be. Huntley, Brinkley, Cronkite, etc., would be ashamed.

      Yes, pop back in with more comments/opinions anytime. And thanks!

  2. Loved The Americans, but the end of the series was rushed and below the standard of the rest of the series.

    1. Jim, I knew I'd heard good things about the series, and sat down a couple of times fully intending to get started on it--and somehow never did. It's one I certainly would like to see,

      Thanks for the extra note about what to expect (or not).

    2. On the subject of unsatisfying endings to these series, I've heard a lot of folks say they were disappointed in the final episode of the Sopranos. On that one, it's sort of the same thing as Jim said: I don't think it was as good as it could have been. Still enjoyed it though.

  3. I too have never watched Breaking Bad and only one episode of Mad Men. (I lived during the latter times - nothing glamorous about it to me.)

    1. Ha! Me too, Eve. Maybe we should stick to writing stories ourselves, about that era.

      All I know about either of those two shows is that everybody's telling me to watch 'em. Maybe someday . . .

    2. I enjoyed Mad Men a lot. One special attraction for me: Sally, the daughter of the protagonist (played brilliantly by Kiernan Brennan Shipka) is my age, meaning I was born the same year as the character. Watching her grow up felt a bit like seeing the world of my childhood in ways I was unable to understand at the time. Another thing I enjoyed was the show's appreciation of the Law of Fecal Gravity, as opposed to the idea of the Nobility of Suffering. That is: any character who got a tiny taste of power immediately made other people's live miserable.

    3. Eve, my answer re these two shows would be exactly the same as yours, and my negative response to the one episode I watched of Mad Men was for the same reason.

    4. Rob, I really do have to watch that series. And I know what you mean about being able to relate to a character because of age. Stephen King is only a few months older than I am and in several cases (like the novel It) some of the characters he creates are around his (our) age, and their childhoods seem so real to me, with the songs, TV shows, etc., that they experience.

    5. Liz, since I've not watched it yet I can't relate, but I can imagine it's because of the way women in an office setting were viewed and treated during that time, right? All this is now making me even more curious, so I'm resolved to finally watching that series soon.

    6. John, the misogynistic male gynecologist was very realistic for the era.


    1. I plan to watch MM at some point, O'Neil, and I really liked TWG. I was sad to see it end!

  5. I watch so little TV or film it's crazy. The last things I watched were Sopranos and Deadwood. I've heard of lots of them, though. I admire your efforts to keep up.

    1. Hey Rusty! As I said to Leigh, I admire you for *not* watching as many of these as I do. It's easy to become addicted to some of them.

      I loved Sopranos and Deadwood, both. Besides those two, my absolute favorites are Rome, The Wire, Lost, Game of Thrones, and Justified. I could watch any of those series again, all the way through.

  6. I suspect we may not have seen the last of Night Skies and Outer Range, which might have been better titled OutrĂ© Range. I’d particularly like to see Fargo, Westworld, and Lemony Snicket, but haven't thus far. I haven’t yet seen the return of Bosch with new jobs being handed out.

    I too enjoyed Rome and was surprised at the lack of follow-up. It’s perhaps the only unfinished series I’d recommend watching.

    True Detective is brilliant and also has great single-camera work. As previously discussed, I enjoyed The 7 Lives of Lea. I also enjoyed Goliath.

    John, I’m adding a further 2¢ in tomorrow’s article.

    1. You're right, I think Night Skies and Outer Range will be continuing soon--and I agree with you on Fargo, Westworld, and Lemony Snicket (which I liked but did *not* think I would). And I totally forgot about Bosch--thanks for mentioning that one. I think it and its successor (Bosch: Legacy?) automatically got/gets a lot of Connelly fans as viewers, just as Justified attracted Elmore Leonard fans.

      I still can't believe how much I enjoyed Rome. What a well-made series that was. I suspect it got cancelled because of the cost of being as authentic as they were in the sets, etc. I loved the actors, especially the two main characters.

      I would enjoy getting another 2¢-worth of Lundin wisdom and observations. Bring it on!

  7. Justified is one show I would watch again if I had easy access to it.I'm just getting into Bosch. On a COMPLETELY different note Derry Girls is hilarious, as is the Kominsky Method.

    1. Rob, I thought Justified was well cast, well made, everything. Loved the Raylan Givens character, especially after reading about him in several of Leonard's works. And I'm glad you mentioned Derry Girls and The Kominsky Method--I have not seen either of those series.

    2. I hear that the producers of Justified gave out bracelets to everyone involved inscribed: What Would Elmore Do? Leonard was so impressed by the show that he wrote the novel Raylan, clearly set up to be turned into three episodes. They did use two-thirds of it.
      By the way, my favorite character in Derry Girls is the school principal, Sister Michael, a nun as cynical as any hardboiled PI.

    3. I'd heard that, Rob, about the WWED bracelets.

      If I recall, the first episode of Justified came from Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole," and I suspect that the very first scene of that episode, where Raylan meets the mob boss in Miami and tells him to get out of town by a certain time, was what attracted so many people to stick with that show. It set the mood for the whole series.

      I'm looking forward to watching Derry Girls--I appreciate that recommendation. I have been instructed by one of our grandsons, though, that I must first finish watching the rest of The Umbrella Academy and then the last half of the fourth season of Stranger Things, in that order, before taking on anything new. He and I are the only ones in our whole family who like to talk about movies/TV all the time--the others all run us out when we start doing that. We're trying to educate them, but it's taking us a while.

  8. John, my husband and I both adored Rome and were sorry when it ended (though they did make it hard to continue by killing off one of the two protagonists). We also both liked Newsroom, in fact have been fans of Aaron Sorkin since The West Wing. And on your recommendation, among others, I’ve been slowly making my way through Justified on Netflix DVD. I can’t watch too many episodes at once, but they make me chuckle a few at a time. Of the shows on your “mean-to” list, I encourage you to make an effort to watch The Americans. I’ve also gotten a kick out of Cobra Kai and was surprised and pleased to see it on your list. The perspective keeps changing from season to season, and who the bad guy is gets more ambiguous.

    1. Liz, I've already said how much I loved Rome (both seasons), and Newsroom is another I greatly enjoyed. Aaron Sorkin is one of the very best at what he does.

      Glad to hear you're trying Justified. One of the best things about that show, I thought, was the sometimes-friend/sometimes-villain character Boyd Crowder, played by the wonderful Walton Goggins, and his relationship to Raylan. Even though the show was set in Kentucky, I grew up around a few people like Boyd (I think Goggins is also from the south), and that made the show even more fun.

      Cobra Kai was fun, wasn't it? I didn't think I would like it at all, but got drawn in steadlily, and liked the way it turned out.

    2. You can’t help liking Boyd. A bonus for us ladies, Raylan gets an unqualified 10 as eye candy. And Cobra Kai ain’t over yet.

    3. Liz, I think Boyd Crowder's one of my all-time favorite fictional characters.

      Glad to hear Cobra Kai will be back. Not sure where they can go with it, from here, but I'll watch.

  9. For those who are into non-fiction series, Mary Beard's "The People of Rome" (also her "Caligula") are both really good. Also Ric Burns' "New York." And the anthropological historian series "Secrets of the Castle", "The Tudor Farm" and "The Victorian Farm"

  10. Elizabeth Dearborn04 July, 2022 18:27

    Don't waste your time on Lost In Space. It is terrible.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I'll take it off my TBWatched list!

  11. John, great list! Agree with so many of your choices. And I understand about having missed certain shows (I too have not seen Breaking Bad). Until about six weeks ago, I’d only seen the first few eps of The Sopranos - but I launched into it and am now in season 4. Definitely an all-time favorite! Might try Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire next.

    1. Adam, you will LOVE the Sopranos, all the way to the end, and GoT and Boardwalk Empire also. (That's a lot of hours of viewing, but if you hang with 'em please let me know what you think.)


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