Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Best of TV


In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, the magazine chronicled what it felt were the best shows on TV. While several of my favorites found their way to the top ten, I was more surprised by how many of EW's choices I didn’t watch (or no longer watch). While you may find this surprising, I actually watch very little TV—5 ½ a week by the numbers. There are some shows that look great but I avoid just because I don’t want another nightly anchor around my neck.

So it got me thinking, what are my favorite TV shows? Pragmatically, I guess they’d have to be the ones I let into my home each night.

And they are…

SUNDAY:

The West Wing--While it has only a few episodes left, The West Wing is still one of television’s reigning princes. Sure, it suffered when creator and writer Aaron Sorkin and producer Thomas Schlamme left, but a season later it rebounded with grace and vigor. When you think about it, these days the show is more like a spin-off series of itself, tracking two timelines—life at the White House and the rancorous Presidential campaign with which it will soon swap places. While it saddens me that so good a show has not been renewed for an eighth season, truth is, I actually wanted it this way all along. I’d rather the show end with the Bartlett administration than continue with a new President, no matter who he might be. The show’s wit, rapid-fire dialogue and deeply moving storylines created an inspiring political arena where America’s highest ideals meet her most passionate titans. Bartlett in 08!


MONDAY:

How I Met Your Mother--This freshman comedy is pitch-perfect, delightfully cast (none better than Neil Patrick Harris), and as hilarious as it is genuinely touching. Each episode is a flash-back, told to the narrator’s kids as an explanation as to how their folks met. It’s a gimmick that works in a show that felt like a polished gem from its pilot episode. It’s been the breakout comedy of this season and it might just be destined to become a classic. In a line-up of traditional, uninspired sitcoms, this one is truly must see!


TUESDAY:

The Amazing Race--Let me just get something off my chest in the very beginning. Producer Jerry Bruckeimer is the devil. His films (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Enemy of the State) are some of the worst slop Hollywood has to offer. Why is it then that he does such great TV?! While I don’t have much use for most reality TV, The Amazing Race is a staple of my week. Teams of two race almost 100,000 miles across a half dozen continents, taking on culturally significant tasks in an adult scavenger hunt for one million dollars. It’s been called travel porn. If so, I’m addicted.


WEDNESDAY:

Lost--Lost is the ultimate TV jigsaw puzzle, presenting more questions than it answers. The intelligent, layered writing is steeped in plumbless metaphor and deep spiritual themes. The cast of relative newcomers have become overnight stars by creating rich, complex characters. No one on this show is who they seem. And that includes the largest character of all—the island is dangerous, beautiful, spooky, and undeniably intriguing. The same could be said of the show.


THURSDAY:

Survivor--It’s not the king anymore and it’s pulling out all the stops to remain interesting and relevant, but I can’t seem to stop watching. Everyone needs a guilty pleasure. It’s the ultimate social experiment—sorta. This season, the show’s back in top form with contestants we love to love and love to hate.


FRIDAY:

Battlestar Galactica--It’s been called “the best show on TV” by the likes of Newsday, Rolling Stone and TIME magazines. In its ranking, EW ranked Battlestar Galactica above even LOST. And with good reason. BSG is utterly brilliant. It’s dark, sexy, adult, politically and philosophically drenched TV. More West Wing than Star Trek, this is a space opera that never loses sight of the people that power it. Consistently strong and boasting one of the finest ensemble casts around, BSG is quite possibly the most powerful drama out there.

So, which ones am I missing? Which ones can’t I do without? Let me know…

22 Comments:

Anonymous Nate said...

Uh...try the Sopranos?

I don't want to sound condescending, but it's such a huge oversight that I have to lead off with it, and lead off hard. I I think it's one of the greatest pieces of storytelling ever created. It has stumbled, but when it's on, there is no doubt that it is working on a higher level than everything else.

LOST is cheaper, much cheaper, but it is like crack to me. I guess that makes The Sopranos cocaine.

Arrested Development. 24. I've heard great things about Deadwood. HBO just incubates these things. The Office is pretty damn funny, considering.

The EW link is not working right, so I dunno what's on their list.

Oh, and The Eyes of Nye.
And American Experience. Oh glorious TV! I never get to watch it.

Gotta run. More later.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

It's not an oversight, exactly. You bring up a problem I perhaps should have mentioned at the outset--I don't have cable, even basic cable (friends and family feed me BSG).

Perhaps I should visit Blockbuster for past seasons of the Sopranos. I did watch Season One that way, back in Sicily, but haven't seen an episode since. EW has the Sopranos at #2 (24 is #1).

Thanks for the link heads up--it's fixed now.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Eric D. said...

Um... SOPRANOS & 24??? 2 parts of the 3 best shows on TV today. BSG being the #1 or #2 spot depending on my mood. You REALLY need to netflix these two amazing shows.

DEADWOOD, another great, is basciallly Shakespere set in a Western.

THE OFFICE is just frikkin brilliant.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Yeah, but I don't have cable either. (I just rent them for 2 bucks a pop. Or Netflix is good.)

But you can't make a list of the best TV shows when you neglect the outlet that's creating some of the best television of all time!

The Shield on FX seems to get more attention, and is probably more viewer friendly, but The Wire (again, HBO) is the real unheralded masterpiece. I can't believe I forgot to mention that one.

And the American "Office" is a mixed bag. Compared to the original, it's obvious and dumb, but compared to our standard slate of sitcoms, it's the best comedy going (after AD). Oh! And Scrubs!

And every time I think South Park's lost it, I see something like the episode (by chance, on the treadmill...I promise I don't watch this much TV) where they dealt with Isaac Hayes' departure.

I'm not too hot on EW's list. A little too WB/UPN heavy for my taste. Maybe because I'm not an adolescent girl...most days.

Who reads EW anyway! Owen F'ing Gleiberman! Bah!

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Ok, so I read the entire list.

Ridiculous that spoonfeeder CSI is on there and not The Wire. And the brief write up is EW's worst example of aggrandizement. Most poetic? I just thought it had the most jaundiced camera lens.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

"But you can't make a list of the best TV shows when you neglect the outlet that's creating some of the best television of all time!"

Very good point, my friend...

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

http://www.slate.com/id/2139457/

You just can't beat that for relevance. Check out the date and time for when the article was posted.

What cracks me up about Slate is the serious evaluation (always well done, mind you) they apply to some seriously arcane, niche subjects, and this is no exception. The relevance to this post and to many a conversation at the Moxie (re Lost, 24, Arrested Development, et al) beats all, though.

"Most of my friends are still scattered, with little sense of cultural loss, throughout Six Feet's first four seasons."

Words so true to my own social circle I laughed.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous POD said...

All in all a great listing of shows; however, I do believe that there is one particular show that it uniformly outwatched by all of the shows listed above - American Idol. There is something peculiar about a TV show that is such a huge cultural phenomenon. Take away any preconceptions of sublimity and taste... Simon Fuller must be doing something right. Even I have gotten caught up in AI this year, despite having never watched it before.

It may be a disappointing (yet revealing) irony that if all of the "best" shows TV today were shown on separate channels at the same time slot as AI, the combined viewership of AI would probably be above and beyond the combined viewership of all of those shows that are the "critic's darlings."

I for one, consider AI a guilty pleasure, although both of my favorite girls have been voted off this season... sorry Melissa and Mandisa...

4:18 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

POD,

While I certainly don't beleive that the amount of people who watch a show make it great, I get your point.

I've never watched Idol, except a few episodes at the beginning of the last few seasons as they cycle through all the thousands of people who think they are the next big thing.

Then, I read a NY Times article a few months ago that really convicted me. Here it is:

"At a time when the self-appointed guardians of family values have been denouncing television programming for everything from wardrobe malfunctions to SpongeBob's squishiness on gay tolerance, it's interesting that "American Idol" seems to be getting a pass. Fox's hugely popular search for the next singing sensation started its fourth season last week with a series of vicious encounters between hopeful but pathetically untalented young people and celebrity judges being paid to make fun of them. While the contests do not feature bare breasts or four-letter words, they send a truly dreadful message to millions of young viewers about the proper way to treat fellow human beings.

The high points of the early episodes of the show are the moments in which desperately clueless singers deliver unbearable versions of pop standards in front of judges who either burst into derisive laughter or helpfully advise the would-be idols that they are way too fat, badly dressed, funny looking or simply "honestly, excruciatingly awful." While some of the contestants have the sort of impenetrable self-obsession that seems to invite that kind of treatment, others react in ways that make it clear they are simply weak and vulnerable. The producers seem to feel it's funny to watch a trio of wealthy and famous adults making fun of a simple 16-year-old girl whose only sin was being "pretty sure I have a good voice" when she didn't.

About 100,000 contestants, all in their teens or 20's, auditioned for "American Idol," and the ones who wound up on national television survived at least two elimination rounds. While Fox said the survivors were chosen to be a good cross section, it is hard to imagine that any of the extremely naïve contestants understood that they were being moved along only because they showed promise for being ridiculous. In the ensuing battle for the "tickets to Hollywood," the viewers are invited to roar while young people who in many cases appear to be poor, of low intelligence or even mildly disturbed, sing enthusiastically and then stand gape-mouthed with shock while their heroes insult them on national television.

One of the points of any reality show is to allow the audience to watch as contestants humiliate themselves by screeching at their spouses on a race around the world, by being voted off the island first, or by failing to get a rose from the bachelor or bachelorette whom they have been desperately and publicly wooing. But there is a very wide gap between demonstrating that life is full of hard knocks and embarrassment, and glorying in the abasement of the utterly defenseless."

4:35 PM  
Anonymous WEP said...

Have you seen The Unit?

4:35 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

No, though I have been tempted to check it out.

All the patriotic flag waving gags me but then you throw in Mamet and I can't help but think it must be worth a chance.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous WEP said...

I didn't see is as gingoistic at all. I think you'd like it.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Shesh! I forgot one of my favorite TV shows! Stupid, stupid, stupid! Though, because I don't actually watch it on TV since I don't have cable, it may not officially count.

It is, of course, the uproarious "Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

I would agree with LOST.....Jim and I like that one. I am still an ER fan....have been watching it since it started yrs ago, I miss my favorite drs but i still enjoy watching it. I still critique the show......cause there are just some things you do and don't do......the correct medical way. I like CSI Las Vegas too.....

I'll have to take time and watch your Monday night TV selection.....looking for a good comedy these days =)

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

I love how the LOST poster pretty clearly delineates who the writers/producers feel are the most important. If I were Emilie de Ravin I'd be worried.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Grinth said...

Lets see, 'The Office' is definitely a good one, despite it being a knockoff of the British version the actors make it all work.

I'm surprised no one here has mentioned 'The Family Guy'. It really is the one show on network TV that has the balls to be as edgy and politically incorrect as SNL was back in the late 70's early 80's.

I would consider throwing 'House' in there but I have not seen enough episodes to make any serious judgment of the show.

As far as the Soprano's is concerned I've always felt that it is seriously overhyped...but hey I'm in the vast minority on that...

8:48 PM  
Anonymous POD said...

Brandon,

I agree with the spirit of, and perhaps about 80% of its content and the subject of the contestants becoming humiliated. I myself could not see myself auditioning for the show, but for many who do, it has become sort of a "right of passage" inasmuch as anyone who can stand in front of the judges and withstand their comments, whether good or bad, can come away with something that can be badge of courage (or shame for that matter). I can understand the naivety of a number of the auditioners. They are either excruciatingly bad or good enough to get to the next round. And there is no doubt that the producers exploit this for maximum effect at the expense of some of the bad talent that comes their way.

But then again some of the worst contestants become famous. A couple of seasons ago it was William Hung, now it is the Brittnam twins. It goes both ways and now that the show has been on for a number of years, the auditioners should very well be aware of what they might be possibly getting into.

It may be a less than perfect TV program... but dammit I love it anyway! Can't I (or anyone for that matter) have any guilty pleasures in my life? Suspend in you mind what is considered good taste for a moment. Don't you love anything that is something a little less than sublime that you are willing to divulge? And be willing to put it in your "best of" category despite what the critic in you says in you mind?

I once read that music producer Brian Eno, one of the pioneers of new age music, a man with one of the most cerebral minds in the music industry, a vanguard in his own right, admired the most simple melodies and was a lover of doo-wop music - throwaway pop music.

But then again, and I need to get off my tangent here - my point is that while I consider the bulk of your listings to be great and I agree with them to the 9th degree. It is my very humble opinion that the "critic" in you (and me for that matter) prevents us (yes, me too) from letting go of ourselves when watching television or film, or reading a book or whatever. I remember the years when I was first discovering film and it was such a great feeling to understand what was being presented by people who were not afraid of exploiting the conventions of film and watching all of the complexities that unfold before your eyes in various lights, textures, balances, and sounds. But I have to admit that I eventually became to absorbed in the technical and it eventually started to prevent me from enjoying what should have been, simple entertainment.

And to close this comment up - lest I get as wordy as your brother (BTW, does he know that I am in Okinawa?) - I like shows like AI just because it is a simple show. And it is great show because of it. It is not the greatest show on TV in my opinion. Personally, I think that my favorite trio of shows would be BSG, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and AI, but then again it is only in the humble opinion of this contributor.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

You're quite right, POD. Oftentimes, I find it difficult to turn of the critic and turn on the
entertainment consumer. And that is a shame. Because while some film and TV are art (actually, it's all art--some of it is simply very bad art) it is also there, first and foremost, as entertainment and escape. I agree that we only hamstring ourselves by not letting ourselves enjoy it where it is genuinely enjoyable.

I remember walking out of the base theater in Sicily absolutely stunned, having just seen some movie called "The Matrix" that I had heard nothing about. Many in line asked me excitedly how it was and I said it was, "OK...fun...
action-packed." As I walked away I thought to myself, "No it wasn't you idiot! It was superb. It was mind-bending. It was a fantastic post-modern glimpse of our society and you know you loved it. Don't be afraid to like something. Just say so!"

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

I first check what Owen Gleiberman has to say before making up my own mind. It's the only way to go.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous POD said...

Ahh, I remember fondly the base theater in Sicily. I am sure that you recall the time we were telling each other "This movie sucks!" during MI 2. Still one of the worst movie experiences ever for me. And I do respect John Woo as a director - I thought that "Paycheck" was a pretty decent flick.

You definitely won't see me in line (and I am sure that most people will sympathize with me) when MI 3 comes out.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

MI2 still stands as one of the worst movies I have ever seen and was easily the worst of that year. That said, I will be seeing the third one if only because JJ Abrams is directing it.

Speaking of JJ, I thought of another favorite show that has bottomed out the past few years, but in its prime was among the very best--"Alias." The final episodes begin airing next week and I figure I'll watch--not for the lack-luster 3rd season or the abominable 4th or even the 5th when I stopped watching entirely, but for all the fun, zest, intrigue and mystery of its first seasons. Maybe it can end strong.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Grinth said...

I can't believe I forgot to mention "Rescue Me". I think that show is excellent and it is commendable that Dennis Leary has chosen to portray NY Firefighters as human rather than the post 9/11 trend of mythifiying firefighters as flawless heroes.

And that isn't to say there is a lack of respect, admiration, and appreciation in the show. It's there (Leary also founded a charity for firefighters in Boston and NY)...

10:24 PM  

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