Saturday, October 10, 2009

TV Power Rankings

I’ve seen a couple of other people doing a ‘Power Ranking’ for TV shows, and I’m going to start doing that every couple of weeks, as the schedule allows. It’ll be a good chance for me to write up a bit about all the shows I’m watching without having to review every episode.

Right now, I’m watching a whole bunch of shows, mostly comedies. I think there’s a lot of good stuff on, but I would love to find a couple more great dramas out there. Hopefully next year’s return of Big Love and Lost will alleviate that, and I should be able to catch up on season two of Breaking Bad by then as well. I may sample Flash Forward, and try to catch up on that in the next couple of weeks, but it has the look of a show that I try and make it through a few episodes before losing interest in.

Anyway, here’s the shows I’m actually watched, ranked in order of enjoyment.

1. Mad Men - No question this is the top show on the air, and with each episode that airs, it strengthens its case to be one of the top shows of all time. This season has been the best yet, and each episode is a work of art. Last week’s wasn’t the series’ best episode, but did feature the wonderful role playing between Don and Betty in Rome, and all the glamour and atmosphere of a Fellini film.

2. Parks and Recreation - Unlike a lot of people, I really liked the abbreviated first season of the show that aired last Spring. I think the series built a really interesting world, and memorable characters in short order. The cast is really deep, with Aziz Ansari as a particular standout. And this season has just kept getting better. I think it has a grounding and emotional reality that the American office never had, and has managed to tell a wide variety of stories within what looks like a potentially narrow premise. The Dave/Leslie stuff this week was gold, as was Anne’s fake date persona. This show just keeps getting better and better.

3. Curb Your Enthusiasm - I’ve never loved Curb in the way that I loved Seinfeld. I think Curb is a lot more formulaic and predictable, but this season has been consistently solid. The second episode was the funniest, with the instantly classic “Fuck you Larry David, that’s some bullshit!” But, the third episode, with the Seinfeld cast reunited, was my favorite so far. Seeing Larry and Jerry interacting was amazing, and I’m eager to see how that arc develops over the course of the season.

4. How I Met Your Mother - I forgave the show a lot of its flaws when watching it in a binge viewing earlier this year. Watching the show week to week, the episodes can feel a bit slight. It’s always funny, but I don’t feel the emotional connection to the characters I had when watching it as a whole. This season has had some inconsistent character stuff with the Barney/Robin relationship, but has been generally sharp, and always leaves me wanting more. The only major misfire was the Ted dating the same girl storyline which felt like a retread of storylines from earlier seasons.

5. Bored to Death - This show may pander a bit to the hipster in me that loves all the local references and slacking Jason Schwartzman persona. In the same way that Entourage is, it’s a bit lax on drama and stakes, but the show is much more entertaining than Entourage and is building a nice little world. A lot of shows are just about people hanging out, so maybe that’s enough. I’m not sure how the show will develop long term, but for now, it’s got great mood and a strong cast carrying it.

6. The Office - This show is still frustrating for me because, even after six years, I still find the characters directly translated from the British Office annoying and problematic. The beauty of the British show was the relentless realism. That might be too much to sustain for six years, but the Michael Scott character all too often veers out of reality, sacrificing the emotional grounding of the series, and making the jokes less funny. You need this world to be believable to make most of the jokes work. Similarly, I find Pam and Jim annoyingly perfect, but the supporting cast is top notch. Ed Helms is great, and I’d love to see more screentime spent on him, Erin, Kelly and Ryan. The show’s still entertaining, but isn’t as sharp as the best comedies on TV.

7. Community - Another new comedy, this has been pretty sharp and funny, but still feels a bit like it’s finding its voice. Is it going to be a 30 Rock style absurdist comedy, or a more reality based romantic and sentimental show? Either could work, but the show needs to downplay the Britta/Jeff stuff a bit and just let the cast breathe and do their thing. The most recent episode was probably the best yet, and deepened the cast nicely, so I’ve got a good feeling about the show going forward.

8. Modern Family - I checked out the first two episodes of this show yesterday thanks to its great critical buzz. So far, I’d agree that it’s a solid show, definitely a bit of an Arrested Development meets The Office vibe, but not at the level of either of those series. The potential is definitely there, but I feel like comedies need to cut out talking heads for a while, it’s getting played out. And, this show, like a lot of comedies on now, would benefit from a slightly longer 40 minute running time, to give more room for the stories to breathe, and more opportunities for all the characters. But, it’s good so far, and seems like a solid mix of goofiness and solid character stuff.

9. Dollhouse - Clinging on here, Dollhouse had a slight uptick with its third episode, but remains frustratingly boring. I see a lot of people defending the show as the most intellectual on TV, to which I’d say Mad Men is still on people, and has much more to say about adopting and abandoning identity than this show ever has. Ultimately, it’s a decent hour, but any hope of it being truly great fades more and more with each episode.

10. Glee - I really liked the pilot for the show, but could feel the hand of Ryan Murphy in its cynicism and cartoonish characters. I hate his attitude towards the world, as evidenced by Nip/Tuck, and it seemed in particular contrast to the hopefulness in some elements of the show. The show since then has fluctuated wildly in quality, burning through plots without deepening the characters. I still think it’s a great premise, and like the musical numbers, but it feels like the real story, the growth and training of the glee club, is barely mentioned, and all the focus is on the same character beats. I’m giving this one a few more episodes, but it could easily slip off the radar.


malpractice said...

pretty much the same exact list for me, although i would move Glee, Dollhouse, and The Office higher up and i haven't seen Modern Family yet.

Patrick said...

As I said, I think Modern Family might be overhyped a touch at this point, but it's a really solid show so far. The Office meets Arrested Development is definitely the touchstone for me. It's worth a shot at least.