My new favorite television critic, the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman, has started a TV Power Rankings
column for his blog every week. I love the idea, particularly as the number of shows I watch regularly grows thanks to the magic of DVR. Power rankings are fun for sports, so why not television? Goodman's idea is simple, to do a weekly top 10, specific to the shows he's familiar with that are currently on the air and taking into account each show's weekly ups and downs. I was so enthralled with this idea, I decided to start my own. So here goes, my first power rankings, covering last Monday, Sep. 27 thru Sunday Oct. 4.
1. Mad Men (Continues to be the best show on television. Other than perhaps the Wire, I can't think of a show where each scene, each line, had so much of a story to tell. Last night we got Pete's boredom and dalliances while his wife was away and Don taking a back seat to Betty on a trip to Rome, but the best scene of the night may have been Pete's attempting to pass off the German nanny's dress as his wife's to a very discerning Joan.)
2. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (They continue to work with the formula that simple is best. The road trip instant classic was followed up with another very solid outing about the recession. My favorite moment? When Dee offers wine to her and Frank's potential victim after Frank has cut his finger, the woman responds, "I don't drink in the morning," to which Dee responds with a wink, "neither do I.")
3. Fringe (I have to say, I'm glad I stuck with it. The show has reached the point where they can go and do more fun, creepy things, without it seeming like too much of an X-Files rip off. As I mentioned to my wife last week, the underlying story of alternate universes veers precipitously close to uber-nerd territory, but the show has maintained it's relatability by focusing on the characters and the X-Files-ish monster of the week. Also awesome is this notion that travel between universes is particularly violent, brining to mind memories of the worsening impact of time travel on the island folks in Lost.)
4. Californication (What I don't understand is why none of my friends- particularly my male friends- watch this show. There's a lot more to show than sex and jokes about sex, but you think that would be enough to pull 20-something males in. Maybe my bigger point is, you're watching Entourage, but not this? This week's had episode had Charlie try and fail to fulfill his ex-wife's rape fantasy and Hank drive a vampire loving gay student to suicide. What more do you want?
5. Flashforward (As a sci-fi mystery, the show has been awesome, with a new layer, like an onion ready to be unpeeled each week. But if this is supposed to be the next Lost, I feel as though the characters are getting short thrift. My buddy McBlog! was upset that we didn't see more about the aftermath of the blackout, but I'll go a step further and say that the series probably should have started maybe a month or so after the blackout. You could still go back to the blackout in flashbacks, but you avoid the narrative need to show the immediate response and more importantly, the necessarily awkward writing needed to explain how the world comes to realize that people had shared visions of the future. Four predictions as this is my initial post on the show: 1- Demtri Noh (John Cho) will not be killed, 2- the suicidal doctor turned happy prophet is going to have a "John Locke" type episode some time early this season, 3- Olivia will not cheat on her husband, which leads into my forth prediction, 4- the flash forwards are just pictures of the future, but much of what we see and hear about them is being read into them by the individuals experiencing them. So Olivia may have had unfaithful thoughts and assumed that she's feeling love for the man in her vision and Mark may have seen himself drinking from a flask and just assumed he was back on the wagon.
6. Parks and Rec (I know a number of people who just haven't bothered because this was basically another Office. Well, it is the same formula and it has the same sense of humor (as we're talking about the same writers), but just as with the Office, what makes the show unique is it's characters, and none of the characters are office clones. Yes, Amy Poheler's Leslie Knope is a bit Michael Scott-like in her naivety, but she's certainly not the jerk the self-centered Michael Scott can be. It's worth a watch for anyone who laughs at the Office and it's not to the point where you won't be able to jump right in.
7. The Office (It's fun seeing Jim as the boss, but was it just me, or did last week's episode end without a real resolution? You have to love Jim as boss though, as he proves time and time again that no matter how much smarter he may be, he's not the boss at Michael is. Folks in the office get irritated with Michael, but every time Jim makes decisions, people really get upset.)
8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Curb's episodes this year have gone from good, to excellent, and back again to merely good last night. What was oh-so disappointing Sunday night was no follow up with Leon and not enough Michael Richards. And I like the humor potential of why Larry wants to do a Seinfeld reunion, but I don't get the motivations from the cast members, especially Jerry.)
9. Full Color: The Story of the AFL (In honor of the AFL's 50's anniversary, Showtime is running this truly excellent series about the rival league that changed the face of professional football. The NFL films footage is beautiful, and the narrative is compelling, doing more than the typical sports documentary to put the football of the 60's in a historical context.)
10. Ken Burns's National Parks (I recorded the entire 12 hour miniseries this weekend in HD and it's taking up most of my DVR, so you better believe I'll get through it quickly. There's just so much crap on tv I figured Ken Burns deserved a spot. The visuals of the National Parks are amazing (thanks HD), but the narrative is a bit too "thank God for government" for my liking. As good as Burns is as a filmmaker (I loved the Civil War, Baseball, and the War), his historical perspective tends to be a bit lacking (and this is a legitimate complaint for a 12 hour mini-series). In the first two hours, which covered the period up until 1890, there was no discussion of the growth of leisure time activities which was part and parcel of the push for national parks and the interesting class distinctions to be made between many of those who fought for preservation and those who sought to make their living off the land.
House (Would have made the top ten last week. The season opener was awesome, but last week's follow up was only so-so. Jacob Sullum had a post on Reason's Hit and Run last week complaining about the way House is being treated for his Vicoden addiction, despite the fact that the point had been made that House's hallucinations from last season were specifically not caused by the Vicoden. Additionally, as Sullum points out, why is House being urged to find hobbies when his problem is that he can't sleep because of the pain in his leg. I have to agree with Sullum and I hope the writers aren't chickening out on the drug issue, which they've done such a good job of in the past.
Community (I like Chevy Chase and Joel McHale, but the series has yet to grab me.)
Lie to Me (A poor, pretentious season opener last week, made all the worse by the reliance on multiple personalities as a plot device, a tough sell after having watched Showtime's "United States of Tara.")