Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The 10 best shows presently on TV

By Rick Morris

With most of television’s anchor programs on hiatus for the summer rerun/special programming season, it’s a good time to take a look at the state of the best shows on TV. If you don’t presently watch these programs, you may want to use the summer to get acquainted with past episodes via season DVDs, Hulu or some other means.

1 THE OFFICE on NBC, TBS and syndication: The mockumentary about the wacky folks at the Dunder-Mifflin Scranton office continues to entertain at a high level, notwithstanding what some fans with unrealistic expectations may believe. The Jim-and-Pam drama, which I have already proclaimed as the best and most realistic story of its kind ever told on the tube, has wrapped up into marriage and a kid, so the knife’s edge tension of how they got to that point does not exist anymore, but the writers have wisely chosen other areas to insert the serious twists and turns. The program has what might be the best and deepest ensemble cast in television history and they continue to entertain on a weekly basis. Here is a scene that has a couple of the goofballs playing their wacked-out version of “Parkour.”

2 BREAKING BAD on AMC: The best show on cable brings AMC’s typically cinematic flavor to episodic television. When meek high school chemistry teacher Walt White gets a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, he turns to cooking meth to pay his medical bills and leave behind some money for his family. Along the way, he truly begins to inhabit his alter ego of “Heisenberg” as the ramifications of his double life touch everyone in his orbit. Here is a recap of the first two seasons of the show and a preview of Season 3, which is now finished:

3 IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA on FX and Comedy Central: Seinfeld on crack: it’s the only way that you can describe this story about a group of idiots who own and operate a dive bar in South Philly. Danny DeVito joined the cast after becoming a fan of the show and he portrays the (probable) biological father of one of the members of “The Gang” and the non-biological father of a brother-and-sister set of fraternal twins. And he’s probably the greatest father figure to the other demented member of the group, Mac. No amount of description can possibly do this show justice … but this note would be incomplete without mentioning that you need to enter the term “greenman” on YouTube. Here is the origin of the group’s anthem, Dayman:

4 MAD MEN on AMC: This elegant show about a Madison Avenue ad agency in the early 1960s is amazing, but in my estimation it falls behind Breaking Bad simply because the domestic scenes in the period piece drag the show down somewhat. The intent is to convey the lot of housewives back then, but, notwithstanding January Jones’ ability to handle the material she is given, the scenes serve as filler between the meaty goodness of the doings of the firm’s main characters. The tightly-woven scripts manage to explode off the screen in an understated manner, a difficult balance to achieve. Here is a compilation of some of the greatest one-liners from the show’s resident “old rich cad who says what he wants,” Roger Sterling:

5 ENTOURAGE on HBO and Spike TV: Often described as “Sex and the City for guys,” this dramedy about four paisans from Queens who hit it big out in Hollywood. The travails of the young pretty boy leading man (Vince), his older brother the B-actor (Johnny Drama), their friend who manages Vince (Eric) and the gopher of the bunch (Turtle) are always compelling and frequently hysterical. Other core characters, like Vince’s insanely-driven agent Ari, make this the greatest ensemble on cable. Here’s a highlight reel of Johnny Drama from the first two seasons:

6 THE LEAGUE on FX: How did this sitcom subject stay under the radar for so long? It’s about time somebody made a show with this concept! This program about a group of friends whose fantasy football league forms the core of all of their personal (and many professional) interactions is both well-written and well-improvised, as the actors and actresses on the show are given the freedom to create their own material on the fly. The result is comedy that is gut-bustingly hilarious, if not always politically correct! Here is a clip about one of the main characters contemplating upgrading his team at a most inappropriate time:

7 PARKS AND RECREATION on NBC: This show, with the same creative team as The Office, utilizes the same mockumentary concept – only this show profiles the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. It has all of the same strengths as The Office, especially the superlative ensemble. The writing and the acting are both at an extraordinary level, as the mixture of subtle and over-the-top humor plows on in that by-now signature style. Here is a look at the character who has become one of TV’s biggest cult favorites, Ron Swanson:

8 BURN NOTICE on USA: This innovative drama matches explosive action with the dry narrative style (and frequent humor) of the lead character, a spy who has been “burned” by the government and is confined to the Miami area with his ex-girlfriend and best friend (both of whom are in the game also) and his handful of a mother. Hearing Michael Weston explain his actions as they are unfolding is an outstanding device that really takes the show to the next level. Here is a general summation of the show’s main points:

9 WHITE COLLAR on USA: This show adds an innovative twist to the “odd couple crime fighters” concept: the most brilliant white-collar criminal in New York is paired up (in order to regain his freedom) with the only FBI agent who was capable of bringing him to justice. Along the way, a friendship forms and their combined skills prove as formidable as the circumstances thrown their way. This clip provides a general series overview:

10 NCIS on CBS and USA: Many crime-fighting dramas come out of a very similar mold, but this one about special agents assigned to investigate incidents involving military personnel is distinguished by creative forays into humor, the chemistry of the cast and subtle exploration of character drama. This clip sets up many of the different quirks of the cast:

NOTE: Only programs still in production are being counted for this list, so while the awesome show Las Vegas is still being shown in reruns on TNT, it is ineligible here despite the fact that it would have cracked the top five. Ditto for TBS’s My Name is Earl, which would have made the top ten. Both shows were prematurely cancelled by NBC. Honorable mention programs include Royal Pains and Psych, both of the USA Network.

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