Tag Archives: Ranking the Shows I Watch 2012

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: 18-16

13 Feb

Three more on my list of the best shows I watched in 2012 – the rules to be included are here, and 18, 17,  and 16 are below.

18.  Homeland

Brody and Carrie

I never thought I’d see the day when The Walking Dead would be a mere one slot below Homeland, and if we’re just using the last few weeks of 2012, Homeland would be behind.  Homeland is somewhat the victim of bad timing; the show aired too late to be considered in my first ranking the summer of 2011, and if I had conducted a ranking this time last year, I was prepared to select Homeland #4 overall.  The first season really was that good; I can remember very few first seasons which have knocked my socks off like Homeland’s did, just about stem to stern.  In fact the most serious problem with the season was just that the writers had, due to events towards the end of the first season, put themselves in a potentially very difficult place to go out and write a second season as strong.  That’s pretty much what happened; the second season had some great parts and great episodes but was seriously flawed, especially in the second half, enough so for the show to continue to be worth watching, but no longer a member of the elite.  I ranted and raved some thoughts about the second season in a longer entry, but suffice to say by the second half the show runners had dug themselves into a hole which they could never quite figure a way out of, leaving the main plot threads of the second season to end in disappointingly unsatisfying ways.  The show changed its focus and veered way too far into 24 action hero territory.  The second half of the season seriously made me question whether the first season was merely incidentally stumbled upon by everything going right, making it unrepeatable.  Homeland at least put itself in a place where the slate is much cleaner than it was starting the second season, and hopefully, at least behind the scenes, the writers realize the predicament they put themselves in last year, and plan better now to avoid it, especially now that they know they’re likely to get a fourth and a fifth season.

17.  The Walking Dead

Rick and Crew

As Homeland goes one way, The Walking Dead goes the other.  No show has improved its fortunes more in the past calendar year, or, really, in the last four months of 2012, than The Walking Dead, which moved from an incredibly problematic second season into a much-improved third season.  This was accomplished largely by much better pacing but also by adding new characters and subtracting old ones who were running out of material.  The second half of the second season which aired in the spring of 2012 featured a lot of the problems of the first half; absolutely terrible pacing and too much time spent on less interesting characters.  Even the second season had moments which made it seem like the show could be a lot better, such as a tense situation in which Rick and a couple of other characters are looting an abandoned bar and run into some other strangers who may be either friend or foe. Rick is forced to make a quick decision about how to deal with them, and these interesting situations about how to deal with issues of trust and the value of humanity in the post-zombie world are gripping.  There were a handful of these powerful scenes but they’d couldn’t obscure the wasted episodes that came in between them.  The third scenes basically scrapped this formula and moved much quicker. It also killed off characters without abandon, leading to a situation in which it feels like no one but Rick is truly safe and the same interactions amongst the same personalities were less stale.  The addition of a second location, the Governor’s town, was interesting in and of itself and likely improved the pacing because of the back and forth.  The Walking Dead hasn’t always had character compelling enough, Rick aside, to get by on mere constant personality squabbles, working much better when those squabbles are forced by external circumstances, and there were simply more of those circumstances in the third season.

16.  30 Rock


30Rock2

I’ve occupied a strange position in regards to 30 Rock over the last few years, but really ever since the show started.  Once I caught up, while the show was in its second season, I was an ardent supporter but always felt it was wrongly cited as the best comedy on TV, especially while The Office was having some of its best seasons, and then later on, when Parks and Recreation and Community emerged as gems.  Particularly, I had been down on 30 Rock more recently, calling the show out not for being terrible by any means, but for seeming to make a bit of a slip from its peak years.  I’ve had a change in attitude.  I could chalk this down to some combination of this season making a marked comeback in quality, but maybe also to the fact it’s the show’s last and I’m appreciating it in light of its impending end.  As much as I have liked 30 Rock over the years, and I have, I thought I was ready for the show to end, but only now, after really enjoying the final episodes did I realize that I’m actually going to miss it when it’s gone.  While The Office, a great show over the run of its life, bumbles its way to the finish line, 30 Rock goes out in high style, and there’s something to be said for that, but also for giving 30 Rock its due in the canon, where, while maybe never the best comedy at any given time, was always worth watching, and that’s worth a lot.

Advertisements

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2012 edition: 24-22

8 Feb

Ranking the shows I watch, from 2012 – for the rules, see the intro here; 24, 23, and 22 below.

24.  Downton Abbey

Downtown Abbey

I thought the show was titled Downtown Abbey for a good year, like many.  The first season captivated me a lot more than I thought it would, and I’d like to make a shout out here to the wonderful theme music.  The second season, with more episodes, struggled a little bit (we’re using American air dates, so second season aired in 2012, rather than British air dates, where the third season was shown last fall).  While some people were stunned to realize they were watching an overblown primetime soap, albeit with interesting social issues at play, that much was obvious to me.  The problem rather was that some of the twists in the second season were pure daytime, most notably the absolutely ridiculous plot in which an injured soldier cons Edith into believing he’s a family member the Granthams thought dead on the Titanic in the first episode of the series (by the way, starting your show with a succession issue caused by the Titanic’s sinking? that’s high drama).  Matthew miraculously gaining the use of his penis (yes, penis) and legs back after having them paralyzed was a little much, though mostly inevitable; they could at least have had him suffer some kind of permanent damage to make the whole injury meaningful.  The show was also constrained by having to figure out how to get Matthew and Mary together and then apart and then together and then apart within the rules of high English society. By the end of the season, while I was certainly rooting for them, I just wanted something to be done and final.  The Bates murder trial never worked for me either.  Anyway, the moral is that the second season paled in comparison to the first, but still had some wonderful moments and the always excellent sniping of Maggie Smith’s dowager countess.  These problems are also easily correctable, so I’m looking forward to the third season.  Also, Downton is unusual in just how much time is spread out over a single season.  Years happen between episodes sometimes.  That’s neither here nor there, but I thought it bore mentioning.

23.  Boardwalk Empire

Boredwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire, like Sons of Anarchy earlier on this list, aspires to be a BIG series full of deep and meaningful themes, like The Sopranos, in particular, in this case, a show on which Boardwalk series creator Terrence Winter worked. It almost feels like the show was put together with The Sopranos as the ideal model, trying mathematically to adhere to the recipe that made the Sopranos so great, and hoping that after putting it all in the oven for 15 minutes, it would lead to a brilliant show.  The care put into the show is clear; the sheer filming technique is impressive and definitely significantly adds to the enjoyment.  That said, the formula doesn’t always click.  Main character Nucky Thompson is generally a strong one, packed with charisma and complexity, but few of the secondary characters can equal him, and those who could often don’t get the amount of screen time they need.  This problem was clearer in the third season than in the first two.  While there were several serious issues that made the season all right instead of very good, the biggest might have been that the creators chose the wrong secondary characters to get the bulk of screen time after Nucky gets his.  Whatever greatness is, I think it’s unlikely Boardwalk Empire is going to get there in more than glimpses and moments, but there is definitely plenty to enjoy in the craft if less so in some of the characters, and that alone makes it worth watching.

22.  Happy Endings

Happy Endings

The volume shooter of TV sitcoms, Happy Endings fires away jokes at breakneck speed, not even worrying about whether they hit or miss, because by the time they’ve thought about it, ten more jokes have been recited.  Like NBA volume shooters J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, this leads to serious consistency problems, but also periods of time where it seems like every joke (or shot) goes in.  There are six friends, they’re all grouped together differently for A, B, and sometimes C plots in various episodes, and they’ve got lots of inside jokes and pop culture references are often flying. Sometimes after time goes by without watching an episode, I’ll remember the show as mediocre, and then watch a good episode and recall what I liked about it.  Because of the way the show works, it’s never going to be an absolutely transcendent show the way, say, Community or personal favorite Party Down can be.  Sometimes an episode will work a lot better than others, and even in an episode where a lot works, some won’t.  The flip side is that the show has a high floor; even when everything’s not clicking on all cylinders, there’s an excellent chance of at least a couple of solid chuckles coming through.  I have a hard time being extremely passionate about this show; it’s not great and it took me a while to get into enjoying it at all.  That said, the more I’ve watched over the years, the more I’ve become to appreciate its quirks, and like the best shows of its type, the excellent chemistry enjoyed by the cast, which turns some percentage of those jokes from misfires to winners.  I originally had the show lower and moved it up because for the first time, this season, I realized I’d very much miss it if it was cancelled, and sometimes that emotional connection tells you something that your brain doesn’t; while this will never be a favorite, I genuinely like the show.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: 27-25

6 Feb

Ranking the shows, check out the intro page here for what qualifies for the list – 27, 26, and 25 follow.

27.  Sons of Anarchy

Redwood Original

I had never watched this show at all until I powered through it in the spring of 2012, getting really into it through season three, and then beginning to already tire of it in season four, when Clay’s position in the show became too outlandish even by the show’s own standards.  After finally making it through all four seasons, even though I enjoyed the overall experience and am glad I watched it all, I found myself hardly excited when the fifth season began.  I ended up storing episodes on my DV-R and not catching up until a couple weeks after the entire season had finished.  But, catch up eventually I did, and though I think I’m glad I watched it, my interest levels were a lot lower than when I was marathonning it.  The disappointing, and moreover, materially different fourth season, had caused me to check out a little bit from the show.  It’s still worth watching in its slightly lesser form, but I don’t think I’ll ever care as much as I did during a two week period where I was watching an episode or two a night.  At its best, it’s still a joy to watch, and the characters are generally fairly well drawn, particularly main character Jax.  Sons of Anarchy aspires to be a big show like The Sopranos and it doesn’t quite reach those heights for many reasons, but often you can see around the edges where they’re trying.  I’m not sure if this makes me admire the show more for trying or frustrated more because it’s not getting there, but I imagine I’ll keep watching future seasons like I watched this one.

26.  Revenge

A dish best served cold

I frequently vouched for Revenge during its first season, and I wasn’t the only one; within the bounds of a twisted primetime soap – conspiracy drama, it handled itself just about as well as it could be done.  The main character was likeable and the show had just the right amount of intrigue and trashiness which left the viewer waiting to see the next episode.  Unfortunately, Revenge is suffering from a classic second season (and sometimes later) problem with televisions shows that have an explicit or implicit goal bound up in their premise – where do you go from here?  Emily ne Amanda managed to solve her primary initial question of getting to the bottom of what happened to her dad in the first season, and more or less had her finger on the button to deal with the people responsible.  Kudos to the creators for pacing the show in a way that meaningful events actually happened in the first season, but as a reward for their smart pacing, they get to deal with the problem of why and how to keep the show going.  Revenge’s solution was a classic – increase the scope of the show, and in particular, to level up; the people she thought was behind the act were mere pawns working at the hands of a more powerful force which she can currently barely comprehend.  Unfortunately, in Revenge’s case, that takes the show from a fairly tight conspiracy organized around a number of rich socialites, and the drama that involves, to dealing with giant and complex para-governmental organizations with names like “the initiative” which seem to belong in Alias and feel completely out of place in Revenge.  It must make show creators jealous of the Mad Mens and Six Feet Unders and Parenthoods of the world, where  writers can pretty much set up their seasons however they want without a big final mystery to solve or put off.  It’s possible Revenge will get back on it’s game, but I think it’s less likely than not.

25.  Girls

Girls

The most controversial show of 2012 worms its way into the rankings at 25.  What this should tell you is that I stand squarely in between the two major Girls camps.  I find the show watchable and enjoy it, but don’t think of it as some amazing breakthrough television program that portrays life in a much realer way than most TV.  I think, and this is important to note, the show got significantly stronger as it went on, and the later episodes seemed to be sharper and tighter.  I don’t really understand the hype over the “realness” of the show; at least in a superficial way, I think the characters are fairly ridiculous, with maybe the exception being Alison Williams’ Marnie, and though I can probably understand the argument a little more as it pertains to some of the subject matter beyond the superficial level, I still don’t think that’s the main selling point of Girls.  I understand the argument against the show that the characters are unlikable, but many a great show has been built on the back of unlikable characters; it’s hard to find a character to unambiguously root for in prior HBO giants The Sopranos or Six Feet Under.  That said, I can enjoy, with the protagonist bias, removing ourselves one step (ie we root for Tony Soprano, because he’s the protagonist, even though in many ways he’s a terrible person), everyone except for Jemima Kirke’s Jessa, who I absolutely can’t stand.  I’m not sure why so many people make a big deal about having to relate to characters to enjoy a show; while it’s certainly a plus, I think there are significantly more shows I watch where I can’t relate to anyone.  Anyway, I pretty much enjoy watching it without thinking it’s the best thing under the sun.  More than anything, I don’t think it’s nearly worthy of the press it receives one way or the other.  We’ll see if Season 2 changes my opinion up or down.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 Edition: 33-31

1 Feb

So, finally, we’re ready to get into the rankings for real.  Check out my intro for the details on qualifying for the list. Shows 33, 32, and 31 follow.

33.  Suburgatory

The dangers of suburgatory

If I was to create a television version of WAR (Wins Above Replacement, an all-encompassing measure of a baseball player’s worth that counts how many wins he is worth in a season above a fictitious replacement player), Suburgatory would be a great stand it for the replacement player.  It was right at the border of whether I’ve seen enough episodes to put it on this list, and frankly this was the only show that was a difficult call in terms of making the list at all – generally, I either had seen almost every episode of a show, or just one or two.  I decided eventually to keep it on as a marker, if nothing else, of the exact current limit of my viewing.  I pretty much never go out of my way to watch Suburgatory but if I’m cruising the on-demand section of my TV and find nothing else new, there’s a fair chance I’ll throw one on.  It could easily be replaced by something better, but there it sits.  It’s not particularly laugh out loud funny, and it’s over the top cartoonish drawing of a posh suburb can be a little bit unsubtle and on the nose, but I really like the two leads, Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto, who are by far the two most normal people in the town, and the best characters, as they both struggle to fit in.  Maybe there’s something to be learned that in this show, the super quirky characters who are pretty much designed purely for humor are significantly less interesting, and funny, than the two major more well developed characters.  Suburgatory could still get better, but will probably stay the same, which is okay.  This is where it belongs.

32.   The Office

Strange poster

This season of The Office may actually be worse than Suburgatory, but I do watch The Office every week, so that alone will keep it ahead.  I’ve complained loudly and often about The Office’s recent struggles, and how they’ve gone from a hitter with a mere slump to a player on his way to retirement  and as we all know by now, retire The Office will, in just a few months, and thankfully so.  I still hope the last few episodes will be better because I don’t want a show of the caliber of The Office to go out on such a down note.  Many other shows I’d simply stop watching, but The Office has had such a strong run over several years, that I’ve given it far more benefit of the doubt than I would to many other shows.  This leeway The Office has pretty much showed it doesn’t deserve by just totally running out of new ideas, creating serial plots which viewers have no interest in, and reshuffling the characters in ways, after Steve Carrell’s exit, that just don’t make sense.  Even if they didn’t realize it before, they should have been able to figure it out by now, and shift things around, since it’s been two seasons of slightly lower than mediocrity, but they haven’t reacted as I’d hoped.  Dwight’s still funny; so there’s something nice about the show.  While the other characters change personalities, or grow, or are just boring, Dwight pleasantly remains the same.

31.  Top Chef

Seattle

Every season I’ve watched Top Chef, which is since the fourth, I’ve gotten into mini-bouts where I get kind of obsessed with the show, and heavily invested in who wins; like in sports, I take an emotional hit if my guy loses, and especially if my arch-enemy wins.  This peaked in Top Chef Season 8, All Stars, in which I rooted fiercely for Richard Blais to win, and was thrilled when he actually pulled it off.  That peak though was short lived, and as so often happens, my obsessiveness largely fell away quickly after, in the next season Top Chef 9, where a string of gimmicks helped to siphon my interest, along with a top group of contenders which only featured one person I actually wanted to win.  That contestant did win, thankfully, but it was more of a relief than euphoria, especially since the last couple episodes featured some out and out terrible challenges which were often based on elements other than the contestants’ ability to cook, such as chiseling ingredients out of ice and hitting targets with rifles to acquire ingredients; thus if you were bad at marksmanship, you’d have trouble cooking (I shit you not).  The season ended and left a bad taste in my mouth.  I started up this new season with less hope, and though I dutifully watched the first few episodes, I found myself often falling behind, only watching the previous episode once I was planning on talking to my friend who is also a viewer, to discuss the episode with him, rather than for my own edification.  Anyway, odds are about even as to whether I’ll finish the season, though I don’t think it’s been as disheartening a failure as The Office, which is why it’s higher, but not much.  You’ll notice a pattern, that this tier of shows on my list I all watch dutifully, but ambivalently, and Top Chef fits right in.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: The Outcasts, Part 4

30 Jan

This is my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – for the rules, see the intro;  so far we’re discussing shows that made my last list but not this one.

Here are the last shows that made last year’s list that didn’t make the cut this year.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David

2011 ranking:  16

One of few shows on TV that can disappear temporarily and return at any time at the whim of the creator and star (see: Louie), Curb declined to air episodes in 2012 and may be over or may not be.  It’s a very funny show, and I’d certainly welcome it back for more.  In fact, I’d vastly prefer it if there were more episodes.  Still, there’s been eight seasons and there’s no serial plotlines that need to be wrapped up anymore, and it’s pretty much Larry David’s decision on whether to go on or not, so it’s hard to say I would be devastated if the show was over for good.  It’s a great show to just throw on an episode or leave in the background, and although it’s really awkward and somewhat uncomfortable to watch, the situations are usually ridiculously enough to avoid truly painful British The Office levels of discomfort.  It’s just Larry David and co. talking a lot, and it’s not exactly the most unpredictable or nuanced show, but it’s frequently laugh out loud funny.

Bored to Death

Watching this did not make me bored to death

2011 ranking: 11

Bored to Death is probably the show whose cancellation most frustrated me in recent years.  This is due to some combination of factors.  First, I really liked the show, thought it was as good as ever, and that it had a lot more to give.  Second, because the show had made it to its third season, it already had had some legs, and because it wasn’t past its fifth season, it didn’t seem like it was logically time to come to an ending. Third, because the show was on HBO, ratings weren’t quite as important as they would be on a network, especially because the show continued to get positive critical notice.  That basically sums up to the points that I really liked it and thought it actually had a good chance of returning, so I didn’t just accept losing it right away as I have other ill-fated shows.  Not to mention, the show ended with main character, Jonathan Ames, sleeping with someone who unbeknownst to him is probably his sister.  That has to be the strangest way a show has ever had an unplanned ending.

Terriers

Where are the Terriers?

2011 ranking:  10

Terriers aired in fall of 2010, which was covered in my last rankings, though it seems like longer ago.  Because the show wasn’t a BIG show the way Game of Thrones is or the way one year failure Terra Nova was, I think it’s been easy to forget.  There hasn’t been a big bring-back-Terriers crowd, or constant references to Terriers as a show that died before its time.  However, that’s not to say it wasn’t acclaimed; nearly everyone who saw Terriers liked it.  Of course, the problem was largely than nobody watched it.  Part of the reason for that is the name – a terrible one, which not only revealed nothing about the show, but also doesn’t intrigue the type of audience who the show is geared towards.  Part was also the fact that well, it doesn’t sound that great, if you just describe the show in brief.   There was an ongoing plot but Terriers was basically the story of two characters played by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James who were PI partners constantly finding themselves in over their heads on cases.  Of course there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basic idea; there’s no huge hook or complicated premise.  Anyway, since I can’t imagine you’ll be reading more about Terriers anytime soon, let’s give the show one last fond goodbye.

The Venture Bros.

Hank and Dean

20111 ranking: 8

The Venture Bros. has come to resemble late season Sopranos, in which a season only airs every two years.  A special Halloween episode actually aired this year, but I declined to allow that special to qualify the show for entry in this year’s rankings.  It’ll finally be back in 2013 though, so it can look forward to a spot in next year’s rankings, and hopefully a high one if the quality is what I hope.   No show handles a complicated continuity better than Venture Bros, and the mixture of sophisticated comic storylines with pop culture references and wise-cracking punchlines keeps Venture great.  Not every episode is amazing, but they’re mostly solid and when they hit, they hit. Season 4 alone created some instant classics including film noir-style episode Everybody Comes to Hank’s, and Season 4 premiere, Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel, told out of chronological order, with the only marking of time being the value of a rare comic book which slowly gets destroyed over the course of the episode.  Frustratingly, wikipedia decided to remove the individual episode pages, which were incredible and useful resources about the show.

Ranking the Shows That I watch: 2012 edition: The Outcasts, Part 2

25 Jan

This is my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – for the rules, see the intro;  so far we’re discussing shows that made my last list but not this one.

Here are some more shows that made last year’s list that didn’t make the cut this year.

Royal Pains

What a royal pain

2011 Rank:  30

And so the USA exodus continues.  Royal Pains isn’t bad.  It just isn’t particularly good either.  It’s probably not a show one would expect me to watch, unless they knew about my aforementioned USA mini-obsession.  I really have so little new information about the show; I watched with my friend, and when we lost our momentum, we both kind of stopped, and neither of us were too bent out of shape about it.  Every episode, main character doctor Hank Lawson solves a patient’s case, while other gradual progress is made on serial plotlines.  Henry Winkler plays his and his brother’s dad which is kind of cool.  Royal Pains is right out of the USA playbook, better than Fairly Legal, and probably better than several more USA shows, but worse than a couple others.  I bear it no ill will, but don’t watch it.

True Blood

Delicious

2011 Rank:  29

Here’s my long view take on True Blood.  I enjoyed the first season more than I thought I would.  I really liked the second season, which I thought was really focused and well plotted; there were two major storylines, and they were both resolved in the last few episodes, one before the other, allowing the characters from the second storyline to join the first just in time for the climax.  The third season then went away from that, giving nearly every character their own plotline, some severely weaker than others and completely unnecessary, and strangely had its climax less than 2/3 through the season, after which the villain, the Vampire King of Mississippi, one of the season’s strong points, sort of collapsed.  I barely started the fourth season, before I was done with it. True Blood has several problems, but scope is the biggest; it expanded too far and basically there was no reining it back in.  I enjoy hearing people tell me the plots because they sound so ridiculous, but I’m done watching it.  There’s a careful line between stupid trashy fun, and stupid trashy, well, trash, and this gradually shifted from the former to the latter.

How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother

2011 Rank: 27

Here’s a show that a lot of people like better than me, because it pushes a lot of my particular buttons.  I hate the narration, I hate the incredibly on the nose messaging and oddly old school moralism that I think is wisely absent from most modern comedies.  I do think the actors work very well together as a group, and I think that the funny parts, particularly provided by Barney and Marshall have been very solid, and that kept me watching for years, even as there were parts of the show that seriously bothered me.  So, I kept on, after I finished all my other shows, watching How I Met Your Mother dutifully, though ambivalently, until Season 7 episode “Symphony of Illumination,” in which the gimmick is that instead of regular narrator Ted telling the story to his kids, this time it’s Robin telling the story to her kids.  Only, it turns out that she can’t have kids, and instead she’s telling it to her fictional kids in her mind.  How I Met Your Mother has done gimmicks well in the past, but I just hated, hated this episode and it gave me the impetus to put down the show altogether.

Psych

Shawn and Gus

2011:  26

Almost out of USA shows, I swear.  Psych is actually the one I currently like the best, and still have plans on watching more of it.  Unlike most of the other USA shows, which are light hearted dramadies, Psych is much more explicitly a comedy.  Because it’s focus is on being funny and lighter, it’s much less of a issue to have generic procedural murders every episode without almost any serial element.  However, the lack of serial element is also what causes me to keep putting it behind watching other shows with longer arcs.  Still, Psych is an easy show to watch; it’s refreshing and enjoyable which makes it a great show to watch when tired, and I mean that as a compliment.  It’s like bathroom magazine reading; it’s hardly essential viewing, but it’s a great way to fill in some time, and I would rank this the highest of the USA shows if I actually watched it regularly.  Still I don’t, which I suppose says something about the show as well.