Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten Shows of the Year

As if there aren't already 8 million of these floating around, here's my TOP 10 OF THE YEAR!!

1. Boardwalk Empire, HBO-The creation of the mob during prohibition is one of the most formative chapters of American history and if edgy film and television is going to practically be synonymous with gangster stories, someone might as well get to the heart of the matter. With Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg among the producers, the show is in good hands. In addition, Steve Buscemi steps into a rare leading man role and deserves an Emmy for it.

2. The Choir, BBC, Office/Jamie Oliver's Food Food Revolution, ABC-Both those shows were insightful, educational, relevant and, ultimately, inspirational. One show involved a British chef's quest to fight America's obesity epidemic with Huntington, West Virginia as a starting point. Oliver, best-known as the Naked Chef (famous enough to be a punchline on Saturday Night Live), was supplied with his own ready-made villain in the form a radio DJ who believed Oliver was just out for fame and the town didn't care about lettuce. In winning the evil DJ and the town over, Jamie Oliver gave us some great tear-inducing drama and got us on board his cause and character. Consider me Team Jamie Oliver.

On the other side of the pond in England, choir master Garreth Malone attempted to tackle arts education in a coed school, a boy's academy and a community choir. Like Food, Food Revolution, it seems like an easy formula to mine some drama but then the tears start flowing and you're genuinely moved. Both shows were a reminder that reality TV doesn't have to be about artificial competitions when real life can be quite compelling.

3. Breaking Bad AMC-This is Breaking Bad's third year on my top 10 list but the first year in which it is considered the preeminent show on television which merits a bit more exploration:

Crime dramas are only effective to the extent that they can relate their universe to an audience comprised largely of people uninvolved in the criminal underworld who see meth rings, Mexican drug cartels and the like as largely abstract occurrences. Hence, films that deconstruct the gangster genre like Goodfellas, American Gangster and Scarface largely win the audience over if they can create enough of an arc where that violent gangster was once an ordinary Joe Schmoe.

Breaking Bad used two entire seasons to carefully lay the groundwork out for that ordinary Joe Schmoe to become a truly unsympathetic character (or would you argue he still retains his sympathy?? it's certainly a balancing act) which makes his moral demise all the more richer. What's more, he's paired with somewhat of a lowlife in Jesse Pinkman and as Aaron Paul's win at the Emmys demonstrated that character has morphed quite unexpectedly into a moral barometer of sorts.

The show's momentum can't be denied because it's the most ambitious on television. It sets characters on a collision course with each other and its as if the writers are on a dare to see how long they can keep the characters from colliding.

What I wrote about Breaking Bad 2 years ago on my 2008 list: http://bit.ly/eXUdIF

4. Futurama, Comedy Central-Whether I was Futurama's biggest fan or just a casual one before the show came back (I'd put myself somewhere in the middle), I fell in love with the show all over again during its run this summer. To be resurrected from the dead like Futurama is somewhat of a miracle in the world of TV, but the downside can be greater expectations. For me, the show met and exceeded the bar. The writing was sharp, the visuals were imaginative and the plots were consistently ambitious. If the episodes failed, you can at least say that they fell hard because they aimed high. The show also earns points for experimenting with new dynamics (i.e. Bender and Amy, Hermes and Bender, Amy and Nibbler, Fry and the Professor) between characters.

5. Modern Family, ABC-I enjoyed Arrested Development immensely but I also interpreted its success at the time to conclude that the traditional family sitcom couldn't exist unless it was being mocked and/or subverted. That changed when I saw Modern Family.

Modern Family went into new territory by bringing humor without a hint of irony. The show mines comedy out of the quirks of Dumphy, Prichett and Prichett-Delgado clans and mines drama of the forces that threaten to tear those family bonds apart. Is is significant that the comedy doesn't suggest that the family is worthless and the negative vibes in the family are always overcome (or at least ameliorated) by episode's end.

6. Party Down, Starz-I honestly have never heard of the Starz Network which is why it took me so long to discover this gem. Starring Adam Scott, Megan Mullally, and Lizzy Caplan (best known for this Jason Mraz video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oieBnV_HFB0), this show centers around a ragtag band of dreamers in Los Angeles working on a catering team together to pay the bills but hoping for bigger things. Their characters' varying degrees of disconnect from reality is contrasted with the very close proximity these people are to the people who nonchalantly live their lives. The show also manages to be edgy in bringing characters to the screen who aren't in love with their lives without being unnecessarily crude or depressing (a sin I find Weeds and Entourage guilty of).

7. Terriers, FX-There are so many procedural shows out there that it's hard for any one show to distinguish itself. So how does Terriers make the list? Likable protagonists that you can latch onto are a start. The pair of amateur detectives are mellow and easy-going (kind of functional versions of the Dude in Big Lebowski. The Dude did solve a crime over the course of the film but that was by pure coincidence. I do want to be specific in my comparison here, because Terriers isn't a stoner comedy) which is refreshing considering so many characters in cop procedurals take themselves so seriously. Like the characters, the plots also meander but in a good way: plots don't necessarily resolve themselves from episode to episode and the viewer can't really be sure where the show is going next.

The show also has noirish overtones and reminds me very much of Chinatown in the sense that a land deal becomes so much more than it seems on the surface.

8. Glee, FOX-Some critics felt that the show had a sophomore slump but I don't think that's the case with this show at all. Hot hits with the teenage demographic usually are the big fad one season and disappear pretty fast (i.e. The O.C., Gossip Girl, Everwood). At least for now, however, the show is strong enough to overcome the fact that it no longer has novelty working in its favor.

The episodes occasionally miss but I admire the show for trying to approach serious topics like anti-bullying, the limits of teenage aspirations, and prejudice, with a sense of gravity.

The additions in the second season have only made the show better. Dr. Carl (John Stamos) has been a much better rival for Emma Pillsbury's affections than Coach Tanaka and the additions of Sam combined with the expansion of Brittany, Mike Chang and Santana have been very effective at balancing out the melodrama stemming from the Finn-Puck-Rachel and Rachel-Quinn-Finn love triangles.

Further Reading on the Backlash and Continued Popularity of Glee

9. Parks and Recreation, NBC-This show has better characters and a better ensemble than most shows on TV. Amy Poehler, an SNL alum who gradually transformed into the show's MVP by her 8th season, is more than talented enough to lead a sitcom as bureaucrat. The supporting cast of players in the Pawnee parks department isn't just notable for being good: The writers and actors deserve credit for having the characters evolve as the show hit its stride. Despite being a polar opposite to Leslie Knope, Anne (Rashida Jones) has become the yin to Leslie's yang. Similarly, Andy (Chris Pratt) has gone from "the other guy" to a lovable hanger-on and Aubrey Plaza's unrivalled ability to deadpan has stopped overshadowing April's development.

The show is a welcome compliment to The Office and a great example of how to follow up something great without changing directions entirely.

10. No Ordinary Family, ABC-Think Heroes if the show were to compress all of the disparate storylines from Heroes into one family. There are also two sidekicks who make the show better with every minute of screen time they get. Romany Malco plays an impassioned district attorney and good friend of the dad (Michael Chilkis) and the other (Autumn Reeser) is an adorably nervous (and easy on the eyes) lab assistant of the mom (Julie Benz) and brings with her an overeagerness to live out her comic book fantasies through her. The show can get a little corny, but it has impressive special effects and an arc that's just now starting to considerably deepen.

Article of Best new fall shows of 2010 including Modern Family

Best show I discovered a year too late to put on my Top 10 List for last year and which I haven't seen this year because I couldn't find any bit torrent for it and HBO won't even allow itunes downloads for:
In Treatment, HBO-The raw drama, the power of the performances, the insight into the human psyche is, to quote Shawn Stockman on NBC' The Sing-Off (and if you saw his critique of Committed on that show you'd know what I was talking about), "What it's all about, man." The root of what makes drama good is right here. There's nothing but a room, a couch and a chair with a patient who we slowly learn about as the weeks go on and a psychiatrist who's pretty damn good at his job. More specifically, we're watching that guy pretty damn good at his job in four out of every five episodes. On that 5th episode, we learn how much of a basket case he is when he visits a psychiatrist of his own (Editorial note: I have restrained myself from watching the "Paul goes to therapy" episodes because I find it ruins the illusion).

[Ed. note: I since put it into my top 10 for 2009]

Sing-Off, NBC, Burn Notice, USA, The Office, NBC, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX (my #1 last year), Archer, FX, Outsourced, NBC (Still a fan and avid defender!)

Other articles of mine:
The Evils of Craigslist:
The Morality of the Characters on it's Always Sunny in Philly
Which Filmic Version of Washington Suits you Best:
A Day on the Set with the Extras on How Do You Know?:

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