Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TV: The Top 25 from the last 365 Days Part 1

My birthday is Saturday and that means the beginning of reading week. So, I better get the top 25 TV shows I enjoyed in the last year over and done with. Today I present shows #25-21.

#25 - The Unit

The first of six canceled shows on the list (and I'm not sure of the future of two more, plus a ninth is not running a regular show this calendar year), so it hasn't been a great year for me. The Unit beat out Gary Unmarried for the last slot on the list. I chronicled why Gary Unmarried was worthy of watching earlier.

Dennis Haysbert is the reason this show ran as long as it did, and should have run longer. He was completely central in an ensemble cast and dominated every scene he was in. From Now and Then to 24 to this show, Haysbert is the black face of TV. A commanding presence. The problem with The Unit this year was the failure to follow up on a fabulously great season opener. The conspiracy did weave its way through the remainder, but in unbelievable ways. The evacuation of the ladies and their subsequent spying duties was the dull edge of an otherwise sharp series. That first episode brought in Bridget (Nicole Steinwedell) as the first female unit member and then discarded her save for an unsavoury set-up rape attempt.

But all griping aside, The Unit was gripping almost all of the time. Sad to see it go.

#24 - Reaper

Another dead-on-describe show. It was generally not as fresh as last year's rookie season and couldn't build enough of a fan-base to merit continuation. Didn't help coming on as a spring replacement show with only 13 episodes. But it didn't do what Chuck did, which was to explore interesting new avenues. Lead Brett Harrison just never seemed to grow on me. And a little bit of Tyler Labine goes a long way. And there was a LOT of Labine in this show.

On the other hand, a couple of characters continued to shine. Ray Wise is the perfect Devil. He's ruined the role for all time for all other actors. And Missy Peregrym had some nice turns in year two, ending with her decision to sell her soul to the Devil in exchange for a failed attempt by Sam to succeed at breaking free of the contract his parents assigned him to.

But the real fun this year were the 'other' girlfriends. Eriko Tamura was hilarious and sexy as Sock's sister/girlfriend (don't ask). And Jenny Wade was a revelation as Ben's girl, Nina the Demon. Wade played sweet and murderous, sometimes in the same scene. She and Wise were the reasons Reaper made it onto the list. Simple as that.

#23 - Friday Night Lights

Less football, more home lives from hell. It was what I was hoping for. And getting it more or less sent the show tumbling off the Top 20 for me. Still, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler can do wrong as far as I'm concerned. So, the show lingers on in memory, favourably.

Adrianne Palicki's Tyra wore me out with her Cash-fixation. Coming off last year's dalliance with Landry (played with aplomb by Jesse Plemons), I was hoping for better from Tyra. I understood it and didn't, all at the same time. The late season return to what I wanted turns out to be an exit strategy for Palicki. So, no happily ever afters.

Exiting included seeing Gaius Charles' character moving on, meaning no more Smash-ing performances. That left the show awfully white. And that's not right. But I assume that will be fixed in season four.

Picking little moments here and there aren't difficult, starting with Tami's realization that a lot of her school's money troubles were directly the result of the money spent (squandered?) on her husband's football team. It wouldn't be the last of the money trouble moments, both professionally and privately. Matt's handling of the McCoy Challenge jumped around, but our hero met the challenge and conquered it. Sometimes Matt Saracen'd lot in life imitated that of a beaten dog, but he always seems to overcome that hanged-dog look.

One last thing though, I continue to hate Aimee Teegarden's Julie. Will forever, I suppose.

#22 -- Smallville

Almost no Lana Lang and this show can't crack the Top 20? Seems soooooo wrong, since, like everybody else, I've been wishing Kristin Kreuk's Lana off the show for a few years now.

It didn't change the dynamic. Sure, there were a LOT of little insider moments. The Legion of Super Heroes, changing in a telephone booth (inside The Daily Planet, but still!), the return of Kara (aka Supergirl), the viable threat of Doomsday, Zatanna, Maxima and the death of a major character in the final episode, especially since it was a 'name' in the comic books. The death, of course, being a great misdirection.

But Tom Welling's Clark Kent didn't get far enough with Lois Lane (played by Canuck Erica Durance) and enough with calling the show Smallville. Should come back next year as Metropolis, but won't. The solutions to problems seemed less well thought out and more blah. And too much attention was spent on Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Nothing against Justin Hartley, but there's a reason why the Arrow wasn't a major player in Metropolis over the years. He's just bland compared to Superman and that's why he's off on the west coast with his bride, Black Canary.

And lastly, the Lex Luthor replacement, Tess Mercer, as played by Cassidy Freeman, was all over the map. Mercer could never settle in as a good girl or a bad girl and her motivations for switching in-stream weren't all that well founded. Wished she'd grown from good to bad, or the reverse. The switching back and forth wasn't intelligible.

One more season? Okay. But it better end with Mrs. Clark Kent, if you know what I mean.

#21 - Corner Gas

And this makes three canceled shows of the five. It's placing here might be a Lifetime Achievement Award, but it really did earn consideration for tomorrow's list of #20-11. It had a GREAT final season, proving Brent Butt's desire of going out on a creative high actually happened.

This show was Canadiana right through the core. Gentle jibes at everything seemed fitting. Nothing was too cutting, nothing too innocuous to throw up there and see if humour could be found. And frequently, it was. We are going to miss the residents of Dog River.

Hank, played by Fred Ewanuick, had his best season of the series. He was constantly presenting himself as a comedic dupe, often at the hands of Wanda (Nancy Robertson). Her wandering through his mind was a highlight during the great password-guessing show. There was less nasty in Wanda this year (Robertson married Butt, and Butt and the writers toned down Wanda's nasty meter a fair bit). And that made her character fit in even more perfectly with the rest of the cast. Good decision.

I had one friend decry the final show as nothing happening. OF COURSE nothing happened. Sure, we spent the whole episode assuming Brent's character Brent would go off to the big city to become a comedian, but Brent LeRoy is forever doomed to sit around the Corner Gas station reading a comic book. It was ever thus. And, to Butt's credit, he remained true to the little understated comedy he created.

Tomorrow: Assuming I survive my trip to the dentis in an hour's time, shows 20-11. Then we wrap it up on Friday, just in time to turn off the TV and start turning pages.

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