With all the talk this week about the mechanics of receiving television this week, I thought it was high time to talk about the shows themselves. I’m a confirmed TV junkie who can’t seem to get enough. When I stumbled upon Broadcatching, my addiction got the best of me, but over the summer I pulled myself together and got my habit under control. So here’s my top 10 list of the creme de la creme of what’s out there on the boob tube. I’m listing them in my order of preference, so you don’t have to wait until tomorrow for the top-rated shows. Bon appétit!
01. “Firefly” (FOX)
This series was canceled in 2002, but to this day it stands out as my favorite television show. Created by Oscar and Emmy nominated writer Joss Whedon, who had created two blockbuster hits for FX with “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel“, was asked to create one more show for them. What he came up with was “Firefly“. The network eagerly bought the show and then didn’t know what to do with it. They decided not to air the pilot, then dumped it into a crappy time slot and in the end canceled it. Idiots.
Lucky for us, the fan base for the show was legion and they were vocal. After the show was canceled, they started up a grass roots campaign to drive the sales of the DVD for the series and that got Universal’s attention who decided to continue the story with the first of hopefully 3 movies called Serenity. The series is great, the movie is great and it’s all shiny.
“So what’s the story about?” It doesn’t matter. Go buy the DVD and watch it. “But isn’t it Sci-Fi?” It is and it isn’t. It’s unlike any show that’s out there, so go buy it and watch it. “Yeah, but I’ve heard it’s a western too” It doesn’t matter. Go buy the DVD and watch it.
02. “Hustle” (BBC / AMC)
“Hustle” has a style all it’s own. It’s posh, it’s svelte and a whole heck of a lot of fun. Being a criminal never looked so cool and being able to dip your feet into the fantasy of being part of Mickey Brick’s team is what it’s all about. We know that the life of a long con artist can’t be this fabulous, but oh how we wish it was. Simply put, Hustle is what Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve wished they could be.
Throughout each episode, Mickey’s team plays out a long con which is often times quite complicated. It’s not until the end, when there’s a bit of a “reveal” and we’re able to see exactly how the con was played out. As a result, you’re engaged from the beginning to see if you can figure out what the gang is up to. Thankfully, there’s always a nice surprise at the end, so it’s always fresh and surprising.
“Hustle” provides high-style, tongue in cheek comedy with just a dash of realism to keep us coming back for more. Clever writing that doesn’t rely solely on gimmicks makes this series a standout among all the rest. Clearly the BBC has a real gem on their hands and in my book is producing some of the best television anywhere on the globe.
Lucky for us, AMC has licensed the series and will begin airing it in 2006 from the beginning. Good thing too, because the BBC hasn’t released a DVD version that will play in the U.S. So unless you’ve broadcatched the series, this is currently the only way to see it.
03. “Veronica Mars” (UPN)
I stumbled onto this show because of its star, Kristen Bell. I had just seen her in two episodes of “Deadwood” and her performance really impressed me. So when I saw that she was starring in her own series, I decided to tune in to check it out. I’m glad I did, because reading the premise didn’t really grab me. I’m not much for “The O.C.“, or any of those other teen dramas and that’s what “Veronica Mars” was billed to be, but it’s SO much more than that.
Bell plays Veronica Mars, a teenager whose father is a private eye and former Sheriff of the fictional California town of Neptune. Because of her upbringing as a Sheriff’s daughter, Veronica has a naturally inquisitive nature and the resources in which to conduct investigations. The first season dealt with the murder of her best friend and this season is revolving around the tragic crash of a school bus. The writing is tight and solid with very little fluff. The characters aren’t just cookie cutter stereotypes who pine about their troubles. The series does have a light-hearted feel to it, but there’s just a hint of darkness to keep things balanced and the viewer guessing what could come next.
If you didn’t see the first season, it doesn’t matter because the current story line doesn’t rely on the previous one. It’s one of those shows you can drop into and pickup the thread, but it may take a couple of episodes before you get your footing if you haven’t seen it from the start of the season. Don’t worry though, it’s worth it. If you like solid storytelling, you’ll like this show.
04. “24” (FOX)
I’ve been hooked on “24” since the first season. It’s suspenseful, gripping and somewhat violent story line grabbed me from the get go, but what set the hook was the “real time” aspect of the show. Each season takes place in one 24-hour period. Each episode is one hour long and events occur in real time. So if it takes 20-minutes to drive somewhere, then it’ll take 20-minutes in the show to get there. It’s sounds like a simple device, but it’s quite effective because it really cranks up the suspense.
Kiefer Sutherland plays Jack Bauer, a member of CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) who will go to any lengths to keep the United States safe. As his title implies, Jack’s job is to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring and, as a result, delivers some VERY exciting plot lines. “24” is a wild ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat as you see to what lengths Jack will go to do his job. It’s Kiefer’s definitive role and if you like action/thrillers, then you don’t want to miss this series.
“24” is set to begin it’s 5th season in January 2006 and you don’t have to have seen the previous four, so tune in when it begins airing. However, if you want to play catch up, all previous seasons are available on DVD. Just don’t think that you’ll be able to watch a whole season in one sitting because it would take you 24 hours to do it.
05. “Extras” (BBC / HBO)
“Extras” is a new series from the comic genius of Ricky Gervais. Gervais’ claim to fame is the series “The Office”“, which originally aired in the BBC, but was brought to the states this year with a new American cast for the NBC network. The American version is OK, but It’s not as good as the original. That being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original series either. The comedy for the show was dependent upon uncomfortable humor – people being caught in uncomfortable situations, that sort of thing. Personally I find that type of comedy somewhat uncomfortable, so I found much of it hard to watch.
So often when someone has a hit, they tend to stick to what works and just do more of the same. With the huge success of “The Office”, it would be easy to simply re-package the concept, slap a new title on it and wait for the money to roll in. That would be the safe thing to do. That might not make for good television, but it would be safe. Lucky for us that’s NOT what Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have done.
For starters, it’s clear that our lead character, Andy Millman, isn’t the fop that David Brent was. Andy is sharp, quick and knows exactly what he wants – a line in a movie. With that motivation in mind, it’s clear that Andy will stop at nothing, to try and get it. He has no shame and it’s a good thing, because it makes what he does VERY funny.
Of course some of the same elements from “The Office” can be found in “Extras”, most notably the awkward, uncomfortable scenes. In “The Office”, it was Gervais that was the reason for the awkwardness. With “Extras” it’s the stars themselves that are the cause and it works SO much better. Having the stars make fun of themselves is brilliant.
Just to give a hint of the humor you can expect to find, here’s a small scene between Andy (Ricky Gervais) and Ben Stiller, who is playing himself:
Ben Stiller: Who are you?
Andy: (muffled) Nobody.
Ben Stiller: What was that? Who?
Ben Stiller: That’s right. Nobody. Yeah, and who am I?
Andy: It’s either Starsky or Hutch. I can’t ever remember.
Ben Stiller: Was that supposed to be funny?
Andy: You tell me. You were in it.
From start to finish, the first season of “Extras” was brilliantly funny. It typically takes more than one season for a comedy to really get it’s legs and be this good. Merchant and Gervais have hit the ground running and delivered a very funny new show. With the ever changing stars and new sets, this series should continue to be fresh and exciting and I can’t wait for the next season!