Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TV Year in Review, Sort Of

I’ll say it again. I watch too many TV shows. I was showing my TV show database to my daughter, with its precise, up-to-date information and nifty color-coding, and she remarked, “You need help. Really. You can never again claim you don’t have enough time in the day.” Ah, the young, so judgmental. You see, I watch 52 TV programs. In my defense, they’re not all on at one time, what with the advent of year-round cable programming that’s turned the TV landscape into a never-ending sushi conveyer belt. And I have a DVR, so I can schedule my addiction.
But you know what? I work all the time. Whether it’s writing or editing or reading or keeping a household running for 5 other people who sometimes seem to have the average psychological age of your typical 6-year-old (and only one of them is actually a 6-year-old). I can barely read for pleasure anymore: I’m too busy picking things apart and editing them in my head. Just the other day I was reading some short stories by an author I’ve always enjoyed and I finally threw it down in frustration. (Fucking commas, how do they work?) Whoever edited him should be beaten with a blunt object and forced to copy several style books in longhand on an endless, hellish blackboard like something out of an old Far Side cartoon.
So I need an escape valve and mine happens to come with a remote control. Now I’ll grant you, not everything I watch is high art. Some of it is definitely the equivalent of comfort food or a nice cup of tea. But I’ll never understand the people who are so proud to say, “I don’t even own a TV!” Really, that’s just as bad as saying: “I never even open a book!” or “I’d never be caught dead in an art museum!” Because it is art. Some of it terrible art, but some of it quite brilliant. And life without art, people, is a sad, sad thing.
With the end of the year just passed, talk around my dinner table turned to “best of” conversations: what movies or books or TV shows or what-have-you we thought were particularly memorable last year. And that got me to looking at my little obsessive database and dissecting it out: what was I still watching and why?
First of all, there’s hardly any reality shows. (Only The Amazing Race and Face Off) Secondly, there’s few 30 –minute sitcoms, only 8 in total. Meaning the rest are drama or spec fic or the dreaded and ill-defined hour-long “dramedy.”
Several things I had high hopes for ending up being duds, at least for me, particularly Terra Nova and Grimm. Neither kept my interest past three episodes and fell off the grid. My favorite show, Terriers, was cancelled after its inaugural season. Some things are past their sell-by date, but I still continue to watch: Bones, Glee, Burn Notice. They’re tired, but just entertaining enough that I don’t hate them. Yet. And in my defense yet again, seven shows are new and yet to debut (including the much-anticipated Alcatraz), so they may be still be clunkers that are immediately forgotten.
A pleasant surprise, I found two shows that I had neglected to watch that turned out to be absolute gems, and luckily could quickly catch up on the missed seasons: Justified and Sons of Anarchy. And then there are the guilty pleasures, shows that really aren’t that spectacular but that I find entertaining nevertheless. (Hello, American Horror Story, with your myriad ginormous and insanely maddening plot holes, deus ex machinas, and unlikeable main characters who I’m now glad are dead, dead, dead.)
So, excising the comfort food and the guilty pleasures and the watching-from-a-sense-of-past-loyalty, here are the 10 best shows of last year, chosen by my subjective criteria, in my perceived order of quality, and excluding any shows I don’t get because I’m too cheap for premium channels. (I figure that’s enough qualifiers.)

1.      Justified – FX Network, Third Season debuts January 17
2.      Luther – BBC America, Third Season TBA
3.      Doctor Who – BBC America, 11th Doctor Returns TBA
4.      Being Human – BBC America, Fourth Season TBA
5.      The Hour – BBC America, Second Season TBA
6.      Suits – USA Network, Second Season This Summer
7.      Sons of Anarchy – FX Network, Fifth Season This Fall
8.      Suburgatory – ABC, Currently Airing First Season
9.      The Walking Dead – AMC, Second Season Continues February 12
10.  The New Girl – FOX, Currently Airing First Season

You mileage may vary, but these are consistently brilliantly written and acted, the production values are high, and they’re all immensely enjoyable. (Although one final caveat re: The Walking Dead: Lori and Shane and Andrea cannot be eaten by zombies quickly enough. Or maybe not-dream Merle can come back and dispatch them all. With a machete. Or a tank. Or a Gatling gun. Or any combination thereof. Oh, and more Daryl, please.)

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