Thursday, December 03, 2009

TV Power Rankings: Final Fall Edition

Given the plan with these rankings, I thought this list would be more appropriate as a sort of fall summary rather than an up-to-the moment list. So Mad Men will obviously retain it's top ranking and read ahead to see where everyone else falls into place.

1. Mad Men (So I guess Mad Men gets another stay at the top, which is just fine for what's probably the best show on tv right now. I'd love to compare season three with season's one and two, but I'm not sure I can do that without watching the series again.)

2. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (The best comedy of the fall will follow the best drama. This may be Sunny's best season yet even though none of the individual episodes may match the brilliant stretch near the end of season three. What's particularly intriguing is the show's somewhat subtle recognition of the years that have gone by since the show began and the characters acceptance and embrace of their roles (Other than Dee of course, who continues to delude themselves). Because these are seemingly decisions the characters are aware of- as we saw in "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System"- it has the feel of character development rather than a slide into caricature.)

3. Dexter (I've wavered back and forth on just how good Dexter is and I'm still not quite sure. The plotting and some of the secondary characters are purely average television, probably not much better than the Law and Order's, CSI's, and NCIS's of the world. But Dexter himself and some of the other secondary characters- Deborah and the recently deceased Frank Lundy among others- are really top notch television characters. Dexter's inner-monologue never ceases to be fascinating, particularly since Dexter's inner self doesn't always seem to match what we see and hear on the screen. Deep down, Dexter is a fascinating study in self conceptualization and judgments about right and wrong, good and evil. That we have to put up with Quinn is disappointing, but not a deal breaker.)

4. Fringe (Fringe gets this spot for it's unyielding commitment to the bizarre. This season has been a mixed bag, but the bald observers, the body changers, and all the bizarre ways in which these folks communicate never fail to keep my interest. Olivia's developed into a much more interesting character and the dark secrets about Walter and Peter continue to be compelling.)

5. Californication (It gets the spot ahead of 30 Rock because I think it's been making me laugh more this season. The most underrated, can't-beleive-my-friends-aren't-watching-this comedy on the air.)

6. 30 Rock (It probably would not be this high if not for it's stellar reputation. I've enjoyed the season thus far, but it doesn't seem to be matching the quality of past seasons. I've had my complaints throughout these rankings, but bottom line is that little things about Jack and Liz seem off. Can't put my finger on it, but something ain't right.)

7. South Park (I was worried about the season early on, but the string of episodes including the Whale Wars parody, the fag episode, and the Glenn Beck/Avatar spoof saved the season from mediocrity.)

8. Parks and Rec (Very underrated and as I've said before, doing the Office thing better than the Office. As opposed to the Office, which has become increasingly insular and incestuous in it's relationships, Parks and Recs has done a halfway decent job of maintaining that illusion of the outside world. The Office was an interesting character show until the characters became mostly one note jokes- Here's to hoping Parks and Rec keeps developing it's characters and continues to mix in the measured levels of wacky.)

9. The Prisoner (I've got a separate post coming solely devoted to a review of AMC's remake of the Prisoner, but suffice it to say, my ultimate reaction is disappointment. In some ways, the remake is actually more existential than the original, but this somehow has also led the remake down the thematic path to meaninglessness. The new version is supposed to be more about the characters, but other than Ian McKellen's Number Two, none of the characters are all that appealing. The original had humor and political substance, both of which are disappointingly missing from the remake.)

10. Flash Forward (Started off with promise, troubled me in episodes two through five and settled itself rather nicely over the past month or so. After not dealing with the thematic consequences of the flash forwards for most of the season, they were dealt with, shockingly, in the episode where Gough committed suicide. The real interesting questions still lie smoldering beneath the surface: In the future can be changed, how relevant are these flash forwards? Or can the future really be changed? I'm hoping to see more of Charlie- I mean Simon- in upcoming weeks.)

11. Community (Finally caught up with the weeks and weeks of Community on my DVR and the results are in: It's a very funny comedy. Like Arrested Development and 30 Rock, Community succeeds in taking expectations and flipping them on us with comedic result, case-in-point being the not so wonderful do-gooder Brita. I was worried in the early episodes that the supporting cast wasn't all that interesting, but they've grown more interesting and the series has expanded from it's seemingly insular premise.)

12. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Ehhhh ... I know lots of folks liked the finale but I was less than thrilled with it. To be honest, I'm a bit tired of Larry's antics, or at least, of the typical Larry gets in a ridiculous fight with a stranger material. Jerry Seinfeld was actually a breath of fresh air this year, playing a great straight man to Larry's off-the-wall behavior. What we needed this year was more Jerry, more Funkhauser, and more Leon.)

13. V (It's really a bit hokey, but you've got to admit, it's really well done hokey. There's something compelling about the idea of a priest fighting alien invaders, making the mid-season cliff hanger ending all the more intriguing. Like I said it's hokey, but the first four episodes gave us a lot of mystery, some decent character development and the promise that in the spring we'll see Elizabeth Mitchell's son playing a big role with the V's.)

14. The League (Interestingly enough, the League has proven to be better as a comedy and male-bonding type show than it has been as a show about football and fantasy football. The special guest appearances- Terry Bradshaw and Antonio Gates- have been incredably forced and much of the fantasy related humor- trading for Plaxico Burress for instance- has been downright stupid. The thing about fantasy football is, the more seriously guys take a league, the fewer stupid trades there are and the less interested they'd be to talk to Terry Bradshaw. It's why Taco's comment early in the show's run- "Can you beleive we have to make a lineup every week"- was actually funny, because most fantasy footballers are familiar with the oddball who doesn't know and doesn't care about the rules but lucks into success.)

15. Law and Order: SVU (One of my guilty pleasures that makes this big list. SVU differs from the other Law and Order installments in that it really allows itself to focus on the characters, mostly it's two leads, Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson. Week in and week out they have quality guest stars and two episodes from this past fall strike me as particularly good, above and beyond the typical police procedural: When Olivia was nearly framed for murder by manufactured DNA evidence and the episode where Elliot put himself into solitary confinement.)

16. Lie To Me (In some ways it's been better than House has this year, which is why I've ranked it ahead of it's similar Fox companion. But the supporting cast on Lie to Me never seems to click to me and the plots are your run-of-the-mill Law and Order type stuff with some truth detection thrown in. The stuff with Lightman's daughter has been interesting, but ultimately, Lie to Me would probably benefit from the advice I give to House just below.)

17. House (House is struggling through what may be it's worst season yet, but it's not for lack of effort. The Chase kills African dictator plot was a mistake, if only because that sort of guilt just doesn't make for good tv. Ultimately though, House has grown dull because of the formula, which needs to be shaken up if the show hopes to survive. The opening two-hour episode was so interesting because it was so different and because it gave us a chance to enjoy and appreciate Dr. House without the inevitable patient in trauma cut away to commercials. It's not that the medical mystery aspect of the show is no longer interesting, just that the way it's presented is. House could learn from a show like the X-Files, which was widely creative within a semi-procedural format, or better yet, from a show like Dexter, where the crime drama is secondary to the characters.)

18. The Office (I happened to catch reruns of the first couple episodes of the Office the other night and it gave me perhaps the best explanation of where the show is now. What was so interesting about those first few episodes were the number of awkward moments, pauses, and ummms and ahhhs by the characters. Maybe the Office is really supposed to be brilliant in that the characters who were nervous around the camera back in season one are now just playing to the camera, day-in and day-out ... But I just don't buy it. The British Office was so brilliant because it was so short and because the reunion show featured Ricky Gervais's David Brent (who Michael Scott was based on) returning to the literal office for a Christmas party after a failed attempt at capitalizing on the celebrity of appearing on a reality show by releasing a terrible album. It was a recognition that the mockumentary nature of the show had meaning, something that the American Office has failed to do. The characters act as though the cameras have meaning, but five years in, we've yet to see any consequences to that meaning. The Office still makes me laugh and it's better than plenty of the other crap on tv, but it's just not very special anymore.)


Blogger McMc said...

Was Antonio Gates on "The League"? Did I miss something?

As for "The Office", the documentary thing is something I've ignored for a while, but now that you've brought it up, it makes me very very upset. When you think about it, it just ruins so much. Not only the fact that none of the Office workers are recognized outside of work, but also just the fact that every stupid thing Michael says and does is on camera and anyone can see it. How would David Wallace not have seen any of the awful stuff that happens in Scranton? How would any of their clients not have seen anything?

By the way, I'm writing this as I watch the newest episode and it is beyond awful. Dwight rigging the Employee of the Month and Michael promising the tuition is horrifically bad. Not just a bad idea for a story, but just awful acts of human behavior. The second I found out about Michael pledging tuition I just wanted to fast forward it to avoid everything. I didn't, and I was just disgusted by Dwight going to those lengths to get Jim fired. I officially hate The Office and cannot wait for the show to get canceled so I no longer have to watch it.

1:19 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Antonio Gates was on "The League" a few weeks ago, making a guest appearance during his "bye week" in a hot tub- It was the same episode one of the guys was upset that Gates had scored 30 something fantasy points to beat him and when given the opportunity, he confronts Gates in a hot tub, gets punched in the face, and the whole group of them get thrown out of the spa.

As to the Office it's like I said, either the cameras have meaning, or they don't. What we've seen is the cameras having meaning for only our insular group, which really makes no sense. And as to last night's plot with Scott's Tots, I almost had to turn off the tv. It wasn't funny, it was just downright horrible- A show like Curb may push boundaries, but in the end we're talking about social conventions. Taking a dead person's flowers is bad, but ultimately inconsequential. To use kids in that way for comic fodder, having their hopes and dreams of ten years crushed like that was not funny, but awful.

Oh and 30 Rock was amazing last night- Best episode of the season, by far, and if I had seen last night's before doing my rankings, 30 Rock may have been 3rd or 4th.

10:01 AM  
Blogger McMc said...

That's weird, I watched that episode of The League and do not remember Gates being in there.

30 Rock - I've heard a few fans of the show say something has been a little off. The whole cast member search was a bit long and it ended pretty weird and I think that is what is throwing people off. On the whole, I've enjoyed this season and gotten plenty of laughs. Frank acting like Liz in the most recent episode had me dying, possibly one of my favorite all-time moments now.

Flash Forward - The "first half" of the season just ended and I'm horrified that new episodes aren't returning until March. WTF is that?

Anyways, I was mixed on the first half finale. Dee Gibbons arrival was very sudden and I was surprised that A) they assumed Suspect Zero was Gibbons and B) that they had an artist rendering of Gibbons that was pretty accurate. And while I see how some of the things are going to be connected (I'm assuming Gibbons will be using Jericho for protection), I'm still not sure why Jericho is involved in the first place.

Also throwing me off is the confession. Seeing Simon up on stage with Simcoe really just seemed weird and rushed and it was very unexpected. It was a curveball, sure, but was it a good one?

Finally, what I liked. The mystery is intriguing and I love Simon. I want him in the show more and more and I love that he could be a bad guy who works on the side of good and bad. I love stuff like that when pulled off well. I also like that Demetri's story has been cleared up a bit and that yes, he is supposed to die. Personally, I think the more we know about his death will add a lot more suspense and tension.

What I'm also enjoying is how all the pieces are fitting together. Dylan is obviously going to be joining the Benford family, which inches us one step closer to the affair. We know Demetri's details, we're getting all sorts of reasons for Mark to start drinking, Bryce has given Janis motivation to get pregnant, etc. This is only appealing because of Gough's suicide. The future has been changed but has it? I really don't know where this show is going because of good and mediocre writing. I hate that I have to wait until March to watch more, but I'm glad that I actually want to see more.

One final final note: What a horrible job by ABC. Why would you take such a long hiatus for a new show that has to be doing pretty well. Just seems like a great way to lose viewers as opposed to gaining them.

3:41 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Flash Forward-

From what I understand, the purpose of the delay is to avoid airing episodes during the Winter Olympics, as Flash Forward has already lost viewers as the first half of the season has gone on. It sucks, but I think it makes sense as far as wanting to show the end of the season without interruption- if they started in January, they'd either have to skip weeks, which sucks for this sort of drama, or they'd have to plow straight through the Olympics and be done by March or early April.

I think I'll have more on Flash Forward over the next few weeks.

1:16 PM  

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