by Benn Ray
Television continues to thrive as a dominant artistic medium. I mean, I have to force myself to the theaters to keep up with new movie releases, but TV - there simply isn't enough time to keep up with all the worthwhile television that I'm curious about, and I simply don't have enough money to keep up with all the pay channels with quality original programming.
Oh well, there's always the fun of trying to catch up in the off season.
There were a few shows I got behind on that I didn't catch up with until after the year ended (like Breaking Bad) that would have made the list.
On the plus side for folks who loathe such things, it seems to me the appeal of reality tv is finally starting to wane.
1. Republican Primaries/2012 Election (all channels)
This election season was the best reality show ever aired. The Republican slate of would-be Presidents was so horribly inept - it was hard to believe this was the cream of the crop of the Republican Party. And while it was hilarious watching Herman Cain and Rick Perry, it was also tragic - that one of these assmonkeys got so close to the Presidency. But it wasn't just the Republican primaries - it was also the election season in general that was brilliant. A Republican Party ripping itself apart. A Republican Party showing its true face to stunned and repulsed American voters. A Republican Party that introduced phrases like "legitimate rape" into our cultural lexicon. And it had the perfect ending - Republicans freaking out because they had bought the false reality they themselves had constructed - that Mitt Romney - a candidate they didn't even like - was going to win the Presidency and soon, very soon, it would be War in Iran, forced transvaginal ultrasounds for everyone, no more social security, no health care, and an unregulated corporatocracy that somehow was also theological? Instead, America said, "Naw, we'd rather have another 4 years of the secret Muslim, atheist, America-hating, European-style socialist, black guy."
3. Downton Abbey (BBC)
On paper, there is nothing about this upstairs/downstairs Masterpiece classic that would appeal to me. But I can't get enough. I had no idea missing dress shirts and choosing the wrong stemware for supper could be so stressful. I think the thing that confuses me the most about the show, in a good way, is that I almost entirely agree with the politics of the Branson, the Irish son-in-law, but at the same time I keep thinking "Must he be so boorish?"
And then I think, "When do I use words like 'boorish'?"
And then I think, "Damn you, Downton Abbey!"
4. Girls (HBO)
Lena Dunham takes what could result, in lesser hands, as a bad How To Make It In America / Sex In The City mash-up and instead makes a statement as a possible voice of her generation - self-absorbed, self-mocking, and completely funny. The fact that there is a lot of belly-aching about "entitled white girl issues" actually makes me like the show even more.
5. Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)
This bizarre, post-apocalyptic kids cartoon is the best thing Cartoon Network has done in years. The fact that it's outside the parameters of their increasingly cartoon-free "Adult Swim" brand doesn't actually bode well for their adult programming. This cartoon is pure magic - and its ever-expanding mythology is shockingly bleak and heart-breaking - on an adult level - while the fun and joy is still there on the kids' level.
6. Walking Dead (AMC)
Walking Dead continues to improve dramatically after replacing show creator Frank Darabont. To be fair, the arrival of Michonne and the Governor's story arc in the comic series were especially inspired and compelling - so you'd have to try really hard to mess that shit up.
8. The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Perhaps the most brilliant political satirist of our age. Colbert makes you laugh and fills you with anger at the same time. And he never has to result to "punching the hippie" to make himself feel "balanced" like his Comedy Central compatriot, Jon Stewart.
9. Supernatural (WB)
I came to this show late (it's already in its 8th season and burned through all 8 in like 3 weeks). It's Route 66 meets Night Stalker meets X-Files meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer. 2 brothers are hunters - cursed with hunting the demons and beasts that are very real and that feed on the rest of us while crisscrossing the country in (usually) a hot rod and listening to classic rock. There's a war between Heaven and Hell (but not in a lame Christian sort of way - more like in a sectarian good vs. evil/classic Vertigo Comics sort of way - there's even an angel based on the comics character Constantine). With Ben Edlund (The Tick) as a producer and sometimes writer, the show is appropriately self-aware and often as funny as it is as scary, dark and gory.
10. Small Town Security (AMC)
This "reality" show is centered around a small town security company comprised of oddballs. This feels exactly like the reality show John Waters might make, if he made a reality show.
Like Bob's Burgers - another animated show whose charm is just as much about the voice acting as it is about the animation, the concept and the stories. This show has the pedigree and charm of Arrested Development meets Sealab 2021.
14. Veep (HBO)
HBO's political sitcom about a hapless Vice President is an endless stream of humiliation. It's also fun to watch any number of Baltimore locales (like The Ottobar) stand-in for DC locations.
16. Community (NBC)
This sitcom worked best when it spiraled off from reality - which it usually did. It was so odd, weird, and funny that it actually redeemed Chevy Chase's career of assholedness - that is until his assholedness helped wreck the show.
18. Newsroom (HBO)
This Sorkin-created HBO media drama is a modern combination of Network and Broadcast News. The fact that the mainstream media responded with contempt reveals that they felt spanked - and let's face it - these are the same folks who still haven't apologized for selling us on invading Iraq and are still trying to tell us that our "debt" is the problem. Jeff Daniels is far more likeable than Tom Browkaw - upon whom his character seems to be based.
At first, I was stoked when I mistakenly thought they had turned Robert Altman's classic film into a TV show, then, when I realized it was simply a modern country-music-based prime time drama in the vein of Dallas, well, then I was wholly uninterested. But then I saw the early episodes and I was surprised at how not bad the music was. Plus, anything with Connie Britton on-screen is easy to watch (despite her odd inability to have stage presence as a singer). This rivalry plays out like a battle between Taylor Swift and Loretta Lynn. Think a watchable Treme with better music.