Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Is Up With Television These Days?

Am I the only one who has noticed as of recent the improvement in television programming? I have heard from others that they think there is more originality and better storytelling on television than there are for theatrical release movies. It has me scratching my head and asking; ‘What’s up with that?’

I am not normally one to watch network television, for all kinds of reasons, mainly it has to do with the same old storytelling and frankly the time consumption it takes to watch 42 minutes of programming that takes an hour of your time. That is where I can openly state; ‘Thank God for TiVo and DVR recording!’ With the advent of these devices, I can whip through an hour program in about 44 minutes. I don’t know about you, but for me, time is valuable. With that said, I have discovered several programs this year that are for my wife and I, a step above the rest and programming we consider must watch television, the surprise in all of this for us, it the number of programs on network television.

I recently decided to go through and list my top 10 programs of the year. I will also share a few worth honorable mention.

First the two honorable mentions:

Surprisingly the first two programs on my honorable mention list are on the History Channel and air back to back on Mondays. The two are American Pickers and Pawn Stars. These are two reality programs that explore real people, in their real jobs. American Pickers follows two long time friends as they traverse the countryside looking for what some consider junk, and others consider valuables. The relationship between these two characters and the stories of those they come into contact with is refreshing. On the flip side in Pawn Stars we see the operations of a successful pawn shop in Las Vegas. While we learn about the operations of pawn shops, we also learn about the valuables many people have. While American Pickers falls just short of my top 10 list I find the packaging of these two programs together make them both worthy of honorable mention in my own top 10 list.

There is one other program my wife insisted I put on my list, and I agreed, it is the ABC program, Castle. In this crime drama we see a unique perspective between writer Matt Castle and detective Kate Beckett. Mixed in are original mysteries and the relationships between Castle and Beckett. Castle, a single father, gives his input to help solve crimes while at the same time using his deductive reasoning. In some ways the show is similar to The Mentalist on CBS, but enough unique differences to at least give it an honorable mention spot.

#10 on my list is the new CBS Hit of the season, and a remake with a retelling of an old standard, Hawaii Five – O. Here we see an adequate modernization of characters created in my own youth. As with the original, and other programs such as Miami Vice, this program will contribute to the cultural norms of society, from its music to dress, this program is on the cutting edge. It shows what can be done when one recreates an older program, but at the same time realizing it needs to go in its own direction as much as possible. There is a good blending of characters and enough good stories to keep the viewer going. I especially appreciate the focus on friendship and family.

#9 on my list occurs on Wednesday nights, again on CBS. It is the new program, The Defenders starring Jim Belushi as attorney Nick Morelli and his partner, attorney Pete Kaczmarek played by Jerry O’Connell. This series follows escapades of two real life Vegas Attorneys and the chemistry between O’Connell and Belushi is nothing short of wonderful. We also see a little different twist on the old standard courtroom drama. CBS has done a good job at incorporating story, chemistry, drama and comedy. We also see a different side of the law with a focus on defense attorneys. We see that the stories and perceptions presented by the media of the charged individual does not always mean they are guilty. The Defenders does a good job at presenting value in the old adage, ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Thankfully it does it in an entertaining way where we see some attorneys who are still willing to stand up and fight against injustice.

#8 on my list is another CBS program, Criminal Minds. This is one of the older programs to make it to my list, this in and of itself not only says something about the quality of this program, but the quality of the new season of programs. Criminal Minds is more than a CSI style network thriller; there is a quality presentation of the profiling procedure and the investigative procedure of understanding human psyche. Dealing primarily with the serial killers and psychotic killers, the characters and chemistry is outstanding. The stories are thought provoking and not what one would expect to see on network television. Criminal Minds is graphic and at times difficult to watch. Much like the highly respected CSI programs it goes a step beyond though in its themes. I appreciate it because each weekly episode can be seen as a stand alone show.

#7 on the list is yet, another CBS program. It has what may be one of the most enjoyable and entertaining characters of any program on television. That is the character of Patrick Jane played beautifully by Simon Baker. The Mentalist, while having strong ongoing themes, stands alone with each episode. This is a character driven show that is fun, entertaining, and enjoyable to watch. The character and plot line are unique enough that one can’t have too many ongoing expectations as to the plot. This season has had enough twists and turns to keep the show in my top 10 despite it also being an older program. The enduring fan base for The Mentalist is not lost. It is in many ways everything good about what television used to be.

#6 on my list is the first from ABC television. It is a new series with one of my favorite actors, Michael Imperioli formerly of HBO’s The Sopranos. Imperioli plays Detective Louis Finch on the crime drama, Detroit 1-8-7. The opening episode of this one grabbed the viewer, and has kept them through out the season. Not since Hill Street Blues have I seen as shocking an opening episode to a series. The character development in this program, especially Detective Finch and his partner, Detective Damon Washington, played by John Michael Hill has something many motion pictures could learn from, character development. The viewer finds themselves caring about these two and other characters in the program. There are always surprises around the corner, and I suspect there will be more by season’s end that will surprise the viewer.

#5 on my list is the favorite of many. While a pay per view network program, Dexter has in many ways replaced the lost and needed entertainment provided by programs like HBO’s The Sopranos. This Showtime favorite has Showtime doing what many once thought unthinkable, that is taking over as the top cable network for television series. The remarkable thing about Dexter is that one finds themselves rooting for a serial killer. If you don’t know the themes and concepts behind the series you may want to be careful before making too quick a judgment as to the appropriateness of this program. While Dexter Morgan is a serial killer, he is one with more of a conscious than one may realize. In most years Dexter would be my top program, this year it took some time to get into the character development, but once it did, it has taken off and soared. Even with the slow development of the early part of the series, it is still strong enough to be #5 on my list. That says something about this terrific all round cast that many consider the best show on television. The advent of this show alone almost makes it worth it to purchase the Showtime package. The fact that Showtime has another program on my top 10 list makes Showtime a worthwhile purchase.

#4 on my list is another Showtime program, The Big C. Now understand, while a short series it is still strong enough to do two things for me. One is to have the program at #4 on my list, the other is to do as many critics have already stated, have Laura Linney’s name placed on the Emmy for best actress in a television series. One shouldn’t stop there though, while there is an almost certainty of her winning this award, her performance is far from the only outstanding performance. The top 4 of my top 10 is so close that either program could have almost gone in any of those spots, if this series had been longer, it would have been no contest. This series dealt with a character going through terminal cancer, but much more than that. There was everything from rude neighbors, to family, affairs, and learning from mistakes. There was even the exploration of faith and eternity explored in beautiful, touching, thought provoking ways. There was one episode dealing with forgiveness, in of all places, a church that was simply breathtaking. Showtime in this program did everything right. There were more than a few teary moments and Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Phyllis Somerville, John Hickey, Idris Elba and Gabourey Sidibe made up the best ensemble cast not just in television this year, but the best ensemble cast period. Not only was The Big C refreshing for television programming, it was thought provoking and for many, life changing.

#3 on my list will be for many a shocking surprise, the program on The History Channel is a spinoff series and far more suspenseful, entertaining, and breathtaking than its predecessor, Ice Road Truckers. The program, IRT Deadliest Roads is not only a challenging portrayal of culture, it is a hold your breath program. IRT Deadliest Roads follows truckers from the television series Ice Road Truckers as they drive in India’s Himalayan Mountains. We see the exploits of several truckers driving on roads that are what most would consider undriveable. We also see the exploration of a culture in their treatment of women and road side manners. The next time you get caught up with the headaches of driving the freeway during rush hour, DVR any episode of this program and push play on the DVR, it won’t take long to help you realize, it could be worse. Fortunately, reality television doesn’t get any better than this years IRT Deadliest Roads. We see more than just driving on roads though, we see people who care for each other, stand beside to help each other, and then challenge themselves in their choice of job over family. We see real emotions, and real life situations where the essence of what some thought was right is challenged.

#2 on my list will be a large surprise to many, AMC’s The Walking Dead. Another short series for a television program, but what they pack into this series is far more than a simple Zombie film. This program pays tribute to the George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead. The Walking Dead is well acted, features some of the best special effects, period on television or the big screen, and has a story and character development to boot. This program is not for the kiddies, but neither should it be ignored by those who are opposed to gore, or horror formats. This is more than a gore fest, (which at times it is); it is also an exploration of the human condition and societal issues. When one watches this program, they will likely think of the world of television in the past. Some will be offended that non pay television programming has gone as far as this one has. It airs on Sunday nights and is late enough that children shouldn’t be watching, but older children, with discussion from family will likely get more out of it than many realize, if one looks for the deeper themes. The strength of The Walking Dead is the story and the exploration of today’s society. Unfortunately many won’t stay long enough to see that due to the graphic nature of the program. That is unfortunate because this program has a lot to say, and is at a deserved #2 on my list. If looking for an exploration of commitment to others, the advent of hope, and the need to let others go this program has a lot to say, while at the same time, being entertaining.

#1 is in my opinion, the CBS new show, Blue Bloods. In a simple phrase, Tom Selleck is back, and he is back on top. Blue Bloods follows the exploits of New York City Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, (Tom Selleck) and his family which are all involved in some way in law enforcement. The series does not feature any single character as a primary character, it is more of an ensemble cast and the underlying story of family is the primary reason I enjoy this program. As many likely realize, values of programming are important to me, what a program provides beyond what is seen on screen is one of the primary things that drives me to the program. So far, this season of Blue Bloods has been exceptional.

In each episode of Blue Bloods there have been various ongoing themes which I greatly value. In each episode of the season so far, you see the value of family, including at times, even in the dysfunction, the importance of coming together. We can see that despite the differences that often exist, that coming together, and valuing each other is important. The program does this in a variety of ways, not just in conflict, but in little things often lost. In each episode we see the family together around the dinner table, realizing among themselves the value of family, and the roles of those in the family. We also see a tribute and respect paid to the men and women of law enforcement. While there are undoubtedly those who blacken the eye of law enforcement, it is refreshing to see a program pay obvious tribute to law enforcement and those making the sacrifices to protect others. We also see the importance of faith in the family unit. Not just on occasion, but so far, in every episode we see the family come together to pray, whether around the table or over the casket of a fellow officer killed in battle. The value of prayer and faith is refreshing to see, especially when done in a positive light, not in a preachy way, but a subtle way that will eventually plant the seeds of thought for the viewer to also see the value of faith.

With Blue Bloods not only do we have in my humble opinion the best program of the season, CBS has to be recognized for their outstanding work at providing what is to me, the best network on television. After that, The Discovery Channel and Showtime have a lot to offer, but thankfully it isn’t just these networks and programs that are doing wonderful things, we see other programs continue on HBO like True Blood, and even other networks like ABC. While there are those that still need to catch up, it is refreshing to see television have such an impact on society, not just in the world of entertainment, but with the social needs many have. While the economy is down, we don’t have to be left behind in quality entertainment, we don’t have to be left behind because the programming provided on television has once again, started to have an impact, an impact not just in the ‘free’ entertainment provided at home, but also in quality that is unmatched in many of the theatrical, high cost movies. Sure there are those who are still flocking to the theater, but for some of us, thankfully there is more to do at home with our families in an affordable, enjoyable way. Thankfully, some of those programs like those mentioned above also realize and respect the value of family, even when zombies walk or the police protect, there are things we can all appreciate and value from.

I realize that for many, many of your favorites are left off. We all have our own opinions, our own taste, our own reasons. Feel free to post your thoughts here and enter the discussion, the discussion where we might find out about a new program we haven’t seen before, a program that may just touch us and inspire us in ways we hadn’t imagined.

The following is a video from Blue Bloods. It exemplifies the things I like about the show. To watch the video, just click on it, if the video doesn't appear, click on the following link:

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