Friday, December 31, 2010

TV: Best New TV Shows of 2010

Of the new shows that survived the season, here are the best in each genre:

Best New Drama Series: "Boardwalk Empire"
Period pieces are a hard sell to broad audiences. It has to be the right period with the right content. "Tudors" has it easy because of all the sex, "Merlin" because of all the cool magic, and "Spartacus" because of the buckets of fake blood it went through each week. Trying to sell the Prohibition Era is a little bit harder. Unless of course you're Martin Scorsese and mobsters, Al Capone included, are involved, then it's nearly a piece of cake. After those two ingredients, you just need to throw in some double-crossing dames, gather several factions of money-grubbing schemers, add a student-becomes-the-master theme, stir in a corrupted, justice-seeking lawman, sprinkle in a few hundred bullets, and top it all off with a one-eyed, gurgling sniper, and you've got yourself a crime drama worth sitting still for 60 minutes. Some might say that it could've done well no matter who was cast. But I truly do believe that without the conflicted brow of Steve Buscemi, the self-righteous glare of Michael Shannon, the consistent inner tumoil within Michael Pitt, the innocent obedience of Jack Huston, and the pitbull bravado of Stephen Graham, the series just wouldn't be the same.

Best New Conspiracy Series: "The Event"
In the absence of "Lost," many networks have tried to fill the void that was the intricately mysterious sci-fi enigma. AMC failed with the quickly canceled "Rubicon" and Syfy managed decent ratings with the "X-Files"-esque "Haven," but NBC was the channel that got it right with "The Event." Not only did it have good pacing, revealing just enough each week to make us tune back in, but also an intriguing plot with multiple storylines that all lead to one huge mystery. We may not know what the main event is just yet, but learning that the aliens have the proverbial Fountain of Youth and that humans are willing to kidnap little girls and experiment on them to find it, is enough to assuage viewers who may be getting antsy. The series also boasts a stellar cast and characters, something I think ABC's "FlashForward" was missing. Jason Ritter plays the tireless hero trying to save his girlfriend, Laura Innes plays the leader of the alien colony, both compassionate and deadly, and Hal Holbrook, who despite his age, manages to be the creepiest and most sadistic villain ruled by vanity and ego. Hopefully, the series can keep up the consistent surprises and suspense, and the event isn't a total disappointment.

Best New Cop Series: "Rookie Blue"
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy watching McGarrett screw with Dano on "Hawaii Five-O," Raylan Givens lay down the law on "Justified," Jim Longworth toy with perps before nailing them on "The Glades," and I even thought the season finale of "Rizzoli & Isles" was worth tuning in for, but the best new cop series didn't even have detectives at the forefront. It turns out rookies, fresh out of training camp, eager to please, learn, and get their hands dirty, can provide the most interesting content. Sure, it's fun to watch the detectives cockily get everything right, but it's almost just as entertaining to watch newbies fumble a few times and learn lessons along the way. The series also has a great handle on balancing romance and dramatic criminal cases. They don't only get the bad guys but fall for the wrong ones. Missy Peregrym has finally found a role that allows her to be both emotionally vulnerable and blindly courageous. And we're lucky enough to have been introduced to the reluctant hero Ben Bass and the dreamy authoritarian Noam Jenkins.

Best New Action Series: "Nikita"
"Undercovers" has already been canceled, "No Ordinary Family" is trying desperately to pick up where "Heroes" left off, and "Covert Affairs" must've bribed someone to get that Golden Globes nomination, because the most consistently entertaining, dramatic, and clever action series that debuted this year was actually a remake. That's impressive in and of itself. Two relatively unknown actresses, Maggie Q and Lyndsy Fonseca, managed to successfully revive a beloved cult classic, presenting a solid revenge plot fueled by love, convincing us that they can kick ass, and going up against formidable enemies. My only gripe is that I would've preferred them being on USA or TNT, so that the teeny boppers who frequent The CW sporadically when they're not surfing the net wouldn't tank them in the ratings. Now the producers are promising more romance and less sad storylines. That sounds very foreboding. Generally when teenagers are kidnapped and forced to kill's sad. Lord knows what they'll mutate the story into now, but at least they had a good solid 11 episodes of genuine emotion and unrelenting sisterhood.
Best New Comedy Series: "Raising Hope"
This season has produced several comedies. Some of them are one-note, but quite funny (Mike & Molly and Outsourced); others are still finding their footing and audience (Running Wilde and Better With You); and one in particular I find absolutely no humor in (Bleep My Dad Says), despite it's stellar ratings. "Raising Hope," however, is the one new comedy that sets itself apart. I'm surprised ABC didn't think of it. It reminds me of "The Middle"—blue collar people with blue collar problems and a very dysfunctional family that loves each other no matter what. The series doesn't try to knock poor people either. It's not "Married with Children," where the mother and daughter are skanks, the son's an idiot, and the father hates them all openly. The mother is doting and overbearing and the father sacrifices and mentors. They're basically responsible adults...who were never taught how to be responsible, so they make up their own rules in a noble effort to do right. Some might even liken it to a mixture of "Roseanne" and "Malcolm in the Middle," complete with an insane grandmother and a spunky kid. The cast really elevates the series as well. It's really hard to sell "a caring teen mom who hoards appliances in her shed and uses a baby to get into the church's Nativity scene," or "a pool-cleaning father who frightens his son every Halloween in order to get his annual hug and brings his baby to a rock star audition," or "a grandmother who mistakes her grandson for her deceased husband and frequently runs outside topless," or even "a teenage boy who sleeps with a girl he just met, who turns out to be a serial killer." They're a bit of a hard sell. But Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman, and newcomer Lucas Neff do a great job of balancing the humor with the heart, and delivering deadpan lines like they're as solid as scripture. They may not be a modern family, but they're more realistic than most.

Best New Teen Series: "Pretty Little Liars"
The topic of "Hellcats" is so past its prime that the star of the last popular cheerleading film, Kirsten Dunst, is now making a comeback. And "Glory Daze" is so obviously a "Greek" knock-off, poorly constructed might I add, that it's almost embarrassing. The best new teen series was actually created by the new teen network, ABC Family—eat your heart out CW. They adapted a teen mystery novel, taking the vapid bobbleheads of Mean Girls and plopping them in the middle of a "Veronica Mars"-type scandalous mystery. Each week they reveal clues as to who their taunter might be. Viewers distrust everyone, especially newcomers, compiling suspect lists, complete with motives. And in the midst of this whodunit tale, these girls battle the pressure to produce all-As, closeted bisexuality, falling in love with the wrong guy, impending poverty, high school hierarchy, backstabbing best friends, vindictive older sisters, and, their worst enemy of all, insecurity.

1 comment:

  1. Parenthood ranked top 3 on my list. I have been watching it and I actually decided to start DVR'ing it so I can share it with family. I would say the only other show that has been on for a while, can't really say how long its been around but Big Love (got HBO free for 3 months with DISH when I started working there), since it is such a relevant news topic it almost felt forbidden to watch! I have my TV programmed to only let me watch HD channels, and being able to watch all these great actors in crystal clear pictures makes the forbidden shows ok for me to watch! As for the shows on the list, not to big on any of them. I got into Boardwalk Empire for a bit, but kinda fell of after the initial attraction to it!