Saturday, June 28, 2008

TV: LAST YEAR's Most Entertaining TV Shows of the Last Year

I'm old. I forgot I DID NOT post much last year (I'm already well past the total for 2005-2007, just THIS month!). So there's no comparing the shows I listed a couple of days back as my most entertaining of the last 365 days. For comparison purposes, here's the list from summer previous:

Jekyll was a brilliant retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. James Nesbitt was mesmerizing in the lead role(s) and Gina Bellman was a revelation as Mrs. Jackman/Mrs. Hyde. This cast included Michelle Ryan, doing a neat supporting role, leaving me completely and utterly gob-smacked how she could be so terrible in Bionic Woman. This British mini set the stage for a good year in TV exports from over 'ome.

British imports included the third-rated Life on Mars, featuring John Simm and Philip Glenister playing in 70's Manchester as coppers. Glenister's Gene Hunt, an Eastwoodian hit and click the handcuffs cop, and Simm's Sam Tyler, a misplaced-in-time 21st century inspector butted heads in entertaining ways. Hustle had a great third year. The grifters' challenge match between Adrian Lester's Mickey Stone and Marc Warren's Danny Blue was a highlight. Too bad Lester left the show prior to series four. New Tricks was seventh in the rankings, as Amanda Redman and her cast of old coots proved again, experience and treachery over youthful exuberance. The last of the slots went to Doctor Who (14th) and Primeval (15th) as Britain continued to do great science fiction shows. Billie Piper's farewell to the good Doctor was right up there with the first season of Doctor Who's Father's Day episode. David Tenant certainly made a very presentable Doctor. And as for Primeval, there were some logic holes, but lots of personable actors. The cliffhanger ending had me sitting on my seat for the series' return this spring (unfortunately, the quality of the writing got way worse in year two).

More than a few of the shows on the top 15 list were shot in Canada. Kyle XY was the sixth best show, while Stargate Atlantis (11th) and Stargate (13th) also made the list. That meant nine of the top 15 were filmed outside the borders of the United States!

Eureka, another SF show, debuted strongly, finishing second. The best of the shows without a fantastical bent was NBC's Friday Night Lights in 4th. FNL was about football in the same way The Shield was about a police precinct. Football was merely a background colour to the otherwise drab and dreary prairie landscape in Texas. From out of the dust and occasional patches of greenery came a great show about the culture of football, which is akin to a religion in small towns throughout the panhandle. Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler played real, human parents and Zach Gilford had the starring role of Matt Saracen, career backgrounder, thrust into the spotlight due to the life-changing injury suffered by Scott Porter's character Jason Street. Jesse Plemons, Gaius Charles and especially Taylor Kitsch turned one-note cliched characters into characters you cared about.

Real Time with Bill Maher grabbed eighth spot, one ahead of another show that merited some national attention. Jericho was canceled and then un-canceled after fans mounted a Nuts campaign to save the show (for what turned out to be an abortive second season). Jericho was based around the idea of terrorists letting loose nukes that generate an electromagnetic pulse that downs all things electrical AND turns many towns into islands of civilization. Jericho, Kansas survived, thrived for awhile, and then faced impending doom at the hands of a rival town (and TV executive's whims) as the first season came to a close. Skeet Ulrich and Gerald McRaney made you care about these denizens of Middle America. And you know, any show with Ashley Scott is worth watching.

Finishing out the top 10 was The Riches, which starred a Brit, Eddie Izzard, as the head of a Traveler family that subsumes the identify of the Rich family, when they come across the accident that took the lives of the Riches. Strangers in town, Izzard cons his way through his new found life as a corporate lawyer for a scummy real estate firm. The kids try hard to go straight. It ain't easy. And to top it off, you have Minnie Driver in full crazy mode. An absolute delight, despite the odd disquieting quirk on the part of some of the characters.

Speaking of oddly disquieting, the last new show of the year was 12th-ranked Dexter. Michael C. Hall has way too much fun as a serial killer meting out justice to those that have done wrong, but gamed the system and walked away. The kick is that Dexter is a blood-splatter specialist with the very detective division in charge of finding out just who he is. Beloved by most reviewers, the subject matter is a little too icky for me, and Julie Benz' dreary performance as Dexter's gal, Rita, was a downer.

There you have it, your shopping list for your next visit to Best Buy.

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