It's fair to say that we live in the golden age of TV. It really seems that the potential TV provides is finally being used to the fullest.
Naturally, it's awesome, since the higher standards mean a huge selection of quality content to choose from. Yet, every now and then, it's nice to visit simpler times with a bit lower standards. Of course, lower standards can mean lower quality and certainly a lot more cheesier tone. However, it can also bring along a more easygoing feel. Furthermore, when coupled with ambition and right mindset, that same easygoing feel can lead to some pretty original results.
Here are 3 old TV shows that took it easy, but did so in an endearingly ambitious way.
The Invisible Man (2000 – 2002)
What is it? An action show and a comedy with many buddy-cop elements.
Why is it a good time? This show found an oddly brilliant balance between comedy, action, drama, sci-fi... and a superhero format. All the while, it was also a buddy-cop show. It's a combination that, on paper, looks like a trainwreck. Yet, it manages to feel natural and work in it's own off-beat but entertaining way.
How did it manage that? Firstly, it certainly has got the foundation, that is necessary for any good TV show - a great cast of likeable characters, who play off each other well. Vincent Ventresca, in the titular role, proves to be an extremely likeable lead, who also has a certain inherent darkness to him. The supporting cast is exellent as well.
The Invisible Man is under no illusion about what it is. Essentially, it's a story about a former career criminal and catburglar, Darien Fawkes (Ventresca), who can turn invisible and who does jobs for a government agency, which is so secretive that it doesn't have a proper name.
He does these jobs paired up with agent Bobby Hobbs (Paul Ben-Victor a.k.a. Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos from The Wire), who has a mild manic depression, that has gotten him tossed out of every other government intelligence agency. Not the most serious sounding premise and the creators of the show were clearly aware of that.
Crucially, the show doesn't go out of it's way to make this premise super serious and believable no matter what. However, at the same time, the creators of the show clearly did put in an effort towards making it entertaining and giving the episodes a good amount of variety. They used the potential of the premise well, while not veering too much into silly territory.
Furthermore, the show does also deal with themes such as freedom of choice, determinism and state bureaucracy in a surprisingly smart way. Yet, even when dealing with themes like that, it never loses it's easygoing charm.
Kommissar Rex (Inspector Rex) (1994 – 2001)
What is it? An Austrian police procedural drama.
Why is it a good time? Continuing on the theme of easygoing but not stupid, it's a show about a police dog named Rex, who works together with his partners from the Vienna Kriminalpolizei homicide unit. Once again, the creators of the show were under no illusion about the inherent silliness of the concept and had fun with it.
Yet, let's just say, it's a far cry from Scooby Doo in terms of tone. The crimes and cases, the homicide unit solves, are played straight and can rival any other crime/police drama. In other words, it manages to be a genuine murder investigation show that just happens to have a dog as the lead.
Speaking of leads, obviously, Rex is paired with a human partner and other members of the homicide unit. Now, Rex has outlasted many partners over the years (a bit too many), but the most endearing ones were probably the first two. Both, Richard Moser (Tobias Moretti) and Alex Brandtner (Gedeon Burkhard a.k.a. Corporal Wilhelm Wicki from Inglorious Basterds) are different enough, but equally charismatic and likeable leads. They also share a great chemistry with Rex.
So, let's talk about Rex. The biggest appeal of this show is that it actually manages to create a well defined character in Rex, while not making him too human or animated so to say. Often, when a movie or a live action TV show uses animals as leads, it can either be some horrible CGI abomination or come across as watching a confused animal being filmed. Rex, however, is a dog with his quirks and character traits... but still a legit dog.
What is it? Also known as New World Zorro, and Zorro 1990, it's an American action-adventure drama series.
Why is it a good time? Even more so than The Invisible Man, this show's easygoing tone can make it cheesy as hell, while, at the same time, surprisingly clever and inventive.
One might call it a superhero show, since Zorro is sort of a latino Batman. I suppose he fits in somewhere between Robin Hood and Batman. The creators of the show seem to think so too, based on the fact that Adam West quest starred in it and played an eccentric inventor called Dr. Henry Wayne.... Speaking of quest stars, Daniel Craig (?!) and Warwick Davis are also featured in prominent roles.
The main cast in this show is awesome and full of underrated talent. The characters are likeable, play off each other well and have a great comedic timing. Furthermore, the show tires hard to do interesting or at least amusing stuff with these characters. Duncan Regehr makes for a very charismatic lead, who also has some dramatic chops. From the likeable supporting cast, the highlight is probably James Victor, who manages to give a bumbling sergeant likeability and heart.
Although there can be surprising amount of variety, most episodes follow a simple formula. Some characters or people of Los Angeles in general are in trouble. Usually, it's because of some new bad guy showing up or because the town's regular bad guy (Alcalde) does something oppressive. Mostly, it concludes by Zorro saving the day, while everyone are painfully oblivious to the fact that he looks, sounds and has the same mustache, as the guy they hang out with on daily basis (Diego de la Vega). During the shows run there were maybe two or three characters who actually used their brains and figured the obvious out.
What makes the show great, is that it simply has a lot of fun with that formula. More importantly, it often veers off from the formula completely to deliver some surprisingly teneseful, dramatic and even dark episodes, where the lead actors can display their dramatic talents. Yet, it can then go into a borderline slapstick comedy in the very next episode. And funnily enough, it doesn't feel inconsistent in doing so.
To Sum Up
I suppose this article is just my little way of paying homage to these nostalgic TV shows, which might not be that well known to many nowadays.
However, when revisiting them, I was pleasantly surprised by the entertainment value, they offered. This easygoing tone, they all have to various degrees, can become a little cheesy at times. Yet, the ambition, energy and likeable cast make all 3 of them a fun ride, that can offer a few surprises along the way.