Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Top 11 TV Shows I've Ever Seen (6-11)

Editor's Note: This is Andy Tisdel, proprietor of Tisdel's Tirades, talking. This post probably has nothing to do with FEMA Corps, and does not reflect the opinions of a majority of FEMA Corps Team Summit 5; it is nothing more or less than an ordinary blog post. It's also been sitting around on my computer for several months, and it's far past time to release it into the wild.

11. I’m going to start out this list with some candy. Top Shot is, by my estimation, the sweetest, most delicious reality show I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen many). It’s like basically any other skills-based elimination competition, except with a mind-exploding amount of weaponry. Pistols. Rifles. Shotguns. Machine guns. Sniper rifles. Knives. Atlatls. A freaking cannon. There’s not a whole lot to the show itself--yeah, there are interesting people and people you root for, but the airtime they devote to rivalries and in-house fighting is just so much wasted space--but who even cares? The meat of the show is in the unbelievable shots that everyone is required to make. The show prizes versatility and adaptation to different weapons and conditions, and it’s really fun to watch everyone adapting (or not). And seriously, the things they’re required to do look both incredibly fun and absolutely impossible. 

10. The what-might-have-been of nerds and cosplayers everywhere. I loved it, during its half-a-season run, for its strong characters, excellent dialogue and superb universe-building. Firefly is a far-future space Western with a dark, morbid underside. Creator Joss Whedon loved taking classic Western plots—cattle rustlers, the gunslinger riding into a small town, the heist off a moving train—and putting a sci-fi spin on them. It works pretty well for the most part, but the best of the show (as with most of these shows) is in its characters. Firefly would’ve ranked higher, but this is a tough list; I downgraded it for a limited runtime and the nagging sense that it didn’t quite figure itself out until the show was almost over. Nerds everywhere wish it had.

9. File this one next to Firefly under “what-might-have-been”. Lost was by far the most infuriating show on this list. After two solid seasons of character development and tantalizing plotlines, it veered off the rails in early Season 3 and never quite recovered. At some point in the S5 series finale when Juliet was hitting a nuclear bomb with a rock to make it blow up so that the characters could all go thirty years in their future, I just thought “What on God’s earth is going on here?" Lost had plenty of strengths as well, though. Sawyer, Sayid, Ben, Hurley, Desmond, Locke and a dozen others were all fantastic characters. The pacing was slow but the directing was innovative, enabling Lost to have a totally different narrative style in its flashbacks and flash-forwards. Even when Lost went batshit crazy, it was generally a well-done batshit crazy. And hey, it got me to stick with it for six seasons; I don’t think any show has ever set such effective hooks to keep its fans coming back week after week, nor inspired such fervent message-board rage. 

8. I’ve never watched zombie movies, so I have no idea if The Walking Dead is subverting clich├ęs or retrofitting them. All I know is that it emotionally draws you into the story like nothing else on TV. Nobody else even approaches the level of genuine pulse-pounding terror that comes from seeing Our Heroes get chased by zombies. Part of it is fantastic makeup and acting on the part of the zombies, part of it is the dead-eyed but terrified acting of the humans, and part is just because the show made me care so much about all of its characters. I don’t know why, but if I could bottle it, I’d make millions. There are genuine-looking relationships and there's snappy dialogue and great scenes aplenty to go along with all the aforementioned good stuff. The Walking Dead is at No. 8 because of a sometimes slow, soap-opera-y second season, but there's much more good than bad here. Definitely an emerging favorite of mine. 

7. Fantasy shows, meet Game of Thrones, one of the best ever. I’ve written before about how the HBO format makes it great, blending down-and-dirty reality with highfalutin’ fantasy. Like most of the other shows on this list, I love its characters; unlike most others, I’m in it largely for the plot. I love to watch the Lannisters and the Starks and everyone else bounce off each other, and there are great-character moments aplenty. (Tyrion, Tywin and Jamie Lannister, I’m looking at all of you.) But watching the overarching movement of the plot, and doing so from the very down-to-earth perspective that you see in the show, is why I really enjoy this one. Game of Thrones excels at world-building, although I would like to see more about how Westeros is connected to the rest of the world. Then again, it was already doing quite a bit; the show had a busy second season, developing characters in unusual ways while juggling several wars, a lengthy Daenerys subplot and unspeakable horrors coming out of the North. I’m not convinced that it succeeded with everything, but I love the ambition.

6. This is basically a review of The West Wing’s first four seasons, because I have not seen the last three. As I understand it, they were produced by a different showrunner and were essentially a different show with the same characters. Aaron Sorkin’s four-year effort was a wonderful look inside what the White House might be, filled with a lot of mundane business livened up by people I enjoyed watching go about their business. The West Wing could be a tear-jerker and it could make you laugh helplessly, which is what you get when there’s a master of dialogue writing the script and good actors acting it out.

There are plenty of things to ding the show for. The West Wing tended to go off-message during the first and second seasons, as well as early in the fourth; instead of being an entertaining TV show, it pontificated on the problems of a liberal Democratic administration. My favorite (read: least favorite) of these was the narcissistic fourth-season stint where the staff wondered if President Bartlett was simply too intelligent to reach average voters around the country. And for much of Season 1 it felt as though the show was still trying to find its groove. Late Season 2 through most of Season 4, however, can stand with anything else ever put on television.

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