Classic cult TV: Worth a new look?

A classic cult show does something new or pushes boundaries, has a dedicated but limited audience, and usually has a short run. You see “Game of Thrones” on lists of cult shows, but in my view it doesn’t come close. Its followers are fanatical and even have their rituals and lexicon, but it ran for eight years, and its audience ran in the tens of millions.


“Firefly” (2002) is a much better example. Its cancellation by Fox after 11 episodes generated a huge fan uprising. You can see fandom at work in the Wikipedia entry, which runs longer than the one on Pearl Harbor and expounds on every detail, e.g. why the characters curse in Chinese. TV critic Emily Nussbaum called it a “character-rich, sci-fi western comedy drama with existential underpinnings.”

I’d give it passing marks for special effects, action, and humor, but is it worth watching? Here’s a scene from Episode One. Captain Mal Reynolds and the crew of his spaceship undergo a gunfight (on horseback), escape to their ship only to be pursued by Reavers (savage, half-human space pirates). “What happens if they board us?” the ship’s whore asks the pilot. “They rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skin into their clothing,” she replies. This sent me back to age 14, when I read a story titled, I think, “Serena and the Sex Slaves of Sirius” in an issue of Spicy SF Stories. I fled “Firefly” for the Mets game, but if you have a teen sci-fi fan in the house, he will have fun with it. Stream on Hulu or rent on AppleTV or Amazon.

My So-Called Life

“My So-Called Life” (1994) is a teen drama that centers on Angela Chase, a pretty and confused high schooler with a crush on handsome but oddly taciturn Jordan Catalano. Some episodes concern Angela’s parents, who seem almost as confused as their daughter. This well written show was far ahead of its time, dealing with such issues as homophobia, drug use, and guns in school (this was years before Columbine). Low ratings caused ABC to cancel the show, and a fan campaign to save it was reportedly the first in the history of the Internet.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely! It’s a welcome step back from the angry, disturbed teens in more recent shows like “The End of the F***ing World,” and was called one of the best teen dramas of all time by Rolling Stone and other publications. The stars are two great reasons to have a look: Jared Leto (his first major role) plays Jordan, and Angela is played by 15-year-old Claire Danes, who grew up to play Carrie Mathison in “Homeland.” Stream on Hulu, rent on Amazon and other services.

Difficult People

“Difficult People” (2015-17) stars Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as two cynical New York City comedians who loathe almost everyone in town, especially celebrities. The name-dropping and jokes come at you with machine gun speed, along with cameos by Nathan Lane, Tina Fey and many other A-list actors. Another plus: any show that trashed Kevin Spacey and Charlie Rose years before their public exposure deserves respect.

This is big city humor at its most abrasive, and most critics liked it. Is it for you? That depends. Are you happier with Mary Tyler Moore in Minnesota or Larry David in LA and NYC? Mary folks might pass; Larry people should jump in, which you can do anywhere. Start with Episode 3, which is total madness: Kate McKinnon does a hilarious turn as Abra Cadouglas, an alcoholic magician, Julie and Billy host a raunchy pledge week at PBS, and Martin Short makes a scornful guest appearance. Three seasons, stream on Hulu or rent on Amazon and others.

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