Friday, July 16, 2010

TV: The Top 25 Shows of the Past 365 Days, Part 1

It's that time of the year. It's my annual remembrance of the top 25 TV shows of the past 365 days. Not the best shows, not the highest quality shows, not the most popular shows. Just the ones I enjoyed the most. As usual I will break it into three parts. The first part today will include numbers 25 through 21, while I will get to the second 10 tomorrow and conclude with the top 10 on my birthday on Sunday.

First, let me talk about some of the shows that didn't make my top 25. I was most disappointed this year in two science fiction shows. Stargate Universe seemed to be an object lesson in stopping what you do best and trying to show you can do something different. The folks behind the Stargate franchise guessed wrong. Taking the humor and the aliens out of Stargate was simply wrong. The other science fiction show that failed to reach its promise was the British show Paradox. Paradox featured a gimmick wherein a group of police were given a brief glimpse of impending disaster, a disaster that was some hours and minutes away. That glimpse was always flawed in that came in the form of disjointed pictures of the odds and ends that pop up at the scene of a disaster. Again some very circumspect decisions by the characters this time spoiled the premise. And it never met its potential.

Old favorites House (#11 Last Year) and How I Met Your Mother (#9) also failed to make the top 25 after pedestrian seasons for those shows. In reality, both shows were still fine entertainment, but no where near their best. Penn and Teller also failed to make the top 25 as did the latest David Attenborough show Life, which was a spectacularly photographed nature story, not the NBC cancelled series of the same name that ranked #7 last year. In fact with no compelling version of The Zoo coming out of England, New Zealand or Australia this year, there is a distinct lack of animal-centric shows on my list.

I wanted to like some of the new Canadian content on CBC and CTV more than I did. Two homebrew shows made the top 25, which is actually the same as last year, if conpletely different. I really wanted to add a third, 18 to Life, but just couldn't in all consciousness. I won't lie, I did watch Battle of the Blades, but only competition Sundays. I still think these reality contest shows are dreadful, always voting off the worst, and demonstrating the public can't be trusted to vote for anything. So I didn't watch the result shows.

Internet entertainment shows have a checkered history. I can think of two shows that have made it to mainstream TV, jPod, which was a failure, and Sanctuary, which turned out to be a relatively decent addition to the SF lineup. I wouldn't be surprised if The Guild eventually makes that jump too. The Felicia Day-written produced and starred-in feature is a delight. But it doesn't quite add up to much more than an hour of TV per season. So I couldn't put it on the list. For the same reasons, The Crew, Riese and The Tease aren't really eligible for this list. But they are worth seeking out on the Internet. Especially The Guild.

Without further ado, here's part one of the top 25 of 2009 -- 2010:

#25 Doctor Who (Britain, #19 LY)

I am old. There is a saying in Britain that your Doctor Who is the Doctor you first saw in the role. For me that means the Doctor was a Victorian dandy as played by Jon Pertwee. I have always had great affection for Pertwee, but I must admit that David Tennant tested my resolve that the second Doctor was the best. In fact, last year I admitted Tennant had surpassed him. Tennant's exit from the role was well-done in the fall. Like others, I was curious as to how Matt Smith would do as his replacement. I have a problem with Matt Smith. He's too young.

I like my Doctor to have some sense of being old enough to have seen what he has alleged to have seen, to have a certain gravitas. Smith just seems too young. In a way, he reminds me of Young Indiana Jones. A callow youth, smarter than the rest, but too young to know where trouble lies ahead. Smith and his young companion Amy (Karen Gillan), appeals to the younger set. But I'm not part of that set anymore. In so many ways that's not Smith's fault, it's the fault of the producers.

Steven Moffat was a more than adequate replacement for legendary scribe Russell T Davies. But as adequate as he was, he still wasn't Davies, the man behind the revival of the franchise. Moffat, who wrote the legendary episode, Blink, did some good work this season and it was entertaining more often than not. But there weren't those memorable moments that have been scattered about the previous four seasons with Tennant, and before him, Christopher Eccleston.

Decent Doctor Who only gets the last spot on my list.

#24 Lie to Me

Fox TV has, over the years, come up with some of the most innovative TV on American television. Too frequently, they have canceled the innovative shows way before their time. And I really feared they were going to do the same with Lie to Me. They put in huge gaps in the release schedule and looked like they were trying to kill the show. But they didn't, much to my happiness.

Tim Roth is a scene chewer and, if was all that the show was about, it would be long gone by now. They fixed the problem with Kelli Williams' character, Dr. Gillian Foster, by getting rid of the philadering husband and allowing the Foster character to create some romantic tension with Roth's Dr. Cal Lightman. They increased the leavening presence of Hayley McFarland, as Lightman's daughter. We also saw more of Mekhi Phifer as agent Ben Reynolds. On the downside, we saw a little less than I would've liked of Ria and Eli, as played by Monica Raymund and Brendan Hines.

The best part of the development of the show is showing that Lightman is much more than an academic. In fact, he's a bit of a punk. This accounts for his rather churlish attitude at the best of times. They also showed his loyal side, so you could see why smart people would stand by his side despite the abuse. And there were more than a few action hero sequences. All in all, Lie to Me is House with a visible human side.

#23 NCIS (#4 LY)

It is tough at the top. It's never a question of repeating staying at the top. It's a question of how far you fall. NCIS was near the top of the heap last year, before falling all the way to 23rd. The fall is not an indictment of the show. It is just an indicator that last year was an outlier. This show is consistent entertainment and I enjoy it every week. Missing was a compelling season-long arc. Last year, Michael Weatherly starred as Tony, recovering from a broken heart following an undercover operation. He spent the season sniffing around Ziva. Which was cute. For one year. Playing the same song this season wasn't as endearing.

NCIS mostly became a mystery of the week. It was a familiar bunch of old characters adding to their rich history. I thought we got a little more development from David McCallum's Ducky this year. as his mother passed away and he moved on. That was welcome.

Otherwise things were basically status quo. As mentioned, Tony and Cote De Pablo's Ziva made no advancements in their relationship and the decision to make Ziva a probationary agent was probably the single largest misstep in the season. Sean Murray had some good moments as his Tim had problems with a series of girlfriends.

All in all, solid entertainment with few disappointments. It gets a mulligan as a one-time championhip contender and a warning to the creators that you only get that one mulligan before dropping off the list.

#22 Ugly Betty

Last year, in about this spot, I gave a lifetime award to Corner Gas. I enjoyed its last season but its placement on the list was as much for the body of work throughout the series as its existence was was for that one last season. This year the series that gets rewarded similarly is Ugly Betty.

Actually, the last season was pretty good. Combined with a great first season, we can overlook the sophomore and junior years.

Ugly Betty is a worldwide franchise with versions of it in many countries. I believe the original source is Columbian, but I could be wrong. In the much longer run there, Betty goes from ugly duckling to beautiful wife of Daniel. Here in North America, either the abbreviated run or common sense prevented Betty and Daniel from hooking up. The beautifying of the original ugly duckling did take place. America Ferrera is a beautiful young lady who I believe has a fine career ahead of her. While we saw a lot of the use of makeup to make so-called beautiful people more beautiful, the greatest makeup job was convincing superficial people that Betty was anything but as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside.

The final season was a known fact long enough for them to try and wrap up various story lines. We got to see Mark Indelicato come out as Justin, Vanessa Williams add a touch of humanity to Wilhelmina, and finally Ana Ortiz and Adam Rodriguez had their characters Hilda and Bobby get married. I would've assumed that that would have been the series finale, but that actually happened in London, with Betty walking away from Daniel, who had finally woken up to the treasure he had so near.

Ugly Betty's epitaph also has to include the series-long great work by Tony Plana as the Suarez patriarch, Ignacio, and Michael Urie, who played Marc St. James with humanity and flair rather than being a strictly over-the-top gay man. I never warmed to Becki Newton's self-absorbed Amanda, but she was always pretty to look at. In a series about superficiality it IS possible that Amanda was the tent pole around everything else.

I'll miss Ugly Betty. I wonder how London will turn out. With a fond farewell goes this spot, this year.

#21 Windows Weekly tied with Tekzilla (Web Shows)

Last year, my web-broadcasted computer technology show slot went to John C. Dvorak and his Cranky Geeks show (#17). Two things contrived to drop the Cranky Geeks off the list this year. The first was the reduction of the Cranky Geeks to a single Cranky Geek. The co-crank, Sebastian Rupley, departed the show this past spring. Ripley seem to have the ability to keep Dvorak focused and that focus is currently sorely missing. Not sorely missing is the lame joke's Dvorak told at the start of each show about Rupley's employer, whoever it was at the time. It went on as a running joke long enough to bug me. So off the list it goes.

Two computer-oriented web broadcasting networks have really come a long way this past year. The TWIT TV Network run by Leo Laporte now boasts a roster of shows that I download and watch every week. Of the shows I get the most information out of, Windows Weekly, which stars LaPorte and Paul Thurrott. As always, Laporte plays the amiable host while Thurrott Skypes in from where ever in the world he is and discusses the latest developments in the Microsoft Windows world. Thurrott also talks intelligibly and factually about Apple products, the latest in playing consoles and phones. He's not didactically focused in on Microsoft products and I consider him a voice of reason in what ever wilderness the computer world finds itself, at any given point in time.

Revision3 is a network with a more eclectic bunch of shows, many of which run mere minutes rather than the 90-minute length that many TWIT shows get to. The weekly half-hour Tekzilla is the kind of show I wish was on broadcast TV. Hosts Patrick Norton and Veronica Belmont are veterans of the TV circuit and know how to talk quickly, but intelligibly, and impart information while they're doing it. Now I have to admit I would watch Belmont read the telephone book. When talking about the sexiest geeks on TV there are few that can compare with her. The fact that she is heavy into hacking hardware and software is a bonus of course. On the other hand, Patrick Norton might be the perfect co-host. He gets his hands dirty with building hardware and has an every man's appreciation over finding a new toy. He's a good interviewer too.

Some recommendations from these two sites: Leo Laporte's flagship This Week in Technology on TWIT is usually good, and I'm impressed with his newly-minted iPad Today show that started last week. I also catch Tech News Today with Tom Merritt, which is a news of the day, 40-minute show weekdays. Over on Revision3, Merritt has a good five minutes with Tom's Top 5 and Cali Lewis does a quick five-minute technology hit most weekdays called If I feel particularly 'techie,' I'll grab the latest episode of Hak5 which is usually SOOOO hardware-oriented that it's above my head.

Lastly Penn Gillette has his latest media show, Penn Point on Revision3 and its usually an entertaining eight minute or so rant. If you like Penn, you'll like the show.

Tomorrow, assuming nothing horrible happens (like my voice running out ... I am dictating this), I'll be back with the 11th through 20th most favorite shows of the last 365 days.

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