I remember the simpler days of my youth.
One commercial channel, one government channel and you could only watch as many programs as you had waking hours since PVRs were but a distant twinkle in some yet unborn tech head’s eyes (best not to think that one through too much).
Of course I didn’t know any better then but now the idea of so few stations and limited time in which to watch them, with no concept of time-shifting at all, is anathema with my PVR full to bursting with so many programs that I may have to forgo sleep just to get through them all.
But there’s the rub – finding the time to watch them all.
So I have had to employ a bit of a lifeboat strategy – that is deciding which programs are SO worth my time that they stay on the viewing schedule come what may, while others, no matter how fine they are, are cast off to one side, never to be watched again (or years hence via a weekend of DVD boxset binging; I am looking at you Weeds season 3 onwards and Mad Men).
There are so many high quality programs these days that deciding what is watched and hence stays in the lifeboat and what is ignored and cast to the pop culture-munching sharks is a dilemma of Solomonic proportions.
Even so, I have managed to cull the list down to a workable number and so present to you my 10 favourite programs of the year, both brand spanking new and returning, as well as the programs sad to say that are so far from the lifeboat, the sharks began a-feasting before the first episode had even run its course.
MY FIVE FAVOURITE NEW PROGRAMS
Sleepy Hollow wins on so many fronts.
A breathtakingly audacious mythology that includes all manner of source material – the Biblical end times stories from the Bible, pagan dogma, urban legends, actual if creatively twisted history and of course the 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving – that it somehow manages to meld into an entertaining, enthralling and sustainable world.
The two leads, Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane and Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills, share remarkable chemistry with Mison particularly embodying enough charisma to fuel a city for a lifetime, and while their circumstances are totally over the top and campily unbelievable, they effortlessly make it seem totally real and natural and utterly possible.
I am overjoyed that it has been renewed for a second season and can’t wait to send where the apocalypse, in the form of the Headless Horseman and his hellish hordes, take Crane and Mills next!
What an amazing talent is Tatiana Maslany!
Newly and deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe for her multiple almost-every-scene roles in this story about cloning, genetics and the ethics of playing God, she is able to switch from character to character, giving each of them not just their own look but own persona.
It is an impressive feat by anyone’s reckoning and helps to explain why this audaciously ambitious story has won the legions of fans that it is and why not of them, and that includes me, can wait till April 19th when she is back on our screens again, grappling with the raw, painfully believable existential dilemma of what it means to be you when you are not as unique as you thought you were.
While the concept of this show, and its splashy dramatic trailer had me intrigued from the word go, I was inclined to believe it would simply be another in a long line of FBI procedurals, admittedly one with the talented and unmissable James Spader in it, with ambitions to be nothing more than an exercise on crime-of-the-week solving.
While that is partially true, it has proven that it has the chops to weave in a rich and engaging story arc to the week-by-week catch a bad guy approach (each criminal is plucked off the blacklist of the title) and James Spader has more than fulfiled his promise as James “Red” Reddington, a criminal mastermind with an unusually familial obsession with Special Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who is wrenched with little notice from profiling obscurity when Reddington requests she be assigned to investigate each and every case.
Add in a possible FBI mole, giant red question marks over the trustworthiness and even identity of Keen’s adoring husband, and collegial rivalries and you have a show that is engaging, compelling and far more deserving of my time than I expected it to be.
I must admit I had my doubts on this one.
While I usually like Chuck Lorre’s sitcoms (Dharma and Greg, The Big Bang Theory), he is not usually known for the complexity of his set-ups or the jokes employed, and I wasn’t sure what to expect since for every The Big Bang Theory there is Two and a Half Men.
But Mom is a real joy, thanks to the superlative comedic talents of both Alison Janney and Anna Faris, whippet smart scripts that don’t always skew to the most obvious punchlines, and a willingness to treat its underlying premise – both mother and daughter are recovering addicts of multiple substances with all manner of issues to resolve – with a solemn seriousness when required.
It’s one of those shows I actively look forward to seeing, a sign that it is doing more than a few things right.
You either love Robin Williams or you loathe him.
I fall firmly in the former camp, having adored his rapid fire wit and manic energy since his Mork and Mindy days but even I wondered how the rest of the ensemble cast of The Crazy Ones, which features Robin Williams as unorthodox advertising legend Simon Roberts, including most notably Sarah Michelle Gellar as his daughter, would fare up against his ceaseless word playing.
Just fine as it turns out.
Williams largely sticks to the script, the others have their moments to shine, and he does ad lib it’s works a treat, suiting the often comically over the top story lines.
It’s been a delightful surprise, and while it is still only a good sitcom as opposed to a great one, it’s showing every sign it will seamlessly make the transition and soon.
* Commendable mention must also go to Defiance, an adventurous, clever take on one of sci-fi favourite tropes – the dystopian future; Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which features Andy Samberg in one of the wackiest yet serious police precincts in New York City, Super Fun Night, which needs work granted but is sweet, funny and engaging, Marvels’ Agents of Shield, which is a lot of fun to watch but still not realising its full potential, and Trophy Wife, which is way smarter than its premise of a new very young wife dealing with two ex-wives, a sometimes clueless ex-husband and indifferent kids.
MY FIVE FAVOURITE RETURNING SHOWS
I love everything about Grimm.
It’s handsome male lead, David Giuntoli and his co-stars all of whom shine in their own right, it’s ability to seamlessly meld Wesen-of-the-week stories with an ever more complex but still quite accessible story arc, and it’s willingness to throw any and all mythologies from around the world into the storytelling blender.
It all works, and works impressively well week after week, and it shows no sign of faltering in season 3.
I will confess – I did not fall in love with this immediately and had pretty much consigned it to the depths of the sea, far from the lifeboat, when my housemate, who’d persevered with the show convinced to dive into the PVR and watch the rest of season 1.
I am heartily glad I did because after an uneven start to their premiere season, the show found its storytelling feet and began to really live in the apocalyptic world it called home, a world in which electricity has disappeared and society has devolved back to an agrarian past.
It is now good, very good, a worthy addition to the burgeoning apocalypse genre.
Here is another show I didn’t warm to initially.
This time because it featured zombies which frankly freak the every living daylights out of me.
But again my persistent housemate prevailed on me to give season 1 a go, in daylight hours, which I did and I loved it.
Season 2 and 3 quickly followed and now with season 4 in full swing – albeit on a hiatus till February 2014 – I am neck deep in this dark dystopian tale of a world gone to the undead and the fight for survival among what’s left of humanity.
How many shows do you know that are not just kicking on well into their seventh season but are thriving?
The Big Bang Theory is as fresh as ever, still delivering interesting takes on its characters and refusing to fall into the trap on trading on and overusing already established characteristics and tropes.
Well all the time anyway.
It’s as vital as ever, keeps me laughing and watching, if only to see if Amy (Mayim Bialik) will ever have “coitus” with Sheldon (Jim Parsons).
Here’s another sitcom with as vitality and zest as it ever had.
Admittedly it is facing some changes in its sixth season with the departure of Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins) and Rob Lowe (Chris Traeger) but with the amazingly talented and seriously funny Amy Poehler still in the box seat, I have every confidence this show, which recently celebrated its 100th episode, will go on and on.
If NBC stays committed to Parks and Recreation, and with its ratings healthy and Amy Poehler’s star definitely in the ascendancy, I expect to see Parks and Recreation around for years to come.
And if somehow that doesn’t happen?
Well, we all know it’s Jerry’s (Jim O’Heir) fault right?
AND THREE SHOWS I WOULD PREFER TO NEVER SEE AGAIN
This was beyond awful.
Take every stock standard disaster movie character you can think of, throw them in with 1001 cliches and some dubiously-rendered special effects and dodgy dialogues and you have an impressive concept, with which Stephen King wrote an equally impressive, engrossing book, utterly wasted.
How this merited a second season is completely beyond me.
Here’s my review of the premiere episode (in which I was prepared to give it a chance; that died during the second episode and no, I didn’t watch any more after that.
I am usually a big fan of British sitcoms.
They’re usually very cleverly written, with talented casts who are more than able to do justice to the witty, often farce-laden scripts, and a lot of fun to watch.
Not so Big School which was painfully awkward with belaboured jokes, hackneyed social constructs and quite unlikeable characters.
It was a complete waste of comedic talents like David Walliams and Catherine Tate, both of whom shouldn’t have wasted their time on this humourless, nasty mess of a sitcom.
Here’s my review of the premiere episode (and no I didn’t get beyond that).
I am not quite sure what happened with Banshee.
It could have been the over the top fight scenes, the stilted, awkwardly-delivered dialogue or the insane premise which never really grabbed me.
Take any or all of them but Banshee failed to find favour with me, despite coming from the usually inspired hand of Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood), and I barley made it through the premiere episode (during I laughed when I am guessing I probably shouldn’t have).
And the fact that I didn’t even bother to review it gives you some idea of the utter indifference I felt towards this half-baked piece of television.
One thing I particularly love are the opening titles of a TV show.
Favourites includes Six Feet Under, Nurse Jackie and Sleepy Hollow, both because of their visual inventiveness and their use of either a piece of quirky music or interesting theme song.
Now these are, as buzzfeed correctly observes, somewhat of a dying art but every now and again, and increasingly on cable where the shows are more daring anyway, the title sequences are works of art unto themselves, with one of my current favourites being Orange is the New Black which features a specially written song by Regina Spektor, one of my favourite artists.
The Circle of Life is just as much a part of TV as anything and Vulture has done a superb job of helping us to remember the shows and characters we lost this year. As they note, some should be eulogised forever, others should be spoken of as little as possible but none should be forgotten.