It's that time of year for top ten lists. I love 'em, you love 'em, hell, in December, everyone with access to a keyboard loves 'em. There are a variety of lists I could create -- best movies, best comics, etc. -- and certainly (well, hopefully) those other lists will be coming in the week ahead, but I'll start with what I know best: my top ten TV shows of the year.
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Still the smartest, funniest show on the air. And at times, when they seem to be the only ones holding politicians accountable for their egregious lies, simply by letting them hang themselves with their own words, you wonder if it isn't the best news program as well. And for this show, and his shocking, thrilling, mesmerizing tirade on Crossfire last October, Jon Stewart is easily the greatest TV entertainer of the year.
I surprised myself with this one (just as Lost keeps surprising me). When I thought about it, I realized that while I think The Daily Show is better overall, there is no other show on TV whose next episode I anticipate as eagerly as Lost. Fantastic casting from top to bottom (particularly the stunning newcomer Evangeline Lilly as Kate), stellar writing, a totally captivating mystery (several mysteries, really)... it's just great. Finally, a cult show I don't have to worry about disappearing too soon; firmly in the top ten, ratings-wise, this show's cult seems to be everybody.
- The Shield
This is why I'm surprised by Lost, because I'd previously held The Shield to be the best TV drama. (Best non-pay cable drama; I don't get HBO or Showtime, so I can't judge The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, etc.) But Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackie remains the best written and acted character on television, and that's in a cast with nothing but brilliantly written and acted characters, including CCH Pounder as Det. Wyms, Jay Karnes as Dutch, and Walt Goggins as the loathsome Shane. This summer's season proved there's still a hell of a lot of kick left in this show; Tavon's horrifying car accident, and Dutch's murdering of a stray cat, remain the most affecting, chilling sequences on television this year.
- Arrested Development
This show has moved into my top sitcom slot this year; while I was hoping the new season could merely match its brilliant debut season, it's actually gotten better. This show trusts the audience to be smart enough to both pick up on subtle gags or throwaway jokes (like the Charlie Brown Christmas theme playing while George Michael sadly walks past a dog lying on top of a red doghouse in the background), and to actually use their memory and recall previous episodes (for example, Tobias' ongoing delusion that he's an understudy for the Blue Man Group isn't explicitly mentioned every episode -- but there's always a smear of blue paint on a wall or piece of furniture to give a laugh to those paying attention). This show's surprise win for Best Comedy at the 2004 Emmys doesn't seem to have helped it in the Nielsens; I wish everyone would watch this unbelievably hilarious show before it succumbs to poor ratings.
Just edged out by Arrested as the funniest sitcom, it's still a tremendous half-hour. Zach Braff, Donald Faison, John C. McGinley, and perhaps my favorite, Neil Flynn as the vengeful Janitor, they're all great, and the writing of course is top-notch, but I want to mention another ingredient to this show's success: the choreography. The physical comedy, the lightning quick verbal exchanges, even the subtle gestures of one actor playing off another, they're all so perfectly timed for maximum comedic effect. There's so much going on for the eyes, this show would almost be as much fun to watch with the sound off.
- Desperate Housewives
After Lost, my second favorite new show this year. I wouldn't dare miss an episode; I love Felicity Huffman, I looooove Marcia Cross, and I can't wait to see what embarrassing and probably skin-revealing incident Teri Hatcher will get herself into each week. I'm aware it's just soapy, trashy fun on the level of Melrose Place. (Which I never watched, but judging how much I love Marcia Cross on Housewives, maybe I should've.) But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It's pure enjoyment. It does feel weird including it on a list which should be celebrating greatness in TV -- Hill Street Blues, this isn't. But it's my list, and I can do whatever the hell I want with it.
- South Park
I balked at including a show in which one episode, mirroring the presidential election, centered on a vote between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. But this year South Park proved it's still as brilliantly satirical and side-splittingly hilarious as it's always been. The destruction of Mel Gibson in "The Passion of the Jew," which aired in the first half of the season, back in March, and the last new episode of this year, "Woodland Critter Christmas," featuring Disney-like forest creatures trying to birth the spawn of Satan, are on par with the best this show has ever offered; sick, biting, hysterical stuff.
- Veronica Mars
My third favorite new show of the year. There's an excellent overarching mystery involving the death of Veronica's best friend and her mother's subsequent disappearance, and Kristen Bell is fantastic as the lead character -- smart, cool, cute, vulnerable, funny. Enrico Colantoni lends excellent support as her father -- it's a great change seeing a TV father who's not only not clueless, but every bit as sharp and engaging as his offspring (unless it turns out he's not Veronica's biological father -- more mystery!) -- but the rest of the cast is uneven; I could especially do without "Weevil", the tiniest, most unrealistically threatening "hoodlum" since the Fonz.
Last season was down a bit from the previous two, but, much like creator J.J. Abrams' new show, Lost, it's still rock-solid entertainment, with thrilling action sequences, shocking, over-the-top plot twists, great acting all around, a real sense of humor about itself, and nail-biting cliffhangers every week. It's my most anticipated mid-season premiere (January 5!), and its pairing with Lost is TV scheduling heaven.
- Dinner for Five
The best talk show on TV (The Daily Show, of course, is more than just a talk show), and the only uncensored one, as far as I know, Dinner for Five brings four celebrities together with host Jon Favreau at a different posh restaurant each week, plies them with food and liquor, and lets them go. Favreau occasionally tries to steer the conversation, but with guests like David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Marilyn Manson, Andy Dick, Vince Vaughn, Kevin Smith, Sarah Silverman, Dom DeLuise, and Will Ferrell, sometimes he just winds them up and stands back. And it never fails to fascinate. The guests are given time to tell elaborate stories, and they often tell stories they wouldn't feel free to tell elsewhere (slamming people they've worked with, for example). They also are free to go off on extended comedic riffs, and to rip on each other as the whim strikes them. For anyone at all interested in show business, this is a can't-miss show. (Except, of course, it's on IFC, which means for most of you it's can't-catch.)
Let's take a look at a few other samples from my regular viewing:Best Accidental Discovery
While flipping through channels one night, I ran across Cheap Seats
on ESPN Classic (good luck for most of the country locating that channel). Hosted by Randy and Jason Sklar
, identical twin comedians, this is kind of an MST3K
for bad sports shows. The two of them watch old, weird, niche programming from ESPN's vast tape library, like Putt-Putt Tournaments, or Spelling Bees, or the Lumberjack Games, and intersperse it with jokes and skits (featuring such guests as Kerri Kenney
, H. Jon Benjamin
, or Ed Helms
) mocking the action. Very funny, if you can find it.Best Mini-Series
And indeed, the only
mini-series I watched this year: Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars
. A tremendous wrap-up to one of the best science fiction programs ever. I'm still hoping the ratings for this event will justify bringing John Crichton, Aeryn Sun, Scorpius, and the rest of the cast back for one more go-around, but I'm not holding my breath. (I'm not counting The 4400
as a mini-series, because, as USA insisted on telling me 17,000 times an hour: it was a "limited" series, not a mini-series. And unprecedented
, did they mention unprecedented
?? Also, I wound up not liking it all that much.)Best Show I Never Watch
It's a tie! I really enjoyed the first episode of House
, especially star Hugh Laurie's riveting turn as the cantankerous genius doctor (and of course there's Lisa Edelstein, whom I always love), but I've been unable to catch it ever since; it airs opposite Scrubs and Veronica Mars
. TiVo can only do so much, Fox! Tonight, Fox is wisely airing two repeats to try to reach a wider audience -- hey, that's me! There's not nearly as much good TV on Mondays, so I'll be able to catch both episodes. I hope Fox will consider making this change permanent. The other show is That '70s Show
, which I think is hilarious, but it's on versus Lost
. At least I can catch it in reruns.Best Show I Just Kind Of Don't Feel Like WatchingKevin Hill
. I've enjoyed every episode I've watched, but for some reason I tend to let it sit unwatched on my TiVo until it's about to be deleted, and only then do I bother to check it out. And I always like it... but I always let the next episode sit unwatched again. I think I may actually have reached the previously-believed-to-be-boundless limits of my TV-watching capabilities with this show!Biggest Disappointments
It's a three-way tie! Monk
, The Amazing Race
, and Joan of Arcadia
. I've previously written about my problems with this year's seasons of Monk
, so I'll concentrate on Joan
. The problem there is the lack of joy, or fun, or silliness. Everything's gotten so dark and depressing. Joan's best friend dies, the Girardis are being sued by the family of the boy who crippled their son, Grace's mother is an alcoholic, and on and on and on. Didn't this show used to be fun last year? What happened? There are still some light moments, but they're much less frequent, and much clumsier, than last season (and they usually involve Constance Zimmer
as ex-nun Lilly; she's a real kick). If I were Joan, I'd trade in her god for a new model. This one's a bummer.Guiltiest PleasureTwo and a Half Men
. I watched one episode at a friend's house, and was surprised to find it wasn't as awful as I'd always assumed it would be. In fact, it's really very funny. I'm completely hooked on it. I know! What's wrong with me?? I think it's surpassed Everybody Loves Raymond
as my 4th favorite sitcom (after the two in my top ten list, and Less Than Perfect
, which probably should also be a guilty pleasure, but I can't find it in me to be ashamed of liking a show featuring Patrick Warburton).Just Kind of ThereSmallville
has had its moments this year, including a surprisingly good episode in which Clark and Lionel Luthor switched bodies, but the new characters aren't working for me (the Lois Lane actress -- whom I've previously sworn never to name again
-- grew on me a little, but she's still more irritating than charming, and Jason is just a warmed-over Whitney), and that whole deal with Lana's tattoo is really lame. Also: The Simpsons
. This is really on cruise control. It's generally reliably funny, but the characters don't engage me the way they used to; they've drifted too far from any kind of grounding reality to be really affecting anymore. The show has become primarily sight gags and movie parodies and physical comedy, not the character-based humor that made the show so great. I've been surprised to find this season that if I miss an episode, I'm not that concerned.Whatever Happened to Must See Thursday?
I'm still watching Joey
, although as God is my witness, I couldn't tell you why. And Will & Grace
still has its moments. But if I see it, that's fine, and if I don't, that's fine, too. The Apprentice
I avoid like the plague, and I think ER
was actually cancelled four years ago, but like the undead creature it is, it keeps shambling grotesquely forth.You Had Me, And Then You Lost MeRescue Me
and Jack & Bobby
. These shows drew me in with their promising debuts, then repelled me with their despicable lead characters. Denis Leary's Tommy on Rescue Me
is a lying, cheating, reprehensible thug, who possesses none of the charm of Leary's previous flawed public servant, cop Mike from The Job
. And Christine Lahti, who plays the mother on Jack & Bobby
is such a shrill, stupid, horrible woman, I couldn't stand watching her beyond the first three episodes. I would include Boston Legal
in this category, but I knew before it aired that I would like it at first, then quickly lose interest, same as with any David E. Kelley show.You Had Me, And Then You Lost Me, And Then You Had Me Again
Both Star Trek: Enterprise
and Gilmore Girls
have bounced back after their less than wonderful previous seasons. Enterprise
's return to self-contained stories rather than last season's year-long Xindi hunt is most welcome; even the three-parter with Brent Spiner felt blessedly brief and to the point. And I have to admit, I'm kind of digging the whole Trip & T'Pol soap opera. But everyone else is such a drag. Maybe the other characters need to get laid, too, to develop some personalities. And Gilmore Girls
has succeeded in bringing Luke and Lorelai together as a couple, while not skimping on stories for other characters; I especially enjoyed Jackson's run for, and election as, mayor (or town elder or whatever he's called) of Stars Hollow. The writers need to be careful with Rory, though; she's becoming as self-absorbed and callous as her mother has been prone to be in previous years. (Or, as I described her in an earlier draft: she's kind of becoming a dumb bitch. Am I wrong?)
And what about you? Did I leave off something you love? Do I love something you hate? Are you disappointed I didn't dump on Sex and the City
one last time? Jump in on this one, TV fans.
Labels: Alias, Arrested Development, Desperate Housewives, Farscape, House, Joan of Arcadia, Lists, Lost, Scrubs, South Park, The Daily Show, The Shield, The Simpsons, TV, Veronica Mars