Saturday, November 2, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Part X

10. Parks and Recreation (2009-2013) - Underrated is a word that is unfortunately used way too often (including this particular blogger who fully admits his guilt). But this show, as well as the next one, should have their pictures next to underrated in the dictionary. Parks & Recreation definitely has enough of a cult following to have survived so many seasons, but it has never found a mass audience, and despite a few nominations each year, it has never really amassed Emmy recognition. But for now six seasons, Parks & Recreation has been one of my favorite, oh hell who am I kidding it won two Awards Psychic Television Awards in a row, my favorite television comedy. Taking on the now popular mockumentary-style, Parks & Recreation is a quirky, loveable, and laugh-out-loud funny series led by stellar writing and an outstanding cast whose
chemistry has become so infectious over the years. Of course many of the great comedies from the last decade or so had all of those components, so what makes Parks & Rec. different? First of all, the main characters are original, fun, and play off of each other so well, from Aubrey Plaza's sullen and scary April, to Chris Pratt's ridiculous Andy, Rashida Jones' supporting Ann, Aziz Ansari's swagger-obssessed Tom, to my personal favorite Nick Offerman's government-hating, yet department-leading Ron Swanson. But for me, there are two major things that make Parks & Recreation so much better than most of the television comedies on the air today. First, the writing is absolutely exceptional. For all of its zany moments, there are so many sly and subtle cutaways, plenty of tender, heartfelt moments, and it never has to reach too far for the obvious comedy. Most importantly, the storylines have grown, as have our characters, over the seasons, creating wonderful character development, and people to root for, as their lives change and grow. But the real star here is Amy Poehler. We all knew she was a talent from her SNL days, but her over-the-top, government-loving, Joe-Biden-obsessed Leslie Knope is her finest creation yet. We root for her to win, we understand her strengths and her flaws, and we all at some point identify with her. Whatever happens to Parks & Rec (it seems to always be on the chopping block at NBC), we should all be grateful we had a few years in Pawnee with our beloved friends.

9. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011) - It took several seasons, an NBC cancellation, and an eventual end for many of us, including fans and Emmy voters, to finally realize just how great Friday Night Lights really was. Once again, underrated seems like the appropriate term. Friday Night Lights is the continued story of a high school football team in a small town in Texas, where Friday nights are as
important as Sunday mornings. Take it from someone who grew up in the South, the town shuts down, and the people come out of the wood work to go watch some Friday night football. But Friday Night Lights is not another rehash of every football movie made in the last fifty years. In fact, by the end of the pilot, you realize that the football takes a back seat to the characters, their families, their relationships, and their lives. Led by the incredible duo of Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, both of whom create warm, flawed, and wonderfully deep characters, Friday Night Lights is populated by a talented actors, young and old, that all work incredibly hard to find deeper meaning in their characters. So what sets Friday Night Lights apart from the rest of the great dramas of the last thirteen years? What makes it something special? Well first, it is one of the most authentic, realistic, and human television shows to ever hit a broadcast network. After a while, you forget that you are watching professional actors. You really feel as if you are their feeling their pain and their triumphs, and if you are there in Texas living your life right alongside theirs. It is an extraordinary accomplishment, and it does so by simply trying to be ordinary. But in the end, what makes this particular show so great is hard to put into words. There is just something magical, something sincere about Friday Night Lights, the whole package put together just lights up the screen, tugs at you. It leaves your eyes clear and your heart full.

8. Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) - When I was a teenager, and Gilmore Girls was on television, I avoided it like the plague. What would a male like me get out of a show about a mother and a daughter? Well, about two years ago, I finally decided to bite the bullet, pop in my sister's DVDs and see what all the fuss was about. A show that is claimed to be one of the best in a decade of excellent television shows, had to be given the time of day. Boy, am I glad that I did. Yes, the central story is about an unusual mother and daughter team, Lorelai and Rory, who are more like sisters, and who have built themselves a wonderfully unique and quirky life in the small, cozy town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. And while I am sure that mothers and daughters get more out of it than other viewers, you don't have to be either, or a girl for that matter, to appreciate the wonderfully funny and
emotional television phenomenon that was Gilmore Girls. Amy Sherman-Palladino's quirky sensibility, incredible casting, and lightning-fast, pop-culture-soaked, dialogue adds plenty of laughs to make Gilmore Girls a wonderfully funny comedy. However, at just the right moments, she adds dashes of emotion, of real life, real struggles with family, work, and school to round it out, and make it hit you in a way that most comedies can never effectively do. It doesn't hurt when you have the likes of Edward Herrmann, Alexis Bledel, Liza Weil, Liz Torres, Sally Struthers, Scott Gordon-Patterson, and countless other character actors that populated the screen, and created memorable and wonderfully quirky characters. But in the end, three stars truly emerged. The first is Melissa McCarthy, as the funny, caring, and kooky Sookie, she became all of our best friends, not just Lorelai's, and launched herself into a stunning new career that has now netted an Oscar nomination and an Emmy. The second is the great Kelly Bishop, who created one of the best characters on television in a while with her uptight, overbearing, and subtlely loving Emily. And finally, no one can forget Lauren Graham, whose Lorelei is one of the best written females in a television comedy in years, and her back and forth with Kelly Bishop were some of the best moments of the show. Rory and Lorelei were the show's center, but Lorelei and Emily's struggle was probably the most intriguing thanks in large part to the talent of its stars. Overall, there was no show quite like Gilmore Girls on the air. It was a true original that has yet to be replaced.

7. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) - When they decided to remake the 70's classic Battlestar Galactica, I think most science fiction fans were exasperated and probably skeptical at another remake. More importantly, I am sure they feared that it would never live up to their inflated expectations, as most sequels fail to do. But they did not just reboot the storyline, they made key changes to characters, added in a huge dose of more modern computer technology, and most importantly, found something beneath the surface of the original to create one of the most effective dramas on television, and most likely the most engaging and best science fiction series in television history. Battlestar Galactica is first and foremost an engaging and entertaining science fiction adventure, chocked full of incredible battle sequences that feature cinema qualiy special effects,
makeup, and cinematography. But beneath its obvious exterior, is one of the most complex dramas on modern television. Every character is so well-drawn, deep with emotional complexity, and full of modern human duality. No character is perfectly good, and no character is always evil. Each character goes through a range of difficult decisions, each character understand that sometimes they must cross those blurred lines of good and evil to accomplish what must be done. It doesn't hurt when you have a group of talented actors, way above the norm that is required in most sci-fi adventures, led by Edward James Olmos, and the criminally under-rewarded Mary McDonnell, who proves to be the show's emotional center. In the end what makes Battlestar Galactica so real, and so effective despite its unbelievable premise, is that it is ultimately the story of human survival, how tough times and faced exctinction can challenge our moral sensibilities, and our strength of self and character. These deep and complex issues are handled with grace, without bogging down the storyline. Battlestar Galactica has all of the pop and flash, but also all of the substance. That is a credit to the incredible group of writers, who did eventually earn some Emmy recognition, as well as their directing counterparts who beautifully put their vision onto the screen. There has never been anything quite like Battlestar Galactica on television, and I don't know if anything in the near future will be able to top it.

6. Angels in America (2003) - Angels in America was a work of art that seemed to only be fit for the drama of the stage. Tony Kushner's epic, two-part, Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece was eventually going to be adapted for one of the screens, and that thought made many critics, and fans nervous. But combine Kushner's own writing hand to adapted his own work, in his own vision, with the always magnificent directing skills of Oscar, Tony, and Emmy award winner Mike Nichols, and something special was brewing. And then we saw the cast. Legends like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Emma Thompson, alongside incredible television and character actors like Mary-Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Justin Kirk, and James Cromwell. The stage was set, and now all they had to do was make it work. Not only did they make it work, they made it extraordinary. Definitely the best that short-form television has offered since 2000, and alongside Roots, the best miniseries to ever grace the small screen. It was an epic, emotionally powerful, and brilliant adapted series, that perfectly captured the message, the struggle, and the theatrical quality of Kushner's original work. The obvious talents of Nichols and Kushner are on display, but I think both of them pushed the boundaries of their visions
on this one, because there is something so powerful, so perfect, that clearly the level of vision and hard work on the part of these two men was beyond any norm. And of course, none of it would have been possible without the cast. Of course giants like Streep, Thompson, and Pacino all nailed their roles with gusto, but the lesser known of the cast all held their own. Particularly Kirk and Parker, who both proved their talents. But for me, the one most effective was Jeffrey Wright. In his brilliant performance, he captured the heart and soul of Angels in America. His struggle, and the struggle of all on the screen, was not just fantastic, but it was also essential. This is a story that every human being on this planet needs to see. We need to see how disease, particularly this devastating one, impacts our friends, our family, and our world. We need to see how people are treated differently because of their illness, their sexuality, or their mistakes. This is a story that generations from now will still view as the heart-breaking, important, and timeless classic that it is.

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