Every great (or eventually great) television series has its first season, the sometimes humble (though sometimes brilliant!) beginning that serves as a prelude to the good times to come. Here are some first seasons of TV shows that you can enjoy instantly, from the nostalgic charm of the first year of SNL to the theatrical shenanigans of Slings & Arrows.
Okay, time to admit it: the first season of SNL isn't that good. It's just not very funny. It might've been funny back in 1975, but our rubrics have changed over the past 35 years -- skits like "Samurai Delicatessen" and pratfalls like Chevy Chase collapsing to the floor now seem just kind of silly and... well, lazy. However, to truly appreciate SNL in its early years, you have to transport yourself back to 1975 and realize that, yes, this was groundbreaking stuff -- sketch comedy had never crackled with such youthful, rebellious energy before. It was exciting and new. And a group of twentysomething comedians -- including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner -- were just getting started. So was the show.
If nothing else, 30 Rock proved that Alec Baldwin is a national treasure. His brilliant turns on SNL were no fluke -- this guy is a gifted comedian as well as a top-notch dramatic actor. He's also a master of not taking center stage (a rare talent for a performer indeed), knowing that a little Alec goes a long way. There he stands, grinning in the corner, just waiting for the right time to strike with some droll remark. And strike he does.
Which is the better incarnation of The Office: the original British series or the American? Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, the world may never know -- and, ultimately, it might really just depend on what mood you're in. For the record, it was kind of something of a miracle that the American series ended up as good as it did, showing those limeys that us Yankees can master the art of the awkward pause just as well as they could, if not better. The show doesn't quite have its sea legs in the first season but, again, it's better than it should be. A lot better.
A brilliant show that many feel died before it truly had its day, Arrested Development changed the format -- and raised the bar -- of the American sitcom for eternity. All sitcoms -- at least the ones that focus on dysfunctional families -- are doomed to now be weighed against it: "Is it as good as AD?" And, for eternity, the answer in every case might very well be "No." Jason Bateman is awesome as a man trying to keep his incarcerated dad's business afloat -- and keep his crazy family more or less together. And the show is funny. Like, really funny.
You don't have to be a "theatre person" to enjoy (and appreciate) this look into the thespian life (though your laughter might be a little more "knowing" if you are). Slings & Arrows probably doesn't teach you anything you don't already know ("theatre people" are crazy, and "theatre" itself is crazy), but it's aces at capturing the fact that our lives off-stage -- whether you're a "theatre person" or not -- are ten times more dramatic (and absurd) than anything performed in front of an audience (a paying one, at least). As Jaques says in As You Like, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." S&A captures some of our choice exits, entrances and roles.