Tuesday, April 07, 2015

COLUMN: Best of 2014 - TV

There are some who say I watch too much TV. Something about blah blah early death if I don't get off the couch and do something with my life yada yada. So why do I risk health, sanity, and friendships for a life in front of the boob tube? Why, for YOU, dear readers. I do it for because I know you patiently wait all year to read my picks for the best television shows of the year. At least, this is the lie I will continue to tell myself as long as they let me keep doing this silly list.

The Best TV I've Watched in 2014:

10. BIG BROTHER (CBS) - For years now, Big Brother has provided a delightful public service by choosing twelve vapid and dim-witted strangers and removing them from society for an entire summer while a grateful nation applauds. These houseguests usually represent the worst of every ethnic, racial, and social stereotype imaginable, and forcing them to live together under the constant eye of the camera invariably brings tears, in-fighting, and the worst artificial drama that reality TV can afford. It's also one of the most addictive things on TV, and this year's crop of contestants couldn't have been more entertaining. When I think back on my fondest summer memory of 2014, it might just be this insipid show.

9. SILICON VALLEY (HBO) - HBO's freshman comedy started off a little wobbly, but won me over with its smart writing and lovable cast. Scoring comedy heavyweights like T.J. Miller & Kumail Nanjiani was a brilliant move by exec producer Mike Judge, but the real star of the season was Christopher Evan Welch's brilliantly awkward turn as venture capitalist Peter Gregory. Sadly, Welch died during filming, but Judge's stewardship should see the show on towards greater things. "The Big Bang Theory" should take notes; THIS is what geek humor really is.

8. ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN (CNN) - As someone who's fascinated by the world but seldom gets to see any any parts of it outside the midwest, I usually find myself jealous watching travel shows. With Bourdain, it's less jealousy and more gratefulness, as no other host has ever provided such a realistic look into foreign lands simply by wandering around and eating for an hour. Bourdain's made a career out of being a foodie, and it's easy to see why. His sardonic wit, ease of communication, and seemingly inspired ability to find the "real" culture behind the meals he eats offers us more insight than any guidebook could dream of.

7. NEW GIRL (FOX) - It took a couple seasons for New Girl to find its feet, but now that it has, every episode is pure joy to watch. Not since "Gilmore Girls" has a show been able to succeed on little more than rapid-fire repartee, but it's the calling card of this exceptional sitcom. Apart from the lightning-fast conversation, very little actually happens on an episode of "New Girl," and it should stay that way.

6. THE NEWSROOM (HBO) - Critics were never kind to Aaron Sorkin's cable-news drama, and its farewell year was no exception. With controversial plotlines about rape, the internet, and the sanctity of media, Sorkin never fails to push buttons. A lot of people hate this show with a fiery passion, including people who's opinions I cherish. But the way I see it, it takes a special kind of show to get those sorts of people riled up enough to push those buttons in the first place. Even if you don't agree with Sorkin's politics or the occasional way he handles the feminist perspective, you've got to admit it's compelling TV and you're watching it. The world needs Aaron Sorkin, even if it's just to hate him.

5. PRETTY LITTLE LIARS (ABC FAMILY) - Yes, it's a soap opera written for tweens. Yes, it's got one of the silliest plotlines ever attempted. But here's the brilliant part about Pretty Little Liars: It knows how ridiculous it is, and it just plain doesn't care. A critic for the L.A. Times once nailed it when she wrote that PLL is "one of those shows that manages to mildly, and perhaps unintentionally, spoof its genre while fully participating in it, and that's not a bad thing at all." The result is an addictively mind-bending mish-mash that runs the gamut from teen romance to slasher flick and back again, while somehow managing to be one of the most compelling mystery shows of all time.

4. GRACEPOINT (FOX) - When Fox announced they were putting together an Americanized version of the hit BBC murder mystery series Broadchurch, I really wasn't expecting a shot-for-shot remake using almost the exact same scripts.  They might as well have just dubbed some phony American accents over the original and saved themselves a lot of trouble.  But as good as the original was, the American remake just might be better, thanks to top-notch performances from Michael Pena and Virginia Kull as grief-stricken parents trying to cling to their fragile marriage during the height of tragedy.

3. GAME OF THRONES (HBO) - About the only good thing that came out of my broken ankle last year was that I finally started watching Game of Thrones.  I shouldn't have been so late to the party.  What's not to love about a non-stop whirlwind of sex, death, betrayal, and dragons? Come on, that's pretty much the four food groups of awesome.  Join the fun, pick a favorite character, and then become emotionally scarred when George RR Martin kills them off without a second thought.

2. PARKS & RECREATION (NBC) - The shortened farewell season of Parks & Rec starts in just a couple weeks and will wrap up before the end of winter and then I will be sad for the rest of time. Parks & Rec might just be the swan song of the smart sitcom, which has been eschewed in recent years for broader family fare and yet more police & medical procedurals.  Thank God for DVD's and reruns, because a life without Ron Swanson is not a life worth living.

1. THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (The CW) - I know, you don't believe me.  I'm supposed to write about Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy or The Walking Dead.  Just trust me on this one.  Only one show has romance so heartbreaking you want to scream at the TV. Only one show has central characters capable of as much villainy as heroism.  Only one show mixes drama, action, charm, and humor with this much ease. And the only ones watching this only one show are your teenage daughters and one chubby newspaper columnist.  Do yourself a favor and give it a shot, you'll be surprised.  After a couple meandering seasons, The Vampire Diaries scaled back this year and managed to rediscover the relationships that made it such a gem to begin with.  Just go watch it before you scream at me.

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