Monday, July 18, 2011

The Top 25 Shows of the Past 365 Days, Part 3

The ten shows that made my day when they were on the air. Not necessarily the best ten shows. Just the ones I watched and got the most enjoyment out of.  Dontcha just love the tortured syntax of that last line? Without further ado, my Top 10 (in reverse order):

#10 Burn Notice (#6 2009-10, #6 2008-09, #5 2007-08)

It's tough on heist shows, even when disguised as spy romps, to introduce new blood, especially when ending the season on a status-changer. Burn Notice pulled it off, with Colby Bell's Jesse being a fine addition to the little band of do-gooding spooks on the outs with the official spooks. The secret to Burn Notice is Jeffrey Donovan's hilarious deadpan voice-overs while his Michael Weston is doing something noteworthy. That and the great Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless tossing in bon mots for our age group (middle-aged and closing on senior citizenship, thank you very much). I've never been a big fan of Gabrielle Anwar's Fiona, but a girl's gotta do what a crazy girl's gotta do every now and then. Jesse basically took the place of Michael's brother Nate being around too much in earlier seasons. That said, it was actually good to see Seth Peterson (Nate) towards the end of the year. Amongst interesting developments, The Mentalist getting Red John, Fringe going Pilot 2.0 and Burn Notice becoming Not Burned Notice (in effect) are amongst the most interesting developments to look forward this fall/next summer.

#9 Hustle (British) (#11 2009-10, #8 2008-09)

Adrian Lester is money in the bank for the long-running British long con show. I am surprised when Dean Devlin swans about, claiming he and the Leverage creative team just knew it was time for a new caper show, but the fact is there were three seasons in the bank over in Jolly Olde England before Leverage hit the tiny screen. The difference between the smooth as silk Mickey "Bricks" Stone (Lester) on Hustle and Leverage's liquor-besotted Nate (Tim Hutton) is the difference between old school and new school. Mickey does more with a raised eye brow than most because Lester's the best at doing that. Robert Vaughn and Robert Glenister are as steady as a rock, to keep the analogy going. And the addition of Kelly Adams last year continues to pay off. I'm not a fan of Matt Di Angelo's hothead Sean, who's a pale imitation of the Danny Blue character played by Marc Warren in the first few season's. But the episode where Sean and Adams' Emma met, and conned, their father was pretty good. Best of the six episodes (have I mentioned how much I like smaller, high quality series yet in this blog?) however, was Mickey losing his mojo, only to have barman Eddie (Rob Jarvis) get a week in the good luck lane.

#8 Chuck (#8 2009-10, #3 2008-09, #3 2007-08)

I promised fealty to Yvonne Strahovski for life and I'm not backing down from that. Especially given some of the outfits the producers of Chuck got her into this year. But the energy of the show took a dip. Not enough of one to drop the show out of the top 10. And next year's final season is fully guaranteed to be back here. But chock that up almost completely to my affection for Strahovski and the various wacky denizens of the Buy-More store. Too many people know too many secrets for my liking. Half the charm of the early seasons of Chuck was trying hard to avoid letting everybody in on what's going on. It brought back fond memories of the days when Superman was bedeviled on occasions by Red Kryptonite--the old kind, not the rage-inducing kind from the TV show. Juking and jiving to keep secrets was what made this show so good, even my brother Rick liked it. And if you think I'm picky, THAT's a whole 'nother level to get to. It doesn't help that I really, really don't like Chuck's mom, Linda Hamilton. But enough kvetching. Fact is, Jeffster's Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky did good with their time on screen and Adam Baldwin's Col. John Casey is almost always fun. Zach Levi, the title star, wasn't bad. It's just he isn't the callow computer nerd turned reluctant spy anymore. Some say that's progress. For me, at best it means treading water.

#7 Secret Diary of a Call Girl (British)
A supporting character took this sex-comedy from something worth catching and being occasionally titillated about, to a top ten ranking in this (probably) final season. In fact, I thought last year's season three of Secret Diary of a Call Girl was it and was surprised when a fourth series cropped up. Ah, happy surprises! Gemma  Chan's Charlotte took over the show as she took over 'the business' while Billie Piper's Belle was off in America expanding her business interests with a movie and trying to figure out how to handle the delicate question of Ben, the boyfriend, played with feckless determination by Iddo Goldberg. All the while, Charlotte is hilariously running 'the business' like she owns it. In fact, you get the idea she has no idea she doesn't own it. Throw in 'The Next Generation' in the form of Lily James' Poppy and you get a tour de farce.

#6 Endgame (Canadian)

Okay, Endgame has a bit of an advantage. It's homegrown and features a detective that is so agoraphobic, he doesn't leave his hotel suite, which I identify with more than I should. Think Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe or Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme. But without the physical excuses not to leave the dwelling. Shawn Doyle's Arkady Balagan is a former World Chess Champion and a bit of a jerk. Like House-level jerk. His world comes apart one day when he witnesses his fiance's death, which leads to his paralyzing agoraphobia. Forced by bills, Balagan decides to make his mark as a puzzle-solver, a detective who doesn't detect, as much as deduce. And the result is well worth watching. The Huxley hotel staff make great de facto assistants and Balagan isn't above using them. Sam (Torry Combs) is the almost Archie Goodwin (you'll have to read Stout to understand) and the gaggle of interesting girls include Katherine Isabele, Melanie Papalia and the criminally underused Lisa Raye. Colin Lawrence plays an exasperated Lt. Evans, the needed cop connection. Like the #7 pick just above, this is not an on-going series. But it's worth catching on Showtime in re-runs, when and if, if you know what  I mean.

#5 Episodes

Rude and crude and oh so funny. This seven-episode Showtime series better be coming back. It’s not the first show that was about the making of a TV show. But Episodes matches the best of its predecessors thanks in large part to the self-mocking performance as himself by Matt LeBlanc. Having Green Wing vets Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan play writers of an award-winning BBC show brought to America to duplicate their success State-side was brilliant (as the British say). It, of course, turned into a schmozzle, with LeBlanc forced upon them by dough-headed TV exec Merc Lapidus, played with cluelessness by John Pankow. It all goes predictably wrong, but there are some sharp turns by Kathleen Rose Perkins as a particularly self-absorbed studio exec and Mircea Monroe as Morning Randolph, an actress of indeterminate age, brought on to be LeBlanc’s love interest in the re-make. Morning is suspected of having some ‘work’ done and, despite reputedly having played William Shatner’s wife in a pilot shot in the eighties, is a dead ringer for a young Melany Griffith. Really young Melanie Griffith. The language is filthy, but there is no nudity, an interesting mix. Lots of sex though, if that helps.

#4 Republic of Doyle (Canadian) (#3 2009-10)

I'm not even going to pretend Republic of Doyle's setting in St. John's, Newfoundland doesn't have a part of play in my love of this series. Just hearing Krystin Pellerin's Sgt. Leslie Bennett purr out something or other is music to my hears. And I really do have a crush on the good seargeant as she's easy on the eyes too. But that aside, the Doyle clan's just an entertaining look at what a family detective business might be like. In fact, it's more or less, the Newfy equivalent of the Spellmans of Lisa Lutz's literary fame. And for me, that's pretty high praise.  It took the arrival of slimy and slick new Mayor Clarke (Rick Roberts) to finally get Jake Doyle (series star and creator Allan Hawco) to figure out Leslie's the one. And a whole series to bring Leslie back to the side of good. In the mean-time, Malachy and Rose (Sean McGinley and Lynda Boyd) finally got around the itch played by Rose's ex-husband (Nicholas Campbell) to make the living arrangements official. And even dunderhead Des (Mark O'Brien) made some headway with the headstrong Katherine, the youngest of the Doyles. Katherine aka Tinny, had her own fine moment of the show on the marijuana-growing episode.

#3 White Collar

The premise isn't unique. Heck, even Devlin admitted his show was a modern-day updating of It Takes A Thief. But the true descendant of that show isn't Leverage. It's White Collar. Take a thief out of jail and give him a good guy handler and let other felonious finks fear the result. Happily, the second season of White Collar seems to have shaken all the bugs out of that first run and become appointment TV. Matt Bomer has the Robert Wagner role as con-man turned reluctant partner Neil Caffrey. Tim Dekay has the Malachi Throne role as FBI Agent Burke, Neil's handler. I've professed love in the past for both Marsha Thomason and Natalie Morales, who were the first season eye candy. But I'm a REALLY big fan of Hilarie Burton who's appearance as Sara certainly entertained. She has regular status for the season current underway. (WIN!) And here's a surprise, I think Tiffani Thiessen does a good job here as long-suffering Burke's wife. But, and this is a good but, the show really seems to shine when weaselly Mozzie shows up. There's just something entertaining about Willie Garson and he imbues Mozzie with more personality than a background player should have. He doesn't exactly take over the whole show (hello Fonzie), but it's close. Any show with Mozzie at it's heart seems to work. Sure, it's a caper show with the over-arching "Kate's Death" issue to deal with. But there wasn't a weak episode in the second season, ergo, a third ranking for the year.

#2 Daily Show with John Stewart

I'm sorry Andrew. My pal Andrew has been inveigling me for years to watch The Daily Show so that we can yak about whatever latest comedic brilliance John Stewart et al came up with. I was a Jay Leno man. The almost midnight hour was for watching Leno's monologue. End of most discussions as it takes actually viewing to get across most of the gags you see on The Daily Show. There are puns aplenty on segment headlines and hilarious visuals to go with the comedy and smart social commentary Stewart provides. And Stewart might be the best interviewer around. I discovered this when I finally took a vacation from watching (well, recording and watching later) Leno. And I haven't gone back. I'm a convert. Andrew was right all along. The Daily Show is THE current events comedy show, even eclipsing Bill Maher's Real Time. Funny how that show only comes out on Fridays, the one night of the week Stewart takes off. Could it be ... possibly ... nah, it couldn't be. But when WAS the last time you saw Stewart and Maher in the same place. Ever?  At any rate, despite adding the bafflingly popular Olivia Munn as a reporter, the crew at The Daily Show seems forever capable of raising to meet the mettle of the host. Wyatt Cenac, Aasif Mandvi and John Oliver stand out amongst the correspondents. A little Jason Jones and Samantha Bee goes a loooooong way. Best of all, Lewis Black stops by every now and then for a rant. And that's usually a pretty good way to end the night.

#1 The Good Wife (#2 2009-10)

It got better. Last season's runner-up stands atop the pile of DVD's as this year's best show on TV. And while I'm willing to admit my tastes are eclectic, the fact is, a lot of people agree with me. It might actually BE the best show on television. A little defrosting of the severe-looking Alicia Florrick, as embodied by Julianna Margulies, was more than enough to boost this show. That, and Alan Cumming's fabulous portrayal of a would-be power broker who's nothing more than a girl-besotted horndog. Alicia continued to be torn between duty to husband Peter (always great Chris Noth) and her boss/old college friend Will (Josh Charles). Things in that triangle did move around this year as it developed another side, thanks to ever-mysterious Kalinda, the Emmy-winning role Archie Punjabi owns. The 'is she/isn't she,' 'did she/did she not' mystery continued for Kalinda who never appears at any point to belong to completely one side or the other. It might be TV's best character. Matt Czuchry's smarmy Cary went from Alicia partner-wannabe and in-house opponent to a pretty good in-court opponent. And all the while, Christine Baranski was doing everything with whatever limited time she had as Diane, the head lioness of the law firm until Alicia's arrival. Oh, she's still one of the managing partners. But she no longer operates under the delusion that the firm is just a partnership between her and Will anymore. The second season of The Good Wife might, just might, be as good as the one series of State Of Play. 'Nuff said.

Here's a list of my Top 25 Shows of 2010-2011:

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