My Top Ten TV Shows of 2013

Such was the abundance of good shows that aired in 2013 – which included the conclusion of my second favorite program of all time –  I have an “honorable mentions” list  that is nearly as long as my top 10 list, but I wanted to stick to a round ten rather than expand it to (SEO and all that jazz).  A side note, I have heard great things about the Netflix show Orange is the New Black and Showtime’s Masters of Sex, but I have not had the opportunity to watch either as yet so they will be absent from my top 10 list.

Honorable mentions

Top of the Lake: A beautifully directed, compelling show set in New Zealand and starring Elisabeth Moss, I enjoyed Sundance’s first foray into original programming, but it was a little heavy going and when a couple of episodes piled up on the DVR, it felt like something of a chore to get through, rather than the enjoyment that other shows provided.

The VP...and some former Senator from Delaware
The VP…and some former Senator from Delaware

Veep –  Creator Armando Iannucci’s imaginative use of swearing is the highlight of this show, but there is plenty more beyond that, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s hilarious performance as the Vice-President.  It also gave me my favorite line of the year: VP Meyer had been consistently telling Jonah – on one of his many visits to the office “on behalf” of the President – to f*ck off, then bates him once more:

Meyer: So let me get something straight, you like to have sex and travel?

Jonah: (Enthusiastically) Yes!

Meyer: (Mouths) So F*CK OFF

Justified – The search for Drew Thompson was not a bad plot, but the best part of Justified is when Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) share screen time, which they just did not do enough of this time around.  It continued to provide a thoroughly enjoyable hour of television each week however, but unlike last year, this time it did not crack into my top 10.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart  – And in particular, the guest host stint by John Oliver when the main guy was directing a movie over the summer.  Oliver is a fantastic comedian and proved himself adept in the big chair, something that has earned him his own show on HBO in 2014 – his writing and correspondent gigs on The Daily Show will be missed.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – The web series from Jerry Seinfeld was once again fantastically funny and an enjoyable way to spend twenty minutes.  All of the guests in season two were hilarious, but the Chris Rock installment was my favorite and I cannot wait for the new episodes to come on, starting on January 2nd.

Arrested Development – The much-anticipated return of Arrested Development finally happened for real in May, when 14 new episodes were released on Netflix to a mixed critical response.  While they were not as good as the first two seasons of the show – I thought the third year, when they were focusing a lot on the fact that they were being cancelled, was less funny – the new episodes when considered as a whole were clever, witty and enjoyable, plus they provided closure for all of those who wanted the show to be brought back.  Of course, they still might make that movie…

Treme – With non-stop action this year…just kidding, the pace of David Simon’s most recent television show remained slow throughout the five episodes of the final season, but that was part of what was enjoyable about the look at the New Orleans music and culture scenes after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.  Despite a shortened run, Simon still took the time to let us enjoy some extended moments, most notably: Davis having a multitude of musicians into the radio station to perform a live version of “Sing Sing Sing”; and the goodbye to Albert Lambreaux from his family and fellow Indians at the start of the finale.

Dishonorable Mentions

Dexter – I had seen the first half of the final season when they first aired, but then did not have Showtime for a few months and, even though I could now go back and watch the finale, I have not found the will or motivation to do so, such was the poor quality of the last few years of this once great show.

Bates Motel – I am a fan of Hitchcock’s original movie and the A&E series about Norman Bates’ early life sounded much better than it turned out to be.

(Major spoilers for all of the shows listed so do not read on if you do not want the latest seasons ruined)

Top 10 List

10. Hello Ladies

Of all the shows I watched this year, none made me laugh as much as Hello Ladies, the new HBO show by co-creator of The Office, Stephen Merchant.  The supporting cast – in particular Nate Torrance – were funny, but it was Merchant’s performance as Stuart Pritchard that was the standout aspect of the show, which borrowed some of the material from his standup tour of the same name.    Hello Ladies continues the tradition of  The Office and Extras of providing harsh, painfully funny situations – the type of humor that will not always be to everybody’s taste, but makes me crack up – but it does slightly surprise me that out of Merchant and Ricky Gervais, it is the former who made a show like this, while the latter made a bittersweet one about kindness (see number 5).

9. Mad Men

This was the only show that I attempted to do episodic reviews of in 2013 – though I saw the final two episodes late and did not get the opportunity to complete the season recaps – but ultimately Mad Men has shifted to a program that I enjoy watching, but do not think it will ever reach the standard it set in its first few years.  Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm with the ending was because I was convinced that this year’s run of episodes was leading up to the death of Megan Draper – who seemed to be drowned out by sirens whenever she spoke – and was disappointed to be wrong (not because I wanted the character out of it, I just thought I had found some hidden clues).  Nevertheless, the Bob Benson/Pete Campbell storyline was fantastic, Don Draper’s Hershey pitch was also brilliantly done and Mad Men remained one of the better written and acted shows on television, the only thing it falls down on is by comparison to its own first three seasons. Continue reading

This Week In: TV – Derek and Breaking Bad

Derekmidres.jpgTo say that I was expecting to enjoy Derek, the latest series to become available all at once to stream on Netflix in the US – though not an original series for the company, as it first aired on Channel 4 in the UK – would be something of an understatement.  From his earliest work, I have been a big fan of Ricky Gervais; even before The Office debuted on the BBC, which brought him critical acclaim and propelled his career upwards, I enjoyed his appearances as a fake reporter on The 11 O’Clock Show – a program that was not completely dissimilar to the structure of The Daily Show (but a lot cruder – this piece is not for the easily offended, actually its not for the “quite difficult to offend either”).  When The Office came along in 2001, not only did it instantly rank as one of my favorite shows of all time (and still does, in third place behind only The Wire and Breaking Bad), it also changed the way I viewed comedy, as well as being a “gateway show” for me discovering other series, most notably Curb Your Enthusiasm.  My enjoyment of Gervais’s brand of humor continued with Extras; I listened to all of The Ricky Gervais Show podcasts and audiobooks (including highlights from the radio show that he did with Stephen Merchant), which introduced Karl Pilkington to the world and, despite my efforts to avoid it, made me crack up laughing on the subway; I found his hosting of Golden Globes hilarious; went to see him do stand up live twice; and liked his movies – in particular Cemetery Junction.  Appearances from Ricky Gervais helped me discover Louie (and his scene from season 1 makes me laugh every time I watch it) and Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee; while his cameo in an episode of Sesame Street my daughter was watching was also great.

What I am getting at is that I expected to like Derek from the start, though from Ricky Gervais’ tweets about the show, which aired in the UK at the beginning of the year, I realized that his usual brand of cynicism had been toned down – the main character’s defining trait was apparently kindness.  I tried to avoid reading anything else about Derek as I wanted to come to it without much anticipation of what was going to happen and when I did watch it, very quickly after the episodes were all available, it completely blew me away.  There were points when it was laugh-out-loud funny, in particular the character of Dougie, who is played by Karl Pilkington.  Given that he is not an actor, his performance was perhaps the biggest surprise of the show, though Gervais wrote Dougie perfectly for his friend, making use of his ability to moan and his love of telling someone in no uncertain terms what he thinks of them (in particular, when he tells an interfering person from the council to “f*ck off”) to great comic effect.  One of my favorite scenes from Derek was a talking head – it is filmed in a documentary style similar to The Office – was when Dougie was in the library complaining about everything, all the while a  “Positive Psychology” is sitting in front of him.   Continue reading

Breaking Bad Season 5b Prediction

breaking_bad_58405There are a couple of reasons that I have not been attempting to do episodic reviews of the final eight installments of Breaking Bad: firstly, it is the type of show that I want to enjoy the episode without thinking about what I am going to say about it afterwards; and I am trying not to remind anybody that I failed to write anything about the final two hours of the most recent season of Mad Men. However, as we enter the final five weeks of Breaking Bad, it has hit heights this season that for me, make it very secure in its spot of the second best show in the history of television, behind only The Wire. The advantage that Vince Gilligan’s series does have over David Simon’s piece is the number of people watching live – the midseason premiere of Breaking Bad drew over five million viewers, whereas the final season of The Wire had ratings under one million. I was one of the many that watched The Wire after it had aired, plowing through all sixty episodes in a month and being completely blown away by it, but it did not give me any chance to reflect over the course a week as to what I thought was going to happen next (which was usually heartbreaking devastation, but once in a while, someone would walk up the stairs to a dinner table and it would be more resonant than anyone who has not yet watched the show could imagine). With Breaking Bad – everybody has a prediction as to what might happen and – after the jump, to avoid spoiling it for anybody who might not yet be caught up – I am going to offer my theory as to where the next five hours are taking us.

Continue reading

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2012

As the year comes to a close, here are my top ten shows of 2012, with an honourable mention to The Daily Show, which made my list last year and remains outstanding, as well as Wilfred and Life’s Too Short that were on the fringes of making the top 10.

General Gyp Rossetti
General Gyp Rossetti

10. Boardwalk Empire

While HBO’s Boardwalk Empire did not reach the heights of last season’s epic power struggle between Jimmy Darmody and Nucky Thompson, this year’s conflict between the show’s anti-hero and his new adversary, Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale) built to a crescendo with the final few episodes being amongst the best the series has done.  However, the first half of the run struggled to accommodate Boardwalk’s large cast effectively and great characters such as Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were not utilised as much as I would have hoped in the early part of the season.

tom_haverford_20399. Parks and Recreation

I was a late comer to NBC’s Parks and Recreation and only caught up with the show around this time last year.  Nevertheless, it has quickly become one of my favourite comedies, even though I did not feel that the run of episodes that were aired in 2012 matched the heights of seasons 2 and 3.  Leslie Knope’s campaign for City Council had hits moments (especially her debate against Bobby Newport, played by Paul Rudd) but it did not provide the comedic heights that the show has reached before when the gang were fully involved in resolving a minor problem in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana.

8. The Hour

BBC America’s The Hour has not yet completed its second season, but the five episodes (of six) that have been shown in 2012 have surpassed the level that the show reached in its debut last year.  With the spy story element now complete, The Hour has been able to focus on immersing us in 1950s London and that has made it stronger.  Peter Capaldi – known to those who have watched The Thick of It or In the Loop as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker – has joined as the much more mild-mannered, but equally persuasive, Randall Brown, further strengthening an already excellent cast.

7. Justifiedjustified-olyphantpg-vertical

Like Boardwalk Empire, Justified’s third season did not reach the level’s of its second, mainly due to the absence of Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), but it still remained one of the most watchable shows on television this year.  Any time that US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) shares the screen with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Justified is electrifying viewing and with Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) now in the mix, season 4 – which premieres on FX January 8th – promises to be as compelling as the show’s first three years.

6. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

The concept is as simple as it gets – Jerry Seinfeld drives a classic car, picks up a fellow comedian and takes them to get a coffee.  I came to this web series to watch the episode with Ricky Gervais, but was instantly hooked and would wait for each week’s new episode with as much anticipation as any show that was on network or cable television this year.  The installments with Gervais and Larry David are where to start, but the one with Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner is perhaps the best, while the “season finale” with Michael Richards was fascinating and moving.  I have never been an aficionado of web series before, but this one is a great modern-day view of Seinfeld, better even that the funny Twitter feed @Seinfeldtoday.   Continue reading