Once upon a time, whenever the Olympics came along to interrupt our TV viewing by sending current programs either temporarily off the air or into reruns there was little one could do other than prepare involuntary chants of, “USA! USA! USA!” in response to the forthcoming sporting events. Thankfully, Netflix and its competitors have given us new options, and it’s a good thing, too, because we were this close to simply ignoring TV, going outside, smelling the roses…the horror, the horror. To be fair, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic games have offered up non-sports related entertainment value, such as Bob Costas’ bizarrely infected eye and internet .gifs of athletes showing some actual emotion when they don’t earn a medal. However, for those not feeling the jingoistic, sentimental pull of the Winter Olympics and just wishing Arrow, Big Bang Theory, Community, [insert your favorite show here] would come back here are 7 short-lived shows to check out on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and even YouTube while you wait:
1. Gargoyles (1994-1997)
Somewhat inexplicably, Disney recently rather quietly uploaded the entirety (minus a couple of episodes) of this cultishly adored, criminally underseen mid-90s animated series on YouTube for guilt-free (i.e., legal) viewing. It’s a fittingly peculiar move for a show that never made a whole lot of sense as a Disney product, coming on the heels of prototypical Disney shows like DuckTales, TailSpin and Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. The more atypical Gargoyles was literally darker, more stylized, and carried serialized stories across seasons in a manner unique amongst all animated shows of the era.
As per the show title, the premise entails supernatural, nocturnal creatures known as gargoyles who serve as protectors of human castles by night while existing as petrified stone during the day. Beginning their time in medieval Scotland before re-awakening in then modern-day New York, the gargoyles are surprisingly mature characters entering in and out of stories involving references to Scottish history and Shakespeare. Like a supernatural team of superheroes, they serve as nighttime protectors of New York City and their very few human allies. There’s also some time for pure humor, such as early episodes involving the displaced gargoyles becoming addicted to television as a means of understanding the scary new world of New York.
Gargoyles was (unofficially) created by eventual Young Justice co-creator Greg Weisman, and featured the vocal talents of Keith David as the head gargoyle, Salli Richardson of Eureka as their human ally, and (for some reason) a crap-ton of Star Trek actors in regular (Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis) and guest/recurring (Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Colm Meaney, LeVar Burton, Nichelle Nichols, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew) roles.
- How Big of a Time-Suck Is It?: 3 seasons, 78 episodes
- Streaming Availability: YouTube (Season 1, Season 2, Season 3)
2. Veronica Mars (2004-2007)
They Kickstarter-ed their way to a feature film follow-up, due for release next month. Don’t you kind of want to know what the fuss is all about?
Well, the fuss begins and ends with Kristen Bell’s kick-ass performance as Veronica Mars, who’s like a more self-assured Buffy Summers if Buffy learned life lessons without the benefit of supernatural metaphors (i.e., no ex-boyfriends turning into literal monsters). Progressing from a high school to college student across 3 seasons, Veronica works as private investigator, sometimes in concert with her detective father, often on her own against his wishes. The average episode entails Veronica solving a case brought to her by a fellow student while the assorted supporting cast help advance season long story-arcs, everything hinging upon a complex mystery (a young girls’ death in the first season, bus crash in the second).
As a legacy UPN show which transferred over in its final season to the CW, their minimal budget often shows, and the first season is likely the high water mark. However, Bell’s Veronica remains a force with which to be reckoned, played as a fearless girl who was usually the smartest one in the room, forced to grow up too soon by the traumatic events which shaped the first season’s over-arching mystery. Plus, her loving, witty banter-filled relationship with her endlessly patient father played by Enrico Colantoni is by equal measure hilarious and touching, a precursor to the non-traditional father-daughter relationship currently being played out by Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto on Suburgatory.
- How Big of a Time-Suck Is It?: 3 seasons, 64 episodes
- Streaming Availability: Amazon Prime
3. Misfits (2009-2013)
Upon first learning of Misfits at the time of its 2009 premiere it was common for people to reject it based upon perceived Heroes mimicry, which is actually only true on the most superficial level in that both shows involve people gaining superpowers. However, in every other meaningful way Misfits is very much so its own show. Five wayward British teenagers gain superpowers through a freak lightning storm while performing court-ordered community services. The powers are used to illuminate each characters’ insecurities, and once the powers were no longer dramatically useful the writers shook things up by giving each character a brand new power at the end of the second season. Along the way through their shared bond to one another the characters show incremental progress while still cursing like sailors, engaging in surprisingly graphic premarital sex, and not altogether greatly benefiting from their powers. The ways in which the shows depicts the powers are often visually inventive, and the ratio of drama to comedy to sci-fi wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey plotting is masterful. Be warned, though: around the third season the original cast members started leaving the show at which point the replacement characters were sometimes improvements, often times not.
- How Big of a Time-Suck Is It?: 5 seasons, 37 episodes
- Streaming Availability: Hulu Plus
4. Moone Boy (2012-Present)
To some degree, Moone Boy is a standard family sitcom centered around 12-year-old Martin Moone (the adorable David Rawle), his three older sisters (Aoife Duffin, Clare Monnelly, Sarah White), and their father (Peter McDonald) and mother (Dierdre O’Kane) living in Ireland in 1989. However, Martin sees and talks to an imaginary friend named Sean Murphy (Chris O’Dowd), who is almost always seen in a black suit with a red tie and serves as the hilariously blunt narrator. To give you a sense of Moone Boy‘s comedic sensibilities, the pilot involves the father entering a secret self-help group for beleaguered fathers of crappy kids, and Martin attempting to trick his older sister into letting a boy touch her breasts as part of an exchange for bully-protecting services. You can read our declaration of profound love for Moone Boy elsewhere on the site.
- How Big of a Time-Suck Is It?: 1 season, 6 episodes (2nd season just premiered in the UK on Sky1)
- Streaming Availability: Hulu Plus
5. Party Animals (2008)
At this point, it’d be surprising to find a Doctor Who fan not hip to Party Animals since it presents an adorable pre-Who Matt Smith. However, it might present more interest to fans of Shonda Rhimes’ gloriously soapy political drama Scandal. As argued elsewhere, “Scandal focuses on the political fixes ensured by the conservative president’s former right hand woman, Olivia. Similarly, Party Animals depicts the aggressive social politicking surrounding Britain’s political system by following the lives of three different figures: Ashika (Shelley Conn), the conservative parliamentary member’s right hand woman; the idealistic liberal, Danny (Matt Smith) and the politically apathetic lobbyist, Scott (Andrew Buchan).” One need not be familiar with Kerry Washington’s award-winning performance on Scandal to appreciate Party Animals, which is a sort of Romeo & Juliet tale with opposing political parties in place of warring families. Plus, Smith is 100% endearing as the sole naive, idealistic member in this soapy tale of political intrigue.
- How Big of a Time-Suck Is It?: 1 season, 8 episodes
- Streaming Availability: Hulu Plus (You can also easily find it illegally available to stream on YouTube)
6. Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
Pushing Daisies shall forever be the yardstick by which all shows ever described as “twee” are measured. The facts are these: Ned the piemaker (Lee Pace) loves a girl named Chuck (Anna Friel), but Ned can never touch her for his touch would mean her instant death. Ned has the ability to reanimate any living object for 60 seconds through his touch, which is perfect for very quickly interviewing victims of various types of crimes. However, he’s supposed to touch the object again before the full minute to deliver them back to death. If he doesn’t, that person/object will remain living but something/someone nearby will die. He’s too in love with childhood crush Chuck to deliver her back to death. So, she lives on, working in Ned’s pie shop and assisting him and his private investigator partner Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) solve crimes.
Beyond that central premise, the twee factor is enhanced through an unfailingly whimsical tone, unabashed romanticism, Tim-Burton-if-his-color-palette-extended-beyond-black-grey-and-red visual flair, and storybook narration from a third-person omniscient voice. However, for those who might reject such mawkish sentimentality McBride’s performance keeps everything in balance. He’s the grumpy presence always quick with a cloud-bursting line (e.g., “Where did I put that rat’s ass I could give” in response to a non-profit related concern voiced by Chuck) to give voice to the more cynical members of the audience. Plus, itty bitty Kristin Chenowith shines as the adorably spunky waitress hopelessly but unrequited-ly devoted to Ned.
- How Big of a Time-Suck Is It?: 2 seasons, 22 episodes
- Streaming Availability: Amazon Prime
7. Better Off Ted (2009-2010)
Like a funnier, far fuller realized cousin to the late 90s Fred Savage sitcom Working, Better Off Ted was initially most notable for being Portia de Rossi’s post-Arrested Development rebound (not counting a recurring stint on Nip/Tuck). Sadly, it mostly came and rather quietly went after 26 episodes spread across 2 seasons on ABC. Critics at the time raged against the disinterested machine. They were right: Better Off Ted was a truly brilliant satirical sitcom with winning lead performances from Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi and memorable supporting turns by Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett.
Ted (Harrington) is the head of an R&D department at a soulless corporate conglomerate (Veridian Dynamics), narrating every episode, breaking the fourth wall to do so. The satire includes stories like the company struggling with the PR nightmare of new motion controlled doors and lights in the office building only recognizing the motions of Caucasian employees. As an added bonus, every episode features hilarious fake commercials for Veridian Dynamics in spots where you think the episode is pausing for its own commercial break.
The streaming availability listed above is as of 2/17/2014, and is subject to change depending on various corporate contracts and which country you live in. CanIStream.it is a good source to check for current streaming options for films and TV shows.