Saturday, July 17, 2010

TV: The Top 25 from the last 365 Days Part 2

My voice has held up, and as a result, I am back with part two of my top 25 TV shows over the last 365 days. This part will cover numbers 11 through 20, starting in reverse order with number 20, of course. I remind readers that these are my most enjoyable picks. There is not a Dexter or Mad Men amongst them because I enjoy, usually, lighter fare. I make no apologies for my preferences. Read on at your own risk.

#20 Eureka (#10 LY)

Eureka is the science fictional equivalent of NCIS. Nothing much changes in the midst of much change. Other than the over-arching storyline of whether Colin Ferguson's character Jack Carter will ever hook up, permanently, with Salli Richardson's Allison Blake, each episode is a delight of ideas, a little bit of action, and a lot of heart.

Really, this show doesn't suffer from a lack of ideas. If anything it has too many ideas. Each week, one of the scientific curiosities that abound in the mythical town of Eureka goes awry. The uber brains that inhabit the town usually find some way not to be able to contain the damage. And it's up to Sheriff Carter to save the day. For the first two years of the show, much was made of the fact that Carter wasn't intellectually part of the community. But in the third season it became evident that the local residents have come to realize Carter was smarter than he looked. And basically the same went for Carter's daughter's Zoe played by Jordan Hinson.

The first to realize this was Joe Morton who's Henry Deacon is very much the soul behind the local community. Henry still is around but this was the year that Douglas Fargo, played by Neil Grayson, became a much larger part of the problem/solution matrix in Eureka. Much to the benefit of the show.

Eureka has been a top 25 show here in this list since its inception. It got to number 10 last year, based largely on the good work of Ed Quinn, who is no longer with the show. But even without Quinn, this is always an entertaining hour.

#19 Human Target

I really didn't want to like Human Target. It's not like this is the first attempt at writing the stories of Christopher Chance, the DC Comics character. There was a short-lived 1992 show that starred Rick Springfield as the chameleon-like character. It was awful. I mean really, REALLY awful.

But a generation heals all wounds. Although, it took me some time to warm up to Mark Valley as the new Christopher Chance. New also as being an almost completely new character. It helped that his two supporting characters were played by Chi McBride as partner Winston and Jackie Earle Haley as the enigmatic Guerrero. I never turn away from a show with McBride. And it's amazing that teenage heartthrob Kelly of the original The Bad News Bears has grown up to be the grizzled old guy that Haley seems to have become. He might be as good as supporting actor as there is right now.

I was still hit or miss on Human Target until the sixth episode as a couple of familiar old faces showed up as potentially recurring characters. In that episode, Chance had to rescue a scientist played by Kevin Weisman of Alias fame, with the covert help of Autumn Reeser who was a tech at the company where Weisman's character was being held. In fact, Reeser, most famous for her roll on The O.C., did, in fact, show up later as a semi-reluctant recruit on another case. The reason why the show jumps into the top 20 is the possibility that Reeser will be back for more. She has landed a role on the new fall show coming in September, so nothing is guaranteed.

Even without Reeser, the show improved through its last few episodes, as bits and pieces of Chance's pasy came back to bedevil him. I particularly enjoyed his two battles with Lennie James as Baptiste. During those battles, we discovered that not only was Christopher Chance NOT a random choice for a new name, but was a continuing cast of white knights much like the comic books' The Phantom. It is an interesting turn on the comic book character that has been around for decades. Works for me.

#18 Leverage (#2 LY)

A drop from number two to number 18 seems like a hefty price to pay for bringing on Jeri Ryan. But so be it. I have never understood the allure of Ms. Ryan, who famously starred as a cat-suited Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation and as a lawyer in Shark. Oh and she was married to a philandering politician. I wish I could say she's just a pretty face, but actually really believe she's just a great body. Cruel I know, but that's the way I feel.

Ryan came on this year while the exquisite Gina Bellman was on maternity leave. Frankly, she was adequate. But more than adequate was required. The disintegrating Nate Ford, played by Timothy Hutton, has back story with Bellman's Sophie Devereaux. It's part of what made that first year so very good. Sophie could talk to Nate on a level that was important to the show. Ryan's Tara Cole filled the spot on the team, but not the role.

As usual, the capers were top notch and the rest of the main cast, Christian Kane, Beth Reisgraf and Aldis Hodge did top-notch work.

I expect Leverage to return to the top 10, and even contend for top spot next July based on what I've seen of season three so far. Bellman's back and so is my enthusiasm for the show.

#17 Real Time with Bill Maher (#12)

Bill Maher, like Penn Gillette, is an acquired taste. If you think he's funny, you probably think he's really funny. If you think he is a smart political commentator, then you probably largely agree with his point of view. Guilty on both charges.

As I mentioned last year, Maher was forced to cope with the fact that he had neither George Bush nor Dick Cheney to kick around. And he hadn't been awarded the ultimate gift of an idiot president from Alaska. What was he to do? What was he to do? Well, he did quite well.

This year, Maher has had more comedic gristle but he seen a little more tired of the stupidity of the people he was making fun of. And I believe his biggest problem was that he didn't see any light at the tunnel coming from President Obama and the Democratic party. Sure the continuing presence of Sarah Palin on the national political scene, the rise of the Tea Party and the continuing obstinacy of the Republican Party in preventing positive political discourse made his job fundamentally easier. But where were the bright people to answer the clarion call for intelligent rational solutions. With disasters like the Icelandic volcano and the man-made oil-spewing screwup in the Gulf Coast, there's been no shortage of things to induce sadness.

I wonder if Maher wants to continue banging his head against this wall of stupidity. But until he decides to stop I'll still be watching Real Time each week it comes out.

#16 The Dog Whisperer

I do not believe in an animal-free top 25. I love dogs. I had dogs for most of my life until the end of the last century. Since then, I tried once to replace my beloved Benji with a another long-haired toy dachshund, but my brief time with George Bugaboo was a disaster. I am not good enough to be a dog owner any more.

So I must get my dog fix off TV and the occasional visit from Bear the German Shepherd who lives next door. Thankfully, National Geographic has made a big investment in Cesar Milan, the so-called Dog Whisperer. I wonder, if I'd watched enough Dog Whisperer episodes back in the day, whether I could've gotten George Bugaboo to eat and enjoy his time here at the Castle of Confusion. I never did get George to eat on the schedule he was supposed to. I really became afraid he would starve to death here. So I returned him to the breeder I bought him from.

I knew fundamentally that the human has to be the pack leader in any house a dog lives in. But watching Cesar handle all kinds of troubled mutts and pampered problem pups, makes me think I might be able to have a dog again someday. Then, I peer out at the thermometer, take a look at the temperature, and think how little I would enjoy walking the dog and I let those thoughts fade into the ether. And don't even get me started about going outside during the depths of winter.

Cesar doesn't do much whispering. He does a lot of finger snapping, finger-pointing and jabbing with those fingers. But he does it all calmly, without inducing stress on himself or the dogs. Anybody who watches this show and doesn't come away knowing, for a fact, that dogs are man's best friend are just too dumb for words. Anybody who owns a cat should trade in for a better model.

#15 The Mentalist

The dear departed TV show Monk, created the template for the current wave of Sherlockian detectives with a character flaw or two. Or in Adrian Monk's case, several hundred. Monk ended this past year with a solution to the murder of his wife, which was the driving force for eight years of pure comedic detective gold. Thankfully, Lee Goldberg's novelizations continue.

Back to The Mentalist. Patrick Jane, as played by Simon Baker. He is a reformed con man preacher who is able to solve crimes lickety-split before the opening credits. We saw lots less of that this year and more of the hour-long mystery type of episodes wherein Jane didn't have the solution immediately upon meeting the suspects. I liked that.

In playing along with Jane, the home viewer got the chance to solve it too. Along the way, we had a chance to see the developing relationship between Owain Yeoman's Rigsby and Amanda Righetti's Van Pelt. It more or less ran a full course, starting and stopping before the season was out. That was more or less at the behest of new head honcho Aunjanue Ellis, who plays special agent Hightower. Ellis adds a different spice to the mix. But I honestly miss Gregory Itzin as the former boss, Virgil Minelli.

Staying the same, acting as the tent poles for the zaniness around them, were Robin Tunney's Agent Lisbon and Tin Kang as Rigsby's partner, Cho. In every comedic situation, there has to be a straight man and Tunney manages to show exasperation well, with the occasional admiring sideways glance as Jane pulls one out of his ... well, you get the idea.

I enjoy the series and I enjoyed how not every show was about Red John this year. That said, it's time to start bringing that part of this saga to a close. It will be interesting eventually when Red John's gone as a motivating factor for Jane. What will happen next?

Maybe a leap to the top of the heap. That's what!

#14 The Big Bang Theory (#1 LY)

How mighty are the fallen? Well, not so mighty. But still so very funny. In a list remarkably bereft of any half-hour comedies, The Big Bang Theory remains the best sitcom on broadcast TV. And, Jim Parsons is still the funniest man on TV, bar none.

So why is last season's top-ranked show mired down here in the 14th slot? Bluntly, not enough of Parsons' Sheldon and too much of supporting characters Howard and Raj, as played by Simon HelBerg and Kunnal Nayyar. Add in the dissolution of the oh-so-cute couple of Johnny Galecki's Leonard and Kaley Cuoco's Penny. It's the dream of all geeks to get the beautiful woman, and the story line where Leonard and Penny ended two years of dancing around each other, was rather inspiring to those of us who can't pass for being a sports star or a model. So grumpy old me is downgrading the show over a lack of romance. Read that sentence again and wonder at the wonders of the universe.

Bluntly, like the grade given Leverage, I'm being a bit churlish over a small part of what is actually a really good show. I expect The Big Bang Theory to be back in the top 10 next year but I just had to register my disappointment over the oh so obvious plot development.

And if I'm still being honest, I'm really not digging the humanization of Sheldon all that much either. The last three shows of last year saw Sheldon even evince a slight interest in the other sex! Oh, the horror, the horror.

As a final aside, I managed to see the original pilot to The Big Bang Theory about three months ago. Kudos to the programming executive at CBS who had the foresight to see the potential in that pilot that eventually became the show a lot of people love. Other than Sheldon and Leonard, virtually nothing nor nobody from the original pilot survived. If I'd been in the test audience, The Big Bang Theory would never have seen the light of day. It was that bad.

#13 Legend of the Seeker (New Zealand)

This is the second of the ranked shows that has been canceled. An independent production by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapper, the folks behind Xena and Hercules, it was the little show that couldn't find a spot on anybody's schedule. Saturday afternoons isn't prime time, even though the show had prime time quality throughout.

Had I watched the first season in time for last year's ranking, it would have been a top 10 show. As it was I just watched the first season on DVD in time for the start of the second season. And while the second season didn't match the entertainment quality of the first season, it was still a worthwhile hour to look forward to each week.

The series was based on the works of Terry Goodkind, a noted fantasist who created a whole new world for heroes Richard Cypher, Kahlan and Zedicus to run about and right justice. Craig Horner had the thankless role of the too good to be true hero Cypher, while Bridget Regan became the heroine Kahlan, showing more range and emotion that you would expect. And who couldn't enjoy the wacky wayward wizard Zedicus as played by Bruce Spence? The second season added a fourth to our merry little band of travelers as Tabrett Bethell joined up as the ex-Mord'Sith, Cara.

In that first season, the group battled the evil machinations of Darken Rahl, given voice and sinister presence by Craig Parker. The second year, the Big Bad was mostly a faceless entity with a rare visits by the revived Rahl to spruce up a flagging show. The continuing harrying by the Sisters of Light and the Sisters of Darkness was little recompense. There were more Darken Rahl episodes towards the end as Raimi and Tapper realized a faceless enemy was frankly boring.

I still enjoyed the show immensely. Regan is next door sexy and Bethell's Cara was almost pure sex (combined with an almost complete lack of a moral filter) and were watchable throughout. I thought Spence was underutilized in the second season, although not as underutilized as Parker.

The books weren't followed to an excessive degree by Raimi and Tapper, so I suspect there's lots of hours of enjoyment and surprise they could be had simply by going back to the original source and reading Goodkind's books. They are on my reading stack as I write this.

#12 The Border (Canadian)

And now we have back to back canceled shows. A plague on programmer's houses. The Border won't get a fourth season, although I suspect that the show had actually run its course finishing its third season. This was a show just on the outside of the top 15 two years ago but fell out of top 25 contention last year because of replacing Sofia Milos with ex-Battlestar Galactica babe Grace Park. My predilection for Milos' character, Agent LaGarda is well known. Park basically was the wrong person in the wrong spot. Beautiful lady though.

The changes in the third year included another beautiful lady leaving as Nanzeen Contractor, who played Sgt. Haroun didn't survive the season two cliffhanger. She was replaced as the Muslim character in the show by Athena Karkanis who played Agent Massi. We also got plenty of disgraced agent Detective Sgt. Grady Jackson (Graham Abbey), as well as Catherine Disher(Superintendent Norton) and Mark Wilson (Detective Sgt. Moose Lepinsky).

But what made this show really good were three characters. Computer hacker extraordinaire Heironymous Slade, as played to perfection by Jonas Chernick, was what I would would hope to be, if I worked for the government. Slightly geeky, usually pretty successful. Jim Codrington was always interesting as agent Darnell Williams who doubled as the CSIS liaison. I guess he defined dark and mysterious.

Which brings us to the last member of our key trio. James McGowan played Maj. Mike Kessler, the head of the Immigration and Customs Security Agency. He played it with a low key approach while somehow inserting himself into the center of the action more often than not. I mean it wasn't as bad as William Shatner's Capt. Kirk leading every away mission, but Kessler seemed to be where the action was more often than not. And yet he did it with a lack of bombast that typifies Canada. He did a great job with a well-written character. He will be missed on screen.

#11 Hustle (#8 LY)

The second of three caper shows on this list and the second-ranked caper show for the last 365 days. Hustle continued to be the quintessential British TV show. Six episodes ... six tightly written episodes ... six inventive episodes. No padding to get to a 22-episode American-style season. Not even the 13-episode length, seen so often on cable and here in Canada. It is possible however, that the ideas that propel Hustle into the top rankings each year are maybe getting harder to find.

We had a second year of basically the same crew coming back from last year when we had the triumphant return of Adrian Lester as Mickey Bricks, Michael Stone. The Kennedy kids, Emma and Sean, as played by Kelly Adams and Matt DiAngelo, seemed more part of the gang rather than the new kids on the block. That seemed to dull the sharp edges just a bit. And the romantic tension that was developing between Emma and Mickey didn't seem to really develop.

The other slightly off part of the series this year was a lack of grandiose-ness. Oh sure, there was a full-sized tiger made of gold, as the gang pulled one over on an insurance scamster. But that was it for highlights.

Mind you, I'm comparing this season past with past seasons and have found it wanting. Compared to other TV shows, Hustle was awfully close to making it to the top 10. I'm not sure there's another season with a rapidly aging Robert Vaughn playing Albert, left in the tank. But surely we haven't seen the last of him or Robert Glenister as Ash Morgan. I'd be happy with just a special or two, like has happened with the Jonathan Creek specials this past year.

And wouldn't that be interesting to see the oh so minuscule British series length reduced even further.

And thus ends my luck at the second 10 TV shows from the past 365 days. I did discover that dictation of the length of this posting did exceed the dictation capability of Dragon Speaking Naturally. At least my version. I had to start and stop and start again. But assuming my voice holds true, I will back here celebrating my birthday tomorrow with the top 10 list of TV shows from the last 365 days.

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