Must-see TV guide
Declan Cashin rounds up the picks that may have slipped under your viewing radar
In this golden age of American television, it's nigh-on impossible to keep up with every new acclaimed series that comes our way -- how many of you have actually kept up with 'Boardwalk Empire', for instance?
When you couple that plethora of quality series with the vicissitudes of TV scheduling, it's inevitable that some little-known gems will slip under your radar. Here's our pick of the under-valued or ignored TV crackers that are worth pulling out for the New Year.
• Parks and Recreation
From the makers of the US version of 'The Office', this mockumentary sitcom has just started airing on RTE Two on Friday evenings.
It focuses on the co-workers in an American local government office and their hapless efforts to see to various municipal tasks.
It's a terrific showcase for the gifted comedienne Amy Poehler, still best known in Ireland for playing Hillary Clinton to her real-life BFF Tina Fey's Sarah Palin in those devastating 'Saturday Night Live' sketches in 2008.
• The Walking Dead
Airing here on both RTE Two and satellite channel FX, this apocalyptic zombie thriller has made a star of Andrew Lincoln in the US (though he'll always be Egg from 'This Life' to us).
Its most recent second season was such a massive ratings hit that a third series is already in the works to arrive in late 2012. First season is out on DVD now.
• American Horror Story
Also showing on FX, this increasingly bonkers but utterly gripping new series (from the pen of 'Glee' and 'Nip/Tuck' creator Ryan Murphy) about a troubled family living in a haunted house is the perfect offering for those who like their viewing with a healthy side of gore.
• Game of Thrones
A huge hit when first broadcast earlier in the year, this fantasy epic starring Sean Bean has been garlanded with rave reviews and multiple awards.
Repeats of its first series (there are at least another two planned) are playing in heavy rotation on Sky Atlantic if you want to set the series link.
• Happy Endings
Launched on E4 in the autumn, this sparkly and sharply written sitcom has struggled to escape its unwarranted public perception as 'Friends'-lite.
Focusing on the lives of six late twentysomethings in Chicago, each episode is chock-full of great gags and rapid pop culture asides. Catch up on 4OD, Channel 4's online player.
DVD BOX SETS
A multi-region DVD player is an essential buy for any serious box-set consumer. They're readily available and widen your viewing parameters greatly by allowing you to play discs bought from the US (Region 1) and mainland Europe.
Currently in its third series in the US, but barely hanging on by a thread due to low ratings, 'Community' has earned huge praise for its clever tinkering with, and loving homages to, TV and movie mythology, earning it the nickname "the 'Inception' of sitcoms".
Most of us likely missed it when it aired on 3e earlier in the year, but the good news is that series one of the show has just been released on DVD (priced €16 on Amazon).
It revolves around an eclectic group of mature students in a local community college, led by Joel McHale and Chevy Chase.
• Friday Night Lights
Not for nothing did the 'Los Angeles Times' once declare that 'Friday Night Lights' "may just be the best dramatic series in the history of television".
Having recently ended its five-year run on US television, 'FNL' finally seems to be breaking into the mainstream, winning an Emmy award in September for its extraordinary leading man, Kyle Chandler.
Cosmetically, the show is about American football, but really that's just the hook for exploring small-town American life and ideas about parenting, marriage, success and growing up. All five exquisite series are available on Amazon in American and French formats.
• Breaking Bad
Quickly peruse any online TV discussion forums and you'll read hundreds of comments from people declaring that 'Breaking Bad' is the best drama currently on TV.
It's an astoundingly dark, brilliantly acted thriller starring Bryan Cranston (formerly the dad from 'Malcolm in the Middle') as a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned drug baron.
Series one and two are out on DVD now, and the third is available as a US import.
Timothy Olyphant has found the role of his career in this western-thriller (adapted from a series of Elmore Leonard stories) as Raylan Givens, a tough US Marshal enforcing his own brand of often vigilante justice in the hillbilly territory of eastern Kentucky.
Seasons one and two are available now.
• Sons of Anarchy
Shown here in a late-night slot by RTE Two, this cult crime favourite (about to enter its fifth season in the US) focuses on an outlaw motorcycle club in northern California.
The cast is headed by British actor Charlie Hunnam (who made his name in 'Queer as Folk') as a young member who starts to question the club's legitimacy, alongside Katey Sagal (aka Peg from 'Married With Children') as a tough biker mum. Seasons one to three are out now.
As its current series comes to an end on Channel 4, the good news is that all 18 episodes from the three series thus far are available on 4oD (Channel 4's online player).
If you haven't caught this vulgar, violent, scary, and bust-your-gut hilarious series about a group of Asbos who develop superpowers, then you're in for a treat.
Irish actor Robert Sheehan is the scene-stealing star of the first two seasons.
Also check out the US series 'Boss', in which 'Frasier'-Emeritus Kelsey Grammer comprehensively demolishes the beloved memory of the Seattle radio shrink with a ferocious portrayal of a Machiavellian Chicago mayor in the early stages of a degenerative neurological disorder.
This is a timely and intricately plotted US thriller about a bipolar CIA agent (Claire Danes) who suspects a returning Afghan war hero (Damien Lewis) of working for the enemy.
Tense, gripping, and drenched in paranoia, 'Homeland' has been called the new '24', and indeed is proving to be just as addictive as that famous "Crack Bauer" series.