So it’s time for Part 2 of my epic guide to the very best box sets to binge on, with selections from iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and On Demand TV services.
Last time, I gave you a round-up of some of my favourite sci-fi, drama, crime and supernatural shows. This time, we’re featuring some of the best teen, retro and comedy box-sets – along with a few favourites I couldn’t quite fit in anywhere else.
Teen Wolf: This is one for you if you’re a fan of Vampire Diaries – it bears very little similarity to the original movie, but is more of an MTV view of being a teen werewolf – it’s equal parts teen angst and (mild) horror.
The 100: This series is based on the intriguing premise that earth has been abandoned following a global catastrophe, with the survivors floating in a space station waiting to return home. An accident means they need to return sooner than planned – but what if it isn’t safe? Simples. Just send a load of teen convicts down to see what happens. Imagine what would happen if Lord of the Flies happened in an MTV video, and you’re pretty much there. Good fun.
Greek: If you missed this when it first showed, then it’s great – it’s an inside look at the life of students at an American college fraternity and sorority – there were some great stories when the show launched about certain colleges banning the show’s promo posters but apparently they were all won over. Not surprising – it’s a fun, charming watch with four seasons to binge on.
Hellcats: This is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it one season wonders but well worth hunting down – based on a best-selling book, this is the story of rough gem pre-law student Marti, who becomes a cheerleader to get a scholarship and stay in school. It’s the usual teen angst and romance but with the added interest of competitive cheerleading and a LOT of girl drama.
iZombie: This might be pushing the ‘teen’ category a bit too far, considering that lead character Liv is technically a zombie but if you love Veronica Mars, you’ll love this show.Basically, Liv eats brains, and absorbs the memories of the person whose brain she eats – which gets interesting when the brain belongs to a murder victim. It’s part crime-fighting, part deadpan comedy and part horror. Genius.
Skins: I didn’t actually watch Skins first time around – a bit too edgy for my earlier tastes – but on catch-up this is a revelation. Yes it’s gritty and occasionally depressing but this tale of a group of Bristol teens who have WAY more fun than this suburban good-girl ever imagined was possible at 15. There are teen dramas with plenty of swearing, drugs, sex, clubbing and a dash of mental illness – but there’s a lot of heart and some brave storylines that are properly compelling.
Peep Show: I almost don’t need to say more than – watch it, it’s bloody amazing. But if you’re unfamiliar with the genius that is Peep Show, it’s basically like living inside the head of every middle class English bloke, ever. And it’s still hilarious on the 10th viewing. Unmissable.
Parks and Recreation: Love The Office? You’ll love Parks and Rec. Set in the town of Pawnee, it’s the story of a loveable but highly weird set of colleagues, led by bureaucrat Leslie. It’s warm-hearted to properly funny, and the supporting cast (especially deadpan Ron Swanson and man-child Chris Pratt) make this more than just the Amy Poehler show.
Glee: This show is now available through Sky On Demand, making it free to watch if you’re a Sky customer. I’m loving introducing my 10 year old to this show – along with some kick-ass tunes, I love Glee for the unashamed snarky one-line genius of Sue Sylvester, the way it champions diversity and the awesome guest stars – John Stamos? Matt Bomer? Gwyneth Paltrow? All in one show? Yes, please!
Teachers: One of my favourite ever UK comedy drama shows – starring Andrew Lincoln as a young teacher at a secondary school in Bristol. As a parent it’s borderline horror viewing with its inappropriate behaviour, massive alcohol consumption and general loathing of children, but it’s hilarious, especially in scenes involving the “guys” Bryan and Kurt, who are so inept you wonder how Ofsted doesn’t have them on a watch-list of some sort.
Firefly: One of those one-season wonders that was cancelled far too soon – it’s the space opera creation of Joss Whedon (the man behind Buffy), and is a wickedly funny blend of sci-fi, western and space genres. The story is based around the space cargo ship Serenity, captained by Nathan Fillion (later seen in Castle) with a motley crew around him, including tough as old boots Gina Torres, uber-alpha-male Adam Baldwin, and pilot Alan Tudyk.
Degrassi Junior High: Another cult classic to make your children watch is this 80s kids’ show from Canada. When I was ten years old, this seemed like a billion times cooler than Grange Hill with it’s boring ENGLISH kids. How I wished I could be Canadian. I spent a lot of time writing Degrassi fan-fic in my school notebooks, let me tell you. It’s a school drama that tackles all the expected issues – but with a lot of baggy shirts and waistcoats for added value.
Eerie, Indiana: Around the same time I started imagining I went to school at Degrassi, I started imaging I lived in Indiana. This show was a mixture of X-Files and Wonder Years and follows the story of Marshall, who moves to a new town which is filled with bizarre mysteries and urban legends. Side fact: Marshall might have been my first TV crush, although it was a close call with Magnum, PI.
Heartland: You know how sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, you want to watch something schmaltzy and warm and undemanding? That’s when you need this show. And a plate of biscuits. Heartland is the story of two sisters who wind up in the Canadian Rockies, living on a horse ranch. Yeah, I know. There’s a ranch hand, there are stories of miraculously healed horses, and men who look good in plaid.
Everwood: Pretty much everything I think about Heartland also applies to Everwood except this is the story of a family doctor (Yeah, I know) who winds up in Colorado, with his two children. Dr Brown is a widower and before his wife’s death was a workaholic surgeon in Manhattan. Now he needs to reconnect with his kids, and settle into a new community. It’s warm-hearted, slightly schmaltzy stuff and it’s perfect weekend fodder.
Summerland: Love Everwood? You’ll get sucked into Summerland, the story of Ava, a fashion designer who ends up raising her niece and nephew after their parents are killed in a tragic accident. With help from her friends, Ava grows into hew new role, and there’s all sorts of drama as the Kansas kids get used to a new life in California. Watch carefully and you might spot Zac Efron – he pops up as one character’s boyfriend.
Once and Again: I loved this show before I got divorced – now I love to laugh at how utterly divorced from reality it is. Nonetheless, it’s a great show – Once and Again tells the story of impossibly beautiful single Mom Lily, who begins a romance with impossibly handsome single Dad and architect (they’re always architects, right?) Rick. Their romance is complicated by the fact that they both have childen, and Lily has a feckless but charming ex-husband who’s still in the picture, while Rick has a beautiful, sad ex-wife. Watch it and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. (especially if you’re divorced and dating).
Pushing Daisies: This US show ran for three seasons and was mostly talked about at the time because it stars former Brookside star Anna Friel. But it’s definitely worth a look – Pushing Daisies is the quirky story of Ned, a cook who can bring things back from the dead – and one of the things he brings back to life is childhood sweetheart Chuck (Friel). Together they start investigating murders (as you do) by reviving murder victims temporarily and learning their stories. It’s a sort of supernatural fairy tale, and not gruesome as it sounds!
The Amazing Race: It has to be said, that reality TV isn’t usually my thing – people dating or staring at each other in a house for weeks on end or pretending to learn to cook/dance/skate isn’t my idea of entertainment. But making teams race around the world and compete in a series of increasingly dramatic/weird/scary/gross challenges? I am ALL OVER THAT. The Amazing Race has well over 20 seasons, and each involves 10 teams of 2 people visiting pretty much every part of the world you can imagine. Added fun is watching those lovey-dovey couples gradually descend into hatred and resentment as the race goes on…
Rescue Me: This story of a New York firehouse in a post 9/11 world is a gritter, bolder version of Chicago Fire – telling the story of bad-tempered, self-destructive fire fighter Tommy, struggling with survivor’s guilt and alcoholism – literally haunted by the people he has lost over the years. It’s brash and not especially sentimental, but it’s exciting viewing and some of the rescue scenes are really good fun in a disaster-movie kind of way…