The 2010 Cultural Catchup Project: Reader’s Choice Poll

The 2010 Cultural Catchup Project: Reader’s Choice

April 3rd, 2010

Over the past twelve months, I have been collecting various TV on DVD sets. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon: I tend to impulse purchase a lot of television series on DVD due to various sales, and doing so has led me to discover shows like How I Met Your Mother, which I picked up for $22 one summer and led to the show becoming one of my personal favourites.

However, the sets I’ve been collecting as of late have been for a different purpose: rather than purchasing them to discover something new, the sets were purchased to “catch up” on something old. As I’ve written about in the past, I really only started watching television regularly in 2004, which meant that there were quite a large number of shows which started before that date which I never got around to watching.

This means that I have what I would call television blind spots, popular or critically-acclaimed series that I simply haven’t seen enough of in order to reference them. Now, it’s impossible to avoid having some blind spots, especially from a historical perspective; I know that I’m not going to be able to catch up on all of the sitcoms and police dramas from the 70s and 80s, so I will leave that to those more interested in those eras. However, as someone really interested in the more recent rise of the serial drama series and who feels like they missed out on some great television in the 1990s, there are certain blind spots that have proven problematic. I had to avoid reading Decade in Review pieces in order to evade spoilers, I’ve missed out on the true impact of certain guest acting gigs for former cast members, and I’ve had to deal with being a television critic and a television scholar who hasn’t watched these iconic (or at least “important”) television series. While I’m thankful that neither scholars or critics have ostracized me as a result of these unfortunate grievances – often because they too have embarrassing blind spots – I think it’s time I did something about it.

So in the next four months, as I transition from the end of my Master’s Degree at Acadia University to the beginning of my PhD at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I’m going to eliminate these blind spots. I’ve got five series on hand that I want to try to get through before August rolls around, and my plan is as follows:

  1. Focus on a single show at a time (with one exception).
  2. Watch the show(s) at whatever pace works with my schedule
  3. Write about the show(s) each weekend

Now, in terms of #3, I don’t intend on reviewing every episode – while I might review a single season if I’ve got enough to say about it, and I might even focus on a particular episode if it’s considered especially noteworthy, my goal is to make observations about the shows as a whole. Sometimes these could be analysis of how effective certain stories are or my opinion regarding certain characters, and other times they could focus on narrative form and structure or more “academic” subjects of analysis. Sometimes they might be observations about the show itself, and sometimes they might be observations about watching the show, or observations about watching the show after having evaded spoilers for so long. I want to keep things pretty open because there is some interesting diversity amongst and within these series, and I want to be able to respond to them contextually if at all possible. I’m even open to writing two pieces on a single weekend if it better reflects my viewing experience.

However, while my most recent catchup projects (Big Love, Breaking Bad, Fringe) were chosen due to their pending returns, I don’t particularly have an opinion on which show I watch first in this instance: all of the shows have already ended their seasons, and if I’ve managed to avoid substantial spoilers for this long I don’t think that a few more months is going to kill me. As a result, rather than picking one at random, I’ve decided to let my readers (and those who get to this piece through my attempts to widen the voting pool) choose what they want me to watch first.

The Contenders

The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: Too young when it premiered, too “late” when I really got into watching TV. For more, see this piece I wrote at the time of the finale.

Newsradio (1995-1999)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: I know almost nothing about the show, if we’re being honest: I knew it had Phil Hartman in it, but it was “before my time” television wise – picked up the Complete Series for $30 sometime last year, been collecting dust ever since.

The Shield (2002-2008)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: The show wasn’t airing in Canada when it began, and FX’s low profile kept it from my radar up until a few years ago. I’ve been slowly collecting DVD sets on the cheap, and just finished off the collection this past fall.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: Firefly was my first real experience with Whedon, and I don’t really know why – I’ve seen “Once More With Feeling,” and I’ve seen bits and pieces of other episodes, but I was always too cheap to buy the DVDs and catch up…until this Winter.

Angel (1999-2004)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: Considering that I haven’t watched Buffy, I always felt that watching Angel would probably be a bad move.

The Poll

Note: I am under the impression from previous discussions that it is best to watch Buffy and Angel chronologically, so I’m including them as a single poll option. However, otherwise, things are pretty straightforward: tell me what you think I should watch, and you might have the pleasure of reading analysis of that show every weekend for the foreseeable future. If you want to expand on your vote, I think PollDaddy has a comment option, but also feel free to expand on your choice (and try to influence others in the same direction, if you so choose) in the comments section on this post. Do make sure to vote in the poll as well, though, as I will not be taking comments into account when I make my decision – democracy rules.


The poll will be open until Thursday, April 8th, at 11:59pm Eastern Time – this will give me time to watch and write about the show’s Pilot for Saturday in order to kickstart the 2010 CCP (Cultural Catchup Project).

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41 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

41 responses to “The 2010 Cultural Catchup Project: Reader’s Choice Poll

  1. Kurt

    Definitely start with Buffy. But I’d then watch The Sopranos or The Shield before bothering with Angel.

    • I’m sensing some distaste for Angel, Kurt. For my own taste (I’m only through season 3 so far) I think I prefer Angel over Buffy. I think they get to the point where there’s a good mix of serial and procedural (baddy of the week) elements and I like that it’s a slightly more grown up version of Buffy. But I suppose to each their own.

  2. pbrl

    Am I the only vote for Newsradio?

    I say that one, simply because it’s one of the all time great TV comedies, which are in rarer supply than dramas, and since each episode is only 22 minutes it’s much less of a commitment. Newsradio would only take you 1/4 of the time of stuff like Buddy and the Sopranos.

    • zaulsiin

      I personally had a tough time deciding whether to vote for NewsRadio or The Shield. These are two shows where I feel there is a fairly large cultural blind spot, in that most people that haven’t seen them really don’t seem to realize just how amazing they are. I eventually went with The Shield, but it could really have gone either way. I feel that there’s been plenty (read: TONS) of critique released into the ether already for Buffy/Angel and The Sopranos, but precious little for these two gems, and so I’m much more anxious to see what one of the brighter young television critics has to say about these.

      Even I severely underestimated The Shield, initially dismissing it as a kind of lame, sensationalist take on the standard cop drama, but it has ultimately become one of my top 10 (if not top 5) favourite shows of all time. If I hadn’t stumbled across NewsRadio reruns in my early high school days, I’ve no doubt that I would have overlooked it as well, which would have been a real shame.

    • I love Newsradio. It’s the ideal sitcom. The ensemble is just perfect.
      But it hasn’t aged well, I don’t think any traditional sitcom looks great now.

  3. Ricky B

    If I was voting with my heart of hearts, I would say Buffy/Angel- I didn’t watch either show when they were on the air (despite the good word of mouth, the concept just seemed too silly- my bad) but I finally gave Buffy a shot on DVD two summers ago, and I just could not stop watching. Angel took me a little longer to get into, but once I did it was the same thing- finished the series last summer and it really leaves you wanting more. Both are among my very favorite shows of all time.

    Nevertheless, I voted for the Shield, for purely selfish reasons: it’s one of my blind spots too, and I’ve been meaning to catch up on it, and it would be great to have your thoughts and analysis as I go along. But frankly, if Buffy/Angel wins (as I suspect might happen) I will be pretty thrilled to have an excuse to revisit those shows yet again.

  4. I’ve got huge love for both Buffy and The Sopranos, and each has a healthy legacy of influence on TV. I’d say check out Buffy first, just because it seems to be discussed more now than The Sopranos, which is less likely to be spoiled at this point.

  5. I do hope you go for The Shield. It’s my all time favourite show and I’d love to see how you react to it.

  6. ninjaraiden2k

    I would say Buffy/Angel and then the Sopranos. It seems every show in the supposed recent “Golden Age of Television Drama” deviated from those two shows.

  7. Travis

    I totally voted for Buffy (because that’s what I’d most want to read about). But! It’s really a shame that you haven’t seen at least the first season of Sopranos. That’s something of a cultural touchstone, obviously.

    Also. I totally did my PhD at Wisconsin-Madison as well (in political science). I found it a great place to be a grad student. Watch out for Halloween. Seriously.

  8. Loretta

    I voted for The Shield, simply because it seems the most amenable (other than perhaps NewsRadio, which I have not watched) to rapid viewing/reviewing.

    The Sopranos and Buffy/Angel are both meaty enough, and take space over a long enough span of years, that I think viewing episodes in such quick succession might detract from the experience. I’ve always found both of those shows worked best for the viewer if you allow for some time between viewing each episode (e.g. a maximum of one episode a day, rather than perhaps sitting down on a Saturday and having a mini-marathon).

    The Shield, on the other hand, though it is an incredibly engaging show with a lot to say, seems to lend itself much more easily to rapid viewing and marathon sessions. One reason I think this is true is because *tiny spoiler* the series itself, though lasting for seven seasons, does not cover seven chronological years.

    Just my two cents.

  9. If you’re watching Breaking Bad, you can narrow your choices down to The Sopranos and The Shield. All three series have different tones and temperaments and styles—but a hell of a lot of thematic overlap. They’re the Morally-and-Follicly-Challenged-Men Trilogy.

    But like others have said, The Sopranos is something you need to let simmer, soak in. The Shield is mad urban-jungle-pulp. Seven seasons feel like a half hour. Just depends what you’re in the mood for.

    (Buffy’s immense, Angel’s interesting, and Newsradio is one of the three or four best comedies of the ’90s—but with eleven weeks of Breaking Bad to come, Shield or Sopranos is the way to go)

  10. Brian

    I was torn between The Shield and Newsradio as well. The Shield is arguably the most underrated drama of the 2000’s. Chiklis was excellent and Walton Goggins put in some of the best work to never be recognized by the Emmy voters. Him never winning for that show was a huge snub. Plus all the supporting players were excellent. That show just got better as it chugged along. I’d like to say some other things but I won’t spoil anything.

    Newsradio was such a great comedy and I completely agree with pbrl on the reasoning. Quality comedies are in such short supply and this was one that NBC let run for a while because there entire schedule was clicking in the mid 90’s. That was despite them jacking the show around quite a bit.

    The best way to describe Newsradio is probably 30 Rock at a radio station- with far less absurd things and a much higher quality of grounded humor. I have tons of favorite moments there but again, nothing I’d spoil

  11. Man, don’t slag the comedies of the ’70s and ’80s. You’ve gotta watch some of those someday. They were basically the dramas of their time. (It would also be good to catch up on some of the post-Hill Street Blues dramas of the era, but there are fewer of those.)

    • I was more justifying their exclusion from this list as opposed to excluding them from any future endeavours – I wanted to make certain that people understood this was relatively recent catchup, as opposed to any sort of broader project (which will, in time, happen, interests be damned).

  12. Jay

    well you’re missing Slings and Arrows and Gilmore Girls, but I vote for Buffy/Angel. Loved Newsradio when it was on but watching on DVD felt a little dated to me, whereas the GGs still make me laugh even after many viewings.

  13. Eldritch

    Buffy still resonates with me, so by all means, watch Buffy first.

    Be aware that chronologically, there’s some over lap. Angel began during season Four of Buffy. In a handful of episodes, events in one week’s Buffy resonate in that week’s Angel (and vice versa, I suppose). You would lose that interaction between the series if you watched all of Buffy followed by all of Angel.

    love your other choices. Enjoy!

  14. Buffy / Angel, and make sure you watch in the order they aired due to crossovers.

    And forgive season 4 of Buffy and season 4 of Angel… Seasons after those are infinitely better.

    • Asta77

      I seem to be one of the few people who really enjoyed Season 4 of Buffy, though I would agree Seasons 5 and 6 were stronger thematically and had more interesting villains.

      • Barbara

        I especially loved the finale of Buffy Season 4. I think Season 5 or 6 would be the worst in my view. I know what you mean thematically, but aspects of both seasons nearly wrung out my goodwill. They both had episodes that hit it out of the park, but those individuals episodes were small comfort.

        Season 4 of Angel (at least the middle of the season – again, the finale was just excellent) was an absolute trainwreck.

  15. Andrew

    I haven’t yet watched The Shield, but of the others, The Sopranos has the best first season. (Buffy’s best were 2 and 3) so, The Sopranos may be most rewarding from the start.

    All are worthwhile, but I’d say that Newsradio and Angel are less so than the others (but angel seasons should be watched alongside the matching Buffy seasons– especially during BTVS s4/Angel s1

  16. Asta77

    I’m curious to read a newbies view of Buffy and Angel. When the series originally aired, I considered myself a Buffy fan first and foremost. But, now, as I watch repeats I feel that Angel holds up better.

    Newsradio is one of my favorite comedies, though the show, in my opinion, couldn’t recover from Phil Hartman’s death and I gave up watching in it’s final season.

  17. Barbara

    Okay, so I have seen all the series that you have listed and all four are pretty different from each other – although Sopranos and The Shield are most similar. I’m going to vote for my favorite: Buffy, but I watch TV according to mood. For example:

    If you are interested in watching something that is completely different from what is airing on network tv right now, I would do Newsradio or Buffy. Both are great on rewatch after all these years and some episodes are just inspired.

    Newsradio also is really funny. I went off sitcoms in the early 90s, but Newsradio is one of the few I kept up with. I heard the final season went off the rails, so be careful with that.

    I actually recently rewatched the first 3 seasons of Buffy and it, like The Shield and Sopranos (for that matter) is very arc-y. There are callbacks across seasons, between seasons, you really have to pay attention on some level. Buffy and Angel each had a really bad season (or half season later in their runs), so prepare yourself!

    I have been rewatching The Sopranos every week on A&E and I have seen the season probably 3x over by now. The early seasons are very good.

    I have the most mixed feelings about The Shield. I missed 1-2 seasons in the middle and I feel like I didn’t miss much at all in watching the first 1-2 seasons and the final 1-2 seasons.

    • Eldritch

      I thought The Shield did a interesting thing. In the last seasons of the series, it returned to plot lines which had been started in the early seasons and appeared finished. Mackey was such an out of control cop, it seemed unreal that he could continue unchecked season after season as he would have in an ordinary series. Apparently, the writers though so too and settled on an end date for the series. That allowed them to make the consequences of Mackey’s actions finally fall on him and his task force. It struck me as a smart thing to do.

      This return to earlier plot threads may be why you don’t feel you missed much in the middle.

  18. James

    Strongly disagree Buffy and Angel’s fourth seasons.

    There were definitely certain aspects Angel’s that were unsettling but it contained some of the series very best episodes and managed to wrap up the arc that led up to it extremely well.

    Same goes for Buffy. The standalones plus the great character moments make it standout as one of the stronger seasons.

  19. I voted for The Shield namely because when I watched the pilot episode, I felt more engaged in the storyline more than I had ever really felt before. After the episode ended, I knew I had to see the next episode, and it continued on from there. Ever person I share that pilot with has been hooked completely.

    The politics, the action, and the friendship and struggles within the team make this a strong series to watch.

  20. Brian

    Newsradio’s 5th season is not as good as the rest. Phil Hartman was such an integral part of the cast and his character was designed to play antagonist against everyone at one time or another. When he passed away and they brought in Lovitz they had a small problem with the tonal shift of the show. By the time they started getting the tone right, it was clear the show was on its last legs. I believe the decision to bring it back for a 5th season came a week or so before Hartman was killed, and that cast a pall over the early part of the season.

    That does not mean that the 5th season is completely devoid of good material though.

  21. lylebot

    Like seemingly many others who wanted to recommend one or the other, I had a hard time choosing between The Shield and NewsRadio. They’re not at all similar, so I wonder why so many of us are putting them together like that?

    At this point, though, even if you treat The Shield and NewsRadio as a single unit, it’s still losing to Buffy. I’ve never seen Buffy, so I can’t comment on that.

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  24. Tausif Khan

    I watched Angel before Buffy (TNT mornings then Buffy DVDs) better to watch Buffy first. The tones of the two shows are very different.

    What about other cult classics like Twin Peaks or Freaks and Geeks?

  25. Can’t go wrong with any of these shows, but Buffy was my first TV love.

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  27. Newsradio and The Shield are both excellent, but Buffy is single-handedly responsible for changing the way I think about and watch television. It is the most underrated television show in television history.

    • Eldritch

      I agree. Watching Buffy and listening to the commentaries on the DVDs taught me a lot I hadn’t known about TV production.

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  31. Red

    coming to this post way late so my comment is this:

    Go Badgers! You will have a great time in Madison.

  32. Traie

    I think you’d really be doing yourself a disservice if you do not follow your first experiment up with The Sopranos. I’ll preface my next statement telling you that I have not watched more than an episode or two of any Buffy/related shows, saw the pilot of Firefly when it aired and only liked that Car based Lost wannabe that lasted a few episodes on Fox. So I am no expert on this so called Whedonverse nor do I care to delve into it. In my work I’m surrounded daily by enough of his fan boys and girls and their incessant love for his work and little knowledge of anything else that exists in scripted television, that I find it difficult to trust their opinions and even consider trying season one. It’s like Kevin Smith fans for me that love his films, and see little else.
    I too am a fan of Mad Men (which initially led me to your ‘blog’), Breaking Bad, The Wire, Lost and The Shield to name a few and find these shows to easily be among the best of what has been on television in the past 5 or so years. To have your ‘fans’ or readers recommend Buffy/Angel over The Sopranos to me is not only puzzling, but quite troubling. I recently went back and rewatched the first 5 seasons for the first time since they originally aired on HBO over the past few weeks and am in the early stages of season 6 as I write this. I just completed screening the second episode of said season titled Join The Club and was hoping to read some deeper critical analysis of the episode as I found it’s writing, acting, directing and sheer audaciousness absolutely fascinating and nothing short of stunning. I’ve had discussions with like minded friends about what is the best hour long that has ever been on television and about a year ago my answer would have easily been The Wire with The Sopranos a photo finish for second place, but after rewatching these 5 seasons, I’m whistling a slightly different tune. While I still think The Wire is the best hour long that we have had the fortune of experiencing, The Sopranos is a more important achievement in terms of how they told their stories and has had a much more significant influence on what I believe you consider to be good television based on the reviews of yours I have read. I believe The Sopranos created standard by which all hour long shows should be measured and you owe it to yourself to make this your next experiment. While not perfect, and even a little clunky in the early going it’s quite an incredible ride.
    I look forward to reading your analysis in the future.

  33. Bob

    I would recommend Babylon 5 and The Prisoner over any of the remaining shows listed. Elements of both are seen in Lost, and in the case of Babylon 5, one of its stars played Rousseau. Watch these 2 shows, and answers to questions such as “Who are you?”; “What do you want?”; and “Who is number one?” gain a new perspective.

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