Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Reviving the Ancient Monastery Where Dom Pérignon was Born

A couple weeks ago, grape pickers in Champagne, France, began the monthlong harvest, or les vendanges, as the locals say. The winemakers will then do a single press of the three grape varieties used to make Champagne —Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier—bottle it, and wait until the carbon dioxide builds into a delicate fizz through a two-step fermentation process known as the méthode champenoise. It takes three years to make a nonvintage bottle. (Vintage Champagnes—meaning those of a particular year, such as the famed Dom Pérignon, the grand homme of them all—can take much longer, often at least a decade.)

As it happens, it has also taken three years to restore the magisterial abbey, cloisters, and gardens of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers, the hillside monastery where a Benedictine monk named Pierre Pérignon came upon the méthode champenoise in 1670. The monks prayed at Saint-Sindulphe, an austere yet elegant stone church built on the monastery grounds in 1698, which has carvings of grapevines on the oak pulpit. It is here that Dom Pérignon is buried.

The Abbey d’Hautvillers, built in 650, was sacked and burned many times over the centuries. All that remains of the original structure today is a main building featuring a beautiful cloister gallery and an entrance built in 1692, known as the Porte Saint-Hélène. To restore the portal, Dom Pérignon hired master woodworkers to carve three cubic meters of oak from the Ardennes Forest. For the cloister gallery, local stonemasons who specialized in 17th-century techniques were brought in. The abbey itself is a long, two-story building of white stone built in the clean, regal style of Louis XIV. Upstairs in the light-filled library—sadly most of its books were pillaged during the many wars in the region—craftsmen restored the oak parquet, shutters, and window frames.

The abbey is now owned by Moët & Chandon, part of the LVMH Group, which produces Dom Pérignon Champagne. When Pérignon lived there in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, there was a maze of 20 buildings, courtyards, and gardens where the monks contemplated, tilled the soil, and worked on illuminated manuscripts. “It was a place of peace, tranquility, and knowledge,” says Richard Geoffroy, the chef de cave for Dom Pérignon Champagne today. It is Geoffroy who decides whether a harvest is good enough to create a Dom Pérignon vintage, along with overseeing the blending and deciding when a vintage is ready to be released to the market.
Geoffroy, a trim, distinguished gentleman and seventh-generation Champagne maker, also hosts private tastings at the long oak refectory table in the library. Guests are offered the Dom Pérignon vintages currently available on the market—at the moment that includes 2003, the year of a blistering heat wave that made the grapes difficult to blend but created a rich, sumptuous wine, and 2002, a crisp, drier blend—and asked to compare them to other splendid years, such as 1992, 1985, 1975, and 1969, that are occasionally rereleased in small quantities for sale. (Today, 2003 retails for about $155 a bottle, and 2002 for about $170.) “Dom Pérignon was the entrepreneur of Champagne,” says Geoffroy. “He made it happen.”

Indeed, he did. During his time at the abbey, Pérignon increased the vineyard land from 10 hectares to 25—some of which still yields grapes today. The monk was rightly proud of his bubbly, which was served at the court of Versailles. “I am sending you 26 bottles of the best wine in the world,” he wrote to the mayor of Epernay, now the headquarters for many Champagne houses. Aptly, Mr. Geoffroy adds, “It was the most expensive, too.”

Liz O'Brien's Modernist Home in Pennsylvania

Referring to Liz O’Brien as a furniture and accessories dealer is a bit like saying Thomas Keller cooks dinner. Consider, for instance, one of the dozens of rarities in her eponymous shop: a Karl Springer games table, its backgammon-board top unexpectedly composed of laminated feathers. For 20-plus years this sort of elusive and coddled creature has been the Manhattan tastemaker’s forte. “I’m especially drawn to the work of decorators and architects of the past, people like Billy Haines, Syrie Maugham, and Samuel Marx,” says O’Brien, the author of Ultramodern (Pointed Leaf Press, 2007), a monograph on Marx’s career. More to the point, she adds, “I try to find things done for specific commissions.”
The dealer’s residence in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley also is an intriguing one-off. Built in 1939 by architect Joseph H. Cassone for a department-store executive, the Streamline Moderne property had never changed hands until O’Brien purchased it about a decade ago—and its details were completely intact, right down to the living room’s boldly fluted plaster cornice. (The only alteration made by the former owners was the construction of a poolhouse in 1957.) For O’Brien that state of preservation was crucial. “I’m interested in the history of interiors,” she says, “and I love so many of the choices here. The spaces are so modernist, but with none of that machine-for-living edge. Corners are rounded, sounds are soft.”
 A major renovation would have spoken to neither O’Brien’s strengths nor her passions. Instead she made restrained but chic updates, such as painting the front door a brilliant coral and shading the terrace with a blue-and-yellow scalloped awning. She also kept elements that may have furrowed a less-historicist brow, among them the master bath’s Vitrolite-glass walls, which are a terra-cotta hue O’Brien can only describe as “makeup.” In the living room, the dealer proudly points out two built-in banquettes that are original to the house—and she might have held on to more of the previous residents’ furniture, she says with a sigh, “if only the people handling the estate hadn’t been so efficient at moving things out.

To this period-perfect foundation O’Brien has added fascinating oddments that span a glamorous gamut from Deco to disco. At opposite ends of the living room, for example, a Chinese-style low table and a polished-steel cocktail table by Alberto Pinto are engaged in a genteel standoff. Selections from the dealer’s covetable furnishings line, Liz O’Brien Editions, hold their own, including a black-lacquer taboret cushioned in a dashing leopard-spot print and Queen Anne–style dining chairs dressed in an icy lavender twill.

O’Brien’s immersion in the world of decorative arts, so enchantingly on display here, was entirely accidental. She had wanted to be a writer but “didn’t like the isolation.” After college she landed a job at a New York City antiques shop and began hitting flea markets, reading old magazines and auction catalogues, and leafing through books in the library at the Cooper-Hewitt museum. Sotheby’s 1998 Andy Warhol estate sale marked the first time the autodidact saw Art Deco furnishings on a grand scale—and it was a life-changing event. “I remember in vivid detail the preview,” she says, “and seeing real Jean-Michel Frank chairs covered in Hermès leather. People like Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent were collecting in the ’60s and ’70s, a time when you could still buy the best of things.”

Though O’Brien’s comfortable retreat contains few conspicuous trophies, it does reference numerous high points of 20th-century taste. (“You shouldn’t let me talk about objects, or you’ll never leave,” she says apologetically.) Fashion and interiors photographer Horst owned the needlepoint chair in the dining room, and André Ostier snapshots of the grounds at Villa Trianon, decorator Elsie de Wolfe’s house in Versailles, hang in the master bedroom. “I knew the 18th-century dealers were going to be all over De Wolfe’s interiors albums when the photographs came up at an auction in California,” O’Brien explains, “so I bid on the garden one.”

Given that eagle eye, the dealer is often asked by friends what choice finds she has come across while nosing around the rolling Pennsylvania countryside. There haven’t been many, it turns out. O’Brien and her husband, Allentown attorney Michael Moyer—whom she met in the area four years ago and recently wed—prefer to play tennis and throw big dinner parties on their emerald-green lawn. They are actively involved with the Allentown Art Museum, and the Little League games of her ten-year-old stepson, Joshua, are also on the agenda. Treasure hunting, however, is largely out of the question. “My husband loves me,” O’Brien says, “but an antiques show would kill him.”

Anh Duong Renovates Her Rustic Hamptons Cottage

Raised in France, the daughter of a Spanish mother and a Vietnamese father, artist Anh Duong has always considered herself an outsider. “I feel at home everywhere and nowhere,” she says. But the East End of New York’s Long Island has had a peculiar hold on her for nearly half of her life. She spent her first summer there in 1988, when, as a model fresh from Paris, she joined Julian Schnabel, then her new boyfriend, in Andy Warhol’s former cliff-top house in Montauk. It was there that she painted her first self-portrait, the genre that has become her artistic signature.
Later came a summer in Bridgehampton, and another in Southampton, at a rented cottage belonging to Roy Lichtenstein. “What I liked was the connection with art,” Duong says. “People always talk about the incredible light, but it’s true. You see things differently out here.” After Schnabel and other romances— and after becoming a fixture on New York’s art and fashion scenes—she fell in love with Barton Hubbard Quillen, who at the time owned the Brooklyn furniture shop Prague Kolektiv, now closed. It was Quillen who took her to see an old fisherman’s house that was for sale in East Hampton, not far from where both Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning had once lived.
Built in 1887, the 1,800-square-foot dwelling was humble, but it had withstood hurricanes, its bead-board walls were solid, and it offered views of the bay in winter, when the trees are bare. Though some improvements had been made—namely the kitchen was upgraded and a bathroom installed (to replace the outdoor latrine) in 1940—Duong notes that “nobody had done the ugly ’70s renovation.”

She wound up buying the place and marrying Quillen. Though they split after a couple of years, Duong decided to keep the house. She turned to her friend Daniel Romualdez, an architect, for advice on what to do with it. He suggested simply moving the staircase, which bisected the living room, to open up the space—and pretty much leaving everything else alone. “I’m like, ‘Really? Try harder!’” she recalls with a laugh, standing in her cornflower-blue kitchen. So Romualdez drew up a more extensive plan. But Duong opted to wait another year before starting renovations, during which time she recognized he had been right all along.
In the end, they also added a fireplace and second-floor bathroom and converted a small outlying cottage, originally a barn, into a painting studio/guesthouse. Duong decorated everything herself, using mostly furnishings acquired from local flea markets and antiques shops, plus a few pieces from Europe. She did rely on advice from Romualdez and another friend, Carolina Irving, a textile designer. “It’s not my thing to hire a decorator,” Duong says, admitting she’s lucky to have the friends she does. The overall effect is feminine and inviting, with Irving’s whimsical florals in soothing blues, reds, and whites covering much of the furniture. “If you don’t know Anh, you don’t realize she’s quite bohemian,” Romualdez says. “The house is the real her—not the glamorous Anh of the party pages.”

Jenni Kayne's Family-Friendly Los Angeles Home

The rallying cries of the early 20th century’s architectural revolution—“Form follows function!” “Ornament is crime!”—helped cement the popular belief that the International Style and its progeny were intrinsically cold and rigid. That prejudicial view persists to this day, perhaps because too few experiments in the softer side of modernism have offered persuasive arguments to the contrary. The Los Angeles home of fashion designer Jenni Kayne and real-estate agent Richard Ehrlich is an emphatic exception. With its crisp white walls and generous expanses of wood and stone, the house provides convincing proof that clean lines and spare details can be marshaled in the service of comfort and warmth.
Kayne and Ehrlich purchased the property, a five-bedroom residence in Beverly Hills, six years ago. Enticed by its scale and proportions, they undertook a gut renovation to erase problematic details that loudly proclaimed the structure’s early-1980s vintage, such as unnecessary 45-degree angles and overabundant stainless-steel accents. When the transformation stalled under the direction of their original designer-contractor team, the couple called upon Silvia Kuhle and Jeffrey Allsbrook of Standard, the architecture firm that had conceived Kayne’s first retail store in 2007.
 “We share a similar aesthetic and an appreciation for modern architecture that incorporates natural elements,” says Kayne, who launched her namesake line in 2003, establishing herself at the age of 19 as an original voice in the arena of women’s wear, with clothes that balance urban edginess and understated glamour. “I knew I wanted wood integrated, particularly on the ceilings. Jeff created a language that sewed the whole house together.”
That kind of architectural stitching is a hallmark of Standard’s work, as evidenced by the five-year-old Jenni Kayne flagship— a former warehouse in West Hollywood that now has the welcoming embrace of a classic California-modern dwelling— as well as a second boutique, in nearby Brentwood, which opened earlier this year. “I’m a stickler for uniting disparate materials in a convincing way that doesn’t feel strained or overwrought,” Allsbrook explains. “For Jenni and Richard’s home, I looked at old European houses and tried to figure out a compelling way to translate that feeling of substance to a contemporary construction in L.A. It couldn’t look like architectural appliqué.”

The project’s visual vocabulary and materials palette are introduced in the reimagined entry pavilion, previously a dark space with a low, pitched roof. The floors are now paved with vein-cut travertine. The ceiling is clad in pine siding salvaged from a 19th-century Pennsylvania barn, and the windows, clerestories, and glass doors are all framed in hand-hewn oak beams from the same source. The latter treatments are repeated in the adjacent living room, which is centered on an indoor-outdoor fireplace of board-formed concrete that makes a textural nod to the rough timber. “The wood gives the house such character,” Kayne notes. “The rooms have real depth, but there’s nothing fussy about them.”

Nina Garcia at Home in Manhattan

Nhas had to do quite a bit more than click her vertiginous Tom Ford heels to make herself feel at home. For years she was too busy juggling the roles of mother, fashion director of Marie Claire, and judge on the popular reality show Project Runway, now airing its tenth season, to focus on creating a stellar personal haven. But with help from the right designer, it finally came together.

After weeks of attending fashion shows in Paris or Milan, along with the affiliated cavalcade of dinners and parties, the New York City–based Garcia prefers to retreat into a private world where the volume is dialed all the way down. “When I come home, I need to feel instantly disconnected,” the native Colombian says. “In the rest of my life, I feel overstimulated. Here, I want things to be serene and unfussy, full of objects I love—but not too many of them.”
 Seven years ago she and her husband, David Conrod, a managing partner and cofounder of G2 Investment Group, purchased a three-bedroom apartment in a 1908 building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The space, once part of a larger flat, was a tangle of small rooms, but with work dominating their lives at the time, it was more than adequate. Then, in 2006, as real-estate fairy tales so often go, shortly before Garcia became pregnant with the couple’s first child, Lucas, the adjoining unit came on the market. (Another son, Alexander, followed in 2010.) That apartment was their residence’s missing half, and the pair pounced on it and started making plans.

Initially, the renovation and decoration of the now-four- bedroom abode proved to be “slow, expensive, hit or miss, sometimes a nightmare,” Garcia says. “It’s not like buying a dress. With furniture you have to proceed carefully.” On one of her Paris trips she spotted a set of Carl Malmsten klismos-style chairs that haunted her on the flight back to the States. A friend suggested she might find something similar at the SoHo decorative-arts gallery BAC, which is owned by Cuban-born designer Carlos Aparicio and known for fine midcentury works. “Amazingly, Carlos had the same chairs,” Garcia recalls. “And that started the whole conversation.”

The chat was fruitful, and a bond was formed. Aparicio soon took over the Garcia-Conrod project, which included restoring architectural details, as well as enlarging the living room so the couple could entertain more comfortably. Meanwhile, architect and client explored their shared affinity for French and Scandinavian furnishings of the 1930s and ’40s. “Back then there was a tight relationship between furniture designers and the fashion world,” Aparicio says. “Jean-Michel Frank, for example, created interiors for Schiaparelli, Lelong, and Guerlain. I think Nina liked the fact that many of the pieces had a link to her professional world.”

A Curiosity-Filled Shop Opens on the Upper East Side

Every collector worth his salt has to have a narwhal tusk,” says Christopher Gow, only half joking, standing next to a seven-foot-tall specimen. He notes that the tusks of the so-called unicorn of the sea were “a fixture of 16th-century cabinets of curiosities,” the eccentric assortments of natural-history and art objects assembled by Renaissance nobles and early men of science. Those Wunderkammern, as the collections were also known, are essentially the model for Creel and Gow, the new boutique Gow has launched with business partner Jamie Creel on a leafy block on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In addition to narwhal tusks, the duo specializes in curios ranging from taxidermy peacocks and flamingos to ostrich eggs, rare minerals, coral branches, fossils, and even deconstructed lobsters under bell jars. Not to mention an array of artisanal decorative objects.
Creel and Gow is in some ways the sequel to the British-born Gow’s previous firm, Ruzzetti & Gow, probably best known for its silver-coated seashells (also available at the new shop). But it was Creel, introduced to Gow by a mutual friend, who came up with the concept for the recent venture. A native New Yorker who lives mainly in Paris, Creel was inspired by a trip to the Galápagos. “I thought, Wouldn’t it be amazing to put together a store where everything came from Mother Nature?” he says. After some persistence, he convinced Gow, too.
For both men, one of the great pleasures of having the shop is scouting the items they sell. Creel frequents the Paris auction house Drouot for antiques but also seeks out artists and craftspeople, such as the Frenchwoman who makes playful terra-cotta candlesticks that are figurines of animals (rhinos, deer, rams) dressed in ascots and redingotes. And with homes in Buenos Aires and Tangier, Creel has lines on Argentine leatherwork and Moroccan textiles. Gow, meanwhile, often travels to remote corners of the world—parts of the Middle East where Westerners rarely go, for instance—to work with traditional artisans on specialty designs for the store. “These are not pieces you can send to China to be copied,” he says.

Everything is responsibly sourced, from the stuffed birds (acquired from zoos after the animals die) to the narwhal tusks (which are vintage). And though there are very few of the latter, collectors should not despair: The shop will be offering resin reproductions.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Stop Flipping! The New Rules of TV

From where to (legally) stream your favorite shows to viewing advice from the best minds in the business, here's everything you need to know about the new golden age of television
Nearly everything about how we watch television has changed. For starters, we can do it anytime we want. (Thank you, Hulu, Netflix, and stuff we've never heard of!) And yes: The shows are a whole lot sexier, more terrifying, complex, and hilarious than the ones we grew up with. It is, as people like to say, a new golden age of television. What few of the countless TV evangelists talk about, though, is that all that change means you can't watch the way you used to. For one thing, we don't care about seasons anymore; we consume in vast chunks, whenever we want, and through a mind-boggling array of content providers. For another: There's so freaking much good stuff to watch! It's a little intimidating. Which is why we've compiled this user's guide—not only to which series deserve hours of your life, but literally how to watch them. A new TV world deserves new rules. Here are ours.

Rule 1. No Channel Surfing

It used to be a respectable TV strategy: The inviolable right to surf was the sort of beer-commercial Man Law that whole episodes of Home Improvement were built around. Now it's a sucker's move, a thousand-channel rabbit hole that begins with the delusion that you're going to stumble upon that Peckinpah film you've always said you wanted to see and ends with you watching a three-hour block of Two and a Half Men. You don't have time for that anymore. There are a lot of hours of must-watch TV to be digested every week (and no, must-watch does not include anything that purports to be about reality, as addictive as Hillbilly Handfishin' can be); those hours quickly add up. If you don't move fast, the conversation has passed you by. And who wants to be the loser covering his ears three years from now to avoid Breaking Bad spoilers? (By the way, if you're finally deciding, a month before the final season begins, that you're ready to buy the hype, congratulations—you have roughly thirty-seven hours of couch time ahead before the show returns to AMC in July.)

Obviously, live sports is the one exception to this rule. You are permitted to be knocked off your Game of Thrones course by an NBA playoff. But choose your battles and set boundaries. Bulls-Heat? Yes. Raptors-Bobcats? No. (In fact, strike the sentence "I'm just gonna catch a few minutes of the first quarter" from your vocabulary entirely. Why are you watching the first quarter of a basketball game?) The point is, this rule isn't about giving up your power. It's about mastering it. Stay on target, Red Leader. Be the TV.
Rule 2. Consume in Vast Quantities

Telling people "I hooked up with thirteen women this weekend" makes you sound like a creep. It's almost an act of valor, however, to stumble out of your apartment after a weekend-long TV binge, all squinty and pale, jabbering about a season's worth of white-trash smackdowns on Justified. With the TV binge, you enter into a kind of trance state in which every character is as lovingly familiar as a college friend and every one of a hundred plot points makes sense. But like everything else, there is a proper way to binge.


DO watch with a significant other. You know how having sex by yourself is sad but having sex with another human is great? It's like that.

DON'T inhale an entire series in one day; four or five eps at a time should be your limit. (Think a robust Bordeaux, not a box of Franzia.)

DO remember basic rules of health and hygiene. Every two episodes, hydrate with water (as in drink it) and do a couple of crunches.

DON'T binge on sitcoms with laugh tracks, even if it's How I Met Your Mother. (See Rule 7.)
Rule 3: Buddy TV is the New Buddy Movie

The magnificent badinage of The Honeymooners' Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) showed, gloriously, the ability of small-screen storytelling—via its patient episode-by-episode character spelunking—to provide friendships of novelistic depth and nuance. And as that storytelling has gotten more complex and densely packed, so have the bromances—now the most satisfying relationships on TV: to wit, Californication's profane yet passionate symbiosis of man-children, Hank Moody (David Duchovny) and Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler); the hilarious yin-yang of Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) on PBS's Sherlock; and, since she won't let Louis C.K. into her pants, Louie's bro-in-all-but-name and true platonic mate, Pamela (Pamela Adlon).

Rule 4: Do Not Waste Time on Shows That Are Just Good Enough

As in the ones that merely look like they are good, thanks to lavish productions and mood substituting for substance: AMC's The Killing; HBO's Boardwalk Empire; AMC's Hell on Wheels; Starz's Magic City; AMC's The Walking Dead. (Or just watch the first and last episode of every season, when they blow their wad on zombie extras and stuff actually happens.)

Rule 5: Do Find Time for Brilliant Shows killed in Their Prime

Supply Your Own Ending
1. David Milch's Deadwood (three seasons, HBO)
The smartest, dirtiest, most Swearengen-est Western that TV has ever produced. Yeah, ever.

2. Ted Griffin's Terriers (one season, FX)
Showcases the greatest balls-out pair of private eyes, played by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James.

3. Jonathan Ames's Bored to Death (three seasons, HBO)
People either hated it or loved it. But for the lovers, it perfectly depicts a certain kind of modern man: regressed, fearful, embarrassingly in touch with his feelings. Also gave Ted Danson the opportunity to create another transcendent cad.
Rule 6: TV-MA is Greater Than NC-17

An envelope-pushing sexy movie often equals arty, which, by extension, equals dull. If you've ever watched vampire Eric bang Sookie on HBO's True Blood, you know that doesn't apply to cable TV. For the most brazen sex, look no further than Starz's Spartacus, which is pure pulp in the grandest sense (like the great HBO series Rome without the pretensions of cultural critique). There's more omnisexual nudity than on Game of Thrones, Californication, and Girls, and that's saying something.

RULE 7: The Best Comedies Are the Ones That Are Good Even When They're Not Funny

At this point, the laugh track is an awkward relic of the past. Literally: Many laugh tracks were recorded in the '50s, meaning there are dead people guffawing at Chris D'Elia on Whitney. (Poignant, kind of!) Also, laugh tracks are to TV bingeing as too many Cheetos are to food bingeing: You feel a little nauseated after one bag. Fortunately, comedies don't have to dress up in comedy clothes anymore. Our favorites—FX's Louie and HBO's Girls—don't even have punch lines. Both feature some really cringe-inducing humiliation (much of it sexual), as well as the occasional affecting-without-being-sentimental growth moment. Who knew character development could be so hilarious?
RULE 8: This is What Pot Was Invented For

We get that reality TV is a lot more entertaining when stoned. (This is Top Chef on drugs: HOLY SHIT, DUDE, WE COULD TOTALLY MAKE THAT STEAK THINGY WITH DEVILED AIOLI AND MISO-SMOKED KIDNEY BEANS!!!) But pot enhances highbrow, too, thrusting you deeper into a milieu and highlighting nuance; subtext becomes text! Maggie Smith's Downton Abbey bons mots are even funnier with a few tokes. And Homeland is that much more suspenseful after the weed kicks your paranoia up to Threat Level Red. Yes, we just endorsed experimenting with drugs
RULE 9: Think of the Major Networks as a Garage Sale

There's lots of crap, but there are gems. Forget everything except these eight shows: CBS's The Good Wife and How I Met Your Mother; NBC's 30 Rock, Community, and Parks and Recreation (skip season one); ABC's Happy Endings and Revenge; Fox's New Girl.
Instant Literacy: A TV Auteur's Must-Watch Syllabus

Jane Espenson, Game of Thrones writer and consulting producer of Once Upon a Time, suggests:

1. "Room Service," season five, Frasier:* A sex-farce episode that turns into a genuine and bittersweet exploration of character. A master class in sitcom writing.

2. "Hush," season four, Buffy the Vampire Slayer:* Hysterically funny and genuinely creepy with nary a word spoken.

3. Twin Peaks pilot:* Looked and felt like nothing that came before it and instantly established a sense of place and character.

*See Rule 11 for how to watch these shows.
Rule: 10 British TV Is Not Always Better Than American...

...despite what your snobby friends might say (unless they're talking about the British Skins; our MTV version sucked ass—which likely happened on the UK's!). But these five are damn good and worth seeking out.

Whip-Smart Whodunit
Justified (FX) = Sherlock (PBS)
Benedict Cumberbatch's deductive reasoning is faster than Raylan Givens's trigger finger.

Drama with Smoking
Mad Men (AMC) = The Hour (BBC America)
Swap out Mad Ave. for the Suez Canal and you get this sophisticated mystery set at a '50s TV show.

Comedy Nerds
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) = The IT Crowd (Netflix)
Bridesmaids' Chris O'Dowd and Richard Ayoade as the put-upon brainiacs.

Undead vs. Humans
The Walking Dead (AMC) = The Fades (BBC America)
Instead of zombies chomping people, it's ghosts. Geeky, funny, scary.

Idris Elba
The Wire (HBO) = Luther (BBC America)
Elba as a detective is even weirder, crazier, and more dangerous than Stringer Bell

Instant Literacy: A TV Auteur's Must-Watch Syllabus

Damon Lindelof, executive producer of 'Lost,' suggests:

1. First four episodes of season three, Battlestar Galactica:* Proves great sci-fi can feel like it's happening now.

2. "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,'" The X-Files; and "Pine Barrens," The Sopranos:* Most outside-the-box brilliant demonstrations of storytelling.

3. The Wire, season three:* Perfection.

4. "Flip," The Larry Sanders Show:* Best finale. Emotional, hysterical, nonapologetic.

*See Rule 11 for how to watch these episodes.
Rule 11: Think Outside the Box (as in Your TV Set)

TVLinks (tv-links.eu): Highly useful European site collects tons of questionably legal destinations to your top shows.

YouTube (youtube.com): Slowly emerging as a strong home for original content.

Hulu (hulu.com): For limitless good stuff, you'll need to pay eight bucks a month. For fast access to awesome network shows (see Rule 9), that's peanuts.

Netflix (netflix.com): The ultimate bingeing enabler launched its first series, Lilyhammer, releasing the entire season.

HBO GO (hbogo.com): The cleanest, easiest way to enjoy all of HBO's original shows, even old episodes of Cathouse!

Funny or Die (funnyordie.com): Still great; still pulling big stars to do dumb shit.

Yahoo! Screen (screen.yahoo.com): A Funny or Die wannabe spending on the right talent, like Mike O'Brien's 7 Minutes in Heaven.

Epix (epixhd.com): Has a growing library of old classics and original programs; Louis C.K.'s film Hilarious was released here.
Rule 12: You Cannot Resist Aaron Sorkin, So Don't Even Try

Admit it. When you heard about his new series on HBO, The Newsroom (debuting June 24)—the one where Jeff Daniels plays a media mash-up of Keith Olbermann and Tom Brokaw with a hint of Howard Beale— you rolled your eyes: Here come the same tricks—Sorkin's patented zippy-speechy-preachy trifecta, this time applied to news rather than sports (Sports Night) or politics (The West Wing). Same old shit. And yeah, it is the same old smart, addictive, entertaining-as-hell shit. Which is why you're going to watch it. Resistance is futile.

Rule 12a: Ditto for Julia Louis-Dreyfus

As the never-not-humiliated vice president in Armando Iannucci's HBO comedy, Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets to pair her cranky chutzpah with her snappiest dialogue since Seinfeld.
Rule 13: shut your dang mouth!

1. Never post spoilers on Twitter or Facebook.  One second you're scrolling through tweets of Ice-T's wife posting micro-thong pictures of herself. The next, some fuckhead is springing a crucial Homeland plot point on you. It's like being blindsided with a kick to your kidneys.

2. Never, ever bring up spoilers at the office without first asking, "Did you see [name of show] last night?" And please, keep your spoiler-laden watercooler gabfest to a low volume.

3. Don't spoil something and then say, "That's not really a spoiler." Critics do this all the time, especially with stuff that happens early in the episode. As if an event in the first five minutes somehow doesn't count. It all counts.

4. Don't try to talk your way around a spoiler. The worst person in the world is the one who, upon learning you haven't watched something, then tries to talk about it anyway with, "All I'll say is..."  NO! All you will say is nothing. Telling me my mind will be blown still ruins it.

5. All that said, if you've waited a decade to watch The Sopranos, then screw you. Tony kills Big Pussy.

 Rule 14: a single serving of evil is no longer enough

Whereas movie villains can do bad things for only two hours, TV creeps have whole seasons in which to worm their way into our hearts and souls as they incrementally give up their own. Consider Breaking Bad's Walter White, whose transformation from prey to predator wreaks havoc on the very idea of an antihero.

And Sometimes We're Nursing a Lifetime Crush

Claire Danes then, as Angela Chase on My So-Called Life: "Things were getting to me."

Claire Danes now, as Carrie Mathison on Homeland: "Fuck this shit."
Rule 16: Stop Talking About The Wire

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed The Wire as much as the next white person who owns a pair of J.Crew pants. I do have a heart and a Netflix account. But it's been almost five years since David Simon's critically fellated show about Baltimore's urban poor has dearly departed us, and still Wire widows won't put down the torch. Indeed, earlier this year President Obama was asked who his favorite Wire character is, for the second time in his presidency. (Yup, it's still Omar. Who is everybody's favorite character. Might as well have asked the President to name his favorite member of Adele.) Wire fans don't just love the show, they love what they think loving the show says about them—which is basically that they are smart, have good taste, and care about black people. There's now a Twitter dedicated to calling out people who use The Wire as pick-up bait in their online dating profiles. (Exhibit A: "On our first date, we can quote scenes from The Wire."—Male, 29) As a lady who has ventured to grab a drink with such males, I can tell you that a good proportion of them seem to confuse owning the DVD box set with, oh you know, fully understanding the plight of the urban poor in America.

But here's the thing: At this point, The Wire isn't a little underdog show in its first season with no one watching. And proselytizing about it now doesn't make you seem smarter, as much as it makes you sound like a cliché. You know that old expression, "If you love something, let it go, and stop wearing it around like a goddamn Boy Scout badge"? Let's apply here. Rest in peace, The Wire. Hopefully, the next time someone dredges up your memory it will be on your tenth anniversary, not next Tuesday.
Rule 17: become a connoisseur of decapitation

For originality, honors go to (spoiler alerts!) death by Uncle Tio's bell on Breaking Bad, by molten crown on Game of Thrones, and by flesh-eating ants on Sons of Anarchy. But for sheer guts and gore, Spartacus cleans up. The series seems to have an entire staff devoted to decapitation and dismemberment. The final episode of the first season is called "Kill Them All." Not to give too much away, but they do kill them all.
Instant Literacy: A TV Auteur's Must-Watch Syllabus

Graham Yost, executive producer of Justified, suggests:

1. Hill Street Blues:* Begin with episode one, then keep going. Every quality cop show since is in its debt.

2. Lost:* The first two seasons have more jaw-dropping moments than most series have in their entire run.

3. The West Wing:* Shining example of creator as auteur, with the most identifiable "writer's voice" in TV history. Just as you can tell a Mamet play after reading five lines, every scene is an Aaron Sorkin scene.

*See Rule 11 for how to watch these shows.