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What You Should Be Watching On Television

While spending a few hours on Facebook the other day I stumbled on to a discussion on my friend and comedian Nick Cobb’s page.  He was asking for a new show recommendation and friends of his were offering suggestions as to what they thought the best show of the last decade was and what the best show currently on is.  There were some sensible answers and some real awful answers.   Here are some examples and shows that did not make the cut:

THE LOSERS

House – who are you my parents? 

Lost – you are too stupid to appreciate the list I am putting together

Rome and Deadwood – these are the people that in a music discussion of the best band of all time would ignore the obvious rule that you MUST say Rolling Stones or Beatles (my favorite band is Guns N Roses, but my answer would be Rolling Stones).  Those who drop Rome and Deadwood – a good and a very good show, respectively – are the people who drop Nirvana in a “best band” discussion.  Shut your mouths and just accept that sometimes, like a broken clock, American culture gets it right.

John Adams – it’s a miniseries. read Nick Cobb’s question.

The Mentalist – seriously?  CBS is the network that produces dramas to make Jay Leno fans feel smart.

True Blood – a show that like Glee, seemed to realize that their main demographics were women and gays and decided – to hell with writing – we’ll just get everyone on this show in a gym, skimp on story and consistency and still draw ratings as long as we amp up the sex, gore and campiness.  Headed down a path of awfulness this season.  The real shame is that Alan Ball, who created a television masterpiece in Six Feet Under, is also listed as a creator of True Blood.  My guess is that after Six Feet Under he made a ton of money, found himself a trophy wife/husband (no idea what his sexuality is) and after season 1 of True Blood said – “Hey, you are shallow and pretty dumb – wanna write this show for me? Most of it is written in a book already – you will just have to add more breasts, blood and campiness?  What’s campiness?  Well you know when you think something is good? Right, like Paul Walker or Dexter – just write it with that same feeling.”

Dexter – I made it through one season.  Some of the worst acting I have ever seen.  Michael C Hall should die poor and be remembered for David Fisher than collect paychecks with that cast of nothings (though I hear John Lithgow was good in later seasons – too bad I give a show one full season to at least entice me.  It didn’t).

Special Note – Why I have no faith in Showtime – You may notice that Dexter is the only Showtime show even mentioned by me.  That is because Showtime is stupid.  Their shows are made with the following concept – can we write one character, line up one credible actor or actress and surround him or her with mediocre writing and acting?  Yes, well then we want to make your show!  Even USA at least says “CharacterS welcome.” Showtime’s phrase should be “Character welcome as long as long as character brings mediocre humor, drama and/or co-stars.”  I hate Showtime in all its forms – Lakers, Cable Television, etc.  If HBO, AMC, USA and Showtime all went to school together, HBO would be the Harvard bound quarterback, AMC would be the slightly arrogant and nerdy valedictorian, USA would be the guy who chicks inexplicably liked and Showtime would be a Goth kid.  No, it would be the girl that dates the goth kid, but is not goth herself.  Loser.

Treme – wake me up from my coma – have they cancelled it yet?

Mad Men– Mad Men to me is once again, like sushi – it is something that lots of people like, but also something that lots of people like to say they like because they want to be people who like things like sushi and jazz and other overrated things.  Mad Men is a well done show.  But like Treme, Mad Men sometimes feels like a documentary on early 1960s life, which can be somewhat boring.  I found Season 3 of Mad Men (until an admittedly great finale) to be an excruciatingly boring endeavor.  I often defend shows like The Wire by praising its authenticity, but it helps that there is actually some intriguing plot development to go with the realism. 

So here for all of you is the definitive list of what shows from the last 10 years you should watch.  It is objectively correct.

1) Six Feet Under – Funny, moving and the most realistic look at relationships and human fears of any show ever made, by far.  if the show feels “too gay” for you, rent Queer As Folk, watch it and then re-start Six Feet Under.  f the show is too troubling or upsetting for you then it is working.  And it is widely and justly considered to have the greatest finale in television history – take that MASH!

The Fisher Family will change your life.

2) The Wire– Would be number one, but Six Feet Under is just more personal.  If this show is too slow for you, then watch The Shield and consider yourself ignorant.  If the show is too black for you, watch Southland and consider yourself slightly racist.

3) Arrested Development – The best comedy I have ever seen.  Nothing is actually close, especially this decade.  So naturally it only made it three seasons on television.  I blame the South.

4) The West Wing– If this show is too political for you, then you are dumb.  As impressive as the dialogue, plot and acting is, the details of the show are incredible. To say nothing of the fact that they basically predicted the election of Barack Obama before he had even announced his candidacy.

5) The Sopranos – The first of the Big Three for HBO (Seriously in an 8 year period HBO dropped Six Feet Under, The Wire and The Sopranos on America – to me that will go down as the greatest accomplishment in original television programming).  Sopranos, unlike The Wire and Six Feet Under did not quite end in a way that met with its overall impact and quality.

6) Breaking Bad– the best show on television right now by a mile.  It is dark, filled with tension and excitement, well acted and yet feels incredibly plausible and realistic at the same time.  This is the first drama I have seen that clearly indicates that HBO has dropped the ball recently.  Mad Men gets mentioned as the one HBO let get away (especially because that might have meant naked Joan!), but Breaking Bad is so superior to Mad Men it’s a joke.  More entertaining without sacrificing anything in terms of writing or acting quality.  If the show can finish with way its first three seasons began then it may move towards the top of this list.

Here's an objective truth about a show about a scientist - Breaking Bad is the best show on television.

I feel I must mention Eastbound and Down (but only 1 six episode season to show so far) and I have not seen In Treatment – an HBO show that has been highly recommended to me.  Other than that those 6 shows above will entertain you and raise your expectations for what television can do.  Then when you are done with them you will look down on most other people’s television show opinions like only a condescending six-foot-seven comedian can.

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My Top HBO Characters of All Time

Being 2 discs away from finishing 6 Feet Under via Netflix I was thinking of how amazing the roster of HBO shows has been.  This also happened because I was watching Lost last night and thought, “Wow, this is supposed to be one of the best shows on Network television and it is basically a big budget mediocrity.”  Other than The West Wing and Arrested Development I don’t think I have seen anything on Network television to compare with HBO’s level of quality (all due respect to the CSI fans who adore that crappy franchise).  AMC is doing some good things (the slightly overrated Mad men and the very under-praised Breaking Bad), but HBO really is the cream of the crop (even though True Blood and Big Love, the two flagships shows at this point, are not close to the incredible things HBO produced last decade).  And I know that some people out there love Showtime, but having watched several episodes of Showtime shows they feel like a good junior varsity team to HBO’s state title winning varsity. 

So without any more explanations or caveats here are my top 13 HBO characters of all time (apologies in advance to the Crypt Keeper, the cast of Not Necessarily The News, everybody from Dream On (terrible) and The Larry Sanders Show (never saw it, but heard it was good stuff back in the day):

13) (tie) Dennis Hof – Cathouse and Lafayette – True Blood.  This is the only reality character on the list, but how can a guy who looks like Rush Limbaugh and acts like pre-wheelchair Larry Flynt not be on the list.  the Cathouse series, which follows a real life Nevada brothel features many women have sex, which is a relief because at least when you turn it on ou know what you are getting, as opposed to the HBO Real Sex series which could just as soon ambush you with a segment on nursing home gang bangs as they could with attractive women.  Dennis is the supreme scumbag that makes the show go with his array of women from the daddy issue-riddled, to the tranny looking one to the midget.  One thing is obvious – he has had sex with all of them.

Don't be fooled by her smile - he's definitely fu-king her.

Speaking to HBO’s diversity, Lafayette, the drug dealing, sassy gay black short-order cook/male prostitute on True Blood is only the first of two gay black men on this short list.

Hooker please.

12) Murray – Flight of the Conchords – The show’s first season was very good.  The second season was incredibly mediocre.  With all due respect to Jemaine – Murray was the extremely poor man’s Ari Gold on this show, literally.  Sadly, the actor that plays Murray is intent on beating the dead horse in a series of new commercials for some product where he is basically playing the same character, but with far fewer laughs.

Murray? Present.

11) Ralphie – The Sopranos. Sadly Ralphie only got two seasons on The Sopranos (3 & 4), but he won an Emmy for the second one and created a character hated above all in his first season and then, once accepted, became the funniest character on the show.  For me, his signature line will be after being confronted by Tony Soprano after beating to death a stripper carrying his child he simply yelled, “First of all she was a whoooour!”

Bad temper, good sense of humor - it's me!

10) Samantha – Sex and the City.  It would be hard, even for a misogynist, to leave off all characters from HBO’s third most popular show of all time. So I picked Samantha, who turned man-like sexual cravings into “empowerment” for women ages 17-60.  My favorite scene of hers may have been when she was dating Smith, a model who would be more likely to visit Samantha in the course of volunteer work at a nursing home than to actually bed her, and she runs into her ex-boyfriend Richard at a party. In front of Smith she goes upstairs with Richard and gets railed from behind and then comes down crying to Smith, saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”  Message? Empowerment.

That's the number of sexual partners Sam Jones established as meaning "empowered."

9) Lester Freamon – The Wire. The first of three characters from The Wire.  Quiet, unassuming and the best detective on the show.  My favorite moment, after coming up with evidence off of a soda can to potentially catch a cop shooter he is asked what unit he’s from. He replies with a straight face: “pawn shop.”  You have to watch the show to get that, but it was great.

The smart side of police work.

8) Tony Soprano – The Sopranos.  Nothing much needs to be said, except for the fact that he is only the second best character on the show (and no, the Bada Bing club is not #1).

Mommy issues.

7) Kenny Powers – Eastbound and Down.  Racist, stupid and angry. If he had not been a baseball player, he might have been leading a Tea Party movement.  Who knows if the shows subsequent season(s) will match the perfection of the first, but it takes a special character to make the line “I love you April, and not just in a make me come kind of way,” mean something, especially when said at an 8th grade dance.

Author of "I'm fu-king in and you're fu-king out!"

6) Al Swearengen – Deadwood. In a word? Cu*t.

Tony Soprano, if Tony did not have so much respect for women.

5) Ari Gold – Entourage.  This show is like watching the Cleveland Cavaliers play basketball a few years ago. It was LeBron James doing amazing things and four guys around him barely keeping up.  I thought after the first season they should have spun the show off and made it about Ari. They didn’t and now it’s a mediocre show with one dominating star.  But he still makes the show worth tuning in to each week that it’s on.

90% of all positive things on Entourage are a result of Ari Gold.

4) Omar – The Wire.  People reading this may have expected Omar at #1, but that would be too easy. I figured I’d sneak up on you like Kenard and… well, I don’t want to give away anything to the people who are just getting over their fear of Negros and Negro-filled shows, but Omar was the most entertaining character on the best show ever for sure, but he’s only my #2 from it.  Indeed.

If you thought he'd be #1 you were wrong.

3) Nate Fisher – Six Feet Under.  I don’t think any character on any HBO show (or any show for that matter – though Walter White on Breaking Bad is doing a nice job) has taken as varied an emotional journey as Nate Fisher.  At times he is both the most identifiable and the most polarizing figure on this unbelievable great show (Seriously, the fact that at one point HBO had The Sopranos, 6 Feet Under, The Wire all at the same time is like an NBA team having LeBron, Kobe and Kevin Durant at the same time – I think The West Wing would be Dwayane Wade for this analogy). 

Women would learn more by watching him than by watching Sex and the City (caveat - you may or may not like what you learn).

2) Tony Soprano’s Mom – Perhaps you forgot about her because she only made it on to the first two seasons of the show, but it says something that the show went from an A+ to an A without her.  The idea that a woman could be evil or just experiencing dementia, or possibly both was brilliant and gave Tony the best conflict on the show until he and his wife hit the skids in season 4.  Tony’s Mom was an absolutely brilliant character and played brilliantly.  Menacing and funny all at once. 

It's been a while, but don't forget how great/terrible Tony's Mom was.

1) Stringer Bell – The Wire.  I had a friend once tell me that she was going to see the movie Obsessed with that handsome black guy and Beyonce.  I replied that’s Stringer Bell from the Wire. She replied, i don’t even remember him from the Wire.  There are only two possibilities here and I will just propose the second – she missed the first 3 seasons of the Wire.  Omar got all the hype, McNulty got all the posters, but I found the intelligent criminal Cain to Avon Barksdale’s Abel the best HBO character of all time.  Watching Stringer try, but fail, to bring the Barksdale drug business into the legitimate world of Real Estate showed that the “legit” world is just as corrupt as the drug trade (as my brother told me – what is so different than the operation of Starbucks and the corner boys in The Wire – you give money and order to one person, then walk around to another area to pick up the product – he was kidding.  The difference is obvious – if coffee were made illegal a lot more white people would be killing each other than black folks on The Wire). 

On a side note, I was told a couple of years ago that the actor that played Stringer was a doorman at Caroline’s at night while he auditioned during the day.  More evidence that everyone in the comedy business except comics can make money. Congratulations Stringer Bell – you are #1.

Former doorman at Caroline's makes good.