The essential TV shows you need to buy this summer
We all do it: spend many a lazy Saturday away from the blistering heat, getting stuck into a box set containing several hours of discs. There are thousands of great shows out there on DVD and, at about Dhs250 a pop, they’re a fantastic summer investment, with many offering more than 20 hours of back-to-back entertainment. Yet knowing which shows to choose and keeping up to date with the latest shows from the US, Europe and the region is no easy task. Luckily, Time Out’s trusty staff have collectively watched hundreds of recent shows from across the globe to recommend the best new box sets from every genre. Read on for the series that the world is going potty for right now – just don’t blame us if your social life goes on hiatus once you’ve finished reading.
Action/Horror The Walking Dead, season one Stars: Andrew Lincoln (Teachers, This Life), Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break). Plot: Deputy sheriff Rick Grimes awakes in hospital to discover he’s living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse; he soon hooks up with a band of survivors as they make their way across the US in search of a new home. Based on a popular graphic novel series, the premise bears similarities to other apocalyptic horrors, but we think it’s better than all of them.
Favourite part: In episode six, the survivors learn how the zombie plague infects people – and discover the identity of one of the first victims.
Addiction rating: 4/5 ‘just Get past the walking dead’s first half hour – which is a little too much like 28 Days Later – and you’ll be hooked.’ Rebecca Milford, Chief Sub Editor.
Action/Horror True Blood, season three Stars: Anna Paquin (The Piano), Sam Trammell, (CSI) Ryan Kwanten (Home & Away).
Plot: Vampires have been integrated into society and are treated as another race living among humans – some clever soul has even created a synthetic blood drink, True Blood, so the vampires can avoid human blood. In season three of this raunchy show, waitress Sookie teams up with a werewolf to track down her vampire boyfriend, Bill, who has been kidnapped by a vampire king.
Favourite part: When Bill cheats on Sookie with Lorena, his maker: right in the middle of the act he twists Lorena’s head around 180 degrees. We’re still having nightmares.
Action/Horror Marchlands, season one Stars: Denis Lawson (Bleak House), Jodie Whittaker (St Trinian’s), Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses).
Plot: This British supernatural drama is set in Yorkshire, in a UK haunted house. The spooky tale surrounds three families from different decades who all live in the house and are linked by a small girl who ‘disappeared’ mysteriously in the ’60s.
Favourite part: Any scene that features a flash of the ghostly Alice – especially when she saves Scott from drowning in the bath.
Comedy The IT Crowd, season four Stars: Richard Ayoade (The Mighty Boosh), Chris O'Dowd (Gulliver’s Travels), Katherine Parkinson (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People).
Plot: Set in the offices of the fictional Reynholm Industries in London, the show revolves around two IT technicians (and quintessential geeks) named Moss and Roy and their manager, Jen. The jokes can get cheesy, but it’s all very addictive.
Favourite part: When Moss testifies on behalf of boss Douglas, who’s being sued by his second wife. Moss was sued by his mother when he was younger and the experience is (hilariously) traumatic – he ends up being a bundle of nerves and completely useless in the witness box.
Comedy Eastbound & Down, season one Stars: Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Will Ferrell (Anchorman).
Plot: Protagonist Kenny Powers is a despicable, chauvinistic, racist, homophobic, chubby and unattractive bloke who was once a pro baseball pitcher. With his fame came arrogance, a raucous, hedonistic lifestyle and lots of women. But he lost his swing and all that’s left is a no-hoper with a rotten attitude. The series is produced by Will Ferrell’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions.
Favourite line: Terrance: ‘There’s something you need to know about, Kenny. You’re not the only athlete here at Jeff Davis. I happen to be training for a triathlon, so I’ve been doing a lot of running, cycling, swimming. But you’d know all about that.’ Kenny: ‘No, actually, I don’t. I play real sports; I’m not trying to be the best at exercising.’
Comedy Bored to Death, season one Stars: Jason Schwartzman (I Heart Huckabees), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Ted Danson (Cheers).
Plot: Set in New York, a writer named Jonathan gets dumped by his girlfriend and is struggling to write his next book. He puts an ad on Craigslist pretending he’s a private detective and, as he starts to act like a private eye, builds up plenty of material for a second book. Meanwhile, kooky sidekick Ray and editor George come along for the rather dysfunctional ride.
Favourite line: Ray: ‘Don’t high-dial your daughter.’ George: ‘I’m not that high, honestly.’ Ray: ‘I think you are.’ George: ‘I’ll use the voice changer. That way she won’t be able to tell.’ Ray: [In a Scream killer voice] ‘“Honey, I just phoned to tell you I love you, it’s your father, the robot…” You’re going to scare the s*** out of her.’
Comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, season seven Stars: Larry David (as himself), Ted Danson (Cheers).
Plot: Cantankerous screenwriter and producer Larry (playing a fictionalised version of himself) stumbles from cringeworthy misadventure to cringeworthy misadventure, offending everyone from celebrities to grieving widows as he goes.
Favourite part: The napkin scene, where Larry (in his typically picky way) fights with a waiter about only being allowed two napkins. He pretends to give back the extras he’s taken, but steals some on the way out. Cue the cops chasing him for theft.
Comedy The Simpsons 20 Years, season 20 Stars: Dan Castellaneta (The Pursuit of Happyness). Guest stars include Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), Jodie Foster (Panic Room), Ellen Page (Juno).
Plot: The misadventures of the classic US dysfunctional family continue in the new season. Typical scenarios include Homer becoming a bounty hunter, Bart meeting his doppelganger, Marge and Lisa arguing over women’s roles and the entire family taking on The Da Vinci Code.
Favourite line: Patty: ‘I can’t believe Homer ruined another family barbecue.’ Homer: ‘Hey! Everybody pees in the pool!’ Patty: ‘Not from the diving board.’
Basic plot: A glimpse inside the unbelievable world of the UK’s gypsies and travellers, this reality TV show has proved a huge hit. Yet rather than simply sensationalising the fantastical world of young travellers’ weddings (mammoth dresses, horse-drawn carriages and six-year-old bridesmaids plastered in fake tan), the show actually gives a revealing insight into the gypsies’ way of life.
Favourite line: ‘When I first started making dresses for the travellers, I was asked to make a trail 217 feet long. Another dress was reported to be 27 stone because of the amount of steel in it.’
Drama Treme, season one Stars: John Goodman (Roseanne), Wendell Pierce (The Wire), Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn).
Plot: The Wire creator David Simon brings New Orleans to life, three months post-Hurricane Katrina, and centres the heart-rending plot around Treme, a low-rent but musical area of the city. As with The Wire, Simon weaves complex storylines involving a seemingly disparate bunch of everyday characters. Wendell Pierce plays Antoine, a down-and-out trombonist; Steve Zahn is Davis, an excitable DJ and lover of all things jazz; and John Goodman is an English teacher who cannot come to terms with the lack of care his city received in its time of need. Each episode is filled with the struggles the characters endure while trying to rebuild their lives.
Favourite part: The soundtrack. From the opening track, you’ll be hooked on New Orleans’ foot-stomping brand of jazz.
Drama Gossip Girl, season three Stars: Blake Lively (The Town), Leighton Meester (The Roommate) , Chace Crawford (Twelve), Penn Badgley (Easy A).
Plot: Gossip Girl continues to be scarily addictive, even as the plot between the six super-rich New Yorkers gets ever-more ridiculous. The kids are back in town after spending the summer in Europe, and are preparing to start college. The annual hook-up merry-go-round begins, but as they get older, the stakes get higher. New York politics and movie premieres have replaced the world of high school, but the glorious rivalries remain. With fantastically terrible acting, Gossip Girl is the Dynasty of the 21st century. Xoxo. Favourite part: The fashion, and an appearance by US alt-rock band Sonic Youth in episode five, which gives the series some credibility.
Drama Glee, season two Stars: Lea Michele (Third Watch), Matthew Morrison (The Oaks), Jane Lynch (Criminal Minds); plus guest stars including Britney Spears and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Basic plot: You must have had your head in the sand to have missed this karaoke phenomenon. Sickly sweet, it’s Scrubs meets Desperate Housewives with a naughty High School Musical twist. Students, teachers, their partners and friends laugh, cry, fight and make up while singing cover versions of everything from The Rocky Horror Show and Singing in the Rain to Lady Gaga and Madonna, creating box-set gold dust.
Favourite part: Gwyneth Paltrow’s turn as an ‘alternative’ teacher; she does a brilliantly fun rendition of Cee Lo’s ‘Forget You’.
Drama Downton Abbey, season one Stars: Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill), Maggie Smith (Harry Potter).
Plot: The series follows the ups and downs of a thriving English country estate during the early 20th century. It revolves around the struggle to marry off the titled daughters, malicious attempts by evil housemaids to ruin their colleagues’ careers, and the cultural and political changes happening in the background.
Favourite part: When a handsome Turkish man croaks it in Lady Mary’s bed.
Drama Mad Men, season four Stars: John Hamm (Sucker Punch), January Jones (X-Men: First Class), John Slattery (The Adjustment Bureau).
Plot: Series three ended at the close of an era for dashing ad exec Don Draper: his wife had just left him and he had just left his company to start a rival ad group. Season four continues with more ’60s fashion, cigar smoking, whisky drinking and casual sexism.
Favourite part: The episode that stars unlikely soulmates Don and Peggy almost exclusively, entitled ‘The Suitcase’.
Crime The Killing, seasons one and two Stars: Sofie Grabøl (Nightwatch), Lars Mikkelsen (Thunderbirds).
Plot: This Danish crime series opens with Nanna Birk Larsen running barefoot through a forest. We later discover she has been murdered. It is then detective Sarah Lund’s job to find out how, battling the red herrings strewn in her path.
Favourite part: When Jan Meyer, Hunt’s partner, gets shot. Unexpected.
Addiction rating: 5/5 ‘I watched the last 10 hours of the killing without a break, and it wasn’t even humid outside. Utterly compelling!’ Becky Lucas, editor.
Crime Lie To Me, season two Stars: Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs), Kelli Williams (Ally McBeal), Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile, ER)
Plot: A drama about human lie detector Dr Cal Lightman and the employees in his firm, The Lightman Group. They help the FBI to solve complex cases by interpreting suspects’ body language.
Favourite part: Lightman winds up a aoldier on leave from Iraq, who appears to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Cue a heated exchange – until this: Lightman: ‘Think about cheese.’ Soldier: ‘What?’ Lightman: ‘Think about cheese. If we’re going to take a few pictures of your brain, you might as well be smiling, eh?’
Crime Criminal Minds, season five Stars: Joe Mantegna (The Godfather Part III), AJ Cook (The Virgin Suicides)
Plot: A team of behavioural analysts from the FBI use their expertise to focus on criminals rather than the crimes they commit in order to catch them. The psychology is fun and the chemistry between characters far more believable than your average cop-shop drama.
Favourite part: Episode 16, where a deranged woman drugs and kidnaps a string of people before holding them hostage in her home, where she dresses them up like dolls and sits them at a child’s tea party. Weird. Running time: 16 hours 28 minutes.
Local discs Just because you’re slobbing out doesn’t mean you can’t expand your horizons. These Middle Eastern DVDs all have English subtitles.
Comedy We are the Bus People Plot: This black comedy is based around the Nasserite era and stars Egyptian comedian Adel Iman. It’s about two people mistaken for political dissidents who get sent to prison to be tortured until they confess, and is supposedly based on a true story.
Tash ma Tash Plot: The most watched satire of all time in the Arab world, this show harks from Saudi Arabia and is now on its 16th season. Every show features new characters that have a laugh at the expense of Saudi culture, often throwing up sensitive topics including marriage and terrorism.
Drama Sea Laughter Plot: Set in Alexandria in Egypt, a hard-working employee who never gets any praise jacks it in for a life-changing experience. He leaves his wife and roams the streets, craving self-esteem and new experiences. He marries four women until he finds a lady he seems to really love.