July 18, 2004
TV critics often call television ‘‘The Monster’’ or ‘‘The Beast.’’ That’s because, with all the cable and satellite options out there, it just keeps coming at you.
So what are we — and probably you — missing? There are a lot of little shows on little networks that get very little attention.
We’re not talking about cable hits like ‘‘Nip/Tuck’’ and ‘‘The Daily Show’’ here but about more offbeat, underground shows that have managed to develop small but hard-core fan bases.
This overview is hardly comprehensive, but if you’re looking for a new show to latch onto, here are 20 to check out:
• "Airline": Take a trip into the friendly — and often unfriendly — skies with this reality series, which chronicles the joys and frustrations of Southwest Airlines employees who deal with drunken passengers, malodorous fliers, the occasional celebrity and other disparate disgruntled types. It’ll make you appreciate that bag of peanuts even more. (10 p.m. Mondays, A&E)
• "Aqua Teen Hunger Force": The heroes of this brief cartoon — part of Cartoon Network’s ‘‘Adult Swim’’ block — are a streetwise, slightly satanic-looking bag of fries; a sarcastic meatball; and a milkshake with an attitude problem. They solve crimes in the New Jersey area, but with a lineup like that, does what they do really matter? (midnight, 12:15 and 3 a.m. weeknights, Cartoon Network)
• "Book TV": Don’t dig the idea of politicians droning on during C-SPAN telecasts? Well, wait till the weekend, when you can watch authors drone on! Except that authors have occasionally been found to have senses of humor and, sometimes, integrity. Sometimes. (5 a.m. Saturdays and 5 a.m. Mondays, C-SPAN2)
• "Breed All About It": OK, we’ll admit it: We included this because we’re suckers for cute pictures of dogs. Each halfhour edition of this show focuses on a particular breed of canine, giving a little bit of its history and personality traits, as well as providing some info on the job the dog was bred to do. Every episode wraps up with a quick pro-and-con list for the breed du jour. But really, it’s the puppy pictures that turn this into TV comfort food. (6 and 6:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Animal Planet)
• "Class of . . .": Biography Channel just kicked off this show, which highlights what the channel calls ‘‘breakout’’ years for certain celebrities. OK, so the first year was 1988 and Dustin Hoffman was one of the ‘‘breakouts,’’ even though his breakthrough year was really 1967. Guess any success after ‘‘Ishtar’’ is a breakout. But we love timewarp stuff like this, so we’ll grant the show artistic license. (5 p.m. Tuesdays, Biography)
• "Clean Sweep": If you’re the kind of person who worries about letting the newspapers stack up or about not having enough shelf space for your books, well, this show should make you take heart. At least you’re not the guy who had about 10 computers, not all of which worked, that he wouldn’t throw out. An organization team comes in to help people like this, and often tough love is needed to get the job done. And when you see what some folks accumulate, you’ll realize that obsessive-compulsiveness and neatness don’t always go hand in hand. (6 p.m. weekdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, TLC)
• "Dinner for Five": Actorscreenwriter Jon Favreau plays host to four other actors who talk about their craft — and just about anything else that comes up. Always an eclectic group: Tonight’s lineup, for instance, includes comedian David Cross, erstwhile ‘‘Saturday Night Live’’ player Molly Shannon, character actor Philip Baker Hall and documentarian George Hickenlooper. (7 p.m. Fridays, IFC)
• "The Graham Norton Effect": BBC America fans know the puckish Norton from ‘‘So Graham Norton,’’ a talk show during which the British comedian would do, well, just about anything. Celebrity guests either go along with Norton or look stunned at what they’ve stumbled into. Time will tell if the tamer standards of U.S. television — even on Comedy Central — lessen a little of Norton’s bite, but it should be fun finding out if it does. (10 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy Central)
• "Into Character": AMC, traveling ever further from the ‘‘American Movie Classics’’ that used to be its name, gets into the reality-series game with this show in which average dudes and dudettes replay roles from their fave movies. This week, it’s ‘‘La Bamba;’’ next week, it’s ‘‘The Blues Brothers Movie.’’ (10 p.m. Wednesdays, AMC)
• "MXC": That’s short for Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (yes, some capital letters get lost in there; we said it was short), a Japanese stunt-game show imported for the use of the juvenile minds at Spike TV, which is having quite the field day with the show. Note: Don’t try any of this at home. That means you, Sparky. (9 p.m. Thursdays, Spike)
• "MythBusters": Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who look like nerds trying to be cool, get to be cool anyway as they poke holes in urban legends, complete with experiments to see if certain legends ever ‘‘could’’ work. (10 p.m. Tuesdays, Discovery)
• "Natural Golf Makeover": This doesn’t involve plastic surgery, but it does involve taking five hackers and working on their fashion sense (for golfers — right), their motivation and even their swings. Hmm, wonder where we can sign up. (6:25 p.m. Mondays, Golf Channel)
• "106 and Park": BET’s cousin to MTV’s ‘‘Total Request Live,’’ this counts down the top 10 rap and R &B videos with the help of a couple of attractive young people named Free and AJ. Plus celebrity guests drop by all the time. (6 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, BET)
• "Pimp My Ride": Here’s a car makeover show that ‘‘really’’ makes over cars. Rapper Xzibit helps poor schmos turn their aging, cheap vehicles into sweet street machines with booming sound systems. So the next time someone pulls up next to you with a thumping stereo, just remember: Their ride may have been pimped. (8 and 8:30 p.m. Sundays, MTV)
• "Scream Play": A distant cousin to AMC’s ‘‘Into Character,’’ this series also features ordinary people re-enacting scenes from big movies. The difference? These people are re-enacting dangerous stunts — or sometimes just icky things, like drinking raw eggs a la Sylvester Stallone in ‘‘Rocky.’’ (10 p.m. Wednesdays, E!)
• "Sunday Night Sex Show": Taking a page from Dr. Ruth — a page with all the naughty bits highlighted — sex educator Sue Johanson belies her matronly persona by giving candid sex advice to viewers (which, because this is Oxygen we’re talking about, probably numbers about 100). Definitely TV-MA material. (midnight weeknights, Oxygen)
• "Trailer Park Boys": Like the title says, blokes in a trailer park, only this one happens to be in Nova Scotia, Canada, in a comedy that mixes toughness, tenderness and even Socratic philosophy. (6 p.m. Thursdays, BBC America)
• "Unwrapped": Perhaps the most monomaniacal food show on TV — in the sense that every half-hour is about one subject, with no sides. This lighthearted nonfiction series picks a different topic for each episode. This week’s include food containers (such as Pez dispensers), ballpark food and cheese snacks. The episodes include a lot of Americana, and you don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy it. (9 and 9:30 p.m. Mondays, Food Network)
• "Viva la Bam and Wildboyz": The ‘‘Jackass!’’ spirit continues in these two stupid-stunt shows. The Bam of ‘‘Viva La . . ." is Bam Margera, a skater dude with a supporting cast of goons who do things like stage amateur demolition derbies and redecorate houses — by throwing all the furniture out the window. ‘‘Wildboyz’’ is a twisted travel/nature show with ‘‘Jackass!’’ guys going to places like Indonesia — and using a Komodo dragon to recreate a medieval dragonslaying. In this case, put your money on the reptile. (Season’s over for both, but reruns abound. MTV)