A sad-sack junior executive in training named Matt needs to secure a goose for a company party. But the supermarket just sold its last one to a little old lady. Matt tries to wrangle it away from her — so she tases him.
That’s one of many memorable moments from under-the-radar TV in 2018 — shows that didn’t draw a huge audience but were entertainingly offbeat. From a year’s worth of Broadcast Musing, I offer up my favorite series that you (and millions of others) might have missed.
In Comedy Central’s “Corporate,” which returns for Season 2 on Jan. 15, goose-hunting Matt (who ends up killing a swan in the park) and pal Jake toil for a corporation so heartless that it invented a holiday, “Remember Day,” ostensibly to commemorate 9/11 but really to promote the giving of gifts like a supersized tablet. With dead-on deadpan humor and a real feel for the absurdities of the 21st century office, the show follows the hapless deskmates, who, depending on the time of day, may be creating a “PowerPoint of death” to pitch the company as the exclusive weapons supplier for a military coup or scheming to nab leftover bagels from big meetings.
“90 Day Fiance” (TLC), which concluded its current season Sunday, deserves the Emmy for best schadenfreude. You may feel guilty watching, but how can you turn away from the seemingly doomed love stories of six couples, each consisting of an American and an international partner? They must wed within 90 days to secure a visa for the foreign mate-to-be, who may be in it solely for U.S. citizenship.
Socially awkward Colt (who lives with his mom and umpteen cats) and Brazilian spitfire Larissa are in contention for the trainwreckiest duo of all. Even if you dislike Larissa’s pushy personality, you’ll be impressed by her skills at manipulating everyone around her.
Nothing freshens up an old formula like a new setting, and that’s the beauty of the shows from other lands. The Netflix drama “Ultraviolet” is set in Lodz. Unlucky in love, Ola drives for the Polish version of Uber and solves crimes as part of an online network of sleuthers who step in when the police opt out. The appeal of the show is in getting to know the lost soul Ola and seeing her find herself as she’s finding online clues. It’s “DYI CSI,” says a producer.
“Babylon Berlin,” another Netflix import, is set in the dissolute and disruptive days of the 1930s. Germany’s most expensive series (price tag: $40 million) shows us the money in breathtaking re-creations of pre-WWII Berlin and an art-deco-jazz-slash-sex club with brilliantly choreographed, scantily clad dancers. Beneath the glamor lies the gripping story of a drug-addicted police detective trying to crack a porno ring.
“A Very English Scandal” (Amazon) is a reminder that truth is always stranger than fiction, because if I told you that a British member of Parliament tried to kill his gay lover (whom he nicknamed “Bunnies”) and the hired gun ended up shooting the lad’s dog instead, you’d go, “Naw, couldn’t happen.” But it did, and is told with a very dry sense of understated humor as this compelling tale unfolds. Hugh Grant has a ball portraying smug politician Jeremy Thorpe and Ben Whishaw is a delight as wispy, willowy “accomplished sponge” Norman Scott.
My last two picks are so under the radar that they will not be back in 2019, even though they got critical praise and social buzz.
“American Vandal” is a Netflix mockumentary about crimes in high school. A graffiti artist paints male members everywhere in Season 1, the “Turd Burglar” leaves unwelcome poop packages in Season 2. It’s a sly spoof of the true crime genre infused with high school clique wars.
And in NBC’s “Trial & Error,” Kristin Chenoweth finally got the TV role she deserves as madcap and seemingly broke heiress Lavinia Peck-Foster, who can sing opera like nobody’s business and who possibly murdered her husband and stuffed him in a suitcase. If you love Chenoweth at her zany best, you will no doubt be smitten. The series finale seemed like a setup for another season, but NBC tragically gave it the ax.