Friday, February 7, 2014

Revisiting the best current shows on TV

Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant in BBC's Sherlock.

Sometime late in 2012 I posted a list of the best shows on TV at the time. As always, these lists are subjective and certainly based on personal preference. I use the following criteria:

1) Is the show clever? Unpredictable? Does it make me think or does it spoon-feed me plots?

2) How is the writing? Is the dialogue well done? Does it engage me?

3) Do I care about the characters or are their flaws so annoying that I don't root for them?

4) Quality of acting.

5) Consistency in episodes. Many have filler episodes or just bad ones during the course of a season. The best shows are events; they have no dead episodes.

We rate each on a 1-10 scale.

So with that in mind, here is the current list based on those criteria and my opinion. Shows like Breaking Bad (finished) and Copper (canceled) are no longer on the list. These are currently running shows (with one possible exception noted below). Network shows do not fare well; most are written for the LCD and ratings.

1) SHERLOCK, BBC (50 points). It just concluded season 3, and it was once again brilliant. This one scores a 10 in every category above. It's well written and conceived, the acting is off the charts and there simply isn't a bad episode. To be fair, it's more like a yearly mini series (three episodes, 1 1/2 hours each) but it is simply riveting. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are off the charts as Sherlock and Watson. Both have become major stars, but have agreed to two more seasons.

2) JUSTIFIED, FX (48). Probably the best traditional series on TV in terms of a more than 10 episode per year set up. They have agreed to one more year, and the story ends from there. The late Elmore Leonard's fingerprints are all over this, especially in terms of the writing. It's clever, funny, and interesting. The acting -- especially Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins -- is pure brilliance. The characters -- even the rogues -- are loveable. The last two seasons have been the best yet. After a few dead episodes early on, everything the past two years has been terrific. Unlike a lot of shows, this one simply gets better each week.

3) GAME OF THRONES, HBO (44). This past season featured perhaps the single greatest television episode in history with the Red Wedding. Overall it is incredibly well conceived and strays from the books enough to stand on its own. There are a lot of characters to follow (too many, in my opinion) and a few episodes that dragged a little keep it from matching the top two.

4) LUTHER, BBC (43). The series appeared to end this year, so this one might not belong on the list. If so it wrapped up nicely. If not, would love to see it back. Idris Elba is fantastic as an on the edge detective who is always one step away from snapping.

5) SONS OF ANARCHY, FX (34). It can get soap-opera-ish at times, and the writing is a little suspect, but the acting is terrific and the most recent season might have been the best yet. They went over the top quite a bit this year, and frankly I think Game of Thrones has raised the bar in terms of shock factor. A willingness to kill off one of your biggest stars (Ron Perlman) takes guts.

The next group (no particular order)

BANSHEE, Cinemax. Season 1 was terrific. Season 2 has been a little slow at times so we're reserving judgement until the end.

HELL ON WHEELS, AMC. Was a little worried this one might get canceled when it was moved to the dreaded Saturday night slot, but it will be back for another year. Anson Mount is terrific.

WALKING DEAD, AMC. Has devolved into a series of dead episodes and then an excellent one that makes you hang in there. Not great acting or writing, and the concept has probably played out, but I can't eject on it.

THE NEWSROOM, HBO. It's got a lot of the Aaron Sorkin trademark in it -- more about relationships and everyone sleeping with each other against a backrop of a newsroom -- but it's also very solid. Season 2 was better than season 1. It will be interesting to see how season 3 plays out.

MAD MEN, AMC. I remember when this show was one of the most brilliant on TV. Last season was absolutely awful; the writers have devolved into playing the "look ma, I got Emmys so I can be clever" game and the show has become a joke. One season left, but unless it rallies it is two seasons too many.

TRUE DETECTIVE, HBO. This is a brand spanking new series that has been nothing short of brilliant through the first few episodes. Too early to judge, but so far, so good.

THE AMERICANS, FX. Started off fast but started to drag at the end last year. Will give it another chance, but...

ELEMENTARY, CBS. An imitation of Sherlock based in America with a nice twist -- Lucy Liu as Watson. The acting is strong, but watching it after watching Sherlock is like dating Rosie O'Donnell after Scarlet Johannson. It basically uses the same simplistic weekly plot as NCIS (the bad guy shows up in an early scene) but the acting performances make with worthwhile. It's a shame networks have to dumb things down.

Shows I ejected on: Despite its Emmys, I thought Homeland fell apart at the end of season 1 and I lost interest early in season 2. The same goes for Ray Donovan, which started well but I was out by episode five. I think it has something to do with Showtime's offerings; they start edgy but can't sustain it.

I have not watched Shameless, Blacklist, Black Sails or the Following, but I hear good things. At some point I will binge watch them.

So there you go. Who got left off?


Anonymous said...

House of Cards. Netflix.

chris millard said...

House of Lies, Showtime.
American Horror Story, FX.

Carson Grimes said...

How about worst? Arrow has to be at the top of that list. Exclusively on Netflix, I think.

Brian Artz said...

Homeland. Season 1 is the best TV I've ever seen. Slowed down in season 2, but it has made a comeback in recent seasons.