The 11 Nerdiest All-But-Forgotten TV Anthology Shows

By Andy Hughes in Daily Lists, TV
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 6:00 am


Dunno if you've noticed this, but a major trend in television these days is to make every show complex and layered with its own internal mythology, no matter its subject. Even comedies are all but required to have overarching plots and recurring secondary characters now. Generally this approach is good, but it has its drawbacks, a big one being a lack of anthology shows.

For the uninitiated, this term, inherited from radio drama, refers to a show that tells a different story with a new cast of characters every episode: famous examples include The Twilight Zone, The Storyteller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits (there's also a sub-category of shows that were both anthology-based and serial, like Quantum Leap or The X-Files). Yet, despite a couple of modern examples (Masters of Horror/Science Fiction; American Horror Story, kind of), this type of television isn't too present at the moment: it seems to have had its heyday in the '60s, with a revival in the late '80s and early '90s. Even some of the more successful shows of the later period (Amazing Stories, Ray Bradbury Theater) don't seem to be recalled with much frequency.


It's difficult to say anything is truly "forgotten," because nothing is really forgotten about in the 21st century, is it? Thanks to the wonders of the tube-terwebs, stuff that you're half-convinced you hallucinated as a child can be verified and shared in half an instant: that Sears commercial you were sure nobody else remembered is actually a cult Internet item everyone quotes. This makes the pop-culture artifacts that are actually obscure (like that action figure line with the snail-people that were all named after former US Presidents that I swear is real) all the more valuable, and difficult to gauge. In this topsy-turvy age, things that may have gone unnoticed at the time of their release could have ravenous followings now, and vice-versa. Not all of these shows necessarily deserve to be rediscovered, but for better or for worse, we take you now into the chilling world of obscure television.

11) Ghost Stories

Master of the macabre Rip Torn whisks you away into the world of ghosts and the unexplained. Sounds like a gas, huh? The fact that Torn is unseen is just one of the many awkward and unintentionally hilarious aspects of Ghost Stories, a series as generic as its title. It deserves a small place in our hearts for moments of dialogue like this:

Wife: What have I gotten myself into?

Husband: Uh...marriage? You've gotten yourself into a marriage.

Oh, and one more from the same scene: "Hey woman, it's not my kitchen anymore." I guess this show was on Fox Family? Although there's nothing explicit, occasionally these shows are a tad...intense for viewing with the spouse and kids, and I can't imagine families gathering around to watch it. The acting ranges from pine to balsa, and the production is generally on the same level of a Hallmark production. Torn's sometimes ominous, sometimes bored-sounding voice overs reinforce the same aesthetic of lazy cheese. You might ask what connection Torn has to the realms of the unreal, and well you should: the truly learned among us know of the eternal balance of power maintained by a Rip of Dark and Rip of Light, embodied in our time by Rips Torn and Taylor respectively. As both Rip avatars near old age, the question of who will rise to take their place and sustain the Riptinuim is both vital to our existence and probably more interesting than the average episode of Ghost Stories.

10) Journey to the Unknown

A carnival of mystery and terrifying color! Aside from an alarming opening sequence and a kickass creepy theme tune, this groovy British program boasted some genuine horror cred, as it was produced by Hammer Studios around the same time that its horror revivals were getting popular. Sadly, that did not mean a hosting gig by Christopher Lee, but it did mean an eerie, cinematic feel. Actually, some of the episodes were harvested for feature film material later.

Most of the stories featured some otherworldly element, whether it was time travel, ghosts, or telepathy, but there was also a focus on psycho-sexual hangups, like a man falling in love with a mannequin or a boy raised to be a girl. Which means that it's entirely possible that the infamous twist of a certain low-budget camp horror movie originated here. Food for thought. Journey to the Unknown is also notable for being one of the few shows of its genre to not have a narrator/host, although the movies did include linking segments from actors like Patrick McGoohan and Joan Crawford. All in all, these are mostly fun and very "of the times" in an entertaining way. Ah, for the days when simply showing a negative version of a photograph was shocking and spooky.

9) Fairy Tales

BBC Fairytales Rapunzel by ltahvideos

When I lived in London back in 2008, there were billboards everywhere promoting this series of modern adaptations of fairy tales, beating Once Upon a Time and Grimm to the punch by several years. Now, it's all I can do to believe that they happened at all. According to Wikipedia and IMDB, there were four episodes produced, one of which was apparently directed by frequent Doctor Who contributor Euros Lynn, and each one tried to put a sort of twist on a classic fairy tale while keeping most of the stuff we remember. The "Rapunzel" episode, for example, casts the princess as a tennis star whose mother/manager keeps her sequestered in order to "preserve the brand." There's also at least 100% more cross-dressing in that than I remember in the original.

Other stories sourced include "Cinderella", "The Emperor's New Clothes" and (I'm serious) "Billy Goats Gruff," which was retooled to be about a boy band. I can't seem to find any clips of that one, but if you're really curious you can read the story behind it here. And you know you want to. These might seem trifling but it was probably either this or make all of these characters witch hunters in feature films, so perhaps we should count our blessings.

8) Night Visions

Hosted by Henry Rollins for some reason, this Fox series aired for a single season at the tail end of The X-Files' run. Coincidence, or alien conspiracy? Each episode contained two stories awkwardly introduced and concluded by Rollins in front of a green screen, as if he were trying to sell you heartburn medicine or something. The show itself wasn't too bad, and "Dead Air," which featured Lou Diamond Phillips as an assholish DJ who slowly finds himself threatened by a mysterious outside force does manage to be actually scary. But on the whole, Night Visions lacked the sort of oomph of a great anthology horror series, and so it went the way of The Downer Channel, vanishing like a giant eyeball-shaped cloud into the mists.

7) Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction

Not to be confused with either the much-loved Thrilling Adventure Hour segment or the classic Men at Work song of the same name. Originally, the host was James Brolin, but things really hit their stride with the second season when the helm was passed to William T. Riker himself, Mr. Jonathan Frakes. Yes, that's right. On a set that looked kind of like a lower-rent version of the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, Frakes showed us optical illusions, posed with historical trinkets, and talked us through a series of five playlets centered around extraordinary things. Some were true-ish; the others were lies, or possibly rejected Dead Zone plots. It was basically an hour-long, TV version of that one game from Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, but with a higher chance of an appearance by the Rip of Light. You probably won't be surprised to learn that some of the stories were actually not really that far out of the range of belief, that being part of the point.

A more traditional anthology series hosted by Frakes would be great, but at least this one gives us five times the chance to see his oddly alluring smile, especially as he dismissed the false stories. Not much explanation was given to the "true" vignettes, other than the fact that they were, uh, "fact," even when they were sometimes just loosely based on things. I feel sorry for the writers who had to churn out all these different scenarios, as well as roughly 90 billion different ways for Frakes to say "it's fiction."

6) Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible

"Venomous lobster jism. Paralyze a man in seconds." While Garth Marenghi's Darkplace spoofed 80's horror and hospital shows, another cult British comedy series paid homage to an earlier era of hammy goodness. Steve Coogan starred alongside Simon Pegg, Warwick Davis and others in send-ups of all different flavors of '60s/'70s horror, from a witch's curse story to a parody of politically insensitive "yellow peril" thrillers. Episodes had appropriately over-the-top titles like "Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust" and "Scream Satan Scream!" that are actually pretty indistinguishable from real B-movie titles.

You're either onboard with this premise or not, and clearly the more you know the source material the more you'll get out of it. Like Darkplace, this show was probably fated from the outset to only have one series, but it still holds a place of honor among cult humor fans.

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