Mad Men: A sedate and unbiased look at the American advertising world of the early 60s when sexism was open and casual and sexual mores were just beginning to change. It is a world of well dressed and groomed men who live the good life and treat women as objects to adorn their bedrooms and their arms. It is about women caught in the cusp of change unsure about the extent of their independence. It is about the conflict between the two. At times too slow the series is however beautifully crafted and atmospheric with the highly detailed production design a splendid visual treat. Jon Hamm is the pick of the excellent ensemble cast disappearing into his laconic role of Don Draper, an ad man with a mysterious past. Of course, any show that has the voluptuous Christina Hendricks (Firefly fans will recognize her as Malcolm Reynold’s ‘wife’) gets my automatic vote 🙂 That she is good in her role as the secretly suffering woman caught between failed ambition and illicit love is an added bonus.
The Office (US Version): Steve Carrell. Watch it for him. The depths he plumbs in portraying, what seems to be on the surface, an unlikable and often unwatchable, cringe worthy character is simply phenomenal. He gives the character a certain tragic dignity that makes you want to understand his immense loneliness and even like him in spite of yourself. A brilliant achievement that. Add to that a slightly uneven but idiosyncratic bunch of characters as well as great writing and you get one uniquely funny show. I’ve not seen the original British version but for me this is more than enough.
30 Rock: A delightfully subversive comedy that pokes fun at everything on and about network television. This series is one of the smartest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. Tina Fey as the show’s creator, writer and main actor deserves high praise for the consistently sharp and witty bite of the show. But the two characters who walk away with the show are Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan. While Baldwin is deliciously wicked in his role as a NBC TV exec with high ambitions, Morgan is hilariously mad as the resident TV star.
The Sopranos: Well, well, well…what can I say that has not been said already by thousands before? THE TV show that set new standards for the depth of its high quality writing. This is the Goodfellas of the small screen although even that high praise is simply not enough. An outstanding cast that quietly but very effectively disappear into their roles (with James Gandolfini and Edie Falco being particular stand outs) and featuring a soundtrack that would have made Scorcese or Tarantino proud this series should not be missed at any cost!
Grey’s Anatomy: The hospital as a setting has been a happy hunting ground for many American TV shows. There have been innumerable shows set in a hospital that have done extremely well. This show starts with that similar setting but comes up with enough fresh ideas and characters to set it apart. Dealing exclusively with surgeons what makes this series stand out are the believable characters and the web of relationships constructed around them. They will irritate you, make you smile and laugh, pine for them and sometimes even cry. Deeply emotional and sometimes a bit too sentimental the series still has a sustaining power for the life the writers and actors breathe into their characters.
Damages: A chilling and cautionary tale about people who will go to any length to win. Glenn Close is diabolically good as the high flying attorney who wants to to win at any cost. Rose Byrne offers her able support as an ambitious rookie lawyer. Tightly plotted and shot in a claustrophobic manner using a muted color palette the series grips you from the first episode and the pace doesn’t slacken until the end.
Prison Break: The first season was fresh, intense and very gripping but the second season slipped into 24 (and Lost) territory with so many unbelievable twists and turns. Man, did it get exasperating or what! I simply gave up in disgust after the first few episodes of the third season. And what is up with Wentworth Miller? Does he think sporting a permanent scowl is a substitute for acting?
Reaper: How would you feel if your soul was sold to the Devil before you were born by your parents and the Devil has come to collect in the form of a job as a catcher of escaped souls from hell? Pissed right? That is the basic premise of this show. A light hearted series with an interesting idea it is fun to watch even if the storyline is often wafer thin and the characters disappointingly uni-dimensional. But Ray Wise as the remarkably suave Devil livens up the screen whenever he makes an appearance. His eyes have this sparkle of evil glee in them that just sets him apart from the rest of the cast.
Bionic Woman: A somewhat uneven re imagining of the original 1970s series. It is pulled down by a disappointingly bland lead character but the show still manages to sustain interest through some interesting secondary characters and the many Battlestar Galactica regulars (created by some of the same people behind that show). Katee Sackhoff chews through her scenes and is perhaps the best thing about the show.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The wildly popular film series is now re-tooled for the small screen. While in the beginning the series seemed to be done in by bland and low budget special effects it slowly picked up strength and steam as the season progressed. Lena Headey, who initially seemed ill equipped to fit into Linda Hamilton’s iconic role as Sarah Connor, has slowly brought a strong credibility to her character even if she still looks too sexy for the part. Summer Glau ( River from Firefly) is near perfect as the benign terminator sent to protect John. She almost made me forget Arnie!
Pushing Daisies: Imagine the universe of fairy tales crossed with the visual style of Tim Burton and mixed with the narrative style of Amélie. Pushing Daisies would be the resulting offspring. Bright saturated colors, whimsical characters and an improbable power adds up to one of the best new TV shows. The intense but non-physical chemistry between the two leads, the unsentimental detective, the pining waitress and the lovable idiosyncratic aunts give this fairy tale the human heart. Witty, sweet and a delight to watch this series should be on your must see list!
Californication: This series has enough full breasted naked women, dirty dialog and sex to satisfy even a porn addict. But do not let all that naked flesh and profanity distract you from what is a surprisingly witty and self aware comedy drama. It is a special delight to watch David Duchovny play against type as a writer struggling to come to terms with his writer’s block and the departure of his long term girlfriend whom he still loves through an endless parade of women through his bedroom. He sinks his teeth with glee into a character that is often on a self destructive streak but is also at heart a loving and caring human being. It is definitely a pleasant thrill to see him carry the character off in his own special way. Go watch it. Unless you are a prude, you will love it.
The Daily Show/The Colbert Report: It is perhaps a telling indictment of mainstream American news media when fake news/media punditry shows such as these seem more believable and trust worthy. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are two of the sharpest and funniest satirists on TV. Their incisive and biting wit might rely heavily on their talented writing staff but the characteristic spontaneity and goofiness is all their own. While Stewart is more smooth and somewhat softer in tone, Colbert has a more harder edge. And the best part about these shows is that every new episode is made available for free the next day after broadcast on their respective websites. If you are bored by the bland, watered down news of the mainstream media take a gander at these guys. You will learn a lot about the world while laughing.