Tuesday, December 20, 2005

TV: Top Ten of 2005

NOTE: Edited to add one very funny show I forgot -- I'll call it #8A. My bad!

SECOND NOTE: Edited again because I had two #7s in my Top Ten. KEE-RIST! Doesn't anybody edit this blog? It's a good thing nobody reads this crap, or somebody might have noticed it by now. I guess now I've got a 7A and an 8A. I've got twelve items in my Top Ten. I'm an idiot.

Welp, it's that time of the year.

I love year-end top ten lists (even though, as I might've mentioned, the music ones leave me a little lost these days). I love reading 'em, I love making 'em. I get a kick out of discovering what other people thought was worthy in the previous twelve months (so I can either agree or call them idiots), and I love challenging myself to recall my own preferences.

I'll try to get to movies and comics before I leave on vacation (don't count on it), but I'll start off with the medium that I spend most of my entertainment time on, television. Here's what I thought were the best ten TV shows of the last year, with some additional notes as the mood strikes me.

The Top Ten

1. Deadwood
The show that made me sign up for HBO. Dialogue like Shakespeare channeled through George Carlin, plotlines as sinuous as the snakes who inhabit the town, characters who embody both sinner and saint, often at the same time, and an acting ensemble which, from top to bottom, may be unparalleled in quality in all of television. Season 2 opened with a sequence of shockingly brutal violence, and the closing episodes centered on the heartbreaking loss of a loved one; both signaled big changes for the town of Deadwood, and the series, and both were impossible to look away from. Al Swearengen is the best character on TV, and Ian McShane, the best actor. I can't wait for Season 3!

2. Battlestar Galactica
Maybe I just have a soft spot for great sci-fi. I mean, is this really better than my #3 and #4 picks? It is to me. Forget the evil robots and space battles, this is a great drama, period -- but those evil robots and space battles sure are frakkin' cool, too. Chock full of moral and psychological dilemmas, and characters who define the struggle of humanity -- even the inhuman characters. Especially them. It's a thrilling space adventure, and it's a deeply moving portrait of a group of lost souls trying to find a home.

3. Arrested Development
The funniest sitcom on TV, and one of the best of all time. Honestly, if you're not watching this show by now, well, #1, you probably don't have much time left, and #2, I don't know what else I can say, other than you're missing out on genius. Recently there have been reports that Showtime is looking into saving the series from its apparent cancellation by Fox. I'll tell you right now: that is the only conceivable thing that could get me to sign up for Showtime. Which I would, in a heartbeat.

4. Rome
See, this is another reason -- along with Deadwood -- why HBO is essential, and Showtime is not. (Not yet, anyway!) This was another notch in HBO's belt, full of sex and profanity and violence, as only HBO can do, but also full of intrigue and wit and heartbreak and wonderful characters and compelling drama on an epic scale. After a bit of a slow (but still interesting) start, it took off like a rocket, and it carried me along on quite a ride.

5. Veronica Mars
This is how you do it. This is how a show built around mystery works. After a tremendously satisfying conclusion to last season's year-long whodunnit, Veronica Mars opened its second season with another riveting long-term case, this time the intentional crashing and killing of an entire busload of high schoolers, apparently orchestrated to target Veronica herself. Great characters (except Wallace's new girlfriend -- jettison her ASAP), great humor, great teen angst, and great puzzles that play fair with the audience. No sophomore slump for Veronica.

6. Over There
The most disappointing cancellation of the year not on Fox. But it was on FX -- same thing! Stupid Fox!! This was a gritty, gripping war story, the first TV series ever to depict a war currently being waged. The characters began as stock cliches -- the brainy one, the hoodlum one, the farmboy one -- but they all transcended their origins to become strikingly original personalities, all struggling to stay alive in a world where sudden, unexpected, horrific violence is the norm. Great, great stuff, and shame on FX for not bringing it back.

7. House, M.D.
Dr. Gregory House is the cantankerousest bastard ever to cantankerously bastard his way across the TV screen. And bless his cantankerous bastard heart for it. Hugh Laurie's House is the best thing to happen to the medical drama since E.R. dropped a helicopter on Dr. Romano. He's always so very, very wrong in being right. And he's always fascinating.

7A. Lost
It had a sluggish ending to its first season, and its second season, though it's had its high points, has spent a lot of time retracing its own steps. And Ana Lucia really, really needs to retire the bitch face. But the overarching mystery of the island continues to intrigue, the pairing of mystery men Locke and Eko looks to be promising, and the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle is as soapily entertaining as ever.

8. The Office
Once Arrested is pulled from the air by Fox, The Office will become the best sitcom on TV. It's already giving it a run for its money, with smart, sharply observant comedy, sometimes cruel and awkward, sometimes warm and human. I never really got into the British original, but the American redo has won me over completely.

8A. How I Met Your Mother
I forgot this show first time round, so instead of bumping something from the top ten, I thought I'd just sneak this one in while no one was looking. Aside from a couple forays into flashbacks or split-screens, this is an incredibly traditional sitcom, but it's so damn good. Highly entertaining ensemble, highlighted by Neil Patrick Harris, whose Barney is the funniest new character of the year; he deserves serious attention come Emmys time. The only flaw is the conceit of telling the story from the future. Those Bob Saget voiceovers should be dumped.

9. The Shield
Even though it had a great season, featuring an intense Glenn Close, The Shield doesn't quite hold me in its grip as strongly as it used to. But it's still terrifically powerful stuff, and Vic Mackie is TV's best anti-hero not located in the Old West.

10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I didn't care for this show in the beginning, but it quickly won me over with its brazenly loutish characters, who can always be relied on to do the wrong thing in the most hilarious fashion possible. Fortunately, it escaped cancellation-happy FX to survive into a second season in 2006.


The Colbert Report
Stephen Colbert's new companion piece to The Daily Show, a skewering of pompous pundits, has yet to become essential viewing, but his first fifteen minutes are almost always worth watching -- especially "The Word". If only his interviews weren't so completely unwatchable.

Almost made the top ten. Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold is the funniest TV character not on Arrested Development.

My Name Is Earl
The best new broadcast network sitcom, anchored by a hilarious Jason Lee. [EDIT: Second best. See #8A above.]

Originally in my top ten. Might've stayed there if I hadn't kept remembering other great shows, and if it hadn't been so damn long since I've seen a new episode. Out of sight, out of mind, Scrubs. Sorry. Blame NBC.

Absurdist comedy from three alumni of The State, packed with hysterical guest appearances from the likes of Edward Norton, Janeane Garofalo, and Paul Rudd.

Boy, I'd been thinking that it had been a weak year for shows debuting in 2005, but I've got three new shows in my Top Ten (or four shows in the Top Eleven Twelve), and another three in my next five. Maybe it just seemed so bad because of all the crappy shows I watched during the Fall premiere season to review here, which I wouldn't otherwise have watched in a million years. (Yes, I mean Freddie.)

Might've Had a Shot If I Had Watched Them

The Closer
Everybody Hates Chris
Rescue Me
The Wire

Biggest Missteps

Alias: Killing off Vaughn was the first step toward killing off the show -- which indeed will now end this season.

Desperate Housewives: Practically everything in the second season, but primarily not having a new compelling mystery to keep my interest.

Gilmore Girls: Where hasn't it gone wrong this year? Turning Rory into a bratty little shit; making the loathsome Logan a regular castmember (he's so awful, he made the guest appearance of Jess, whom I hated so much during his original tenure on the show, seem like the return of an old friend); giving Luke a daughter; and that goddam dog. Lorelai's allegedly funny pampering of the dog kills the show stone cold dead every single time. This show is hanging by a very thin thread.

Cancelling Arrested.

Postponing Scrubs.

Renewing Joey.

Best Discovery of an Already Cancelled Series

Dead Like Me, on DVD

Firefly, on the Sci-Fi Channel

Ten Unforgettable Moments

24: Sour, sullen Chloe -- good for nothing but whining, complaining, and wearing her bitch face -- whips out a machine gun and mows down a terrorist.

Alias: "My name's not Michael Vaughn."

Battlestar Galactica: Meek, mousy little Cally puts a bullet into would-be assassin Boomer's chest.

The Colbert Report: Stephen can't remember how the song "Stay" goes, so he asks randomly cameoing Lisa Loeb to sing a few bars.

Deadwood: Swearengen greets Bullock's family, who interrupt him as he's just about to murder Bullock. "Welcome to fuckin' Deadwood!"

Entourage: Bob Saget plays himself as an egomaniacal, whoring drug fiend.

Justice League Unlimited: With the rest of the team down for the count, Flash defeats Brainiac single-handedly.

Over There: An enemy soldier's torso gets blown off -- and his legs keep running.

Rome: Lucius Vorenus leaps into the arena to save Titus Pullo's life. "Thirteen! Thirteen!!"

The Shield: Anthony Anderson's Antwon Mitchell frames Shane by killing a little girl with Shane's own gun.

Tom the Dog's TV Hall of Fame

2005: The Daily Show

I feel like I've written about this program so much, it's kind of taken for granted that it's one of my very favorites. In fact, I consider it one of the all-time greats -- a landmark in television. Beginning with its brilliant coverage of the 2000 election, "Indecision 2000" -- which began shortly after the smart, hip, funny, personable Jon Stewart took over for walking smug-factory Craig Kilborn -- it's become essential viewing for one and all, even when you don't like what it has to say about your own political viewpoint (maybe especially then). It's the sharpest political and media satire of this generation (maybe of my entire life), it delivers more laughs per week than any other show on TV (I include the "weekly" caveat to set it apart from Arrested -- which has more laughs per half hour... but TDS delivers two hours of comedy per week), and half the time (at least), it's smarter and more incisive than actual news programs, which these days are more likely to blindly report press briefings than do any kind of meaningful analysis. It's a keeper. And I've decided to grant it my first (and last?) annual Hall of Fame award. Huzzah!

This may be it for 2005. I hope not, but I've got too much real life stuff to do. So in case I don't get the chance to post here again, have a happy holiday of your choice (or just enjoy the day off), and have a happy new year.

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