Santana-Brittany-Glee

TV: Lesbian Cheerleaders: Glee Tackles One of the Biggest Issues in… Porn?

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

The shot cut to a couple pairs of feet on a bed. Seductively, the camera panned up the taut legs, past the titillatingly short cheerleading skirts, up an arched back. Finally, it rested on the faces of two ultra-fine cheerleaders. Oh, and they were making out, more or less.

No, this was not some porn movie, but rather “Duets,” the episode of Glee that aired on October 12th. The scene depicted the first on-screen kiss between cheerleaders Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris) and, like most episodes of the show, probably aimed to bust up stereotypes and open minds. But unfortunately — and also like so much of what Glee does — the moment instead fell back onto the very stereotypes it sought to dispense.

And what are those stereotypes? In this case, it seems to be that lesbians (or, maybe, bisexual women, as both characters also date men) are hot and lusty nymphs with little clothing and even fewer scruples. And maybe there are some people like that. But it also seems that most people, regardless of their sexual orientation — or experimentation — are real people. Which is to say, in other words, that a romantic, same-sex scene fitting the exact description of a chauvinistic sex fantasy is not particularly progressive, intelligent or original.

Glee is an imperfect show for many reasons — bad pacing, shallow and unsympathetic characters, a frequent complete lack of narrative cohesion — but I can’t say it routinely offends me. In fact, in the newly tea-bagged America, Glee’s aggressive diversity is refreshing. For all its problems, I continue to dig the show’s obvious agenda of promoting tolerance toward just about everyone. Sometimes, such as in the case of Kurt’s (Chris Colfer) relationship with his father, the show even manages to affectingly tackle important issues.

But when Glee falls back on a visual stereotype like “lesbian cheerleaders,” it undermines the noble, if biting, proselytizing it spends so much time on. Art doesn’t always need to provide a pattern for ethical living, but what exactly does the stereotype accomplish in this case? Maybe it’s a kind of satire, but of what? Porn?

Just to be clear, the issue here is this one scene from “Duets,” and the porn-ish way it was produced (costuming, cinematography, narrative justification, etc.). The following week, during the episode “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” Brittany and Santana shared a couple of flirty moments that seemed more charming, while also developing their characters. With more moments like that, make-out scenes would feel like just another part of an exuberant and delightful romance. As it was in “Duets,” however, any humanity gets stripped away, leaving all but an endorsement of the hyper-erotic, same-sex stereotypes common in media targeted at straight males.

In any case, maybe I’m just a perv, seeing porn in places it doesn’t exist. Maybe I don’t get it. I also know that many people in the gay community have commended Glee generally and, in some cases, this episode specifically. But the show’s lesbian-cheerleader makeout scene seemed a lot closer to porn than entertainment.

More importantly, it seems to run contrary to the show’s overarching objectives and internal standards. Ultimately, it was hypocritical and crossed the line because, at best, it hinted that sexuality doesn’t come with emotion or commitment, it just requires a couple of impossibly hot bodies. And, at worst, it suggested that homosexuality isn’t so much a gender identity as it is a marketing tactic to get horny straight dudes turned on.

cast-bachelor-pad

Fantasy ‘Bachelor Pad’ Will Change Your Life!

Written by Preston Johnson on . Posted in TV

If you haven’t watched The Bachelor Pad yet, you’re missing out. It’s easily the greatest television show of the last 10 years, if not of all time. Is it dumb? Yes. Is it trashy? Certainly. But that’s what makes it so great!

If you’re not watching the show, start now — your Monday nights will be infinitely more entertaining. If you’re already watching, amplify your experience by trying out some Fantasy Bachelor Pad — featuring rules and regulations by Rhombus’ very own Preston Johnson (listed below). Throw your inhibitions out the window and try it out — you won’t be disappointed.   — Steve Pierce

The-Twilight-Saga-Eclipse-movie-image

Podcast: The Bachelorette, Eclipse, Isaac Russell and More

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Film, Music, TV

It’s with great pleasure that Rhombus introduces its third podcast — the Rhombus Roundtable. Featuring a variety of opinions on politics, pop culture, and everything in between, the Roundtable will serve as a regular series of discussions on the world’s latest happenings — all with that distinctive Rhombus slant.

This week, the magazine’s editor Steve Pierce and resident armchair economist Daniel Anderson contemplate the reigning hot topics of the day — including the most recent (and totally unexpected!) Bachelorette trainwreck, Eclipse‘s total dominance at the box office, local favorite Isaac Russell’s new major-label EP, and the greatest (and worst) American presidents. Enjoy!

LOST 2

TV: The Communal Redemption of LOST

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in TV

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Sunday’s LOST season finale yet, beware.

My personal journey with LOST began 5 years ago. I was not sufficiently intrigued by the show’s previews to bother watching the series premier. A few episodes into the first season the buzz was undeniable, and many of my friends began telling me how great the show was. I was too late to get on board with the first season (remember these were the pre-Hulu days, or pre-YouTube for that matter), so I patiently waited for the first season to end and the DVD to come out.

When it finally did, I spent about three days in front of the television absorbing the show. What I discovered was something that I had never found before in a television show — depth. The show was layered with philosophy, literary references, drama, action, mystery and, most importantly, questions. Not only questions about the mysterious monster, or would Kate choose Sawyer or Jack, but questions about life, love, free will, destiny, and the very nature of human existence.

I was eventually able to get my family hooked on the show as well, mostly as they passed through the living room and became intrigued with what I was watching. Watching LOST became a family event. Every week we would watch the show on our DVR, pausing often to offer our theories and discuss what was going on. Watching LOST became my favorite part of the week. I began listening to LOST podcasts and following LOST blogs (my geekery knows no bounds) — and the community, the discussion, became as fun and as essential as the show itself.

For five years, that was how I experienced LOST — not on an individual basis, but on a communal one. Sure there were weeks when I watched the show alone, but more often than not I was watching it with people. When I watched it alone, discussion with fellow fans of the show would surely follow. To truly enjoy LOST, to truly experience it, the discussion was needed, the community was needed, interaction was needed, the people were needed.

At the end of the night, did LOST answer all of our burning questions, like why was Walt special, who built the four-toed statue, and what was up with Libby? No. The answers to these questions will surely be discussed for years to come amongst fans of the show. As a narrative, however, the show finished what it had started and offered resolution to the characters. However, at the end of the day, the show’s greatest accomplishment is in the communal experience it created.

From its premier, LOST had delved into many themes — death, love, good and evil, and redemption. But since the very beginning, the show’s unofficial mantra has been “Live together or die alone.” Throughout the show, we have been shown that individually the collective cast of characters were a group of failures, murderers, and generally maladjusted people. Yet when working together, when in unison, the characters were able to overcome their pasts and become better people.

In the ultimate moments of the finale, we find that the alternate reality depicted in the final season was, in fact, a place created so that the characters could find each other after death. We are told that the most important moments of the characters’ lives were spent together, and that they needed each other in order to move on to the next life. Throughout the episode, we see the characters find each other — and find true happiness.

On Sunday, I gathered with some of my good friends to watch the last two-and-a-half hours of LOST. The last few hours of the show passed much as the previous 120 hours had — there was laughter, some tears, and a lot of discussion. As much as we tried to be silent and take in the finale, we couldn’t help but pause the DVR every so often to throw out predictions, theories, and questions. As the episode finished we all sat around discussing the finale, our reactions, theories, and impressions.

I sat listening to the conversation and realized that, while there were questions left unanswered, LOST, by both its narrative and its very nature, had indeed answered the most important question of all — What was the show really about? The answer was there all along — in our weekly LOST nights, long discussions, message boards, and podcasts. The answer was that people need people. We were just too busy talking to each other about the smoke monster to see it.

TV: What's Wrong with the World Today

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in TV

There is something seriously wrong with the world today. I’m not talking about global warming, the recession, Twilight, Cafe Rio, or any of the other serious problems the world faces. I’m talking about a crisis that is much more serious than that — and it all starts with iCarly.

Yes, that’s right, iCarly: this popular, Emmy-nominated television series holds the keys to unlocking what’s wrong with the world today.

Now, it shouldn’t shock you to find out that I came to this realization at the Provo Denny’s around 2:30 a.m. (because, as you know, most good epiphanies happen at the Provo Denny’s at 2:30 a.m.) This revelation came after a long nostalgic discussion about the ’90s and the television series my friends and I grew up on. Great shows of Nickelodeon’s past like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Hey Dude and a lot of things involving slime. There were the classic cartoons like Rugrats, Hey Arnold! and Doug. There was TGIF and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

And then there was the defining show of our generation, Boy Meets World. If Saved By the Bell represented the neon pink early ’90s, Boy Meets World represented the decade’s post-In Utero grunge era. The show featured ’90s staples, including (but not limited to) a long-haired delinquent best friend and an English teacher who liked the X-Men and rode a Harley.

Most episodes of Boy Meets World had a fairly simple premise, not unlike most shows of the era — a middle-class kid in suburban Philadelphia gets himself into trouble, gets himself caught, feels repentant, and eventually learns a valuable life lesson at the hands of his parents or the wise teacher next door. Sufficeth to say, I learned a lot of life lessons at the hands of Mr. Feeny. Boy Meets World was undoubtedly the most popular television show for my demographic during our formative years.

Now, take a look at one of the most popular television series among that same 9-15 demographic today. iCarly is a television series on Nickelodeon featuring the antics of, you guessed it, Carly (young star Miranda Cosgrove), whose parents are absent and remains in the custody of her inept older brother. In the vein of most children’s television series in recent years, Carly is precocious and far more competent and savvy than 98 percent of the adult characters in the show, especially her brother/legal guardian.

This dynamic perfectly exemplifies the kind of television heroes and heroines being presented to the children of America today. The child protagonists are smart and constantly outfox the dimwits that surround them, allowing them to get away with a wide range of trouble-making activities.

Not only do they tend to get away with whatever they want, but oftentimes the protagonists have problems or life goals that are highly unrealistic — and they deal with them in equally ridiculous ways. Carly’s week-to-week problems revolve around her online web show that she produces with her friends. On the other hand, one memorable episode of Boy Meets World involved a principle character blowing up a mailbox with a cherry bomb, hiding out under his best friends bed, getting caught, and paying the price for having done something wrong.

How many 13-year-old girls do you know that have their own popular web show? Now, how many 13-year-old boys do you know that like blowing things up with cherry bombs? That’s what I thought.

My generation was presented with shows that showed us kid problems that kids handled like kids. Today’s kids are presented with children that face unrealistic problems that they handle like adults. I can’t help but feel this kind of storytelling does nothing but talk down to children, telling them the very real problems they might face are irrelevant and that they are incapable of handling storytelling that presents realistic problems seen through the eyes of a child.

Politicians and psychologists like to present video games, rap music and the Internet as the face of “what’s wrong with the youth of America.” But in reality, is there any tangible difference between boys playing war outside with toy guns or playing Halo with their friends? And middle school kids will always find swearing and innuendos funny, whether it comes from Jay-Z or not. Has anyone ever stopped to consider that, if there is something wrong with the youth of America, it’s that they are taught by every television series they see that they are a) smarter then their parents, b) able to get away with whatever they want because their parents are too stupid to notice, and c) unable to solve any real problems — and that those real-life problems are irrelevant in the face of iCarly’s zany Web show antics.

Now, you may be thinking that I’ve taken this to an extreme; after all, iCarly is just one show. But this is bigger than Miranda Cosgrove. I challenge you to turn on one popular children’s television show and show me a protagonist that isn’t overly precocious, portrayed as smarter than the adults around him/her and who doesn’t face absolutely ridiculous “problems.” Hannah Montana is somehow able to outsmart everyone with a blond wig and balance her celebrity life with her “real life;” Zach and Cody hang out in a hotel/cruise ship staffed by complete buffoons; and is it possible to find a wizard with a brain at Waverly Place?

Sure, these shows produce their laughs, but I miss the days when Mr. Feeny taught me it was wrong to blow up mailboxes with cherry bombs.

Ben Wagner used to be a somewhat regular correspondent for Rhombus. Apparently he spent so much time watching Disney Channel shows that he didn’t write a substantive article for approximately nine years. You can follow him on Twitter @ben_wagner.

TV: V: An Alien Show Worth Watching

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

The cast of ABCs iV/i

The cast of ABC's V

When I finally resigned myself to the fact that each new episode of Glee would be slightly more mediocre than the one before it, I began looking for another TV show to follow. Thankfully, I happened across ABC’s V,  a taut sci-fi thriller that has shown more potential in its first two episodes than most shows do in a season.

V tells the story of a group of aliens, or “visitors” as they call themselves, who suddenly appear in huge motherships parked over twenty-nine of the world’s major cities. The visitors are all beautiful and they immediately attract a following among awestruck earthlings with their advanced technology. They also begin healing terminal diseases, organizing youth groups and petitioning world governments to give them visas so they can move freely across the globe.

Of course, not everyone believes the visitors are entirely benevolent. Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) is an FBI agent whose terror investigation becomes strangely intertwined with the visitors’ arrival. Likewise, Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a Catholic priest who can’t see how the visitors fit into God’s plan, encourages people to be suspicious of the aliens. Eventually, it’s revealed that the visitors do in fact have some nefarious secrets and the series will presumably follow the cast as they choose sides and try to figure out whom to trust.

As a sci-fi series, V includes the requisite spaceships and advanced technology that dominate the genre, but the show’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s more social drama than space opera. For example, though the first episode reveals that the aliens are less human than they look, the show has yet to include any wild-looking, Star Wars-esque creatures. Everyone looks human, which both heightens the show’s sense of paranoia and avoids cheesiness.

Similarly, while the show includes scenes on the sleek spaceships, most of the story follows the (much grittier) lives of the humans as they try to navigate a culture that may or may not be saturated with aliens, terrorists and informants. In the end, then, V is sci-fi at its best: an exploration of contemporary political anxiety and social tension. Borrowing from its roots as a 1980s allegory for fascism, the show depicts a morally complex world in which the aliens are merely place-holders for real-world fear, xenophobia and globalization. Some, including Slate’s Tony Patterson, have pointed out that this allegory may in fact be an indictment of the Obama administration but, if nothing else, the show’s premise has the potential to explore an array of political topics as it continues to unfold.

For all its appeal, V isn’t perfect. Some of the requisite special effects are fantastic, but others betray the limited budget of a television show. The spaceships are believable enough, for example, but some of the alien devices that zip through the streets of New York are less so. Furthermore, the show isn’t based on a particularly original premise. This fact is highlighted in the pilot episode when two teenagers are interviewed on the news and comment that what they’re seeing is just like the movie Independence Day, which, they say, was itself a knock-off of countless other alien-invasion movies. The moment is telling, because V is indeed borrowing a common sci-fi premise and because its producers seem to realize (and relish) that fact. Still, these elements are forgivable because of the series’ priority on story over spectacle.

V is still in its earliest stages and there is plenty of time for the show to soar — or make a crash landing. Yet in a TV environment that so often lacks entertaining shows that are also socially relevant, V earns its keep and is definitely worth watching.

New episodes of V air Tuesday nights on ABC and are posted to Hulu the following Saturday.

Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture correspondent for Rhombus. You can follow him on Twitter @jimmycdii.

TV: Glee’s Unfortunate Decline Into Melodrama

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

iGlee/i - the worlds most depressing musical.

Glee -- American television's most depressing high school musical.

(Spoiler Alert: This article contains plot information through the most recent episode of Glee.)

After four episodes, I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me about Fox’s new crown jewel Glee. Then, while watching last week’s episode, I realized Glee doesn’t know if it’s trying to be funny or serious.

Glee’s first few episodes overcame some remarkable shortcomings to become quite endearing. For example, the pilot episode introduces the William McKinley High School glee club, which is populated by a group of worn-out clichés. There’s the gay fashionista, the overweight black girl who can sing like Aretha Franklin, the nerdy guy (perhaps the most unique of the bunch because he’s in a wheelchair), and the attractive but self-important leader Rachel Berry. These characters are so stereotypical that I was left wondering if the show’s writers simply plagiarized parts of School of Rock or any number of better teen comedies.

Surprisingly, however, Glee got a strong start because it mixed these stock characters with fantastic style, strong performances and a familiar (but nevertheless pleasant) underdog story. Though no one on the show was necessarily a “good” person, they were all pretty funny and it looked like Fox might have another winning farce on their hands in the vein of Arrested Development.

And then things got serious. The club’s faculty leader, Will Schuester, became painfully cutthroat while drifting away from his wife; Rachel turned into such a diva that she quit the club; and Finn, Glee’s male lead, discovered his girlfriend was pregnant. Though each episode brought something new to the table, that newness has generally been in the form of either insipid, tangential storylines or “serious” drama that feels more like a primetime soap.

The problem with Glee becoming a soap like 90210 is that all of its ingredients still ought to add up to comedy, but they just get less funny with each week. This is probably most evident among the women of the show, who have fared particularly poorly during the descent into melodrama. Some, like Emma Pillsbury (played charmingly by Jayma Mays), are appealing characters that have apparently been relegated to peripheral roles. Others, like Rachel or Will’s wife Terri, have their most annoying or repulsive qualities emphasized over and over again. The result is that there currently aren’t many people to root for on Glee.

Glee is still in its earliest stages, and there is still time for its writers to figure out how to balance comedy and drama. Other shows have managed to do just that before, and there are certainly many people who want Glee to succeed. However, despite a lot of promise and talented actors, I’m sure I won’t be the only one who stops tuning in if things don’t improve soon.

Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture correspondent for Rhombus. You can follow him on Twitter @jimmycdii.

TV: A Prime Time For Leno?

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

While the media were atwitter this week with the unveiling of Max Baucus’ health care plan, average Americans were more invested in the unveiling of NBC’s The Jay Leno Show. Or at least, NBC hoped they would be. In reality, however, the show the Associated Press has described as a “grand experiment” has been met with declining ratings and searing criticism, the most common of which accuses Leno of rehashing his Tonight Show shtick and of simply not being very funny.

Though that kind of reception probably doesn’t mean Leno will be winning any ratings battles in the near future, the jury is still out on whether the show will be the paradigm-shifting vehicle that many thought it would be. Indeed, because it costs NBC so much less to produce than a typical drama or sitcom, The Jay Leno Show doesn’t really need to win any battles to be a sound investment; it can continue to be mediocre and still promise to make more money on a smaller investment.

If the dollars-and-cents game that NBC is playing with Leno isn’t surprising, what is curious is just why Leno is still on in the first place. He cut his teeth as a stand-up comic and then as a late night host, so it’s inevitable that anything he does will be deeply indebted to those forms of entertainment.  Besides, in an era where The Daily Show and The Colbert Report walk a fine line between satire and news, Leno’s staid monologue seems to bring a too heavy sense of history with it. In other words, the show’s quotient of humor is less important than the fact that it seems strikingly out of touch.

Most people probably know that Leno inherited his Tonight Show gig from Johnny Carson. While Leno certainly has his own brand of humor, he (along with most other late night hosts) is essentially a comic cut from Carson’s mold. What is slightly less well know, however, is that Carson himself inherited the Tonight Show, in 1962, from Jack Paar who had taken the reins from Steve Allen in 1957. To get to the origins of the program we have to go all the way back to 1954, a year when owning a television was still something of a minor extravagance.

What this means is that as Leno stepped onto his new set this week he also tapped into a long and storied lineage. If he were a politician or a university professor, that connection to the revered past would probably be a good thing. As a comedian, however, it’s more of a liability and undermines NBC’s claims that the show would be game changing. Of course, it’s true that no network has ever aired a show like Leno’s during primetime. It’s true that NBC could set an industry standard if Leno succeeds. However, it’s also true that The Jay Leno Show is less a revolution than it is the encroachment of a very old and arguably outmoded entertainment model into the ten o’clock hour.

At the heart of this debate lie questions about the relevance of primetime TV itself. With the typical American working more and making less than ever before, consistent evenings in front of the TV are becoming more and more a thing of the past. More importantly perhaps, the Internet has mostly liberated people from the network schedules. When I went to watch The Jay Leno Show for this article, for example, I didn’t sit down on the coach with my family and the TV. Instead I watched several episodes back-to-back on Hulu at two in the morning. Because the revolutionary aspect of the show was supposed to be when it was airing, it’s no surprise that I, like many media critics, got hung up on the lack of genuine comedy in the program.

None of this is to say that the late night variety show is dead, or that no one watches TV on a television. It’s not, and many people do. What’s more, hosts like Conan O’Brien and Craig Ferguson manage to milk a surprising amount of humor from the Carson-Paar-Allen formula. Still, in a world where people can watch “Lonely Island” and “Adult Swim” videos on YouTube whenever they want, the idea that one part of the day is the “prime” time for TV seems at least a little archaic. In that sense, it doesn’t really matter if Leno is on at nine, ten or midnight; all that matters is if the content strikes a cord with the public.

Whether Leno succeeds or fails, adapts or stays the same, we’re likely to see his show for at least a few years. NBC is contractually committed to stick with it and Leno’s standup, his bread and butter over the years, once made him the king of late night. Furthermore, a great many people (especially baby boomers) find Leno hilarious, no matter what the critics or the ratings say. Yet, regardless of whether this newest project is Leno’s coup d’état or coup de grâce, he may ultimately be fighting a losing battle against the future.

Jim Dalrymple is Rhombus’ newest pop culture correspondent. He will cover the world of television, movies and music — all with decidedly good taste.

TV: Five Shows You Should Be Watching (But Probably Aren't)

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in TV

It’s fall again and, as per usual, the networks are preparing to launch the season premieres of all their big prime-time television shows. It can be hard to sort through all the junk to find the gems in the television world. For every great episode of House, we have to endure garbage like Bones, CSI: Wherever, and Tyler Perry dressing up like a) an old angry black woman, b) an old angry black man, or C) the head of Star Fleet (curse you, J.J. Abrams!), but I digress. Despite all the junk out there, there are still some great TV shows returning this fall that you might not be watching, but should be.

Lost

Lost

5) Lost — Returns in January on ABC
Yeah yeah, I know Lost isn’t a well kept secret. Everybody knows the deal: plane crashes on an island, smoke monsters and other insanity ensues. Lost had a stellar first season and was a runaway hit.

However, the show was definitely sub-par during the second season and, therefore, lost millions of viewers, a trend which continued into the third season. The fourth season, on the other hand, was breathtaking. The producers reached a deal with ABC to give the show a finite run, thus giving the producers the luxury of knowing exactly how much time they had left to finish the series, which increased the show’s pace.

While the fifth season had its ups and downs, the sixth and final season begins in January and, if you stopped watching the show at some point, now is a great time to get back into it. Most of the series is available to stream via Hulu or Fancast, so you can be ready in time for season six.

Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

4) It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia — Returns September 17th on FX
This show, from cable network FX, is far and away one of the best comedies on television. The irreverent comedy follows the adventures of four young, white, underachieving alcoholics who run an Irish pub in Philadelphia. Week in and week out, “the gang” runs in to problems and demonstrate time and time again that they are horrible people who deserve everything that happens to them.

This show can almost be considered, stylistically, to be an evolution of Seinfield. There are four main characters (three males and a female) and the plots generally aren’t very important. The show is essentially about nothing. The main characters’ plots intertwine with each other in a very Seinfeldian manner. All in all, this show is a hilarious comedy that’ll make you laugh every time.

30 Rock

30 Rock

3) 30 Rock — Returns October 15th on NBC
If you’re like most of the college students I know, you spend every Thursday night from 8:00-8:30 watching NBC’s popular mockumentary, The Office. Then you promptly turn off the television and completely miss the far superior show that follows it, the multiple Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning comedy, 30 Rock.

In principle, 30 Rock is a semi-autobiographical show conceived by Tina Fey, mocking her experiences working as a writer on Saturday Night Live. Fey plays Liz Lemon, a nerdy, late-30s, down-on-love slob, who is the head writer for a fictional NBC sketch comedy show called TGS. Alec Baldwin is hilarious as her uber-conservative, womanizing boss Jack Donaghy. Comedically though, the star of the show is Tracy Morgan, who plays TGS star Tracy Jordan (or, more accurately, himself.)

Every week, we see Liz Lemon run around the halls of 30 Rockefeller Center, trying to keep the rowdy writers in check, deal with the show’s eccentric stars, appease her boss and the corporate suits, and struggle to keep her personal life together. This show is simply the best-written comedy series on television and has won numerous awards — it is currently nominated for 22 prime-time Emmys, a record for a comedy series. If you’re a fan of The Office, please, don’t turn off the tube this fall. Give 30 Rock a shot and you’ll soon realize that Liz Lemon is ten times funnier than Michael Scott.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

2) Friday Night Lights — Returns this fall on DirecTV; re-runs on NBC in March
H.G. Bissinger’s bestselling book Friday Night Lights is simply one of the best sports books ever written. The film of the same name was a decent football movie but, in my opinion, failed to address many of the social issues present in the book.

Then along comes Friday Night Lights the television show. On the surface, the plot of the show is fairly straightforward: it revolves around the Dillon High Panthers, a fictional high school football team in Texas, their head coach, Eric Taylor, and his family. Below the surface, the show is a startling representation of small town life in the Midwest. As the first season progresses, the show becomes less and less about football and more about using the backdrop of small town Texas to address many important social issues facing middle America.

As someone who grew up in a small town, I can say this show — more then any other I’ve ever seen — realistically confronts issues in a small town, like racism, coming-of-age and the economic hardship. Simply put, the show may be the single most relevant piece of social commentary on television today. Right now, the show’s first two seasons are only $15 a piece at Wal-Mart or Target, which is literally a steal for one of the best-acted, best-written, and most impactful series in recent years. If you’re not watching Friday Night Lights, you’re missing out on something truly special.

Mad Men

Mad Men

1) Mad Men — Returned August 16th on AMC
Mad Men is quickly becoming the little show that could and odds are you’ve heard about it by now. Mad Men airs on AMC and, thus, has significantly lower ratings and visibility than other shows on major networks. However, the show is quickly gaining popularity and becoming something of a pop-culture phenomenon.

The story revolves around the men and women who work at Sterling-Cooper, a fictional advertising firm in 1960s New York. While it is acted by an ensemble cast, the main character of the show is Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the agency’s brilliant head of creative. The series has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed of all time and is currently nominated for 16 Emmy awards, including four of the best nominations for “Best Writing in a Dramatic Series.”

The show is also acclaimed for its visual style, almost perfectly recreating Madison Avenue, circa the early ’60s. It is also noted for its accurate depiction of the era’s controversial issues, such as the treatment of women in the workplace, smoking, drinking and marital (in)fidelity. The show’s creators specifically opted for quality over conventional storytelling methods; therefore, the show moves at a relatively slow pace (in comparison to the slash-and-burn tactics of modern television dramas), while being expertly shot and acted. It is worthy of all the praise it receives and it is simply one of the most unique and well-made shows in the history of the medium. You owe it to yourself to experience Mad Men in all its glory.

Ben Wagner is a correspondent for Rhombus. You should probably start watching these shows so you can understand his frequent Friday Night Lights and Mad Men references. Follow him on Twitter @ben_wagner.