we like lists: list # 20: top ten reasons we love our favourite cult show or movie (updated with less cult!)

For those who want the question with no context: Do you love a cult show or movie? What movie and why? List at least 10 reasons.

Update! Judging by comments, this list will be more fun if we omit one word and get a bit more specific. So here it is again.

Do you love a TV show or movie that is not (or was not) a huge mainstream hit? Which one and why?

(Better now?)

* * * *

Further to my longstanding tradition of watching TV shows and movies years - or even decades - after they first run, I have just completed Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (What can I say? TV was not important to me in the 1990s!) One of my TV gurus, the famous NFC, is a big Buffy fan, and after hearing the show mentioned several times, it was time for me to check it out.

I enjoyed S1 enough to continue watching, with the understanding that a first season often just lays the groundwork. In other words, I liked it, but I'm hoping and assuming that the show will develop into something more than what I've seen so far.

Watching Buffy TVS has made me think about another show, perhaps my very favourite television show: Xena the Warrior Princess.

When we were preparing to leave New York and move to Canada, I used to catch random episodes of Xena re-runs on a minor cable channel. After spending the day writing, it was the perfect mix - fun, absorbing, but not overly challenging. Before I knew it, I was hooked. But I had never seen the whole show, in order...

...until Allan surprised with me with one his amazing birthday presents: first a bootlegged copy of the series on DVD, then an upgrade to this beautiful 10th anniversary special edition boxed set. It even included a miniature dagger, the kind Gabrielle used to whip around.

Now, of course, the series is available on Netflix, but in those days there was no Netflix in Canada, and the opportunity to watch the entire series in order was pure heaven.

Buffy predates Xena by two years, and so far at least, the two shows have a very similar vibe: strongest female lead character, female sidekick, goofy male third wheel, goofy humour, cheesy special effects. (I've also discovered that two of my FB friends also love Xena. Don't you love when that happens?)

So watching Buffy S1 has made me think about why Xena is so special for me. And hey, it's a list!

Do you love a cult show? Or if you're into a lot of cult shows, what's your favourite? Why do you love it? List at least 10 reasons.

Top ten reasons I love "Xena: the Warrior Princess" (not in order) !

1. Mythology. The series moves through the myths and legends of all different cultures: ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, Hindu, Christian, Norse, and so on. I love mythology, and I love how the myths are adapted and presented in the show.

2. Scenery. Since Xena and Gabrielle are always traveling, the show often has an epic sweep, set in many different terrains. Filmed in New Zealand, the show is sometimes gorgeously cinematic.

3. Cheesy special effects. What can I say? I'm the girl who prefers the Gorn to any more modern sci-fi.

4. Philosophy. What is the nature of good and evil? Can benevolent acts in the present compensate for past abuses of power, or have humans invented that idea for our own comfort? Can good ends justify violent means, or does violence always lead to more violence? Can a commitment to nonviolence bring about change, on its own? What is love? What is mortality? All this and more!

5. Bisexuality. Xena and Gabrielle are life partners, bound in body, spirit, and soul. They have both also loved men, and have recurring relationships with men in their lives. Not a problem.

6. Polyamory. Xena and Gabrielle love each other, and they love other people. Also not a problem. It's not about competition. People are complex, and different relationships satisfy different needs and desires.
I always thought Argo made a better
third than Joxer.

7. The fighting! How will Xena battle these 50 heavily armed but intellectually and morally inferior men? The mandatory group fight scenes in every episode are more choreography than violence.

8. Humour. Cheesy special effects and cheesy humour. They go together like... Xena and Gabrielle.

9. Xena. Lucy Lawless' character is just so freakin' awesome. I want to be her. Isn't that what fantasy - to some extent - is all about?

The obligatory bath scene
10. Gabrielle. I said this list wasn't in order, but hmm, is that true? I have always had a mad crush on Gabrielle. Having discovered the series in random re-runs, I first saw her like this, and was smitten. I didn't know she originally looked like this! When I watched the show in order for the first time (on DVD), I was waiting for The Haircut.

Your turn!


Rachel said...

We need to have a Xena-thon together!

laura k said...

Oh yeah!

johnbell said...

What makes for a "cult" show? My all time favourite TV show was hugely popular in its time, but is all but forgotten now, or remembered for the wrong reasons. So let me be clear: Green Acres is the greatest, most subversive sitcom in TV history.
1. Sex. When GA debuted in 1965, TV was a much tamer place. Only a few years earlier married couples, if pictured in their bedrooms at all, were shown in twin beds. Not Oliver & Lisa. Their bed was so big it filled the whole bedroom. And virtually every episode ended with one dragging the other to bed. Whatever else happened, they lusted after each other.
2. Grey Sex. Lisa and Oliver lusted after each other despite the fact that they were not young. It was unheard of for middle aged couples to appear so openly sexual.
3. Gender ambiguity. Among my favourite characters were Alf and Ralph Monroe, the Monroe Brothers who never quite repaired the old house. Ralph was a woman. I repeat - 1965.
4. Class satire. The show was smart enuff to satirize both the ruling class pretensions of Oliver and Lisa, and the rural idiocy of the denizens of Hooterville. Even the old trope about the nobility of the American farmer is played for a joke. What can you say when the smartest character in the whole show was Arnold Ziffel, a pig.
5. Patriotism? Oliver considered himself an orator and would regularly go into rants about the glories of the American Way, while patriotic songs played in the background. Then the story line would make him look ridiculous.
6. Family values? Oliver & Lisa were childless. How many TV married couples were happily childless? Handiman Eb was always trying to get himself adopted, to no avail.
7. Bureaucracy. Hank Kimball, the Department of Agriculture agent, was a brilliant running gag, incapable of taking a position on any matter, even whether or not it was a nice day.
8. Greed. Mr. Haney was a rural flim flam man, who always turned up selling defective goods, at an obscene price, at the precise moment it became essential to Oliver. Clearly one of the smartest characters, despite the hokiest appearance, he often got away with his scams.
9. Crossovers. Hooterville was regularly visited by The Beverly Hillbillies, both being from the same creators. I was also a big Hillbillies fan.
10. Theme song. The greatest theme song ever, by Vic Mizzy, whose name alone is almost worthy of its own reason.
In retrospect it carries some of the baggage of its time, but because it was satire it has aged pretty well. The comic acting was stellar, and nothing was sacred. The slyest program ever.

laura k said...

johnbell, that is AWESOME!

I remember you once posting about this on FB. I have to re-watch some GA with this list in mind.

I think a cult show is usually defined as one with a small but dedicated following. But perhaps that doesn't hold up anymore - maybe every cult show is a mainstream show in some ways.

So we won't worry about that right now. :)

M@ said...

Cult TV shows... not sure what I've watched that qualifies. But this is a show that I think would work. Not well known, but extremely good. And one of the voice actors went on to do much more well-known shows: H. John Benjamin is now Archer in Archer and Bob in Bob's Burgers, but then he was Coach McGuirk in Home Movies.

The things I liked:

1. It was a show about kids for adults, but the kids had relentlessly childish worlds and problem. It's kind of like Charlie Brown in that way. The problems were exactly the kinds of things that weighed heavily on us in our prepubescent years.

2. The movies the kids made had extremely good production values, but were still recognizable as children's work. Cardboard poorly painted, items obviously repurposed, all used in ways that would be satisfactory to an eight-year-old but are obvious and hilarious to an adult.

3. Jason, one of the three kids, is one of those off-the-wall bizarre kids, in the way that slightly out-of-touch kids are. None of us chooses to be that kid, and I'm fairly certain all of us are at some point.

4. The writing in the movies was fantastic. The mistakes and the slips and the things that kids don't understand and can at best mimic (sexuality and other adult themes) were presented perfectly.

5. The writing in the show itself was fantastic. Little callbacks to things that had happened before. Entire episodes that were framed as one of Brendan's movies, or as a rock opera, or as a stage musical... truly magnificent in concept and execution.

6. The adults were perfect adults, seen from a child's point of view. They hold all the cards, they have all the power over kids, even if they're idiots and buffoons because they can drive and have more money than kids. It takes all of us down a peg - perfect satire.

7. The animation after the first season is wonderfully simplistic. The first season they used something called "squiggle-vision" that is meant to make it more dynamic, but is really just annoying. After that they used nice clean Flash animation that works beautifully, representing a child's world as a child.

8. The show lives in the kids' world. They go to a zoo, and a hotel on a field trip, and summer camp. No crazy locations, and nowhere a kid couldn't get to on a bike. None of "the Simpsons are going to Delaware!" nonsense.

9. My favourite piece of the series. Maybe it's not funny to anyone else. Brendan and his mother:

"Now, what were you saying, Brendan?"
"This meatloaf is dry."
"No, before that."
"This is meatloaf?"
"No, before that."
"This fish is dry."

A whole conversation said in reverse that encapsulates their whole relationship: a mother who can't do the mother things (cook meatloaf well), doesn't understand or really pay attention to her kids, and the kid who doesn't really know what's going on either but it's normal for him so he rides along, trying to make sense of it.

10. Only four seasons of 13 episodes. Enough to really stick into and enjoy, but without ever re-treading old ground or dredging up stupid or nonsensical plots.

It's been on Netflix before but I don't know if it's streaming anywhere right now. I have the DVDs if anyone wants to borrow them. And I guarantee not everyone will like it as much as I do, but that's the thing about cult TV.

In writing this, of course, I realized what show I should have been writing about, but that'll have to wait for some other time...

Amy said...

I don't think any of the shows I loved would qualify as "cult" shows, but maybe if you give a definition of what you mean, it would help. I loved things like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, but I wouldn't call it cult. And I loved lots of mainstream big hits---hardly cult. So I am confused!

allan said...

I don't know what a cult show is, either. I guess "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist" and "Sons of Butcher" would qualify. Also, it sounds like I have to watch Home Movies.

laura k said...

OK, so did I completely blow this list post by using the word "cult"? If the list makes more sense to you all without that word, then mentally delete the word, and go for it that way. OK?!

M@, we loved H. John Benjamin in Dr. Katz, and I love him now in Bob's Burgers. I had no idea he was Archer!! I pass Archer all the time on Netflix but have never clicked on it. Now I definitely will.

Dr. Katz and Sons of Butcher are definitely cult shows in my book. But like I said, call it something else if that makes the list work for you.

laura k said...

M@, it could be that a lot of what you (and Mei) like is considered cult. Most things with Bruce Campbell, for example. Veronica Mars, Firefly/Serenity. Sports Night. Maybe not X Files... but maybe.

laura k said...

Home Movies... sounds very good. We must find it.

laura k said...

I hate squiggle-vision!! HATE IT. It was the one thing that kept me from truly loving Dr. Katz.

Another lesser-known fave: The Critic.

M@ said...

Oh, there's another connection. Dr Katz was co-created by Tom Snyder, who also co-created Home Movies. And Jonathan Katz plays one of the characters on Home Movies.

Dr Katz was on here for a while but at a very weird time or something, because I saw it a couple of times and enjoyed it but wasn't able to watch it regularly. But if you were a fan, you'll probably at least not hate Home Movies.

Yeah, I know that a lot of what we like is probably considered cult TV. Sports Night was the one that it occurred to me that I could also list... every once in a while I put Sports Night on and for all its many faults, it's still an amazing show.

We watched every episode of the Critic I'm pretty sure.

laura k said...

It's like... who needs to hear why people love Seinfeld or Downton Abbey. Tell us about a show a lot of people probably haven't watched or never heard of.

Jonathan Katz, too! Nice. Must see.

laura k said...

Greg the Bunny was another one.

If BoJack Horseman wasn't streaming to millions of people on Netflix, it would fall in this category, too. (Must. Have. More. BoJack.)

laura k said...

OK, last one.

Allan should do a list about his favourite cult favourite: Mr. Show. Watch a few on YouTube and write about it? Please?

laura k said...

Wait, one more! I just re-read M@'s Home Movies list and this time noticed this:

I have the DVDs if anyone wants to borrow them.

Yes, please!

M@ said...

Oh, if you do get Home Movies (e.g. from our DVD collection, next time we see you), another thing about season 1: Paula Poundstone plays a major voice role. I liked some of her standup but mostly found her grating; I hated her in Home Movies. She was replaced for season 2 and that was another big improvement. So if season 1 is unwatchable, just skip to season 2.

There are actually a couple of cult shows I can think of that are more recent, and are web-only or otherwise obscure. Burning Love is actually on Netflix (I forget where), at least the first season; it was only released as a Yahoo Video series. NTSF:SD:SUV:: was a show in a 15-minute format that brilliantly satirized modern anti-terrorism thrillers like 24.

Oh, and another one you will like if you haven't come across it is Party Down. Have we not discussed that one? About 90% of the people involved are from Veronica Mars.

Greg the Bunny was one that we watched when we could catch it when it was on TV. Didn't catch it very often but thought it was great. Then we got the DVDs and tried to watch it... just didn't catch in the same way. Watched a handful of episodes and never went back. Some shows are like that, I guess.

laura k said...

I don't remember hearing about Party Down. I'll look for it.

Greg the Bunny was hit or miss for me. Allan liked it a lot more than I did, same for Mr. Show.

More (cult) favourites for me: Joan of Arcadia and My So-Called Life.

allan said...

I feel like I haven't seen enough of Mr. Show to write anything about it. *Must Buy Complete Season DVDs*

impudent strumpet said...

I'm glad to see We Like Lists back! Now I have to think of something I have 10 things to say about...

laura k said...

Allan, try YouTube?

ImpStrump, yay. I will be patient.

Amy said...

OK, I will play, though coming up with ten reasons may be a challenge.

My "cult" show of choice is Doc Martin, the BBC/PBS show about the cantankerous doctor and the small town where he practices. Ten reasons?

1. The setting is gorgeous. Just looking at the scenery would be reason enough to enjoy the show.

2. Doc Martin himself---a tortured soul who has no patience, no people skills, is condescending, rude, and (seemingly) unfeeling. You watch to figure out why he is that way and whether he can change.

3. The other characters---all well-developed and well-acted. Each character has a distinct personality---often very quirky and funny.

4. Medical mysteries. How does Doc Martin figure out what is wrong with these people each week? His medical wisdom makes him a bit of an idiot-savant---no people skills, but incredibly skilled at helping people.

5. The love story. Why does Louisa love him? Why is she willing to put up with this man, and will she stay? Will he change?

6. Insights into the National Health Service. We are always amazed by the fact that these people come streaming into Doc's "surgery" and never have to pay a bill.

7. A chance to pick up all kinds of English expressions and slang.

8. It's both funny as hell and very touching.

9. There are no commercials to fast forward through.

10. There are not enough episodes and it is made only every two years, so they leave you hungry, wanting more.

So there you have it. I finally figured out a cult show to write about.

laura k said...

Amy, not only did you create a great list, you've given me another series to try. I see Doc Martin listed on Netflix all the time and have never clicked on it. Now I definitely will.

Thanks :)

Amy said...

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Let me know!