Monday, December 15, 2008
Best Television of 2008
Television today, although often looked down upon as second rate or middle brow entertainment, actually offers the viewer many valuable insights and options. With the advent of programming through speciality channels such as HBO or Showtime, the medium has become an excellent stage to present realistic, and sometimes brutal, social critiques through characterization or overarching thematic direction. However, not all programming has went in the serious direction, and today, more than any other time in television history, comedies exist on major networks that are not only hilarious, but also bring to the table developed characters with a wide range of emotions and depth. In short, it's a good time to be a TV viewer. With that being said, here is the top 10 television programs of 2008:
10. News Coverage of the U.S. Election (CNN)
I know, I have come on here and preached numerous times how much more interesting Canadian politics are and how we should all follow our own political happenings rather than American politics, but that doesn't mean I was completely disinterested in the Obama/McCain saga. In reality, I spent a good chunk of time sitting in front of the television set watching CNN's coverage of the road to the '08 election as well as election night itself. I chose CNN not only because of its Star Wars-era hologram technology, but also because of its stellar political analysts including, James Carville, Ed Rollins, David Gergen, Hilary Rosen and Jeffrey Toobin. I hate Anderson Cooper and mildly hate Wolf Blitzer, yet I was willing to stay with CNN because their analysts were the only ones I trusted to attack the election issues rather than gingerly side stepping them. And, the Obama speech might have been the best 10 min of TV all year.
9. Californication (Showtime)
This is only on this list because of the hangover from Season 1, which I happened to also watch during early 2008. Admittedly, Season 2 has been over run with some huge cliches (I mean Janie Jones as Lew's long lost love, seriously?), and there has been way too much Charlie and Marcy and not enough Mia, but Hank still oozes cool and manages to get himself into enough entertaining situations that I have yet to write this show off as a one season wonder. The addition of Julian has probably been the biggest bright spot this season, he is the perfect adversary for Hank. The season finale has left many opportunities for the show to go in new directions.
8. Family Guy (Fox)
I had written this show off about two seasons ago. Boy was I wrong. Family Guy has returned this season, as well as the last few episodes of the previous season, to the Family Guy that I knew and loved when it first hit television screens nearly 8 years ago now. They are relying less on tired jokes such as the chicken vs. Peter shit, which was funny for about all of 2 mins, and have once again begun challenging rigid socially and politically correct practices and ideas. Racial, handicap and gender jokes are back with vengeance and Chris has been great all season. Chris is so underrated. As others have noted, Stewie continues to transform into a one dimensional and predictable character, which is sad because he used to be a highlight of the show, but Peter and Brian more than make up for this. The "New Brian" episode will go down as one of my favourite FG episodes ever.
7. Mad Men (AMC)
This ranking is based on viewing only two episodes from the first season. If I had watched all of Season 1 and 2 who knows how high this show would have placed. I am enthralled by nearly every aspect of this show. The acting is superb, the wardrobe and setting is spot on and the critique of middle class America is poignant to say the least. I can't wait to watch the rest of this series.
6. The Office (NBC)
The Office is one of the handful of comedies on network TV right now that are in a league of their own. Since the first season, The Office has done the whole awkward comedy thing perfectly with Steve Carrell committing one hundred percent to every joke and awkward situation. Once Pam and Jim got together it seemed as though the show, which used the sexual tension between Pam and Jim to perfection, would be lost or doomed to become boring. However, the only thing that Pam and Jim getting together has done is force the writers to utilize the rest of the cast which has helped establish The Office as one of the only comedies around that has a large cast of characters with such depth and interest. Kevin, Dwight, Andy and Angela have all had new story lines over the past year which has made for some great episodes. And, Toby is back, so that should be funny.
5. Lost (ABC)
Yes I know, the show has failed to provide answers to any of the the many questions that it has created over its four seasons. But, so what? It is without a doubt the most addictive television show out right now. Even though I know I will never find out what the black smoke is, or who the hell Jacob is, I'm still going to tune into this show every week until it ends or is finally cancelled because of its lack of answers. The plot is too intriguing, and the characters too interesting to give up on now, and with the Season 4 finale, how could anyone not want to watch this show? Like seriously, how the fuck does someone move an island? What is with the flash forward scenes? And what is Penny's deal? The possibilities for season 5 are almost endless and if Lost doesn't show 100 reruns this season, it may be my favourite show come this time next year.
4. Trublood (HBO)
Everything about Trublood is over the top: the violence, the nudity, the plot, and definitely the amount of freaks that exist in one tiny Louisiana town. But something about this show drew me in every week. I may be either going out on a limb or stating the complete obvious, when I say that I think this show is a stage for the creators to dissect and critique race relations in America. Vampires take on the role of the 'other', and we see the prejudice and hate that people are able to project onto others solely for the reason that they are different. Sound familiar? Yep, sounds a lot like how Americans have been treating black people for the past 200 years and how they are now treating middle eastern people, or anyone else who they are able to label a 'terrorist' or a threat. Beyond the social critique, the show offers plenty of attractive people to look at, plenty of action, plenty of sex and a season long story line that kept me guessing and wondering what was going to happen right up until the last episode. Definitely one of the better premiere seasons to come along in awhile.
3. Dexter (Showtime)
Season 1 of Dexter was classic, Season 2, not so much. Therefore, I came into this 3rd season of Dexter a little apprehensive. I mean, I know the show is based on a pretty outlandish premise, but Season 2 just got a little too unrealistic to me. That's why I found it so comforting to find out that this season would revolve around Dexter getting married and meeting his first friend. This type of plot set the stage for a season where we could get to know Dexter better, and maybe understand his primal urges beyond the fact that he say his mother brutally murder (which by the way, I guess is a pretty valid reason for the primal urges). And the show didn't disappoint, we saw Dexter begin to trust other people, we also saw him deal with his trust being broken, and finally we got to see how he would react if he was on the other end of being tied down to a table. Although there were a few times during the season where I thought the writers took the easy way out, I thought Season 3 did a good job creating much more depth in the characters and not falling into the trap of turning the series into another CSI type police drama. Oh, and Jimmy Smits as Miguel was badass.
2. Life and Times of Tim (HBO)
Easily my favourite new show this year. It follows Tim, a twenty something guy in New York. I know, it doesn't sound too original, but the humour which relies on the perfect combination of awkwardness, sarcasm and delivery is absolutely incredible. Obviously, seeing that each episode is only 25 mins, not to mention that the show is a cartoon, the characters are not fully developed and there is no real overarching social or political tone to the show. But like I said before, not all television needs to be socially relevant. Sometimes TV is good for just shutting off your mind for a bit and Life and Times of Tim is perfect for this. Blobshnark might be the best name I've ever heard.
1. 30 Rock (NBC)
What else can be said about this show? The writing and acting is top notch. Tracy Morgan is fucking hilarious, and Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin compliment each other perfectly. I don't know what else to say, if you haven't watched this show, do yourself a favour and go rent it tonight. This is a television classic. Let's hope that sluggish ratings don't lead to a premature ending for this show.
So there you have it, the first entry into the 2008 best of series. I encourage you all to comment and leave a list of your own or let me know what show I missed out on. Music videos are next up.