Wednesday, October 22, 2008

*My* Top Ten Shows on Television

Because this blog is all about getting to know me (and Rickey and Kiel I suppose), I will now share with you the ten shows that are, to me, the best on television. Note I said to me. I am not trying to play Fantasy Emmys and find the shows most deserving of being recognized on the basis of artistic merit or whatever, I'm giving you, in a rough order, the shows that I subjectively most look forward to each week. I am not a role model. Parents should be role models.

(I feel I should note before I start that, for whatever reason, I did not include LOST--and yes, I always write it in all CAPS--on this list. I could say that's because it hasn't debuted yet this season or because it only runs in half seasons, but I have shows on this list that violate both those rules. Ultimately, while I can somehow quantify hour long dramas versus half hour cartoon shows, for whatever reason I can't bring myself to place LOST on the scale. It is its own beast. If pressed, I guess it would probably be top three).

10. Saturday Night Live
Mileage varies episode-to-episode based in large part on who is hosting and other x-factors, but I think cast-wise, SNL is in the best shape it's been since the glory days of the 90's. They trimmed the fat by finally losing Maya Rudolph while Kristen Wiig became a sensation and roleplayers like Fred Armisen and Bill Hader grew into their roles nicely. I'm hard-pressed to name anybody on the cast who isn't at least trying. And fuck what anybody else thinks: Keenan is funny. It's gonna be tough when Amy Poehley finally calls it quits, but Weekend Update is still consistently hilarious and this show is still must see TV for me.

9. Family Guy
It's not the "I can't believe they went there" dynamo it once was every week anymore, but Family Guy still consistently wows me on a "They went there" level (last week's episode was about the fucking Holocaust, people!). A lot of the plots seem like rehashes or watered down compared to past genius, but Family Guy at 85% still makes me laugh more than a lot of stuff operating north of 90%. And the fact that a musical number could break out at any time still makes each episode worth watching.

8. Dirty Sexy Money
This show could be climbing the ranks as I'm still waiting to see the full effects of the subptle reinvention of its direction coming off the heels of a freshman half season I very much enjoyed. As you will find the case with many of the shows on my list, I dig Dirty Sexy Money in large part because it has an extremely talented ensemble cast who can each carry their own scenes and subplots with equal skill. The diversity of character types on this show and the caliber of actor brought in for each makes for a dizzying and fulfilling viewing experience. The larger super structure of the show still intrigues, but it's the smaller episode-to-episode dilemmas and character interactions that keep me invested. The addition of Lucy Liu is certainly something to watch, as is how this show progresses in general. Ask me again in six months...

7. Pushing Daisies
It's probably the most unique show on television and there's so much to love from the quirky sets to the wonderful synergy among the cast, but I can't say I feel much drive to pull it from my DVR until four days after it airs, so that has to drop it down the list a bit. Part of the reason I've lost a bit of interest is that the relationship between Ned and Chuck that I find so precious in season one seems to be going nowhere fast; understandable given the show's set-up, but frustrating nonetheless. I find now that I enjoy Kristen Chenoweth's Olive and Chi McBride's Emerson immensely more than anything else going on, but the fact is that no matter how many subplots they get, Ned and Chuck are always going to be the center of the show, and if that relationship loses steam, so does everything built around it. At this point, I can still appreciate Pushing Daisies for all it tries to do, but my overall enjoyment is based more and more on how interesting the mystery of the week is.

6. Entourage
A lot of folks have proclaimed Entourage to be running on fumes at this point, but I think the new season has completely rejuvenated a show I was losing interest in before the Writer's Strike. For years I've been wanting them to finally explore the angle of an actor struggling and paying for too many rash decisions, and this season they're finally doing that. I also love that Eric has his own easy vehicle for sideplots with his new agency and that Vince's financial problems force Drama and even Turtle to find more stuff to do and expand their characters. And Jeremy Piven earns those Emmys every week. Entourage usually starts slow and then really heats up once the major movie project gets rolling, but this season is off to a very nice start just for being different and actually placing hurdles in the boys' way instead of letting them coast.

5. Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice
I grouo these two together because in the first few weeks of the new season they've bounced back and forth in my affections as far as whether the spinoff has begun to outshine the mothership or not. I always give Grey's credit for its cast and its writing being able to overcome having the least likable lead character on television, but it does seem to be spinning its wheels a bit these days. I appreciate the kinda cool meta attempt to freshen things up by having the hospital in dire straits because of all the things realists criticize the show for (basically that the doctors are self-obsessed fuck-ups who lose a lot of patients because they're wrapped up in their own shit), but some of the relationships are starting to feel played out. The season premiere was absolutely brilliant though. On the Private Practice side of the equation, I'm finding their cases to be far more compelling and their characters to still have much more depth to explore, but the cast hasn't yet achieved that ease of comfort their Grey's counterparts can fall back on during weak episodes through banter and chemistry.

4. The Office
I was something of a late convert with The Office, as I liked but did not love it right off. I'm still not as head over heels with it as a lot of other people I know, but I've come to appreciate it's intelligence, the fine comedic science behind it's writing, and its cast's knack for finding that perfect balance between real and surreal. I should probably disclose that I did go to high school with stars John Krasinski and B.J. Novak, and while we were three years apart and never spoke to each other, I still begrudge them their success and amd thusly predisposed to want to find things wrong with their show. This is a frustratingly difficult thing to do. Last season lost me a bit (and I don't think I was alone), but the first few episodes of the new season have been absolutely hysterical. Amy Ryan adds a lot to the show and I'll be interested to see where it goes once she leaves.

3. Brothers & Sisters
My favorite hour-long straight up drama on TV, Brothers & Sisters consistently impresses me by taking a formula that should by all means get real old, real fast and make me eat it up every time. Seriously, just about every week follows the same routine of the Walkers gossiping about one another for the first half hour, having some big get together (usually a dinner) where they get drunk and spout off secrets and fight loudly for the next fifteen minutes, then resolve at least two or three of the major conflicts to wind down the episode. This happens every week! And the show is still thoroughly enjoyable! A large part of this is the sheer force of acting will that perhaps the best ensemble cast on television brings to the table. At age 61, Sally Field still delivers at least one diatribe a week that makes me laugh and/or cry and believe that she is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today. The addition of Rob Lowe to the regular cast just pushed things over the top, as he's yet another shining jewel in a crown that doesn't have a single tarnish. The writing on this show is by no means bad, but it can certainly get repetitive, and it's the incredible energy of the actors that buys their crew time to find the plots a viewer can really sink their teeth into.

2. Gossip Girl
Guess what, suckas: this guilty pleasure, over-the-top, teenage melodrama-fest on the friggin' CW is one of the best-acted shows on television. For real. I'll be the first to admit that I will gladly watch something with no socially redeeming value because it appeals to my lowest common denominator even when I know it's not exactly a polished cast and crew at their most professional (see: Place, Melrose), but here's the secret of Gossip Girl: there is actually some substance behind the style. Yes, jaw-droppingly awesome one-liners and tearjerking courtships aside, the writing on the show probably wouldn't always pass high school English and the pacing often makes the Indy 500 look like a footrace, but it all works and comes off sounding good, looking good and holding your attention because the young actors on this show are seriously among the best in the business. There's not a Monday I don't come away marvelling at how Leighton Meester can say more with her facial acting than most Oscar bait starlets can say in a monologue or how Ed Westwick knows exactly how to hit the inflection on each line so perfectly. I flip to 90210 on some Tuesdays and see just how bad this show could be if it weren't for every actor on it being so incredibly talented; I honestly think they force the writers to stretch far beyond their capabilities to live up to their work, and for a group mostly in their early 20's (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Matthew Settle and Melrose alum Kelly Rutherford rock as the parents), that's pretty impressive.

1. 30 Rock
Ok, so yes, it is indeed hard to make a list like this when you have shows of such widely varied themes, formats, etc., but in the end, pound for pound, there is no show on television I enjoy as much as 30 Rock. For every other show on this list and on TV, I can remember a time where I thought an episode was at least a bit slow, or a little off, but in my eyes 30 Rock simply does not have bad episodes. It is consistently entertaining. It is the total package of great writing, incredible acting, superlative production and everything else that goes into making great television. Tina Fey seems to have emerged over the past five years or so as this generation's latest driving force in comedy (the fact that she won Emmys for acting and writing was just awesome) and that's dope. Alec Baldwin has completely rejuvenated his career and I think getting old and no longer taking himelf seriously is the best thing that ever could have happened to him. Tracy Morgan is ridiculous. And there is not a single member of the ensemble who doesn't make the most out of every second they're onscreen. This is a cast so good that when they have big name guest stars, sometimes I get irritated that they're taking away lines from Jack McBrayer and Judah Friedlander. I don't think there is some greater message behind 30 Rock (or maybe there is an I just don't care), but it's smart and it makes me laugh and that's what I want when I'm tired on a Thursday night. Booyah.


Brian W said...

Melrose place isn't anywhere on this list. What gives?

Ben Morse said...

That's for the all-time list, Brian.

Daniel Brooks said...

The truth about SNL: It's been better ever since Tina Fey left. She's a funny comedic actor, but the show was downright bad while she was head writer. I never understood why she was so popular.

Ben Morse said...

I'd disagree about Tina Fey being a bad writer, Dan (which may not be what you're saying at all), but I'd say there 30 Rock has demonstrated she is better suited to writing a half hour episodic TV show than a sketch comedy show. I also think acting more has been great for her career all around. She seems more comfortable in front of the camera (a role she avoided for so much of her SNL tenure) and I'm sure this is helping her confidence as a writer.

Seth Meyer has done a great job as new SNL head writer since accidentally elbowing me at last year's Marvel Christmas party and then refusing to acknowledge it, so perhaps the universe is as it should be.

And the real truth about SNL: it's been better ever since Maya Rudoplh left. Her guest spot this past weekend nearly gave me a panic attack.