The ‘Best Discovery’ section of Lightbox’s People’s Choice Awards is the Lightbox-iest category of them all. That’s what streaming services are really, really good at: giving you a vast lagoon of unfamiliar shows, and inviting you to dive right in. We here at the Spinoff are extra high level TV nerds, and had already seen most of the nominees in this category. They’re all exceptional, with Damages and Party Down being particularly discoverable (if you haven’t yet, sort your life out right now). But we decided to think back over our Lightbox’s first year and each try and pick the best show we’ve found within our sponsor’s exceptional catalogue.
Duncan picks: The Sarah Silverman Program.
I first consciously became aware of Sarah Silverman nearly a year ago, when she ascended the steps to stand alongside Giuliana Rancic on E!’s coverage of the Emmy’s red carpet. Their entire interaction lasts less than two minutes, but was a perfect introduction to Silverman’s strange, adolescent world.
She starts off berating Rancic for her sloppy hosting. “Why’d you put the microphone in front of me? You didn’t say a question!” Next she starts prodding her own breasts in a style at once proud and curious. It’s as if she’s only just discovered their existence, and isn’t quite sure of what they’re composed.
Rancic tries to appear relaxed about the exchange, but is clearly nervous about SIlverman’s refusal to play along with the E! routine. Everything they’ve carefully prepared to ensure this goes off as empty and slick as possible feels like it might run aground on the rocks of Silverman’s breezily obnoxious persona.
At Rancic’s behest, she sticks her fingers in a small box where women’s hands are judged by an expectant nation, yelling despairingly “these are working hands!” It’s oddly soulful. Once she’s through the hand inspection, it’s on to her bag. Seems intrusive, though Silverman could care less.
Silverman opens up.What’s that sticking out the top of her clutch? A vapouriser! Rancic, panic-stricken, tries to brush past the drug paraphernalia, but Silverman’s drawling on about it, suddenly appearing deeply stoned. It’s electrifying TV.
Finally she staggers off the platform, letting Jimmy Fallon take her place. Rancic is thrilled to be back in the company of a normo, who’ll gush about how great she looks and not ruin everything. Normalcy resumes, but it appears hopelessly pallid now.
From that point on I was half in love with Sarah Silverman, and determined to find out why this mad woman was allowed to wander around the Emmy’s being deeply weird. How had no one stopped her?
You can imagine my surprise and delight when a week later I saw her staring back at me, smooshing a small, worried dog into her face, amongst the grid of shows when Lightbox launched. Three seasons of The Sarah Silverman Program!
I hit play and there I was, in an entire world conducted in the oafish style of her time with Rancic. God. AIDS. Gays. Orphans. She seemed to live on the border of taste and decency, but never seemed exploitative, somehow. A slew of odd characters, all uniquely idiotic, all somehow emerging from the same stew.
I’m currently reading The Bedwetter, Silverman’s excellent, urine-soaked autobiography, and there’s not really anything Silverman-related which has been anything less than perfect. So her gross, immature, brutally funny Program is comfortably my favourite discovery on Lightbox.
Alex picks: Celebrity Ghost Stories
I’ve always been one for ghost stories, perpetually frustrated as a child when, at sleepovers, people would always wheel out the old classics that diminished rapidly in scare returns every single time. I never need to hear the “drip drip” story again, nor “Johnny, I want my liver back”. What was awoken in me by the terrible wordsmiths of my youth was a thirst for terror, an endlessly unfulfilled desire to have the pants scared right off of me.
Ghosts in particular, always fascinated and horrified me. I went through a phase of watching Ghosts, Spirits and Demons every night before bed, just to keep the old heart pumping. When I was 15, I went over to my friend Cleo’s house after school on Halloween and we did a seance on her bedroom floor. No kidding – we talked to the ghost of David Lange that day. I mean, he wasn’t communicating in the clearest language I’ve ever seen, but he definitely wanted to get in touch. Ditto Marilyn Monroe not long later.
Long story short, three of my favourite things in the entire world are celebrities, ghosts, and stories. The very first time I logged into Lightbox, Celebrity Ghost Stories was my first port of call. I remember sitting transfixed as Joan Rivers calmly told the story of Mrs Spencer, a ghost woman who lived and died in her penthouse New York apartment, presumably ages ago.
The ghost lady would make the lights flicker, wouldn’t let Joan’s pooch past the door and constantly spilt the cornflour everywhere – it was a real mess. Joan concluded that Mrs Spencer would have to become her friend, and spent many nights talking to this spectral sister at the end of her bed.
BUT THAT’S NOT EVEN THE SCARY PART. After I watched the Joan Rivers episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, Joan Rivers died two days later. I don’t want to say that CGS has given me the power to kill its guests, but I’m honestly petrified to watch any more. Thanks Lightbox for giving me the most terrifyingly powerful television discovery in human history, and the biggest scare I’ll probably ever have.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.