Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TV's Top Ten Shows (in Ben's World), April 2009 Edition

So over the weekend I was pretty much locked and loaded to write this entry, but in a rare moment of self-awareness thought "nobody cares what TV shows I watch" and opted out. Then TJ went ahead and did it, so I'm totally going to.

Though it's right there in the title, I feel I should reiterate that these are the top ten shows in my world, i.e. shows that I watch, so before you go off on me about Battlestar Galactica or Mad Men, remember that (and if you have the DVDs, please lend them to me)...

10. Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice
Yes, I am still watching both these shows, but they are dangerously close to falling off my radar. Grey's is the bigger offender of not living up to its potential right now simply because of how good it used to be and how far it has fallen. I'm mostly still keyed in because there are some really excellent actors on the show (chiefly Eric Dane, Chyler Leigh, Patrick Dempsey and Chandra Wilson), but it is suffering from a severely bloated cast and needs to drop some dead weight ASAP. After nearly five seasons, I'm also getting way too attuned to the distinct way the show is dialogued and they either need to find people capable of making this junk sound believable or grow up. I'm actually pretty into Private Practice right now on the strength of quirkier plots, a more compact cast with some really great players (Taye Diggs and Amy Brenneman are my favorites), and a healthy dose of Grant Show guest spots, but until Grey's gets back on track, I feel obligated to group them together.

9. Scrubs
I was finally ready to throw in the towel most people heaved a long time ago in regards to Scrubs after last season's abysmal run, but I thought the first few episodes after the ABC were really strong and renewed my hope. I'm still thinking the show's death sentence was premature, but after the latest hiatus, I'm concerned again momentum could be lost. I really dig the new interns and they may be my favorite part of the show right now, particularly because the bulk of the cast is really showing their age. I don't agree with some of my friends that Zach Braff is completely unwatchable, but I do see where his act is getting a bit stale and the solution of mixing in new blood is a good one. Let's get some quality guest stars too--Scrubs needs to take back its throne as the champ of stunt casting.

8. The Office
I'm just not as big an Office mark as most people I know. Don't get me wrong; I still enjoy the show and am nowhere near losing interest, but held up against stuff like 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother, it just seems like a weak cousin that's starting to lag behind. That said, there's still a lot to like. The ensemble is still top notch and nobody is slacking, although I'm getting a bit sick of all Michael all the time and would like to see them share the wealth a bit. Kevin and Andy in particular crack me up, but never get enough play. If they'd share the wealth of storylines a bit, it would do wonders. It also feels like overall not a lot of importance is happening; I know it's a comedy, so there's less onus for development, but the structure of this show is still grounded enough that I feel like it needs some forward momentum. I'm hard on The Office because I know it could be better.

7. Family Guy
I thought this cartoon had more or less faded into a non-factor with a lack of new episodes and seemingly decreased bite and social relevance, but it's come roaring back the past few weeks, and I'm a bit ashamed to say that's mostly because they're pushing the boundaries perhaps further than they should be pushed. Jokes about shaken baby syndrome, Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's, OJ stabbing people and a "gay gene" should probably all be stuff I wag my finger at, but fuck it, I lose my shit. I alternate between gasping and laughing when I'm watching Family Guy, but I never stop watching and listening intently. It's both daming and hilarious, but this show is really funny again.

6. Big Love
I read in Entertainment Weekly recently where they described this series using something to the effect of it being a show that was founded on a gimmick and drew a lot of attention initially just on that, but then along the way developed into just quality television and held its viewership that way; I'm inclined to agree. The most impressive thing Bill Paxton and company do in my eyes is take a way of life that is very real and make it seem both undeniably alien and yet completely plausible. The writing and acting is of a caliber that you indeed look past the gimmick and feel the emotion of the ties binding these characters together both for bad and for good. It's also a very creepy show in many ways. The way of life on the polygamist compound and the combination of antiquated lifestyle with religious zealotry and slackjawed delusions of grandeur in the "villains" is just downright unsettling. The shift between the modern, shiny suburban world where the main characters live and the dark places just on the outskirts where they go is very powerful.

5. Gossip Girl
GG's loooooong absence of new episodes over the last month or so was painful and made it drop a bit from my favor, but it came back strong tonight and reminded me why it's my favorite guilty pleasure that I don't feel guilty about. If the show has a problem, it's that the plots and relationships move at such a breakneck pace (not unlike The O.C.) that the peaks and valleys can be too abrupt, but most of the cast is so good and everything is so wonderfully tongue in cheek that the rough patches don't last long. I'm really impressed by just all the young actors making their name on GG, but there's not question Leighton Meester is a good pace ahead of the rest with Ed Westwick following not far behind. Bottom line: the show is fun and I'm always intrigued to see what they'll do next.

4. How I Met Your Mother
Megan and I had the enjoyable experience of starting to watch this show from episode one on DVD in January and then by February we were all caught up and into season four live. On the bright side, we got a rad new show to watch, but on the other, we had to adjust to only being able to watch the show periodically and we've also got all the very best episodes fresh in our minds to hold the new ones up to each week. I don't think HIMYM is the best it's ever been right now (season two is hard to top), but it's still really good. I'm not so much into the Barney-Robin thing, but Neil Patrick Harris makes it work on the sheer strength of his awesomeness (that's not to say Cobie Smulders isn't damn funny too, but NPH is a whole other level). Jason Segel has also really come into his own and Alyson Hannigan is a seasoned pro (if the show has a weak link, it's Josh Radnor, but he's leagues better than he used to be). It feels like a bit of an awkward patch right now with dueling pregnancies in the female leads and some stagnation in the main plot, but this shit rocks (and I was shocked to learn it was on CBS!).

Some weeks, I am blown away by how incredibly awesome LOST is. Other weeks, I'm so frustrated by how let down I feel by LOST. The common denominator in both cases is that the hour flies by way faster than I'd like and my eyes bug out upon realization I've got to wait seven days (or in some cases seven months) for the next episode. When LOST is good, it's as good as TV gets, and when it's bad, it's really only bad because my expectations are ridiculously high. Without question, it's the most engaging and thought-provoking show I watch. I spend more time talking about LOST with other folks and speculating about what this and that meant than I do with any other three shows. LOST should also be the textbook for any other show trying to juggle a cast of more than five people as they do it expertly, moving the focus around so everybody gets some spotlight and nobody gets overkilled. And yes, I love typing LOST in all CAPS.

2. 30 Rock
No question, the funniest show on TV. Honestly, this could easily be number one, but I'm more of an hour-long guy right now, so this drops a spot (perhaps unjustly) for only being thirty minutes. But it's still the thirty funniest minutes of my week. I feel like Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey could sleepwalk through their parts of the show and still be money (that's a pretty funny idea, actually) and Tracy Morgan cracks me up, but the real hook this season has been the development of the second tier, particularly Jack McBrayer and Jane Krakowski, but also Judah Friedlander and even the bit players like Grizz and Dot Com. I also dig that they've more or less completely abandoned any pretense of the world the show takes place in being anything but surreal, as the less grounded in reality it is, the better. And while not all of the guest stars have been home runs, Salma Hayek and Oprah alone make it a path worth further exploring. Not a week goes by where there's not a new joke or line making its way from 30 Rock into my office's water cooler lexicon.

1. Brothers & Sisters
Yep, this non-genre, non-comedy one-hour drama that may have less in common on the surface than the stuff we generally post here than just about anything else on TV also happens to be my favorite show currently on the air (although B&S founding father Marc Guggenheim writes Amazing Spider-Man and the show's mastermind Greg Berlanti is writing the new Green Lantern movie, so maybe there's more common ground than I realized). Yeah, I'm a comic book fan, a sci fi fan, a goofy jokes fan, but I'm also a fan of flat out good television, and this show is good television. There's not a weak link in the cast and the writing is just top notch. It's a pleasure to watch these professionals work their craft, because the chemistry between actors as they fire off powerful, witty dialogue rapid fire is just a pleasure. It's a show that's funny, powerful, and covers all the bases from politics to parenthood, but at the end of the day it's about family, and that's something we can call relate to on some level. I think what impresses me most is that Brothers & Sisters is actually quite formulaic in how most episodes work (two acts of build, huge third act fight usually at a dinner, fourth act reconciliation or steps toward), but the people doing the writing and the acting are good enough to make you look forward to the predictable rather than disdain it. It's like American Gladiators where you always know the Eliminator is coming, but you don't mind, because the Eliminator is awesome.

And now, having compared Brothers & Sisters to American Gladiators, I'll call it a day.


Chris Ayers said...

I would highly recommend to you, if you're watching "How I Met Your Mother" already, either tuning in or setting the DVR for "The Big Bang Theory" as well. Quite simply one of the funniest & smartest (not to mention respectful of the geek culture, which isn't always the case) shows on the air right now.

I'd send you my DVDs of the first season, but someone would have to pry them from my cold, dead hands first.

Ben Morse said...

Big Bang Theory is actually a show I do very much mean to catch up on and make a part of my regular viewing schedule, Chris. I've seen episodes here and there and have been highly entertained with what I saw. Monday is a packed night for the ol' DVR (gotta tape wrestling too), but I do intend to grab those DVDs at some point.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Vincetastic said...

What's up Ben,
This is a really great top ten list, I have to say that just about anything on HBO makes my list. Also It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia would make my list too. I don't know about Grey's or Private Practice, the only reason I watch those is because my wife forces me too, and I think they are totally geared towards women. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and then link back to your site. We are looking for top ten lists and our users can track back to your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

Ben Morse said...

Thanks, Vince, maybe I'll give that a shot.

I have tried Always Sunny a couple times, as Rickey swears by it, but it just hasn't appealed to me. I told him recently I would give it another shot on DVD though.

Shows that are supposed to appeal to women generally appeal to me because I'm such a lady. :-p

In all seriousness, I don't much believe in not watching stuff/listening to stuff/reading stuff just because I'm not necessarily the target audience. You miss great stuff that way. Heck, my favorite show ever is Melrose Place. ;-)

V said...

THIS IS SOOO FUNNY!! Check it out!!