Top 14 Shows on TV
So here are my top 14 shows on TV. Counting mainly the "current" quality of the show (meaning the recent episodes and how good I expect the future episodes to be), with historical quality being used as a tiebreaker. And of course only shows currently airing new episodes are eligible for this list. Presented in convenient countdown format, as always, with some commentary.
(14, because I was having trouble narrowing it down to 10 and there was a big dropoff after 14. Didn't count because I don't know if they are gonna air new episodes: Beauty and the Geek and Darcy's Wild Life.)
14. Heroes (NBC)
NBC's new hit show has promise but moves a bit too slowly for my tastes. It's starting to show signs that it's all gonna pay off, and not totally fizzle out (like, say, Lost), but I have my doubts that it's all gonna end satisfactorily. Nevertheless, it's been a fun setup and I'm enjoying the show a lot as is. I won't feel comfortable ranking it higher until I see how the storylines start to ravel up. The last episode before the new year was a great start in that regard. This could move way up in short fashion.
13. Desperate Housewives (ABC)
I think this is the best of ABC's trifecta of hit dramas (this show, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost), because unlike those shows this show has compelling plots and likeable characters. And this last season has been the best one yet, even better than the first season. Extremely entertaining and watchable; just because it does not engage one intellectually doesn't mean it's bad. There's a place for brainless fun on television, and this does it better than most.
12. True Life/Made/The Real World (MTV)
This is cheating, but this slot represents the entirety of the MTV reality show catalogue. None of MTV's other reality shows engage me. Laguna Beach would have made it last year, but the last season sucked ass. But I do so love these 3 shows. The Real World has been down lately, but the Denver season looks to be the best one since San Diego, after a long string of mediocre seasons. True Life and Made are always entertaining looks into the real world. The problem with Made is that a lot of the kids are annoying and unlikeable, but when the kid on the show is likeable (as in, say, the "Girly Girl" or "Beauty Pageant" episode, or the one with the fat kid who wanted to be skinny and then struck out with his crush) it's one of the most entertaining shows on television. Similarly, True Life has many boring episodes, but it also has produced a lot of extremely compelling TV (like the "Friends With Benefits" episode or the one about dieting). A very underrated network. Inconsistency prevents it from climbing higher on the list
11. Entourage (HBO)
Entourage had a great first two seasons. The last season, season 3, was rather weak but I still hold high hope that this can find its voice again. Jeremy Piven is, of course, excellent and the rest of the cast is quite good as well. A funny show, and it can really crackle when the plots are working and pushing forward, as in season 1 and 2, but when the show is running in traction with Vince acting like a whiny baby all the time and Ari not given much to do but yell a lot it gets tedious, the show can really drag. One that would have ranked much higher a year ago, and that hopefully will rank much higher again.
10. Hannah Montana (Disney Channel)
As I've said several times before, its still a show I see great promise in. Yeah, it's got the same problems it's always had. The acting is poor, the plots and jokes are ridiculous, the physical comedy is over the top, the characters and drama are not handeld well. But it's also still incredibly cute and eminently watchable, the music is great, and the kids have great chemistry. Not exactly a classic, and Phil of the Future is still way better, but this is still wholly entertaining.
9. American Idol (Fox)
Speaking of shallow, eminently watchable, slightly guilty pleasures...Well, once again, I love this show. I guess that shouldn't surprise any of the readers here. But this show, among all reality shows, does a great job of getting people to root for their favorites and hate their least favorites. And they don't even develop personalities or anything! I can't explain it, but I find it totally engrossing. Maybe the talent's not the greatest, but that hardly even matters. And the show is still capable of producing great musical moments like Kelly C's "Stuff Like That There".
8. Shark (CBS)
The best of the new class of shows, in my opinion, this show seems on the surface to be a rote copying of the procedural crime/lawyer shows that currently permeate the air. And in a lot of ways it is. But James Woods is appropriately over-the-top as the main character, Jeri Ryan is great as always, and even the assistant DA's are all a lot of fun to watch. Maybe the crimes/mysteries aren't super engrossing, but the character interactions are always fun to watch. And, yeah, Danielle Panabaker as Shark's daugher certainly doesn't hurt. She does a really great job, and is starting to be pretty attractive. I would expect no less of a member of the Panabaker clan.
7. How Do I Look? (Style)
This show is a fashion makeover show, which makes it one of a hundred on TV. But I really love how every episode of this show tells a completed story. Everybody starts out confident in their style, gets torn down through meanness and sadness, and then is built back up from scratch, as a confident woman! Yay! Finola Hughes is great as the host, and the scene where all the family members tear into the main subject for their bad fashion is oddly compelling. Maybe it's one of a large type, but it's the best of that type by far.
6. House (Fox)
I still love this show, even though the format is getting a little stale. Hugh Laurie's performance, though great, is untested as he is always given the exact same things to do episode after episode. House's assistants are all growing to be a bit too one note as well. The episodes are too formulaic, and most of their attempts to break from the formula (e.g. the season finale for season 2 and season premiere for season 3) have gone really poorly (although "Three Stories" was, of course, a classic). The multi-episode arcs (Vogler, Stacy, Tritter) have all been disasters. That being said, all the actors have their characters nailed by now, and the formula IS extremely entertaining. This last season hasn't been too great, but it's still got those great actors and that great formula going for it. And Dr. Cameron is a hottie.
5. Unfabulous (Nickelodon)
Still the best teen/tween show on TV. Executed perfectly. Emma Roberts is great. For all this and more, see this post I already wrote, extolling the virtues of the show. Genuinely funny, and I love how they begin every episode with an out-of-context clip from later on in that same episode.
4. Monk (USA)
Although this show HAS become a bit weaker over time, it's still firing on most of its cylinders. I actually prefer Natalie to Sharona (or at least I like them equally), because even though Traylor Howard may not be Bitty Schram's equal, I love Natalie's cute and sweet relationship with "Mr. Monk" (I also like how she calls him "Mr. Monk") . And I like Julie a hell of a lot more than I ever liked Benji. The problem is that the plots to the episodes have become progressively more and more gimmicky and progressively less and less about any of the characters other than Monk. Not that I don't like Monk, and Tony Shalhoub is brilliant of course, but I love the supporting characters too! The actors and characters still make this show extremely entertaining.
3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
The funniest show on TV, yet sadly it seems to be little known. There's no depth to the show, and no real characters or relationships, but that's hardly what a show like this is about. As much as I normally strongly prefer "clean" and simple humor to the more "adult" kind, and as much as I normally dislike humor based mostly around shattering taboos, every single episode of this show has several big laughs. But all this talk of "adult" humor or "simple" humor or "shattering taboos" is silly and lazy, because most of the humor of this show IS of the classic variety, based around hilarious dialogue and irony. To me, as always, humor based on hilarious dialogue is way funnier than humor based on characters being put in funny situations or acting self-consciously wacky or stupid. (Which is, by the way, why I still can't stand Meet the Parents, Will Ferrell movies, and the majority of modern comedies.) But the humor on that show rarely reaches this level.
2. How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
The best show on network TV today singlehandedly proves that the seemingly stale old sitcom formula still has plenty of life in it. I am a big fan of that old formula, and this show IS the modern day Friends, which I loved (although is it intellectual suicide to admit that?). While not quite reaching the heights of humor of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia there is an underlying sweetness that permeates this show, and that plus the great character relationships push that above this. Not that this show isn't hilarious, because it is. And the second season, currently in the middle of airing, has been a big step above the first season (see, for example "Ted Moseby, Architect" or "Slap Bet"). The first season had its share of highlights as well (in particular "Okay Awesome" and "The Pineapple Incident"), but it got worse towards the end. So I was totally unprepared for the complete awesomeness of season 2. If it keeps up the quality of the first half of the second season, we could be seeing a real classic unfolding here.
1. The 4400 (USA)
Like Lost or Heroes this show is a science fiction type show with long, epic storylines that unfold during the course of several episodes. Unlike those shows, this show maintains a strong interest throughout by moving at a breakneck pace. Multiple important events and revelations during each episode is a matter of course, with all the events leading to further interesting mysteries and storylines. Maybe it's because one season of The 4400 is barely more than half the length of those other shows, so they have to pack everything in much faster. Maybe it's just that the writers have better ideas. I dunno. All I know is that with all the questions that have been done on this show, few have been settled too slowly or quickly and few have been answered unsatisfactorily. Each season has been totally different from the last, and each has been better than the last. And the most recent season, season 3, ended last summer with an excellent series finale that left several interesting cliffhangers which may, in fact, change the entire nature of the show yet again. There's no way I could have seen this coming from the mediocre original miniseries, but I feel quite comfortable declaring this to be the best show on TV right now. And Heroes is totally a ripoff of this.