Best TV Channel Tournament Primer: FX-Ellent

September 26, 2012 § 4 Comments

Time to get back on the train of deciding which network or cable channel is the best of them all.  We continue today with a quick look at a cable network that’s quickly growing into the best of both worlds as a hybrid between the excellent programming of a Premium Cable channel, to the “Can’t say ‘Fuck’” of a Network.

Most of the shows that you’re currently watching on FX are less than five years old.  Some of your favorites might only be three years old or less actually, but the road for them was paved by other programs that the network took a chance on.  Fittingly, FX is the “FOX” of cable channels.  It didn’t seem to have anything going for it when it premiered other than being “edgy” and now it’s dominating almost any non-AMC cable channel in terms of programs.

It starts with Justified, arguably the best drama on TV.  (and the reason I show “Justified!” when I shoot someone in the face.)  When I first started to watch Justified, it was only for one reason: Timothy Olyphant, my “If I had to do a guy” guy.  I’ve been following the ‘Phant since Scream 2, through Girl Next Door and Deadwood, and now we are here.  I wasn’t super impressed with the show early on, it felt like one of those “new crime every week!” shows that are rather pointless to follow like CSI or Law and Order.

Oh sure, I’ll sit down and watch me some L&O:SVU if my TV happen to be on TNT (or USA, or local FOX, or 30 other channels) but it’s nothing that’s going to go down as one of the best shows ever.  Too rapey.

Stop or my Tim will shoot!

However, as Justified started to get into it’s groove by midseason, it had established it’s characters and setting and I was hooked.  The on-again, off-again relationship between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder as the main setting for what should be an epic showdown when it’s all said and done.  I came for the ‘Phant, but I’m staying for the backwater shootouts.

American Horror Story debuted last year with much anticipation, and despite the fact that it felt like the show had written itself into a corner and had no way out other than to say, “Wait, this is fiction, I’ll just make something up!” I thought it turned into a show that we could praise for taking chances.  It’s definitely weird, dramatic, confusing, and off-kilter, but I thought that’s what people have been praising David Lynch for since the 80s.  Except that I think that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have out-Lynched Lynch, since I actually want to watch AHS.  They’re killing it.  (As opposed to “The Killing it,” which means that you are actually making frustrating, annoying, shitty television.)

(To be fair, if Lynch had anything to hang his hat on, it’s that he was most successful during his run with Twin Peaks.)

The other drama on FX is Sons of Anarchy, a show that I only started watching earlier this year.  I ran through the first two seasons on Netflix, as addicted as one could be to a show, but then they started to lose me.  Sons felt forced at times to do something edgy, but then every time you thought something was going to happen… it didn’t.  I love Charlie Hunnam because of Undeclared, but it doesn’t feel to me like he truly suits this character.

That’s probably blasphemy to say and I’m sure Sons fans will run me over for saying it, but him in that role stopped working for me.  However, I’ll eventually find out where I left off and continue to watch the series.  It’s not going anywhere, since last season it saw a major ratings jump when it hit 7.5 million viewers per episode, compared to 3.23 million viewers two seasons earlier.

So when comparing AMC and FX, I’d have to say that they’ve both got strong arguments in the drama categories, but there is no competition in sitcoms/comedy/whatever the hell Louie and Wilfred are.  Because FX stands alone in that department.

Giving Louis CK free reign to make whatever show he wanted without notes or post-editing was the best thing that’s ever happened to sitcom television.  As mostly the only writer, director, editor,  and star of Louie, we get to see his vision exactly as he sees it and holy shit is it amazing.

There are times when I watch Louie and I laugh so hard that I can’t breathe.  There are other times that I watch an entire episode without laughing and yet at the end, I’m just very impressed with what I saw.  I want to watch it five more times to catch everything that I had missed, and often I’ll find myself again laughing so hard that I can’t breathe, I just didn’t catch it the first time.

This is what Louis CK was meant to do, and I’m grateful that FX let him do it.

Wilfred is another experimental show and though I never seem to hear other people talk about it, I think it’s one of the most addictive, well-written, funniest shows on television.  It’s not just about a dog that can talk or a man in a dog suit (though it is also about those things) it’s about depression, anger, manipulation, heartbreak, torture, love, crushes, drugs, and… dogs eating vomit.  But it’s also deeper than that.

Two years later we still don’t know what Wilfred is and that reveal might not come for awhile, but at least it’s a sitcom that’s giving me reason to keep coming back.  I feel like I’m watching “Funny LOST!”

None of this would have been possible though without the sitcom that broke the mold and the longest running show on FX, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  It’s crazy how all these other new shows have sort of made me forget about Sunny after what feels like a very long hiatus, but I sort of did.  And now I’m sort of remembering how amazing it is.

First advertised as “Seinfeld on Crack” or something, Sunny turned out to be so much better than a shitty FX tagline.  The adventures of Charlie, Dennis, Mac, Dee, and Frank have been far more satisfying than one would imagine from a show that’s often described as “crass” or “crude,” it’s actually one of the smartest written shows on television.  The group is actually much smarter than one would think if they judged a book by it’s cover or its dick towel.  (Glenn Howerton went to Julliard, for example.  And Danny DeVito is Danny fucking DeVito.)

Seven seasons and still going strong, I highly anticipate a new year of a show that set the edge in 2005 and is constantly fighting to stay ahead of it.

Then FX debuted Brand X with Russell Brand and Anger Management with Charlie Sheen and screwed everything up.  What the hell, FX?  You went for ratings and completely shot your reputation among the smart crowd.  Brand X is literally one of the worst things I’ve seen on television.

Archer – Kill me if you must, but I have not yet gotten into Archer.

FX doesn’t try to complicate too much, but they’ve taken chances with their programming that few other channels ever have and it’s paid off.  Justified makes a case as the best drama on television.  Louie makes a case as the best sitcom (or just plain any show) on television.  Wilfred and American Horror Story are two of the most successful “weird” things on television.  Sunny is going down as one of the most influential and important shows in cable history.  FX has been to cable what FOX was to Networks…

Let’s just hope that Brand X isn’t a sign that they’re going to start a reality singing competition and fuck the whole thing up.

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§ 4 Responses to Best TV Channel Tournament Primer: FX-Ellent

  • Caramella says:

    Please make an effort to find the Australian Wilfred! It started as a short film entered in Tropfest, and was expanded to two seasons on television. Jason Gann and Adam Zwar have a wonderful dynamic, and Cindy Waddingham as Sarah is dry and sarcastic. Personally I think it craps all over the American version.

  • javaj240 says:

    I have been trying to convince everyone I know to watch “Justified” for years. One would think the promise of seeing Timothy Olyphant on a weekly basis would be enough, wouldn’t you? And he’s sporting a cowboy hat again. Hello?!?! Nobody, and I mean nobody, who is currently alive, sports a cowboy hat better than Timothy Olyphant.

    I also love “Wilfred”, which everyone says makes me weird. I’m okay with that.

    Great post. Your assessment of FX is spot on.

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