[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]
Every year I call a halt to the TV season on my birthday and produce a list here of the shows I most enjoyed over the last 12 months. It’s my Top 25 TV Shows and I make no claim that they are the best in any way. They are the shows that I enjoyed the most. And I don’t enjoy what a LOT of critics enjoy. I do not look for the ‘new’ and avante garde. I like what I like and do not apologize for my taste in entertainment. So read ahead with that understanding. Oh, by the way, you’ll be doing LOTS of reading (It's pushing 10,000 words). You’ve been warned.
I had a rather tougher year making this list than in the past. The problem, I think, was the disappointment I had in many old favourites. Shows that have entertained me, sometimes a LOT, but have withered just a little on the vine. When I looked at my list of shows this year, there was The Big Bang Theory at 34, Hart of Dixie at 36 and the latest incarnation of The Dog Whisperer (Cesar 911) sitting at 37. Last year's champ, ESPN 30 for 30, couldn't muster a top-30 finish, getting only the 35th spot on my list. And you know, none of them deserved Honourable Mention. None of them. Because, in most cases, the shows threw away what little spark they had in my imagination.
As has become the practice here in the yearly awards, now it's time for the show(s) that made me disappointed and/or mad. Last year it was Arrow. This year it is Arrow. Symmetry at it's best. The acting is still wooden. The show can't get off that damned island in STILL too many flashbacks. And yet I still watch the show week after week to catch the inside references we old comic book coots love so much. You have to love comic books and you have to be steeped in DC lore, otherwise, this continues to be a waste of watching time. I’ve actually seen star Stephen Amell without his face in a rictus. Really, he CAN smile. I hope he does next season. Maybe with Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance moving towards assuming the Black Canary role and the inevitable pairing with Amell’s Arrow (the Green Arrow and Black Canary were a couple for decades in the comics), we can see some of the banter uplifted from grim and gritty to the occasional light comedy the comic book characters were capable of. By the way, I’m not ragging on comic books turned TV shows. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD wasn't good enough to make the top 25, but it's one of the Honourable Mentions this year.
So much for disappointment. On to the Bad. Starting with possibly a new low in Bad. Dads. Beyond horrible, approaching criminal. That bad. Dads had wonderful opening credits and a great theme song, Brenda Song and Nick Lachey's gorgeous wife Vanessa. And it was a complete waste of the talent of actors like Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Mull and Peter Riegert. It was misogynistic, racist and incredibly stupid. Oh, left out homophobic. If there was an ‘ist’ or an ‘ic’ they left out, I can’t think of one. Every single actor in this misbegotten career train wreck probably fired their agents after this fiasco. Mind you, racist humour wasn’t only the preserve of Dads.
George Lopez's Saint George, was incredibly offensive to me, and I’m not even Mexican-American! It’s an accepted belief that comedians are allowed to make fun of their own, but outsiders cannot. But Lopez’s caricatures of Mexicans only re-inforced stereotypes. Lopez once again depicted his mother character as just short of being an unloving monster, a master of meanness and uncaring. And yet I’ve never met a family of Mexican heritage where the mom was not big-hearted and a bit of a mother hen. So THAT offended me too. Lopez is always appealing himself. But every other Mexican-American in the show was depicted as boorish, stupid, mean or all three.
Now, being Canadian, I must point out a mistake of our own. Aside from Dave Foley mugging for the cameras, Spun Out was horrible. He played the role TV producers call the 'lovable lush with charm' type and informally refer to as the Dave Foley role. When he wasn’t speaking or reacting, nothing about this show was pleasing. No, I take that back. It did have Rebecca Dalton, making the show, the Canadian version of Ground Floor. But not as good. Not nearly as good. And Ground Floor was not good. Dalton was a dead ringer for an old co-worker from back in my newspaper days. One I had a crush on. And the resemblance was so spot on, I actually took to the internet to see if her mother might have been my old editor. She wasn’t. Once you got past Foley and Dalton’s appearance, it turns out Spun Out was a lot of ‘est’ and ‘ic’ done in the polite Canadian way.
I keep mentioning Ground Floor, an otherwise unremarkable comedy that features Briga Heelan (the floor resident) who I believe will break out sooner or later. John C. McGinley did his usual scenery-chewing part to try to inject humour. But despite the two shining lights, the comedy was not good. Not at all. Maybe the second season will turn the corner.
I know I’m supposed to get to the top 25 and I promise it IS coming. But a word about the supposed rebirth of the sitcom this past year. Indeed, some new half-hours made the top 25. But most didn’t. And, in an infuriating way, a lot of them were JUST this close to being good enough for a long run.
The Goldbergs was simply too loud and the Barry character (Troy Gentile) was too annoying, which off-set an otherwise really pleasing cast. The fix? Send him off to play Junior hockey and replace him with an exchange student. Young Sean Giambrone will also be a major star some day. The major problem with About a Boy was Minnie Driver, who I adore. Just not in the role as the new age hippie mom. (And yes, I'd fly away to NY to be with Adrianne Palicki too). It’s mean, but I’d have dear old Minnie pass away, leaving adorable Benjamin Stockham to be adopted by next door neighbour Will (David Walton) and Palicki’s Dr. Sam who comes home to become a newlywed and a step-mom all in a rush. The Millers has superstar Margo Martindale (as good at comedy as she is in dramas like The Americans), which almost off-set starring Will Arnett. Almost. Maybe a Bewitched-like switch in the lead. Anybody but Arnett. Arrrgghhhh!
Not all shows will be back for a second go around to test out my fixes. Back in the Game featured a totally unlikeable James Caan. How exactly do you screw up a show with Maggie Lawson? This one did. The fix would have had Lawson finding a new boyfriend with serious marriage potential, thus reducing Caan to cameos. The Crazy Ones needed to replace Robin Williams with John Larroquette to save a talented cast and a good premise. Larroquette could have been a long-lost brother who takes over when Williams keels over due to the excesses of his past. His character that is. Larroqutte would have then stepped in as a part of the cast, rather than the scenery chewer that Williams is. The Michael J. Fox Show needed one less kid (send the eldest, Conor Romero, off to college again) and one less sister (Katie Finneran, taking annoying to a whole new level), plus more workplace shenanigans. This was the most surprising and disappointing of all of these comedies. Sean Saves the World could have dumped the boss/bozo (Thomas Lennon) and might have lasted years. Sean Hayes was very likable and assembled an otherwise entertaining cast around him. Trophy Wife needed one less wife (number two, Michaela Watkins) and more showdowns between Malin Ackerman and first wife Marcia Gay Harden. Lastly, Kirstie. The assembled cast, which included Michael Richards and Rhea Perlman, could probably have pulled off the concept with any actress in Hollywood...except Kirstie Alley. Don’t know if it’s coming back (it shouldn’t), but a little radical surgery would have made the question moot. That's a long list of almost-were's. And the end of the disappointments.
The Honourable Mentions list includes a little bit of everything. Both of my ultra-violent shows from last year, Banshee and Vikings, did enough to merit watching in their sophomore season. I was more entertained by Banshee than Vikings, but it was gratifying to see Vikings get away from that bad turn to mystic mumbo-jumbo that it took in the last couple of first-season episodes. Both are cautious, with yellow police tape around them, recommendations for their second seasons. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD started off at near Arrow level season one horribleness. It managed to pull things around to the point of being pretty watchable by year's end. Clark Gregg is a surprisingly effective lead and Chloe Bennet and the dependable Ming-Na both created a little intrigue. Add a A little more polish (more Patton Oswalt, please) and it's a contender for next year.
The kids had some good stuff come down the pipe. The second season of Dragons, Riders of Berk was even better than the first year of the animated spin-off of the How to Train Your Dragon movies. And I had a great time watching Wizard Barristers - Benmashi Cecil and The Irregular at Magic High School. Both anime series were very watchable. I can also recommend another anime, Attack of the Titans, but it's far, far from being youth age appropriate. A real horror cartoon success. American cartoons-wise, Beware the Batman was short-lived and really a lot better than the critics said. And my guilty pleasure was Disney's latest scream-com, Mighty Med, a live-action series with engaging kids, goofy adults (a Disney staple) and enough pure love for comic books to carry the day. Well done.
Any Honourable Mention list would have to include Ambassadors, a wicked political satire based in a British embassy in a fictional country in the 'stans, plus returning British series of Jonathan Creek, The Indian Doctor and Silk. And there's a little gem out there called Serangoon Road from Australia about sixties era Singapore. A rather tight little drama that I, unfortunately, saw out of order. And let's finally say good-bye to Rake. Not the American abomination, but the Aussie original. It's been an interesting run.
On to the list:
25 Taxi Brooklyn French
A bit late to the party with it's debut in the last week of June, this hour-long dramedy features something not too old, Chyler Leigh, and somebody brand new, Jacky Ido. Ido is going to be a star, Hollywood’s next black actor with magnetism … and a real sense of humour. He plays Leo the taxi driver, who ends up ferrying around Leigh who’s Detective Cat Sullivan could come from any number of successful mystery books starring tough as nails female detectives. The show is a ‘re-interpretation’ of the movie, Taxi, a broad comedy penned by Luc Besson. The pairing of Leigh and Ido works incredibly well. It’s a buddy comedy without one of the two parts of the buddies really realizing that she is in a relationship. And, like in most buddy entertainment, the sum is better than the parts. So there are jokes, thrills and lots of car-chases involving Leo’s bright yellow taxi. That should be enough for almost anyone. The show’s not perfect. Sullivan is a bit of a cliché in that she has to track down the killer of her father. Castle anyone? I’d have thrown the idea overboard and made her dad a quirky professor of something esoteric at Columbia or NYU. I think that would have been a better idea than making her mother (Ally Walker) a constant source of irritation. Again, cliché run amok. But the drive to find the killer is what is driving Taxi Brooklyn in what I hope will be the first of many seasons.
24 House of Lies
It's raunchy. It's nasty. Nastier language-wise than I like and just at the limit of my tolerance. And, I think, it's probably a lot truer than people in the 'consulting' biz would like to admit. But that just makes it funny and watchable. Don Cheadle eats up the screen and Kristen Bell captivates it. And that's before the scheming sets in. Now in it's third year, I didn't think there was any more double-crossing and backstabbing left for House of Lies. I was wrong. Happily. The pairing of Bell’s Jeannie Van Der Hooven and Cheadle’s Marty Kaan was a long time in the making. And in House of Lies fashion, just as quick to come asunder. The last shot of Marty for this season was … emotional. There were other developments. Ben Schwartz’s Clyde actually became tolerable this season. Human even. On the other hand, there wasn’t a moment on screen for Josh Lawson’s Doug that I didn’t regret the writers wasting my time. Doug was annoying. Liked Monica’s come-uppance as Dawn Olivieri continued playing Marty’s ex with lioness ferocity. And Donis Leonard Jr.’s Roscoe got older and wiser and even more confused, if that’s possible. By the way, the fact that Glynn Turman, as Grandpa Jeremiah, continued to be a successful playa, gives hope to all of us old coots.
23 Almost Human
Science Fiction. Fox TV. Surprise, early cancellation. Just how stupid are we SF fans to continually invest in Fox SF and act like we are surprised when that network cancels the show before it's time to go? Smack. Hand to forehead. Idiot. Now, let's admit this show was not perfect. It had a bit of a scattergun approach initially, with suggested-at plots from the pilot left untouched before the jig was up. But the partnership between human cop John Kennex (Karl Urban) and android cop Dorian played by Michael Ealy, was starting to come together by the time the pink slip arrived in the email. The imagineering of the future for the show featured some real good ideas. Not the least of which was that the bad guys were always one step ahead of the good guys, stuck perpetually playing catch-up. The problem was that the bad guys were TOO far ahead. I would have liked the gap to be a bit smaller. I also identified with old grouch Kennex, who was just a little bit more spare parts than I am. Which made his early problems with Dorian easy to understand. Lili Taylor was an effective top cop and Minka Kelly’s Detective Valerie Stahl was moving in the direction of being Kennex’s romance partner, not that the big lug would figure it out until long after it became obvious to everybody else. Mackenzie Crook’s Rudy was weird as the cop-shop version of Q. But that weirdness led to at least one good episode. Almost Human was more future than now and would have been better a season from now. But it was Fox. Of course it got cancelled. Idiots, idiots, IDIOTS!!!
22 Republic of Doyle Canada (LY - 21st)
Okay, okay. It's here because it's got to be here. It didn't take a mean turn, like The Big Bang Theory. It didn't wear us out with secondary characters like Hart of Dixie did. But it didn't do a lot to stay on this list, except show off my beautiful Newfoundland heritage and let me watch Allan Hawco as Jake Doyle and company work. It's getting a little long in the tooth and I have the distinct impression its going to be completely missing from this list next year, but I love the show. NOT sorry in any way. Hear that Mom? NOT Sorry! It has Krystin Pellerin and that Newfie purr. It has mismatched adult adults Malachy Doyle, Jake’s dad, and Rose Miller played by Sean McGinley and Lynda Boyd. It’s a show that attracts the likes of Russell Crowe as a guest star. It even has a third generation detective in the making in policewoman Tinny Doyle (Marthe Bernard). Mind you, I continue to rail at the continued presence of bozo savant Des (Mark O’Brien), but did I mention the scenery? And I’m not a scenery kind of guy. We are talking about God’s Little Green Acre, aren’t we. The Doyles and even many of the recurring bad guys have become like family on my TV. And I have no problem recommending the show.
21 Revenge (LY - 7th)
You want some refreshing vitality injected in any show's third year. I'm ambivalent about the rejuvenation that was injected in Revenge Year 3, mostly because it had a distinctly "Bobby in the shower" vibe to it. (That's a reference to the year AFTER Dallas did away with Patrick Duffy's Bobby, only to bring him back a year later via the shower scene. It was all just a dream.) I wish I felt better about the McGuffin being pulled out from underneath 50+ episodes of watching. But it DID suggest some life was left over in this tale of revenge done hot. Questions about about the master manipulator Emily (Canada’s own Emily Van Camp) suddenly finding out she isn’t the one actually pulling the puppet strings. There’s the annual will she, won’t she aspect of the relationship between Emily and the scion of the Grayson’s, Daniel, played by Joshua Bowman. Through the whole series, Daniel’s probably the source of the most growth of any character in the series. Of course, the doyenne of the Grayson’s, the uber-nasty Victoria, played with relish by Madeleine Stowe managed to continue her all out battle(s) with Emily. To some success, but not much. And of course, there’s David Clarke (James Tupper). And with that, I end my review of the third season of Revenge. Don’t cliffhangers make you mad?
20 Broadchurch British
American TV is remaking this show as Gracepoint come this fall. Even importing star David Tennant to replay his role of the overwhelmed police detective assigned the task of stopping a child killing from becoming the powder keg that blows up a small sea-side town. Tennant has never looked more worn out. Indeed, there's a thread to the mystery that makes one wonder if DI Alec Hardy will solve the mystery before he, himself, keels over. There's a fire that starts with the first episode with the murder of a child that threatens to consume the town. We watch as small-town dynamics takes a close-knit community and unravels it at lightning speed. The media, specifically newspaper journalism (my old job), is shown at its worst. And its worst is plenty bad. It's a lethal mix that results in more death and the worst of us all coming out. It's bleak and dispiriting and well-done. You'll hate yourself for liking the
limited series so much. The late news that there
will be a second Broadchurch series makes me wonder how that will
come about. I have a difficult time believing the town could even
come close to surviving a second murder. And yet apparently Hardy and
his number two, DS Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman return, which
will set the second season squarely back in the now recovering town.
Hmmmm, this will either be a writer’s triumph or an unnecessary
rehash. Either way, we’ll have to await the finish of Tennant’s
American commitment, one in which Fox has surprisingly decided to
limit to just ten episodes, rather than trying to expand the
8-episode British original to 20 plus shows. And it means that second
season that confuses me might very well start in late 2014. That’s
19 Person of Interest (LY - 5th)
Not enough Bear. That was my first reaction to binge-watching the third season of Person Of Interest. A little too much god-like power (and even allusions), too. And just how many secret agencies and goofball cabals can there be out there? One more than you think. All the time. Still, what kept Person of Interest on the list this year was a mid-season casting change that had a smaller impact than did the sea change in The Good Wife. But it was close. Bringing in Sarah Shahi to replace outgoing Taraji Henson allowed for a very emotional send-off. And more Root, played with ethereal weirdness by Amy Acker. Two actresses to cover for the loss of Henson’s Detective Joss Carter. The well oiled machine that was Carter, fellow detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), operational head Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) and the whispering action star John Reese (James Caviezel), came acropper in the third season. THE Machine became one of the machines, plural. One of the shadowy organizations managed to get some manner of control. And the government befouled every attempt to fix things. Many of the shows this year were not saves for people in trouble. They were about looking after the core of what The Machine was all about. And with it kidnapped and the loony tunes from Vigilance putting Finch on trial, it was a slam-bam finish. Not quite as overall satisfying as the second season. Not enough of Bear the dog. The humanizing element for Finch last year. Bear could have done the job this year with Root if he had been given the chance. C’est la vie. NOTE: My next door neighbours have a German Shepherd named Bear. A nicer, more well-behaved dog I have never met. I like dogs. And after all of the Bear screen time in season two, I am permitted to be disappointed that the only time with Bear this year is when I venture next door.
18 Old School Australian
Another spring surprise and it just goes to show that a couple of old pros, like Bryan Brown and Sam Neill still have it in them to produce entertaining TV. It's a buddy comedy from down under, with all the delights and perks that entails. Brown plays the sprung ex-con, back on the radar of Neill, playing a now-retired cop, Ted McCabe. Still a cop in all but badge, McCabe wants to resolve the case that ended his career while sending Brown's Lennie Cahill onto one of Her Majesty's finest jails. The opening episode includes a HUUUUUGE clanker at the end where the bad guy yaks with nobody filming the confession. But it's more than made up for over the remainder of the series. There's a cadence and a whole new parlance of Aussie accents to make the show sound so good. It's a show for old coots BY old coots (and I suspect, for old coots). But if you like to see the cop-
concrim buddy show done
right, it's hard to argue with Old School.
17 The Escape Artist British
David Tennant. Again. Doing what he does best. Out-think the opposition ... and the viewer. And do it with a lot of savoie faire. Tennant's Will Burton, is a barrister-extraordinaire in this tight three-episode series from Engand. He's inordinately successful, which rubs opponents like Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo) the wrong way. Which pleases Burton immensely. Burton eventually discovers clever can be a two-edged sword and a client he gets off turns out to be a psycho. And Toby Kebbell makes Liam Foyle a REAL SCARY psycho (is there any other sort?). Thus, Burton has to have a showdown with the bad guy, who despite his scariness and an episode long ability to survive several attempts by lawyer turned murderer Burton, finally succumbs. Which ends up placing Burton square in the hairs of the justice system he has manipulated throughout his life. And riding to his rescue? None other than Maggie. All of this done in three episodes, where American TV moguls would be tempted to make it last 22 episodes for the first of a seven year run. And you wonder why so many British shows end up on this list every year. Or why so many David Tennant shows do.
16 New Tricks British (LY - 11th)
Had it been a decade? Close to it. And I could go on and on about how great it is to watch the old gang get together and do what they do best, solve crimes and entertain and prove that age and treachery trumps youth and inexperience all the time. But the old gang isn't the old gang any more. In fact, the old gang is just one man. And the gang is, still composed the same way. But not with the familiar old faces. So, does the new New Tricks work? In the main, yes. A strong start in Gibraltar to start the year doesn't ever stop as newness permeates the UCOS squad in London. It's a new character here, a new character there. And before too long, we have Dennis Waterman's Gerry Standing as the longest member in standing. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But a lot of the shorthand Standing was able to use with the gang has had to be redefined, changed around to accommodate his new role as elder statesman. I had become accepting of James Bolum's Jack Halford departing, although remembrances of Jack lead to two of the weepier moments this year (and by weepier, I mean ME tearing up). Denis Lawson's Steve McAndrew seemed to fit like a glove with Standing and the team magic missed very little. But the team dynamics did take a pounding when Brian Lane exited stage left (with beloved wife Esther) after the caper in Gibraltar, replaced by Danny Griffin played by Nicholas Lindhurst. It was a tough fit, with the Lane mania as Alun Armstrong played him, changing to external calmness, Lyndhurst's most obvious character trait. But, I came around. Then, with half the season to go, came the gut punch. The team was losing Amanda Redman and her DS Sandra Pullman. Incoming was young(ish) DCI Sash Miller, played by Tamzin Outhwaite. THAT took some getting used and I'm not sure yet whether it has the effect of putting my beloved Cold Case squad show from England on the backbench. Overall, this was a top 25 show (again). But unsettling is the head that lies of the New Tricks fan.
The early days of The Big Bang Theory were dominated by the self-absorbed antics of Jim Parsons' Sheldon. So much so, that any discussion of funniest characters on TV had to include him. As Sheldon passes from entertaining to mean, selfish and frequently unfunny, riding to the rescue of the reputation of the self-absorbed we have Allison Janney. Allison...wait! Allison Janney?? The occasionally acerbic but mostly professional competent everywoman from The West Wing? THAT Allison Janney? Yep. Who knew? Within the tall, tall frame of CJ Cregg was a comedienne of incredible proportions. And make no mistake, the eldest of the moms on Mom is pure comedic gold. Bonnie's little girl Christy is a mess. And of course, Christy has a little girl, Violet. And Violet's about to have a little girl. Cue scene one for the year. You've got everything you need to know whether you'll like the show or not. Janney great? Check. LOTS of mommy and mommy-to-be jokes? Check. LOTS of AA stories/jokes/emotional moments for Janney's Bonnie and Anna Faris' Christy (Mom Gen 2)? Check. There's a couple of supporting characters that really work, like cancer-stricken AA member Marjorie played by sad-faced Mimi Kennedy and Luke, the dumber than a rock with a vein of gold through the heart, played with lovable goofiness by Spencer Daniels. Faris' Christy is weary and wise to all the tricks of addicts and teenage moms to be. She's not so good communicating with people who don't fall into either camp. But she's making smarter and smarter choices all the time. She sees the end of the tunnel, especially when she finds her father, the same guy (Kevin Pollak), who her 'lying because she's breathing mother' has insisted left on the first train out of Dodge, when he found out about his impending fatherhood. About the only thing this comedic half-hour could work on for year two is turning daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) into something less utterly dis-likable.
14 Real Time with Bill Maher (LY - 16th)
I wish he could do it without the crudities. But that's not going to happen. I'm not sure I'm aboard the train backing marijuana, although I support decriminalization (except for dealing to kids, in which case—summary execution). I'm not on board with PETA or his jihad against religions, even though my official position on religion is that religion is good. The practice of organized religion is bad. And I'm surely more accepting of the drugs that keep me alive. But in the main, Bill Maher and I think alike. He thinks funnier than I do (and that's before writers step in). But we are sympatico in most things. So, how did Real Time do this year? Well, it was going to be a top five show, AHEAD of The Daily Show, until this winter when Maher gave TV time to William Krystol. That shouldn't happen. In fact, Maher rails against JUST the type of person Krystol is. And when he was on the show, the red meat alert was not out. Maher, as he does with people who's opinions he disagrees with, when in person, treats them with civility. The solution to not savaging Krystol as the witless war-mongering tool that he is, is not to allow him airtime where civilized folks can be exposed to him. Let him inhabit the environs of Fox, where facts were a casualty long, long ago and only fools watch and believe the pundits. I know the electorate that does that is large enough to plague American politics, but why, oh why, make us listen to this windbag? That one show, back in February, or thereabouts, spoiled the whole season for me. And it was a strong season otherwise. There were left wingers and right wingers and conservatives of thoughtful stripes (David Frum, Reihan Salam and even soon-to-be-adjudicated Dinesh D'Souza will offer up interesting arguments). Lots of smart people and the odd religious person or two that Bill seemed to go beyond tolerating to actually liking. But there was that appearance back in November of Ann Coulter, long a weakness of Maher's. And Krystol. My stress levels reached near fourth heart attack levels. And that's why Real Time is ten spots lower than MOST of this past season rated.
13 Alpha House
It'll never be the same again. Internet killed the TV star. Okay, enough with vain attempts to find a cliché to describe exactly what Alpha House means to the TV viewing public. Alpha House was NOT a TV series, although I used a network cable connection to my TV to watch this Amazon show. And this was NOT an internet show, staffed by names unknown to anybody but their family, friends, and the people they work with in the day jobs. This was high production value, high end TV-making starring the likes of John Goodman, Clark Johnson and Mark Consuelos. Which would roughly be the A, B and C rank level of TV star. That's not to ignore the work of Matt Malloy and Yara Martinez, but I was trying to make a point. Amazon is in the TV business. Just not IN the TV as much as ON the computer and occasionally routed THROUGH the TV. But for all intents and purposes, Alpha House was a show that made you laugh … and think a bit. Goodman's Gil John Biggs is a southern political force from North Carolina who suddenly finds his job and purpose for being threatened by a contender. To say it's unsettling is … not CLOSE to how devastating Biggs finds it. Biggs cohabits a Washington DC house with three other Senators, Johnson's Robert Bettancourt (PA), Consuelos's Andy Guzman (FL) and Malloy's Louis Laffer (NV). Each of the Senators has to play the politics game, whether nationally, as in the case of Laffer, locally as with Biggs or in the bedroom, as with Guzman. Bettancourt seems above it all and floats there through much of this first season, until finally dealing with his ethics committee issues. Johnson, a local guy from Toronto, and a talented director, helmed the season ender. The series has been written by Garry Trudeau in the main, which means the comedy is black, black and blacker. But true moments of humanity showed through on Biggs' return back to the shores of North Carolina. All in all, this was a very, very satisfying show to binge-watch one night (it was a LOOOOONG night). Looking forward to downloading season two when Amazon releases it.
12 The Blacklist
Where exactly to put the 'breakout' hit of last year's TV season. An NBC show to boot. And one I disliked a fair bit while others were issuing the hosannas. Obviously, I was supposed to make it one of those shows in the bad half-hour comedy block you read about a half-hour ago. But a funny thing happened along the way. The Blacklist got better. Indeed, it started to EARN some of those accolades. Oh, James Spader never quit hamming it up. And I DO suspect the writers knew what they were doing all along. But the key was that Agent Liz Keen, played by Megan Boone, started developing a personality. Maybe a new acting coach? I dunno, but to the roughly half-way point I thought I was seeing Bionic Woman II redux. Michelle Ryan turned that show into something unwatchable and I was under the impression Boone was just another pretty face too. And as much as I enjoy spending my time with pretty women, however electronically, I wanted to be entertained, intrigued, thrilled, amused or any combination of the above. Spader's Red Reddington took care of the last, with some droll humour. That Reddington was barely different than Spader's Alan Shore of The Practice and Boston Legal mattered not a whit. It was wonderful to see the ham back on the tube. It's increasingly difficult to remember that Spader was once the king of the pretty-boy roles. He's settled into middle-age wonderfully. But I must return to the subject of Boone. She was completely unconvincing as an FBI agent right up until about the time her father died and her husband, Ryan (Tom Keen) revealed himself to be the louse that he is (or MAYBE revealed himself). The turn, a hard turn, from jailing the bad guy of the week, into dealing with vast conspiracies, saved the show as much as Boone discovered various expressions on her face come in handy. Emotions, who da thunk it? The rest of the show is above average in good acting. Amir Arison, Parminder Nagra, Diego Klattenhoff and Harry J. Lennix did good turns. Which leaves me hopeful that this is a long-running staple in the making. Just please don't let Boone become a blank slate. Again.
11 The Tunnel English/French
In Scandinavia, the show was called The Bridge. Moving further south, the English and French co-producers of the remake changed the title to The Tunnel. In either case, it's a serial murder mystery that requires often-feuding, always dismissive sides from two countries to solve the case, starting with the first murder that features a body half in one country and half in the other. Or so it seems. That it isn't exactly that, is one of the great moments of the pilot show and there's no reason for me to spoil the discovery of that for you. Now, having saved a juicy morsel for you, let me move on. Getting police departments to co-operate from one town to the next is usually … difficult. Getting coppers from England, such as Stephen Dillane's DCI Karl Roebuck to work with a weird French detective, Elise Wassermann, played by Clémence Poésy of Harry Potter movie fame (She was Fleur), well THAT defines difficult. Until Karl figures out Elise is smart and sexy, despite her off-putting non-involvement. That leads to the inevitable regrettable hook-up, which leads to all kinds of repercussions in Karl's home life (dunh!) but nothing positive in their pursuit of the mass-killing narcissist, The Truth Terrorist. The show has a lot of twists and turns through the ten episodes. And some weariness sets in until the final two episodes where the Terrorist is finally identified for sure, for sure and the denouement begins. I should mention that the show uses the natural home language of the speaker of the moment. Which means lots of English sub-titles for the action in France. Specifically, the police offices Elise attends every now and then (Have I mentioned yet she's a little OCD and a LOT functionally autistic, having absolutely no idea of how what she says can impact people, frequently grieving people? Guess not.). At the end, you are left wondering whether Karl's home life is irreparably damaged and whether a second go-around with Elise is in the cards. Or whether Elise might be interested in more play time with Karl's son, despite not understanding how that would effect Karl. Or whether there's another Chunnel-hopping madmen that needs stopping regardless of their feelings for each other. I hope there is.
10 Nothing Trivial New Zealand (LY - 14th)
I have memories, pleasant memories, of getting out to the local bar every week to play Trivia. Specifically, NTN Trivia. I played at a couple of different bars, frequently playing squarely against one of the best teams in North America, by the results. And my team, even when it was just me, held its own. I really, truly enjoyed the competition and the environment, despite the fact that I don't drink alcohol. Never have. And if the game had been available in somebody's home too, THAT's where I would have played the game. But the coming of the always-connected internet-aware phones really, really killed NTN Trivia nights for me. So, I stopped going. The Brampton Bumms were no more. I hadn't thought about those trivia nights in years until a few years back when I ran into this show from New Zealand. It's about pub quiz night and it's set in the current era. And it even addresses the issue of unscrupulous teams cheating. And because New Zealanders are every bit the polite people as Canadians, they don't cheat. Which means they all can enjoy a social night out, competition included. It's almost quaint. And it works for the team of Brian (Blair Strang), Emma (Debbie Newby-Ward), Michelle (Nicole Whippy), Catherine (Tandi Wright) and Mac (Shane Cortese). Over now three years, this fivesome have paired off, Brian and Emma, Catherine and Mac, Nicole and a succession of boyfriends, each running into bumps and outright roadblocks. The show isn't about pub quiz night, it's about five people living life as large as their circumstances permit. But this third season has been dark. Very dark. Rape intruded upon Michelle's life from an unexpected source, her psycho psychiatric therapist. And as soon as that horrible chapter in everybody's lives ends, the season ends with a thud. And I'm not just talking about the cancellation that leaves me wondering why oh why I invested in this series emotionally to such a degree. The answer is because it is was a good show, worthy of those minutes you spent watching it. (Sorry about having you find out this way, Brian. It's not coming back for a fourth season).
9 Brooklyn Nine-nine
On to something lighter, frothier and a helluva lot funnier. And a second show set in Brooklyn. Shows how mature I am that I don't blame the TV for the cheatin' Nets defeating my Toronto Raptors. How to describe Brooklyn Nine-Nine? It has the comic sensibilities of it's great grand-dad, Barney Miller. It has a lot of the slapstick features of uncle Get Smart. It's modern enough to treat homosexuality as a fact, like with distant cousin Modern Family. And it has attractive women. Works for me. The precinct police comedy has been around forever, but rarely this well done. Andre Braugher, the token black AND gay, runs the place with practiced patience and a guiding hand that reigns in the stunts of workplace clown Andy Samberg, playing Detective Jake Peralta. Even with tough as nails Sgt. Terry Jeffords (the always dependable Terry Crews), Peralta had turned the office into a playpen. Melissa Fumero's Det. Amy Santiago, a stick-up-her-butt butt-kisser was often the object of the play. Finding out she was actually competent and maybe even an eventual love interest wasn't something Peralta could figure out until Braugher as Captain Ray Holt, checked into the Dead End Job known as The Nine-Nine. And suddenly the place began to look like a precinct. Oh, most of the character caricatures still fumbled around, but there suddenly was a lot of promise in the squad. Peralta and Santiago were the stars, but nobody, criminals included, wanted to cross the tougher than REALLY TOUGH nails Det. Rosa Diaz, played with scary ferocity by Stephanie Beatriz. She seemed to have one crack in her hard exterior for Det. Charles Boyle, played with charm by Joe Lo Truglio. In the pilot, I was sure Boyle was nothing but an uber-clumsy bozo, strictly there for the slapstick and nothing more. Ooops. Turned out Boyle had a lot of layers to him and there's hope for Rosa/Charles still. Or maybe she just adopts him. Either way. Of course, the season ended on a cliff-hanger, with Peralta called up to a mysterious task force that leaves him missing from the Nine-Nine and unable to press his case for a future with Santiago. That might NOT be the most important facet of the change, but it is what it is … a setup for a second season of the best on-going network comedy, new or otherwise, this year.
Betas is a comedy. So how come Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets all the stellar judgements? Because Brooklyn Nine-Nine's coming back. And Betas isn't. Oh, and no network BROADCAST Betas. Yes, this is another Amazon production. And honestly, not many reading this will be interested in it. There was no reason whatsoever to expect Betas to have a second season. It was such an inside baseball series (Inside Baseball being a term to describe any subject that requires extensive niche knowledge) that when Amazon announced it was not going to be renewed, it hardly came as a surprise. So, the first season of Betas now stands as a stand-alone 10-episode mini-series. about start up companies in Silicon Valley. And I found it hilarious and even a bit informative. I failed when I started my own media company many decades ago and understood perfectly how things go south in this series from start to almost finish. The show got off to a slow start but then picked up steam (read, laughs) as the series went along. Four guys and a gal, Trey (Joe Dinicol), Nash (Karan Soni), Hobbes (Jon Daly), Mitchell (Charlie Sexton) and Mikki (Maya Erskine), have an idea and most of a plan. It's another social site/app and it has caught the eye of money-man George Murchison, played against type by Ed Begley Jr, who has ensconced the group into his incubator. That's a money and facilities setup that investors offer to get a piece of the end company. Most incubator ideas die still-born. Some perish quickly after the start. But the ones that hit, hit big. And that means money for everyone. But to get TO the money stage, the Betas have to produce a plan, a pack of other investors, a product and a demo day. At each stage, Murchison evaluates whether keeping spending money is worthwhile. He's rich and he's what the inside baseball people would call a douche-bag. Maybe even not that principled. It's tough to love a geek. But watching Betas might change your mind.
7 The Americans (LY - 8th)
Keri Russell's Elizabeth Jennings is one very, very scary woman. And hubby Philip (Matthew Rhys) has the stuff too, to snuff out lives almost weekly it seems. The Jennings are Russian sleeper agents at a time (the early eighties), when the Cold War was about to shrivel up, but was in its hey day. However, we knew all of that after last year's stellar first season for this show didn't we? So, how did The Americans get a boost up in year two? Well, complexities started to develop in the "who's scammin' who" relationship between FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Russian Mata Hari Nina (Annet Mahendru). Was Beeman using Nina, wanting each and every last bit of information before dropping her? Or was he a man in love, willing to commit treason and do what it takes to steal away with the solution to his dissolving marriage? And was Nina still thinking of Stan as succor, or at the behest of new Soviet spy Oleg (Costa Ronin), tempting Stan into doing bad, bad things? Stan could represent safety for Nina's family in Russia and a new life in the decadent, and appealing, USA. For Oleg, played with playboy insouciance by Ronin, the Nina/Stan relationship COULD represent a coup for the newest member of the consulate brain trust. Or was all of this action being forced to a head generated by Oleg's own interest in being Nina's saviour? Of course, the whole year was not Stan and Nina all time. There was a couple of down turns as Paige (Holly Taylor) got caught up in religion, a taboo behaviour in Mom Elizabeth's eyes. Didn't help Paige's cause either when her supportive father caught her lying. Multiple times. That Philip didn't shoot the pastor who was Paige's spiritual guru, surprised the heck out of me. Still think it might happen. And of course, the other issue in the series was the lack of Margo Martindale in all but a few episodes. Martindale's Claudia actually hardly seemed her mommy dearest tough self. She seemed to CARE about the Jennings and the Connors, who's murders set the tone for a year-long mystery. Who killed the Connors and their daughter, agents all for the Russians? The answer closed out an exciting season.
6 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (LY - 2nd)
At it's best, The Daily Show was no worse than the second best show on TV this past year. But there's been some attrition in the supporting troops. John Oliver's departure to HBO and his own show (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) hurt a lot. Oliver showed he was ready to graduate, of course, guest-hosting for Stewart when he was off movie-making. But he's a featured player that hasn't been replaced yet. Jason Jones and Samantha Bee are still around, but they seemed to have topped out with their talent. Jessica Williams looks to be the go to up and comer now. Gratefully brought on to replace Olivia Munn (my annual mention of how disinterested I am in seeing her on my small screen), Williams also doubles now as the black voice. Well, the on-going voice. Larry Wilmore still trots out every now and then to calmly destroy whatever idiot racist idea that has reared its ugly idiot head. But Williams is out there most nights. The real missing part is Aasif Mandvi, although he does show up a bit these days. But mostly he's off doing the movie thing. Even writing one. Will Michael Che and Jordan Klepper bring back memories of Oliver and John Hodgman? Too soon to tell. And it's maybe the reason Stewart is taking more of the face-time than is usual. But how bad is that? He's still the best interviewer on TV. Viewers USUALLY get informed of something they didn't know. Or they just laugh. Cuz laughing is what the show is all about. And crying. Crying for the America that could be, but isn't because evil, stupid people still have too much say in the running of the country, from the President down to the local dog catcher. And when I say stupid, I mean idiot savants who's one talent is getting elected and/or getting into the public eye. I've got a list if you've got another hour to stay here reading. No? Okay. But in the meantime, keep watching Stewart to get your needed dose of the news. It surely isn't coming from any other news organization these days. And with that, I think I am going to cry myself to sleep.
5 Growing Up Fisher
Can J.K. Simmons do any wrong? If such a show exists, it certainly isn't this little spring series gem about the Family Fisher. Simmons' Mel heads the fractured Fisher clan, Mel having moved out to a bachelor pad after being divorced from his stuck in adolescence wife, played with the usual goofiness by Jenna Elfman. Oh, and Mel comes out as having been blind since puberty. Which comes as a surprise to all of his clients (he's a lawyer) and everybody outside of his family that knows him. It's a really sweet little comedy with a likable family with some quirks. As mentioned Mel's blind. And he loves both the perks and the occasional hurdles he has to overcome, being JUST a tad hyper-competitive. Like REALLY competitive. But always with heart, always with the underdog (unless it's a client) and always with his seeing-guide dog Elvis along for the ride. As mentioned, Jenny plays wife Joyce as barely older than daughter Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley). And here's the really nice thing. Katie isn't a horrible older sister to young Henry (Eli Baker). At least as narrator Jason Bateman retells it. Yes, this yet another descendant of the Wonder Years form of story-telling. But it works. Henry is just a kid. And like his dad, he seems to have a lot of heart and the goofy charm that he inherits from his mother. Even the background players appeal, with Lance Lim playing Henry's best friend Runyen, an oriental Fonz in the making. There's Isabela Moner as the light of Henry's life and Constance Zimmer as Alison, the patient, attractive neighbour who seemingly will hang with Mel despite whatever befalls them as they try to finish a first date. Several times. Simmons makes all this work with his believable portrayal of a blind man, one of the tougher acting roles there are. But the whole cast is just so darn likable that I will be mad the show got cancelled on their behalf. Grrrrrr!
4 White Collar (LY - 4th)
We have almost reached the end. The little manufactured nuclear family that is top FBI agent Peter (Tim DeKay), his wife (Tiffani Thiessen) and his surrogate son, the many-times convicted Neal Caffrey, played with charm and scamming in his heart by Matthew Bomer, have run out of caper stories to retell. Oh, but what a run it's been. A little mini-season that starts soon will run out the string, but barring some unforeseen disaster, White Collar stayed on top of its game til the end. Sure, there was no Hilarie Burton and too little of Marsha Thomason, with baby-making interfering. But Bridget Regan stepped in to become a major force, for good and bad, in Neal's life. Ahhhh, the dreaded femme fatale. Neal spent a LOT of time doing the good work of the FBI after making sure Peter was clear of last year's murder charge cliff-hanger. Then it was all about getting out from under Curtis Hagen (Mark Sheppard), seemingly with the help of Regan's Rebecca Lowe, or whatever her name was. All the while, Peter was struggling with leaving Neal behind as he and Elizabeth were pondering the move to Washington DC. Of course, to the rescue came Mozzie, the beloved best friend and einstein between bouts of paranoia, played by Willie Garson. Too bad he exited stage left just before Neal got snatched in the season's cliff-hanger. A satisfying season for White Collar with some pretty good puzzles to solve, thanks to Rebecca. The showdown at the fort was a major highlight.
3 Orphan Black Canadian/British (LY - 18)
Can a show drown in hype? I had that fear about Orphan Black which got discovered en masse last year (after I wrote about it, sniff, sniff), mostly due to Tatiana Maslany's incredible ability to play multiple roles, many of which were in the same scene. I didn't comment on that in my mini-review a year ago and I'm disappointed in myself for that. Maslany was great. But without the wizardry of the director and the head of cinematography for the show, the experience would simply not have been the same. Now, older (indeed 366 days older) and wiser (I've seen a special or two), I'm prepared to anoint the production crew of Orphan Black the greatest ever. Some of the camera tricks, despite me knowing the craft behind the magic, were spectacular. Now, was the show itself worthy of all the press? In a word, yes! Maslany added a few more clones to play, but the second series did focus in on the core three clones. Well, four when you include the scenes devoted to wacko Bulgarian clone Helena. Her scenes, mostly in an equally wacko religious sect headquarters, were all a waste of time. The core three of Beth, Alison and Cosima had a story to live through. Cancer-stricken Cosima needed the help of her 'sisters' to help find and then procure the cure for her special strain of problem. That left Beth and Alison to do the heavy lifting, even though Beth ran into a transgendered BROTHER clone Tony and Alison had a small problem with too many people (we're including hubby here) finding out about her murderous recent past. All along, we had Beth's daughter proving she might be the brightest of the lot. Always there to be a brave little girl and having the right word, the right code, the right whatever to move the plot along. Skyler Wexler did an excellent job as young Kira. It was quite the effective stew until the showdown at the end between Beth and evil fellow clone Rachel Duncan. I can just see One-Eyed Rachel being next year's big bad, even as we've had two seasons of Rachel being a big bad in the making, operating mostly from the shadows in the first season. I am really looking forward to what the creative team does for season three.
2 The Musketeers British
When I was old enough to appreciate the charms of Racquel Welch, she appeared in The Three Musketeers, a movie adaption of a particularly loved novel. I had probably re-read Alexandre Dumas's classic three times by the time the movie came out. I, to this day, love anything with the Three Musketeers of Dumas fame. And that includes this ten episode BBC series from England. You all know how the story goes. D'Artagnan decides to join up with the Musketeers, stumbling onto Athos, Porthos and Aramis on the way to Paris. There are the usual mis-communications in the meet-cute, which are all dealt with in short order. Once in Paris, the blue-clad Musketeers and D'Artagnan find themselves doing frequent battle with the Cardinal's Guards, the red-clad personal force of one of history's ultimate villains, Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal has always been played as deliciously evil and power-hungry. Frequently taking moments to work with twirling his mustache and stroking his beard. Signposts of villainy all. But in this series, we have none of the gloss and panache of previous movies and TV moments. The colours are muted, the scenery a muddy brown when it isn't grey. The Guard's wear red, but it's hardly fine livery. The Musketeers favour blue, but can be found in black or brown just as easily. Paris LOOKS like 17th century Paris, including the palace, which regardless of time and place, looks incredible. Which brings me to the ladies of the show, including Queen Anne played by Alexandra Dowling and D'Artagnan's friend, the unfortunately married Constance played by Tamla Kari. In both cases, the ladies frequently remind you of the phrase, “Heaving breasts.” The corsetry does wonders with the very beautiful women. The foppish king Louis played by Ryan Gage is mercurial at best, sometimes dangerously so. And Peter Capaldi, the future Dr. Who, plays Richelieu as almost more of a patriot then a really bad guy. At least for the first half of the series. He falls back into master manipulator after that, which brings me some comfort, and I hope he'll be back in the second series of the show. What about the four gentlemen at the lead of the show? Luke Pasqualino plays D'Artagnan as a callow, but willing, youth who matures greatly over the episodes, as he should. Athos (Tom Burke), Porthos (Howard Charles), and Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) are more than good actors voicing French characters in British accents. The decision to have a black actor (Charles) play Porthos and have his slave heritage worked into the story gave the series depth. Burke's Athos is very complex and serves as the captain in waiting for the group. Aramis is the playboy, who suffers greatly in one episode for being so. Look, I love the Three Musketeers, good or bad. Luckily for you, this is GOOD Musketeers.
1 The Good Wife (LY - 10th)
So we come to the end of this long, long post. The best show on TV this last year was The Good Wife, taking the throne for the second time in four years. The first half of the season was spectacular. Then came an incredible change of course that everybody, including the writers, had a bit of a problem handling. So, the last few stories were a bit of a drop off. But wow, the level of the second half might STILL have been good enough to win The Good Wife the top award. If I'd known Michael Fox was going to make a return to the show as sneaky, snake in the grass litigator Louis Canning for a long run, I'd have been rhapsodic. And his run was almost the least of what went right on the show. What went right initially was the splitting of the Lockhart, Gardner firm by the departures of the third-years, helmed by Alicia Florek (Julianna Margulies) and Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) to form their own firm. This had the effect of melting Josh Charles' Will Gardner's mind. He actually turned heel, if not outright villain. Suddenly, the BAD guys in Chicago were the good guys we rooted for over the previous four years. Wow! The scene of Will sweeping his desk of everything in rage brought on by learning of Alicia's duplicity, was one of the most powerful moments of the year. That set the stage for LG (the newly named Lockhart, Gardner) now to do all out battle with Florek, Agos in court. Above board and frequently below. It was theatre of the highest art. Then it all came crashing down in a courtroom with a kid who shouldn't have been there, an inattentive guard and his gun. A life snuffed out, a war ended by the intrusion of violence, not common sense. Will lay dead in the courtroom and then in the hospital. Two episodes where all the characters had to confront their feelings about Will (and the producers had to point out in several media sources, that Charles was the one who wanted to end his run in the show. It got to the point where Charles had to issue a letter. All to becalm a viewing public that was calling for heads!). Then it was back to lawyering and politicking. Eric Bogosian came in, playing slimy Nelson Dubeck, to go head-hunting in the vote-fixing scandal. He was hunting big game. And while he sniped from the periphery, Canning showed up to become the new Will Gardner. Too much too soon for Diane Lockhart. It quickly became her and Kalinda (still wonderful Archie Punjabi) against the assembled force of Canning and scumbucket David Lee (the always great Zach Grenier). Meanwhile Alicia was becoming more and more disengaged with the law and her new firm. Leading to an explosive final cliff-hanger for the year. Wow, again. Hmmm, what did I overlook here? Oh yeah, there was the season-long (or thereabouts) NSA surveillance on the lawyers. And their Alice in Wonderland attempts to halt it. Appearances from old faves. Yep, this was the best show of the year. And it wasn't even close.