Tag Archives: ShowRanking

Ranking the Shows I Watch – Sum Up

1 Dec
I’ve finished ranking the shows I currently watch.  A few have joined the pack since I started the rankings, and a couple of have dropped off but those edits are for another edition.  Here’s a quick look at the rankings with brief notes about if the show’s ranking might change if I drew up the order today instead of a couple of months ago.
  1. Breaking Bad – stays right where it is
  2. Game of Thrones – same – can’t wait for next season
  3. Mad Men – hasn’t been on in a year in a half so same
  4. Community – every week these next two shows are on the air I go back and forth between which one I like more – it’s only fitting that they’re next to each other on the list
  5. Parks and Recreation
  6. Children’s Hospital – saw a repeat recently, still great
  7. Archer – I want to watch the whole series over, but while I initially thought this was an overreaction I’m now happy with where I have it
  8. Venture Brothers – this series only seems to air every two years making it even harder to evaluate
  9. Justified – same ranking – hasn’t been on in months
  10. Terriers – this will just continue to fade from the memory – sad
  11. Bored to Death – the just concluded third season has been its best yet – this might have jumped a couple of spots, certainly over the soon invalid Terriers
  12. Walking Dead – I could drop this a couple of spots for being more about potential than fulfilling it, but I’m not as upset with its placement as I’d thought I’d be
  13. Eagleheart – I haven’t seen it again since the summer, but yeah, it’s hilarious
  14. The Office – I feel like the next three, and as I look further, four shows are exactly where they should be, shows that would have been top 10 for sure at earlier points in their run but have faded back and plateaued into still enjoyable, but below peak form
  15. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  16. Curb Your Enthusiasm
  17. 30 Rock
  18. Dexter – initially I thought I had put this too low, but as this newest season continues to be its worst yet I’d drop it a few spots
  19. Friday Night Lights – I still haven’t finished the series which is admittedly shameful, I need to get on that before any major reevaluation
  20. Boardwalk Empire – the second season has been better than the first – I’m not sure how far it climbs, but above Dexter undoubtedly
  21. White Collar – same as before
  22. Workaholics – this climbs a few spots as a show just beginning to hit its peak.  A couple of this season’s episodes were instant classics
  23. The Killing – it’s pretty low already but just thinking about the last couple of episodes makes me angry.  Drop it at least past Top Chef
  24. Top Chef – I can’t place a reality show too high, but it’s addictive
  25. Entourage – glad it’s over in a way, and the ending was cheap, but people are always too harsh on the show
  26. Psych – I haven’t been keeping up with this season, which says something about how unimportant it is to miss random episodes, but I still enjoy what I catch and may watch them all on a lazy Sunday afternoon
  27. How I Met Your Mother – this show has its moments, mostly involving Barney, but it’s sinking – there’s a lot of seemingly very special episodes and melodrama (though points for Lily and Marshall moving into my hometown)
  28. The League – you know, it’s become an absolutely far more ridiculous show than it was at the beginning and misses big sometimes but it has truly laugh out moments which shouldn’t be underrated, moves about HIMYM for sure
  29. True Blood – I’m debating whether to stop watching, though I’m leaning in that direction
  30. Royal Pains – you know, as much as I watched this show ironically, it’s gotten better – put it up a spot or two
  31. Rubicon – thankfully don’t have to worry about watching a second season, because I probably would have watched  but it might be best that I don’t have to
  32. Fairly Legal – hasn’t been back on, though not sure how much I’ll watch when it does
  33. Modern Family – don’t really watch – it’s better than Glee, but I don’t really feel bad about it
  34. Glee – stopped watching – it’s not very good

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 1: Breaking Bad

29 Nov

Note:  I know I haven’t put explicit spoiler alerts on these entries for the most part, but I’ll make the extra point that everyone should go out and watch Breaking Bad.  I’ve inserted a SPOILER ALERT for the biggest spoiler, but if you don’t want to know anything about the show, watch before reading any further.  And do watch.

Oh, where to start.  There are so many things I love about this show that I’ll have to limit myself to only talking about some of them.  First, I’d like to note that this show has improved every single season it’s been on the air.  I’ve talked with people who have only seen the first season and who aren’t that into it, but I encourage them to keep watching.  It isn’t that the first season isn’t good; on the contrary, it’s merely that the show keeps breaking its existing ceiling every single season.  Almost everyone I’ve pushed through into at least the middle of the second season has thanked me later.  There’s no better way to have someone remember a show in its offseason  fondly than to end with a bang and Breaking Bad always does that – each season builds to an epic last couple of episodes, leading up to a point which could be anticlimactic and easily disappoint, a la True Blood, but instead Breaking Bad rises to the occasion, giving us all time great television episodes.  In the most recent fourth season, however, that tag is hardly limited to the season finale.  Several of the episodes are instant classics, and the last five or so each left me thinking they were the best episodes yet.

Anyone reading this probably knows this already but Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has terminal cancer and turns to making and selling crystal meth to provide for his family after he’s gone.  He partners up with an old student now selling meth on a low level, Jesse Pinkman.  The show becomes far more than this, but that’s where we start.

So much happens in a season of Breaking Bad that it sometimes seems as if the first episode and the last are from two entirely different seasons.  The fourth season was ultimately an epic battle between Walt and Gus, and what a war it was.  What was particularly brilliant is that for a few episodes in the middle of the season it seemed like Gus, rather than Walt was the main character and instead of being angry or confused I wanted more.  The show manages to invent back story which was clearly not intended when the show began and yet still doesn’t feel forced and some of the best Gus scenes of the fourth season revolve around this back story.

There are some conceits you have to buy to get on board with Breaking Bad.  It’s a show about broad strokes rather than details, and a show which is one step away from reality; it’s main characters are superheroes who are not exactly like regular people.  It’s not The Wire.  Some things happen in the show which aren’t “real” and that’s okay.  That’s not what’s most important.  What’s most important is that the level of reality and characters are consistent within the confines of the show, and they are.

Tension is the engine that drives Breaking Bad.  No show provides more tension over different periods of time; often there are three or four proverbial shoes waiting to drop at any given moment.  The single best example of that last year may be the ricin cigarette that sat in Jesse’s cigarette pack waiting to be used at any time, which hovers over the last few episodes of season 4.  My favorite small example of Breaking Bad tension is when Walt lights up the gas tank of a car in order to destroy it.  In most shows or movies, Walt would be running away immediately after he lit the fire, and the car would explode as he dived forward, barely missing the explosion.  In Breaking Bad however, the seconds tick by with Walt well out of the way until the car explodes.  Even just waiting for a car to explode, the tension is palpable.

The tension created by Breaking Bad doesn’t disappoint.  When Breaking Bad lays out a major plot element, it uses it.  What’s even more brilliant is that the vast majority of little plot strands the show has left dangling are in a wonderful place where Breaking Bad has built up a network of potential plots (Walt’s mother? Marie’s shoplifting? Ted’s death?) to call back on, but these strands wouldn’t feel unresolved if the show chose never to go back to them.

So many scenes in Breaking Bad are so perfectly executed that they could be wonderful vignettes even outside of the larger story.  For example, the scene in which Mike hides out in the truck and kills the cartel henchmen or the scene in which Mike and Walt talk at the bar and Mike knocks Walt out.  Both of these scenes are brilliant pieces of television even outside of their context.

I could write thousands of words about this show, and I just might at another time. but hopefully this has expressed my feelings about Breaking Bad sufficiently.

Why it’s this high:  It’s the best show currently on TV and it’s only gotten better.

Why it’s not higher: It is in fact, highest


Best episode of the most recent season:  It’s so hard to choose, but it’s hard not to say the finale – there were a couple of major moments which I debated whether I liked or not – namely, zombie Gus straightening his tie and the decision to straight out show the plant in Walt’s backyard.  Even while I still can’t decide whether I think those moments were good decisions, the episode still stands as an absolutely brilliant piece of television.  I watched it late at night, and I couldn’t sleep for hours after I watched it, and I mean that in the best way possible.  One of the most brilliant aspects of this episode is the way it allows you reevaluate scenes from previous episodes.  This episode takes the scene earlier in the season with Walt spinning his gun around on the table in his backyard, which at the time looked like a scene of pathetic desperation where Walt perhaps contemplated suicide, into a triumphant scene where the plan was hatched that would lead ultimately to Walt’s success against Gus.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2: Game of Thrones

24 Nov

To say I’ve become obsessed with Game of Thrones recently wouldn’t be that much of an understatement (it would really just be an accurate statement I suppose). Long ago, my friend sang the praises of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin; they were among his favorite books, but aside from Tolkien, I knew just about nothing about fantasy and stayed away. Maybe a year and a half ago, I saw the news that there were talks to make a  fantasy series for HBO, and put together that it was based on the Martin books and told my friend, and then forgot about it for a while. Later, as the air date for the series neared, he warned me that I should get the books ahead of time, but I again put it off. It even took me a couple of weeks to watch the pilot and the first couple of episodes. When I finally did, though, I was blown away, and after a couple more episodes the TV series wasn’t enough for me, so I began reading the books. I was on to the second by the time the first season ended and since I’ve finished all five.

Of course, this article is about the TV show and not the books, but the show is incredibly faithful to the book, more so than almost any other adaptation I can recall and enjoying the books so much only makes me look more forward to seeing my favorite scenes and characters come to life during the series.  Let’s stick to what makes the first season in and of itself great. The first touchstone for many people in regard to Game of Thrones is Lord of the Rings, but that’s really only because they’re the two biggest fantasy series to cross into the mainstream over the last decade or so. Other than both being fantastic fantasy series, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Lord of the Rings is an epic battle on the biggest scale imaginable between good and evil. Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy universe, but it’s really a political thriller hiding underneath the medieval facade. Set in the fictional continent of Westeros, Game of Thrones is an all out battle for power amongst aristocratic famlies attempting to outmaneuver each other to place their chosen king on the throne. The beauty of Game of Thrones is that nearly every character has understandable motivations; once you see their side of things their actions make a lot more sense. There’s very little absolute good and evil in this world; with the exception of one or two truly psychotic characters, every character has a reasonable motivation even if you can’t stand them.

The cast of characters is large and will continue to grow and grow as the series goes forward. This creates an intricate web which can be hard to keep track of but which creates a complex universe for the show, allowing characters to change in importance without feeling like they came out of nowhere.  There are so many wonderful concepts within the Game of Thrones universe that it would take pages to explain all of them.  One major one is the The Wall, a giant ice wall which separates the land of Westeros from the wilderness of the frigid north. The wall is guarded by an organization called The Night’s Watch composed of members who are sworn to protect the wall; they are forbidden wives or inheritances.  Behind the wall are wildlings sworn to no king, but also a mysterious group of “others” who can reanimate the dead and are a threat to the entire kingdom.  This sounds ridiculous but it all works and leads to many interesting conflicts – the benefits and detriments of the monarchy inside the wall and the lack of it outside, the desire and importance of remaining loyal to the watch weighed against avenging your family, and the political system’s inability to focus its resources on a shared problem while fighting against itself.

The beauty of the Game of Thrones is that it incorporates major fantasy elements like dragons and magic, but in fairly limited and pointed uses. Its focus is squarely on the humans, with use of these fantasy elements to supplement the human story rather than to replace it. The series uses these concepts to explore human emotions and social and political concepts.

Why it’s so high: No show, with the possible exception of the show above this, had me so excited to watch each week and so excited to talk about what I saw immediately after I watched

What it’s not higher: One season against four seasons of the one ahead – they’re both best, it’s so hard to make choices here


Best episode of the most recent season:  “Baelor” – The biggest single moment in the entire first season shows everything this show is about – the execution of Eddard Stark, which is handled so well visually.  Game of Thrones is setting us up for the long run and letting us know that nothing is sacred by killing the main character less than a season into the series.  From killing Stark, there can be no other option but all out war for the iron throne.  It may be frustrating to many that the show takes essentially a full season to even get to the point where the central conflict for the throne begins in earnest (it starts after King Robert dies but it isn’t in full motion until Stark dies) but for me the journey was enjoyable in and of itself and I see nothing but long term possibilities in terms of where the story can go (obviously having read the books I know a lot of that and am excited more by the fact that there’s a plan in place unlike some shows (cough, cough, Lost).

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 3: Mad Men

22 Nov

Mad Men was victim to a phenomenon that happens sometimes when shows are in between seasons, especially when the off season is long.  After the third season, I somehow got the notion in my head that maybe Mad Men wasn’t as good as I remembered it being.  I talked with some people who were down on the show, and though I was still eager to catch the fourth season as it began, I had convinced myself that it was a fine show, but nothing to be inducted into the television hall of fame.  The fourth season began, though, and I was immediately pulled back in and wondered why I had ever doubted the show.  Impressively, the show, which was excellent right out of the box, made the fourth season its best yet.

Boardwalk Empire bears a lot of similarities to The Sopranos, but if The Sopranos was to have a successor, Mad Men would be the most logical choice.  (Of course, it’s unfair to compare everything to The Sopranos – but with Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire creators Matthew Weiner and Terrence Winter having worked on The Sopranos previously it’s hard not to.)  Don Draper deals with the same battles at home and at work as Soprano did (well, different businesses but some similar battles), serially cheating on his wife.


Unlike in The Sopranos, the Drapers actually do get divorced and Don’s choice of women becomes a major plot point in the fourth season, as he engages in romantic entanglements with both the career oriented market research consultant Faye and secretary Megan.  While it seemed temporarily like Don was ready for a relationship with an equal, he goes off to California with his young secretary, and after she gets along well with his kids, proposes to her, in the final episode of the season.


The fourth season has a number of outstanding individual episodes, including “Waldorf Stories” in which we deal with  multiple compelling storylines.  Don is forced to hire Roger’s wife’s cousin Danny after inadvertantly stealing a tagline from him (Danny is portrayed by Danny Strong, best known as Jonathan from Buffy), and then embarks upon a lost weekend celebrating his Clio award win, while Roger remembers meeting Don Draper for the first time.  Peggy works with the new art director and tries to fight her image as uptight.  The episode showcases the strengths of Mad Men.  The acting is as good and the characters are as well developed as any on TV.

My only serious issue with Mad Men is that the portrayal of Betty Draper which by the end of the fourth season is just absolutely over the top.  While most of the other more ridiculous characters have become more reasonable over the years (see: Pete Campbell), Betty has become an insane monster.  She moves from a character with whom I had much sympathy, being cheated on all those years, to one who acts like an overgrown child.  I understand Betty may have never been the most mature character, but the last couple of seasons take it too far.

Why it’s this high:  When it’s on, it’s TV at its best, and it’s on more often than not.  The writing and characters are about as good as it gets.

Why it’s not higher:  It’s hardly an insult to put it third – if push comes to shove, I find the two shows above here slightly more compelling at the current time.

Best episode of the most recent season:  Another show with a clear winner – “The Suitcase,” which almost exclusively involves Don Draper and Peggy Olson, and was the type of episode that had people declaring it an all-time classic television episode right after it aired.  Maybe it’s the obvious choice, but it’s the obvious choice for a reason; it really was that good.  After Peggy and Don had been so close earlier, they’d drifted apart and this episode gives them a chance to really spend some quality time together.  Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss are both outstanding.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 4: Community

17 Nov

This show contrasts with Parks and Recreation in several ways, and they’re really neck and neck on this list, and could be swapped depending on the last episode I’ve seen of each.  Unlike Parks, which took a while for me to get into, I knew Community was a show I’d like even from the first Community I saw, even if it wasn’t yet it top form.  The show grew over its first season and the second season was even better than the first. Just the first season had already established it as the show I was most excited to watch each week when I watched NBC’s Thursday night line up, and that’s saying a lot, considering that probably consists of half of the comedies I watch on TV.

I think this was because every week there is a chance to get an absolute gem.  In contrast with Parks and Recreation, individual episodes stand out a lot more from the pack, which can be both good and bad.  It’s almost like comparing a great album band to a great singles band.  Community when it hits its absolute peak with particularly great episodes like the paintball episode “Modern Warfare”, this season’s parallel universe oriented “Remedial Chaos Theory,” or the episode I’ll choose below as my favorite, is simply as good as television gets.  Everything works and the episodes can be watched over and over.  The downside is when everything doesn’t completely come together there are episodes that end up slightly subpar.  Parks and Recreation has a hard time hitting the heights of the near-perfect Community episodes, but also has a significantly higher week to week consistency.  These are small concerns, as both are good enough that Parks and Recreations episodes have high ceilings and Community keeps the mini-clunkers to a minimum, but it does highlight the difference in the type of show (Venture Bros. is another show in the Community model in which certain episodes more clearly stand out).

About every fourth episode or so f Community is a massive style pastiche, like the western themed A Fistful of Painballs, or the zombie themed Epidemiology.  Not every one is perfect, but a large majority of the attempts hit their mark.   These  provide some of the best episodes of the series.  Still, the engine that really makes Community run, and that takes even the style homage episodes up a notch in their quality is the relationships between the study group characters.  Abed and Troy are particularly delightful in their camaraderie, but every combination of characters have their own unique relationship.  Over the course of the show, it’s gone from a set up where Jeff was the main character and Britta was maybe second to a full fledged ensemble where just about anyone (haven’t really been many Shirley led episodes) can take the lead.

Why It’s This High:  It’s vying for my favorite comedy on TV – the chemistry between the characters is great, and the homages are generally spot on, and the episodes that are as good

Why It’s Not Higher:  The only thing I can say against this show is, there’s not a perfect level of consistency, some are better than others – though what show non-Wire division doesn’t have that?  And sometimes there’s too much Ken Jeong – it often feels forced when he’s given more than a couple of lines and just doesn’t fit with the rest of the characters.

Best episode of the most recent season:  This is one of the few where I knew exactly which one I was picking before I even get to the category. “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” is my choice.  It’s a ’70s neo-noir homage involving a massive conspiracy theory which Jeff and Annie must unravel as Jeff makes up an independent study class taught by “Professor Professorson.”  The b-plot involves a massive blanket fort built by Troy and Abed, which is the site of a chase sequence for the A-plot.  I don’t want to say too much else, but I’ve seen the episode more than any other Community episode and it makes me smile every time.

I’d like to just put in a special ending note in reference to NBC’s decision to take Community off their schedule in the Spring.  Please watch Community!

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 5: Parks and Recreation

15 Nov

While 30 Rock has been the critical darling for the past half decade of so, Parks and Recreation has moved up past 30 Rock on many a person’s rankings (including mine, obviously), and that’s quite understandable.   Parks and Recreation is still in its growing phase, or at leas near it. The show continued to get better and perfect itself over this past season, it’s third, and has been as strong as ever in the first few episodes of the fourth.

In reviewing some comedies in this new television season, I’ve talked about how difficult it is to be great from the beginning with a comedy.  The actors have to learn how to best portray the characters, and the writers have to learn what works in a way that can only be established in actual episodes.  Like in sports, unfortunately, not everything can be worked out during the preseason.  There are many, many examples of this phenomenon – comedies finding their footing and improving greatly over the first season or two – but Parks and Recreation may be the single most dramatic in recent history.

When the show first started, I had mixed emotions.  I was excited, because it was created by Michael Schur, who was largely responsible for firejoemorgan, the fantastic blog which made fun of dumb sports commentary, but I was wary because I’ve never liked Amy Poehler.  The premise of the show at the time was that Poehler’s parks and recreation department employee was determined to turn a hole in small Indiana town Pawnee into a playground after Rashida Jones’ character Ann Perkins’ boyfriend Andy Dwyer(Chris Pratt) fell in and broke his legs.  I watched the first couple of episodes, and it confirmed my biggest concerns.  It had plenty of good points but Poehler’s government do-gooder overachiever Leslie Knope was so over the top that it overshadowed everything else.  It was a poor Michael Scott impression at best, and although Scott’s never been my favorite character, Poehler certainly couldn’t pull it off like Carrell.  I stopped watching.

Mid-way through the second season, people and the internet kept trying to tell me to come back.  I was skeptical, after having seen part of the first season, but it was people and internet I trusted, and it was still a good creative team, so I relented.  I’m glad I did.  The show was well on its way in its transofrmation to one of the best comedies on television.  The biggest single difference may have been that the writers pulled the reins in on Leslie.  Instead of an overbearing Michael Scott like character, she was aggressively competent, and relentlessly well meaning, making her touch of crazy which still existed more endearing than obnoxious, generally.

Even better, the supporting cast had come out of its shell.  Andy, the deadbeat boyfriend in the first episode originally planned to only appear in a couple of episodes, changed completely into a lovable happy go lucky but delightfully a little bit slow witted character who has become one of the breakout characters of the show.  The other biggest breakout character was mustachioed boss Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, whose anti-government libertarian positions meant he left all the work for Leslie, and who offers lines, which even completely out of context sound wonderful like “You had me at meat tornado,” and produces the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, shown below.  The fact tha these characters have broken out so successfully, has obscured who I thought would be the obvious breakout character, Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford, whose fantastic renaming of food quote (I cut some of it, but it’s so good I didn’t want to leave out too much)”Fried chicken is fry fry chicky chick. Chicken Parm is chickey chickey parm parm. Chicken Cacciatore chickey catch. I call eggs pre-birds or future birds. Root beer is super water. Tortillas are bean blankies. And I call forks food rakes.”  inspired a fantastic website, Tom Haverfoods.

This reorganization of the show left one odd man out, Paul Schneider, who played Mark Brendanawicz, another government worker who was friends with Leslie.  Originally designed as loosely the Jim Halpert character, Brendanawicz’s role kept getting squeezed as the show continued until he chose to leave, which was the best thing for the show.  He was replaced by Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast as well at the end of the second season.  Even as the third season started, it was hard to remember that Schneider was ever on the show.  I have had a man-crush on Adam Scott ever since Party Down, and he does a fantastic job portraying awkwardness as Ben Wyatt.

Why It’s This High:  Making Amy Poehller make me laugh is something I never thought would happen, and this does, and still not nearly as much as Ron or Tom or Andy.

Why It’s Not Higher:  We’re at the point where there really aren’t great reasons why it isn’t higher, it’s very good, though I suppose I still don’t totally love Amy Poehler – old annoyances die hard.  Still, these are quibbles.

Best episode of the most recent season: I’ll pick from the third season, since it’s the last fully completed (arbitrary explanation, granted) and there’s really no obvious top episode or even couple of episodes as there are with some shows.  Without spending too much time to parse every individual episode’s A, B and C plots, I’ll go with “Eagleton” where there are some fantastic depictions of Pawnee’s rival town, the much richer Eagleton.  Although there’s a risk of occasional overuse, Parks and Recreation has gotten a lot of mileage from its depiction of residents of Pawnee as largely idiots, and its less frequent depictions of everything regarding Eagleton as snooty and ostentatious.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 6: Childrens Hospital

10 Nov

I was about to write that at it’s heart Childrens Hospital is a stupid show, but that’s not really true.  Not that I don’t occasionally enjoy stupid humor, everyone does, even if it’s not my favorite variety.   That said, that’s not really what Childrens Hospital is, even if there are some parts that are pretty stupid.  What Childrens Hospital is based upon is rather silly humor (I actually hate the word silly which should let you know how much I like this show if I’m using it as priase here).  It’s not smart or witty or urbane or crackling with banter like other favorite shows of mine (Party Down, for example).  It’s ridiculous, it’s absurd, and it’s downright hilarious.

Childrens Hospital is an 11-minute long show which takes place in a fictional Children’s Hospital somewhere in Brazil and centers on a group of doctors who must deal with a different set of ridiculous circumstances each week.  Rob Corddry, the creator, plays a clown doctor who dispenses the healing power of laughter, a ploy, which every once in a while seems like it might be overused, but just before you get tired of it, they reel it back for a couple of episodes.  Other doctors are played by Ken Marino, Rob Huebel,Lake Bell, Erin Hayes and Malin Akerman. Megan Mullaly plays the handicapped head of doctors who for some reason everyone is sexually attracted to, and Henry Winkler plays the hospital administrator who everyone hates on.

One of my favorite sequences in Children’s Hospital occurs at the end of an episode themed as a documentary of what is supposed to be the show’s last episode.  Let’s step back a minute actually.  This is one of my favorite episodes of the show, and it’s a show that makes you actually laugh out loud.  The cast all have ridiculous fake names as they’re introducing themselves as the actors who play their character in this faux documentary, and Megan Mullaly comes out with an absolutely absurd british accent while Malin Akerman only speaks Swedish and has to read transliterations of English for the show which she doesn’t actually understand the meaning of.

Rob Corddry’s character – no, not his actual character, him playing the fake actor that plays his character, is the only one of the cast who wants the show to continue and he convinces a woman to create a campaign to save Childrens Hospital by convincing the woman that the show is an actual Children’s Hospital.

Okay, so the part I actually wanted to mention was just at the end of the episode when we see fake outtakes of the filming of Childrens Hospital.  The actors in turn pronounce a couple of words wrong over and over again.  Elbow and as rhyming with “Wow”, operation as if it were operacion and  Penicillin as “Penis” illin.  Writing it down doesn’t do it justice.  It’s a bit that really needs to be heard (as can be in the video below – the whole episode is great but skip to 9:58 for this part).  It’s silly.  There’s no great subtlety to it, there aren’t many levels to the joke.  But it’s utterly hilarious.  And that’s really hard to do, and yet it’s something Childrens Hospital has managed to do especially well.

It’s not mean comedy, like South Park.  It’s not awkward comedy like The Office.  It’s not even the newfound “comedy of nice” that Parks and Recreation is being proclaimed as.  It shares with Community the spirit of making style homages, but it does it in a very different way.  Community’s homages are far more sophisticated and layered, and that’s great. Childrens Hospital’s though are far more utterly ridiculous and over the top, and that’s great too.

Guest stars are aplenty as well.  Kurtwood Smith has a particularly hilarious turn as a representative of cancer – Ken Marino’s character cures cancer, and Smith tries to menace him into holding back the cure.

Why It’s This High:  It’s silly in a good way, and constantly zanily hilarious – a New York Magazine article compared it to Leslie Nielson’s old short-lived Police Files, and it’s an apt comparison

Why It’s not higher:  There’s not enough of it, it’s probably best in the Adult Swim 11 minute format, though that’s not really a knock against it.

Best Episode of the Most Recent Season:  (Note:  I made this choice before the third season aired – for the now most recent season, we’ll say “The Chet Episode” but there’s five or six in contention) It’s a tough call – “Hot Enough For You?” – the semi-Do the Right Thing parody episode is wonderful, and contains the Kurtwood Smith bit I referred to earlier, but considering I spent even more time talking about the faux documentary episode “End of the Middle” it will have to be that one.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 7: Archer

8 Nov

Archer is an FX cartoon by the creator of Adult Swim fixture Sealab 2021 about a super spy named Sterling Archer, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, who works for a private intelligence company called ISIS, run by his mother, Malory Archer.  The other main super secret agent is his ex, Lana, and they work with accountant Cyril, HR director Pam, secretary Cheryl and mad scientist Doctor Krieger.  Archer is a giant unabashed self-centered asshole who everybody mostly can’t stand but who is constantly making hilarious sarcastic comments at the office and throughout his super agent missions.  Much of the humor comes from Archer’s dickishness, and it’s unquestioned that he’s the primary reason that the show is so high but the supporting cast is consistently entertaining as well.

I liked the first season or Archer – I watched it all in one day, but, with all due respect to Archer, it was more because I had absolutely nothing to do that day than because I was absolutely and wholly consumed by Archer.  That said, I enjoyed it.  It was funny, pleasant, fun, and starred the never overrated vocal talents of one H. Jon Benjamin.  I watched it, remembered a few jokes here and there, and put it away in my brain, figuring I wouldn’t think much about it until the next season started.

Some number of months later the second season started, and I started watching weekly, and at the beginning I felt more or less the same way.  But as the season got maybe a third of the way through, almost at once, I realized that the show had made a bit leap that some shows make around this point in time  (Parks and Recreation, yet to come on this list, might be the best other recent example of this).  It’s certainly not as if old Archer was bad, and I’m also curious if going back and watching the old episodes, they’ll seem better than I remember them being.  That said, this Archer has just reached another level.

My friend invented the phrase “hit the jukebox” to be an opposite of the internet adage “jump the shark.”  When “jumping the shark” refers to a TV going over the hill, like Happy Days did after Fonzie jumped said shark, “hitting the jukebox” in when a TV show (or anything else really) goes into overdrive and really hits its stride.  Archer hit the jukebox and has not looked back.

Why It’s This High:  It’s funny, and it’s quotable is which one of the best compliments you can give to a comedy of this ilk

Why It’s Not Higher:  We’re at the rank where there aren’t too many ways to bash these shows.  It’s pretty much a crapshoot, and I could change my mind any time,  It’s more because I had more reasons for the shows above it at the time.  I suppose if I have to say anything, it’s just because it didn’t quite hit its absolutely top form until a dozen episodes ago or so.

Best episode of the most recent season:  Looking over the list of episodes, I’m reminded of just how excellent the last season was.  Realizing I don’t remember more about each episode makes me want to rewatch the entire season, but just reading each of the descriptions make me laugh.  I wish I could take the three episode arc aired this fall about Archer’s capture by pirates as one episode, but that would clearly be cheating so I’ll go with “Placebo Effect,” about Archer’s dealing with his diagnosis of breast cancer.  After he finds out that the drugs he’s been on are fake, he goes on a rampage, dragging around his IV, to figure out who was responsible for the fake drugs.  He turns his rampage into a film with the working title “Terms of En-Rampagement.”

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 8: The Venture Bros.

3 Nov

Venture Bros is a comedy and has a humorous tone at all times but takes its complicated web of continuity as seriously as any show I can ever remember on televison.  This ridiculously confusing continuity is one of the strongest aspects of the show.  What’s interesting about it is that it’s not as if all of it was planned out back when the show began; the writers seem to make something up, and then they keep that in mind when they work on later episodes and work around the changes they made.  It seems like this make-it-up-as-you-go philosophy would never work, and feel slapdash (and ill-prepared – Lost, Heroes, anyway) but it just about never does feel forced.   It feels very natural and thorough in a way that might be difficult to plot out from the beginning.

Venture Bros. is the story of an egotistical scientist (Venture and the next show on this list and their arrogant main characters have a fair amount in common) Dr. Rusty Venture who was the son of an uber-popular super scientist and struggles with not living up to that legacy.  He has two sons, Hank and Dean, the titular Venture Bros., and a bodyguard Brock Sampson.  They have to contend with Rusty’s arch-villain The Monarch, bent on Venture’s destruction along with other villains like Baron Underbite and Phantom Limb.  The show as a whole is a humorous take on programs like Johnny Quest and it’s silly and ridiculous, but it is so much more than simply a parody.  The Venture Bros. lives in a world where villains are governed by an organization known as the Guild of Calamitous Intent which has rules, such as forcing villains to temporary release their captives for certain medical emergencies.

Plot is central in the Venture Bros, but not in a true serial way – many episodes have plots which mostly are only relevant in their episode, even though anything mentioned is always fair grounds for a reference or to come back unexpectedly in later episodes.  Some forces like Brisby and the Orange County Liberation Front pretty much never show up again, but sometimes characters that initially seem like one-offs like Sergeant Hatred go out and become semi-major characters.  Because of the way episodes are often very non-serial even throughout a complicated continuing storyline, Venture Bros. has some episodes that are all-time classic and warrant frequent re-watches.

Why It’s This High:  There’s really no other show like it on TV – it’s fantastically irreverent, makes you smile without always being laugh out loud funny and a joy to watch

Why it’s not higher:  Really, the only common bane of any of the shows this high on the list – episode to episode consistency – the top episodes are better – that, and some overuse of gay characters Shore Leave and Sky Pilot, but that’s a small complaint

Best episode of the most recent season:  A few stand out, but it comes down to two.  First, the first episode of the season, which skips around in time, and does it as brilliantly as any show or movie told with this device, with the ordering of the scenes is denoted by the value of an expensive comic book Dean has.  Second, which is my official choice, is “Everybody Comes to Hank’s,” a film noir homage.  While often the best episodes of the show involve utilizing many of the wide universe of characters Venture Bros. has to choose from, this episode focuses on very few characters, primarily Hank who acts as a gumshoe solving the case of why his friend Dermott didn’t get picked up by his mother, and in the process, figuring out whether Dermott is Brock’s son.  He does this along with his sidekick, the Alchemist, a member of The Order of the Triad who gets some good screen time here.  Anyway, the noir is spot on and some big time plot details come out of the episode in the process.

Rankings the Shows That I Watch – 9: Justified

1 Nov

Justified is part of a two-some of shows, along with Terriers, which proceeded Justified on this list, that are examples of what USA shows could be without their inherent USA limitations.  They’re shows that very much feel like the “characters welcome” brand of USA show except unleashed to be a little darker, a little bit more serial and generally just feel like the creators have a little bit more control over them.

Justified is a show that grew on me over the course of the last season, which was significantly better than an already solid first season.  Part of what makes the show so enjoyable is the wonderful Timothy Olyphant, who yes, maybe always plays a type, as the tough, speak-softly-but-carry-a-gun honest guy with attitude, but plays it as well as anyone.

The show tries to posit as the second most interesting character Boyd Crowder, played by Walter Goggins, who was apparently in the Shield, a massively long show that I have not dared attempt yet.  Fowler was the primarily antagonist for most of the first season going from a work-a-day Dixie mafia leader to a crazy quasi-religious drug runner.  I knew the creators of Justified wanted to keep Fowler as a character long after the season, but I thought it would either seem forced or repetitive as shows often do when they keep around an interesting character past his or her expiration date (is Sylar still alive?), and to the show’s credit it hasn’t felt that way as Fowler has transitioned from someone seeking honest work to a gangster again, but one who ends up on the same side as Olyphant’s Raylon Givens at the end of the season.

The second season was greatly enhanced by the increased emphasis on a serial plot which was spread out over the course of the season.  The key antagonists in the second season were the Bennett clan, a Dixie mafia family who control their local county (fittingly named Bennett county).  Ma Bennett was the matriarch, and she had three sons, one of whom was the local police chief.  (By the way, I credit Justified along with Winter’s Bone for learning what the fuck the Dixie mafia is and being scared that these people could command police forces.)  The other two are mostly kind of moronic henchmen, one of whom is played by the always enjoyable Jeremy Davies, who is hilarious to hear in a southern redneck accent.  Ma Bennett is portrayed by Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy for her role (for whatever that’s worth) and actually deserved it.

Why it’s this high:  Olyphant is fantastic, the show sets a nice western tone, and Ma Bennett was a great villain

Why it’s not higher:  I greatly enjoy this show, but it lacks the scope and maybe a little bit of the depth behind Breaking Bad, Mad Men or Game of Thrones (not to give away shows coming up on the list)

Best episode of the most recent season:  “Bloody Harlan” – the season long plot more or less ends in the final episode of the second season and shit goes down.  I won’t reveal exactly what happens, but the ending is fairly final and satisfying without feeling cheap or implausible in context.