Plenty of hidden gems to find on TV

I know all the cool TV critics are finding hip new ways to note the greatness of Mad Men and Glee, while masses of couch potatoes are handing major ratings to less, um, challenging fare such as NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Dancing with the Stars and Sunday Night Football. • But these days, I find myself drawn to a new class of TV show. They don't have the viewership of CBS' predictable police dramas or the cachet of AMC's Emmy magnet, but they offer a wealth of entertainment if you're willing to try something that isn't cool or popular. • They're the Best Shows You're Not Watching … yet.

, Good Eats | 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, Food Network

It's not just that host Alton Brown is a deliciously geeky food nerd who loves explaining the scientific principles behind the food he cooks. It's that his show, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, blends Monty Python levels of absurdist humor — mostly conveyed in skits with hilariously low production values — with recipes that look delicious. A recent live 10th anniversary episode, featuring Brown clowning with Queer Eye alum Ted Allen, was, if you excuse the analogy, frosting on a mouth-watering cake.

Hoarders | 10 p.m. Mondays, A&E

Imagine your college dorm room at the height of your "pigpen" phase. Now multiply that clutter by 1,000 and add a psychological disorder that makes you unable to throw any of it away. That's the heartbreaking truth behind A&E's unwavering look at people whose compulsion to amass great piles of junk in their homes has ended marriages, split children from parents and nearly gotten people evicted from their homes. The show films professional cleaners trying to help people in crisis — impatient landlords are ready to evict, spouses and grown kids are ready to leave — and even then, every participant has trouble letting go. Watching a woman choose to hold on to rotting vegetables, as her daughter walks out of her life over the clutter, leaves an indelible, spellbinding image.

. Sons of Anarchy 10 p.m. Tuesdays, FX

It beat Jay Leno and ABC's sinking drama the forgotten in key viewers Tuesday. But I still feel like the only critic who has noticed how good this drama about an outlaw biker gang, with stars Ron Perlman, right, and Katy Sagal, is getting. First, Adam Arkin comes on board as a cucumber-cool white supremacist bent on driving the Sons of Anarchy out of its home base of Charming, Calif. (Students, pay attention; How do you make a murderous motorcycle gang sympathetic? Make the bad guys new-school Nazis). Then the Nazis sexually assault Sagal's nail-tough club matriarch Gemma Morrow and provoke the club into getting arrested while attacking a church meeting. Now the club has to team with a black prison gang to survive. It's like the Hells Angels meets Mad Men.

Everybody Loves Raymond reruns 2 p.m. weekdays on TBS, 7 p.m. weekdays on WTTA-Ch. 38

The Office and 30 Rock are cool, but every time I watch Ray Romano & Co. stumble through another family crisis, I wonder how network TV lost the ability to make a relatable, sidesplitting, old-school television sitcom. The situations are stuff all of us at a certain age know well: Husband accidentally records over wedding video; husband makes mess in bathroom; mother-in-law gets insulted when wife takes over Thanksgiving. But the actors and writers so completely inhabit this cast of oddball characters, it's like hanging with the most entertainingly dysfunctional neighbors you can imagine.

Supposed stars get upstaged

Here's what I thought while struggling to get through the two-hour season debut of Grey's Anatomy a few weeks ago: Why don't I care more about the stars? Ostensibly, this super-popular series is focused on Ellen Pompeo's fumbling Dr. Meredith Grey and her affair with (and later marriage to) Patrick Dempsey's Derek "Dr. McDreamy" Shepherd. But co-stars such as Sandra Oh, Isaiah Washington, Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight kept stealing the spotlight.

Here's a list of other shows that suffer from Grey's disease, where you care about everyone on screen but the supposed stars.

Lost: Let's be honest: Ben Linus, John Locke, Sayid Jarrah and Sun Hwa Kwon have always been more compelling than the super-mopey characters at the show's center: Jack Sheppard, Kate Austen and James "Sawyer" Ford.

How I Met Your Mother: Neil Patrick Harris' charismatic womanizer Barney Stinson steals every scene he's in, but the show is supposedly centered on how Josh Radnor's Ted Mosby he met his wife.

Fringe: Forget about Anna Torv's tortured FBI agent Olivia Dunham. I'm always waiting for any scene featuring oddball scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and the Icky Villain of the Week.

American Idol: Opened Entertainment Weekly and saw a story on the guy who didn't win the show this year, Adam Lambert, along with a nice blurb on another nonwinner, Alison Iraheta. Ditto with reports about Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry and former judge Paula Abdul. When's the last time you heard something about winners Ruben Studdard or Taylor Hicks?

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: He's a charming guy who does the best Philbin this side of Dana Carvey. But let's be honest: From house band the Roots to his cheeky reality TV satire 7th Floor West, everything surrounding Fallon on this show is more interesting than he is.

TiVo

Friday Night Lights, 9 p.m. Thursday, DirecTV: Thanks to the satellite TV company's deal with NBC, you won't actually see these episodes on network television until 2010. But DirecTV subscribers this week can watch Kyle Chandler's no-nonsense Eric Taylor try to build a successful football team out of nothing, as he heads to his new job coaching at the newly reopened East Dillion High School. Watching him wander through a long-closed locker room, startled by a squirrel hiding in a locker, hints at the gargantuan task awaiting a coach used to leading the best pigskin pounders in the state.

TiVo

The League, debuts at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, on FX: This TiVo comes with a caveat: Watch only if you get the absurdity of slavishly following a fantasy football league as if it were a real sports organization. It helps if you dig explicit jokes about the weird stuff couples do during sex and the knuckleheaded self-centeredness of men who act like spoiled teenagers. Built around a group of friends obsessed with their fantasy football league, the series features lawyers basing criminal plea deals on league trades and guys who stay married because it cuts down on the amount of time they're expected to spend with their kids. For fun, try to guess which star was one of the Cro-Magnons in Geico's Cavemen commercials.

Plenty of hidden gems to find on TV 10/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2009 7:14pm]

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