Sometimes, it can be hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to geekdom, when it comes to writing for a site like this. What counts? Plenty of sites and magazines take a hard line – no supernatural or strict sci-fi/ fantasy elements and it’s out – while others, recognising that there is a huge, hungry fandom out there for shows that don’t quite fit the genre, are happy to spread their nets wide.
I’m firmly in favour of the latter: I understand that print media is limited by space constraints as to what it includes, but I want my favourite sites to have some flexibility, simply because those sites and magazines tend to write with passion and enthusiasm – and I like to see that applied to my favourite shows. So, to honour that tradition, this post is about my favourite not-quite-genre shows, and why you should be watching them…
Possibly one of the most fun shows on TV, this series can be summed up as a US version of Hustle, with more violence and explosions. A satisfying and smart tale of bad guys turned good, its ‘standing up for the little guys’ ethos is a perfect fit for today’s ‘I-hate-bankers-and-big-business’ world. Don’t worry that it’s in its fourth series in the UK: there’s no major over-riding arc (each season has one, but it’s fairly easy to grasp) so you can jump right in (and it’s on a fairly constant repeat loop on FX).
Stand out qualities: Slick action, clever twists, lots of humour, great chemistry between a top-notch cast.
Kick ass women: Definitely not one to put the girls in the corner; Beth Riesgraf’s Parker is a master thief with a mean right hook who spends much of her time jumping off buildings.
Almost genre? 5 cons operating with state of the art technology and the ability to hack into any system, anywhere; Eliot’s virtually invincible hardman and Parker’s unstoppable thief – these guys could have stepped straight out of a comic.
Geek credentials: Maybe the Steven Moffat connection accounts for why the show is so keen on Doctor Who (Gina Bellman, who plays grifter Sophie, was in Moffat’s comedy Coupling), with frequent subtle shout outs (one scene saw Timothy Hutton run through a list of available aliases, all of whom were actors who played the Doctor). The fact that one of the characters is a self-proclaimed geek means sci-fi jokes abound, and there’s plenty of geek casting: Hardison is played by Aldis Hodge – the man who stabbed Sam in Supernatural – while Eliot is Lindsay from Angel (Christian Kane). Other series guests have included Jeri ‘Seven of Nine’ Ryan, half the cast of Star Trek (including recurring character Wil Wheaton), and the ubiquitous Mark Sheppard.
Also treading the ‘fighting back for the little guys’ path, this tale of Michael Weston, ‘burned’ spy turned helper to those in trouble, is getting a little bogged down in its ‘get Michael his job back at the CIA’ story, but remains an entertaining caper of the week show. Like Leverage, it has an A-Team-like capacity to wreak mayhem using only household appliances, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Stand out qualities: Fast moving action and a great cast, including the imitable Sharon Gless as Michael’s mom, and Bruce Campbell having the time of his life as his best buddy, ex-Navy Seal and womanising boozehound, the splendidly named Sam Axe.
Kick ass women: if you can get over the fact that Michael’s on-off lover Fiona is that uniquely American invention, the sympathetic IRA terrorist, you can enjoy her as a fiercely independent, gun toting explosives expert who more than holds her own among the boys.
Almost genre? Again, some of the capers are more than credibility stretching, and the over-arching conspiracy theory wouldn’t shame the X-Files. Only, no aliens, so far.
Geek credentials: This show LOVES its geek casting: Lucy Lawless, Tricia Helfer, Michael Shanks and, of course, Mark Sheppard have all guest starred, among many, many others. Plus of course: Bruce freaking Campbell, people. That alone gets it geek cred.
THE BIG BANG THEORY
Surely a comedy as focused on the idiosyncrasies of geekery should count? This laugh out loud show proves that you don’t have to be stupid to be funny – and half the time you don’t need to understand the lines to get the joke.
Stand out qualities: Superlative scripts, Jim Parson’s performance as Sheldon Cooper.
Kick ass women: Well, main lead Penny is no slouch when it comes to toughness, having more than once stood up for the weedier guys, but it was a fair criticism that the show lacked female characters in the early seasons – something it has rectified in spectacular form, by building up a great girl gang with Penny being joined by series regulars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch. Recurring guests Laurie Metcalf and Christine Baranski are splendid as Sheldon and Leonard’s mothers, respectively, and another ex-Roseanne alum Sara Gilbert stars as a spiky scientist.
Almost genre? The show isn’t afraid to mix it up with fantasy sequences, and geek references are almost non-stop.
Geek credentials: Flawless. Regular guests – often playing some variant of themselves – include Katee Sackhoff, George Takei, Stan Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Wil Wheaton, Stephen Hawking and a host of actual scientists and tech types. No Mark Sheppard, yet, but surely that’s only a matter of time.
A show that has managed to go from nothing to obsessive fandom in 6 short episodes, it’s hard to think of a programme that hit the ground running in quite the same way, and which has a following the slightly bonkers devotion of which would be the envy of any sci-fi show.
Stand out qualities: Fantastic performances; amazing chemistry and TV’s smartest bromance; giving gainful employment to British thesps; cheekbones.
Kick ass women: Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t exactly known for their feminist slant, and Moffat lost extra feminist points by turning Irene Adler into a sex worker who needed saving at the end of the day. You probably wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Mrs Hudson, though, as she clearly is made of fairly stern stuff.
Almost genre: Super intelligent heroes, master villains, faked deaths and massive criminal conspiracies? Not to mention Chinese acrobat assassins and secret military research.
Geek credentials: The Moffat/Gatiss dream team is enough to push this into the geek major leagues, but the actors are racking up geek points, with both Freeman and Cumberbatch in the Hobbit movies, while Freeman has already taken a wander around the universe as Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Cumberbatch will be donning baddy duties in the long-awaited Star Trek sequel. No Mark Sheppard yet, but as he has been in Doctor Who, is it too much to hope?
As ever, let me know your thoughts – which are the almost-geeky shows you love? Do you think sites like this should cover more of them? I’ll be back in a fortnight with more Fangirl, but in the meantime feel free to pop over to Body of a Geek Goddess and say hi! (And remember, should you be in the mood to check out my book Dark Dates, you can buy it here…)