Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Top 25 (or so) TV Shows of 2014-15

FAIR WARNING: The following is 12,000 words long and contains rants, hosannas and descriptions of naughty language. I apologize for none of those things.

Birthday day is here. Time to trot a few thousand words about the DC Universe, cartoons, crazy info-bit websites, a shocking soccer citation and lots of animals. Plus lots of crap.

Yep, I start my list of enjoyable TV by talking about crap. That's CRAP, all in pretentious capital letters. Actually, it's not about the word itself, it's about that OTHER four-letter euphemism about excrement. It's become ubiquitous on non-cable TV shows, as the constraints of not offending Bible-Belters sitting in their living room with their progeny a couple of hours after supper, lose influence over the Cable-verse. So, you hear it ALL. THE. TIME. I'll be complaining jointly about my 22nd-ranked show and it's potty-mouth 'might have been' partner soon enough. But here's one thing to think about. Having ONE character say it 48 times in one one-hour show is not writing to character. It's LAZY writing. I know TV is dumbing down the audience at unprecedented rates, but why hurry it along? The thesaurus that any reasonably capable writer kept handy has given way to WordWeb and Google and other electronic devices. But it's actually given way to the very thought of even using it. Or so it seems. 

Lazy writers not only have characters say it ad nauseam, they have ALL the characters utter it like it wouldn't be wrong to hear it out of the mouths of babes, of whatever age. It's an ugly word and an equally uglier admission that the user simply doesn't have the mental wherewithal to do better. It's a grunt of noise, meaning whatever it needs to mean in general, at any given time. It shows a certain lack of mental acuity to assume EVERY adult uses it without reservation, even when meeting new people for the first time. I don't cut a blue streak until I know who I can swear at/to without offending them greatly. Or whether to do it to actually offend them. It also happens, regrettably, when I lose my temper and go ballistic. I do get out of control at times. And yet, I've never said that word. Not once. And maybe, the bovine version of the word might have escaped my lips once. In now 59 years of patrolling the planet. I can't even WRITE the ##)&$^# word. It offends me that much.

Does that make me a Pollyanna? Yes, so what? My parents raised me right. First time I ever swore (and it was a mild epithet), my mother DID wash my mouth out with soap. I have a Pavlovian response that causes me to get a sudsy taste in my mouth in saltier language times. Enough going off on something STUPID PEOPLE CANNOT CONTROL. I'm a thinking person and can. Writers? You should be too.

Alright, let's kick this off with the biggest disappointment of the year. I thought long and hard about it, lots longer than in the past two years when Arrow was SUCH an easy choice, and came up with The Late Show starring Jon Stewart. Originally, I had it in my tenth slot. And here it is, not in the top 25 and the world is spinning completely out of control. There's nothing wrong with the work of Jessica Williams and the beleaguered Stewart. But the bunch that was brought in to carry the water in the absence of sooooo much talent leaving the show this past year, obviously broke Stewart. Sure, the sure idiocy of the right wing lunatic society known as the American Republican Party and their supporters was always going to push a sane man REQUIRED to watch and comment closer and closer to the edge, to wanting to become ANYTHING ELSE. But we all thought it couldn't happen. It did. Stewart's gone next month. I think Trevor Noah will do an interesting show. But it won't be Stewart's show. A generation has grown up with Stewart. And they've all been set adrift. I feel lost at the thought. So, yeah, even though it really still was a top ten show, the biggest disappointment was The Daily Show (and Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show was a close second). Bill Maher's Real Time was a distant third, only because of his insistence at allowing evil people air time. It's core Americana to allow all their free speech. But there's no reason the free speech has to be on HIS show. NOTE to BILL: Let them yak on Fox, Bill. Otherwise, you really did have a good year. But I've kept including your show each year and there comes a time for having duplicitous twerps on to offend my ears has a price. And ya, putting that price on a piece in a blog nobody ever reads will surely force Maher to my point of view. IF you believe that, then I DO have some swampy Florida real estate that will soon be home to something important. No offer refused. 

Moving on to the 'I've been VERY VERY BAD, Santa' list, we have a bunch of truly heinous shows, including the second season debut show just this week of Spun Out. Add Young Punch Drunk and you have the nadir of Canadian comedy happening before our very feet. I Live with Models, by comparison, looks like Neil Simon writing. It's still dreadful when not compared to Canadian sludge.

Mulaney was about a comedian I've never heard of with a cast of actors and characters that needed Elliot Gould off the bench and the 'should have been benched' Martin Short to avoid the totally forgettable label. Gould was the only slightly dim light in the cast. I'd list the rest of the players, but I can't remember their names, including that one who the series was named after. I DO remember that John Cho and Karen Gillen were in bad fax copy of Pygmalion called Selfie that had no business ever appearing on the air. And look what they did with the incredible beauty of Katharine McPhee in Scorpion and Debra Messing in The Mysteries of Laura. McPhee could read a phone book for all I care. But I still couldn't watch a show about stupid supposedly smart people, even with Robert Patrick trying sooooo hard to stop the rot. And it is coming BACK this fall!!! The idea of making Messing a schlump or slightly less surprising Kate Walsh as a train wreck in Bad Judge, well those are ideas that NEVER should have seen the light of day. Come on, people! Gorgeous, intelligent women and THAT was the best you could come up with? And no, I didn't need my thesaurus for the Messing reference.

Still not the worst. Neither was Black-ish with Anthony Anderson in a show where the jokes would have been just as flat, just as unfunny, if the cast had been about all white. Marsai Martin had a bit of comedic presence. But that was it. How can you make (another) non-funny Anderson comedy? With two strikes on the scoreboard thanks to Guys with Kids, Anderson's a second season of Black-ish from being permanently banished to drama. Anderson is truly gifted comically. Somebody knock him upside the head and tell him stop with the stereo-typically dopey family and get with writing smart stuff that doesn't depend on ethnicity. Laurence Fishbourne, I'm talking to you, sir.

No, the worst crime against humanity this past TV season was Stalker. It was, there's no way around saying it, stalker porn. Hateful. Spiteful. Utter trash. Worse than Dads of last year's infamy which was just massively inept and offensive. Stalker was a how-to manual for the criminally insane. What else can I say? I think every participant should be barred from TV for twenty years for their involvement in making this ... crap and letting it on the air. 

There's no way to go but up from here, right? Let's dive into the honourable mentions with Sir David Attenborough's Conquest of the Skies. Attenborough is one of Britain's national treasures, a silky-voiced man who has made nature acceptable to the nation, indeed, to the world, for more than SEVENTY years now. And it isn't just that famously informed purr of a voice. It's the fact that Attenborough thoroughly loves nature in all of it's glory and loves talking about it and showing gorgeous pictures of it on the telly. Conquest of the Skies stands on it's own, but this placement is almost a life-time achievement award for Attenborough. He is approaching his nineties and it's tough to even contemplate a time when we won't be hearing and watching Attenborough explain how and why nature is as nature seems to be. How much longer he can go scooting over a Scottish loch in a speed boat while a flapping goose wing is inches away from his noggin, is anybody's guess. I'd rather the answer to be measured in decades when I know that's not possible. I've collected what I can of the Attenborough collection of outstanding nature TV. Conquest of the Skies is very good in that company, telling the story of how flight developed amongst the various animals that have lived on earth over the millennia from the first winged insects to the flying dinosaurs to today's birds and flying mammals. It's all interesting stuff. And the best episode was the 'Making Of' fifth episode. Gawd, I hope he has another twenty series in the can. I wish him the best of productive health into the far, far future.

Although the cream of the animated crop was very good indeed, I was still hurting for finding ways to get Beware the Batman's second half of it's single season or Karen Senki (Japanese anime) onto the ranking list. Karen Senki came close as an interesting take on future distopias, with the source of all the 'dis' in the distopia being robots turning into overlords for the human race. Karen Senki was actually really well done, but suffered from the usual anime-obsessed butt shots from a mini-skirt perspective. I was the only Beware the Batman fan last year, so it's okay to be lonely with the same happiness that I got at least 13 extra intelligent shows this year. And it WAS a comic-book year extraordinaire, after all. Quick thank you to Netflix for a third season of Dragons. Plus, the taste I got of Mechanima's Justlce League: Gods and Monsters makes it a must see this coming year. 

Comic Book Men couldn't wrangle a fifth straight year in the nether regions of the top 25. These are my peeps. Brian Johnson IS me, with a longer beard, a bigger presence and important friends. But the reason Comic Book Men, Kevin Smith's vanity project with his comic store, is down here is that there's just a LITTLE too much crushing of people coming into the store to peddle their little treasures. It's educational, the going rate for comic stores to purchase other people's treasures being around 25 per cent of value. But there's a certain sameness to the whole series and I'm detecting a little disdain and even some dislike for customers from Walt and the boys. Brian always was disdainful, but now he has peers. 

Hotel India and The Queen's Castle were two extraordinarily good shows about palaces. The first show features Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace, the country's grandest hotel. The history, culture and contrast that is the Taj Mahal was hugely entertaining. It even discussed that horrible terrorist attack where the hotel was almost taken over by the religious zealots from Pakistan, bringing hatred and death directly to the lives of the rich and famous. The Queen's Castle show was NOT about Buckingham Palace, but about Windsor Castle, the true family home of Queen Elizabeth II of England. The creators were given unprecedented access to the castle over almost a year and the results were spectacular. The two shows contrasted and compared showpiece homes with frequent visitors. Very worth your time to hunt for them on BBC Canada.

I split on repeats of the two violent offenders. Vikings makes honourable mention for a second straight year. Banshee's third year? Disappointing. It has petered out, as has Strike Back. The Americans lost the paranoia at it's core and turned into a "Let's save Nina" adventure. I'm glad we had not seen the last of Annet Mahendru as Nina, but the show suffered greatly in it's third season from the almost complete absence of Margo Martindale's Claudia. At least she got one show in. Not enough to keep The Americans in a higher perch, but to still comfortably recommend the show.  Gadget Man just hangs on to it's HM spot. Love the show, the gadgetry and I don't mind NOT BEING ELIGIBLE for the bling contest it runs. But you have to really have a passion for tech to overcome the continuing fact that Richard Ayoade has replaced Stephen Fry permanently. The man's deadpan delivery, 'fro from the wild side, and candy-coloured suits tends to offend the eye and ear. But did I mention the tech BLING!!!! Did you just catch me sneaking in Would I Lie to You here to keep it, as always, forever on my list? Hope so. 

By the way, I once swore fealty to The Big Bang Theory. This is the only mention of the show this year. And it's NOT an Honourable Mention.

Time to throw in all these show notes I've been keeping this year. Here's the Top 25. I frame this list as always with no implications that these are the best 25 (or so, but less than 50, I promise) shows. They are the ones that entertained and informed me the most. My tastes. My list. Them's the rules.

25: The Lion Queen (South Africa) ties The Lion Man (South Africa/New Zealand) via UK's Animal Planet

Why choose amongst the safari parks run by either Andi Rive or Craig Busch? Now, admittedly, I've just discovered The Lion Man which has head ham Busch making the most of the magnificence of Jabullah, the white lion and star of South Africa's Jabullah Big Cat Sanctuary. Jabullah is simply awesome, a huge cat with a kitty-kat disposition, most of the time. Busch is (was, this show started in 2007) in love with the sound of his own voice, but you can see the love he has for big cats and he honestly looks like he is doing the best he can for them. A bit of a hammy Tarzan, with Ranger Rick-type outfits. I haven't chosen BETWEEN the two lion-oriented shows, but if I did, I'd admit I'm utterly infatuated with Rive, the owner and last hope for the Glen Garriff Lion Reserve. I can't help myself. Let's get my admiration for Rive, the real life Lion Queen out of the way. If it were remotely possible she'd consider a proposal, I'd be on the first plane to South Africa and get down on one creaky old knee and ask if she'd accept a hand in helping out with her lion preserve. This is one seriously capable person, a mid-wife by training, who showed up to help a friend with her failing, lawsuit-threatened sanctuary for Lions that she inherited from a husband, ill-suited to fulfill his truly noble venture. Rive and fellow idealistic Lion-lover Kathy, preside over a group of lions with personality plus. The plucky twosome and their African helpers go from one finance-created crisis to the next, which is the only flaw in the show, since it borders on whining. But being reality TV, such flaws are expected and accepted. I hate cats, and lions are really just big pussies with REAL BIG teeth. But for this show, and for the male counterpart, I'll make exceptions. 

24: Hack My Life ties with Hacking the System ties with Crazy Russian Hacker (YouTube) ties with Mental Floss (YouTube)

I just realized I'm going to have more than 30 shows in my Top 25. That's what I get for writing this piecemeal, again. Oh well. Four 'shows' occupy the not-so-coveted 24th slot in the rankings. Each of the first three shows are really about life-hacks, not my programming brethren with a bit of nefarious in their personalities. Hack My Life brought Kevin Pereira back to my screen, long missed by me since his departure from Attack of the Show heralding the end for that long-running computer-oriented show. He and Brooke Van Poppelen have decent chemistry in trying out various hacks that legendarily work ... or not. Failure was one very funny option. It's been renewed by truTV and I'm looking forward to more. The YouTube channel Crazy Russian Hacker features Russian expatriot Taras Kul who does most of the testing himself. Or at least when not trying things out on his gorgeous Siberian Husky, Luka. He starts each episode with "Safety is the priority." I THINK that's what he says. The accent's pretty thick. He's honestly very likable, with a kid-like ability to answer questions that start with, "What if ..." You can't NOT like a guy who likes dogs and science. The Mental Floss channel, most notably known as a shoot off of famous VLogBrother John Green, frequently features hacks (mostly of the demystifying kind). Green is the author of many popular touchy-feely books, including one that is the basis for the upcoming Paper Cards movie. Lastly, Hacking the System is a Brian Brushwood starring vehicle. And Brushwood, who is legitimately a star in the computer world, as well as a gambler, magician and performance artist of some renown, spent whole shows either helping you out or scaring you witless. You'll never trust your security again, after watching Brushwood stalk a man who KNEW he was coming, and was powerless to prevent Brushwood from taking over his home. Try these shows as bits and pieces, a little dessert after some other heavy-handed show. 

23: StarTalk with Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Nothing heavy-handed about Tyson, nor any subtlety. Tyson is simply the most enthusiastic astronomer in the universe. He's Carl Sagan meets Richard Simmons, earnestness combined with expertise, a willingness to go outside his comfort zone and a TV presence that's made him and Bill Nye, the Science Guy the go-to people for questions about the skies. Indeed, Nye has a feature on each StarTalk. So you get all the astronomical telepresences we currently have, in one usually fairly-focused hour of talking about some aspect of science and it's impact on life on Earth. I like Tyson and his ability to talk to the masses. He's got a schtick that really does go back to Sagan, his boyhood hero. He met him and that set in concrete his life's path since. Hot as a nova after last year's remake of Sagan's seminal Cosmos, Tyson does a talk show that bears paying attention to. If he's in your interest spectrum, make sure you try and catch episodes.

22: Marvel's Daredevil

Honestly, this is the crap slot. And just as honestly, I've waited for years for Suits to grab this level of ranking. But I can't. And that is despite having Meaghan Markle and Sarah Rafferty occupying my dreams for a half-decade. Beautiful and feisty Rachel Zane (Markle) and sexy and all-knowing Donna Paulsen (Rafferty) are almost worth watching the show. But lead Gabrial Macht plays a truly unlikable lawyer in this legal show and if you aren't a fan of the human hamster, Rick Hoffman (plays Lous Litt), then you will not be able to work up enthusiasm for the show. I was borderline, just waiting for the writers to give up the cheap, lazy, shiftless (yeah, an intentional word choice) writing that keeps me from recommending you spend an hour with Meaghan and Sarah once a week. The writers simply take too much leeway in going off basic cable and turn the air into one crappy brown mess. Which also happens in Daredevil. An otherwise well-casted delight paean to Frank Miller comic book fans. One character, a female character, uses the word 48 times in a one-hour show that doesn't actually run 48 minutes in running time. That's a scatological bomb about once every 52 seconds of running time. Completely, and utterly, clueless. Sure, she's in the midst of a rough go, with a boss who dresses up, not quite in his jammies, but close, and fights crime in dimly-lot hallways for 13 episodes. About three hours too many. The pace, as my brother observed, was turgid. (Can I get any MORE obvious?). Complaints aside, Netflix has a winner with this one. Charlie Cox is perfect as Matt Murdock/Daredevil and Elden Hensen is even better as his partner Foggy Nelson. The foul-mouthed Karen Page is actually otherwise handled with aplomb by Deborah Ann Woll. I was disappointed in the rather ordinary hairstyle favoured by Bob Gunton's Leland Owsley. The Owl is one of the seminal Daredevil villains. But any disappointment in the Owl was more than overcome by the bravura performance put on by Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin. D'Onofrio's famous for his method acting, but he had ME believing his mannered but vicious Kingpin was every bit the evil doer I've known him to be over the last 40 years. A better pace and some smartly avoided potty mouth and this is number 22 with a bullet. I REALLY can see this being the best show on TV next year. Or the biggest disappointment. And yay for the battlesuit appearance at the end!

21: Mom (#15 Last Year)

A seriously not-funny thing happened to Mom. It turned into a drama with a few jokes thrown in. A REALLY downer of a turn. And one, that head honcho Chuck Lorre was rightfully afraid would cost him viewers. Said so on one of Lorre's vanity cards. So, how to evaluate the half-hour tragic almost-dramedy on these new specifications? The first impressions were really, really bad. The various Moms and Roscoe (Blake Rosenthal) and the ever-unpleasant Violet (Sadie Calvano) ended up homeless ... which isn't as funny as you might think. Or could imagine in your worst nightmares. But a half-dozen or so episodes in, with new digs seeming to have some permanence, Mom started becoming watchable again. I mean, really, the show was always worth watching because eldest Mom Allison Janney has turned Bonnie into an open invitation to attend the Emmy's forever (and expect to win most years). But it took awhile to have things settle. Before it became unsettled again. Up and down it went. Just like life, I guess. At the end, here the show sits at the tail end of the most entertaining show list. Anna Faris's Christy still remains eminently likable and Mimi Kennedy shows up to serve as the moral compass everybody else seems only to be able to see in rare moments, as cancer-stricken Marjorie. A word of gratitude for the appearances of Christy's ex, Baxter, played with mirthful befuddlement by Matt L. Jones. Mom isn't quite a dramedy and it's lost it's comedy credentials. IS there a word to combine tragedy and comedy. TragiDramaComedy? Watch and email me the answer to that one. Please! Lorre has made his point. Now, I just wish he could give me back my laughs without the utter sadness he surrounds it with.

20: iZombie

Puhlease spare me from zombies! It's a genre I hate with a passion. Zombie shows are brainless, created by the video game industry to legitimize brainlessly shooting guns off in games that would be banned on SOOOOOO many levels otherwise. That there's now a thriving book and movie industry to go along with the video games is one of the first signs of the apocalypse coming this century. Maybe even this decade. HOW in the world, did zombies become interesting, let alone popular? Well, in a word, they aren't interesting. Simple as that. Zombie lovers have no life. And this from a virtual recluse who needs nurses regularly. I hate zombies. I hope that's clear ... And I love iZombie, another borderline DC Universe comic (DC uses the Vertigo Books brand on it, most of the time). Hunh??? Okay, the comic itself has become something visually interesting thanks to artist Mike Allred. So, my guilty pleasure over the art is now in the open. And the TV show comes from the folks behind all-time fave Veronica Mars. Plus, Rob Thomas got David Anders to be the villainous Blaine DeBeers. So, the show was a worth a look. And I fell in love wth perky Rose McIver playing zombie/coroner Liv Moore. I would have liked McIver a bit punkier in look, hiding her dire secret that she treated the job as her restaurant. But the Allred visuals continued apace. Thomas' take on the coroner with special powers talent saw McIver simply replace chowing down on skull contents for the mumbo jumbo Eliza Dusku did from a similar situation in the late lamented Tru Calling. Liv became a crime-solving dynamo, despite her limited diet. If you have to make an exception to the Zombie's Stink (Literally) rule, this is the show to hold out for. Funny, sometimes thrilling, a bit of occasional whodunnit mystery makes for a marvelous melange. One question though, who names their kid Major Lilywhite?

19: Cristela

I get that the great looking Latina show this year was a couple of networks over where Jane the Virgin made a lot of fun of telenovelos and had cute as a button Gina Rodriguez in as many scenes as possible. It's the show that's coming back, after all. But honestly, and out here in public, I'd rather spend a half-hour with Cristela Alonzo than with Rodriguez's loopy hour long silly-fest any day. Alonzo's character, based on herself, has immense heart, being Latina in a law office in Texas, where her minority status and the fact she's a woman working her way through law school at nights, makes for a gritty mash-up. Stock characters, stock situation, made different on TV only by Alonzo's being Hispanic, this could have been a horrible vanity project. Not mentioning any guys named George, but belittling Mexican Americans on TV seems too easy. And has for years. It was the fact that this show played true to the Mexican-American nature that I've met that won me over. Big hearts abound and even the stock Caucasian characters have a tad bit more depth than expected. I liked that Andrew Leeds' Josh figured out the jewel that was Cristela and came on puppy-dog strong barely a few episodes in. Loved that the Boss's spoiled oblivious kid had some brains. Cristela's family argued like all families I know, but pulled together when needed. Roxana Ortega's Daniela was the family's answer to the aforementioned Justine Lupe's Maddie back at the office. Hubby Carlos Ponce (Felix) was just the right amount of acerbic and the backbone to the family. And hard to love Mama, Terry Hoyos' Natalia, somehow ended up lovable in every episode. I liked the kids too. I just liked everybody and didn't mind spending 30 minutes with them each week. I'm going to miss Cristela on the air in this show. She (the actual actress) will be back, probably in supporting roles in movies. Unless you're George Lopez, you don't get multiple chances to do damage to the image of that group more than once. Well, TV-wise. Can't ignore the abilities of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and The Hair Himself, Donald Trump.  So, until we meet again, adios. It was good knowing you Cristela.

18: Girl Meets World

I've done lots of things in my life that I anxiously waited to do perfectly. Just once. A perfect Bridge game, a perfect radio sports broadcast. A perfect first draft of something I wrote. I've had three perfect Bridge games now, one broadcast and never a first draft that went untouched. I still yearn. You get the idea. We all have that one or two (or more) things that we'd like to pull off a perfect version of. Just once, in most cases. The casting directors for Girl Meets World can scratch casting a TV show off their bucket list. Girl Meets World is perfectly casted and perfectly charming. Oh, the casting directors had an easy start, taking the whole Boy Meets World universe and looking at it through the lens of time. I can't think of too many BMW characters that matter who haven't shown up in Disney's re-do. Ben Savage's Cory Matthews is all grown up and now has the William Daniels role as a teacher. Daniels still shows up as Mr. Feeny and word has it that he has taped scenes specially designed to be end-pieces for the show's season, even if it runs years. Which is just bloody brilliant, because it's going to last seven years minimum. The scene with the evocation of Feeny at the end of the pilot was the clinching touch on me becoming a week in, week out fan ... despite Disney having the usual eclectic first-run schedule. Of course, where there's Cory, there's Danielle Fishel's Topanga, the lawyerly wife and reasoning core of the family. Rider Strong's Shawn Hunter is a semi-regular, as is Danny McNulty, the school janitor and one-time terrorizing bully back on the original. Cory's brothers Eric (Will Friedle) and Josh (Uriah Shelton) have also made multiple re-appearances, as have the parents William Russ and Bettsy Randle. And there's even been a sighting of Lee Norris as Minkus. He's the father of new Minkus, Farkle, played with hilarity by Corey Fogelmanis. He's ... perfectly weird and a good counter-weight to Peyton Meyer. Meyer might, MIGHT I say, be a little too mature for this middle school comedy. But he's the kind of potential boyfriend you can be sure Cory would want for his daughter Riley, played with winning charm by Rowan Blanchard. Blanchard is gawky, goofy, girly and a future star. She might be already. Playing her best friend Maya, the tough as nails best friend role, is Sabrina Carpenter who I was familiar with from The Goodwin Games. Her step up in quality is breathtaking. SHE's going to be a star too. Plus Disney has the two girls sing the infernally infectious theme song. Don't binge watch this show. The song will NEVER leave your head. Better get in a plug for the new youngest kid, Augie Maturo playing ... Augie! Time and space is rounding down. Can't forget to mention the casting folks who smile today: Brett Greenstein, Collin Daniel, Sally Stiner and Barbie Blalock. Congrats ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for remaking what was a great memory into more great memories. 

NOTE: Last night's episode of Girl Meets World was TV's single best HALF-hour of the year for me. It featured the written works of Frank Miller and Harper Lee and yet more Boy Meets World cross-over in a story that emphasizes the need for education to stave off evil in the world. I commend the creators for putting that message in a way even old fogies like me can comprehend. It was the best birthday present I got this year.

17: Bosch

Bosch is not a kid's show. What it is, is a really credible video version of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, a beaten down and weary LA cop with a million-dollar view ... supplied by a movie made of one of his earlier adventures. Bosch=gritty. Bosch=bad guy catcher. Bosch=bad politics. None of the tropes are new, but one thing is definitely new. Titus Welliver, traditionally a thoroughly good baddie or second banana, tackles the titular hero's role here. It would be real easy to say I like the show because I love Michael Connelly's books. Or, it might be easy to say I hated the show because it isn't exactly like (one of) the books. But this series stands up on it's own. Bosch's crusty and cranky at the best of times, and a tad too willing to break the rules and bed down a policewoman who shouldn't be a cop in the first place. Annie Wersching plays Julia with just a tad of Glenn Close lite menace. She's a manipulative little so-and-so who doesn't understand just how flawed she is. And she has a gun. Of course, there are REAL bad guys around, chiefly Deputy Chief Irvin Irving (love that name). He's played with menacing presence by Lance Reddick, who's steely demeanor, soft voice and willingness to get dirty in the politics game, means Bosch has to watch his back. Reddick is always welcome on the screen, a sort of anti-Morgan Freeman. Bosch has to look over his shoulder for Irving while tracking down and trying to cage the crazier-than-a-loon Raynard Waits, played by Jason Gedrick. The whole ten-episode Amazon series feels just like one of Connelly's books, right down to the self-aware mentions of The Black Echo, which was itself turned into a movie, in real life and for the background in this show. If you like Connelly, you WILL like this book on TV. If not, learn to like it. Twenty books and a second season of this show await you. 

16: Arrow

It IS the year of the DC universe, with more to come. More than one more to come. It's DC all the time on my TV, it seems this year. Still abhor the flashbacks (and wouldn't the flashbacks be something better confined to, oh, I don't know, The Flash?!?! No actually, I like that show better). Still it was good to see Sarah out of the way and Dinah on the way to Black Canary-hood. What, too soon for Sarah dying jokes? Or not dying. Oops SPOILER!!! The show seemed to fall into a decent criminal of the week as it built up to the season-ending climax, a second showdown with Ra's Al Ghul. The twists and turns could still be seen a mile away. But it all worked in ways that left gloomy ol' Starling City still without a Star to call it's own (name) and a star with some little, tiny, teensy displays of emoting. While he was doing the dance that will eventually lead back to Dinah, despite the last scene (ooops SPOILER), Stephen Amell's Oliver did briefly consider the TV-better dalliance with Emily Bett Rickard's Felicity Smoak. Would not have argued with that one at all, and this coming from a DC Comics purist. Still, the eternal romantic triangle spread to include Brandon Routh's Ray Palmer, the Atom. Routh has a little Super in his background too, and an annoying, interfering story arc on Chuck. Here, not so much of an issue. And he's headed elsewhere in the DC TV universe come the fall anyways. Still, any show without Ray was better than with. Fall's departure for a new show can't come soon enough. Hey, it's all in good fun. From two years running listing on Most Disappointing to a top 15 performance. Who says Green Arrow is strictly a minor-leaguer. I THINK the show has finally run out of flashbacks. No island, just Hong Kong and that's played out. All the bits and pieces of a DC comic book come to life have finally emerged on TV. Happy to see it. Welcome to respectability Arrow!

15: Forever

Another show with no future. Forever used to mean never having to say you're sorry. But I really am sorry we won't find out if NYC Medical examiner Henry Morgan will ever get the girl, NYPD detective Jo Martinez. Morgan a two hundred and some odd year old Englishman, played with stiff upper lip by Ioan Gruffudd, needs to put his considerable history aside and realize that Alana De La Garza's strikingly beautiful Jo is just the person to put Henry's long suffering love life back in play. Problem is, she doesn't know he's cursed with eternal life, and a frequent skinny dipper when he DOES sort of die (It happens more often than you'd think), and he's oblivious to the signals she's putting out like a raging Harlem fire. Can the two lovebirds get it all together? We'll never know. But I WAS interested in finding out, being an incurable romantic. Cough, cough. I liked the crowd around those two. Judd Hirsch played Henry's adopted boy Abe, who appears old enough to be his father. The medical examiner office includes an able and quirky in his own right number two, Lucas Wan (played by Joel David Moore, a perpetually good second banana as an actor). The other cops, Donnie Kersawarz (Detective Hanson) and Lorraine Toussaint (Lt. Joanna Reece), were smart if occasionally able to ignore what was going on in their midst. I LIKED all of them. I DISLIKED duplicitous baddie Adam/Dr. Farber, a deranged fellow immortal played by Burn Gorman. His actions were pretty heinous for a TV show. And for added spice, Hilarie Burton, who can do no wrong, was a re-occurring sex therapist. Forever never completely fit the police procedural, paranormal or romance niches and that's why it never caught an audience or a renewal. Too bad. In MY imagined future, Henry and Jo get past the immortal thing and start a new generation of little Abe's. At last, a legitimate heir.

14: The Good Wife (#1 Last Year)

The descent into the depths of the top fifteen starts. As contracts for the original players expire and keeping them around gets more expensive each year, change is inevitable. This year, that change really started to affect the show. It's dropped from first all the way to an unfathomable 14th this year. Oh, the horror! Done in by politics. A horrible, hateful thing to have happen to a good lawyer show. Nay, a GREAT lawyer show. But politics is ugly. It's dirty. It's demeaning. It's intellectually dishonest because all the rules that prevent lawyers from JUMPING over the line (plenty of skirting the line) don't apply to politics. When it was over, this season diminished The Good Wife. It was a holding blip, only there to let loose some long time characters (and who's going to forgive management for not ponying up for more Kalinda?). What kind of future awaits Julianna Margulies, Matt Czuchry, Christine Baranski et al? I really don't know. Electioneering fever has hit the States hard as candidates campaign to become the World's Most Powerful Person. The Good Wife tried to get out ahead of that surge and paid for it by becoming NOT the best show on Sunday nights, let alone of the whole season. And in a way, that's too bad. David Hyde Pierce really was good as Alicia's opponent all year long. I think he's going to be a thorn in her backside next year ... assuming she ends up defending good guys and bad guys in Chicago. But that's all that went well this season. Well, that and Archie Punjabi's year-long good-bye as Kalinda. The Good Wife has fallen from grace before, only to re-emerge as the best show on TV. It's telling that in an indescribably ordinary season, there's only a baker's dozen of shows I'd prefer to it. Quality will tell. But with more of those rote seven-year commitments coming up, I question how much longer The Good Wife rules the airwaves (cable signals refreshing?).

13: Dog's Best Friend

This is my top animal show from last year. I LOVED this show. It was all about goofy animal friend pairings and MOST of them involved a dog. With a dolphin, with a rhino, with all kinds of cats, an orangutan and even a bird or two. The one with a dog and an elephant was maybe the best. I love dogs and this show points out the soul that makes dogs just about the greatest gift to humanity that there ever was. I loved this show about unusual combinations of animals being best pals.  And ... well, time to stop burbling, you get the idea. Plus, we had Clive the Animal Psychologist, a sort of Australian dog whisperer with some degrees after his name. He was a hoot, what with him being a dead ringer for Patrick Stewart and the fact he was talking through his hat, while wearing a hat. I'm a sucker for zoo shows, and this one was my favourite amongst the animal shows. But now that I don't have any more animal slots, I just remembered I should mention as a sort of honourable honourable mention that I spent a LOT of time also watching Anna's Wild and Zoo Juniors. Baby animals are so adorable, that they even make me melt. Animals that play and horse around together are the only thing better. Burble, burble, laugh gleefully. An animal show that starts with the premise that a smile, a chuckle, a grin or an outright laugh is good for all animals, well that's cause for watching.

12: The Manageress (UK) tied with The Women's World Cup of Soccer (Canada)

What the dickens has gotten into me. I've come before you today admitting I've liked Zombies and paranormal romances and now, at the end, I'm confessing I liked not one show, but TWO shows about soccer. A game I simply have ignore happily and willfully for decades. Back in my sports reporting days, I took on almost every beat, with the promise that none of them was soccer. I did pigeon racing, martial arts (judo and karate, none of that street-brawling thuggery that passes for MMA these days), spelling and bowling, specifically to avoid soccer. Yes, I watched my niece play (at) soccer. Yes, I would have Men's World Cup games playing in the background while I did ANYTHING else. And yes, I have watched the odd 'big' Toronto FC game over the years. But until the rise of the Canadian Women's Junior program last century, I had no rooting interest. I have now. I'm a big Christine Sinclair fan. She's quintessentially Canadian. Shy, humble and a good person, who's on anybody's short list of greatest players of all time. A couple of outstanding local girls from here in Brampton, Kadeisha Buchanon and Ashley Lawrence, have linked me through to the next generation of Team Canada Women. I watched each game I could during the event and up to it, that feature John Herdman's ladies. Never regretted a moment ... until the final whistle of the quarter-final loss to England. After that, lost any interest in what turned out to be a victory by an obnoxious bunch of Americans and nothing Fox had to say would change that reality behind the sleek production values. So, let's say the ending to the mini-series was lacking, but it was still a worthwhile watch. What surprised me in the weeks leading up to the Cup, which was held here in Canada, was that I chanced upon the two seasons of an English TV series, circa 1989-1990, called The Manageress. Woman takes over the managing of a Second Division side in England and leads them, well, almost to something akin a victory, a promotion. But in reality, there are two story-lines crossing in the story. Cherie Lunghi is a very attractive woman. Nuff said. Twenty five years ago, she benefited from that beauty, the bloom of youth and a VERY sexy Italian accent. Whether she pulled up these neanderthals into the upcoming 21st century really didn't matter. The show really didn't paint a positive picture of the state of progressive thinking in soccer. And honestly, nothing's changed that I could detect. But the REAL reason for watching the two series (in Britain, seasons are called series), was the second story-line. Warren Clarke chomped his cigar through 12 episodes, trying to steal every pound note he saw passing him by, as the owner/president of the local side. Clarke looked and acted like a frog newly jumped into a pond swarming with flies. His character was as bent as any really not honest guy could be, and always seemed to find somebody else to enjoy his criminal enterprises with. Including Lunghi's character's husband and father (respectively Paul Geoffrey and Sergio Fantoni). Watching Clarke scheme and connive is why I enjoyed The Manageress. Honest. But Lunghi didn't hurt.

11: QI Uncut (UK)

ELEVEN SEASONS went by before I clued in that QI, the leading British faux quiz game was worth my attention. Miraculously, I've managed to accumulate all of them, plus this year's 12th series, and have regularly made attempts to catch up. It's been extremely delightful. Thanks to a positive review by a gasbag of a writer from North Carolina, I just discovered this hour-long gab-bag of trivia and jokes this year. It stars Stephen Fry (Formerly of Gadget Man fame, as well as many other TV shows and lots of books), Alan Davies and an ever-changing cast of British funny men and women. Fry runs the faux game show with a light touch and an preposterous scoring system. Each year's series are alphabetically themed with this season being "L." Having watched all of L, I've gotten through of most A to E. In the the race to get the old episodes, I tried hard to get the uncut version. Didn't get them all, but a good percentage. And you should definitely watch the uncut version. It can be a tad raunchy at times, but it's an hour of educational badinage, as adverse the (occasionally, clumsily) heavily-edited half-hour version.  The questions are almost always obtuse or an obvious trick question. But the answer can inform and the jokes usually entertain. Just once, I'd like the answer to "How many moons does Earth have?" be the same, one year to the next. Since the comedians really don't have much in the way of physical comedy talents to play to, this really is a clever show. My brother Rick doesn't have much time for Fry (says, "He," speaking of Fry, "thinks he's this century's version of Oscar Wilde."), but I enjoy Fry name-dropping royals he's pals (and relatives) with and trying every accent known to man as the years stretch on. He was heavier handed in the earlier years, letting sexual double-entendres drip from every joke. But that phase has passed and now he's merely the ringmaster, letting each of the four comedic talents try their hand in the spotlight. And trust me, when you REALLY do know an answer, it'll give you nothing but confidence for a week. Or roughly the time it takes for another episode with it's impossible questions to come out. One last thing ... QI stands for Quite Interesting).

10: Orphan Black (Canada) (#3 Last Year)

Tatiana Maslany is simply outstanding. Every week during the time Orphan Black runs a new season, Maslany plays multiple characters. Usually five in a given week, sometimes more. All clones, but all distinct. There's super serious, super mom Sarah, batty soccer mom Alison, health-impaired science whiz kid Cosima, evil evil (not a typo) Rachel and wackier than Alison could ever be, Helena. And I think there were three other clones this year at one time or another. All distinct. All filmed beautifully and written so well that there's no problem knowing who's who, even when one's playing one of the others. It's a year tour de force and there's simply no end to the accolades Maslany has deserved over the last three years. But the story started getting old this year and even the multi-character playing Ari Millen (he's the clones, Miller, Rudy and Seth, just to name three) didn't really ratchet up the enjoyment factor. The religious loons continue to be boring characters. But the light really shone when focus was put on the Hendrix family. Hubby Kristian Bruun continued to evolve, if aspire to things beyond him. And while Alison's veering off into both local politics in a race for the school board and into the role as the area's drug dealer seemed a little ... borrowed, anytime the Hendrixes were front and centre, I found myself wondering what WOULD happen next. Through it all, Jordan Gavaris gave weekly depth to Felix Dawkins, Sarah's foster sibling, gay guy and muse to all of the various clones. Orphan Black started as a concept and an acting exercise. It's become something better, but not as good as it could be. Where it goes in season four frankly baffles me. I have to think my prediction of Rachel being the Big Bad this year might have been merely a year too early. And a face-off between Rachel and Sarah promises to be explosive, since merely poking a pencil through her left eye hasn't seemed to stop Rachel. 

9: Tyrant

Evil isn't always black and white. Evil is frequently complex. And no show demonstrates that more than Tyrant, which hadn't finished its first season last year when my Top 25 list went to pixilated print. The surprise ending twisted the show from something slightly less than great into something worthwhile watching, as Ashraf Barhom turned the tables on Adam Rayner when the two Al Fyseed brothers battled to takeover the fictionalized country of Abuddin cough cough Yemen. Any thoughts that Rayner's Bassam would lead the coup to overthrow Barhom's Jamal went topsy turvy on the waves during a peaceful outing on the family boat in last year's season capper. It was pretty good TV. Because it unwound a lot of expectations. This year's story-line started with the apparent death sentence of Bassam, carried out almost personally by Jamaal. But things are not as they seem and Abuddin is soon in turmoil. Outguessing the writers, thinking they are merely wafting American poetic on the constant internecine rivalries in the Arabic peninsula is a waste of time. Every time Bassam seems clear to head back to America, he's drawn back into Abuddin. Rayner's the least interesting guy in the pair, a do-gooder at heart who watches as he's drawn into bad thing after bad thing. (Don't forget who pulled the trigger first, as kids). But Barhom is fantastic as Jamaal, an undeniably evil tyrant in the making, who JUST misses making the wise and just decision every step along the way. He WANTS to be loved and thought of as benign and benevolent. He isn't. He's a rapist and a murderer. Multiple times. His uncle, the very model of evilness, sometimes becomes his sword arm. But in the end, he's at fault for all of his failings. Around him, his loving wife is, to be charitable, hell on wheels. She's traded her body for position, cares deeply that nobody knows that, and when push comes to shove, she'd be first in line to be a mass murderess. Moran Atias seemingly proves that the female is the deadliest of the species. Bassam, of course, has an American family headed up by do-gooding wife Molly, played by Jennifer Finnigan. She's always been a favourite being also Canadian. Not a big fan of the kids Molly's trying to ride herd on, now that Bassam (aka Barry on this side of the Atlantic) is presumed dead. Noah Silver plays Sammy as a whining, obnoxious man-child, anxious to spend his inheritance. Anne Winters does a bit better as Anne, but Anne's eyes get plenty big when she finds out her dad grew up in a palace. this is a richly drawn show with the poor and powerless only now realizing the rich and powerful are actually not omnipotent. Nobody comes across as completely good, not even Bassam and Molly. But does Evil with a capital E have what it takes to come out on top in the upcoming war? That's the question. And the answer is not obvious. At least to me.

8: Gotham

Yep, another DC comics Universe show. One that got out to very good reviews. But one that caused me some reservations. Mostly on my part because of a mistake. I remember watching the horrid pilot of Scorpion on a September Monday night and being transfixed by Katharine McPhee as I watched the show around her drown in dumbness. Then, virtually the first shot in Gotham was of Selina Kyle. And my faith in TV was restored. It looked like Gotham was going to be good and there'd be plenty of pretty women. THEN I heard the Selina character speak. Or rather squeak. The girl, and make no mistake, this is a middle-school aged girl, played by Camren Bicondova, was made to look older, more street smart. And that bothered me. There's something profoundly icky about a middle school kid being played sexy. That first impression coloured my impression of Gotham for several weeks. But then my comic book fanboy roots started showing and I started enjoying this Batman comic book, that never was, turned into a quite good TV show. This is the Batman of the 1940's, re-imagined into an almost current setting. Think toned-down Tim Burton. The villains are mob bosses and big politico's, not super-powered freaks fond of wearing their underwear on the outside of their long-johns, although the early starts of that phenomena became more apparent as the season wore on. The women are sexy, dangerous and given to placing their trust in the wrong men. We see future front-liners, who have their own stories to tell, get them started. Young Selina and Young Bruce Wayne start their pas de deux. The Gotham Police Department that plays a background role in Batman the comic, becomes the star of the show here, in the embodiment of Jim Gordon, as played by Benjamin McKenzie. Gordan starts the process of taking over, of becoming law in Gotham, a law shared with any and all. His padre, his leading light in the house is Donal Logue, the long-time cop Harvey Bullock, a sell-out to get by, who finds new internal strength at the prodding of his partner. He even starts behaving like a good guy. Not all the time. But enough that Gordan keeps him close. We don't just see future Catwoman Kyle. there's Ed Nygma, in the process of becoming the Riddler. And most especially, in the performance of the series, we see Robin L. Taylor turn punchline Oswald Cobblepot into The Penguin, an underling with murderous intent on becoming a Boss. It's a compelling mess of a place in a time that never was, but it's got a lot of promise. Even after the bad start. One of the season's best new shows. And you had to love future Batman David Mazouz finding the stairs to the Batcave in the last shot.

7: Star Wars: Rebels

I have an admission. I liked, but didn't love, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Certainly had my thumbs up in year one and watched the second year hoping for better writing and animation and new characters. I got two out of three. But the animation never improved and I got worn out on the series by the third of the five seasons. Haven't watched the last two, although the sets are within easy reach. So, it was with cautious skepticism that I watched the pilot show for Star Wars: Rebels. And for that hour, I remembered back to the excitement of watching the original movie back in 1977.  I was already aware that Star Wars was coming via articles in one of Jim Steranko's magazines. Thus, I managed to get in and see it on opening day, before word hit that this was going to be the movie of the summer, if not the year. A month earlier, I had been sitting in the stands, freezing, at the first ever Toronto Blue Jays home game. It was quite a big four weeks. Both remain vivid memories. So, Rebels had a high bar to try and meet. And it succeeded. The animation is softer, more life-like, especially with life forms not anywhere close to our own. There's still the stylized quirks in designs for the bad guys. Top voice talents like Jason Isaacs (The Inquisitor) and David Oyelowo (Agent Kallus) play villains, with British accents being the norm for the bad guys. It's been almost a truism, that bad guys all have British accents in Star Wars. Going back to the original, which was largely made with British crews. Speaking of which, this series is placed in time just before the events of that first movie. On the other hand, the Rebels aboard the Ghost are a well-thought out crew that includes Freddie Prinze Jr. voicing one of the last of his generation of Jedi knights, Kanan. He's got a young protege in Ezra (Taylor Gray) and a relationship with hotshot pilot and captain of the Ghost, Hera (Vanessa Marshall), a totally hot green Twi'lek. The other female member of the crew, Sabine (Tiya Sircar) is a tad bit older than Ezra and quite the hot shot, emphasis on shot. She's eventually going to end up with Ezra, if I was a betting man. And I am. And finally, the gruff muscle on the crew is Zeb (Steven Jay Blum), a Lasat who grumbles all the time until an opportunity arises to knock Imperial Storm Trooper helmets together. The show has already had the big Imperial Empire stars show up, led by the big black breathing tube himself, Darth Vader. And Lando Calrissian has also make a couple of appearances. Look, I'm a Star Wars fanboy (I once passed up a chance to play Omar Sharif's team at the Canadian National Bridge Championships to go off and see an afternoon matinee of the re-release of the original film. Mind you, I'd already had the pleasure of playing Omar before, but still, you get SOME idea of how seriously I take Star Wars). I'm genetically predisposed to like this show. But if YOU give the show a chance, I'd bet you'd find it enjoyable too.

6: The Flash

I loved the original Flash show that came out back in the 90's. I had occasion to go back and watch a few episodes of it recently and I wonder just what possessed me to watch it, beyond the fact that I'm a comics lover, especially of DC properties. The look and the feel of the show was strictly 60's Batman TV without the name villains. The special effects were state of the art back then for TV, meaning they weren't all that good. If I could love that show, what was there not to like about the newest DC property on TV? The answer? NOTHING! THIS is the show that should define DC comics in the TV universe. This had all the charm of the comics without the heavy-handed "we must produce art" man-handling that plagued the first two years of Arrow. The Flash was vintage Lois and Clark with mid-run greatness from Smallville mixed in. Outstanding. Not perfect, because more than a few things from the comic book universe got mangled in the translation, but very good indeed. The delight in this show for the comics fans are the names... street names, character names and the subtle touches that connect back to paper version. The non-comics fans without hundreds of Flash issues behind them like the show for it's action and completely relatable characters. Grant Gustin is just filled with youthful enthusiasm and a real need to find out who actually killed his parents. He becomes The Flash in an origin that doesn't stray too far from the comics version, although that same 'accident' turns out to be the root cause behind several villains who eventually form his infamous Rogues Gallery. Because his dad is in jail for the murder he did not commit (The dad is played by John Wesley Shipp, who was the 1990 Barry Allen), the senior Allen's partner, Joe West (Jesse l. Martin) takes in Barry. So, Barry grows up with Iris West, who in the comics was not a foster sister, but his future wife. The show takes some time getting around to the whole Iris West Allen thing, but it's there. Barry's non-cop pals at the institute where the super-power making accident occurred are Caitlan Snow, the future Killer Frost from the comics, played by Danielle Panabaker and Cisco Ramon, the future Vibe from the comics, played by Carlos Valdes. Panabaker's good as an uptight giant intellect who's socially awkward and Ramon's absolutely hilarious as the gadget and name maker of the team.  They all work for Harrison Wells (Thomas Cavanagh). Wells turns out not to be what everybody thinks he is. Chiefly being the Reverse Flash, aka Professor Zoom. He's also a future descendant of Joe's partner Eddie Thrawne. Eddie and (reporter, yay!) Iris (Candice Patton) are an item until that moment of heroism at the end that ends things as they are. But with future-hopping being a fact in this book, don't count Eddie out for good just yet. There isn't a weak spot in this cast. Good actors, smart writing and just enough differences between the comics and the screen to keep we old fogies guessing. I really am looking forward to the future of The Flash!

5: Madame Secretary

This was one of my "Buffy" picks last summer. Cute for a few episodes and then canceled. That famously wrong prediction last century (at least in my circles) has haunted me, ever since Buffy the Vampire Slayer went on to run for years and spawn spin-offs. Getting back to Madame Secretary ... early in January, I realized that when grabbing both shows to watch later, I was watching Madame Secretary BEFORE The Good Wife. Ooops! I suddenly also realized, I really, really liked the whole cast in this show and I was happy to spend an hour in their fictional universe rather than in The Good Wife's. Ergo, a rating ahead of my favourite show of this decade (well, a close second to The Newsroom, hint, hint). All the signs of limited world view were there. I mean, who hires Zeljko Ivanek NOT to be the bad guy, whether as a loyal dogged soldier or the master manipulator behind the scenes? And what family looks like a group headed by Téa Leioni, Tim Daly and finishes with a kid trio of Wallis Currie-Wood, Kathrine Herzer and Evan Roe. Don't even START to say the K-Clan!! Normal looking but all at the top end of normal. Leoni is actually getting sexier as she gets older ... and at 49, she REALLY is old enough to have a college-aged daughter in the show ... and to pass for much younger. Which made me question her gravitas for the role as one of the five highest ranking officials in the American government. I mean who would NOT have disbelief that this works. As it turns out, by season's end, I was already looking to see when the show is coming back (In October). Thanks, in large part, I think, to an intrepid office staff of wonderful Bebe Neuwirth, Erich Bergen, Geoffrey Arend and Patina Miller. It's odd but comforting that the old Frasier couple of Neuwirth and Hyde-Pierce had such strong TV seasons in them this year. Getting back to Leoni and Daly. The chemistry between the two was easy and fit like a glove, the characters both playing academicians with spying backgrounds. Madame Secretary McCord was forever depending on hubby for support and advice, while standing strong and making decisions any American should have proud of. So, were all those decisions solely Democratic or Republican leaning? No. The producers definitely keep the party identity of President Dalton (Keith Carradine) vague, but the signs are there that they are Democrats. Doesn't matter. Madame Secretary is a smart political drama with more than a few buried bones still to dig up. I STILL can't see a Buffy-long run for the show, but this impressive first season makes me hope I'm wrong again.

4: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (#9 Last Year)

If you take an almost perfectly cast comedy and let the stew that was the first year blend together over a second season, you could only hope to end up with Andre Braugher's group of misfits and cut-ups at the Broolyn Nine-Nine. I have no problem saying I'd rather spend time with four amorous gorillas then be in the same room with Andy Samberg's Jake Peralta for a half-hour. But getting to watch from the outside? Pure comedic gold. Samberg toned things down this year, combining seamlessly with Braugher's gay Captain Ray Holt. Holt also lost some rigidity, turning out to be less a caricature and more of a well-rounded character. Peralta's partner Detective Charlie Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) made the same move to the centre, leaving me wondering just how I thought the character would be a forever fumbling fool and a bad send-up of oblivious British characters. And don't forget the ladies, who's backbones also un-stiffened just the right amount. Peralta's in extremely good like with Detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and how could he NOT be? Fumero stopped brown-nosing, well to at least a lesser degree, and became more likable as a result by becoming more self-aware. And as for 'tougher than steel' Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), she fell in love, which was good, very good. There's no issue with continuing to recommend Terry Crews for his portrayal of Sgt. Terry Jeffords, but the last welcome surprise in this smooth sophomore season is the fact that I didn't hate every minute with Chelsea Peretti's Gina Linetti in it. The Linetti character had been the one totally strident note in the first season. I wanted to punch her in the mouth and I'm not actually a violent man. Now, come a little closer. I need to tell you something that nobody else can know. I will whisper this once and only once. "I liked Gina this year." WHEW! Now, move on to the top three. We will never speak of this again.

3: The Three Musketeers (#2 Last Year)

When the first episode opens with the funeral of beloved baddie Cardinal Richelieu (Peter Capaldi having more pressing duties, being the Doctor in Doctor Who), I groaned inwardly. But the good news is that the once Danny Blue of Hustle, Marc Warren, entered stage right to play the OTHER famous bad guy from Alexandre Dumas' famous book, Comte De Rochfort. Rochfort, who gains his signature eye-patch late in the season, is not quite at the scheming level of the legendary Richeliu, but he is a seriously effective heel. Of course, there's still Milady de Winter (Maimie McCoy) around to bedevil Athos (Tom Burke) and the rest of the Musketeers (Howard Charles as Porthos, Santiago Cabrera as Aramis and the indefatigable D'Artagnan, played by Luke Pasqualino). In fact, the two-faced de Winter turns and twirls and presents SOOOO many faces that the relationship between her and Athos drives the show. Ryan Gage continues to impress as the foppish fool of a king, Louis, while his Queen Anne is always radiant, as played by Alexandra Dowling. But if anybody can steal the spotlight from Athos and de Winter, it's Tamla Kari playing the plucky Constance, l'amour D'Artagnan. We've all been in a room at a social event where there are beauties to catch the eye quickly. But somebody else, maybe not as outwardly beautiful, turns out to be the woman every man dreams about that night. Constance is such a woman. And yes, count me amongst Constance's would-be paramours. Knowing there's a third series coming, I'm not all that misty eyed on what would otherwise have been an emotional finish to the year. The old gang appears on the verge of a breakup after saving France from the worst of Spanish machinations. Fortunately, although Dumas did eventually quit writing Three Muskateers novels, it might be a while before the French and English makers of this quality work stop producing new material. My overall love affair with the Three Musketeers continues on, unabated. EVEN if you aren't a fan of the classic or any of the dozens of movie remakes, try out the series. It is supremely worthy of your attention. I plan on keeping asking you until you do, so you might as well treat yourselves.

2: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

A show that actually effected change and is entertaining to boot. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver not only presented itself as a "same, but different" spin-off of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but as a show intent on actually expanding beyond the limits of a little studio and effecting change in the world. Not everything John Oliver did was comedic gold in the second half of his first season. His delight at not having to watch his potty-mouth was low-brow and beneath his otherwise exemplary work. His obsessive need to repeat punch lines twice could be grating. That aside, it was sharp. It was funny with a really, really low number of unfunny bits. And Oliver got quoted and got some change from what he said. Did he bring down FIFA and the imperious rule by Sepp Blatter? Of course not. But he hammered away it and suddenly, the darkness that had enveloped that organization for TWENTY-FIVE years was brought out into the light. Might have been the proverbial last straw on that camel's back? Ya, I think he might have been. Oliver didn't stop there. He went on TV to tell Trinidadians and Tobagans what kind of man they sheltered in their midst. He go into twitter wars with other countries PRESIDENTS, for gawd's sake. He bought advertising billboards abroad to inform and entertain a little bit. Bluntly, Oliver became a crusading comic activist, not willing to sit on the sidelines and hurl pot shots at obvious targets. Where his mentor failed, was that Jon Stewart appealed to the intellect of those listening and watching him. Oliver is cagier. He understands change is accomplished in the mud, down where the devious do all their work. Oliver embarrassed a LOT of high falutin' butt ends of donkeys this past year. Blatter's scalp (now there's an image) isn't the first Oliver seems to have snagged and it won't be the last. The fun is over, it's time to get serious about funny. And until Noah lands on his feet over at The Daily Show, Oliver is officially in charge of doing right by laughter. And I'm okay with it being in his hands. He's ready. He's been prepped by the best. Oliver vs the world of idiocy and evil. Bureaucrats everywhere used to tremble at the mere sight of Mike Wallace and a 60 Minutes film crew. Now, I'm pretty sure, Last Week cameramen will inspire the same fear. (Are there Last Week cameramen, at least that go outside the set? Maybe no. In the future, then). While I do sing the hosannas over Oliver's incredible year this year, I do have to note that Oliver's absence was incredibly important to Jon Stewart's Daily Show suffering a dip in quality and Stewart's decision to retire. Oliver will have to live with that burden. I think he might just be up for it. Incredibly impressive. Last note, the Easter weekend Snowden show was worth having eyeballs for. Oddly enough, I waited until AFTER I'd seen that show before contacting my doctor for a health problem that almost killed me. I was on anti-biotics for two weeks and enforced bed rest for three. And I STILL watched Oliver turn what looked like a comically failed attempt to interview the famed whistle-blower into the most gripping 40 minutes of TV I saw this year first. I hope that frames my recommendation in perspective.

1: The NewsRoom

On the night of the debut episode of this last season of The NewsRoom, I wrote the following email to a friend, a fellow former journalist: "Just saw the first hour of this third and last season of The Newsroom. An unexpected gift. The first episode does two things. It reminds why I love(d) journalism and secondly, that I am madly in love with Emily Mortimer AND her character Mac. Maybe more Mac than Emily, but my adoration is absolute. And here's further news. There isn't a single character that grates on my nerve as (Aaron) Sorkin pulls out ALL the stops ... and even stops to make me not hate Olivia Munn or the characters Don Keefer and  Reese Lansing played by Tom Sadoski and Chris Messina respectively. REALLY! No undisguised disgust that Olivia Munn speaks on TV or that the douchebag characters play bad guys on 'our' side. I would have thought this impossible two hours ago ... two years ago ... or ever ago. And yet this is the gem that Sorkin has wrought." I went on to add, "This season lasts only six episodes, ending two weeks shy of Christmas. IF the rest of these episodes are only one SIXTH as good as the first episode is for this season, than THIS show, The Newsroom, will finish atop My Top 25 TV Shows next July 18th. The race will have been over before the calendar turned. It will be OVER! And I will be impossibly sad because this show represents WHY I immerse myself in fictional universes and care about characters created whole clothe. That it will be no more after December 14th, 2014 will be cause for sadness once the celebrations are complete." And then I finished, "Oh, and if you watch the show and somehow form an opinion that does not match mine? Never speak of such heresy. Our friendship will be at stake." Yes, I kind of liked The NewsRoom. You know Emily Mortimer is good and paired incredibly well with Jeff Daniels' weary and worn out newsman William McAvoy. Sam Waterston was there in body and in spirit as Charlie Skinner, who was missed even before the final credits. Jane Fonda, Messina's TV mom was great. I still kept cheering for Sadoski's Keefer to the end. Incredible, that. Oh, I came back around to my point of view on Munn, my yearly pet hate in these reviews. Again, I repeat. The lady has a reputation as a good person. It's her work that I hate. Just to be clear. Alison Pill, now half Canuck, John Gallagher Jr., Dev Patel, et al. Kudos to you all. To Aaron Sorkin, I say, "GET OVER YOURSELF!" The world will still keep spinning and Sorkin will eventually come back to TV. In the mean time, I thank him for his stellar work. 

And that ends this year's take on my top 25 TV experiences this year. It actually tops out at about 30 and copious honourable mentions means it's really somewhere between 35 and 50. Which is why I've just spent the last 12,000 words extolling the virtues of these shows while putting up markers around the bad stuff. We are now into a world of binge-watching. You CAN find (almost all of) these shows if you look. All are in English. If you speak English and enjoy solid entertainment, then I've given you the gift of laughter and tears and information and thrills. Or rather re-gifted you.

After all, it IS my birthday. Thanks for reading this far.