Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 TV Shows of the Oh-Oh's

On the Top Songs of the Oh-Oh’s list that I posted last week, I mentioned that it was the most difficult one of the four to finish.

This one was by far the easiest.

I think it took me all of two full minutes to come up with the top TV shows of the past decade and maybe another 30 seconds to rank them.

I consider myself a television connoisseur as it is my favorite artistic medium. I don’t just watch TV shows, I study them. I break down how they are structured and how and why the good ones stand out from the rest.

I have to preface all of this by saying that I lean heavily towards the comedies as opposed to dramas, reality, and game/contestant shows. Surprisingly enough, three dramas make this list and one game/contestant show – and I'll let you know now that it’s not American Idol.

I’m not looking for shows that were ratings magnets, won a bunch of awards, or carried a lot of buzz. I treat TV shows like fine food and wine. The shows included are the ones that were constructed brilliantly, provided memorable moments, and said something about the world around us.

This was the easiest list for me to make but also had the most stringent guidelines. The fact that it was made quickly doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of thought that went into it. There was probably too much thought involved. There were other basic components that weighed into my evaluation:

How excited was I for the show to air throughout the rest of the week?

How devastated was I when an episode ended and I knew I had to wait seven more days for another one?

How much did I talk about each episode to friends, family, and complete strangers afterwards?

Do I own the DVDs and watch them regularly?

Most people prefer films to television shows, but it’s not even close for me. Just as I’m getting to know the characters and story in a movie, it ends. A TV series gives the characters and stories the opportunity to grow and breathe, just like real life.

But when done properly (i.e. with some actual creative thought behind it – I’m talking to you Two and a Half Men!), it can take transcend real life and provide the perfect, entertaining escape.

I’m going to go ahead and apologize for shows like Lost, 24, The Wire, and The Sopranos not being included. I recognize and appreciate their greatness but I didn’t watch them during their live run (or in some cases, haven’t watched them yet – I refuse to Wave Ride more than I have to).

The 2000’s also gave me a new opportunity: to find new shows on my own. In the 90’s, I bandwagoned on shows like Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends because I was either in elementary school or in my early teens when they first premiered. Now I know about shows a year or two before they even shoot a pilot and I’m proud to report that I saw the very first episode live as it aired for every selection (except for one) on my list.

Can’t wait to hear about your thoughts!

10. GREY'S ANATOMY (Premiere Date: March 27, 2005)
The first four episodes of Jersey Shore have been so sociologically amazing that it legitimately almost knocked Grey’s out of the spot, but I just couldn’t do it. The first two seasons of this show were so ridiculously action packed that I knew the ensuing burnout was not only inevitable but was going to be glorious as well. I was right on both accounts. I have to give the original writers and producers credit: they treated every episode from those first two seasons as an edge-of-your-seat, season finale cliffhanger. Every plot line was exhilarating like a roller coaster; but just like any thrill ride, it can’t sustain that kind of pace for too long. I won’t even acknowledge the series’ existence these days (my Wife loves it), but I think that’s a compliment. You can’t settle for a shadow of former glory.

9. TOP CHEF (March 8, 2006)
As I mentioned above, I don’t particularly care for reality/game/contestant shows but Top Chef was so much different from all the others. The biggest knock I’ve heard against TC is that as a viewer, you are physically unable to experience what the chefs are cooking. So? I can appreciate their approach to different competitions and then, oh I don’t know, copy down the recipe and try it myself at home (OK, we all know my Wife does the cooking, but still). It was also the first show of its kind that didn’t care about the contestants’ previous success. I’ve seen a lot of American Idol contestants get a free pass on an off night but that is never the case on TC. I started watching the series regularly during a season of Idol and found that it started getting more difficult to tolerate the cheesy-soapy element of the singing show. Top Chef appealed to a more sophisticated part of my viewing palate and I haven’t looked back since.

8. BOOMTOWN (September 29, 2002)
Did you ever get to see that Dennis Quaid movie, Vantage Point? Yeah, they just ripped that premise (of telling one story from different angles) straight from Boomtown, only they did it worse. I knew Boomtown was doomed in America from the pilot episode because it required paying attention and doing a little thinking to keep up with the story and I knew that was more than we could collectively handle (which was only confirmed with the premiere of a show like The Biggest Loser). Boomtown only lasted a full season before NBC burned off the few retooled (read: dumbed down) episodes in a very short second season. Just a couple of years ago, I read somewhere that Boomtown paved the way for shows like 24 and Lost and would probably make it on the air now; that it was just a little ahead of its time. Well, gee. Doesn’t that just make it all better?

7. THE BIG BANG THEORY (September 24, 2007)
When Frasier left the air for the final time in 2004, I thought that was it; I thought it was the final time we would get to enjoy pompous intellectuals in a situational comedy. I’m so glad I was wrong. While TBBT will never have intricate plots like Frasier, I am more than happy to settle for a show that at least sounds like my All-Time Favorite from time to time (TBBT is run by the same guy that gave us Two and a Half Men and Dharma and Greg, so you know it’s going to have some sort of a comedic ceiling). As entertaining as the show was for the first two seasons, it perpetually felt like a light appetizer. There was never any depth. Penny’s growth has been the key to the entire series from the start and we’re starting to see it pay off here in the third season. If she had stayed static as the ditzy blonde this show would have run out of steam quick. But her unconscious meandering to the nerdy side has kept the momentum going (it has been on a roll since her Star Trek analogy late in the second season). We might not ever get another Frasier but The Big Bang Theory is not a bad consolation prize.

6. ED (October 8, 2000)
You know Justin Long, the kid from the “I’m a Mac” commercials? What about the actress that plays Claire on Modern Family? Or Roger from Mad Men? Just in case you didn’t know, they were all once-upon-a-time on a great little show called Ed. Tom Cavanaugh played the title character that moved back home to Stuckeyville, OH to pick up the pieces of his life. He opened a law office in the bowling alley that he ran and chased his childhood crush. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I used the same song to propose to my Wife that Ed used to pop the question to Carol – it was just too perfect not to! Unfortunately for me and the rest of the world, there is a bitter studio dispute that is preventing the release of this series on DVD; but don’t worry, when it all gets straightened out you’ll be the first to know as long as I'm still around.

5. SCRUBS (October 2, 2001)
You can trace the success of other shows single camera comedies The Office, 30 Rock, and Modern Family right back to Scrubs. I’m sure other shows had tried it before, but coming off the excess of laugh-track laced multi-camera shows (more on that at #2), Scrubs felt fresh and new back in 2001 (now we’re getting too many of single camera sitcoms so maybe we have to blame Scrubs too). Scrubs has enjoyed a wild ride as it was stellar for three seasons, OK for one, then bizarre for three, finished strong for one and then was reincarnated in its current state on ABC. Beyond his zany-yet-tempered portrayal of J.D., Zach Braff found most of the music for the show which has always been a vastly underrated cornerstone to the series. Oh, and I’ve really enjoyed how Hugh Laurie has just been playing Dr. Cox on House the past few years and I enjoyed it even more when Scrubs acknowledged it.

4. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (November 2, 2003)
This was the chosen one. This was supposed to be the greatest sitcom of all time. It perfected the Scrubs model and was The Office way before The Office was on the air or before Modern Family was even a conceptual idea, only it didn’t even try to bother with any realistic romantic or character evolution elements. This should be the number one show on the list but can only go as high as number four because it was canceled a mere three seasons into its run (Thanks to perpetually bad ratings due to ignorant viewers that couldn’t “get” the comedy). The first mistake was that the show should have never been on network television. This is the prototype cable show and would thrive now on HBO or Showtime or even FX. It would probably get the same ratings there that it did on FOX which would be stellar for a cable series. I have to stop this train of thought now before I stick a fork in my eye from the frustration of it all. The Bluths were the perfect TV family and I still miss them even now.

3. MAD MEN (July 19, 2007)
I self admittedly don’t have the attention span for hour-long dramas, especially ones with little to no action ever taking place. That’s the best testament to how good Mad Men is for it to be this high on the list. And it’s only this far down the list because we’re only three seasons in so far. This definitely has Top 5, maybe even Top 3 All-Time potential for me, but let’s not gets ahead of ourselves. I wrote extensively about the series back in the summer, so I’ll spare you those details here. Audiences get frustrated with the show because there’s rarely anything that actually happens in a given episode. I’ve trained myself to watch it differently now. You have to see the change and growth of the characters’ reactions to certain developments and that’s the “action” of the series. How things hit them and affect them in one episode always come out in a new, organically developed way later. That’s the definition of an excellent show to me: when it changes your expectations of how a series progresses and how you watch it.

2. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (September 19, 2005)
I promise you that if HIMYM had debuted in 1995 as opposed to 2005, we would be regarding it as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. It keeps getting compared to Friends, which is fair, but it’s more creative than Friends because of the story-telling, time travel element. HIMYM debuted in an era that was burned out on laugh track sitcoms (darn that According to Jim/Dharma & Greg/George Lopez/My Wife and Kids deluge of the late 90’s) so people still refuse to give HIMYM a chance. Their loss. This show has given me more get-up-out-of-my-seat moments than any other series this decade and has become the perfect TV Group show for us in Virginia AND Colorado. It has reinvented the coolness of a catchphrase and like the movie The Hangover, it keeps you glued in because of the lingering mystery surrounding the identity of the title character. Just a legen – wait for it – dary show all the way around.

Tune in tomorrow for my Top TV Show of the Oh-Oh's...

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