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Network (And A Lil' Cable) Television Rundown: The Top Ten Shows on TV Right Now

I'll be honest - I miss Qualler and Brigitte's HBO and DVR. It was such a convenient way to keep up with all our stories and have Blogulator potlucks at the same time. But alas, times change and we survive. In fact, even though we may not be wrapped up in Boardwalk Empire or Bored to Death, we are trucking on, with yours truly now addicted to AppleTV, which we use to buy/stream AMC programming and Hulu, which we've come to use almost routinely on Sunday afternoons now as a means of catching up with the week's network offerings. Now that one of the most universally celebrated shows of our generation has ended its fourth season, I thought I'd give a quick run through of the ten worthwhile shows currently on television, ranked from best to still-kinda-worth-watching, with a brief rundown of each. See below for your small screen darlings of Fall 2010...

Mad Men: I'll keep this spoiler-free for those of you not quite caught up, but I will just say that this has definitely been my favorite season thus far and the finale clinched it for me that it is also my #1 show for 2010, just inching out Breaking Bad. This is huge because I really didn't think anything would beat the new developments in the story of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, but what Wiener decided to do with Don Draper (and Peggy Olson and Joan Harris for that matter) by the season's end has thrown me for a loop in such a stately elegant way that was never before thought possible. I think it's officially time to declare Matthew Wiener a genius. Like David Simon-level genius. Maybe Vince Gilligan will join them in 2011, but not quite yet. Every frame and every line of dialogue of season four's final two episodes is unarguably perfect. Hyperbole rules.

Community: The NBC comedy had its first flawless episode this season (and potentially my most favoritest sitcom episode of the year thus far) in last Thursday's "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples", which expertly riffed on the Charlie Kaufman formula, something I wouldn't have imagined in a million years would have gotten through (and with such pretentious panache) to a network sitcom's final cut. Joel McHale and co. were a bit shaky at the season's beginning, but have built up to a solid fully realized ride of pop culture references and genuine character relationships, making it the most intelligent wacky show that also has a heart. Didn't know that was possible.

Modern Family: Yes, it does the same thing every episode. There's three problems in the three different sectors of the overarching family and they all deal with them in classic comedy-of-errors manners, and they all get resolved by minute twenty-two in a sentimental montage where Al Bundy brings up something poignant about family and twists it a little bit so it's not as trite as the message used to be in family sitcoms of yore. But it does it so well! The characters and cast members are all too pitch-perfect in their respective roles and the slapstick juggling itself is enough of a well-constructed balancing act in and of itself to admire that it's just icing on the cake that it ends up surprising you within the confines of its conventions every week and makes you laugh unpredictably consistently in all three plot lines - even when there's a weak and familiar one like the gay character who decides to capitalize on being "diverse" and then somehow completely topples expectations by pretending to be 1/16th Cherokee to the dean of his adopted Korean daughter's prospective school. Fits into the paradigm, yes, but so over the top it's also hilarious.

Sons of Anarchy: I've only caught the first three episodes of season three (Hulu's not releasing more until December 6th!), but it's gaining its momentum from the Abel kidnapping plot line taking subtle twists that one ordinarily doesn't see in the typical kidnap fable and additionally piling on more conflicts than your average run-amok motorcycle club can handle. Jax and the rest of SAMCRO still suffer sporadically from bad rock soundtracking to machismo-fueled nonsense, but part of what makes this show special became obvious again in the third episode: even when you start beating Asian gang members up after you've agreed to let them film a porno with your girlfriend so you can have money to pay your bounty hunter, there's going to be a tender-hearted discussion afterward that gives us insight as to why you did what you did when you shouldn't have.

30 Rock: I'm still not completely sold on the live episode (I thought it was an interesting meta-experiment that worked best when it was winking too hard at the audience) but at least it was something refreshing. And if there are two things that make Liz Lemon worth watching it's when she's being herself (the latest episode featured an almost clip-show-worthy amount of Lemon zingers) and it's comfortable and reminds us of the show's glorious first two incomparable seasons, or when it's going completely overboard and maybe failing sometimes but largely at least helping us remember what made it so incendiary in the first place. I prefer the former, personally, as I'm one who consistently goes back to my season one DVDs with a nostalgic late-00s fervor, but I can appreciate that Fey's having fun in letting the zaniness escalate to new heights as well.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: I've only seen the first episode of this season (looong delay on Hulu with these FX shows this year), but it's hard to do wrong with such a quick-fire camaraderie that's developed between the show's principal players and notably Danny DeVito over the years. It's a show that keeps going at a prolific and energetic pace and never slows down enough to let you notice that the characters don't change (they don't have to, which is one of the lucky things for showrunners hell-bent on displaying the wicked nature of humanity rather than its optimistic and nurturing side). I almost got sick of it last year, but while we're still waiting for Larry David to return, I'll take the wide-eyed mania of Paddy's Pub, even when it doesn't make my sides hurts laughing like it used to, over most other things any day of the week.

Cougar Town: It's really not bad. I actually had to be told this several times before I not only watched it whenever I happened to not be sleeping in the same room as my wife while she watched it, but when I actually got excited about a joke that my friends were talking about and wanted to find out about its origins. The show is best at this, naturally, because it's ostensibly just an excuse to have a bunch of friends sit around and regurgitate bon mots with each other while having a little sizzle of a plot happening in the background. It's not brain science, but it's warm and clever enough to keep you awake between weekend cat naps, and the characters are becoming more and more multi-dimensional, which could eventually mean that I'd start caring about watching it...gasp!...sequentially.

The Office: It keeps on keepin' on and I keep watching. Hasn't that been the refrain for a while now? Things seem so stagnant at Dunder-Mifflin that I now get excited whenever the often lifeless but ironically also often bright spot Craig Robinson gets a scene because he's relatively new to the make-up of the show. That usual bemoaning aside, however, I've seen some great strides from the writers in making Michael Scott an empathetic character before he leaves the show at the end of the season. He's doing things like articulating how and why he actually cares for a woman, or how and why Timothy Olyphant should take his job offer even after he almost got molested by Meredith, and it's almost as if Scott's becoming a competent (still bumbling but now competent) and respectable person. Whoda thunk you could do both, amirite? Good work, Office team. You're still not great, but I don't watch you with as much passivity as I usually did anymore.

Saturday Night Live: It's getting bad, folks. The digital shorts aren't even that memorable thus far this year. I find myself thinking "I miss Jenny Slate" when I see the new cast members try their one-trick (solid but still one-trick) impressions of celebrities both relevant and not. Bill Hader seems to be fazing himself out and Jason Sudeikis and Andy Samberg seem largely relegated to the sidelines or the slight chuckle here or there in between gaggles of recycled bits that need new life breathed into them or weird attempts at cutting edge humor that lack the teeth and forethought to have an impact. Oh well, there's always What Up With That?, which gets me every time.

The Apprentice: I know. I don't really know how it happened. I blame Outsourced.

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  1. Blogger Papa Thor | 6:19 AM |  

    Haha, Modern Family.

  2. Blogger qualler | 7:11 AM |  

    Oh MAN, I can't wait to watch Mad Men now, if only because I plan to challenge the assertion that MM will end up better than BB in the end. BB's entire third season was flawless, and I'm getting slightly tired of the ol' "Who's Don drunkenly sleeping with tonight?" thingamajig. So far, Mad Men is still only my 3rd favorite drama of the year! And might be 4th if In Treatment matches the quality of its 2nd season! CONTROVERSY!

    ...But yeah, I still love me the Angry Dudes Program.

    Speaking of Angry Dudes, Sons is also good. I so badly want it to take that next step into greatness, but I understand that the incredible moments of grace that come every so often wouldn't be as great if they happened every episode. Blarg anyway.

    I actually loved the 30 Rock live episode, if only because it reminded me that laff-tracks/studio audiences DO sometimes remind me to laugh, and then I do laugh, and I feel good. Bring back the (non-CBS) laugh-track, somebody!

    Sorry, but I'm still not getting into Community. I think the main reason is I don't laugh hard at Ken Jeong and/or Danny and Abed. And Joel McHale still feels like he is smirking too much. And the pop culture references feel too wink-wink-nudge-nudgy for me. But that's just me.

  3. Blogger chris | 12:38 PM |  

    Ooh what's your #2? I love both BB and MM (alliteration!) but I just sink into the latter's epic wordplay and richly textured world whereas the former keeps me on pins and needles throughout, but "Fly" was really the only S3 episode that really took the time to step back and envelop that world around me.

    Community rules! Qualler drools!

    Jaykay I like that we have different opinions about things, otherwise this blog would be boring. Seriously though, Troy & Abed are my favorite comic duo on TV right now.

  4. Blogger Old Man Duggan | 2:14 PM |  

    I won't start on an anti-Modern Family rant here.

    This season of Sunny has been mostly bad. It's a damn shame, but the first two Dennis-centric eps are not strong. "The Gang Buys a Boat" is the only great episode of the season. "Mac's Big Break" is half good and half unfunny. "Mac and Charlie: White Trash" is sadly uneven. "Mac's Mom Burns Her House Down" is good for this season, but would be towards the bottom of the list of good episodes in any of the past three seasons.

    I still do not understand how anyone can watch SNL anymore. It is painfully unfunny and has been for over 15 years. Even Weekend Update blows now, with Seth Meyers possessing perhaps the worst comic timing in the history of man. Pause, Seth. Pause.

  5. Blogger .molly. | 10:06 PM |  

    I know that none of us have the time to watch ALL the shows currently on TV, but...

    This list is irrelevant without the inclusion of Vampire Diaries. I swear on Lincoln's grave that it is the best soap/drama currently on television [and better than more than a few shows outside it's genre as well]. Yes, it may be a bit too self-serious [it is a soap after all] and lack the humor and pop culture endearments of Buffy. But the pacing, the plot twists - unmatched. It has consistently competent writing and continuous character development. It's the show True Blood wishes it was [and probably thinks it is]. I know, I know. I can already hear your naysaying through my computer! HUSH!

    But mark my words - for those who appreciate entertaining, plot-driven fare - this show will be one of the great retro-actively appreciated TV series a few years from now.

  6. Blogger Old Man Duggan | 8:28 AM |  

    Side note: As a fellow blog operator, I understand the desire to moderate commenting, but it's probably easier to just delete unwanted comments than have a 20-hour lag between a comment being written and it going up. It does kind of quell discussion.

  7. Blogger qualler | 8:53 AM |  

    Duggan - I agree with you to a point about Sunny. The first two episodes were a little weak. The Boat and Break episodes made me laugh a lot more, especially Dennis and Dee doing the podcast in the Break episode. Having participated in attempting to put good radio together, I laughed. Seeing that it is in its sixth season now, it's got to be tough to try new things without repeating themselves over and over.

    Molly - I haven't seen Vamp Diaries but I've heard mostly deece-to-deece-plus things about it. Seeing that I finally gave True Blood the ol' heave-ho this season, maybe I'll give it a try.

  8. Blogger qualler | 9:47 AM |  

    Since there's a very low likelihood that I'll blog about it, I'll comment on A&E's reality series "Teach: Tony Danza."

    Aside from not really knowing what kind of show it wants to be (is it a wacky MTV-Made-style reality? Or is it a gritty Wire-like "real-life" look at urban education?) and aside from Tony Danza being perhaps the worst English teacher in history, it's......alright to have on in the background. Too bad A&E is burning off the last episodes this weekend because......okay, it's not too bad. But it's a better option to watch on the Comcast OnDemand menu than Zombie Strippers. Wait....yeah it's on par with Zombie Strippers.

    Congratulations, Tony Danza, you are as good as a Skinemax-style horror movie.

    All snarkiness aside, I do (sort of) admire Danza's and A&E's (apparent) reason for doing the show - to show how nobody can step in and be an effective teacher from scratch, and to show a realistic, not-totally-horrifying peek at urban public schools. And Danza did try really hard at teaching, although the main feedback he got from everybody is, "You talk too much."

  9. Blogger qualler | 2:07 PM |  

    Oh also, RE: Moderating, we switched over to this version after some guy started spamming hundreds of our posts w/random crap. Normally one of us (Chris or I) are available to publish comments ASAP but I was away from my laptop yesterday. Perhaps its time to lower the shield a bit. Your concern is noted!

  10. Blogger Old Man Duggan | 4:35 AM |  

    I have had the same, but it was mostly on one post, and I just went back a deleted them.

  11. Blogger chris | 1:11 PM |  

    I want to watch the Tony Danza show sooo bad!

    Also, I now plan on watching Vampire Diaries, Molly. We were just talking this weekend after watching The Faculty about how much we all miss Kevin Williamson!

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