Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Following up last night's post: Why your favorite show didn't make it and the best five supporting actors

So we stirred things up a little with our top 10 current TV shows. That was kind of the point. To answer a few questions: Yes, this list is fluid. A bad season could drop some of these, a good one could jump some forward. Copper is way up there because its first season was terrific. But it could easily fall off.

A lot of of our top shows have not had that huge body of work you have with Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad. Staying excellent for a long time is difficult. As we learned in the Dark Knight; you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. I see a lot of that in these shows.

I also think the networks struggle to keep up with the HBOs, FXs and AMCs, because they can be harder, grittier, more profane and thus more realistic. Networks have to pander more.

Some shows that didn't make the list besides Homeland: Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, American Horror Story, Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I ejected early on Dexter. I thought it was brilliant and clever when it first started, but I lost interest. A lot of people said it got better, but I can't include it because I no longer watch it. A lot of people I trust love it, but I don't watch it anymore and didn't include it.

Same with Empire. I have tried on multiple occasions, and some of the shows are terrific, but it just doesn't keep my interest. And I absolutely love mob-related content.

American Horror Story started off as one of the more entertaining and unique shows ever, but it became so predictable and just flat out terrible by the end of last year that it ruined the series. The writing went from terrific to simply asinine. I will not bother with the new one.

Sunny might be one of the funniest shows on TV, but like most comedies, it's really the same bit done differently each week. I love the show, but like a lot of these, maybe it has been around so long that it seems stale at times. I hope to live long enough to do this list again in five years once some of these have been around longer. I suspect it will look a lot different.

I have not yet watched the Americanized Sherlock, Elementary. It seems like it will suffer by comparison to its British counterpart but I will check it out at some point.

My all time favorite list in no order would include The Sopranos, Deadwood, and my current top three. A lot in that regard depends on how a series finally ends. Breaking Bad could get there depending on how it finishes. I try to look at available body of work when it comes to all time favorites.

I do think TV is stronger than it has ever been, and a lot of that has to do with AMC, HBO, FX, Showtime and channels like that diving in with both feet.

Finally, one list I wanted to include (but the post was already too long) was the five best supporting characters in these shows.

1) Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Justified. Not going to lie; I love this character. He is the perfect foil/friend with a love/hate/respect relationship for Raylan Givens. This might be the best pairing on TV. He doesn't appear as often as some of the others, but he is such a diverse, cleverly written character that he makes every episode he is in. Like all great characters, he has his successes and failures and responds to each the same way; with a new plan.

2) Alice Morgan (played by Ruth Wilson), Luther. A serial killer who is in love with Luther. She is absolutely brilliant, scary and delightfully deranged. Rumors out of England indicate a possible spin-off series, which would be worth seeing. Insane? Yes, but in a strange, sexy way.

3) Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), Breaking Bad. Like Walter White, he is frustrating at times, and there are episodes where you want to slap him. But he is such a great accessory for White, and Paul plays the role so perfectly that you want him on the screen more. Pinkman earned a well-earned Emmy for the role this year.

4) Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Walking Dead. The one character on the series you want to see live. Unlike most of them, he is made for this zombie world, but maintains a loyalty and integrity that is above the others. He might have been a simple redneck in the world before, but in this one he is a superior ally and is the one guy you want in your corner in a zombie fight. He isn't afraid to object to bad decisions, but once they are made, he is on your side. Reedus plays him perfectly; he always seems on the edge of going completely insane but manages it with a calm confidence that makes the character all the more appealing.

5) Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), Game of Thrones. This was a very tough call. But Snow gets it because he is one of the characters you want to see more and more of. He was one of my favorites in the book, but like most of the Game of Thrones story and cast, Harrington improves it and brings it to life on TV. Like most great characters, he is flawed, but he also has an honor than goes beyond most of the throne-chasing snakes around him. Brave, a little cocky, but also loyal and intelligent. He is trying to find his way in a cold, bleak world, and do it with some semblance of honor and grace. A well-conceived, adapted character who is made even better by fantastic acting.

The five that just missed the cut:  I also think Cersei Lannister (Lena Headley) from GOT is terrific. Others that belong in the discussion: Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) in Sherlock; Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), Breaking Bad; Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), Copper; and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) in Mad Men.

Remember, these are current, which leaves out terrific performances in Breaking Bad from Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Mike Ermantraut (Jonathan Banks) since they were...eliminated from the show. I honestly think both would have been top five last year.

So there you go. Thoughts?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The 10 best shows currently on television. Period. Without a doubt.

So we talk about this a lot on the show, and people are often asking for what I think are the best TV shows. The Blitz has steered a lot of people into some of these shows, and most people seem to enjoy them.
My criteria for great TV: Strong acting, great story lines, originality. Do I stay interested even after several seasons? Do I care what happens to the characters? Can I not wait for the next show/season?

I particularly like shows that surprise me; either in plot or quality of acting. Some shows are extremely popular, and are highly touted. I prefer shows that might not necessarily be popular, but accomplish all those things. Most of these are indeed popular, but maybe they aren't as well known.

So here are my top current TV shows, and some of the best/worst acting performances. Keep in mind these are just my opinion based on the criteria above:

1) Sherlock, BBC. It might not be fair to compare the BBC shows, because a "series" is three hour and a half long shows. It is probably more accurately a mini-series. Sherlock has had two seasons, so six episodes.  Having said that, this is the most incredible show I have ever seen. It is clever, snarky, and the acting is through the roof. Basically, it is a modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes. Each episode works independently, but as a collective whole they are incredible. The hardcore British accents make it tough to follow at times (hey, it is BBC), but it's funny, clever, and focuses on intelligent solutions to problems. The twists are far from predictable but completely realistic. If you haven't seen it, invest the time. You won't regret it.

2) Game of Thrones, HBO. Another where the acting and story lines are terrific. Each episode ends with a terrific cliff hanger. It's violent, funny, and the acting is superb. It follows along with the books, but is one of the few shows that actually improves upon the written word. There are a lot of characters and sometimes that is tough to follow, but eventually it all comes together. It will be interesting to see what happens next; the third book in George R. R. Martin's series might have been his best, and that will be the next season. If the show continues to improve upon the written word, next season will be off the charts. It's funny, dramatic, violent. Simply one of the best shows ever on TV.

3) Justified, FX. Another clever, well written show. It's a little more predictable than our top two, but what sets it apart is the acting. Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens might be the single best character on TV. Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder is up there as well. The show is remarkably consistent and rarely has a bad episode. You can jump in almost anywhere on this one and get caught up later. A great, great show.

4) Luther, BBC. Another that doesn't have many episodes. You can get caught up on Netflix very quickly as there have only been two seasons. Luther is a policeman who has psychological issues but always seems to come through unscathed. It is a psychological thriller that is unique, brilliant, and unpredictable. Idris Elba is incredible in the lead role. Like Sherlock, sometimes the accent gets lost on Americans, but the story lines are so incredibly compelling, you simply can't walk away from this show. Ruth Wilson as Alice Morgan -- a serial killer/ally of Luther's -- is one of the best supporting characters in all of TV. This show is so ridiculously good, you will want to watch it over and over again.

5) The Walking Dead, AMC. Based on a series of graphic novels (OK, comic books), this zombie apocalypse thriller can be frustrating at times, but like Game of Thrones, the ending of each show usually makes it worth it. Had some issues with the writing midway through season 2, but hopefully that is worked out. So far season 3 has been very good in just two episodes. Might be too violent for some people, and at times it loses its humor, but for the most part, very strong.

6) Copper, BBC America. This period piece has had only one season, but all I can say is wow. If you like Gangs of New York, it is roughly the same time frame. The acting is terrific, and like the best BBC shows, it is more about outsmarting the bad guys. It centers on a police officer, who like most BBC characters is brilliant but flawed. Very good supporting cast as well. Worth checking out.

7) Sons of Anarchy, FX. This one has been around for a while, and the boys of Charming continue to be entertaining. This year's addition of Jimmy Smits to the cast was fantastic. Some of it is fairly unrealistic and there are times that you will lose your suspension of disbelief, but the show has held up well over time.

8) Breaking Bad. Walter White might be one of the most intriguing characters on TV, and Bryan Cranston is fantastic in that role. The show will end this summer, and it is probably time. When it is at its best, there are few shows better than this one. But at times it delves into the ridiculous (the end of Season 2's plane crash) and stalls with several nothing episodes in a row. But it usually bounces back with something huge. A very strong show.

9) Mad Men. Started off brilliantly, and Jon Hamm as Don Draper is one of the best characters on TV. But it drags at times, and the most recent season really fell off until the very end. It's possible this one has jumped the shark, but the show is still terrific when it is at its best. Not a ton of loveable, characters, however.

10) Hell on Wheels. This one is also very young, but sure has potential. Anson Mount is terrific as Cullen Bohannon. Unlike a lot of series, this one follows fewer storylines and has only a small amount of key characters. That really stands out. Another with strong potential.

One that didn't make my list is Homeland, which crushed at the Emmys. But the truth is, it started great, but became unwatchable at the very end. The drama fell apart, and the main characters became so unlikeable as to make the show brutal at the end when it should have been at its best. Will give it another chance at the start of season 2, but will be ready to eject on a moment's notice.


1) Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock. (Played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Cumberbatch is simply brilliant. His Sherlock is clever, funny, arrogant, maybe shows a touch of Asberger's. He's sexually ambiguous and flawed as a person, but irresistible at the same time. You root for him, you want him to figure things out, and you know he will. His almost unbeatable intellect is offset by his oddities. If you aren't blown away by this character, you don't like TV.

2) Raylan Givens, Justified (played by Timothy Olyphant). Olyphant is fantastic in almost everything. He made Deadwood, still one of the best TV series ever made. He is awesome in this. Easy to root for, the kind of guy you know will always win. Like the best heroes, he is flawed and easy to identify with. But he is also a   complete badass.

3) John Luther, Luther (played by Idris Elba). Elba's character is incredible. He carries the show, and you always wonder if he is about to completely lose it. But his insanity also helps him solve crimes. Elba carries this show, with some help from the equally brilliant Ruth Wilson. He deserved an Emmy in the U.S. (overrated Homeland won it) but politics prevented it. Only one more year on BBC, then a movie. But you won't see many better acting jobs.

4) Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones (played by Peter Dinklage). In the often dark, evil, erratic Game of Thrones, Dinklage's character is intelligent, funny, and a nice foil for the beautiful people. Lannister's self-effacing humor is portrayed brilliantly by Dinklage, improving the character upon what is in the book. Simply brilliant.

5) Daenarys Targaryen, Game of Thrones (played by Emilia Clarke). She grows up before our eyes over the two seasons, from a bartered wife to a true leader. Sexy, smart, a hint of innocence but also a very powerful leader. One of the most interesting female characters in all of TV.


1) Betty Francis  (January Jones), Mad Men. She is so incredibly unlikeable that there were several episodes I quit on because she was too much of a part of it. There is simply nothing appealing about this character and the show would have been much better if she had disappeared after the divorce.

2) Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies), The Walking Dead. Please kill her. Whiny, unattractive, a real detriment to the show. Every minute this character is on screen, I want to change the channel.

3) Skyler White (Anna Gunn), Breaking Bad. How many times have we wanted her to get caught in the middle of some nasty dispute and get whacked? Annoying, arrogant and completely unlikeable. One  of the few negatives to the show. (I hated her character in Deadwood, too. I think it;s just this particular actress. She simply isn't appealing in any way, shape or form.

4) Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), the Walking Dead. I don't want this to be all women and children, but this kid needs to go as well. And enough with that hat, kid. It's probably all his mother's fault, but we are ready for him to be gone.

5) Peter Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Mad Men. Campbell is supposed to be unlikeable. He is smarmy, a liar, and the kind of guy most of us would beat the crap out of in high school. He comes from money, is entitled, and acts every bit of it. As much as Kartheiser plays the character to a T, like Betty, he has outlived his usefulness. He is hard to like, and like Betty, you just want to change the channel when he is on.

So there you have it. What do you -- the viewers at home -- think?