Best TV season since 2000

There are tons of “best of” lists out there, but this one from Cleveland.com about the 40 best TV seasons since 2000 is pretty good. They nailed it with some great selections like Season 4 of “The Wire” as the top season overall (sorry to spoil the suspense!). Fans will quibble about the best season from that amazing series, but Season 4 is certainly worthy of that honor.

They also focused on some great opening seasons from shows that eventually lost their way, like “Lost,” “House of Cards,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “True Blood.” They could have added season one of “Sons of Anarchy” to that list.

Check out the list and you’ll get some great binge-watching ideas.

  

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“Breaking Bad” resources

The best show on television returns tomorrow night at 10 PM on AMC. If you’re a fan of the show, enjoy the video above and all the links in this post as you get ready for the start of season 4. If you haven’t been watching, well you’re missing out. You can start watching tomorrow night, but you’re better of setting your DVR to record the first season, and getting your hands on the first three seasons.

The Breaking Bad Fan Hub on Bullz-Eye.com is a good place to start for fans of the show. The fan site is loaded with cast interviews, along with reviews of previous seasons and a link to the Breaking Bad Blog. Will Harris also posted a preview of Season 4.

Is “Breaking Bad” the best show ever on cable TV? Grantland’s Chuck Klosterman thinks so, arguing that it beats out other greats like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men.” It’s hard to argue with his top four, though his column gets a little too deep into criticspeak for my taste. I’ll probably stick with “The Wire” as the best show ever on cable, but “Breaking Bad” is catching up with each season.

Time calls it the best drama on television.

Breaking Bad is the kind of TV show that gets described as cinematic, and that’s true in the literal sense: it looks like a movie. The astonishing landscape of New Mexico gives the show a western-film starkness and scale. “When you’re here,” says cinematographer Michael Slovis, “you can’t help but be affected by the size of the sky.” The sets are painstakingly built, especially the superlab: a temple of gleaming metal tanks, painted infernal red, that production designer Mark Freeborn built with the aid of a Drug Enforcement Administration consultant. The lab, Cranston says, is a metaphor for Walt’s compartmentalized worldview: “It’s clean. It’s isolated. He doesn’t like being reminded that he’s part of a messy, bloody business.”

Last year in Time, James Poniewozik offered a nice recap of the last episode and the relationship between Walt and Jesse. Newsweek also gets in on the discussion with some great quotes from Bryan Cranston.

  

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Producers of “The Wire” focus on New Orleans

HBO is ironing out the details on a deal for “Treme,” the latest project by “The Wire” producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer.

“Treme” centers on New Orleans residents – including musicians and a restauranteur – living in the city’s Treme district. Show follows the characters as they look to reclaim their lives as the city continues to rebuild.

Simon said he and Overmyer, who lives in New Orleans, had been in love with the city long before the storm — but post-Katrina, knew there was a story to be told.

But, he warned, “Treme” is not “The Wire: New Orleans.”

“We don’t intend to make ‘The Wire’ twice,” Simon said. “This is about people reconstituting their lives after their town was mostly, effectively destroyed… It’s not entirely a political show. We’re trying to be very intimate with people. And New Orleans is completely unique, there’s nothing in the world like it.”

While I’d love to see “The Wire: New Orleans,” I’d be almost as excited about anything this duo produces, especially if it’s on HBO. Production won’t begin until fall, so the network is targeting a spring premiere.

  

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Seven shows that just don’t get enough love

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to put together a list of my favorite television moments before the end of 2008, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the tube. (Come to think of it, maybe my television addiction was the reason I didn’t have the free time to write about the best of 2008. Hmm.)

Anyway, here is a list of seven terrific shows that seem to be flying under the proverbial radar.

1. “True Blood” (HBO)
Alan Ball, the writer of “American Beauty” and the creator of “Six Feet Under,” brings us a series based on vampires in the Deep South. The series is based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series of books and stars Anna Paquin — whom I argued, under the moniker of Eli Cash a few years back, would have made a better Penny Lane than Kate Hudson — as a mind-reading waitress in a small town in Louisiana. The first season was excellent, though it got off to a bit of a slow start. Paquin is the key, but her best friend Tara (played by Rutina Wesley) often steals the show.


Read the rest after the jump...

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