Small Screen Gems

Remember the days when movie stars would never soil themselves by downgrading to the little screen? It wasn’t all that long ago. Now they are all clambering to star in their own series. Likewise, for an actor to make a successful leap from the TV to the cinema used to be a singular event. I remember being surprised when Neve Campbell scored the lead in Scream. And when David Caruso so famously left television because he wanted a film career… well, we all know how that turned out.  Now it’s only natural for your favorite actors to flit back and forth between mediums. Look at your Kevin Baconses and your Dennis Quaidses and your Claire Daneses.

I attribute this A) to the desirability of consistent employment that television provides, and B) a noticeable increase in the quality of television over the past decade, decade-and-a-half. “Chickens and eggs,”  you could say. Did TV improve because of the quality of actors they started employing, or vice versa? I say the latter. The Sopranos just may have been the vanguard of the new, improved TV experience, and no one on that show was very famous when they were cast. Now TV shows are pulling in Bill Paxton, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buschemi and Sean Bean. Granted, we’re not talking Angelina Jolie or Will Smith here, but these are established movie actors with impressive resumes.


Mmm… Sean Bean…

So, TV has improved, but also, there’s just a lot more of it. So, naturally, some worthy shows get less attention than they should. Here are a few you might want to check out – all of them have crossover stars. I’m skipping Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I already harped on about it in a previous post, and no doubt will go on and on about it in the future.

Veronica Mars

If there’s one show you take away from this list, let it be this one. There are three seasons in total, and season one, I can say without hyperbole, is some of the most engaging TV I’ve ever seen. The second season is not as good as the first, but it’s still pretty great TV. The third season is the weakest of the three, but by that point you’ll be hooked, and you’ll watch it anyway. Veronica Mars lives in the town of Neptune, and she is the daughter of disgraced ex-sheriff Keith Mars (the absolutely wonderful, you’ll-want-him-to-be-your-dad Enrico Colantoni), who is now a private eye. Veronica occasionally does sleuthing work for him, and often investigates mysteries of her own. Don’t be fooled, she is no Harriet the Spy, no Nancy Drew. She is, if anything, the cold hand of justice – ruthless in tearing down those who do her, or the underdog, wrong. She’s so smart and capable, in fact, that she’s almost like a super hero – her cleverness is just a little bit beyond believable – thus, much like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, she’s a joy to watch in action.  Season one’s big mystery is the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried {Cosette, No!}). Veronica’s also investigating the whereabouts of her deadbeat, alcoholic mother, and her own rape, which happened at a party where she was dosed with Rohypnol. So, yeah. Definitely not Nancy Drew. All of these mysteries are introduced in the first episode. There are also shifting alliances, lots of romance, a nasty sheriff, a software billionaire, a movie star, and a biker gang. Plus, two Buffy alumni, and a cameo by Joss Whedon (a fan) himself.

Crossover Stars: Kristen Bell, Amanda Seyfried

Pair With: A cafe latte with a shot of cinnamon. 




And speaking of Joss Whedon. The cancelation of Firefly still causes the geeks of the world to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat, hearts thumping. Hell, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory brings it up every chance he gets. The thing is this… it’s really, really good. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before – so I’m not going to get into details. In fact, let me try a fresh angle… the cast is crazy attractive. Seriously.

Crossover Stars: Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin

Pair With:  A shot of Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey


Hi! We’re in space and we’re good looking!

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies is charming, storybook, bonbon of a show. About death. Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Lincoln) plays Ned, The Pie Maker, a man who can touch a dead thing and bring it back to life. Touch it again, and that thing dies again, forever. Fail to touch it a second time, and something of equal size (and intelligence, I think, although that’s never exactly clear) dies in its place. Whew! So what does Ned do? He pairs up with a private detective, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), to bring murder victims back to life, ask them who killed them, and then touch them again, leaving them forever dead. (They never really get a straight answer from the victim, just a clue or two.) But then Ned comes across his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, dead in a coffin. You can probably extrapolate what happens next. The candy-colored, unreal settings and the storybook narration give Pushing Daisies a fairy tale feel. At times, the relationship between Ned and Charlotte, his sweeetie, can get a bit twee, but that is nicely tempered by the cartoonishly grotesque talking dead people they encounter, the sharp and hilarious Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook, a waitress in Ned’s cafe, Swoozie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Charlotte’s recluse aunts, and especially McBride, who is gut-bustingly funny as the droll Cod. Sketch comedians Key and Peele joke that every black best friend in a show has to utter the line “Oh helllll no!” – and McBride does just that, many times, but I swear he makes an art of it.

Crossover Star: Lee Pace

Pair With: Pie! (Duh) – If you can get your hands on it, the banana cream pie from Norske Nook in Osseo, WI.


Key and Peele

And speaking of Key and Peele… This is a newish, cable sketch comedy show, starring comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. It’s not for everyone – it’s definitely R rated. What I love is the unique point of view that Key and Peele bring to the comedy stage. They are each children of one black and one white parent, and much of their comedy is about what it’s like to belong, and not belong in both worlds. That tack could’ve resulted in a very narrow viewpoint, but instead, their comedy speaks to anyone who has ever put on poses in order to fit in. Which is… pretty much everyone. Oh, and also? They’re just really funny.

Click here for a short, PG13-rated sketch from them.

Okay, no crossover stars… as of yet.

Pair With: Whatever Liam Neesons or Bruce Willeys would drink.



I admit: this is kind of a dorky show. When my friends Julie and Claire were trying to convince a bunch of us to watch it, the conversation went something like this:

J&C: Okay, so, Timothy Hutton plays this guy who used to have a job catching criminals, but then he was screwed over by the insurance company that he worked for, so he changed to the other side of the law.

The Rest of Us: That sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. So he hires one guy who’s the muscle, one guy who’s a computer hacker, a woman who’s a catburglar (she’s kind of crazy), and a woman who’s a grifter, and they steal stuff and pull off cons…

The Rest of Us: That still sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. Get this. They only do jobs for altruistic reasons. They take down the man!

The Rest of Us: That definitely sounds like The A-Team.

Well, it turns out, in the DVD extras, the creators and the stars say that everyone tries to compare them to Oceans 11, but what they really are like is… yes, The A-Team. The hacker character, in fact, played by Aldis Hodge (the real standout in the cast), owns a van with which he is obsessed, ala B.A. Baracus. Leverage is as light as air — a nice little floofy bit of fluff-tastickness. In fact, there are only two problems with this show. One: When they try to get too serious, which, fortunately isn’t very often, it doesn’t work. Two: There’s some terrible male hair going on. Terrible. But mostly, it succeeds, because it’s super fun. Watch it as a sorbet for Breaking Bad or Homeland, when you just can’t take the stress anymore.

Crossover Star: Timothy Hutton

Pair With: Irish Whisky, but stop long before Nathan does.

the-a-team Who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together?


For many years, folks have been crowning this show and that show “The Next X-Files.” (Alias, Lost.) In my mind, Fringe is the true heir. It, like many shows before it, took to heart the most important lesson X-Files had to teach us, which was “Don’t let your mythology get out of control.” As groundbreaking as the X-Files was, it got incredible frustrating after a while. Not so Fringe. That is not to say that the show’s mythology is simplistic. It’s very complicated – but it’s also clever and consistent. Season one is eminently watchable, but it’s not until season two that Fringe really finds its footing. I don’t want to give anything away, sufficed to say that it’s great science fiction, and you’ll have a hard time not clicking on that next episode, and the one after that.

Crossover Stars: John Noble and Leonard Nimoy

Pair With:  Johnny Walker Black (Olivia’s drink of choice), with a shot of Cortexiphan.


The Mentalist

I like detective shows that have a sense of humor. I like Castle, The Closer, and before it jumped the shark (which time, amiright?), Bones. I’ll pretty much watch any show of this ilk if it’s at all good – it doesn’t have to be singular or even great. All I ask for is some decent acting, interesting mysteries, a good, quirky main character, and the satisfaction of catching the bad guy at the end of the episode. The Mentalist is all those things in seasons one and two – but in season three, I’m not even sure why, exactly, I got seriously hooked. I think it has something to do with the fact that Simon Baker is so stellar as the enormously clever and severely damaged Patrick Jane – and in season three we started to get more and more flashes of his dark underbelly. I like his back story.  I like that he’s unpredictable. I like that he’s always smiling and it’s almost never genuine. Plus – easy on the eyes. Oh! And Cho. You’ve gotta love Agent Cho. (He’s totally the real-life Cornfed from Duckman.)

Crossover Stars: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney (The Craft!)

Pair With: Lapsang Souchong tea, preferable pilfered from someone else’s cupboard.

Panama Red

Handsome McVesty

Avatar, the Last Airbender/ The Legend of Korra 

The first of the two series, Avatar, the Last Airbender, very, very unfortunately did cross over onto the big screen. It was put in the dubious hands of M. Knight Shamalan (a sort of anti-Midas. Everything he touches turns to ca-ca), a move guaranteed to ensure that anyone who hadn’t yet seen the animated original would never, ever seek it out. Which is too bad, because it’s great fun. Forget the horror show that is the movie. Pretend it never happened, and go stream Avatar, and then Korra after.

In a fantasy world akin to mid-19th century Asia, there are four nations, one for each element. There are special folks called ‘Benders,’ who can manipulate either air, water, earth or fire. Into every generation is born The Avatar, the one person who can control all four elements. The Avatar is entrusted to bring/maintain peace between the nations. Ang is our Avatar, and he is woefully underprepared to take on the despotic Fire Nation. With the help of a couple of Water Nation siblings, Ang travels throughout the land to gain the knowledge and skill he needs to lead. There are many obstacles in his way, of course – and he encounters a great number of enemies and allies. There’s terrific humor, adventure and surprising complexity in the story.

Even better, in my opinion, is The Legend of Korra – the titular Korra is the next Avatar after Ang – and, since it’s 70 years later, now we’re in a world more akin to the roaring 20s. The animation is superior to the original, and the action is nail-biting. Very pretty to look at, very fun to watch. Plus, Pabu, the fire ferret. FIRE FERRET. I want a fire ferret. A second season is in the works.

Crossover Stars: J.K. Simmons, Mako  Iwamatsu.

Pair With: Japanese tofu noodle bowl, and a perfectly brewed cup of genmaicha tea. 


Want. One.