The difference between Cable shows and Broadcast TV shows are that shows on cable more often keep up their quality throughout. Broadcast shows, with so many more episodes, eventually get watered down or focus grouped to death. The best and most consistent entertainment on television is found on Cable. And these are my top ten favorite Basic Cable shows that I’m watching now.
My list is limited to shows I’m up to date on. (I’m watching Damages and loving it, but I’m only a couple of episodes in) I don’t like Reality Shows or Game Shows. And there’s a long list of shows I haven’t watched yet. I spent a few years in & out of institutions or on the street without a place to plug-in a TV. So I missed a whole decade’s worth of television. I’m still playing catch-up on shows I saw the hype for but never got to see (like Friends or Seinfeld). (No spoilers… Don’t tell me if Ross & Rachel finally make it work, those crazy kids)
Let’s get to the list.
Burn Notice (USA)
These are two action packed shows about talented crews of borderline criminals or secret agents who help real people fight against evil & powerful organizations.
Burn Notice is the story of a CIA agent who gets burned (disavowed so to speak) and can no longer do what he does best. You know, Spy stuff. The underlying story is of him and his cohorts trying to find the people who burned him but every week they use their skills to help someone in need.
The most enjoyable parts of the show are his companions; the beautiful Gabrielle Anwar & the awesome Bruce Campbell, and the authenticity. Jeffrey Donovan’s voice over narrations bring a realism that you don’t get with action shows like these. Usually the heroes seem more like superheroes, but in Burn Notice they show you step by step how they’re able to outsmart their adversaries.
Add that the fight scenes and shootouts are also more authentic than you find in most shows, since Donovan holds a few degrees in martial arts (Karate, Jui-jitsu & Aikido) and the fight choreography involves more real life resolutions and not the one punch knock outs we’re used to on television. This is a refreshing change from your run-of-the-mill action show.
Unlike Burn Notice, on Leverage you get those superheroes and one punch knockouts but, just like Burn Notice, it has a cool and extremely likable cast. Leverage is a lot like the old Mission Impossible show except these guys are completely freelance. Leverage is a show about a bunch of master criminals who defend the little guy against corporations (You see why I love this) With Timothy Hutton & the lovely Gina Belman leading a very capable cast of characters.
It’s a fun series with some pretty cool recurring roles by Star Trek alums Wil Wheaton & Jeri Ryan. A really cool show.
The Daily Show & Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
I guess just being half hour comedies is all these shows have in common.
Louie, starring Louis CK, is a strange egg. It’s a cross between a sitcom and a Bergman film. Or Martin Scorsese’s After Hours meets Seinfeld. Louis CK is very sweet and very funny and so very awkward in everyday situations but it’s when he runs into one of the many wacky characters that populate his New York City that the show really shines. His easy-going acceptance of weird behavior is amazing and makes this show a must-see.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia also steals a little from Seinfeld in that the main characters are all kind of Dicks. However in Sunny they are in fact the vilest human beings on the planet and it is hysterical. One of the funniest shows I have seen in a long time. These guys are so evil and so callous that they destroy the lives of everyone they come in contact with without batting an eye. A brother & sister and their two best friends open a dive bar in Philly and hilarity ensues. Joined later by the great Danny Devito, this a very funny show.
So it’s like Seinfeld mixed with Cheers mixed with pure unadulterated evil with one of the funniest cast of character actors and writers on television.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart & The Colbert Report are technically two shows but I think of them as one. One full hour of “fake news”. They’re the same show with a slightly different look. And it’s not really FAKE news. It’s a lot more real than the so-called real news. They just use laughter to show how absurd things are in politics and in the world at large.
Jon Stewart helps me digest some of the insanity of public affairs. His shows after 9/11 are legendary and his interviews are insightful. Even though recently he has been obsessed with a forced balance when no balance is possible.
While Colbert (pronounced like -Cole Bare- the T is silent) is the exact opposite. He is an awful interviewer and his persona of the Right Wing blowhard is annoying. But the writing on the Report (the T is silent) is some of the best writing on television. Every year they win Emmys and have Peabody’s for writing an incredibly funny & intelligent show. Even if it makes me cringe sometimes the way he treats his guests.
And all that these two shows have in common is that they are both bad-ass.
Justified is the story of a U.S. Marshall with a knack for getting into gun battles. If you take Wyatt Earp and drop him in the 21st century you get Timothy Olyphant’s character Raylan Givens on Justified. A high testosterone action drama with great performances and writing. But it’s the coolness, the very bad-ass-ery of the main character that keeps me coming back.
This guy is a bad-ass. In one scene he has a guy on the floor, takes a bullet from his own gun and throws it at the guy then says “The next one will be coming faster.” bad-ass. And he’s also easy on the eyes. Another great thing are the creative gun battles. It’s like a modern western with a dime-store detective novel feel to it. Beautiful. I love this show.
Alphas is a new addition to the list. Another bad-ass show but this one is about a group of meta-humans – read mutants (screw it just call them the fucking X-men). This is what the X-men would look like in a more realistic world.
I’m loving this show. It only has one season under its belt but it is a great season. The second season started this summer and is only a few episodes in but it is just as good if not better. Again it does what ensemble shows do, it makes you fall in love with the characters. They are so flawed yet they have these mutant or heightened senses & powers. It is well-acted and well-written. What the NBC show Heroes wished it had been. (I really hope they bring back my girl Summer Glau as the super techie mutant).
Please don’t screw up this show, SyFy. I will cut you.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Walking Dead (AMC)
Mad Men (AMC)
AMC is churning out fantastic shows… ’nuff said.
Breaking Bad, the story of a chemistry teacher, diagnosed with cancer, who turns to cooking meth to pay his bills then finds his true calling as a criminal, is riveting. Bryan Cranston is sensational as Walter White. He wins all the awards and he should because he carries a show that really doesn’t need to be carried. A well-written, psychological study of a man losing himself & his mind while slowly destroying or manipulating his friends & family as well as his partners in crime.
When I started watching Breaking Bad on Netflix, I found it hard to get through the first season because I kept screaming at my TV. Screaming about all the things this idiot was doing wrong. But here’s how good this show is; I kept watching. And year after year he got better and better. His evolution and his descent into evil is a joy to watch.
I watch the Walking Dead in the dark. There is no other way to witness the zombie apocalypse. There have only been two seasons. I loved them both. It’s easy to get angry at the characters if they aren’t doing what you might do in their situation, but behaving like an idiot is probably what most people would do when faced with zombies. I love this show because it is genuinely scary. There have been shows that try to be scary and they mostly achieve creepy or suspenseful. Walking Dead is some scary shit for TV. Sure I would love it if the group all became bad-ass zombie killing mofos but that would not be as much fun.
I have never read the graphic novels or the comic book. I don’t know if I want to. I would hate to know what was going to happen. Even though I hear that it differs from the source material a bunch of the time. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
And now a word about casting children in TV dramas. Children grow up. They grow up fast. Unless you skip forward several years between seasons like Mad Men or if you write in a time warp like Lost, you guys are going to have to re-cast the part. You heard me right. I would rather have shows re-cast the part than use the same young actor, a lot taller, a lot older, a day later and no way to explain it. (This season the part of the 7-year-old boy will be played by a 7-year-old boy and not the now 10-year-old actor from last season) But, come on TV producers “The kid needs a shave!” There are enough child actors to fill the part every season… just a thought.
Mad Men is, in my opinion, the best show on TV at the moment. Great dialogue, great acting, a beautiful cast and a wardrobe department that needs to win more awards. But my favorite thing about Mad Men are the female characters.
I love the way the show writes women and writes for women. Because it’s a period show, starting in the 50’s and now approaching the 70’s, it has to take pains to reach beyond the social problems of each era and it does that in the development of the women on the show. They are more than the time in which they are living even as the time-period is the real star of the show. The smoking, the drinking, the racial tensions, the sexual revolution all seem to take center stage sometimes. But the depth of the women, still a rarity now-a-days, is it’s substance.
Mad Men is a fantastic show.
Whew. That was a big one.
I’ll be back with a list of the best new shows from last year.
No. Really. Would I lie to you?
Don’t answer that.