Long ago, before basic cable and DVRs, the start of the fall TV season was a clearly defined event. All of the good shows came from the extensive three networks. Today, seasons seem to start whenever they want to, and with few exceptions, most of the great performances do not come from what is now the extensive four networks (Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC).
A quick gander at the top box office for 2011 reveals that TV remains the place to go for high-quality entertainment. Movies continue to disappoint consistently. Unless it is Harry Potter or another Avatar, you are better off staying home for entertainment. Not only is it more comfortable, but popcorn will not set you back $6-8 dollars.
And those theaters? Run mainly by idiots who make you wait in line to pay $30 for snacks that cost them $4 to procure. Plus, there is always the risk of sitting next to a group of jackasses who think they are home and are free to comment through the entire movie.
To help you out in 2011-2012, here is a rundown of some of what is out there for you to enjoy on plasma/LCD or other more giant screen television.
First, the best.
Breaking Bad (AMC) – One of the best severe dramas on TV. Season 4 just wrapped up and be the best yet for BB. High school chemistry teacher Walter White still cooks meth for the chicken man while Skyler talks him into buying a car wash with Saul’s money in his kitsch office. Anything more than this will be a spoiler. Fifteen episodes until another great series bites the dust.
Parenthood (NBC) – Filling the void left by Friday Night Lights, this Berkeley-based family drama rings the emotional bell every week through its remarkable ensemble cast, intuitive sound, and always exciting plot twists. Autism, desperation for wanting another child, the purchase of a recording studio, and a viagra commercial are just some of this season’s situations that let the characters tug at our heartstrings—helmed by Friday Night Lights producer Jason Katims. Bravo!
Sons of Anarchy (FX) – Sopranos on motorcycles returns with Clay and Jax getting sprung from prison and getting back to running guns and drugs with a new sheriff in town. It was always enjoyable, with terrific acting by Katey Segal as Gemma. You got to love a show that features a recurring role by Tom Arnold where he gets the living crap beat out of him every time.
George Harrison “Living in the Material World” (HBO) – The quiet Beatle gets nearly four hours of Martin Scorsese’s academy award-winning focus in a documentary that is a must for anyone who has ever said, “Beatles Forever!” It brings you back and forward at the same time. What guy! What music! What friends and family! Beatles Forever!
The Amazing Race (CBS) – As formulaic as this show is, the seriousness with which it is presented, the consistently spectacular settings, and the nuanced struggle of each team to work together to become an effective team never get boring. A perennial winner of the best reality show, Emmy, for a good reason.
The Daily Show (Comedy Central) – This show’s first 5-8 minutes always bring the funny. The build-up to the election year and all the Republican debates is simply a mother load of material to skewer. Stewart and company have raised the bar on themselves year after year and continue to deliver winning Emmys every year.
Curb your Enthusiasm (HBO) – Larry goes to New York and mixes it up with Rosie O’Donnell and, in the best episode of the year, Bill Buckner. Still a litmus test for some (I don’t like Larry – he’s so weird!) but hands down the funniest show on TV. Good news for fans, lots of Leon in season 8!
White Collar (USA) – Something far less severe and always well written. Breezy escapist fare of the highest order.
Good Wife (CBS) – Alecia and Wil have made the fatal TV series mistake and gone to bed. We’ll have to wait to see how long it will take writers and creators Robert and Michele King to figure that out. Still, Kalinda and Eli Gold are the finest supporting characters on any dramatic show today.
Modern Family (ABC) – Sustaining funny is severe business. Not sure these folks are up to the task.
And what about?
Game of Thrones (HBO) – Filming for season 2 is still ongoing. 2012. Take your time and get it right!
The Killing (AMC) – We forgive you for canceling Rubicon if, when brought back, you don’t cop out on a final episode and not conclude! Also 2012.
Mad Men (AMC) – Roger Sterling in rehab? Wait…rehab wasn’t even invented yet! 2012.
Southland (TNT) – Best cop drama. 2012.
Lights Out (FX) – One of the absolute best shows last year, but it was cancelled!
And the rest…
X-Factor (Fox) – Do we need another music competition series that exploits singers fresh out of rehab? I don’t think so, and L.A. Reid is shaking his head side-to-side when he’s feelin’ it kind of creeps me out.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – Can you say bored – walk empire? Miscast Steve Buscemi in a show that tries w-a-y too hard and moves way too slow. Too many other things I’d rather watch, even though The Wire’s Omar is there.
If you have missed any of the great shows mentioned above, start with season 1 and get all caught up. Most are available on Netflix or HBOGo. There is nothing better than going through several years of TV shows in a couple of weeks.