Monday, August 19, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Part VII

40. South Park (1997-2013) - When it comes to offending people, no television show has made quite a mark as much as Trey Parker and Matt Stone's utterly ridiculous and incredibly brilliant series South Park. With its cast of crazy, eccentric characters, South Park is one of the biggest cultural events of the last decade plus, and no show has quite had the discussion, both positive and negative,
over the years than South Park. It has tackled some of the most controversial subjects, and doing so with intelligent, satrical humor that may offend many (I mean how many times in an episode does your mouth drop), but for those that understand where it comes from, that respects the integrity and the genius of its creators, it is worth it. The four young characters at the center of the show take modern day topics ranging from religion, politics, to celebrities and give us a look at them through their lenses. Sometimes it goes for the surface-level jokes, jokes that are probably the reason many people have stayed away,  but most of the time, those cheap laughs are only disguising a much deeper and more satrical view of these issues. With South Park, along with other classics such as Family Guy, The Simpsons, and King of the Hill, television saw a huge boom in adult-themed animated series in the late 90's and throughout the last decade. But among these great shows, South Park is one that really stands out, and stands on its own. The others take on popular and controversial subjects as well, but South Park does it with a balls-out, grab you and never let you go approach that sets it apart as one of the boldest shows since 2000.

39. Dexter (2006-2013) - When you think of great anti-heroes, you think of vigilantes like Batman, but do you think of Dexter Morgan? It is hard to make a case for a loveable serial killer, but as the serial killer who goes after other serial killers who have escaped justice, Dexter Morgan might just be
one of the most unusual, and one of the best anti-hero heroes that has ever graced the small screen. Dexter is one of those shows that doesn't make him seem perfect (for godsake he is a serial killer!),
but he is also shown as a human with real emotion. This delicate and complicated balance has been handled beautifully by its writers and its actors over its eight seasons. The creators avoided too many of the classic (or more importantly cliche) background stuff that usually makes it way into serial killer films, and adds a cast of wonderful characters, including an ongoing set of brilliant advesaries (particularly John Lithgow). At the heart of the show is the brilliant Michael C. Hall. I'll admit, that I never thought much of him as an actor on Six Feet Under. I guess it is hard to standout when actors like Frances Conroy, Rachel Griffiths, and Peter Krause are among your ensemble. But I think that the complicated, deadly, horrible, yet incredibly human character Dexter Morgan was the perfect role, the one that put him on the map, and he tackled it with ferocity, emotion, and simply knocks it out of the park every single season. But he is not alone. Besides the aforementioned advesaries that have had standout season-long guest actors, another great character throughout its run as been Dexter's sister Deb, played brilliantly by Jennifer Carpenter who deserves an Emmy nomination before the show ends its run. Dexter is a complicated, bloody, delightfully tense, scary, and wonderfully intense show that makes you think twice about who is really the villain, and does so with such passion, such intensity, and such kick-ass awesomeness that it is one that should not be missed.

38. The Comeback (2005) - After Joey was such a complete disaster, I thought that none of the Friends cast members were going to be able to dive back into television. Well, in 2005, Lisa Kudrow returned to television with HBO's The Comeback. While it sadly only lasted one season, it was one hell of a season, and proved two very important things. One, that sometimes audiences miss the boat. And two, Lisa Kudrow is a hell of a talent, and one of the funniest women working today. Semi-
autobiographical, The Comeback is the story of a former sitcom star who tried to get back into the
business, filming the events of how she planned to accomplish it. With Kudrow, having experienced a vacuum after Friends ended, there is definitely a sense of authenticity excuding from Kudrow's Valerie Cherish (it also helps that it has a reality vibe). Playing up the humiliation and the struggle to recapture stardom, Lisa Kudrow, along with the talented writers, nail every nuanced moment with great comedic timing, and a dose of wonderful charm. The Comeback did not hit particularly well with viewers (as evidenced by its lone season), but it has found an almost cult following on DVD in in the aftermath of its sad demise. That is because it is an incredibly intelligent and intricate look at the inter-workings of telelvision, and many times viewers hold off on shows like that. It is really a shame because it is literally laugh-out-loud funny, and one of the most clever concepts to hit the airwaves in the last thirteen years. For me, and this is why I keep harping on it, all it did was prove that Lisa Kudrow is a wonderfully funny and incredibly talented actress that deserves a big, mainstream television comedy to showcase her talents. I guess a guy can hope, right?

37. Carlos (2010) - Despite being run on Sundance Channel, therefore making it eligible for television awards, Olivier Assayas' brilliant look at Venezuelan revolutionary/terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez Carlos, was also playing as a feature film and ended up winning film awards from groups
such as London Critics Circle Film Awards, European Film Awards, National Society of Film Critics, and more importantly big groups such as LAFCA and NYFCC. I'm not sure if there is much of a precendent, but it is definitely an anomaly that a project wins both film and television awards. It also speaks to the power and greatness of Carlos that both film and television groups found it cinematic and well-made enough to reward it. Well, I saw this on television, and tend to agree that it is definitely more of a television program than an film in terms of its release, however its quality and its performances are cinematic to say the least. And I firmly believe that if it had been release solely as a film, it would have been nominated for Oscars instead of television Golden Globes and Emmy Awards. At the center of this movie is one of the most fantastic peroformances of any medium since 2000 by Edgar Ramirez, who earned both Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his work, as the title character. His portrayal was haunting, deep, emotional, and perfectly captured Sanchez's spirit, madness, and presence. But the show itself is a monumental undertaking about a controversial subject and director/writer Olivier Assayas and the other two contributing writers Dan Franck and Daniel Leconte, do a wonderful job of framing Ramirez's performance, as well as expanding the initial biopic premise, to add in an in-depth analysis of international relations, and of modern-day terrorism. That is what sets Carlos apart. While it is talking about our past, it has such a trememdous presence and prevalence that reflects our modern world, helping it hit home and connect with viewers and critics. A stunning achievement to say the least.

36. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005) - If you were to look at just the title, you would think that this show was all about Ray Romano. While Romano was clearly the leading player, Everybody Loves Raymond shares a status as one of the best ensemble efforts to have hit television in the modern era. Romano plays Ray Barone, the sports writer with a wacky family. His wife Debra, played with such passion and emotion by the great Patricia Heaton, is always at odds with his parents who happen to live across the street, as she tries to help Ray create a life of his own. Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts are perfect in their roles as Frank and Marie, particularly Roberts who nails the overbearing mother role with gusto. And finally probably my favorite character is Brad Garrett's
Robert as the second child that always seems to pale in comparison to his mother's obvious favorite. Combine all these talented actors, wacky and wonderful characters, and some top notch writing, and you have an incredibly dysfunctional and hilarious television family. Of course dysfunctional families have been the center of television sitcoms since their debut (think Ricky and Lucy, they were not exactly normal). But Everybody Loves Raymond worked very hard to distinguish itself among the masses by always looking for the humor in everyday life. Sometimes they stretched a bit too much, but most of the time, it was ordinary day-to-day activities and lives that made up the constant humor on the show. In that respect, it was always a refreshing, and bitingly authentic portrayal of an American family that connected with viewers, critics, and Television Academy voters as well, as it ended up winning a total of fifteen Emmy Awards across its nine season run, including two Best Comedy Series Emmys and a bundle for its talented cast. Everybody Loves Raymond is a classic American sitcom, and one of the last ones in the golden age of television comedies. Most importantly, it was one of the funniest and most authentic shows to hit the airwaves in a long time.

35. American Horror Story/American Horror Story: Asylum (2011-2013) - Ryan Murphy shows tend to start off with a bang, and then sort of fizzle after a while. At least that was the case with Nip/Tuck, as well as currently the case with Glee. So after the first brilliant season of American Horror Story, I was worried that Murphy would not be able to handle the storyline which seems to have little wiggle room after its mostly decisive finale. Fortunately for us, Murphy and Co. have decided to turm American Horror Story into an anthology series, and I think this decision will lead to
brilliant season after brilliant season, hopefully for a very long time. I am not a huge fan of modern horror, but the first two installments of this series both played on classic horror themes, giving them clever, insane, dirty, and downright ridiculous twists that were never too scary, or too gross, but instead just the right balance of fear, disgust and intrigue. The first installment was a play on the classic haunted house. A new, and troubled family (led my Dylan McDermott and the awesome Connie Britton), move in, only to find that the next dorr neighbor Constance, and her children, all have a constant (no pun intended) presence in their short stay. The second season took place in an insane asylum led by troubled and devilish nuns, and a divisive and complicated medical experimental doctor. The twists and turns throughout the season never make sense until their epic conclusions, but the anticipation is worth the wait, as both brilliant intertwined their labyrinth of characters and storylines all exposing their mysteries by the end of their runs. While the writing and directing help make these mysteries formidable, it is the stunning cast, including its rotating members of stars such as Britton and McDermott, as well as Denis O'Hare, and this season's crop including James Cromwell, Chloe Sevigny, and Joseph Fiennes. But the real stars are the crop of talented actors who have embraced two different characters, now moving on to a third including Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Zachary Quinto and Evan Peters. However, the real star of this series has been the always-talented and deliciously stunning Jessica Lange who simply knocks it out of the park. Next season Coven will feature performances from the likes of Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, and Kathy Bates. I cannot wait to see what happens next.

34. Southland (2009-2013) - Southland started a trend for many struggling shows, when it was unceremoniously cancelled by NBC, only to find a new home on cable's TNT (Cougar Town has done a similar leap from ABC to TNT's parter channel TBS). I was so thrilled when TNT decided to pick up the show, because Southland was one of the most intense, well-acted, and well-made cop dramas to hit the airwaves since 2000. I thought, and was worried, that Southland would end up being yet again another overrated, extremely popular, and extremely boring cop drama. But instead, creator
Ann Biderman and her team of talented writers and directors, bring to life something entirely different from the boring norm. Coming after The Shield, which proved to be another genre busting classic, Southland had absolutely no fear in terms of tackling its grittiness and rawness head on (which is probably why it only ended up susceeding on cable not on a broadcast network). Taking place in the last decade in Los Angeles, Southland worked extremely hard to try to capture the authenticity of the landscape of LA at that time, and successfully avoided too many of the normal cop drama pitfalls, or sheen that paints a glossy picture of the law. It also helped tremendously that the talented set of actors, led by Benjamin McKenzie, Shawn Hatosy, and most importantly the stunning Reginia King and Michael Cudlitz, were able to match the writing and directing by bringing raw and fierce energy, as well as a touch of humanity to their roles. Unlike most cop dramas, these officers are not squeaky clean, and their plans don't always work out perfectly. Instead they are flawed human beings who challenge their codes and procedures to help protect their city and their citizens. The result is a raw, and incredibly well-made drama that will be sorely missed.

33. Modern Family (2009-2013) - I am a huge Modern Family fan, and even I can admit that this past season, its fourth, was not on the same level of quality as its first three. There were some episodes in the bunch that simply did not work, period. But even in its darkest hour, Modern Family is still one of the funniest and best comedies on television right now. From the very beginning,
Modern Family defied the normal standards of family sitcoms by including a gay couple, a younger/older couple which has now added a new edition, and taking on issues that are usually avoided or made fun of in other major comedies. Sure the unconventional family is now old news, but Modern Family has always managed to make it fresh. The issues they tackle are hilarious, and at the end of all of them there are moments of true love and emotion, reminding us that while this is an hilarious sitcom, it is also a show that showcases a true family. But the real reason to watch Modern Family is the absolutely amazing cast. Ed O'Neill plays the old-school patriarch with humanity and grumpiness. Julie Bowen is great as the overbearing mom, and Ty Burrell is pitch-perfect as her goofy, but loving husband. Jesse Tyler Ferguson gives his on screen sister (Bowen's Clair) a run for her money as the uptight partner to Eric Stonestreet's flamboyant and hilariously fun Cam. The kids give the adults a run for their money by nailing their lines and situations with ease, and usually outsmarting their parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents. Overall, Modern Family will continue to be a success, and even though many of us are a bit fatigued by its awards-haul, it is not hard to see why it has been such a success over the last couple of years, and after its awesome season finale, maybe Season 5 will be a refreshed and rejuvinated show.

32. Fringe (2008-2013) - I know most people were so disappointed when Fringe ended its run this year, after only five seasons. Especially disappointed were its science fiction fans, who tend to be some of the most devoted. But I think most of us can agree that it was a miracle that this show survived a total of five seasons on a broadcast network, particularly Fox. This type of show may do well on cable networks, but I think that its disappointed fans should look for the silver lining in this case. Fringe is the story of a brilliant, but kind of off scientist, who helps an FBI agent explain phenomena that have no explanation. It is a show that doesn't have to reach to far to capture your
attention. It is not another government-is-lying-to-us-conspiracy-theory shows, nor is it one that has to synthetically create drama. Instead, it relies on the natural interesting nature of science and unexplained acts to create mysteries that are dramatic, sometimes shocking, and always entertaining. That means that its writers, directors, all spearheaded by its team of creators, led by J.J. Abrams, who brought us Lost, and includes Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, created and maintained a show that was daring, bold, and incredibly well-made. It also helped that its cast, led by the impeccable Anna Torv and the scene-stealing John Noble, was pitch-perfect, and willing to go along for the ride, no matter what was thrown at their characters. This year Fringe ended its incredible run, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that it will be missed. There was nothing on television quite like Fringe, particularly on broadcast television, and I think there will be a huge hole in programming that may never be filled completely.

31. The Simpsons (1989-2013) - I know you are tired of hearing me say this, but if this were a best of the 90's list or a best of all time list, The Simpsons would probably be in the top five. But even its devoted and longtime fans who have stuck by it through its stunning twenty five seasons will admit, that while the last thirteen years has been a great time for The Simpsons, if is not quite as good as the
first 12. That being said, week in and week out, The Simpsons is still one of funniest, and most popular shows on the air. It has become a staple on Fox, which has used its success to launch several other successful and long running enterprises including King of the Hill, Family Guy, American Dad, and now Bob's Burgers. But The Simpsons will always be the original, and I have a feeling that at the end of the day it will probably out live its successors, and its successors' successors. Set in the town of Springfield (Springfield in which state, we may never really know), and features Homer Simpson, his wife Marge, and their kids Lisa, Bart, and Maggie. Over the last 25 seasons, these characters along with Moe, Millhouse, Mr. Burns, and countless others in their crazy universe have become pop culture icons, and some of the most recognizable, most popular, and greatest television characters to ever grace the small screen. In fact, Homer Simpson is always on those "Greatest Television Characters" list, usually near the top for his ridiculous antics, his sometimes questionable parenting skills, and his classic "D'oh!" This September, The Simpsons will start its 26th season on broadcast television, a tremendous feat. Throughout its run it has won 28 Emmy Awards, continued to be a critical success, and has legions of devoted fans. This is because The Simpsons is a brilliant funny, wacky, intelligent, and biting satirical animated series that has never lost its touch.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa! Shocked that Simpsons wasn't in your Top Ten. It would certainly be in mine if I had a best of the Decade list. Also good job for Fringe and American Horror Story.