Friday, July 17, 2009

TV: The Top 25 from the last 365 Days Part 3

So here on the last day of my 52nd year on the planet, I present the top ten most entertaining programs of that year. I make no apologies to others who presume they know better quality amongst overlooked programs. These are the ones I most looked forward to seeing. (I'm also going to use links to prior postings for a majority of them, rather than rehash those reviews from earlier this year).

#10 - Eureka [#6 - LY]

There is almost no justification for the loss of ranking of Eureka this year, other than to note there were nine better shows. The show lost Ed Quinn which was a shame because he was spectacularly good right through to his sacrificial end. Hard to believe the smarmy red tape guy from the earlier seasons had as much heart as Quinn's Nathan Stark. His work overcame an otherwise dreary sub-plot involving Francis Fisher. That one ended well, though.

Otherwise, Eureka was what it has been from the beginning, an idea incubator with drama and humour thrown in, in equal measures. Whimsical, but thought-provoking. If you let your mind wander a bit.

I missed Matt Frewer, but others did step up. I thought Erica Cerra moved away from her one-note character into something approaching interesting ... and still pretty. Neil Grayston's Fargo sort of grew up, as did the petulant child, Jordan Hinson. Hinson's Zoe and her sheriff dad, played with usual charm and hidden strength by Colin Ferguson, are no longer outsiders and have made their intellectual mark. It's gone a long way at erasing the 'Mensa' snobbery of the other residents of Eureka.

Eureka is a show where anything is possible, but enjoyment is guaranteed.

#9 - How I Met Your Mother [Tied #9 - LY]

I reviewed this show back in this post. I am happy to report since that review that things HAVE moved forward in the quest for Bob Saget to reveal just how he met the mother of the two bored kids he's lecturing/telling tales to. We know Sarah Chalke isn't the mother and we know Ted traded in his tri-square and business cards with Architect written on them to become a teacher. That's progress, although THIS YEAR better be the year we find the better half to Ted's life.

That said, Neil Patrick Harris continues to be amongst the funniest guys on TV, a fact not missed by the awards shows. He's popping up everywhere. And good for him. Shows he's more than Barney, not that we can have enough Barney on prime-time TV.

#8 - Hustle (British)

Michael "Mickey Bricks" Stone came back, and brought some new playmates with him. This was news back in February when I wrote this post. And apparently we'll be seeing more of Adrian Lester, Kelly Adams and the crew just after the new year. I really think Adams is a find and a match for Lester, which is as high a compliment as I can think of. If caper shows are in your interest spectrum, Hustle rates to entertain you a lot. After a year out of the top 10, it's good to see this British staple is back where it belongs.

#7 - Life

One of two of the top ten to get cancelled, I believe the NBC execs who ordered Life extinguished deserve a lifetime of watching Richard Hatch in his naked glory 24/7/52 until their eyes fall out and they scream themselves hoarse. Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Donal Logue and Adam Arkin played great characters, each brought to life by an expressive actor. The puzzles were interesting. Given the pablum that DID make the Fall 2009 schedule, Life's cancellation was unfathomable. For my review, see this post.

#6 - Burn Notice [#5 - LY]

If you haven't seen Burn Notice and only now plan on now seeing the second season on DVD, jump the rest of this paragraph. SPOILER COMING: Tricia Helfer's character gets killed in the season finale and I couldn't be happier. Helfer, a fellow Canuck, seems destined to never play a character I like. And I DO like the occasional nasty villain type. It's just that she seems to play pretty faces who are supposed to be bad ... and just come off boring to me. I know I'm in the minority, maybe even a minority of one, but I dislike seeing her on the screen as much as I like seeing Paula Marshall or Kelly Rutherford. Soooo, Carla's dead and gone and the show's better off for it. END OF SPOILER.

The review from earlier this year was in this post.

#5 - Demons (British)

Philip Glenister can just about do no wrong. He's been the real star of the mental time travel series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. And he brought the same hurly-burly persona to Demons this spring. And the dopes at ITV decided the show was too expensive to bring back for a second series. Yes, this is the last of the cancelled shows in my Top 25. And next year will be all the poorer for that bad, penny-pinching decision.

Demons is the latest of many shows to try to replicate Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Playing the distaff Buffy was Christian Cooke. Cooke plays Luke, who just might be the Last Van Helsing (One of the working titles for the show). He's naturally reluctant, as would be any teenage boy who's told to buck up and start killing demons for a living, rather than being a layabout. Besides being reluctant, he's just a little incredulous. Glenister has the Anthony Head role as trainer/tutor/hectoring old guy. His Rupert is on his last legs, but is more he-man than most. The two of them are paired with two interesting ladies.

Holliday Grainger plays Ruby, Luke's more-than-friend, less-than-girlfriend. Shows more brains and just as much valour as her pal at times. A second season would certainly have brought about a union of a different kind. And Rupert's friend is Mina Harker. The Mina of legend. This time, a blind pianist. And a vampire. And many decades old. Probably older than Rupert, and not much older than Luke in appearance. Mina, played by Zoe Tapper, is probably the most interesting character on the show. And the cliff-hanger ending spotlighting her made me want a second series bad.

Oh well.

The reason Demons stands out from others of the genre, including another Brit show out around the same time, Being Human, was it's understanding that vampires don't sell shows by themselves anymore. The uniqueness of the vampire epic disappeared years ago. But combining vamps with other interesting monsters, Demons had a lot of room to grow. Sad to say, it won't get that chance.

#4 - NCIS

Like House last year, a good show suddenly jumped into prominence with an outstanding season out of the blue. There's been nothing wrong with NCIS over the years where its been a steady top 25 show under the radar. But this season, the show's ability to hide behind the flashier CSI shows disappeared. Almost no missteps in a consistently great year.

Mark Harmon's Gibbs is consistently fascinating to watch. I guess that's because I always admired David Janssen. Whether it was The Fugitive, O'Hara or Charlie O, the one trait Janssen's characters had was a kind of taciturness where words were used sparingly and emotions kept under wraps. I've wished for many things in life--being tall, being artistic, etc. But the one I've found myself most wanting of over the years is the ability to keep my mouth shut. I've actually tried it more than a few times. Can't pull it off. Eventually, the verbal diarrhea comes out. Harmon is this century's Jannsen. And good on him.

The rest of the cast were great too. Cote de Pablo has now been forgiven for replacing Sasha Alexander. And Rocky Carroll was already forgiven for replacing Lauren Holly, who might very well have been what was keeping the show down. She never appeared comfortable (or believable) as an agent turned bureaucrat.

Pauley Perrette, Sean Murray and David McCallum continued to be smart characters with personality. It's sometimes hard to equate coroner Ducky, played by McCallum, with Ilya Kuriakin, McCallum's introduction to North American TV audiences in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. back in the sixties.

But the guy who stepped up his game the most this year was Micheal Weatherly. Weatherly's Tony Dinozzo seemed genuinely changed by the bitter duplicity that cost him his relationship last year with Jeanne Benoit. His patter was more subdued and he was almost cute in trying to dance around his attraction to de Pablo's Ziva. There were times Dinozzo looked almost leader-like. Certainly, the show's creators were grooming him for the NCIS spinoff, NCIS Los Angeles, before deciding to go another way. That's all right for me. Sort of like the chatterbox yin to Gibbs' yang.

My guess is that the show won't be able to maintain this ranking. It's tough to be good to great for 20 plus episodes in any given year. But I wouldn't bet against it either.

#3 - Chuck [#3 - LY]

Look, Chuck's going to be a top ten show for as long as its on the air. Two words. Yvonne Strahovski. Two more. Jordana Brewster. And apparently the girls out there find Zach Levi cute too. And some think Adam Baldwin's sexy. I just think Baldwin and Levi are funny, but whatever floats your boat.

This spy spoof is what Reaper could have been for the monster biz, but wasn't. Same sort of home base for the heroes, an electronics big box store in Chuck's case. Same slacker worker turned super-dude by events beyond his control. Same kind of sidekicks, although Joshua Gomez is way less wearing than Tyler Labine. I would say the same kind of cute girlfriends, but Strahovski is in a league of her own.

The difference? Levi really grows into his role. You really get the idea that Chuck is growing up as he rallies the troops, literally, to stop Chevy Chase's attempt to take over the world. All while getting his sister married off to Captain Awesome and telling off the brass back at Buy More.

So even if you come to see pulchritude (Brewster probably won't be back), stay for the laughs and the antics and the thrills. Chuck's that good.

#2 - Leverage

The American Hustle is now into its second season and there's no reason to believe it won't keep up with its British forebearer. I've written two posts about the show, the latest being this one. And I'm happy to report that the second half of the first season was actually better than the first half. As a result, Leverage bounced ahead of a great Hustle season to finish second in my rankings of shows over the last 12 months.

#1 - The Big Bang Theory [Tied #9 - LY]

I predicted the show might be a contender for top spot here. And nothing knocked it off its perch since then. I laughed out loud a lot watching the show this year, and I'm notoriously hard to actually make laugh intentionally. I laugh a lot, but mostly at life's absurdities. This show made my tummy hurt at time. That's how hard I laughed.

The earlier post boasts Jim Parsons as the funniest man on TV. I'll stand by that. But I do want to mention again the growth in Kaley Cuocco's character, Penny. Penny started off purely as eye candy and an object of lust. Any pretty girl could have played the role. But Cuocco and the writers have turned Penny into something other than a bimbo walking dream. She's caught up to the tail end of the gang and has even fought Parson's Sheldon to a grudging stalemate at times. The predicted reversal of pining did happen at season's end, but it was handled fairly well.

A little bit romantic, a little bit geeky and a whole lot funny. The Big Bang Theory was the best show on TV in the last 12 months.

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