Sam Smith

The modern television landscape is enormous, and figuring out what’s worth watching is more of a chore than ever before. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything good on the boob tube; it’s just harder to find. To keep you from wasting time channel-surfing, we suggest heading straight for this stuff. Then use the time you save to do something productive, like cracking another cold one, getting a snack or fluffing your favorite pillow to rest your head. Happy viewing!

“Bored to Death”

Jonathan Ames’s stoner comedy “Bored to Death” is ostensibly billed as a detective show about a writer who takes cases as a private eye for money. In reality, it’s a rarefied, pop-culture-thick take on New York City oddities, one that revels in its own weirdness. Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson co-star -- you’ll seldom see better performances from either.

“Warehouse 13”

This one takes time to get into, but it’s worth it. “Warehouse 13” is set in a government warehouse that stores history’s supernatural treasures -- think the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The main characters, two Secret Service agents, travel the world and save people from items that belong in the warehouse. The steam-punk background toys alone are worth the price of admission.


The brainchild of “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, “Futurama” rewards repeat viewing. This richly detailed cartoon follows the adventures of an idiotic 20th-century pizza delivery boy unwittingly frozen and reawakened 1,000 years in the future. Slapstick abounds: Two of the main characters are a Jewish alien-crab doctor and a hard-drinking, loud-mouthed robot.

“Top Gear”

Forget the stiff, boring show of the same name on the History Channel; “Top Gear America” sucks! But BBC America’s “Top Gear,” starring thickheaded automotive journalist Jeremy Clarkson, is epic. If it flies, floats or explodes, “TG” plays with it. They turn cars into boats, into space shuttles, into flaming disasters that threaten to bring down entire countries. Forget the “Jersey Shore”; this might be the best reality show on the planet.


IFC’s “Portlandia” is capsule comedy of the highest order, an assemblage of absurd vignettes set in Portland. Ore. It’s a gleeful, gently mocking look at everything that makes Portland the oddest city in America. And it makes nonstop fun of hipsters, which is almost the best part.

“Independent Lens”

Watching “Independent Lens” is like having a friend in the movie business -- only without all the obnoxious references to Francois Truffaut. This Emmy-winning series showcases new drama and documentary films made by independent filmmakers, but it’s never boring or preachy. For example, the engrossing “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” first aired here. The standards are high, and they deliver.

“Parks and Recreation”

NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” might look like “The Office,” but the two shows merely share a style. “Parks and Rec” charts the happenings in the parks department of a small town in Indiana. Former SNL standout Amy Poehler anchors the cast, but Nick Offernan’s deadpan, meat-loving Ron Swanson makes the series. He once invented a dish called the “Turf and Turf,” eaten with a cigar and whiskey. ’Nuff said.


“Fringe” is the brainchild of a creative team headed by J.J. Abrams, the man behind the awesome Star Trek reboot. Equal parts science-fiction fantasy and intellectual brain twister --think “The X-Files” meets “The Twilight Zone” -- it follows the exploits of the FBI’s Fringe Division, a task force that uses unorthodox science to solve unexplained events related to mysteries of a parallel universe. Geeky? Yes. Entertaining? Hell yeah!

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

Quite possibly the most deranged program on television, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is an incredibly clever show about horrible people. The five main characters -- friends working in a Philadelphia bar -- are dishonest, egotistical and remorseless. They smoked crack to qualify for welfare, and even seduced a priest.

“Breaking Bad”

The best show about the worst possible vices. The Emmy-winning “Breaking Bad” chronicles the exploits of a high-school teacher (Bryan Cranston) who begins cooking methamphetamine to make ends meet when he’s diagnosed with cancer. Murder, mayhem and family disintegration ensue, along with a constant barrage of explosions and lies. It’s spellbinding at worst.

“Pawn Stars”

Reality television usually sucks, but “Pawn Stars” is different. This is “Antiques Roadshow” for the regular guy. The series is filmed in a family-owned pawn shop in Las Vegas; it shows three generations of men appraising offbeat items brought in by the public. The passion makes the show -- shop co-owner Rick Harrison loves both history and his job. It’s infectious.


Sam Smith is a journalist and media junkie from Chicago. He believes in Douglas Adams, FOX’s “Arrested Development” and the power of Sour Patch Kids to make even the worst movie watchable.