Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Tops Part II

Some favorite TV shows of the last ten years

I don’t know whether I should be surprised or not, but there haven’t been anywhere near as many TV shows in the last 10 years that I’ve really liked as there have been movies. It’s hard to sort through all of the TV shows that have been on in the last decade and pick out just the ones I really liked, as so many fade easily into obscurity. But here are a few of the best:

Band of Brothers (2001) - Hands-down, my favorite TV series in the last 10 years has to be Band of Brothers. It was just plain excellent in every conceivable way. This true story of the exploits of the 405th Parachute Infantry Regimen’s Easy Company during and after the D-Day invasion of World War II portrayed these heroic men in all of their humanity as well as depicting their bravery and strength of spirit.

Battlestar Galactica Pilot (2003) – the initial 3-hour miniseries that rebooted this old 70’s classic, once dubbed the “son of star Wars” on the cover of Newsweek, was absolutely fantastic. You could see all of the playing pieces that Ron Moore had established for the series to build on – the lack of networked computer technology (because the android enemy Cylons could easily hack them), the gritty feel, the documentary-style camerawork, and the amazing-looking CGI Cylon soldiers. The characters, too, were much deeper than the heroic Colonial Warriors of the older series. They were still betrayed by the amoral Gaius Baltar, however in this case he joined the refugee fleet instead of the Cylon base ships. They turned hotshot fighter pilots “Starbuck” and “Boomer” into girls, and executive officer Colonel Tigh into an old alcoholic. Even lead alpha-males Commander Adama and his son, Apollo, were rewritten to have a newer, more contentious relationship (ie. They hated each other to start with). The battles were up close and personal, the politics were brutal, and the Cylons were more ruthless and cunning than ever – with certain models even inexplicably mimicking people down to the last detail. The opening pilot was so amazing that I must have easily watched it 15 or 20 times. It had incredible potential, which made the failure of the later seasons all the more devastating to me. Still, I enjoyed the pilot as much as any TV I’ve ever watched.

The Shield season 1 (2002) – the Shield went on to seven excellent seasons, but in my opinion none of them were ever quite as good as the first. In the first season, lead character Vic Mackey was on top of his game – a dirty cop leading a team of dirty cops who used blackmail, intimidation, evidence tampering and even murder to manage gang violence and drug activity in their own little chunk of Los Angeles. Sure, they skimmed enough off the top to live comfortably, but in their minds they were doing a public service by putting their own “chosen” men in charge of the gangs and drug dealers, ensuring that the “innocent” civilians were protected. The second through seventh seasons showed Vic constantly struggling to keep his little fiefdom from crumbling around him and he was never in control the way he was in the first season. This was certainly part of the show’s appeal, but for me watching Vic win more often than he lost was a guilty pleasure that was never really repeated.

Farscape seasons 1-3 (1999-2001) – the first three seasons of this show were some truly original, epic science fiction that featured amazing aliens, clever stories, action and humor. I wasn’t as taken with the show’s last few years, but the first three were incredible.

Heroes season 1 (2006) – this show did an especially good job of mixing the stories of a dozen or so super-powered characters and villains with a conspiracy, time-travel, prophetic visions and a planet-ending doom lurking just around the corner. While it’s a shame that none of the seasons that followed could replicate the magic of the first, the inaugural season of Heroes hit a high note that very few other shows on TV could hope to achieve.

24 seasons 1-3 (2001-2004) – while I didn’t find that the implausibility of this series held my attention for the long haul, in that I haven’t watched the last several seasons, the first few years of this series were literally “edge-of-your-seat” good. The real-time aspect of the show – depicting a day in the life of an elite counter-terrorism agent as he battled against bad guys with various detailed and inventive plans for advancing their heinous agendas. We came to respect the indomitable Jack Bauer even as we reviled the pseudo-technology of the headquarters team “opening a socket” whenever he needed something done. We openly mocked the fact that in every season, there was a new and different terrorist mole somehow ensconced within this super-secret, high-security government agency. Apparently the first villain they needed to shoot was their director of Human Resources. Regardless, the plots were appropriately convoluted, the bad-guys were really bad, and the good guys always got the job done, preferably at the last possible second. At least in its early years, 24 hit the bull’s-eye time and again.

Dr. Who (various) – this BBC classic was re-invented yet again in 2005 and continues to air into 2010 and (presumably) beyond. While I was a big fan of the show back in the Tom Baker era (1974-1981), I didn’t even attempt to keep up with the handful of new incarnations that appeared in the 80s and 90s. Dr. Who is a quintessential British show, not least because it’s produced by the BBC. This means that finding it on your local television in North America is a gamble at best. In the last few years, though, it’s been airing on the Sci-Fi (or Sy Fy) channel, and it’s been excellent. Bearing in mind that Dr. Who was never about production values (the quality of the aliens, props, and special effects have ranged from lackluster to truly appalling over the years), the excellent sci-fi stories have more than made up the difference over the years, and the show’s current incarnation is no exception. The central character “regenerates” each time he’s killed, reappearing as a new actor with a completely different personality, and the two latest actors to command the TARDIS time-machine have been better than any of the other Doctors I’ve seen. The “ninth” Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston, who played the army officer in 28 Days Later. Since then, it’s been the “tenth” Doctor, played by David Tennant, who you may have seen playing Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Both actors brought a new energy and joie de vivre to the character that was refreshing and enjoyable. Tennant, in particular, lent a charm and child-like wonder to the character that fit incredibly well with his “last of the time-lords” persona, and made those times when he had to stand in firm opposition to an enemy all the more impressive. The modern Dr. Who definitely stands in good stead with the Tom Baker years, and easily qualifies as some of the best TV of the last ten years.

Lost season 1 (2004) – I have to admit that I really enjoyed the first season of Lost. I watched it religiously, I followed all of the theories on the Internet, I dug and I read and I thought about the show. So I put that first season right up there as an example of great TV. Here’s the problem – there was no payoff. The producers went the entire season revealing a deeper and deeper mystery without every revealing any but the barest answers behind that mystery. By the time season two rolled around, I was tired of having my chain jerked. Then they introduced Michelle Rodriguez as some sort of uber-obnoxious ex-cop and I just couldn’t stand another minute. I haven’t watched the show since, but none of that diminishes the fact that the carefully-crafted, intricate storyline of season 1 was revolutionary television and definitely some of the best of the last ten years.

Chuck (2007 – present) – Chuck has to be on my list because it was the only show last spring where I checked the ratings each week and waited and watched and waited some more to see whether it would be renewed for another season. Yeah, Sarah Connor Chronicles was good, too, and I was sorry it didn’t get renewed, but the show I really cared about was Chuck. This show is about an electronics store clerk who’s old roommate-turned-super-spy secretly uploads a gigantic database of top-secret info into the guy’s head when it’s in danger of being lost. Now there are bad guys hunting for this database and the US Government trying to use it, which means that the guy who has it in is head is forced into becoming a spy – a job for which he is supremely unqualified as a shy, unsophisticated geek. Its ensemble cast of Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Baldwin and a host of co-stars put together a show that’s part James Bond and part Abbot and Costello. I enjoy the spy stuff every bit as much as I enjoy the scenes that are played for laughs, and it helps that the humorous parts are genuinely funny while the secret agent stuff is every bit as good as anything in Alias was (another great show that very nearly made my list). The show has had a ton of special guests ranging from John Lauroquette to Chevy Chase to supplement the regular cast and they combine with a dizzying array of pop-culture references to make the show stand out. It’s about to enter its third season in a couple of weeks and I’m frankly stunned that such a great show has had ratings issues in the past. I hope the show maintains its quality this year and brings in more viewers, as such a smart, clever, funny and fun-to-watch series ought to be on for the long haul.

No comments:

Post a Comment