Tuesday, October 06, 2009

TV Power Rankings

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.

Also watching:

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.")


Blogger McMc said...

Flash Forward - I've definitely enjoyed the show and I think the final few minutes of each week have provided some great cliffhangers, specifically this week's episode and the D. Gibbons comment. I love that they threw some humor in there. Not only humor, but just poking fun at the idea that yes, some people were going to the bathroom when the blackouts happen. I'm really trying to not let the lack of focus on the post-blackout world affect me but I just see so much potential there.

My new big concern though is what happens when they reach the Flash Forward events. 6 months isn't a long time in TV world. This makes me believe that all the events will occur from the Flashes because it'll be what everyone wants to see for the finale. Then again, someone altering the future could also have repercussions.

Community - This show is growing on me. It's not the funniest show on TV but it's one of those shows where I'm smiling the whole time. They're really doing a great job of poking fun at all of the characters we've seen in college movies and flipping them on their heads. Take Britta, the "do-gooder" who doesn't actually do any good. I admit some of supporting characters are weak, but I think they all will serve their purpose. I'm just more interested in the teachers they have, because they've been great.

Lie To Me - How does this show have a 2nd season? Every preview is the same: "I didn't do it"...."You're lying". When will the premise run it's course?

2:13 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I probably should have given Flash Forward it's own post, because there's a lot more I could say about it. Let me just address your point first: From what I understand, they're supposed to reach the April date of the flash forwards by the end of this first season and having that all go down in the finale makes sense. I have a feeling that there's the potential for another blackout and another glimpse of the future, but we'll see. Ultimately, the flash forwards are just a hook to draw in viewers, and the mystery promises to be more intriguing and much deeper- and we'll see- if we love the show, we'll follow wherever it goes, much as we have with Lost, but hopefully the writers of Flash Forward will realize it's a thin line that Lost has tread these past few years.

While I'm ranting here, Flash Forward has what I'd say is somewhat of a minor problem, namely, if people know when these flash forwards are going to happen, why wouldn't they do anything to try and change them. The series just doesn't work if the flashes aren't true and as you can see, I tried to give a bit of a nuanced explanation where what we see is different from the context the characters put it in, but that still doesn't explain why the one agent would be sitting on the toilet, casually reading the paper when he knows it's flash forward time ... Of course, my concerns could easily be dealt with through some clever writing and the writers do seem to have a plan. So we'll see.

3:45 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

As to Community, good catch with the do-gooder girl who doesn't do much good. I also like the Indian guy who's only manner of relating to people is old tv and films, but again, the rest of these supporting characters really need to step up their game if this show is going to work.

And Lie to Me is a bit more than that, as the lies are always complex and it's always a bit of a mystery to determine who's lying and why. It's basically a procedural like House, with an eccentric main character like House, but it's no where near as good as House. Whereas House has always done it's best to strain the bounds it's procedural format and use the procedural story as a means to tell stories about the characters, Lie to Me has been clunky in that regard, decent at times, non-existent in others. I do enjoy Law and Order SVU, but for the most part, I'm not all that interested in procedural dramas. I have stuck with Lie to Me because there's some potential there, but it's still a tier bellow the good stuff I watch.

3:58 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

When it comes to Flash Forward, I don't really share the concern of why wouldn't people change the future. Why? Because A) 6 months is a long time to wait, B) a lot is going to happen to these people between now and then and C) this sort of ties into Lost and "can we change the future".

Take our husband and wife duo, Olivia and Mark. Right now, Olivia might not have any intention of cheating but her husband is clearly going to obsess over everything. Hell, he might drive her away months before the flash forward time. You just don't know.

Furthermore, maybe the big wrinkle is going to be that these events will happen to people, just not on the day everyone thinks. Not everyone sees a time and date in their flashes you know.

The reality is, we shouldn't be concerned about this because the fact that we're debating what is going to happen is exactly what we should be doing.

4:28 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

The Office - It hasn't been bad, but it's just not the same anymore. One of the problems is Michael. I just feel like he has lost all of his sincerity and that he has become more obnoxious and malicious.

And maybe it's just me, but I find a lot of the episodes to be so forgettable now. You mention any of the season one episodes and I can quote lines and tell you what happened and the same goes for seasons two and three. Strike shortened season four was alright but season five? I could barely tell you anything that happened.

Again, the comedy is there on a weekly basis but the show has turned into must-see TV to something I just watch.

2:38 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Sort of agree with you on the Office, although I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe some of it's just the competition- I didn't watch 30 Rock or It's Always Sunny three years ago. Or maybe some of it is just about Jim and Pam getting together- I could tell you that season 2 ended with them kissing and Jim leaving for Stamford and season 3 ended with Jim ditching Karen and getting together with Pam, but season's 4 and 5 sort of blend together in my head

Or maybe it's just that the show has grown a little stale in it's format- it still has it's funny moments and we love the characters, but it's limited by it's format and not as creative as say 30 Rock or Sunny is.

1:53 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

And speaking of comedies, South Park returns tonight ... Where will they fit in next week's power rankings?

1:54 PM  

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