Lets face facts; Television, long the whipping boy of intellectuals and aesthetes the world over has gotten a hell of a lot better in the last decade or so. Blame the decline of the big three (four with FOX) pile of shit networks and the rise of cable. That said, over 95% of it still sucks ass. Especially cable. From the unwatchable bullshit that somehow passes for comedy on Saturday Night Live to the latest dumb-ass sitcom about a fat moron with a hot, loving and forgiving wife and their wacky offspring (I’m thinking Belushi here) to horrid news programs and house-frau bitch-fest forums to that train wreck of an unpallettable mess Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, the vast majority of TV is either written by, or intended for, those who fall into the post-lobotomy demographic.
But, there are gems, some really, really good gems. Here’s a list of the Top 10 best programs on television in the 2004.
10) Monster House
On the surface, Monster House may not seem like much. You got a really pretentious “leader” convincing some poor dopes to give up their house for a week so it can get made over. The finished products are appealing only to male Star Trek fans between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-three and a half. The other part of the show is that the “leader” gives the five builders the plans for the Monster House and if they manage to get everything done in the time allotted then they get a really nice set of tools. It goes without saying that of the ten episodes I’ve watched, no team has every failed to get the job done. It might sound like I am slagging on the show, but I’m really not. Given the somewhat limited bin of parts the show has to work with, the finished product (the show, not the various houses) is extremely watchable. And, sometimes the houses are pretty cool. The coolest one is when they installed Brazil style delivery air-tubes that sent beer bottles from the kitchen to the living room table. But, like most great anything, it is the process, not the product that really makes your brain tick. Maybe not a must see show, but it beats the fuck out of Friends.
9) Chappelle’s Show
The only problem here is consistency, because some of the sketches just aren’t all that funny. However, the ones that are funny, are funnier than practically everything else on television. There are two in particular that I cannot stop thinking and more importantly laughing about. One is the blind, black KKK leader skit, a comedic piece of unparalleled scope, where once the KKK leader discovers he is black, he divorces his white wife for being a “nigger lover.” The other, and really just as funny, is the black “Real World” skit. Basically, Chappelle ruminates on the fact that MTV’s Real World is almost always a all-white cast with a token Negro chucked into the mix who of course is a total outsider and usually gets thrown out of the house. Chappelle flips it and has one white kid from Kansas or wherever live with six black kids. I’m not sure which part was funnier–the part where thug roommate steals the white’s guys blond girlfriend and then videotapes him and his ex-cell mate “Lysol” having sex with her, or the part where the thug guy shivs the white guys dad. It don’t matter, because aside from being so funny, it is brilliant and one of the only outlets in all of TV land that has an actual black viewpoint on anything. He just has to work on weeding out the unfunny bits.
8) The Daily Show
Usually when a show loses its founding cast member it goes to pot. I mean, just compare Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather. But in The Daily Show’s case, losing the smarmy and basically unfunny Craig Kilborn and gaining the self-deprecating and always on-target John Stewart was a masterstroke. The new “reporters,” while no Mo Rocha, are pretty damn good, and the show guarantees thirty minutes of brilliant (and funny) insight a night. Which is more than Fox News offers in a year. I have read that for many, The Daily Show has become their primary news outlet. Hey, why not? Since all media have bias anyways, why not let it be hysterical? And much less full of shit? I tune in often.
7) South Park
As good as it ever was, and in one particular instance, better (The Passion of the Jews is a television high water mark), Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny still delight me every week, eight years in. One aspect I really appreciate it the timeliness of show. W. Bush, amidst a disastrous war that we started, an actual threat from terrorists and a country at its most divided since Nixon threw in the towel, mentions steroid usage amongst baseball players as one of his top priorities; three weeks later South Park parodies his little foolish mind. Contrast this with the five fucking years it took the Simpsons to get around to making fun of the Phantom Menace. This sort of quick turnaround has been part of South Park since at least season two. I still laugh at Janet Reno dressed as the Easter Bunny complete with smoke grenades that look like Easter Eggs pulling a Waco style “rescue” during the whole Elian Gonzalez fiasco. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, I salute you for giving up on your pitiful movie careers and concentrating on what you do best.
6) Myth Busters
This show took me by surprise. Basically two special effects wizards debunk urban legends. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But see Jamie and Adam are loons! Completely watchable loons, at that. And they love to blow shit up!! You know it’s a good show when even if they don’t blow anything up, they are still super entertaining. Let me give you an example. We’ve all heard that Jimmy Hoffa is buried in Giants Stadium. So, typical of the show, Jamie and Adam set out to “bust the myth.” But instead of being like countless A&E or History channel shows where they just interview a bunch of people, Jamie and Adam get to work. First they rip out the sidewalk next to their shop and bury a pig in the hole. Then they get a seismic expert to help ‘em detect the entombed pig. Now armed with the knowledge of how to look for dead bodies under several feet of concrete, they head to the Meadowlands and begin the search. Their conclusion; no Hoffa. And you know what? I believe them. Plus, they love blowing shit up. The only downside to the show is the fact that they waste anytime at all with the “mythologist.” Some weird, soon to be an even weirder-ass cat woman with like 80 felines and no litter box-type, she supposedly is an “expert” on myths. Who cares? Give me thirty more seconds of a jet engine blowing a car apart. I think they might have dropped her from the show. Which is smart and more proof that everybody should always listen to me about everything. Plus trying to determine Jamie’s sexual orientation is always a fun challenge.
5) The Sopranos
I’ve been watching this show since its inception and it is every bit as good as it ever was. If not even better. James Gandolfini has crafted one of the most memorable characters in history; Tony Soprano is a three hundred pound bald sex symbol. Typically displaying a greater range of emotion in a single episode then most actors (TV or otherwise) manage in a career, Tony is simultaneously funny, charming, Ruthless, sad, revolting, shallow, compelling — you name it, and Gandolfini delivers it. In a word, he’s human. A sad clown to be sure, but wonderful all the same. Eddie Falco is really starting to shine in her role as Tony’s now estranged wife, Carmela. You know a show is very well done when the characters improve over time. Meaning that they had great depth and were well thought out to begin with. In fact, almost all the characters are excellently crafted and acted out. This season, both Steve Buscemi and Robert Loggia are great mid-series picks ups. Some of the plot lines seem a little dragged out, like Adriana’s whole FBI informant thing or Tony and Dr. Melphi’s seven year long courtship, but the show is all about tension and release. All should pay off in the end. Big time. Especailly when Tony fucks the shrink.
4) Curb Your Enthusiasm
I have a friend at work that doesn’t get HBO. Up until Curb’s season finale, our Monday morning cigarette breaks consisted of me recounting the previous night’s episode in excruciating detail. Curb Your Enthusiasm is the most fucked up show on TV. And Larry David seems to be going off the rails more and more each season. From picking up a hooker so he could use the car-pool lane to having a cast member from Survivor arguing with a Holocaust survivor about who had it worse to having his agent Jeff explain how he beats off thinking about Larry’s wife Cheryl to stabbing Ben Stiller in the eye, no show is more totally unhinged than Curb. My only gripe is that they do eleven episodes a season instead of twenty-two. Next season can’t come soon enough. Oh, and HBO, release the rest of the fucking DVDs, like you did for…
3) World Poker Tour
Erich, the degenerate gambler that he is, explained this show best in his full review. I agree with everything he says. I honestly cannot believe how addicting WPT is. I grew up in casinos but always considered poker to be a retarded subset of the real deal, blackjack. Man, was I wrong. Nearly as strategic as chess and much faster paced, I honestly believe the spectacle of poker is more entertaining to watch than any other “sport,” save the NFL or World’s Strongest Man. Moreover, World Poker Tour beats the living fuck out of the televised poker competition. ESPN’s sorry attempt is nowhere near as entertaining. The somehow totally engaging duo of Mike Saxton and Vince van Patton never fail to be anything but spot on. Additionally, Shana Hyatt’s dresses are getting cut lower and lower. I worry that some of the players are becoming a little too camera aware; A WWE showboating vibe is creeping in. High-fiving the crowd and spouting off catch phrases is dumb and only detracts from the action. Still, with dudes like Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey and the prince of fucking darkness himself, Gus Hansen, making weekly appearances, you get to watch the best players in the world compete at the highest level — weekly!
If this list was about the Top 10 shows in the history of television, the Simpsons would be number one. Without question. They slip to the two-slot only because after 970 seasons or whatever, it just isn’t fresh anymore. A lot of people feel that the Simpsons peaked around season eight or nine in terms of writing quality. I maintain that A) there are jewels to be found in every seasons and B) So what? Bad Simpsons is still way better than 99.5% of other TV. In fact, I feel the current season is particularly strong, as evidenced by the unbelievably funny Eva Peron spoof season opener. I mean, how do you beat, “I got a song, too — I am Iron Man. Duh nuh nuh nuh nu-nu nuh vote for me!” Erich has called the Simpsons our generation’s Shakespeare, which is true not only necause of the quality, but also because there exists a Simpson’s quote for every situation. Not that I’m running around a renaissance fair searching desperately for turkey legs, but I’ve seen/read my share of Shakespeare; he had some real stinkers. Titus Andronicus anyone? The Simpsons are way more consistent than old William, and more importantly, much funnier. If you haven’t tuned in for a while, do it.
Deadwood absolutely rules. No show is even close to the magnificence of HBO’s latest must-watch. Yeah, the Sopranos is pretty good, but it really can’t hold a candle to how supremely enjoyable Deadwood is. The star of the fucking show is Ian McShane, aka Teddy Bass from Sexy Beast. He plays Al Swearengen, the most corrupt, dishonest, vulgar and loveable son of a bitch to ever grace the small screen. Swearengen controls all the gambling, dope, pussy and booze in town, but it’s not enough to take all the prospectors’ gold; he wants his own. Here’s an example: After murdering the husband, Swearengen is trying to dupe the widow out her gold claim. With his trademark gift for the most beautiful gab, Swearengen tells his lackey to “Attend to the grieving fucking widow.” One of the best conceived and cleary executed characters I’ve ever witnessed, in any medium. Al Swearengen is Ruthless as all hell.
On the “good” side of the camp, we have Seth “Montana” Bullock, an utterly humorless and totally unlovable prick with a mean streak a mile wide. True, he adheres to the ideas of justice, fairness and honor, but I’d as soon share a beer with him as I would Dick Cheney. A real asshole. You should have seen him beat an Indian to death with a coke-can sized rock a few weeks back. Frightening. So, you take the dynamic of these two Uebermenschen, throw in a phenomenal, almost miraculous supporting cast and some God Damn good writing (the doctor thinks the reverend’s epilepsy is caused by praying too much) and you have the absolute best show on television. HBO, my fucking hat is off to you cunts; fucking great work.
Honorable Mention: Reno 911, which might actually be better than Monster House, but fuck it. I’m done.