Sam’s Top 11 TV Shows of the Year
Television. The ol’ Goggle Box. The Tube. Yes, it’s time to celebrate the electronic hearth in the corner of the room which used to give us our information and still maintains its place as the one piece of art the Americans are just so, so much better at.
Without any further rambling, any further chatter, here are the eleven most notable of television shows I have seen this year and, at the close, a brief list of those I have not seen or could not make space for in the list.
11. Flight of the Conchords
Much akin to many of the warm electro-folk albums this programmes eponymous band is lampooning, this series took me some time to grow to adore. Initially, and this remains a complaint with the first episode, the songs were too long and not funny enough to sustain the narrative. Now however, I’m somewhat in love with Jermaine, Brett and mostly Murray, their beleaguered psuedo-manager. It took time but eventually it became a gem and should a second season arrive, I would be supremely pleased.
Another one which took time, Reaper got off to a flyer with a superb conceit and then fell into a six episode rut before blowing the roof off the place and hooking us in for good. Ray Wise steals every scene as the Devil and there remains a nice balance struck between his being a sarcastic ass and a badass mofo. The whole cast though is winning and the series remains a strong watch every time we tune in.
9. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
So stupifyingly different is this show to any other comedy on right now that you can barely open your eyes for portions for fear that you’ll be the next one to be dealt a blow from these bastards. And bastards they are. Dennis is the pinnacle of the sheer evil this show prides itself on but the other keep up, taking in homeless children, LSD and, beautifully, a song about being raped as a child. Wonderful.
I’ve written about this previously on the site and I have to say it retains its place as a guilty pleasure of enjoyable, funny, raucous television. The show is vastly stronger than many believe it to be and deserves its cult status as another of Showtime’s quirky, adult fables. The second season will have to pull of some neat writing tricks to keep it likeable but the first can always be brought in as example of a funny, sexy gem of modern television.
7. Pushing Daisies
Whimsy and wonder and all things plundered in the twee, deeply lovable Pushing Daisies. The show is maintaining its charm at current but that could easily falter as the first season closes following the strike. But right now, this is the sweetest little treat on American TV. Lee Pace is deadpan but the triumphs lie with the women. Anna Friel is swoonsome as Charlotte while Kristin Chenoweth gets key points for uber-perkiness and singing ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’. Number one star though?
6. The Office
Still the loveliest and downright funniest American show currently on, The Office waltzed through its first major potential sticky point (the union of Jim & Pam) with aplomb, crafting four ballbustingly funny double length episodes. It’s true power however lies in the ensemble, managing as it does to keep a tight but improvised feel to proceedings while their leader, the indomitable Carell, steals every scene with his perfect cocktail of pathos, sweetness and cruelty.
5. The Mighty Boosh
The Boosh struggled a little in the second season and we had to endure a number of tabloid related Noel Fielding stories prior to the release of the third season. Worth it? Oh Christ yes. This was the most deranged funhouse of a series yet, a kaleidoscopic comic journey through the multi-coloured reaches of the Barratt/Fielding mind. Still though, for all the invention on show, the best moments are still the two-man improvs between Howard and Vince. “Coming at you like a breezeblock of pain!”.
A terrible opening had us walk away from Lost to concentrate on other things for some time but, after much cohesion and a couple of further weak episodes, they delivered. And oh, how this show delivers. Series three was built to its climax through some truly heart-stopping television in which answers were given and character laid to rest. If series were judged only on the merits of first and last episodes, Lost would be the greatest television show of all time.
3. John From Cincinnati
Unloved and misunderstood for sure, David Milch’s quasi-religious allegory of divine coming is the year’s most breathtaking achievement. Whether you loved it or not, you could not have failed to have at least been impressed by the astounding levels on which he was working. As it stands, with no second season coming, this works as a televisual album, a perfect piece that will never come out of time but that should be rediscovered by those for whom it is made and adored in the way I have. Also, episode six which climaxes with a truly Lynchian scene of inexplicable brilliance is the single best episode of television I’ve seen this year.
Michael C Hall is the star and he made this so with the second season. More was given to supporting characters and they did well but Hall is just breathtaking in the lead role, capturing the dark humour and psychopathic blankness of Dexter with nuance and subtlety. The series also provided extra degrees of everything, finally wrapping up a little neatly but the quality of acting, the suspense of the chase and the character make this second to only one show this year.
1. The Sopranos
It couldn’t not win could it. The finale of maybe the greatest television show ever could not be missed and also failed to disappoint on any level. David Chase slowly brought the show to the boil in the final few and the star was Gandolfini. While never less than immense, this season was something more entirely. He was out of this world, adding a degree of weary sadness to Tony as his Shakespearean saga came to a close. The scenes in which he murders Christopher chilled my senses to the bone. Why? Because for all he does, even at the close of the series when you list his deeds and evils, I was still on his side. ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ rings out and maybe he dies, maybe he just has to continue to look over his shoulder. Likely however, and the only sure thing, we will never have another series like this.
Other notable television shows: Never Mind The Buzzcocks, QI, Russell Brand’s Ponderland, Brotherhood, Heroes (in places).
Two shows I have not yet seen but hear are both great: Mad Men and Damages
Special Mention to: The sadly departed Andy Barker PI, yet another funny, cheeky little comedy from Andy Richter which failed horribly despite, yet again, being stupidly funny.
Series which was middling until the end: Skins, when the cast sing ‘Wild World’ completely impromptu and all the loveliness and invention not quite present before comes through. Bring on season 2.
A dishonourable mention for: Tell Me You Love Me which brought stunning levels of pretension and basic shock-value to the table and came all over the name of HBO. The channel’s most desperate attempt yet to find something that will replace The Sopranos and The Wire when the latter finishes too. Just utter dross.
And finally, the finest one off of the year to: Stuart: A Life Backwards in which Tom Hardy gives the performance of his life as a borderline psychopathic alcoholic homeless man befriended by a toff wanker. A masterclass in controlled emotion and the power of real life pain. Superb.