There was a time when TV was simple in its demographics. CBS was watched by old people. The WB/CW was watched shamelessly by teenage girls and by teenage guys in secret. FOX featured innovative shows that were watched religiously by a few and then canceled. NBC was watched by no one.
Now all of that has changed (except NBC’s woes). Well, it’s all become more complicated anyway. The most interesting case of change is that of The CW. What was once a channel full of teenager-y angst 5 days a week is now a channel…that features it a mere two or three days a week.
Seriously though, they still have the soap opera nonsense (even on their good shows at times) but the channel now features some of the most unpredictable, well-written, and exciting shows on television. I know you’re too shy to check them out for yourself. That’s why I’m here.
First up, we have Supernatural. Granted, the show has passed its prime at this point. But all seasons available on DVD are also on Instant Watch of Netflix, and the most recent season is on Hulu. It was made for marathon-ing. I’ve seen CW resurrect themselves before (like Smallville – feature photo left) so who knows what season 8 will bring?
The show is about two brothers traveling the country and getting into adventures. Fairly ordinary. Except all of those adventures feature ghosts, demons, shape-shifters, reapers, and even the Devil himself. In addition, the show began as a “monster of the week” type series, with a small running plotline about the boys searching for their missing father. But it now has a complicated and fascinating mythology and a continuing storyline that ratchets up the suspense every week.
The CW may seem like entirely mindless programming but I challenge anyone to keep track of all of Supernatural’s rules for killing monsters without the use of a spreadsheet or the Internet. Between the various creatures and their powers/weaknesses, the complicated plot line involving religious warfare, and the sheer amount of pop culture knowledge you need to understand most of their jokes, this show isn’t for dummies. And yet, it manages to have a fun and exciting adventure every week that can interest a viewer who has never seen it before.
That new viewer might be in for a dark and psychological story about the ghosts of abused children in a foster home. Or perhaps a hilarious spoof on 30s monster movies that’s filmed in black and white. The show keeps it fresh without betraying its overall tone or breaking its pace. That’s a trick that most shows on “real” networks have yet to learn.
A good show that’s still fairly young (but with lots of potential) is Nikita. While Supernatural isn’t what I’d call “teenager-y” in the sense that it lacks canned relationship drama and all of that nonsense, it’s still structured in a way that’s mostly interesting for young people. Nikita is a different story. It’s a real spy show with real spy plots.
The show did attempt to bring in more young viewers halfway through season 1 by adding a relationship storyline for the younger female character, but it didn’t last long when fans of the show didn’t really approve. Because a show about a former assassin sending her new protégé to be a double agent within the secret government agency that trained them both…doesn’t need make-out scenes set to The Fray to be interesting.
This show is also available for catching up via Netflix and Hulu and it’s also made for marathon-ing. You might need the rapid viewing to keep track of the various power struggles and threats as they shift and change. Thankfully, the show doesn’t pull many unnecessary plot twists and instead focuses largely on the human drama of the piece. While also featuring some of the most intense and exciting fight scenes and gun battles on TV. Given their limited budget, no “real” network show has an excuse for a lackluster or staged fistfight.
True to the CW’s overall tone, the show can both be very funny and very dark. Some episodes will make you cry and others will just have you along for the adventure and enjoying every second. So if you’re a fan of gadgetry, conspiracy plots, or even just good character development with characters that exist in moral gray area, this is a good show for you. Don’t let the channel it’s on fool you.
Which brings me to a show that happens to be both a stereotypical CW show and also an innovative new breed: The Vampire Diaries. I know…I know. Whenever I tell people to watch this show I’m met with raised eyebrows and wandering eyes that search for my black nail polish. But stick with me and keep an open mind.
I started hearing positive things about this show from legitimate TV critics when it first came on the air. Well, not long after it came on the air. The first few episodes are exactly what you’d expect them to be: Twilight-esque romantic drama nonsense. It lays the foundations for what becomes an interesting story but it’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary.
Then that started to change.
They started to flesh out the mythology of the town and the backstory of the characters. Just who were these vampires in the hundreds of years before they started wooing our heroine, Elena? Why do they find her so woo-able? The answers will surprise you, and are very dark. The show becomes less about relationships and much more about villainous plots, revenge, and the secrets that the small town of Mystic Falls has been keeping. Ironically, sidelining the relationships actually makes them interesting (because they’re used more sparingly as a means of drama).
Talk about needing a spreadsheet for a show…this one is complicated. And if you think its viewers have the same average IQ as the viewers of Keeping Up with the Kardashians then you’d be quite incorrect. The idea that a vampire show couldn’t have great dialogue was disproven by Buffy.
The idea that a vampire show couldn’t be effective social commentary was disproven by True Blood (well, season 1). And this show re-proves those things and shows that a vampire show can have truly fascinating characters, an in-depth continuing plot akin to the best sci-fi, and yes…lots of attractive people. If any of your interests overlap with that list, this show is for you. Netflix it!
A new show coming up this fall (which is one of only a few that are coming on any channel that I think might be interesting) that has potential is Arrow. It’s about the DC comics superhero Green Arrow (think Robin Hood/Batman hybrid) and it looks to follow in Nikita’s footsteps by being a more mature show with darker tones.
For any Smallville fans in the house: no this is not a spin-off. While the character of Green Arrow was awesome on that show, they’re looking to make a more realistic narrative. So using the same actor would mean it’s the same incarnation of the character that fought all-powerful aliens, super-villains, etc. And that wouldn’t make much sense.
The exciting thing about this show isn’t just who the main superhero is, it’s also about who else might show up. One of the things that reinvigorated Smallville after it got bad (it’s the only show I know of that had its thee best seasons after its three worst) was the inclusion of more characters from the DC comics universe. Green Arrow being more of a realistic hero, the opportunity for more grounded characters is upon the writers. Or if they choose to keep the mythology self-contained, they’ll still have a great main character to work with who is both an idealistic social activist and a hard-hitting vigilante.
We’ll keep a close watch on Arrow, but for now there are 3 great shows that you’ve probably either never heard of or that have caused you to turn your nose up. Ironically, it is the CW’s lack of overall viewers that allow their programming to be so innovative and different. They don’t need to worry about viewers because they rarely get any.
So my suggestion would be to watch these shows before they get too popular. Because you never know: increased viewership might not create a decline in quality in these cases. It might send a message to the networks that a show can be both marketable to new viewers and satisfying for its loyal fans. And that would be a great day for television indeed.