Thursday, December 16, 2004

The 10 best shows on television.


All shows must still be on the air, though not necessarily in production at this moment. If it hasn’t been cancelled yet, it’s in the running. I make no distinction between time of day, cable or network, or genre. Good television is good television no matter what channel it’s on or how long the show lasts.

Obviously, I haven’t seen every show on television. Anyone making that claim is a liar. But I watch a lot of TV, and I always make an effort to catch most of the shows that “everyone is talking about.” Here goes.

#10 The Oprah Winfrey Show

I’m a heterosexual male and I was completely unafraid to type those words. There’s a reason why she’s been on top for so long. She’s the best to ever do it. She has an uncanny ability to come off the screen and make you like her. It’s a gift that maybe only a handful of talk shows hosts have ever had and she has it in spades. We’re talking about a black female talk show host who became the most powerfully person in the publishing industry! And she didn’t do it by writing books. She didn’t do it by publishing books. She did it by simply recommending books. She introduced a fat, bald, belligerent moron and told America to take his advice…and they did. Then she told them to watch his show…and they did. That’s power.

#9 Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Yes, I’m sure I’m straight. The heat has died down for the fab five, but the fact remains this is a damn good show. You can keep your race around the world, cow brain eating, match making, and match faking shows. I like my reality shows a little less in your face, and a little more feel good. The show works on so many different levels. 1. They’re all good at what they do. (Except Jai who doesn’t really do anything.) 2. They actually help people. People’s lives are better when they’re done. 3. They are damn entertaining to watch. Carson’s silly ass would make a better daytime talk show host than everyone on TV right now except the aforementioned Ms. Winfrey.

#8 Everybody Loves Raymond

It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but neither is most stuff on television. Very well written. Very well acted. And not nearly as generic as people make it out to be. This is a show that featured a middle-aged woman doing a sculpture of what appeared to be a giant vagina. I can understand people who say that Ray Romano rubs them the wrong way, but I’m not in that camp.

#7 Pardon the Interruption

Have you ever asked yourself why every sports show features 2 or 3 talking heads yelling at each other now? They’re all trying to duplicate Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon and failing miserably. Both have been columnist with the Washington Post for years and covering sports for even longer. They know what they’re talking about and it shows. And they actually exhibit some journalistic standards, which is rare in sports broadcasting. You can throw two people on a set and hope they have some chemistry, but these guys have already been friends for years. PTI also features the best on screen advance since the first down line in football games. They put the show’s rundown on the screen so you can see what they’re going to be talking about, and when.

#6 Scrubs

Hipper than Everybody Loves Raymond. Funnier than Arrested Development. So many sitcoms can be put into a category. Put down humor a la Just Shoot Me, quirky irreverent humor a la Malcolm in the Middle, or everything works out in the end stuff like Raymond. Not many can do it all at once and pull it off. Written with just the right blends of humor. Acting with just the right pitch. And absolutely refusing to take itself seriously. Except when they get sentimental at the end of the episode. But the whole thing is done so well, you don’t hold that against them at all.

#5 The Sopranos

Just when you thought you’d had enough of the mob story, along come Tony and the gang.
Still incredibly compelling. Still well acted. Still well written. One of the greatest feats in the history of television is David Chase and James Gandolfini creating a violent, racist, sexist, homophobic crime boss…and making all of American root for him. It’s definitely slipped a bit. They seem to be postponing the inevitable crash at the end of this race. But it’s still an amazing show.

#4 Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David sits very high on the TV comedy totem pole. (Although my wife, who’s Native American, once explained that the height of a figure on a totem pole doesn’t necessarily reflect their stature. But I digress.) The semi-improvisational tone of the dialogue gives the show a spontaneity that no other scripted show on television can match. People always focus on the many moments where Larry’s behavior makes you cringe, but just as often it makes you laugh out loud. Mistaking a baptism for a drowning and “saving” the guy? Priceless. Picking up a prostitute so that he can use the car pool lane? Priceless. Who knew that an all George Costanza show would be this funny?

#3 Chappelle’s Show

Chappelle and Brennan are the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the comedy world. In season one, they blasted out of the gate with a show that managed to be irreverent, scatological and smart all in the same show. And almost always funny. The “Clayton Bigsby” sketch is on the same level of Eddie Murphy’s famous “White Like Me” sketch from SNL. In season two, they settled into their comfort zone; secure in the fact that their fan base would be willing to go wherever they took them. The result? Hilariously absurd pieces like Rick James. I can’t even imagine how wild and weird season three will be.

#2 The Daily Show

In today’s pop culture, very few things live up to the hype. The Daily Show is one of the rare exceptions. Very smart and very funny is a damn tough combination to pull off. These guys do it four days a week with the news of the day. Impressive. If the folks over at Saturday Night Live had half a brain, they would be busy trying to steal some of their writers to rescue the perpetually moribund Weekend Update.

#1 The Wire

There isn’t even a close second. Not since Hill Street Blues has there been a more progressive police drama. Acting that’s nuanced yet, extremely raw and real. Writing that sounds sharp and true without being trite. Characters that refuse to be stereotyped. Storylines that demand twice as much attention as the next best drama but rewards the viewer for doing so. The Wire forces you to pay rapt attention to every second of every show. Each season unfolds carefully like a good novel. It should, since they have award-winning writers like George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane working on the show. It’s too bad that most television viewers confuse mouthy and snappy dialogue with good dialogue. Hence the perpetually fawning over The West Wing. Five years ago, and HBO drama broke new ground on television. The Wire blew past The Sopranos in its first season, and hasn’t looked back.


Blogger bshelly said...

absolutely no one loves raymond.

1:40 PM  
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10:57 PM  
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