Thursday, June 26, 2008

TV: The Most Entertaining Shows of the Last Year

If television had any sense, they'd debut their seasons right after Christmas. That would make each calendar year the full season. You'd have a good long primary watching season as viewers stay in at nights, a late summer break, which now occurs during the holidays, and you'd role out all those reality crap shows from sunny climes just as the weather was getting cold and bleak and thoughts would be turning to Christmas and New Years. But television is hung on the horns of habit, so no making logical changes.

So, I make the TV season as being from July 1 to June 30. If they can be contrary, so can I.

The best show I watched in the last 365 days was State of Play, which is a three-year series and can't qualify. So the winner as the most entertaining show for the last year for me is ... House.

House's ability to take a whole cast of co-stars, push them off into a corner and then bring in a new set of potential co-stars was the deciding factor in making it my favourite show of the year. That we cared about the old crew AND the new crew bespoke of top-notch writing. And here's the kicker. The writer's themselves didn't know which of the characters would make the final House team when the season got started. They let the characters and actors themselves determine which of the group survived. It was like well-orchestrated improv, but in dramedy.

Ashes to Ashes, the British-made successor to Life on Mars, was almost the winner. Philip Glenister's continuing role, Gene Hunt, gave Hugh Laurie's House a real run for the money as most entertaining actor. And it doesn't hurt that Keeley Hawes was sensationally sexy, emerging from the background of MI-5. The show's biggest problem was not matching the first four brilliant episodes to a so-so second four.

Chuck comes third in my own personal poll. Zachary Levi, the unctuous twit from Less Than Perfect, was perfect in the role of well-meaning nebbish who gets a head full of secrets and a new life as a secret agent to balance his drone day job at a Best Buy clone. Best of all, he got a great workmate/nemesis in Adam Baldwin, plus all-star newcomer Yvonne Strahovski, a new-to-me Aussie export. This one's so good, my brother Rick watches it.

Real Time with Bill Maher will always be on this list because I love Maher's ability to cut through the spin and get to the heart of the screw-up that is American politics. I do NOT agree with Maher on everything. I think his PETA stance is wrong and I don't share his affection for drugs, prescription or otherwise. But the rest of his libertarian attitude runs pretty well down the centre line of my ideals.

Burn Notice, coming back next week (yeah!!!), is stylistically reminiscent of many shows, while keeping its own unique identity. I'd say it's a Magnum PI for the paranoid 21st century. Jeffrey Donovan's voice-over explanation of the events transpiring, evoke Magnum and MacGyver. His trigger-happy ex-girlfriend, played unevenly by Gabrielle Anwar, is a hoot more often than not. And you simply cannot go wrong with Bruce Campbell, playing the double/triple agent who playing straight, is funnier than most comics.

Felt wrong to leave Eureka out of the top five, but the wonderment of the first year didn't quite carry over into the second year. The idea of a town where all the smart people go, just to freestyle the latest and wildest inventions seemed fresh a year ago. Add in the wide-eyed new sheriff played by Colin Ferguson (plus his annoying faux-naif of a daughter) and the first season was a treasure. This year, the outlandish seemed normal. Still entertaining, good enough for the top 1o. But not top two material.

Satisfaction, the Australian show about life in the (upscale) neighbourhood brothel, was sexy, without glamourizing the life to the point of glossing over the sharp edges of prostitution. The breakdown of Madeleine West's Mel, while Allison Whyte's Lauren emerges from the background, shows the yin and yang of being involved. What happens after the cold-blooded shooting to wrap up the first season really does have me looking forward to next year.

Stargate: Atlantis has its detractors amongst Stargate fans. I've consistently thought it to be the best of the series thus far. It did have the distraction of adding Amanda Tapping and losing Torri Higginson, but the show was strong enough to withstand the contract-dictated insertion of Tapping from the original Stargate. Now, both are gone and Robert Picardo is on board. Promises to be a good fifth season. (I've seen the kickoff episode already, and it wraps up, fairly neatly, the fourth-season cliffhanger). Joe Flanigan's Colonel Sheppard and David Hewlett's Dr. Rodney McKay are two of the best characters on TV for entertaining repartee. And come on, Rachel Luttrell has naught but to bat her eyelashes, to make for worthwhile viewing. Best eyes on TV.

Speaking of repartee, How I Met Your Mother and Monday night CBS-mate The Big Bang Theory tied for ninth. Rather than get old, the continuing mystery of WHO the mother is on HIMYM turned into an advantage. We now have a pretty good guess that Stella, the winsome doc played by Sarah Chalke, is going to be the winner in the Ted-stakes. Good. And Neil Patrick Harris' hound dog Barney is till an amazing act of acting, given Harris' personal preference for the guys. As for The Big Bang Theory, we have the new breakthrough star in Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon. Parsons and Johnny Galecki are this century's Odd Couple, but it's Parsons, channeling Tony Randall that transforms this show into top ten material. Don't quite have the same affection for Kaley Cuocco that others have, but she does play sweet well.

Betcha thought you were at the end of this post, didn't ya? Well, it's MY list and I can make it 15 long if I want to!

Kyle XY would have made the top five, save for the continued use of the perpetually annoying character played by Jaimie Alexander. Jessi Hollander's source-of-conflict character was introduced to take the sweet edge of the show, populated by a whole series of likable characters. I'm on record regarding Marguerite McIntyre, who plays the mom. And Matt Dallas does outstanding work as Kyle. But boy, was Hollander unlikable. I wish the writers had gone in a different direction. Kirsten Prout's sweet Amanda could have been a delightfully bad girl upon returning from New York. But she remains the light of Kyle's life.

Coming in 12th is My Boys, raved about a couple of weeks back. Jordana Spiro plays a Chicago sportswriter ... need I say anything more? Well, she's cute and sexy and has a Scooby Gang that includes Jim Gaffigan playing her stuck-in-surburbia brother, wanting to get out. Laughs aplenty.

It was a down year for Hustle from England and for The Riches from the USA. Stepping into the criminal family enterprise was Honest from Great Britain, a remake of the New Zealand show, Outrageous Fortune. Amanda Redman, on vacation from New Tricks, played the matriarch of a crime family trying to go good. Funny stuff.

A cancelled show, CANCELLED I SAY, makes the top 15. Journeyman was a good show with small flaws. Just like, say, Life. Yet it was canceled after 13 episodes and Life is coming back. That Life survives is not a bad thing. But canceling Journeyman was criminal. Kevin McKidd was becoming the role of Dan Vasser. Under-appreciated Gretchen Egloff and Reed Diamond were pitch-perfect playing wife and brother respectively. Guess the world wasn't ready for a good SF show on one of the major networks. It was almost Fox-ian in fouling up this show.

Life could have made the 15th slot. So could have a trio of comedies, Samantha Who, Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. Penn and Teller had a good year. But the last entry in the top 15 list for the last year is 30 Rock, just because Tina Fey's so damn cute and funny. Alec Baldwin (not related to Adam) didn't have as good a year as the previous one, playing network head Jack Donaghy, but it didn't matter. With the spotlight off the idiotic characters played by Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski and centred on Fey's Liz Lemon, the overall show took a turn for the better. Appointment watching.

Done. Finally. Quit yer belly-achin'.

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