Monday, June 05, 2006

Your top twenty TV series

I sent out the call a few months ago for you to send in your top ten TV series currently airing. And over 50 of you did. Over 100 shows were mentioned. But these 20 easily rose above the others.

First, these 10 series are our runners-up.

In alphabetical order:

Boston Legal
Desperate Housewives
Doctor Who
Family Guy
How I Met Your Mother
Life on Mars
Project Runway
The Simpsons

And now. . .

The top 20.

20.) Everybody Hates Chris (The CW, entering season two): Just barely squeaking in is one of TV's few remaining family comedies. (Please note that I didn't have a great deal of commentary from many of you, so many of these shows will have to be commented on by me.) While it didn't land on a lot of ballots, it tended to place highly on the ballots it did land on. My only concern is that its graveyard slot for season two will doom it to falling off of the list, should I ever do something like this again. Still, this show is sweet, well-acted and tartly written. It should be set for many seasons to come.

19.) Big Love (HBO, entering its second season): It was interesting to see the pattern of votes for this. As the season wore on, it got more and more mentions on more and more ballots. I think people needed time to get used to the show, which was the sort of thing that could set you off-kilter, as much as it messed with your sense of a moral code.

Daniel, who contributes to this blog and runs Satin in a Coffin, was one who liked Big Love. " Big Love is a show that should be a lot more gimmick driven than it actually is. The central mythos of the multiple marriages is what the show is about, not what defines it. It's a fine line that the writers walk quite gracefully. At its best, Big Love reminds me a lot of the lighter moments on a show like Six Feet Under, which is a pretty high compliment coming from me," he said. "However, that is not to say the show is without significant dramatic suspense--it just happens to be very good at keeping its head on straight. The first season is barely half finished and I already feel like I've been a fan for years. If the show is able to stay true to its surprisingly genuine nature, we could have a future classic here."

18.) Weeds (Showtime, entering its second season): Weeds is one of the two shows on this list that I do not watch regularly. It was interesting to see how cable shows competed to be on the list. Most of them had several votes, but not the presence that many of the network shows had. Weeds, however, commanded a small cult that consistently ranked it in the top three. While I'm not sure the show will be for me (satires set in the suburbs have tired me out for years now), I'll be sure to check it out on DVD, thanks to this recommendation. I need a new sitcom fix anyway.

17.) South Park (Comedy Central, in its tenth season): South Park is by far the oldest show on this list. It also was a bit controversial, appearing on a few worst of lists before I canned that part of the survey. Still, this got props from a lot of you for being one of the best satires the medium has ever seen.

Edward Copeland of Eddie on Film had this to say: " The rare case of a show that gets better and better as time goes on. Matt Stone and Trey Parker's satire has grown more focused and they hit their targets with laser-like precision, all while being funny as hell."

16.) My Name Is Earl (NBC, entering its second season): The first show on one of the big four is all the way up here at 16th. My Name Is Earl won praise from its adherents for its goofy sense of humor and winning performances.

"Karma is a funny thing. And so is 'My Name Is Earl,'" wrote Andy of Everything Oscar. "Jamie Pressley is great, and I start laughing as soon as Earl walks on screen."

Copeland was similarly amused. " The best new comedy that I've seen in awhile. It boasts a brilliant comic ensemble and sharp writing -- and if Jaime Pressly doesn't end up with not only a nomination but the Emmy itself this year, there is no justice in the world."

15.) Grey's Anatomy (ABC, entering its third season): The hospital drama was another controversial choice, turning up on worst of lists. But the fans of this show were unapologetic in just how much they liked its oft-crazy, soapy plot lines.

Michael was one who was skeptical, but ultimately along for the ride. "Another show that I didn't want to like. I hate Desperate Housewives and so I never bothered to tune in, but I caught an episode at my sister's (Train wreck, two people pinned together with a pipe) and I haven't looked back."

14.) Gilmore Girls (The CW, entering its seventh season): I was actually a bit surprised to see this show rank so high. I had thought that after a rather lackluster sixth season, the show would fall off of a lot of people's top ten lists. Obviously, I was wrong. If anything, it's a statement to just how long people will stick with shows (and name them as favorites) even as the quality goes down. Alias would have been even HIGHER, if not for its cancellation.

Naturally, there are fewer shows that leave a bigger smile on your face than the Gilmores, but with the creators having left the show and the new executive producer being far from proven, I must say I find this to be ranked just a bit high.

Still, the show is always worth watching for the stellar acting and its statements on just how screwy the American class system can get.

13.) The Wire (HBO, entering its fourth season): This one probably turned up on the fewest ballots of anything in the top 20, but the ballots it did turn up on, it tended to be ranked number one. It's a show that rewards brow-furrowing attention, even if it seems, at times, almost impossibly dense. Still, this dark, realistic tale of the American streets is the sort of show that defines a cult hit, and it's rewarding in the extreme.

Edward Copeland was a fan of this too. " Television that demands you pay close attention. It's more akin to a novel than a TV series." And that may be the reason that so few are even watching it.

12.) Rescue Me (FX, now in its third season): How America learned to stop worrying and love misery porn, in other words.

Rescue Me, the product of Denis Leary and Peter Tolan's macho ethos, is a rambling wreck of a show, enchanting some while seeming to be too much for others.

Still, Daniel thinks it hasn't worn out its welcome yet. "The painful and perfect performances carry with them scripts gnawing religious musings, work politics, and straddling the railing of the dead-pan and the existential. Leary deserves two Emmys by my count. This is a show that will run out of steam very quickly, but as of now it is the best show on F/X," he says. Adds Copeland, " It's a brilliant mix of dark humor and tragic drama. However, so many bad things happen to its characters, especially lead Denis Leary, that it runs the risk of being a bit much."

11.) Deadwood (HBO, now entering its third season): The series that Matt Zoller Seitz, one of the television critics for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, calls the best television series in history clocks in here. Again, as with The Wire, this one tended to be REALLY loved by a small number of fans. It seems to have mostly been a miss with most viewers, but to have really connected with those who do love it.

Plus, there are lots of swears.

Edward Copeland weighed in on THIS show as well. " It took me awhile to warm to this show, but it eventually became one of my favorites and Ian McShane's brilliant Al Swearengen is a performance for the ages. Where is his fucking Emmy already, you Television Academy cocksuckers?" he said. But Joshua Houk of Trash Stratum almost LEFT the show off of his list, though mostly due to "major annoyances (the N- General and the guy who tarred him, the mysteriously appearing walkway between The Gem and the newspaper office, allowing Jeffrey Jones around kids) rather than any specific episode."

And now. . .the top 10. Before we begin, you should know that numbers 15-4, roughly, were all very close together. Numbers 2 and 3 were also very close together. And number 1 was in a class by itself, appearing on nearly every list.

10.) The Shield (FX, now in its fifth season): This is the other show on this list that I don't watch regularly (and I never have watched it regularly). It's another one I'm intending to catch up with on DVD.

Still, this pretty much set the bar for dirty cops on TV. Shawn Ryan gets major props for bringing a hero this dark to series TV, and Michael Chiklis' portrayal of Vic Mackey is smartly harrowing.

This didn't rank that high on very many ballots, but it was lowly ranked on a lot of ballots, leading to its placement here.

Daniel perhaps put it best. He wrote: "The show is so intensely watchable because it mixes the world of the crime procedural with that of a vicious character study. The way the writers juggle each episode with such an even hand is really something to watch."

9.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central): So many people ranked these as one entity that I finally just decided to let the two stand as one. They weren't popular with some of the more conservative people who took the survey, landing on a few worst of lists, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tickled the funny bones of enough people to land squarely in the top ten (and also managed to place as the only talk shows on the list -- their closest competitor was Conan O'Brian, somewhere in the 50s or so).

What's most impressive about this is that Stephen Colbert managed to turn a one-joke character into something you could base a show around. The number of times that's happened in the history of television is frighteningly small, but it seems Colbert and his writers were not daunted.

8.) Scrubs (NBC, entering its sixth season): The wackiest hospital show around scored well on lots of ballots, if rarely taking the top spot. It has won a quietly loyal audience over its years on the air, never scoring as a HUGE hit, but always playing well to its niche. Its fifth season, in particular, found the show really hitting its stride once again.

Allison wrote in to express her love for Scrubs. " This show is freakin' hilarious. And it only managesto get more and more hilarious. Dr. Cox, I love you!" And Michael also enjoyed this show, as he was one of the few to rank the show in the very top position.. " I wish there were more half-hour comedies to chose from. But if this was the only one out there, I'd be a happy, happy man."

7.) House, M.D. (Fox, entering its third season): And TV's OTHER big medical show places seventh. The fans of House the show tended to be fans of House the character above all else. Michael, for example, had this to say. " Hugh Laurie makes this show. I watch it more for the dialogue than the mystery illness of the week."

And that opinion was a very common one throughout those who voted on House. Props have to go to the writers of the show for creating a classic character as much as they're deserved for creating a classic show.

I've written a lot about this show recently, so I guess I'll call this one a day.

6.) Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi, entering its third season): From doctors to sexy robots. Battlestar probably appeared on the fewest lists of any show in the top ten, but those who loved it LOVED it. They liked the mix of science fiction and politics. They liked the actors. They liked everything about the show, which is not something I think anyone would have suspected when the show was first announced.

Said Roger of A Drinking Song: "This show works because it goes out of its way to not be a sci-fi special-effects extravaganza; instead it's a really solid military-politco drama that happens to take place in space. James Callis might just be the most underrated actor on TV."

And Allison pretty much summed it up. " This show is flippin' amazing. They'reconstantly surprising me, amazing me, ripping my heartout and handing it to me. Everyone in the cast, crew,and writing staff is ON, and they know it. They knowthey're part of something really special and they aregiving it their all. Every time I watch an episode, I feel so lucky to have discovered this show. If you do not watch, you're only punishing yourself."

5.) 24 (Fox, entering its sixth season): Call it borderline fascist. Call it action-packed. Call it politically irresponsible. 24 is still one of the biggest thrills for its fans and it ushers in the top five of our list.

Daniel ranked it seventh, saying: "Still implausible after all these years! The Power Hour, now in its fifth season, can still kick you in the nuts like nobody's business. They've taken to using every catastrophe at their disposal, but compelling TV is compelling TV."

And Michael liked it too. " This show can be hokey sometimes but almost every episode has me on the edge of my seat. I can't imagine trying to write 'real time' and making everything work."

It IS rather amazing that this show hasn't COMPLETELY fallen apart after all of these years. Kiefer Sutherland probably bears the lion's share of the credit for that.

4.) The Office (NBC, entering its third season): For a show that seemed as though it could never top the original, The Office has become quite the hit with critics and fans. Indeed, it's the highest-ranked comedy on this list.

Michael was less enthusiastic about the show than many, but it still made his list. "I LOVED the British show, thought it was one of the best things I'd ever watched, so I was against the American version from the start. (I remember Coupling *shudder*) But after the first couple of shows, they started to find their own way and it's doing all right."

Roger was far more effusive in his praise. "In the second season, it’s really found its voice and coalesced into the best half-hour on network television. The characters are sharply drawn, fully developed and portrayed with genuine heart, warts and all. It almost--almost--makes up for the void left by Arrested Development."

3.) Veronica Mars (The CW, entering its third season): TV's spunkiest teen P.I. earned raves from lots of people. Indeed, the top three shows were WAY OUT IN FRONT of all of the other shows, and Ms. Mars appeared on over half the lists.

It's easy to see why. The show is sort of effortlessly appealing. While someone called The Stranger describe the show as "Joss Whedon lite," others offered up more praise.

Said Daniel: "Veronica Mars is constantly toying with viewer expectations, but never displays anything but respect for its audience. Twists and turns are taken but always with a watchful eye and a warm nod. It's as if, as long as your willing to go on this crazy ride, they won't steer you wrong. One of the sharpest shows in years." And Allison chimed in: "There is so much about this show that's great, fromthe amazing cast to the brilliant direction, but thebest part is the writers. They trust their audience to be able to think. That is so rare. And it's so gratifying."

While the second season of Veronica Mars was denigrated in some circles, it seems that many who wrote in for this list weren't displeased by it much at all.

2.) The Sopranos (HBO, now in its sixth season): Despite airing a deeply contemplative sixth season that seemed to anger many stalwart fans, The Sopranos was still popular with voters in the survey. Allison said, "This is just really, really good TV."

And, indeed, on a list where cable shows were a bit underrepresented, this one appeared on over half of the lists, indicating that people have at least checked it out on DVD.

The Sopranos fans were many, but Daniel's praise was the most hyperbolic. "Catch me on a good day, and I might tell you that The Sopranos is the best television show ever," he wrote. Hyperbole aside, there have been few shows to constantly reach the cinematic levels that this show reaches on a weekly basis. Much in the tradition of its mobster predecessors, The Godfather and Good Fellas, The Sopranos is always effectively questioning and examining the fundamental flaws and truisms found within the idea of the 'American Dream.'"

Edward Copeland had even more to say. " Sure, it's not as consistently brilliant as it was in its early years (like seasons 1 and 3), but when it's on -- which is still often -- there is no television show that's more involving or with better acting, writing and direction."

And that brings us to number one, a show that appeared on more than two-thirds of the ballots, often in the top three.

1.) Lost (ABC, entering its third season): Lost, right now, IS the zeitgeist. Most of its fans (including me) have issues with it. But they can't stop watching. And they can't stop talking about it. The show seems to be the very definition of a big, mainstream hit that engages the audience on some sort of intellectual level. Lost, at its best, is like a mash-up of centuries of Western artistic thought. At its worst, it's a solid adventure thriller.

But don't take my word for it.

Daniel says: "It's like watching a mind slowly descend into madness. One thing (among many other things) that Lost does so very well is set up what appear to be simplistic elements and build upon them until they become something else entirely. The archetypal character models, consistently and methodically turned on their ears; The initial conflict(people stranded on an island want to get rescued) now almost completely "lost" within the show's own mythology. It's one of the easiest shows to lose yourself in that I can ever recall, and it continues to challenge itself as well as us at it marches onward, slowly becoming an increasingly unstable arena of paranoia and insanity. The BIG MYSTERY is, of course, second tier stuff to snobs like myself. However, the fact that Lost works so WELL on its own Lynchian dreamscape, as well as operating as a some what valid social and communal parable, makes it a landmark within the TV IS ART ERA."

Allison had things she didn't like, but she still found stuff to love. " What I love most about this show is their commitment to the ensemble. I can't stand four of the major characters (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Ana Lucia) but still there's plenty for me to watch and enjoy. Every character has a consistent and interesting storyline, every character has growth. Plus, Terry O'Quinn? The man is awesome."

And Moses of Cinema Mon Amour summed it all up: "An example of how great Lost is: If any of you knew Hurley in high school, you would have endlessly mocked and tortured him. But the show spins his character around so well that giving him an imaginary friend makes him even MORE deserving of the audience's love!"

Well, that's all. I hope you found this illuminating. And I hope I'm never foolhardy enough to try something like this again!

1 comment:

Edward Copeland said...

Good job and well worth the wait. I would have posted earlier, but as you probably know, Blogger is being a pain in the ass today.