Last week, I recommended a few sitcoms that may have flown under your personal viewing radar in recent years; shows that are still on the air–or have recently ended their original runs–and whose reruns can be seen on local stations and/or one of the several nostalgia TV channels that give classic (and not-so-classic) programs a new chance to be discovered.
This week, I offer a few older programs–sitcoms and dramas–that you can find without the need for YouTube, Hulu, Netflx, or other sites or online services, or buying DVD sets (although I do like DVD sets). But you would need to search your local TV grid for each week.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker – If your cable system carries the nostalgia channel MeTV, you have the privilege of being able to catch this stylish and quirky show, which was rare for its time in combining horror and humorous flair–decades before Buffy the Vampire Slayer did the same. Kolchak ran for a single, 30-episode season in 1973-74.
McGavin stars as news reporter Carl Kolchak, working for the Chicago bureau of the low-budget Independent News Service. His only wardrobe, apparently, consists of a seersucker suit and battered straw hat (we never see him wearing anything else). Kolchak has a penchant for disregarding the stories assigned to him by his blustery boss, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), in favor of reports he comes across involving citizens who have come to suspicious, even bizarre deaths.
His film noir-style voiceover fills in the details of each week’s story as Kolchak investigates various ghouls, monsters, and evil spirits throughout Chicago. He can be relied upon to pester police precinct captains and others who are less than willing to confirm his steadfast belief that the victims have run afoul of supernatural perpetrators. Each episode climaxes with Kolchak taking matters into his own hands, and vanquishing the monster of the week without the benefit of witnesses, save for his trusty camera (which usually gets confiscated and/or damaged before his photographic evidence can come to light).
In today’s terms, the monsters aren’t especially terrifying, but each Kolchak episode moves briskly, and there are a few genuine frights to be had. This is a thoroughly enjoyable series, both suspenseful and funny, and a perfect follow-up to MeTV’s run of the classic Columbo in the earlier time slot on Sunday nights.
NYPD Blue – Any self-respecting police series probably wants to be described as “gritty,” and many have been through the years, but NYPD Blue could well be the grittiest. Advanced hype before its premiere in 1993 reported that famed producer Steven Bochco (the gritty Hill Street Blues, and not-so-gritty L.A. Law) was going to give viewers an R-rated drama series. It certainly pushed the boundaries of language, violence, and partial nudity on network television, and, in its first season, became the center of controversy because of it.
The ensemble cast, as detectives in New York’s (fictitious) 15th precinct, went through a number of changes during the program’s twelve seasons; the one constant lead character being detective Andy Sipowicz, a bigoted, crude talking cop whose most benign comment could still drip with sarcasm, and who carries a lifetime of anger simmering just beneath the surface. He has seen it all, and has suffered morale-crushing defeats both on the job and in his personal life, often endangering his recovery from alcoholism.
However, in between solving often perplexing cases, we get to see a few happier moments for him as well, in which he manages to briefly crack a smile. He even marries twice during the series’ run; to D.A. Sylvia Costas (who would be killed in a courthouse shooting, leaving Andy to raise their baby son alone), and later to fellow detective Connie McDowell (Charlotte Ross), whose occasional babysitting for Andy Jr. leads to romance with the senior Sipowitcz, and their eventual marriage.
Dennis Franz’s portrayal of Sipowitcz is simply breathtaking throughout, from the series premiere, to its bittersweet finale twelve years later. He deserves the four Emmys he received for his of portrayal. The rest of the cast members are no slouches, either.
NYPD Blue is currently airing on the Heroes and Icons network.
Scrubs – This, my friends, is one brilliant and hilarious sitcom, worthy of being included among the best of the past twenty years. Fast-moving and innovative, it brings us inside Sacred Heart teaching hospital, seen through the eyes of neurotic and child-like John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff), whose interior monologues serve as narration throughout his progress towards becoming a resident at the hospital.
His on-again, off-again romantic relationship with the equally self-absorbed and insecure fellow doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), provides the comic spine of the series; beyond that, anything goes. Flashbacks, surreal fantasy sequences, musical numbers, and rapid-fire cutaway gags occur regularly, as J.D. finds himself confronted not only with patients he needs to heal, but also by his near-sadistic superiors, Drs. Perry Cox (John C. McGinley), and Chief of Medicine Robert Kelso (Ken Jenkins) who prefer to dole out verbal abuse rather than anything resembling encouragement. Having a pesky janitor around, known only as “Janitor” (Neil Flynn), who constantly plays various mind games on J.D., doesn’t help either.
But J.D. finds solace in his bromance with best friend and surgeon Turk (Donald Faison), who has considerable maturing of his own to do.
By the end of each episode, J.D.’s voiceover reveals a more thoughtful side of him, as he learns a life lesson via a personal relationship, a patient he’s been treating, or simply by observing his colleagues in the hospital. It provides a nice balance to the comic invention and overall goofiness of the show that make it such a blast. For you weekend early birds, Comedy Central airs two back-to-back episodes on weekend mornings, and a three-hour block on weekday mornings.
I could cover many other terrific series, from ER to Gilmore Girls, that have perhaps been relegated to the back of our minds in recent years, but are still easily found as reruns today. My goal, though, is to keep each week’s blog to a reasonable length. Plus, I’m never good at making tough choices!
Until next week, when we might explore a totally different pop culture topic, have a good one!