Steve Buscemi plays politician-gangster Nucky Thompson in HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
On today's All Things Considered, I'll be answering the question so many people ask me about television: Is there anything good on?
The answer, for me, boils down to: Sure. There's plenty of good television — more than enough, certainly, to satisfy the average person's actual TV needs.
In other words, 95 percent of what's on TV you weren't going to watch anyway, because you cannot (and would not) devote that many hours to it. So people who want something good to watch just need to fill whatever their limited budget of TV time might be; whether the 95 percent of television you're not watching is good or bad doesn't need to matter that much. (Fortunately.)
Given those time limitations, you can't pick up more than a couple of new shows in a season anyway, right? Even if all the new shows were good, you weren't going to watch all of them unless you want to stop eating, sleeping, and working. (Which you don't.) So here are the two dramas I most recommend you add to your schedule.
Boardwalk Empire. It's kind of a cliche to find yourself saying, "You know, you should really watch the prestigious new HBO drama with the great pedigree." But in this case, you really should. Boardwalk Empire is a Prohibition-era drama from Terence Winter (who was a writer on The Sopranos), and it stars, among others, Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, and Michael K. Williams, whom The Wire fans will recognize as one Omar Little. Oh, and — the first episode was directed by Martin Scorsese, who's one of the executive producers. It's a genuinely terrific show.
Lone Star. The broadcast networks haven't rolled out a fantastic slate this fall, but Fox's Lone Star is very good. It's a moody, tightly wound family-business drama — well, actually, it's two family-business dramas. Lone Star is a story with two of everything, in fact. There are two family businesses, there are two father figures, there are two settings, and there are two of a few other things I won't go into so as not to spoil anything.
The story centers on a skilled con man and his father who operate in the Texas oil and gas business, and if there's anything that ails the show, it's only that there's so much tension that's been built up by the end of the pilot that it's hard to imagine how they can keep the show so tightly wound for an entire season. But it should be fun to watch them try.
So those are the two leading recommendations, but they're not the only ones. We couldn't cover everything, so I didn't talk about one of the other fall entrants I like, an FX private-eye show called Terriers that premiered last week. It's dry-witted and fun, but also taut and suspenseful; it might appeal to fans of shows like USA's Burn Notice. It's definitely worth a tryout.
We also talked about the fact that it's a dismal season for comedies, led by the really, really bad Bleep My Dad Says on CBS — though it certainly gets a run for its money from the extra-really bad Outsourced on NBC, which has the "advantage" in this particular race of being both painfully unfunny and kind of offensive.
Last year was a good one for comedies: We gained Modern Family on ABC and Community on NBC, and if you consider Glee a comedy, Fox gave us that, too. By contrast, this season is not promising on the comedy front ... at all.
So maybe the thing to do if you're looking for a new favorite comedy is to give up and go back to existing comedies that don't have large-enough audiences — especially Community, which will face a difficult battle against the highly-rated Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Because in the end, if you're the kind of person who enjoys good TV, the key is to pick out the good stuff from among the bad — which, of course, is as plentiful as always.