Monday, January 2, 2012

My Top Ten TV Shows of 2011

My Top Ten TV Shows of 2011

The same way that Sound on Sight asked me to vote for my Top Ten Films for 2011, they asked me to to vote for my Top Ten TV Shows for 2011, for their year-end list

As with films, I only picked TV shows that I actually saw. The biggest distinction here is that it is a lot harder to watch good TV (at least on TV) than good films. For every good movie that only seems to play at festivals or plays one week and then disappears, there are dozens of TV shows that only play on Pay-TV. A good rule of thumb was that if it played on HBO Canada, I wasn't able to watch it. This eliminated a ton of great shows: Game of Thrones, Homeland, Walking Dead, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie and so on and so on.

One of the reasons that I started writing my Obsessive, Compulsive, Procedural column was that on broadcast TV about all that is currently programmed is reality TV, talent competitions, comedies and procedurals. Good thing I like procedurals.

All that kvetching aside, it was a very good year for TV and these were my favourites...


#10. Harry's Law (tie)

Not as good a season as the first one, but still good. Perhaps a victim of its own success - it was left alone by the network until it started drawing good ratings and the network moved in to make the show safe for primetime.

Despite the fact that the show seems to have betrayed the very reason for its existence this year, I keep watching - if for no other reason than that it seems like David E. Kelley is inserting a sub-text about how miserable Harry is becoming being a regular criminal lawyer this year compared to her delight defending the neighbourhood poor last year.

My OCP Column about Harry's Law.


#10. Storage Wars (tie)

This compulsively addictive A&E show has a deceptively simple premise: four characters - a mogul with an established store, a young turk (and his wife) with a new store, an experienced reseller with a penchant for taking gambles and an eccentric with a history of collecting - attend public auction of storae lockers, bid on the contents and then see if they made a profit or not.

I like Auction Hunters on Spike as well. Auction Hunters has a slightly better format, because it follows the Hunters from buying the locker to actually selling the merchandise, while Storage Wars counts a valuation as a sale. Auction Hunters has it right, because an item can be valued quite high, but what matters is how much will give you in cash for it now.

I am also a fan of Pawn Stars on History, but Storage Wars has the most engaging charactersof any of the shows, which puts it on this list.


#9. Dragons' Den

The Dragons' Den series started in Japan as "Manē no Tora" or Tiger of Money. The basic idea is that entrepreneurs come on the show asking for money for their companies. The Dragons have the option of buying a share of the entrepreneurs company, but only if they put up the full amount of what is being asked.

There have been more than 20 versions around the world. The Canadian version on CBC is so good that two of the Dragons from that show (Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec) also appear as Sharks in the U.S. version Shark Tank.

Compulsively watchable, Dragons' Den is a great mix of good ideas, bad ideas, cynicism, the occasional moment of capitalist benevolence and great clashes of personality. The ongoing feud between Kevin O'Leary and Arlene Dickinson is especially entertaining. Jim Treliving is also very good as the éminence grise of the show - probably the smartest man in the room, but also smart enough to let the others blather on for him.


#8. Bones

One of the best of the long-running procedurals. David Boreanz has been a favourite of mine since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I am working on an OCP column about Bones, but it is worth watching every week if only for the parental advisory for "graphic forensic content".


#7. The Amazing Race

The smartest and classiest reality TV show period.

Part of the fun in the program is watching the contestants struggle with the culture unfamiliarity and with the weird male obsession with not asking for directions. While physical fitness is helpful, mental fitness is much more important, proved this year when a team of senior citizens finished fifth destroying teams decades younger.


#6. Young Justice

One of three cartoon procedurals on this list.

A smart show that deals head-on with the weird superhero habit of recruiting teen sidekicks and throwing them into danger. It uses huge amounts of more than 70 years worth of comic-book continuity, but does it in a non-intrusive way.

I am working on a column about the show now and it is turning into an EPIC monster.


#5. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

One of the best procedurals currently on television is a half-hour cartoon that has been on television in one form or another since 1969 and was a major inspiration for what many (myself included) believe was the greatest serial drama in the history of television. The irony is that Scooby-Doo was solidly mediocre until the debut of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated last summer.

The rest of my OCP column on Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.

#4. Prime Suspect
Unfairly crucified for being both too similar and not similar enough to the equally great British original, Prime Suspect had the second best cast on broadcast television.
The U.S. Prime Suspect has one terrible, undeniable problem: its title. Even though the U.S. Prime Suspect is closely based on the U.K. Prime Suspect, the title just doesn’t work.
The rest of my OCP coulmn on Prime Suspect.
#3. Archer
The last of the cartoon procedurals on my list, Archer is a fast-talking, fast-thinking spy procedural that manages to borrow from the entire history of the espionage genre to give us something completely new.
It also neatly fits into a personal theory of mine that U.S. spies are almost always amateurs while British spies are almost always professionals, but that the reverse is frequently true for each countries detectives.
By amateur, I don't mean that Archer is incompetent (although he sometimes is) just that he holds his position not because of training, but because of nepotism and a willingness to do the job.
#2. Doctor Who
I have been a Doctor Who fan from my childhood days of watching Tom Baker on PBS and seething through the pledge drives when they would interrupt the action to try and sell us tote bags. 
The latest Doctor, Matt Smith, is both the youngest and the oldest Doctor. His Doctor is funny, compassionate and much smarter than he looks.
While the latest season had its bumpy patches, it also gave fans some of the best TV moments of the year.
#1. The Good Wife
When CBS originally announced The Good Wife it seemed like a terrible idea. Make a TV series about the wife of a fallen politician? The one forced by circumstances and her own ambition to stand by his side and publicly forgive him? Even when doing so means doubling your public humiliation?
Three years in, The Good Wife is by far the best broadcast network drama currently on TV and the only network show to be nominated for a Best Drama Emmy in 2011.

The rest of my OCP column on The Good Wife.

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