I don’t devote too much time around here to television analysis. This is, after all, a movie site. But if truth be told, I probably spend more time each week watching TV than I do movies and if you count sports then the balance is definitely shifted in the favor of TV. I’m somewhat picky about my television selections, though. I’ll watch a bad movie (see: The Sitter) if I think it’ll make for a good review or if there’s just nothing better to watch but I will not tolerate bad TV shows. I’ve been known to bail on a show mid-episode if it isn’t holding water and there have been many times that I’ve come very close to abandoning shows I’ve watched for years when they take bad turns (see: Lost). But good TV…that I can watch all day.
Today’s feature is part one of a two part series, the second of which will run next Friday. With the school year coming to an end and the vast wasteland of summer programming on the horizon, I felt it only fair to grade the shows I watched religiously each week, report card style, and next week we’ll take a look at the shows I plan to catch up on through the summer.
NOTE: Mad Menand Game of Thrones have not had their finales yet so despite the fact that they’re probably the best two shows on television, they will not be included in this entry.
Someday someone will write an incredible expose on Community and how it managed to almost completely avoid a relevant audience while simultaneously serving as television’s smartest, boldest sitcom. Season 3 was a triumph on virtually every level. While the first two seasons often fluctuated between sly successes and near misses, this year’s offering was the most cohesive, reliably brilliant season yet. It’s just too bad no one watches it. There should be a place in this world for a show that can do a multiple universe episode, a self-aware Glee knock-off episode, and a Ken Burns Civil War spoof in the same season.
Justified (Season 3)
I would contend that Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy are all better shows than Justified. But other than Don Draper, no show on television has a better lead character than Raylan Givens. Season 3 was like a smorgasbord of Raylan being Raylan and that, right there, makes for a fantastic year of television. Justified is an insanely likeable show and one that is seriously rewatchable, which isn’t always a quality you find in hour-long dramas.
Parks and Recreation (Season 4)
If Community is the smartest sitcom on TV (and it is) then Parks and Rec is still my favorite. I’ve been championing this show from the beginning and I’m thrilled that it’s been given an opportunity to grow and evolve. There were a handful of episodes this year that weren’t up to par from a comedic standpoint but where Parkscontinues to excel is in the development of its characters. I care about Leslie Knope and her cohorts more than I expect to when watching a sitcom. The campaign storyline that took over the show for the final few episodes was excellent as well. Also, Ron Swanson is the greatest character in the history of sitcoms. Mark it down.
Saturday Night Live (Season 37)
I must tell you, dear friends, I think this was the best season SNL has put forth in years. (And before you even start, I won’t have any of that “Saturday Night Live hasn’t been good for decades” nonsense. In fact it has been quite good again for quite some time now, only it’s become hip to bash on it no matter what.) The young talents Lorne Michaels added over the last few years have begun to flourish (particularly Taran Killam) and the show attracted a killer set of hosts that thrived for the most part. The season finale, hosted by Mick Jagger, was one of the best all-around episodes the show has put together in the last decade. Seriously, friends, this season was fantastic.
New Girl (Season 1)
I must admit, I despised the first two and a half episodes of New Girl. And I really mean “despised.” I was stoked about the show and ready to jump in head first. But that pilot…yuck. I very nearly gave up. But about half-way through that third episode, the dynamic began to shift and before long, I’m not sure I wasn’t looking forward to New Girl more than any other sitcom each week. It was genuinely hilarious week in and week out. Even more impressive, I started watching the show because I love Zooey Deschanel but by the end of the season, her character was probably the third or fourth most important to me in terms of investment. Can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2.
30 Rock (Season 6)
If there was a “Comeback Show of the Year” award for television, 30 Rock would be a unanimous winner. When a sitcom begins to show signs of decline, it rarely recovers. Usually we’re treated to a year, maybe two, of lackluster programming while the given show slowly wanders toward the light. Make no mistake: Season 5 of 30 Rock was really bad. The front half was solid but the final 10 episodes or so were borderline unwatchable. This time around, however, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and the rest came back with a bang and put together a glorious season that fits right in with the previous seasons with great, ridiculous plot points and the fresh comedy that marked the show’s early years.
Big Bang Theory (Season 5)
It’s still shocking to me that this show found a home on CBS. A network propagated almost entirely by weak, gutless programs that shy away from higher intelligence somehow stumbled across one of the smarter shows on TV and allowed it to flourish. Big Bang isn’t nearly as brave as Communitynor does it deliver the highs that Parks and Rec does but it is just about as consistently funny as a sitcom can get. The evolution of Sheldon has also been fascinating.
Boardwalk Empire (Season 2)
In virtually every way, Boardwalk Empire is a magnificent show. It features impeccable acting, incredible dialogue, powerful plots, and gorgeous sets. The only thing it doesn’t feature is excitement. It’s just so boring. It’s not a painful boredom, mind you, it’s just that I have trouble getting pumped up for the next episode when the previous installment seemed so very long. It is a wonderfully well-made show, though, and one that deserves all the attention it gets. I just wish it would quicken the pace from time to time.
How I Met Your Mother (Season 7)
The evolution of HIMYMis fascinating to me. It’s never been a continuously brilliant show in my opinion. Most seasons, you’re going to get 18 consistently good episodes highlighted by 5 hilarious and/or genius episodes that stand out above all the rest. This season there weren’t really any stand out episodes. At the same time, however, the tone of the series overall has become much more serious and while many of my friends who have watched the show don’t like the new direction, I actually really dig the more mature narrative. That said, if we don’t figure out whom Ted’s wife is within the first 10 episodes of Season 8, I’m going to lose it.
Modern Family (Season 3)
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but at some point, Modern Family ceased to be outrageously funny. To be fair, it has always strayed closer to a family comedy than a cutting edge sitcom aimed at younger demographics but some of the earlier episodes were packed with quality laughs. But at the same time, while it isn’t nearly as funny as most of the other sitcoms I watch, I must say that the characters are still great and I still really enjoy each new episode. It does suffer from too much Claire, though. Less Claire, more Phil.
The River (Season 1)
The fact that The River couldn’t find an audience is a real bummer to me. It wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t in love with it on the whole, but it was different and intriguing and probably the closest we’ve come yet to replacing Lost. On the other hand, it wrapped itself up nicely and stands as a solid choice for a quick viewing if you’re ever looking for a short summer viewing.
Suburgatory (Season 1)
Much like New Girl, I didn’t really love the first few episodes of Suburgatory. But as the supporting characters came into their respective own, I thought the show really took off and found a nice groove for itself. This was also a show that probably wasn’t allowed to take many chances as it had to prove itself to ABC and its audience before being allowed much slack (whereas New Girl had the familiarity and likability of Zooey to use as currency until it found its stride). I wasn’t in love with the final few episodes but I think this is a show that has a great deal of potential moving forward.
Grimm (Season 1)
If there’s a guilty pleasure selection on this list then Grimm is the prime suspect. I tuned in to the pilot episode because I’m a nerd and the concept reached out to my nerdier tendencies. But I really didn’t expect much. Maybe it was because of these low expectations but if truth be told, I genuinely enjoyed the show’s freshman season. As far as procedurals go, you could a whole heck of a lot worse than what Grimm brings to the table and I think NBC is smart to bring it back in late summer.
Alcatraz (Season 1)
Alcatraz is a perfect example of what happens when a show takes a killer idea and then tries to set itself up for a five season run instead of making Season 1 so good that it earns a five season run. This could have been a GREAT show if only it would have worked to keep an audience rather than attempting to string everyone along. It was also inconsistent and while I think it’d be an excellent pickup for Netflix, Hulu, or another non-traditional television source, it doomed itself on network TV with an uneven approach to its opening season.
Bones (Season 8)
I can’t exactly tell you why I watch Bones. I’m not really into procedurals and more often than not it doesn’t bring just a whole to the table in terms of quality story telling or character development. But it is a fun show and I guess that counts for something. This season wasn’t as consistently decent as the show has been in the past but it did provide some solid highlights and the truncated nature of the production schedule probably didn’t help it out. I’m coming back for another season but I will need that season to get it together quickly in order to keep me around.
Raising Hope (Season 2)
About halfway through this season, I began to fear that Raising Hope had already peaked. That fear was realized even further in the two-part finale which was one of the worst hours of television I saw this year. Show creator has a history of pushing his shows into jump-the-shark moments and I’m very much afraid that finale was it for Hope. In truth, even before that debacle the sophomore season wasn’t up to the standard set by the outstanding first run and I don’t have a whole lot of hope moving forward.
Parenthood (Season 3)
Here’s the thing about Parenthood: If you picked out every element (story, writing, characters, acting, etc.) of the show one by one and classified it as either “good” or “bad”, it would basically result in a 50-50 split. I love about half of the characters and I hate the other half; I think about half of the plot points are fantastic and the other half are painful; I enjoy about 20 minutes of every episode and the other 20 minutes makes me want to punch a puppy. Over the course of this season I probably told my wife that I was going to quit watching the show at least a dozen times. It is probably the most frustrating show on television and I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be back for Season 4.
The Office (Season 8)
*Sigh* For years, The Office was my favorite show on television and it wasn’t even close. Then it hit a rough patch. And then it had an eighth season. I don’t think this season was horrible as much as it was misguided. That said, it is definitely a show that I watched because I’ve watched it for seven years and I’m not quite willing to stop. I do believe that it can be fixed (ditching James Spader is a good start and completely nixing Catherine Tate would be a massive step in the right direction) but it has a lot of ground to make up at this point.