Monday, March 31, 2014

COLUMN: Best of 2013 - TV

As much as I'd like to pretend to be some sort of upper echelon intellectual multi-tasker, the truth is that most of my down time from work is spent slowly molting to my couch, staring catatonically at my television. This highly accomplished skill set allows me to be uniquely qualified at, well, pretty much nothing. Nothing EXCEPT one column per year, where I get to wax poetic about the best and brightest of the boob tube. That's right, it's time for me to justify roughly 70% of my existence by counting down my picks for the year's best TV shows:

#10 - Breaking Bad (AMC) - I need to start with some honesty. I don't watch Breaking Bad. I tried two episodes once, and frankly, I have better things to do than watch a 5-season-long tragedy about horrible people behaving horribly. But I'm pretty sure if I don't include it in a best-of list this year, I stand to lose respect, street cred, and possibly my membership card to TV Critics R Us. So I'd reckon if you're into shows about meth dealers named Walter who rapidly lose their moral compass, you could do no better.

#9 - Sleepy Hollow (Fox) - It's thoroughly ridiculous, I know. From the crazy plot holes ("What's that, you say? You're Ichabod Crane back from the dead 200 years later to fight the four horsemen of the apocalypse? Sure, you can tag along with our police detectives, you don't seem extra super crazy at all!") to the weird casting of funnyman Orlando Jones as a hard-nosed cop boss, nothing about "Sleepy Hollow" should work. Yet, strangely, it's this year's most captivating new show and a must-DVR.

#8 - The Voice (NBC) - 2013 was the year where "reality" TV officially hit the bottom of the barrel. Deadly catches and extreme home makeovers have given way to phony half-scripted nonsense like Honey Boo-Boo, Duck Dynasty, and Finding Bigfoot. Game & talent shows have become stale, while new offerings have ranged from insipid to incomprehensible (did ANYONE understand what was happening on "Million Second Quiz"?) The one exception to reality banality remains "The Voice," an average singing competition made exceptional by the near-perfect casting of its supremely entertaining judges.

#7 - Camp (NBC) - This fast-cancelled mid-season replacement series was doomed from the start, between its all-Australian cast of unknowns and its less-than-favorable summer time slot. It's a shame, really, because NBC wasted the opportunity to build a franchise around this true breath of fresh air. A modern update of the tried and true shenanigans-at-summer-camp plotline, "Camp" ended up being a "Meatballs" for the "Glee" generation. Funny, inspiring, sexy, and sentimental, its short life was something NBC should have taken pride in.

#6 - South Park (Comedy Central) - They say "South Park" jumped the shark a few years ago, but nobody can pinpoint exactly when. That's because it hasn't. While it's true that the show's now outlasted its "Omigod, They Killed Kenny" t-shirts by a decade, it hasn't lost any of the fearless bite that once turned construction paper into a pop culture phenomenon. Quite simply, "South Park" is the greatest social satire on TV now and maybe ever, and it's beyond me how the show can stay so strong when it's basically an afterthought these days for creators Trey Parker & Matt Stone.

#5 - The Vampire Diaries (CW) - I know, I know. Stop watching a show clearly designed for 14-year-old girls, Shane. But have you ever SEEN it? Hiding behind this juvenile blood-stained melodrama lurks one of the most compelling plotlines on television. This year, TVD took the played-out "original vampire" bad guys and spun them off to their own show. Shockingly, the move breathed new life into the undead world of Mystic Falls. Just trust me. Netflix a couple episodes and you'll be secretly binge-watching, too. Compared to "Dracula," "True Blood," and "Twilight," this is high art.

#4 - The Killing (AMC) - Quite thankfully, it's the show that won't die. After two somber seasons, this dark horse of a detective series was put to pasture by AMC earlier this year, only to have the network change their mind with a last-minute renewal. Weeks into the third season, AMC cancelled it AGAIN -- but now Netflix has stepped up for a fourth (and presumably final) season coming in 2014. Any second we get to spend in rainy Seattle with Linden and Holder should be cherished.

#3 - Parks and Recreation (NBC) - It's the funniest sitcom on network TV by a country mile, and anyone who disagrees may challenge me to the Cones of Dunshire. The writing is half the joy; the real payoff is the stellar ensemble cast. We're about to lose Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones this year, but as long as Ron Swanson has a moustache, "Parks and Rec" will be just fine. It is the only show that I'll cancel plans with friends in order to watch.

#2 - House of Cards (Netflix) - Netflix had themselves an interesting year. Their lineup of original programming ran the gamut from great ("Orange is the New Black") to disappointing ("Arrested Development") to ludicrously awful ("Hemlock Grove.") But "House of Cards" officially put Netflix on the map as a major player this year. The deviously corrupt Congressman Frank Underwood is the role Kevin Spacey was born to play, and he chews through every scene with glee. Television is rarely this good.

#1 - Peep Show (Channel Four UK) - And, like all good pretentious critics, I conclude my year-end list with a show you've never heard of. Just trust me. This year, both Hulu & Netflix got their hands on the 8th season of this edgy British sitcom, and it is, minute for minute, the funniest thing I've ever seen on television... EVER. It's an edgy, NSFW update of "The Odd Couple" featuring two lovably reprehensible bachelors getting into loads of trouble, and it is the only time I can think of that a television show has made me laugh to the point of physical pain. There's one final season still to come in 2014, so join the fun now.

Happy New Year, everybody. Now get to binge watching.

No comments: