Thursday, July 28, 2016

And here is the top 25 ... honestly JUST 25. Well, NO more than 26.

Oops, forgot to hit the post button. Consider it done. Thanks Andrew for pointing out just how old and forgetful I became last week (turning SIXTY and all).

#25 The Good Wife

Farewell folks who have brought The Good Wife to critical acclaim. So good, even I had to agree it was top notch production AND highly entertaining. A multiple time best show on TV as far as I am concerned. This season's capper to the saga? Not so much. If I was being honest here, it is on the list because such a body of great work SHOULD be on this list. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has this 'aw shucks, hanged dog' look that apparently drives women of an age wild, wasn't half-bad as a replacement for Archie Panjabi. Cush Jumbo was startingly good in her American TV debut, but I've known her to be great from watching her on Vera and Torchwood from British TV. And the show did really well to not only invoke the memory of Josh Charles' Will Gardner in the concluding hour and a half, but to actually make his memory something real and substantial. Applause. But how did somebody not speak up and note that the ending scene was actually as muddy as the last scene in The Soprano's? As uptight as Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart was, her relationship would not have ended with Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick the way it ended. Sorry. But nope. The show obviously didn't have a single concrete thing for Matt Czuchry to do, but kept him on for cameos. And Alan Cumming made Eli Gold entertaining to a point as a bathroom lurker, but it passed from amusing to farce to annoying rather quickly. The whole start of the year in that bond court was only saved by Cush Jumbo coming on as Lucca Quinn ... who is reputedly in talks for a spin-off. I'd watch THAT before I'd re-watch The Good Wife season seven. Still, a below-par The Good Wife is above-par for most of TV.

#24 Girl Meets World

I adore the whole cast of this show. Girl Meets World is a Disney screaming message-fest. But it's about kids and between bouts of moodiness, screaming is what they do. It's funny and the kids don't think all adults are stupid. Said adults don't think the kids are all morons that need schooling 16 hours a day ... preferably under the tutelage of somebody else. I thought Corey Fogelmanis as Farkle was the most impressive improver this year. The rest of the gang have caught up to heartthrob Peyton Meyer (Lucas), so he doesn't stand out as a sore thumb anymore, caught in a "I REALLY like him" triangle with the girls, Rowan Blanchard's Riley and Sabrina Carpenter's Maya. The gang, including the original Boy Meets World Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) got to high school just as spring turned to summer this year. I see no reason not to expect the program still to be running as the decade runs out four years from now... with them all in university. It is a superbly casted show (and no, I won't leave you out, Danielle Fishel as Topanga), but it's not perfect. I had been promised that we'd see George Feeney endcaps to the seasons and if William Daniels showed up, I missed him. And just to show you I'm not completely oblivious to some minor technical faults in the show, I honestly think Riley could make better choices in the shoes she wears (from the costume department). So there, the show no longer has a perfect report card and won't carry that pressure of trying to stay perfect into this fall's shows. 

#23 Humans (UK)

The most recognizable name in Humans is William Hurt, who plays a spaced out old inventor who is largely responsible for the fact that most families have androids in the house to do the work foreign-born nannies would do and to fill in some of the 'other' gaps in the social miasma that is civilization in a near future. Hurt's been hiding a defective early model of his inventiveness and treating the obviously failing/defective model as a son of sorts. In the meantime, while Hurt's George Millican is fending off the questions of detectives, a family suddenly grows to include a new synth (synthetic appliance) named Anita (Gemma Chan) to help out with a household in turmoil. Mom Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is working too much for the liking of Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill). In a bit of spite combined with exasperation, he buys Anita to change the dynamic in the family. The three kids all welcome Anita into the family at different speed. Little Sophie (Pixie Davies) is the first to attach herself to Anita. Then son Toby, a younger version of his father, finds Anita too attractive to ignore. That role's played awfully well by Theo Stevenson. Finally, the eldest, Mattie (Lucy Carless) lets her mask of smirking and nastiness drop just enough to concede that Anita is better than the sum of her binary bits. Which, as a super hacker, she knows rather more intimately than most. It seems Anita and a few other rogue synths have become self-aware. And that's not something the government can abide. Like computers, synths are now uibiquitous and finding out that they are slaves rather than chattel could destroy what's been going on. This remake of a Swedish series is reputedly not as good as the original. But I found that in the absence of a better handling of the idea, that this show was thought-provoking enough to make my list.

#22 Jessica Jones

At last. A comic book TV show! How could I have taken so long to get to one? Kidding folks. Be prepared for comic references galore from here on down. Jessica Jones is a Marvel property, one of the first reality bound characters in the Marvel Knights imprint. She'd been a bit player in several earlier series, being super strong and fetching looking in Spandex. But Brian Michael Bendis turned Jones into a detective that worked the streets of New York, mostly foregoing using her super powers. She was basically turned out as detective noire. The series didn't last long, but the whole Knights imprint has become the basis for Marvel's shows on Netflix. Jones married Luke Cage in the comics and is the mom of a daughter. The TV show starts pretty well at the beginning of her relationship with Cage. And at the beginning, Jessica Jones was a hurting, walking bruise, (also a lush) as played by Krysten Ritter, who has been mostly a comic actress to this point. She does a superb job of battling David Tennant in a contest of wills that draws other super-entities into the battle, but never really is anything but Jones and Kilgrave, the Purple Man going womano-a-mano. No question that Trish Walker (future Hellcat and played by Rachael Taylor) and Mike Colter's Luke, are important pieces in the battlefield. But this is how Jones summons reserves from somewhere to reverse the spiritual beat down she took at Kilgrave's hands years ago. And is still taking them. Tennant is skin-crawling horrifying as Kilgrave. Kilgrave is purple in the comics, which the TV show decided to not do for TV. Shame really. But this show doesn't suffer for that without the preconceived notion of The Purple Man. This is a show about street level grime and crime. If a super-hero show could ever feel real, this is the one.

#21 Limitless

A movie film made into a TV show rarely has a long life. It happens, citing M*A*S*H as the best possible example of surviving, even after low ratings in the early years. I might have mentioned Minority Report earlier. I should have expected that early plug-pulling from Fox. But having CBS, the network of the immortal M*A*S*H, bail on Limitless after one year was disappointing. I was a bit slow to warm to this show, but warm I did. The story's a familiar one by now. In the movie Bradley Cooper takes a little pill and that little pill makes him computer smart and more importantly, computer fast. Turns out, that's a good thing for Cooper's Eddie Morra. Cooper STILL plays Morra here, but a Morra headed for the White House from his perch as a Senator. He decides to pass along his chemical legacy and his inheritor as wise-cracking layabout turned brilliant is Brian Finch played with due irreverent attitude by Jake McDorman. McDorman belongs to a group of actors, Cooper and The Good Wife's Matt Czuchry are others, who can play that kind of attitude with some fun and a little gleam in their eye. Finch goes from a waste of oxygen to a key member of the FBI, as handled by Jennifer Carpenter's Rebecca Harris. Not a fan of Carpenter, but it's a minor nit. The REAL problem is that the FBI is dealing in the brain pill and there's so much of it floating around out there, that it spoils Finch's uniqueness almost completely. Finch fights back by nicknaming everybody (including his FBI 'team' and employing a meta approach to each week's episode that beggars the creativity of the Community crew. Very entertaining most weeks, as Finch exasperates by-the-book Agent Spellman Boyle (Hill Harper) and saves leader Naz Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) more than a few times. It was good that the creators wound down the show to a stopping point. But I wish they'd been able to figure out a way to get a second season on the air. If for nothing more than the special effects people imagining the mind of Finch, a very busy and confused place. RIP Finch.

#20 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah /  Real Time with Bill Maher

Political discourse has ground to a halt in the United States over the last 30 years as the Party of No refuses to engage in the legislative process, preferring to sit in their gerrymandered kingdoms and act like petulant two year-olds, freshly discovered of the power of NO! It's been extremely disappointing to watch Republicans refuse to try and find compromise and produce effective solutions to the uniquely Washingtonian word, gridlock. Having abdicated their responsibilities for so long has created the atmosphere that begat them Donald J. Trump as a nominee. Having let the fox into the henhouse, all anybody is doing is running around like chickens. Which means comedians of the stripe of Bill Maher and a nice young man, Trevor Noah, have comedy fodder falling like mana from heaven. It's inexhaustible. Except for the fact that it puts America into a frightful state where, thanks to the non-stop impugning of Hillary Clinton and her own clumsy handling of an actual mistake she made, there is some evidence that Trump might actually become President. Starting an unprecedented migration of Americans over our borders and into Atlantic Canada. Shudder!!! The problem with Noah has been the reliance on Jon Stewart leftover Jordan Klepper. READ MY TYPE. HE IS NOT FUNNY. I've railed against Klepper earlier, no sense repeating it. But honestly, please, NO MORE KLEPPER. As for the other half of the political commentary tie, Maher's been moving a little further out as he sees a future not to far distant off, where marijuana becomes legal country-wide, if only that oaf from Manhattan doesn't get in the way. He's championed some pretty out-there types, bordering on snake-oil salesmen, without producing anywhere near the knockout blow attempt that John Oliver tried. He also gives voice to right wingnuts on his show (and even let that harridan Ann Coulter back on the show) in an attempt to be fair, all the while denouncing the Republican practice of equivalency when it's no where close to being road apples to road apples. Frankly, Bill's disappointed me this year. I FEEL his frustration. But I came to his show in search of laughs. Has enough New Rules still to make his show must-see TV.

#19 The Tunnel (UK/FRA)

This is a season of overlooking imperfections. The Tunnel did not have a second season of the calibre of the first. It's sure hard to beat the shocking last scene of the first season's pilot show. So, the folks behind The Tunnel didn't try. Instead of somebody (to use that term rather loosely) dying right at the mid-point of the Chunnel between England and France, the deaths that drive the second season happen in the air over the Channel, just about half way between England and France. Once again we have English DCI Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) put into a partnership with French commander of detectives Elise Wasserman, played by Clémence Poésy. Roebuck is old and tired with a wife and too many children at home. Wasserman is ... strange. She's a highly functioning sufferer from Ausberger's Syndrome. She strives soooooo hard to get around her lack of empathy with others while wanting to make the world a better place, safe from anarchists who blow things up and murder people seemingly at random. The randomness isn't true, of course. And the whole eight episode season is spent proving that. Wasserman makes some curious choices at the end, given what we had seen through a season and a half of the show. But the turn of events wasn't that far afield from what I thought her character was. The operating name for the season was, "Saboutage." A highly accurate name, that.

#18 Brooklyn Nine-Nine

And the imperfections keep on coming. I think this show is as tight a comedy as we have had on the TV for awhile. It's anything but a family comedy, unless you call the Nine-Nine a family in and of itself. You can make the case for that. But it's really about a bunch of misfits who really don't have a normal family life to retreat from the zaniness of work to. So, this whole show rises and falls on the workplace. And honestly, the workplace suffered this year on Brooklyn Nine-Nine due to Melissa Fumero's pregnancy and the need to keep her on the sidelines. Thus, we had her character Amy Santiago doing a riff on Orange is the New Black. With her and Joe LoTruglio's Det. Charles Boyle busy in prison, Andy Samberg's Jake Peralta was set adrift. The 'Adrian Pimento' sequence that brought in the perfect romantic partner for Stephanie Beatriz's Det. Rosa Diaz just completely fizzled. Balanced against all those CON points, we had a great year from Terry Crews' Sgt. Terry Jeffords and more deadpanning than I thought possible from Andre Braugher as Cpt. Ray Holt. And yes, Chelsea Peretti as Gina Linetti continued to be a key part in the mirth and frivolity. We also got a chance to see deadpanning of a different sort from Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller as Det's Michael Hitchcock and Norm Scully. (I still wonder why they hadn't renamed Hitchcock Mulder before it started but, then again, I'm hardly subtle in my humour choices). That's more PROs than CONs and it adds up to Brooklyn Nine-Nine still being a top twenty show. (But no more kids Melissa ... unless they come from a hookup between Amy and Jake).

#17 Arrow

I've ragged on clench-jawed lead Stephen Amell on this show for years. STILL don't like HIM. But that seems the consensus in the fictional universe Green Arrow of DC Comics fame inhabits. Even his fictional wife to be, Felicity Smoak, as embodied to near perfection by Canada's own Emily Bett Richards, chose not to like his fictional alter-ego one little bit between the borders of the start and end of the season. But enough about Oliver Queen. The surrounding cast got quite a lot to do this season with David Ramsey front and centre as John Diggle aka Spartan. His wife, Audrey Marie Anderson as Lyla Michaels, brother Eugene Byrd as Andy Diggle and adorable daughter (hey, all babies are beautiful between poopy pants) were the emotional core of the show, a spot previously held by Felicity. And the ups and downs of the Diggles as the team battled the season long baddie (Neal McDonough was AWESOMELY snarky as the delusional Damien Dahrk, the magic villain with a home life!). Things got nasty between the Dahrk's (can't forget Janet Kidder as his wife, Ruve, a spouse with an iron hand in a velvet glove kind of approach to Queen and company) and the Diggles. John struggled mightily with trust and betrayal issues. But in the end, Spartan was all hero, as usual, given his lack of actual, you know, POWERS! The other family dynamic was Felicity's family as Charlotte Ross and Tom Amandes made some really entertaining time on screen, albeit not with each other. Momma Donna actually was getting cuddly with Paul Blackthorne's Quentin Lance, while Amandes was busy being a baddie, The Calculator. All good fun. As was the introduction of Echo Collum as Curtis Holt, the future Mr. Terrific. Plus, the show spun off everything I didn't like about the show, save for those continuing to be dreadful flashbacks) sending former Black Canary turned White Canary Caity Lotz (dying apparently having that kind of effect on you) as well as Brandon Routh's Atom to the spun-off DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Hurray for the supporting cast. Great year all!!

#16 The Blacklist

Spoiler alert if you are going to binge this show. Nobody got fired and had their contract paid off. That's to reduce the wear and tear on you if you get stressed out about plot twists. Now, those turns inside turns inside reversals inside plot twists are to be expected in any CONSPIRACY show on TV. Hey, it's what makes binge-watching so rewarding. You do NOT have to wait until next week/month/YEAR! to see what happens after the cliff-hanger. And this show probably had the most cliff-hangers of any show on TV this year. It also had the always FAAAAAANtastic James Spader cracking wise and also letting the viewers into the real head of Red Reddington. The 'is he or isn't he' question about whether Red's the dad of FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen gets more definition if not exact truth during the year. Megan Boone, NOT one of my favourites when remembering the first season, did great, despite being very visibly pregnant during a LOT of the season. Have to admit, the switch from real life pregnancy to a prosthetic belly while doing some very stunt-filled shows made me respect Boone a whole heck of a lot. And like Arrow, the background guys were more foreground than usual, despite the attempts to spin off a show starring Keen's TV hubby, Ryan Eggold. Like Boone, Eggold turned his character into must-watch TV. But also let's give a hand to computer guy Amir Arison as Aram and Red's faithful sidekick Dembe played by Hisham Tawfiq. Both did an awful lot with little dialog, especially little in Tawfiq's case. The rest of the FBI Redddington unit, Harry Lennox as Cooper, Diego Klattenhoff as Ressler and Mozhan Marno as Samar didn't carry a false note through a really traumatic season. I'm SOOOO over conspiracies that I wanted NOT to like this show. I failed. Miserably.

#15 Dark Matter (CDN)

Syfy paired this show with Killjoys (featuring good ol' local town actor Rob Stewart) and I thought, briefly, about making the shows shared holders of this spot. But as much as I liked Stewart and female lead  Hannah John-Kamen) that show was too into colour filters and mind game plots. Watchable, just not Top 25 material. Dark Matter, another comic book adaption, on the other hand, worked wonderfully. The first season did the first arc of the comic book quickly and then moved on. It's a show about a spaceship full of interesting people, all of whom have no memory as to how they got ONTO the ship. In fact, the group just call each other by the number in the order in which they woke up. So, from One to Six, we had Marc Bendavid, Melissa O'Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr., Jodelle Ferland and Roger Cross. The other 'person' aboard is Zoie Palmer, who gets the two-word moniker, The Android, often shorted to just Android. Palmer does a great Data for the new millennium. O'Neil's Two turns out to be the leader type, and basically takes over, frequently with the help of the mysterious Five, a blue-haired waif who just happens to be both hacker supreme and small enough to fit into the tunnels that run throughout the ship. So, onboard the ship, it's girls RULE! All of the memory-wiped crew are actually criminals of great renown. Well, that's not strictly true. Five's definitely not a baddie full-time. And another baddie is an imperial Prince on the run. And there's the mole. And the one who isn't a crook but a guy looking for a crook (by looking LIKE a crook), but who is 'probably' a threat for season two if THAT season's premiere is any indication. Hmmm, not so crooked are the six. I like the non-dystopian view this show brings to the screen. Creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie are vets of the Stargate series (the REASON I started binge-watching in the first place) and the show's a Canadian production. Yeah! (plus season two is already better than season one!)

#14 Shark Tank (US/AUS)

Well, the Dragon's Den franchise (Britain and then Canada) begat the American Shark Tank, which has now birthed the Australian Shark Tank. And there's even an American spin-off called Beyond the Tank. Almost all of these shows are watchable, but the Den versions are ossifying with too many repetitive KINDS of investment opportunities being pitched while a lesser host of investors make their bids for startup shares. The American one continues to be pretty good with ex Canuck Den guys Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary and Robert Herjavec being signature cornerstones. Along with Mark Cuban, who is always entertaining to me (to NBA Commisioners, not so much). The regular even chairs have been rotated for awhile between Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Genier. But they expanded a fair bit this year, bringing in other rich guys like TV twit turned serious mover and shaker Ashton Kutcher as well as acerbic Chris Sacca. The producers of this show have turned the beggars and dreamers that wander into the Tank with these guys and gals into a very entertaining hour each week. What boosted the show into the Top 15 was a successful Australian version with Janine Allis (think Grenier), Andrew Banks (think Jim Treliving from the Canadian Den), Naomi Simson (think Arlene Dickinson from the Canadian Den) and Steve Baxter, who's an Australian O'Leary which means he's blunt and to the point most pitches. But he's Aussie. And Aussie's are just nicer. What's even MORE interesting is the level of the financial pitches, all made in Australian Dollars, at levels only seen on the American show by teenagers coming on more for the mentoring than for the money. A really likable Shark Tank to play yin to it's American forebears' yang. 

#13 Daredevil

Honestly, the second season of Marvel's Daredevil was really the first season of The Punisher. Jon Bernthal ran away with the second season as Frank Castle, the man who's family was in the wrong spot at the wrong time and got killed off in a mob vs. mob skirmish. Castle takes his time donning the distinctive duds of The Punisher, but getting there is not even a bit of the battle. It's him against any gangsters willing to congregate in one place, letting him pump lead and explosives in rather large quantities. At the same time, he seems to be able to survive anything short of a nuclear explosion. Even from his almost death bed, he climbs back into action just in time for season one baddie, The Kingpin, to make a brilliant jailbreak and re-assume his mantle as the worst of the worst in the aftermath of the triangular battle waged by Castle, Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock/Daredevil and the gangs. Cox has a bad-luck season, making a hash of his law firm and his friendships with co-workers Elden Henson as a much braver in many ways Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, played by a more language-restrained Deborah Ann Woll this year. But the real fun when Castle isn't front and centre is Elektra, played by Elodie Yung, who is pitch perfect as the female counterpart to Murdock with both becoming kids under the tutelege of Stick, the all-seeing blind martial arts master played by Scott Glenn. The flashbacks (see, not ALL flashbacks are horrible) add definition to both Murdock and Elektra, who was adopted into the Natchios family. The Murdock/Page future romance was put on hold for Matt and Elektra to do their self-destructive thing. And the result was hugely entertaining. We all knew that Elektra's comic book costume wasn't going to make it to the little screen. But the costume they DID come up with was really quite good. All in all, a good season with a good after-the-credits type cliff-hanger that portends a DEADly season for series three. Can't wait.

#12 Hack My Life

I like Kevin Pereira's ability to be an every-man klutz with a 'what if'/'can do' approach to this series on productive hints to hack together solutions for problems we all face at one point or another. Well, maybe NOT all, but as a fellow klutz and forgetter of grocery/department store lists, I identify with the ex-front man for G4's Attack of the Show, the home for many years to many a geek. Now, Pereira isn't alone on Hack My Life. Smarmy Brooke Van Poppelen is sort of the counter to Pereira's optimism. Which means I'm not strongly in her corner. It's sort of like deja vu all over again, given how much I disliked Pereira's most common co-host back in the AOTS days. Van Poppelen isn't THAT horrible, but I think another take on a co-host could work. May I suggest Sara Jean Underwood who was pretty decent in the post-Pereira days at AOTS or even Candace Bailey. Maybe the chemistry with a change would take this staple of weekly watching (I honestly think binge-watching this show would explode your head) up to another level and into the top 10. Sounds like I'm pretty down on the show. But how could you NOT love a show where a sidewalk hot dog stand cooked the dogs with a car battery and two forks? Honestly, there ARE helpful household hints in every show. But that's the teaser to get you to the comedy.

#11 The Flash

This is my geek show. It's about a geeky guy who becomes a super-fast super-hero. I've been reading the comics since the early sixties and count the Flash as amongst my favourite comics of all time. The ONE little thing that niggles at me is how the comic book universe has turned super speed into this kind of ... The Force, from Star Wars. It's mysticism when speed should be all about the hard sciences. And the comic book universe now has more speedsters than you can count on your hands and feet. Too many speedsters almost spoil the fine broth that this show generates. That said, more and more characters enter into The Flash TV show from the comic book universe. We see Carlos Valdes' Cisco Ramon becoming a better Vibe than his original appearances in the comics would suggest. Danielle Panabaker's ever so sweet Caitlin Snow has a dark side (Killer Frost over on Earth 2). Barry (played with better effect than the public gives him credit for, by Grant Gustin) finally sees a future with Candace Patton's Iris West, after an early season fling with extremely likable Shantel VanSanten as officer/detective Patty Spivot. And Jesse L. Martin as the rock of the show, Detective Joe West, has a lot of opportunities to shine this season. The show helped spin off Legends of Tomorrow, losing Dominic Purcell (Heat Wave) and, unfortunately, Wentworth Miller as Captain "The King of Snark" Cold. Wally West as embodied by Keiynan Lonsdale and Violet Beane's Jesse Wells, are well on their way  to becoming Flash-Lites. Jesse is the daughter of this year's version of Harrison Wells, played with almost laser-like focus by Tom Cavanagh. The glimpses of Earth 2, a futuristic steam-punk version of Earth, was actually well-played. But the whole Jay Garrick thing was a baaaaaaaad plot device and it sullied the name of a great comic book character, the Golden Age Flash. Disliked it quite a bit, enough to drop the show nine pegs from my early season rankings. Teddy Sears SHOULD have been a great Garrick. He wasn't. The whole Man in the Mask reveal at the end was hardly a sop for those of us who suffered a virtual repeat of the first season's Zoom arc with Garrick/Hunter Zoloman in the second season. Again, a case against this whole 'speedsters on every corner' concept. But darn, as a FIFTY YEAR reader of Flash comics, the TV version still views like must-read TV.

#10 The Last Ship

The first of two summer series in the Top 10. That's a real good reason NOT to turn off the TV come June 1. The Last Ship didn't have a complete good first year. It started promisingly with an outbreak of 'The Red Flu' which becomes a global mass murderer in almost no time flat. But before it hits global pandemic status, the Nathan James, a US naval vessel is playing taxi to Antarctica for a scientist who MIGHT be developing The Cure (that's a pitch for a book penned by my friend, James McDonald). The problem is, that while Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and the Nathan James are waaaaaay south of the border, the epidemic does become a pandemic. The Cure might be too late. And that first season ended in a dreadful horror show in Baltimore involving BURNING SICK PEOPLE to replace fossil fuels. Dreadful. But somehow, the second season managed to reverse course and become a thriller about not only further developing the cure and delivery capabilities, but it became a sea-based action series with plenty of time in the post-apocalyptic America for any land-lubbers (make that land lovers) like me. The reconstructed version of the USA was fairly well thought out and we started to form attachments to the heroes, from Dr. Scott to Eric Dane's Commander Chandler to XO Mike Slattery played by Adam Baldwin and on down through the crew. Other than Chandler's propensity to go all James T. Kirk (duplicating the dim premise that the captain of the ship LEADS all away missions), time spent with the crew was spent meeting and knowing good characters. Charles Parnell, Travis Van Winkle and Marissa Neitling all play crewmen that you come to care about. John Pyper-Ferguson's Tex is a scoundrel who always seems there in a pinch. The show MAKES sense, given the premise. And it IS a thriller, having pivoted almost completely to a geopolitical thriller in the third season with all the action divided between Southeast Asia (China, Vietnam and Japan) and the new White House in St. Louis. Mitra's gone, remembered frequently though. But the trade is we have Bridget Regan being an integral part of the good guys (so far). And Regan is a long-time fave. The Last Ship is summer entertainment, but it's not the video equivalent of light reading. 

#9 New Tricks (UK)

Farewell old friend. Rather, farewell newish friends and don't forget to salute the original cast who made this show so entertaining. Not. One. Regular. Lasted. Until the last show. Twelve seasons. More than a hundred episodes, 99 of which starred Gerry Standing (the last original standing as it were), played by Dennis Waterman. Each and every episode starting with that infernal title music "It's all right ..." sung with cheerfulness by Waterman, knowing that the jingle would bore a hole into your memory forever. Ahh, good memories, New Tricks. Now before nitpickers bring up Anthony Calf as the always hovering head man, DAC Strickland, he didn't become a semi-regular regular until 2005. In fact, he only appeared in less than half the episodes in all, although Strickland did stick around longer than the others. With the original crew all gone after Standing pulls a runner in episode one, the last-season stalwarts actually do a really good job. Amanda Redman certainly had a more than decent successor in Tamzin Outwaite as squad head for a dead-case files team. I'd been slow to warm to Nicholas Lundhurst as the team's odd guy, Danny Griffin. But this last season, he got out-weirded by the even newer Ted Case, played by Larry Lamb. Still, they teamed up with the relative veteran of the team, Denis Lawson's Steve McAndrew to do a good job solving historically unsolved murders, while living entertaining lives. I know this show had had a lot of controversy back in England about the stars seriously disliking some of the writing during the end of their first decade of production. But I always enjoyed what the actors did with that writing they disliked, being the pros the were. Not many shows not named Law & Order something or other get to 12 seasons these days. That the show quit on a high note is great. Once more with gusto, "It's all right ..."

#8 The Hundred Code (CDN/SWE)

You journey across the ocean to track down an evil man who has killed too many people, and almost killed your career. You arrive in Sweden where they all speak English, it seems, if you ask nicely. But you don't ask nicely, you demand. Still, all those blonde and blond characters seem to be good at the job of catching bad guys. So, two episodes in, you've caught the bad guy. And that's when you find out that there is a bigger bad out there. Who you also catch. Only to find that there is STILL a bigger bad to run to ground. (And that guy isn't the end of the badness ratings either). Welcome to The Hundred Code (aka every variation of The, 100, Hundred and Code you can think of), based on a book by Ken Bruen, Merrick . Dominic Monaghan is often-grating American cop Tommy Conley. He's more than willing to wear the mantle of Ugly American if it will help him catch a serial killer he's tracked back to Sweden. The killer that gives him nightmares. And now, he's sharing those nightmares, most notably with reluctant partner Mikael Eklund, played by Michael Nyqvist. It's an uneasy mix because Eklund is thinking about quitting the police force and the abrasive American is tough to handle. Actually, Eklund's not good at handling much at this point. His daughter Hanna, played by Felice Jankell, is really a passive-aggressive obnoxious woman in the making, who wants to hurry that part of her life along. Actually, when Hanna gets herself in serious jeopardy late in the series, I was cheering, just a little bit, for her to exit the scene. Does that make me a bad person? Watch and decide. MOST of the rest of the detective room is made up of good actors from Sweden. Charlotta Jonsoon, Danilo Bejarano, Kristoffer Berglund, Peter Eggers and Hedda Stiernstedt. You get to know them, even though most of the dialogue is in Swedish, but there are non-intrusive sub-titles. Roison Murphy does a good turn as a local ex-pat barmaid, Maggie, who listens to Conley. This being a Nordic police procedural, the overall tone is dreary on dreary. But the fascination that a bigger bad lies ahead in the next episode drove the series for me. And yes, I hear there's a season two ahead. I can't imagine bigger bads. But the Swedes can. 

#7 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

This MIGHT be the best show on TV. MIGHT. The problem is that in the humour that drives the show, there is the fact that the long-form investigative pieces are almost always shining the light on the worst of life in America (there were two shows on Donald Trump ... just sayin'). The show makes you laugh, but it also makes you angry. Angry enough that this great nation south of the 49th, is beset by imbecility and avarice, often both at the same time. How much greater would America be if "Truth, Justice and The American Way," was most definitely NOT just a corny line from a Superman comic book (or maybe the radio series) penned by an ex-pat Canadian. Every country has its own dullards and doofuses. Certainly true here in Canada where we had a wannabe lord and master running the country for most of the last decade. And there's that problem our image suffered because of a now-late mayor of our largest city. In fact, I think Oliver might have devoted a segment on that guy. But it is sad that we now have to turn away from newspapers to get actual real factual provisions from joke shows on Comedy Central. Political commentary is now about how half of America learns it's news, albeit those commentators being comedians on Last Week, Real Time with Bill Maher and The Daily and Nightly Shows. The other half, of course, get their facts from the charlatans running right wing radio. Oliver is a ex-pat Brit who just seems to see the funny side in everything upsetting about America. He admits that he wonders just how far he has to go to force his bosses at HBO to reign him in. Thus far, no boundary. Even when he set up his fake church and accepted donations DESPITE SAYING his church was nothing but a fraud! They ended up collecting SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in donations before shutting down and giving that money to REAL charities. I was thinking of doing the same thing here, just saying I'm a charity worthy of your donations and giving an address for those cheques and real cash to just start rolling in. Would probably fail because I am not as funny as Oliver. Probably. And I'm Canadian and unwilling to do that to my six readers. BUT, if you have a spare buck for the Mugford Relief from Poverty Fund and want to send along a thousand bucks or two, my address is ....

#6 Distant Shores (UK), specifically Series Two

More than ten years ago, ITV in Britain produced a wonderful six-part series called Distant Shores. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was also a SECOND six-part series that followed up on the shenanigans of the first series. It took the producers two years to broadcast the second half, in 2007. Here in Canada, that second series did get a couple of replays over the intervening decade, but never where I was watching. I though the second series was a fake, not real. It wasn't listed at, my goto site for TV episode info.  Besides, the first series had ended perfectly with Peter Davison jumping ship (literally) and swimming back to shore on the island that had become the home and hearth for the Shore family. (Soooooo many metaphors to play with.) And the whole series reminded me so much of Scottish director Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, one of my favourite all-time movies. The whimsy of life on an island off the shores of North Northumberland (ONLY the British could get away with a place called North Northumberland), continues in the second series, with all of the Shores, Bill, wife Lisa (Samantha Bond), Harvey (Matthew Thomas Davies) and Kate (Claudia Renton) becoming even more integrated into life on the island. Of course, Bill, the island's doctor, continues to have his own trials and tribulations with NOT living in London. But it's Lisa that surrenders to some wanderlust, making waves about leaving. Harvey and Kate have their reasons for wanting to stay, not the least of which is that both have grown and matured because of island life. In Kate's case, heartbreak and happiness are two sides of a relationship with the Newcomer, Jake, played by Oliver Boot. Jake the Newcomer is the fox set amongst the hens, but with a good heart. Chief amongst the hens are Kate and Lainey, played by Emma Fildes. Lainey's got her hands full with Duncan's baby, but a romance with Jake blossoms nonetheless. Or with the apparent knowledge of Kate. While Jake does demonstrate a good, if not truthful heart, there is a far more serious threat to the harmony of the island in the form of Christine, played by Connie Hyde. Christine is a one-time fling of Bill's, now bent on turning the island into a wind farm. Thank heavens for TV repeats. I strongly recommend Distant Shores series one, one of the great little British gems of the early Aughts. A slightly lesser recommendation for this series, but not by much. 

#5 Adam Ruins Everything

I raved about this show to just about everybody I knew during it's fall run. Adam Conover, he of the bizarre haircut, glasses and a willingness to stick his nose where it shouldn't belong, is a sort of an Americanized John Oliver lite. Where as Oliver shines his light where the bad guys and gals would prefer he didn't, Conover's schtick is dispelling myths. And there are myths aplenty. Adam Ruins Everything's first series ends with Adam Ruins Death (more accurately, ruins Death as an obsessive chance for some people to make money). But that first series also ruins giving to charity, security, cars, forensic science, restaurants, hygiene, voting, work, summer fun, sex (no, NOT the same thing as summer fun) and nutrition before getting around to good ol' death. I had NO IDEA of the power the car companies had in shaping laws, highways and even the design of most of the cities in America. Makes me want to shout for a do-over. And the Dr. Oz-like TV personalities really get the slap upside the back of the head in the Nutrition episode. But the final one did have a major impact on me. I had NO idea about the ever-changing laws in the States dealing with internment. I bet YOU didn't know either. Now, Adam and his graphic animators (half of every show features OUTSTANDING cartoon infographics), do not solely spark my interest in the show. Hayley Marie Norman and Emily Axford were the two ladies that mostly had their lives, marriages, almost marriages and even deaths (BOOOOO, HISS, HISS if Norman's not back for series two) interfered with by Adam the Noyd. The best part of the show is the pop ins by genuine actual experts to site source and fact for what myth dispelling they are doing. It's like the ultimate click-bait for the internet. I think there will be some VERY INTERESTING essays handed into school teachers this year, if the kids caught this Graded A+ show. I LOVED this show.

#4 Madame Secretary

There are two shows on TV that are perfectly casted. The first is Girl Meets World. The second is Madame Secretary. When you have to search the supporting casts for bit players to dislike, you know the casting director has assembled that rarest of rarities, a group of people you like and want to spend an hour with on Sunday nights. Kudos to those folks. I know couples like the McCords, Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) and Henry (Tim Daly), who argue once a year and that argument lasts less than the time to the next commercial break. But they are as rare as hen's teeth. Leoni and Daly have such good chemistry, you just know they aren't carrying on an off-screen love affair. The writing and the acting have them going hand and glove when administering to the not annoying kids played by Evan Roe, Kathrine Herzer and Wallis Currie-Wood (and yes, I was NOT a fan of Currie-Wood's Stevie in year one). But, as much as the home-life is a Life Magazine illustration, this is a work-place show. The workplace is also where the professional lives of the McCords continue to have serious overlap. There was Elizabeth's corner of the world, riding herd THERE on a group of staffers led by the incomparable Bebe Neuwirth (who did most of the herding). Sebastian Arcelus, Geoff Arend and Patina Miller had less impact than in year one, but that was to be expected with so much story time being devoted to Henry McCord. The Elizabeth side also, obviously, involved the President (Keith Carradine) and his henchman errrr Chief of Staff Russell Jackson (the brilliant as usual Zeljko Ivanek .... I think I might start calling the henchman role the Ivanek Role, he deserves that) in all kinds of hush-hush secrets. Still, the season belongs to Henry who becomes a manager for a spy within the circles of a Russian ruling secretariat that is drawn together like a garrote when the President of Russia, an American sympathizer, is murdered by order of a megalomaniac Mrs. President. The ensuing global tensions are riveting and the spy proves critical in maintaining world peace. But not without a price. The exact nature of that price is not known until virtually the last shot of the season. Powerful stuff. 

#3 Alan Davies' As Yet Untitled (UK)

There have been times this last year and a half when I needed a smile. Not a laugh, because some times things were hurting too much for a big belly laugh. But a smile, something to brighten up even the darkest of my nights. A smile is such a wonderful thing, replete with healing power and will-regeneration. It's like an oasis in the desert, absolutely necessary for life in certain circumstances. And consistently this year, I smiled while watching Alan Davies at work on As Yet Untitled, hosting four comedians in an hour of sit-around-the-bar yakking about the joys and travails about being them in particular, comedians in general. With drinks on the table and little fanfare before the show starts, this British version of a sort of the American The Green Room with Paul Provenza worked, letting you in on the neat people's table at the local bar for a Thursday night post-work get-together. Too early in the week for folks to go off the edge, just pleasant chat with stories and laughs and yes, smiles. Davies is also the co-star of the ever-great QI (which suffered this season through the other co-star, Stephen Fry, and his magic talents as they were). There, he is comedic foil for the put-downs of Fry and the show's gag staff. Here, in his own eponymous show, Davies is the deft director of the story-telling. Each visiting comedian gets to drop names (sometimes from across the table, at least during one episode where Jon Richardson was involved) and tell stories about how they started and how they survived their worst of embarassments. In other words, the basic working goo that makes people laugh. The show's schtick is that they must look back at the end for once catch-phrase to use as the show's title for that episode. I will tell you the titles run from naughty to raunchy in most cases. The word Penis DOES pop up rather often, even though one or two of the guests each week is a lady. Or may be BECAUSE there are ladies in the house. Either way, the reality is that this is a show designed to amuse and delight rather than try to put you on the floor in spasmodic laughter. I need one of those around here. Thankfully, I've got one.

#2 Tyrant

It's hard to know how to approach a show about a bad guy. Think back to the run of Dexter as a must-see TV show that eventually just became too creepy for watching. Breaking Bad, which was about a reluctant bad guy, that needed canceling just about the time when the reluctant bad guy became less reluctant. The Sopranos, a killer with a family, who eventually winds up in the gun sights of the very people he had commanded for so long, before becoming too .... nice. Nice on a scale, but too nice. Stories about bad guys have a beginning, a middle and very definitely an end. How long is Tyrant going to last? It's now in the midst of its third season and I see plenty of ways for the actors to serve out the industry standard seven year contracts. After all, we are talking the ages-old tribal warfare that is the Arabic world. Ashraf Barhom is really, REALLY good as the crazy AND evil AND very human Jamal Al-Fayeed, ruler of Abuddin, thanks to the timely (and expedited) death of his cruel tyrant of a father back in the pilot two summers ago. The funeral served as the means of a home-coming for Jamal's brother, Bassam, who had escaped to America for the life of a doctor with doctor wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) and two spoiled brats of children, Noah Silver (Sammy) and Anne Winters (Emma). Bassam (Adam Rayner) goes through somewhat of a rebirth while back in the home land, leading a coup against Jamal in the first year and becoming Jamal's saviour in the second. Much is made of the situation in Syria where a London dentist eventually becomes the monster that is that country's ruler. But watching the first two seasons of Tyrant, and you can see how the world inhabited by the ruled and their rulers in that part of the world easily can produce a devil and an angel (or should I say Iblīs and malāk, given the locale). It's peculiar watching evil get a human face, which is completely due to Barhom's acting quirks. It's also peculiar watching the titular good guy Barry/Bassam kill. The seventh episode of season two, The Awful Grace of God, was the best hour of dramatic TV I saw last year, a powerful ode to how awful war is. In addition to Sammy doing a lot of growing up in the second season, I should also mention Jameel's boy Ahmed, played by Cameron Gharaee also did a pretty good turn at maturing too. Might be hope for him yet.

#1 Gotham

Sub-titled Rise of the Villains through the first part of the year, Gotham became what Batman became after a rocky start in the comic books ... a classic. This second season took giant strides in fleshing out the Villain's Gallery of foes for the future Batman. Whereas, we really only saw Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor in a bravura performance) plus the nascent Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), plus a bunch of street level thugs and the occasional forgettable freak in season one, the second season brought us crooks aplenty. Azrael, the revived corpse of mayor (and major crook) Theo Galvan, was brought to life with smirking presence by James Frain. Future Two-Face aka Harvey Dent made more impact, thanks to Nicholas D'Agosto. The Firefly and Mr. Freeze both came back from the dead. All that coming back from the dead was because of B.D. Wong's Hugo Strange. Wong's chameleon-like ability to inhabit personnas make him a go-to actor. And he comes through here as the over-arcing bad guy through the year. Amongst the bad guys we also have to include one-time James Gordon paramour Barbara Keen, played by Erin Richards. She was bad, badder, and then good when it counted, which was a tad disappointing as I'm always intrigued into what turns a good person bad. Is it circumstance or something within them or a combination of the two? Whatever, we know what makes guys like Ben McKenzie's future Commissioner Gordon good. It is an indomitable will to overcome evil. Gordon has it, as does young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his dashing butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee). Selina has more of it than she'd want to admit, putting her in the same boat with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, looking as disheveled as ever). Which brings me to the biggest metamorphosis of the year. Cory Michael Smith's Edward Nigma's evolution from police CSI to major loony-tunes The Riddler. It completed this year and the battle between The Riddler and the cops will be a lynch pin of however many seasons are left for this show. If it's anything like the comic book, we can sit back and watch the fun for the next 75 years. Or rather YOU will be able to. I'm just hoping to see the first half of that run.

That's it, my Top 25 in less than 13,000 words. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope even more that you'll check out the shows ... and maybe even the comics. 

  1. Gotham
  2. Tyrant
  3. Alan Davies As Yet Untitled
  4. Madame Secretary
  5. Adam Ruins Everything
  6. Distant Shores S2
  7. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  8. Hundred Code
  9. New Tricks
  10. The Last Ship
  11. The Flash
  12. Hack My Life
  13. Daredevil
  14. Shark Tank
  15. Dark Matter
  16. The Blacklist
  17. Arrow
  18. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  19. The Tunnel
  20. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah / Real Time with Bill Maher 
  21. Limitless
  22. Jessica Jones
  23. Humans
  24. Girl Meets World
  25. The Good Wife

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Top 25 (Give But Not Take, About a Dozen) TV Shows of 20-15-2016 ... That I Enjoyed

The first comic books that I can distinctly remember reading (and collecting), hit the racks and spinners at drug stores all over western suburban Toronto in late 1961. I had turned six earlier in the summer, but had had a rough couple of months that required more than a single visit to my doctor of the time, Dr. Korntager. The drug store near his office in Malton had the BEST selection of comics you could imagine. And I had a mother who had two other young 'uns to look after, so a sick kid willing to stop making a fuss if only I could have a comic book made me an excellent eldest son. And like potato chips (another of my vices), I was not satisfied with having just one comic. In fact, I stopped counting after first 120,000. 

All of this is to certify that I'm a card-carryin' member of the comic book collector's collective's hive mind. I LOVE comic books. And that makes this year just about how I'd imagined a perfect future would be ... back when I was six. The reality is that I count ELEVEN comics in my top 40 this year. And there could have been more. Even properties you do NOT think are actual comic books in video format, you discover are truly funnies in four colours sprung to life. Or into animation. At any rate, if you truly despise comic books and hate how they have taken over the small screen AND the big movie screens, then I urge you to read with caution. Don't NOT read for heaven's sake. The whole art of finding stuff worth binging on is all about digging through the stuff you don't like to find the one or two series (or more, fingers crossed) that you will find worthy of spending a weekend watching episode after episode, only to wander back into work Monday as if you had spent all weekend in your PJs, hands shovelling popcorn into your maw as often as possible. 

As usual, before I get to my Top 40 25, or so, I have to get some of the other stuff out of the way, starting with the warning about the truly awful, the sins against small screen cinema, the worst of the worst, the "What were they thinking?" disasters that absolutely should be costing people jobs so that kind of thing never happens again, the ... well, you get the drift. 
This season was marred by some bad stuff. Outright soft porn managed to gain a foothold on the screen this season. There's been sex scenes on TV for years. Game of Thrones being a leading example. Gruesome sex most of the times, but all the various naughty bits on display in the course of a story that MANY find interesting while being titillating every now and then. But The Girlfriend Experience and then Submission came and went with nary a CNN 'Breaking Newsflash' on the fact that nominally third-tier channels thought either would be a good use of bits and bytes. It's tough to make sex boring. Sad to say, but it has to be said. Or typed. Or whatever.

Then there was the comedies, of which the cringing Ken Jeong starrer Dr. Ken (semi-autobiographical from what I understand) was bad, even with Dave Foley doing the 'Foley Role.' Liked Suzy Nakamura as always, but Jeong thought playing a cringing Oriental made good TV. Oops, Nope. Just another side-show act (from Community and those Hangover movies) seen in small samples playing a LOT less successfully in the title role.

Dr. Ken was ALMOST as bad as the almost award-winning Truth be Told, an NBC failure of epic proportions. A young black couple, a young white couple, and utterly charmless writing, made for a contender as the worst TV experience of the year right out of the box, a clumsy show about prejudicial thinking. This was scraping to the bottom of the guano pit as it turned out. I managed four shows before declaring the show without hope. And maybe it's just co-incidence, but Vanessa Lachey has now done this show AND the execrable Dads a couple of years ago. A beautiful lady ... with a REALLY bad habit of showing up on worthless TV drivel. Sigh.

As bad as those shows were, I actually declared The Player dead during the third commercial break. Thus, an easy winner of The Worst of the Worst Award. An action star vehicle for the returning-to-TV Wesley Snipes. I think paying off tax bills had something to do with Snipes taking on this incredibly vapid 'action thriller'  with the usual dose of conspiracy nut sauce. The show ACTUALLY starred a charisma-starved Philip Winchester and the only saving grace, a charming Britt, Charity Wakefield (who I hope reappears sometime soon on something else). THEN the afore-mentioned doughy, haircut-challenged Snipes as something of a mysterious mentor. That this show lasted nine episodes was an example of NBC's futility at making good TV these days. A bad show with LOTS of external filming in Vegas, made the price tag even greater. That sound you heard was stock in NBC/Universal taking a hit. Wow, was it bad. 

Disappointing award does NOT go to The Arrow this year. It's actually in the top 25 again. No, I had to go elsewhere for my disappointment this time. I was disappointed in Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show, (a fact I MIGHT have mentioned RIGHT here last year) but I like Trevor Noah as a stick-in replacement for Stewart, rather than making a Stewart-like overhaul of the show when Stewart succeeded Craig Kilborn. The problem is that the producers let key talent depart (Jessica Williamson just last month, and Samantha Bee) and kept the unfunny Jordan Klepper. I'll keep my fingers crossed that they let Hasan Minhaj, Desi Lydic, Ronny Chieng and Roy Wood Jr. occupy the correspondent role more often than Klepper.  It's almost CONVENTION TIME. Will Cleveland '16 bring back nightmares from Chicago '68? Might need a few laughs if that happens. 

Castle went out with a whimper, repeating the same tired "We can't speak to each other" nonsense for one last season. You can argue the show went four or five seasons too many. But it was great in the beginning. Heroes Reborn had no reason to come back. Save when Japanese stars Kike Sukezane (anime character Miko) and Toru Uchikado (as Miko-worshiping Ren) were on the screen, my reaction most of the time is, please make this go away and never come back. Again. Might be safe from this gaining ANY network exec's blessing ever again. And Blindspot with it's artsy-fartsy flashback story-telling style, was almost as mindlessly imbecilic as Heroes Reborn. Maybe imbecilic is too harsh. Implausible writing in a major way, especially spoiling what was a nice side story-line featuring Ashley Johnson's Patterson and her geeky charming boyfriend David (Joe Dinicol). Plus Jaime Alexander is on my list. You know, the one that says, 'stay away.' Check out season 1 of Kyle XY and then the second season with Alexander added to the cast. I hold grudges.

Sharon Stone is NOT on that list. Just the opposite, I've been crushing on her since my teen years. I USED to say I could watch a squirming, smiling Sharon Stone and be content. Turns out I was wrong. STAY AWAY from Agent X, another conspiracy claptrap show. Still Gerald McRaney (how they don't find him a movie butler role ... Jeeves, I'm looking at you) and Fred Dryer was a delight. And so was Russian ex-pat Olga Fonda, who I assumed was going to be frenemy to Stone and her Agent X(Jeff Hephner) for what was hoped to be many, many seasons. But they somehow created something with Sharon Stone that I did want to watch. This was ALMOST 'The' award winner.

But nope, The Disappointment of the Year Award goes to Quantico. Take the implausibilities of Blindspot, marry it with  the stretched time-bouncing SF story-telling from Heroes Reborn and the mating would look something like Quantico. A series built around the undeniable beauty of Priyanka Chopra, making her North American debut. But the time looping back and forth and the implausibilities piled on top of improbabilities of behaviour and logic, just made me want to shout at the screen. I gave up after eight episodes of this big budget disaster about a terrorist disaster (or two or three). It felt like getting belted upside the noggin just to enjoy Chopra, Johanna Braddy, Josh Hopkins and Graham Rogers. Thankfully, I stopped the insanity of expecting coherency to suddenly start. But what a shame, with that cast.

So were some of the following shows, each of which I judge to be A Guilty Pleasure: Uncle Buck, Rush Hour/The Catch, Fresh off the Boat, Chasing Life, Mr. Robinson, Faking It, Private Eyes and Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons. Do I R-E-C-0-M-M-E-N-D each of these shows? Not without plenty of reservations. But honestly, there's something about each of them that makes me tell you SOMETHING about each is worthy of taking a look at in summer re-runs (or on one of the ubiquitous TV smorgasbord re-play services).

Uncle Buck is the second TV version of the famous John Candy movie (and there's been at least two other failed pilots to boot). I was completely prepared to give this a pass when I got stuck playing remote control roulette and happened upon the first episode. And I liked the kids (Iman Benson, Sayeed Shahidi and the adorable l'il one, Aalyrah Caldwell), it had James Lesure, who's always good, and Nia Long, who's usually good. Mike Epps was a mumbling Uncle Buck, which is why the show is NOT in my tops list. But it WAS charming. (and yeah, 'WAS' is right. It's been canceled).

CTV here in Canada hoped a summer pairing of another movie turned TV show, CBS's Rush Hour, paired with caper show The Catch from ABC, would catch fire and get the ratings. Rush Hour was badly planned as the show never understood the need for the fights to be thrilling AND funny, as only Jackie Chan does with certainty. Turns out, secondary players Page Kennedy (as crooked Gerald, the cops' best pal) and Aimee Garcia as fellow cop and single parent Didi Diaz, were wonderful on screen. Diaz is all grown up from her days on Dexter. Welcome into my home Aimee. The Catch was also a wonder of background casting. In fact, had they simply switched female lead Mireille Enos with Rose Rollins, the show would have been great. But, as self-indulgent as this complaint is, I could never get over Enos' false eyelashes. Or if not false, mascara'd to a silly length. I never got the chemistry she supposedly had with the able Peter Krause. And the show wasted Jacky Ido, who I had such high hopes on from Brooklyn Taxi. I might be cursing Elvy Yost by predicting big things for her in the future (as I did once with Ido), but this is my right as the writer of this blog. Darn waste of other pros, like Sonya Walger, Alimi Ballard and John Simm. A caper show that I can't recommend ... over eyelashes!!!

Jason Priestly will be forever stuck in Beverly Hills 90210 (the ORIGINAL one) But he and his TV daughter Jordyn Negrii (playing bind young Jules) have more then a few good moments in Private Eyes. Biggest problem for the now grizzled Priestley is that I just don't see the chemistry they are trying to create for him with co-star Cindy Sampson. Sigh. The show is shot in Toronto and isn't afraid of admitting it to be so. 

Lastly, Bill Simmons is a polarizing figure made more so when you can actually see him smirking. If you aren't a multiple Boston fan (with a minor affection for the Los Angeles Clippers), then Simmons already has caused your axe to start grinding. But so far, (three episodes in), Simmons has been around on the set when his guests said something interesting. This show works hard to alienate all but the most ardent sports fanatics. I am one, having let Simmons--the writer, change my mind on the best basketball players of all time (Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell. Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, convincing me Wilt Chamberlain didn't belong near the top). If he made the EXACT same arguments to me on TV, I'd change channels. Ignore him and pay attention to the guests. Unless you're from Boston, which means you really, REALLY like him.

I also understand that I like (and will watch), shows for just one character. Take Fresh off the Boat, loosely based on the life of famed chef and TV presenter, Eddie Huang, the show is really great whenever the youngster playing young Eddie, Hudson Yang, is off-screen. Eddie, the little guy, is ... boring. Not so his TV mom, played by Constance Wu. I've come to understand that I enjoy the funny aspects of broken people. And Jessica Huang is broken. But in a funny, funny way. Everybody else is okay in the show, but too much Eddie and too little Jessica could spoil your TV experience. Getting it the other way would make for a lucky day. Chasing Life was strictly chicklit stuff but I developed a real crush on Italia Ricci and truly enjoyed Haley Ramm as younger sister Brenna, who has lots of problems, one of which was NOT having cancer. That was all Ricci's April Carver. Her best friend Beth (Aisha Dee) and Grandma (Rebecca Schull) were brilliant. But the decision to let Scott Michael Foster's Leo go bye-bye while Foster moved to the odious oil stinker Blood & Oil was a series killer. Still, Chasing Life was a standout in the genre.

Mr. Robinson was a summer series featuring ... Craig Robinson, which PROBABLY had something to do with the title. Robinson plays a high school music teacher (accidentally) and the front of a house band that is looking for that all-elusive Big Break. And overly entertaining, if only for Robinson (and his most-excellent song-writing) and Peri Gilpin. Keeping things in a high school vein, this brings me to Faking It, the MTV show that featured American Idol competitor Katie Stevens and Rita Volk faking being lesbians in order to gain social status. Turns out Volk's character, Amy, is curious. In so many ways. Volk's yet another import from the Russian area of the world (Uzbekistan) and she's going to do well. So are the REAL reasons to watch the show, gayer than gay Shane, as played by Michael J. Willet, and hellion princess (in her own mind) Lauren, played with potty mouth rage by doe-eyed, diminutive Bailey De Young. Her ragers played off the always scheming Shane to steal the show. Like Mr. Robinson and Chasing Life and Rush Hour and possibly The Catch, we are talking about the dead, series life-wise. They've been canceled or are near it.

Time to turn my attention to Honourable Mentions, shows that I liked, but that I didn't like as much as others. Remember, this is not only purely subjective, it's NOT a list of the BEST shows on TV. Indeed, there are some series who have made this list, but disappeared in subsequent seasons. I like Homeland's first season, as an example, of agreeing with the TV credits. Afterwards, not so much. They say familiarity breeds contempt. Well, I rarely have contempt for shows I liked before, but they have to change and do things to keep my interest going to remain on this list. Sometimes that happens. Most times not. NCIS, for example, was my top show one year and has never appeared on the list in any other season of the long-running show. So, if you are expecting to see the usual litany of critic darlings here, be aware you will be wrong. But keep on reading. Something from here on will intersect with your interests. 

Two rookie shows turned out to fill the JUST-MISSED slots. The first was Lucifer, based, ta-dah!!!, on a comic book, although it was more loosely based than usual. Tom Ellis was hugely entertaining in a role not greatly removed from Rush, a show last year that forced him to give up his Welsh accent for something generically American. Letting him loose with his native accent and a glee in playing Lucifer as the male half of a detective duo pairing amateur male with woman cop (see Castle, as a working example), was devilishly fun. Lauren German was a wonderfully stressed out Chloe Decker, complete with cute kid Trixie played with devilish delight by Scarlett Estevez. Got a career ahead of her, that one. The season ends with a single word that is almost the equal of 'Rosebud' in Citizen Kane. If THAT is a spoiler, then you, the reader, have failed me, the writer. So, NOT SORRY!!!

The strong finish with Lucifer is counter-point to the horrible season-ender for Rosewood, dropping it SIX spots in the standings. Boy, did I hate that last episode. Until then, a amateur male sleuth (although amateur is a tad harsh, as Rosewood is a police consultant who ends up doing more morgue work than the official coroner) and the usual female cop, Jaina Lee Ortiz playing Detective Villa. And for the first few episodes, it was DETECTIVE Villa, not Annalise. But given time, Villa warms to the considerable charms of Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Jr., as embodied by Morris Chestnut. Chestnut is an always charming rapscallion in every role he plays, it seems. And he gets to the point of making a real connection to Annalise, a widow as the series begins, when the last episode goes implausibly off the tracks. Twenty-one pretty good episodes and then a clunker. That's why there's an honourable mention consolation prize. Also loved the pairing of Gabrielle Dennis as Rosey's kid sister Pippy, and her partner, TMI Izikoff (Anna Konkle). Plus Domenic Lombardozzi as Villa's boss. But that last episode ...

A GREAT final episode pulled Jennifer Lopez-starrer Shades of Blue up into 30th overall. A fairly taught show with attention to detail regarding the pressure of being on the good guy side, even while stepping (sometimes JUMPING) over that line.  A whole final season that was truly final, dropped my perennial favourite, The Musketeers, down to 35th. I just couldn't handle the deaths of so many characters, and peculiarly, D'Artagnon's apparent invulnerability to sword-skewering turned even worse, when a building (or was it two?) was basically dropped on him. Sigh. No question that there will be no fourth season. I suspect that there WILL be a second season of Stan Lee's The Lucky Man (aka Lucky Man), starring James Nesbitt as a London police detective headed down the road of self-destruction to oblivion when he turns his luck around with a chance encounter at a casino that turns him into literally the luckiest guy around. Said luck has to come from somewhere and it's his partners that end up paying the price for his luck. All of this while uncovering a great conspiracy at the very head of the organization he works for. Only one question. Exactly what did Stan Lee contribute to this show from across the pond from where he normally does his work?

Star Wars Rebels had the best of a fairly disappointing animation season. To bad the trailers for next season portend different looks for the characters and the changes are NOT for the good. Apparently, a different studio overseas is producing the artwork. Still. tje show finished 29th and is joined in the HM's by Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured the best humour of the myriad of Marvel and DC animated properties. Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Sinister Six was in the ballpark, but the reliance on Dr. Octopus sunk it far enough that it did not make the top 40. As for anime, there was one Korean series I liked enough to watch all the episodes, not that I could recommend it here. I WISH I could have found an English sub-titled or dubbed version of Re: Zero Starting a Life in Another World. Eminently watchable despite not speaking Japanese, I eventually decided I would await a translation. Never came. But the animation is SOOOO good, that you could figure most things out for yourself. 

More near misses from the comic book sector. iZombie slipped because turning major baddie David Anders' Blaine human made for less ominously-tinged fun for (here's a switch) amateur detective Liv (Rose McIvor), the coroner's assistant/zombie, and detective cop Clive (Malcom J. Goodwin). Loved Rahul Kohli as Ravi and Alyson Michalka as Peyton, but my dislike for Robert Buckley's Major was not overcome this year. CBS let us have a look at the extremely likable Melissa Benoist as Supergirl, but then banished her to CW for season two. If only they'd left Fort Rozz in the Phantom Zone and not flooded Earth with super-powered Kryptonians. Still, points for involving Dean Cain and Helen Slater. May season two discover Arrow-like improvements. Hated DC's Legends of Tomorrow mostly, but I couldn't help but like the snark of Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold and ... I'm having trouble typing this given my dislike of him in Arrow (and other things), but the eternal sunshine-y optimism of Brandon Routh's Atom. Plus, we have been promised The Justice Society of America in season two. 'Nuff for me. Barely. Not strictly speaking a comic book series, Comic Book Men, still has me as a regular watcher of the Kevin Smith vanity project. Did I mention I am a collector (and former comic book store flunkie and a software programmer who sells comic book store point of sale software?). I like comic books and there's plenty more series to talk about in the top 25, which, honest, I am close to getting around to.

What else in the Honourable Mentions. Not a great year for animal material despite a flood of stuff relating to Sir David Attenborough's 90th birthday. I like The Secret Life of the Zoo, which once more visits the Chester Zoo. But all that interesting elephant stuff goes for naught with a dreadful (crashing right out of the rankings) last episode. Echo and the Elephants of Amboseli benefits from a wonderful narration by Noma Dumezweni, who was born in Swaziland and lived in Botswana, Kenya and Uganda, thus retaining a wonderful accent that distinguishes her from other BBC narrators. But the series was twice as long as it might have been with tighter editing. Still, a great show on elephants. 

To close out the HM's a couple of quickly canceled shows. Angel from Hell starred Maggie Lawson (always awesome) and Jane Lynch (pretty well perpetually perfect) and was very funny, at least through the five episodes that originally aired. But I guess the CBS execs saw some of the episodes it has been burning off in July and decided that it had to go despite that strong handful of episodes out of the gate. Too bad. Thought this one had legs. The other quick cancel button victim was Minority Report from Fox. I mean, SF + Fox = a premature death ... who could have predicted that? Apart from any SF viewer or Fox watcher of the last twenty years. The show had warts all over, not the least of which was trying to run a TV show on the carcass of one of the biggest budget SF movies of all time. I thought Meagan Good (female cop Lara Vega) and amateur sleuth Dash (Stark Sands) as the pro-amateur pairing that screams "Like us!!" at me, were pretty good. Rakish Nick Zano as Arthur, Dash's brother was also delightful. Weirdly, the show DID get the notice the plug was coming out and finished off the story to a reasonable degree. Shame of it was I thought this MIGHT evade the Fox curse. Why I trust that network with SF projects is beyond me.

Well, ready for a Top 25? Thanks for reading to this point. From here on, solid recommendations for binge-watching ... especially if you like comic books.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thirteen Upsets Gives Jayhawks another title

Another year, another frantic time trying to make out a representative bracket. I'm a Jayhawk guy (their last tournament title won me my most recent swag from doing these brackets ad nauseum ... it's been TOO long). So, I'm happy to keep sending Kansas' name to the right all six times I could.

I normally do my power calculations the week OF Championship Week, preferring not to let any of the weekend games sway my opinion of the worthiness of the teams as national candidates. Sometimes, losing, even early, in the league tournament gives a team valuable rest (I'm talking about YOU, Duke!!). Other times, I see a player have a one-of-a-kind weekend and then forget that there's a definition of one-of-a-kind that doesn't presage sustained success. Ergo, Oregon's ascension to the top seed with good health finally made me stop and consider my little spreadsheet, where they were barely a top 25 team.

Nope. I have stuck to my guns. I added travel fanbase numbers (an extra four points in rankings for less than 240 miles to the games and two for keeping it under 420) and threw in some small token appreciation for the tournament committee seedings (hey, they ARE professionals at this assessing thing). And what my sheet told me in the end (I also factored in health), was that Michigan State was going to just nip Virginia to play sacrificial lamb to the Jayhawks this year. You just can't possibly over-estimate Tom Izzo when he has the guns, and in Denzel Valentine, a sublimely complete player ... think Brandon Roy after a small growth spurt ... to maybe even threaten Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk. But Kansas' finest are deep, balanced in terms of scoring and defending and have senior leadership, as well as three guards who can contribute and shoot and a big man who can defend, rebound and score too. Hell, Perry Ellis will throw in more than the odd three. Kansas it is.

Kansas will have a less-stressful trip through the opening rounds. After the inaugural round laugher against the wonderfully-named Austin Peay squad, the Jayhawks will get UConn instead of Colorado and then Maryland instead of Cal (two teams with THREE potential lottery picks over the next two NBA drafts). Villanova, who will get their own break in facing Miami FLA instead of Arizona, will give the Jayhawks a good warmup before facing the West Region survivor, Oklahoma. Yep, Big 12 time in ChiTown. It'll be the best game of the weekend, in all probability.

Oklahoma will get some breaks of its own. VCU is one of the three double-figure seeds to upset in the opening round, taking out Oregon State. That gives the Sooners something to feast on and Oklahoma will get a second straight gift as Duke will outlast the West Coast upstarts Oregon to make the Sweet 16. Not a good time to be hailing from Oregon. Although Oregon DID get a break with Cincinnati being one of the three Nine seeds to get to the weekend.

The East will be the epitome of Rock, Chalk, Whatever. West Virginia will mug Xavier in the regional semi-final, providing the only upset of the region. North Carolina will emerge, having taken out Canada's star collegian attraction Jamal Murray, the one-and-done Kentucky Wildcat. The BEST game this weekend rates to be Kentucky and Indiana in a border war that reminds EVERYBODY how foolish the decision to abandon the regular games between the two schools was. Whoever was responsible for that deserves not to be able to watch this game. It'll be a barn-burner.

Most of the fun on Thursday and Friday will come from the Midwest, where Butler will down #8 Texas Tech, Syracuse will continue celebrating Jim Boeheim's return by scuttling #7 Dayton and Gonzaga, rife with international talent including sort-of Canuck Kyle Wiltjer, will trim the sails of the #6 Seton Hall Pirates. The weekend will see Purdue knock off Iowa State while NEXT weekend, it will be the Spartans of Michigan State beating Virgina for the regional crown. State will then do in North Carolina the weekend after, setting the stage for the big final on the following Monday.

The tournament won't be as good as it COULD have been. Having Tulsa and Vanderbilt in, so that Monmouth gets sent to the NIT feels like a horrible mistake. I should point out that BOTH of the other two schools are in the First Four and somebody with THAT distinction has gotten to the second week of the tournament every year since the tournament expanded to 68 teams. But that streak ends this year, although if anybody does put paid to that promise, it will be Wichita State. Also, somebody should have found a way to get LSU and Ben Simmons into the event, even as a write-in candidate. LSU's loss in the SEC play-offs was the end of Simmons' college career. And he won't even win the Wooden Award despite being obviously the best player in the game this year. Academics ruined that. The next time we'll see Simmons is when the Sixers take him with the first pick in the NBA draft.

But there's still Valentine and Oklahoma's Buddy Hield. I'm looking forward to seeing Iona's AJ English. And every game Murray has as a collegian is must-see TV.

Now do with what you have just read as you will. I won't even ask for a cut. Good luck picking the perfect bracket.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Top TWO FORGOTTEN books of 2015

Well, isn't THAT embarrassing!?!

We all know I can't count to 25 from reading the end of year Top 25 Books and the mid-year Top 25 TV programs. But now, it seems, I can't read the screen and see that I needed to write about 37 books in the massive review blog posting a fortnight ago.

Left off two Mysteries/Thrillers, both series books. John Grisham's The Fugitive and Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich's The Job. Erk and gadzooks! Grisham is on the short list of my Mom's favourite authors while I'm old pals with Goldberg and a member of the Evanovich fan club.

I have edited the Top 25 list to include the two books, update my counting (again) and promise to be more careful next New Year's Eve.

Friday, January 01, 2016

My Top 25 (or so) Books of 2015

First, let me start by pointing out NOT to bother counting how many books are in my Top 25. I MIGHT have enjoyed MORE books than that number to the fullest extent of the Kovid scale and I think trying to hit 25 right on the nose. And of course, my favourite book of the year turns out to be eight books in all. I admit to my mathematical failings completely.

What is The Kovid Scale. It's a one-to-ten scale named after the originator of the Calibre eBook Database program. It is quite possibly the most important piece of software on my computer. Helped a little in the early days getting it going. That makes me feel good. But I haven't had an idea worth fixing or implementing in years at this point. Kovid Goyal has assembled a dedicated team of programmers to update the program on a virtual WEEKLY basis. I think there were 46 updates in 2015. But I might have mentioned previously that, of late, math is not my strong suit. But regardless of whether I'm off by an update or three, the shear doggedness of Kovid et al in making a FREE program WORTH PAYING MONEY for, is worth a donation here via button in the upper right hand corner. Get it if you do ANY eBook collecting, whether through Amazon or not. It's simply an amazing piece of software.

All of the books I write about (except in a couple of comparisons) I rated as 10 Kovids out of a possible score of ten. That's NOT to say that each book is perfect or even great literature. The Kovid scale is based purely on my enjoyment of the process of reading the book, whether I devoted time to reading it rather than watching TV, eating, sleeping or (sorry about this Boss) doing money-making work.

Take for example, Aliette de Bodard's multi-award nominated SF book, On a Red Station, Drifting. It's easy to see why that three-part novella had chins wagging and typists typing. It's flowery with outstanding imagery and solid extrapolation of a future Vietnamese-based society. But for me, getting through all of that mannered description was TOO MUCH HARD WORK. So, I abandoned the book two-thirds of the way through it. The book (yes, I'm calling a novella a book, as I do three short stories on this list) is not in my Top 25. Reading for me, is either work-related or fun. I want a page turner that brings a smile to my face every now and then. Don't much like horror in any form nor incessant crude language. I want to escape my current existence and be somewhere else for a few hours.

Or a lot of hours in the case of the eight books in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Anniversary Day Saga, which takes place in her Retrieval Artist universe set a hundred years from tomorrow. The Moon is colonized and humanity has found a working relationship with various alien species by adopting one set of over-riding laws: The Law of the Land (Society or Planet) prevails. So Humans have to behave as per the local customs when they step outside the confines of our solar system. Which, being human, they frequently don't. This leads to the creation of Retrieval Artists, detectives of a sort who search for people who have abandoned their life because of a ruling that they have contravened the laws somewhere else. Often draconian laws that go beyond death sentences to having their children taken away. Rusch does an immensely good job of constructing believable aliens that really aren't just humans with funny nose appliances. In particular, the Peyti. There's a bit of a Jewish allegory here, but it's in the background rather than being heavy-handed.

The prior books in the main series present a truly unique detective noire approach to a possible future, that has been detailed in seven books I've enjoyed immensely over the years. What takes this year's effort by Rusch to another level is that she churned out the last six books of the series so that her publisher, WMG, could release them one a month for the first half of the year. In October, I sat down and read the complete set of books in a fortnight. And these weren't novellas, not at all, on average being 350-page books, thank her very much! But she constructed this decades-long battle by subversives to break the federation of planets and their Law of the Land, terrorizing the Moon multiple times over. It's a mystery and a conspiracy thriller all wrapped up in one (or rather eight) books. It's a wonderful accomplishment by a writer who also publishes a short story EVERY Monday and blogs incessantly about the business of being a writer. How she does it, I am completely baffled. I hear she doesn't sleep. And unlike writing factories like Clive Cussler and James Patterson, she does ALL the writing in these books. Did I mention she also writes romance and mysteries TOO?!?!

Now, I'd start by reading the first seven books in the Retrieval Artist series (there's a couple of short stories involved too). But if you don't want to spend three months in one place in space, I think you could probably just dive in with Anniversary Day. Blowback and A Murder of Clones also came out in hardcover before this year. But I read eBooks and paperbacks, so as far as I'm concerned, A Murder of Clones got January off to a good start. After that, Search & Recovery, The Peyti Crisis, Vigilantes, Starbase Human and then the finale, Masterminds, completes the intra-series.

I DID have quibbles. Masterminds STILL leaves a few threads unravelled, in particular a murder by some cops. Miles Flint comes across as slightly too rigid to be believable where it comes to his daughter Talia, a clone of his actual real daughter, dead since the first book in the whole series. He tries to give Talia everything, other than honest support as she goes through HER troubles assimilating losing her mother and discovering her father is far from dead, as her mother had told her. I honestly assume I would break every single self-rule I ever imposed, if given a second chance like he gets. On the other hand, Talia spends so much time in panic mode that I find THAT a tad unbelievable. Although, I admit, I've never been a teenage girl and never lost-- and found-- a parent. Still, the uber-smart and talented Talia is played for more of a victim than a heroine to save the day. I wanted to scream at the both of them. "TALK TO EACH OTHER!!!" So, I guess, that says it all about these books. I was invested.

KK Rusch's Anniversary Day saga is the most enjoyable book of the year. All 2000+ pages of it. George R. R. Martin, eat your heart out!!

What WOULD have been the book of the year had I not spent October mooning over Rusch's writing? Honestly, it would have been a baseball fantasy by Bill Branger called The New York "Yanquis" or a short story about feudal Japan, with fantasy underpinnings, called Only A Shadow by Steve Bein. Bein's first book in the Fated Blades series won the top spot two years ago, and you will find the series capper a little bit further down. But I can't believe how delightful a little slice of life in Bein's series was. And we are certainly in a new world, where a writer like Bein, can find himself with a little story that can't fit into his novels but that he can release as a short story electronically that took less than an hour to read. I'm hoping we do hear from Tada in the future.

Branger's book was a tour-de-farce, postulating a time that has now come and gone, where a bombastic owner of the New York Yankees could get so disgusted with his team of over-paid, under-performing superstars and decides to replace the lot with Cubans. Embargoed Cubans. How that is done and what happens next, had me laughing throughout. It's a delight little book, told from the viewpoint of a tired old pitcher on his last leg with an uncertain future in automotive sales before becoming the guy to wrangle all of these young and naive baseball wunderkinds from Fidel Castro era Cuba.

So, we're up to ten recommended books at this point. Now's the time to put them out there in no particular order. I'll do it by niche. If you aren't into SF or computers or whatever, you can skip those parts. I promise you that there are super-entertaining reads scatted throughout these sections. Pick and choose according to your preferences.

Science Fiction

This is the domain of Jack Campbell and Mike Shepherd. And sure enough, both writers are here. Shepherd for just the second book in the Vicky Peterwald series, Survivor, because I didn't get the annual Kris Longknife book until this past week. So, just the single Shepherd entry. Peterwald and Longknife share the same crazy SF universe. Both are princesses, Longknife using her position to make life better for humanity. Peterwald's the spoiled opposite who has seen the error of her ways and is trying to make up for lost time. Shepherd is innovative alien-wise and seems to have an interesting insight into the Machiavellian intrigues of courts, good or bad. And let's face it, I LOVE anything Shepherd writes.

Or that Campbell writes. Which explains ...

Campbell hits the list FIVE times altogether. Campbell's original Lost Fleet series has now spun off to produce top-notch fourth and fifth books in the Beyond the Frontier intra-series follow-up called Steadfast and Leviathan respectively while the OTHER off-shoot of Lost Fleet, The Lost Stars series #3, Imperfect Sword, that follows one of the losing group in the original series to interesting places. It's becoming more and more apparent that trust is building between President Gwen Iceni and General Artur Drakon in Imperfect Sword. That trust now seems built on actual action, rather than being forced upon them by circumstances, which is good for the newly independent Midway star system. The budding democracy there is entertaining, as was Steadfast and Leviathan, where Black Jack Geary performs his strategic masterpieces to battle a new enemy from an old foe. The AI (artificial intelligence) warships have been created to battle Geary's space Navy with Geary's own history of tactics forming the AI's strategies. What's worse, Geary's battle to the death is against an armada created by a splinter group of his own commanding officers, led by an admiral with a grudge and no clue what evil he has unleashed.

A three-story collection of Novella's called Swords and Saddles adds to the Campbell claim to fame. Three very strong stories, including what might be called the fourth story in the Paul Sinclair (think JAG in space) series. But the true gem is the first story, The Rift that tells the story of valiant marines not only surviving against intractable odds, but actually winning a battle that seems impossible, but logical in its conclusion.

That leaves me with one further Campbell book, but that is in the Fantasy section.

And what would a SF section be without a NINTH book from Rusch, this one a novella in the Diving Universe series of books and shorter stories. The Application of Hope provides readers with greater depth of understanding of the distance-hopping foldspace technology that fuels the series with stories from all over the universe. It's a tale of hope sustained, realized and ultimately doomed. Heart wrenching. 

Continuing on with SF, we have The Martian by Andy Weir, Murder in Orbit by Bruce Coville, Andromeda's War by William C. Dietz, Lock In by John Scalzi, Cutting Edge by Kendrick E. Knight, Red Tide by Larry Niven and Battle Cruiser by B.V. Larson. That's a pretty good list of constant favourites (Dietz, Scalzi and Niven) with four newcomers to my recommended author's list.

Dietz' book is the concluding book in the Prequel trilogy to the Legion of the Damned series of books. Whew! It features the heroics of one-time Royal, Andromeda McKee, now a leading presence in Dietz' imagined continuation of the French Foreign Legion in space. My next door neighbour would hate this book on principle alone, but Andromeda makes for a fierce warrior who finds ways out of pickles and into the halo of victory.

Contrasting that military SF are a couple of impact technologies books. Niven's book is an expansion of his short story Flash Crowd. It's actually Niven writing with Brad Torgerson and Matthew Harrington, rather than going it alone. So the writing isn't completely smoothed out. But this examination of what personal teleportation could mean in a future Los Angeles. Makes you think. A lot. Niven, with or without co-writers, is always worth reading. Scalzi has continued his clever extrapolation ways as he combines the effects of a global pandemic that creates bed-ridden sufferers unable to move a muscle, along with the ability of some people, especially the locked in ones, to temporarily take over the bodies of other people. It leads to a most unusual society and a difficult one for newly minted FBI agent Chris Shane, who needs to solve a diabolical murder. On his first day on the job. Scalzi's long hot streak continues.

The newcomers did it different ways. 'It' being making this list. Weir's book is very much better than the big summer movie. More details, more sense of impending futility to our wayward Martian's survival. Worth the time to read ... even if you saw the movie. Coville's book is a young adult novel that features Rusty McPhee, a child in a man's environment--a space station. McPhee finds a (presumed dead) body while working in the waste disposal unit. He tries to report that, but the necessarily super-efficient waste processing destroys the evidence. And that's not the only murder. So how does this 'Boy Who Called Murder' go about nabbing the bad guy before the bad guy bags him? Good stuff. Larson's book is, what else, another Military SF book, a start to a new series, and a book that can compete in the Jack Campbell stratosphere. Larson's accomplished in the niche and this book left me looking for more. Recommended goes without saying. The Kendrick book also kicks off a series. It's wildly imaginative, laugh out loud funny and lots of fun to read. The follow-up didn't quite match the mania of the original, so I'm only awarding Cutting Edge a perfect ten. But the second Nick Blade book is fun too and I'm looking forward to Knight continuing the series.


In the Dark Ages, information was hoarded like it was gold. Unfortunately, hoarding information became endemic and remains to this day. Jack Campbell has taken that idea and run with it in creating the Pillars of Reality series. Mari is a Mechanic, a guild member that has not only been taught the art of making machines work, but is even a sort of computer expert. Think "Steam Punk" computers, Mari being a master already with legendary prowess before being out of her teens. Campbell realises you basically have to have magic in a fantasy and he sets up Alain of the Mage's Guild to be the yin to Mari's yang. Alain operates under the belief that the world is nothing but an illusion, to change as he desires, leaving him with all of the social skills of a juvenile rhinoceros. The two have a meet cute that's supposed to end with them both being dead. Instead the two of them spend all of The Dragons of Dorcastle finding a way to truly communicate, despite their upbringings. I really enjoyed this departure from space opera that Campbell (actually John Hemry) has mastered. The second book was like the second Knight book. Good, just not perfect. And I now have the third volume, ready to include it in NEXT year's Top 25.

Putting Steve Bein's Disciple of the Wind here is a requirement due to the magical elements emanating from the Inazuma Blades down through the years in Japan. Present day Tokyo cop Mariko Oshiro has her hands full with the crazed antics of The Wind leader, Joko Daishi. Daishi's a nutcase with access to a magic sword AND a demon mask that lets him create a showdown with Oshiro despite being shot point blank by one of his followers and generally getting beat up whenever he and Oshiro go head to head. Tokyo is terrorized in ways ISIS could never imagine. Well, that is until the finale. Oshiro's world crumbles a lot in this book, what with her going rogue and being off the force for most of it. The present day stuff is balanced against the late 16th century tale of Daigoro, the Bear Cub, recovering HIS Inazuma Blade, his name and his lands. That's really the stuff I was most interested in, because the Joko Daishi stuff was a bit beyond the pale of belief. But it's all good Japanese stuff and a treat to read and be informed.


A novel and a bio. The novel is Mike Lupica's Fantasy League. The bio? Keith Glass' Taking Shots.

While Fantasy League wasn't the only YA I read that mined the same territory (kid trying to make it as a football player in the local youth league, while having an in with the owner of the local NFL outfit), it merited mention here instead of Tim Green's effort because of heart and likability. Charlie 'The Brain' Gaines has a girl for a best friend and that girl is the grand-daughter of the pro team owner. He's a wiz with tactics, not so much with his body. He, Anna and Grandpa Joe make for a quirky, if uber likable lot. The ending is pure schmaltz. Just what I wanted.

Keith Glass is a sports agent with a conscience. A rarity. He's also a man who has spanned College, NBA and Minor League basketball in a way that I found fascinating and informative. He played and coached in high school and college. And he's represented all-pros and never-were NBA pros. He's the Jewish agent who represented Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson), the Muslim who wouldn't stand for the American anthem. His clients included players who were colossal failures and some who were colossal over-achievers. He even makes sense out of family friend Larry Brown.


Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a master of YA fantasy but takes a shot at teenagers and back room deals in The Fixer. It's a determined move into the Ally Carter oeuvre and it's really a good read. The anger that exists with sixteen year old Tess Kendrick as she's forced to move cross-country and into the home of her older sister Ivy is a bit of a reach. But if you buy the "you abandoned me" rationale for the tension, then the rest of this book will be easy. There's a lot more to the book than sisterly disaffection. Both sisters are 'fixers,' experts at getting through problems for other people. It's an ability with power inherent. And naturally, the needs of both fixers come into conflict. Just how do they fix their relationship AND handle a crisis in the country that includes death in the White House? Looking very much forward to the sequel in mid-year.


Joel Spolsky's Smart and Gets Things Done is a book from the early Aughts. A lot of the book is outdated in terms of names. But the concept of creating an IT department or a pool of programmers with ideas is timeless. I'm still a one-man programming shop, but I feel like I'd be a bit better prepared if I was to suddenly win the lottery and start up a team to do the coding while I just Architect the software. And really, if you were wondering why I'd keep working after winning the lotto, don't be. I really enjoy the creative process. Would not want to quit, no way, no how.

I struggled with whether to put the Linus Torvalds' biography, Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary, in the Computer section or into Non-Fiction. But it ended up here because some of the geek-speak in the book would be a turn off with all the technological details. It's a fascinating book about a fascinating man, even if he calls journalists (I'm a past member) 'scum.' The sections written by co-author Dan Diamond read like magazine interviews with lots of tech data and 'what we were doing during the interview' distractions. But Linus on Linus is pretty raw and I find that I like Linus a whole lot. Still don't use his O/S, but I respect him immensely after reading how the solitary by nature Finn took on Microsoft and Apple to more than hold his own in the world of operating systems today.


Porter Erisman was the lone Westerner in on the beginning of Jack Ma's uber-UBER-successful Alibaba, the Chinese answer to Google, eBay and Amazon. It's bigger than all three now. But it wasn't a mere dozen years ago after Ma, an English Teacher in a far-off part of China who overcame failing his college entrance exams TWICE, started the journey to global domination by starting the little Internet company he called Alibaba. The journey from a hole in the wall office to where they are now makes for interesting reading by Erisman, who completely puts aside his ego in telling the story of the company in Alibaba's World: How a Remarkable Chinese Company is Changing the Face of Global Business. Really informative.

Mysteries and Thrillers

If you skipped the Fantasy section, go back for Steve Bein's book. Just think of the 'fantastical' elements as hallucinations and misperceptions. If you have ANY interest in modern day or feudal day Japan, the book qualifies here too.

A handful of series continuations (I live for series), with two of them extensions of cancelled TV shows. Greg Cox brings back the Leverage gang for The Bestseller Job. If you liked Leverage and who DOESN'T LOVE caper shows?, then the extra hook here is the ability to imagine writing a best-selling book overnight. I miss the show, but not as much now.

And Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham are continuing the Veronica Mars universe with the second book as the follow up to the TV show. Mr. Kiss and Tell has Veronica making the move back to detective from New York lawyer, much to her father's continued consternation. The whole gang's back (even Logan) for yet another sheriff election in Neptune. Full of witty repartee and unwitting danger. More of the same, but with a more adult edge then we are used to. Wish Thomas could find time for another movie.

And of course, what would any Top 25 list be, if John Sandford wasn't on it. Not a great year for Lucas Davenport, but he's at least present and partially accounted for as a supporting rol in the latest Virgil Flowers book, Storm Front. Take the most laid-back of all laid-back detectives in the employ of the Minnesota BCA and match him with a Mossad agent with an agenda. Did I mention how sexy the female agent is? How distracted Flowers almost becomes? Of course, having the Middle East and all of its troubles come to Minnesota does have some dangerous implications. At the end, Flowers finds the stone at the heart of all of this and a few more places to toss out his fishing line. That IS why they call him That F'in' Flowers, isn't it?

Now, going 180 degrees away from discussing epithets starring Virgil Flowers, let me praise the fifth Theodore Boone book by John Grisham, called The Fugitive. Well, maybe not 180 degrees, unless you focus in on Theo Boone being a kid lawyer in the making. Not like youngish adult, no like YA. This outing sees Theo off to Washington for some school trip learnin' only to see the Pet Lawyer and son of lawyers, young Boone turn into sleuth Theo Boone. There's a bad guy from an earlier book in the series that needs nabbing. Will Theo re-direct his future ambition to becoming an FBI agent? Well, been there, done that rules that out, I think. DO NOT let the YA label put you off. Pay more attention to the Grisham name on the cover.

I've exchanged words with Lee Goldberg over my (slight) disappointment in his O'Hare and Fox (or is it Fox and O'Hare?) books. Liked the debut novella and the first two books in the series. Decent enough reads. But with Goldberg teaming up with chicklit superstar Janet Evanovich, who I also adore for here Stephanie Plum series, I expected rapid-fire 10 Kovid recommendations for the next few years. Goldberg, the man behind MOST of the Mr. Monk novels and several loved standalones, and I verbally sparred over my not being over the moon. I said I anticipated better, he said look at the sales stats. Could hundreds of thousands of readers be wrong? I let the matter drop. Mostly because I KNEW 2015 had started off with the third book in the series, The Job, earning 10 Kovids. I've described this series as a modern-day Nick and Nora Charles. I'll stick with that. It's the best parts of two REALLY GREAT writer's, adding RomCom sensibilities to Goldberg's tension-filled writing about exotic locales. It's almost the perfect caper book in a series about capers. Now, I hope Lee won't notice that the fourth book, The Scam, missed the list (Hate cliff-hangers when I was going to read the next book ANYWAY)

Lastly, a standalone short story by Andy McDermott, doing some sideline work while away from the Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase books. Murder on the Orient Excess is a superb locked room (on an airplane) murder mystery starring infuriating know-it-all Leviticus Gold. He's sort of the opposite of Sherlock Holmes, while sharing the eagle eye for detail. I really hope the story turns into an ongoing series. So should you.


So, how many books did this whole list eventually come to. If you got thirty-seven, then I think I agree with you. That's 37 out of the approximately 105 books, novellas and short stories I got through this year. Pretty good average. Most are gimmes coming from existing series that I have enjoyed a lot. Still, it makes it obvious why I so enjoy reading.

Hope you have as good a year and an even better 2016!

[EDIT] For reasons best left blamed on health, old age and a rush to get the job done this year, the list originally failed to include John Grisham's The Fugitive and Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich's The Job, both properly now placed in the Mysteries/Thrillers section. Jan 13/2015