Monday, February 21, 2011

My Favorite TV Shows Ever

I'm going off the beaten path, i.e., away from a glass of alcohol. But everyone loves a good top ten list to spark a healthy debate.  I am going to list my top 25 televisions shows of all time.  The first post will be the top ten, then the second post will be the runners up, the next 15.  A show cracked my top 10 with roughly the following formula, 50% production value (i.e., it's level of greatness), 40% pure entertainment value (this allows me to pick favorites that aren't the most logical), and 10% striking a balance of genres.

Disclaimer, I have not seen the following critically acclaimed shows:  The Sopranos, MASH, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or any other Joss Whedon shows), The Shield.  Also never seen Battlestar Galactica or much in the way of Star Trek.

For those of you who will ring your hands that Seinfeld didn't make it, you should know that it's number 11 as of right now.  I have been staring at this list trying to get it in the top 10.  I watch the reruns constantly and crack up.  I think the major drawback to the show is that it was a touch inconsistent, e.g. I really didn't care for the "show within a show" storyline and a few others like it.  Still, I'm pretty shocked it's not on here.  Maybe someone will make a good argument to convince me to put it in its rightful place.  Interesting side note: two of these shows feature Danny Devito.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Without further ado, the list, counting from 10 to number 1:

10.  Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights-It may seem like I'm cheating already, but these shows are still on their runs, and while both are incredible, only one will ultimately crack the list.  I thought the premise of Breaking Bad would be disturbing--a high school chemistry teacher turns into a meth dealer--but I am thoroughly hooked on this well-written, well-acted, well-directed AMC drama.  As for Friday Night Lights, it would be worth watching just for the spot-on argument scenes between coach and his wife; throw in a rotating cast of interesting characters, including a backup quarterback who takes care of his grandmother, and a bit of high school football drama, and you have one hell of a show.

9.  Freaks and Geeks-Can't be any higher than number 9 with only one season, but it was a perfect season of television.  It was the origin and perfection of the Apatow movement, with most of the stars moving on to bigger, if not better, things.  James Franco is the biggest talent to emerge, and is now one of Hollywood's biggest stars, and Judd Apatow has rattled off a string of blockbuster comedies.  Freaks and Geeks was a fantastic coming of age type show with touching stories and tons of comedy, and you can't go wrong casting Tom Wilson from Back to the Future as the gym teacher.  Also: lots and lots of awkward.

8.  Top Chef-This is my reality tv entry.  Cooking and eating is one of my big hobbies, so obviously this show is appealing to me.  But I really do think it's an excellent show.  It has a reputation for not coddling favorites through episodes in which they did not perform, i.e., the judges have more say than the producers.  They sent my favorite "cheftestant," Philadelphia's Jennifer Carroll, an early choice to win it all, home in the second week this season without even flinching.  The contestants and challenges are consistently entertaining, with the result being that when you finish watching you are left, well, hungry for more.

7.  It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-Hailed as the next generation's Seinfeld, this show's innovation turned it from a low-rent, low-budget production into a cult favorite.  Danny Devito asked to be a part of it and the rest is history.   Learning that Charlie is dyslexic in the episode "The Gang Runs for Office" is of of the most hilarious moments on the show, and the way they weave that into the rest of the show is an example of the show's brilliance.

Here's another great moment from Sunny for all you Phillies fans: Mac's Love Letter to Chase Utley

6.  Dexter-This is the only show that I've ever paid extra for, i.e., I added Showtime to my cable bill b/c I couldn't bear to wait for the DVD release.  Season 1 is, for me, the best single season of television ever made.  Any show that has you rooting for a serial killer must be something special.  Unfortunately the next 4 seasons could not quite measure up to the standard set by the first, but they've still taken us on a heck of a run.  I think it's time to wrap it up on a high note, though.

The theme song sequence is incredible, watch it here

5.  Taxi-Danny Devito, Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, Andy Kauffman, Rhea Perlman.  A stellar cast.  This is my nostalgia entry, as I remember watching reruns with my dad when I was a boy.  Sitcoms always seem dated and corny decades (sometimes even just months) later, but if you can allow yourself to go back in time Taxi will give you some solid laughs.  Also Marilu Henner is pretty hot.  My favorite episodes involve the burned out "Reverend" Jim (Christopher Lloyd). The episode where he takes the driver's exam to be a cabbie is classic television.

Clip: Jim takes the driver's test.  (The 4:00 mark is the funniest part).

4.  Late Night with Conan O'Brien-I still love Conan's brand of comedy, and have followed him from his Tonight Show controversy over to his recently launched TBS show, which I DVR and watch pretty religiously.  But his Late Night was the birth of that brand, and it was where Conan was at his best and most free.  His self-deprecating comedy and ridiculous characters, e.g., the Masturbating Bear made his the funniest nighttime talk show of all time.

The Walker, Texas Ranger lever is my favorite bit ever: Pull the lever here

3.  Scrubs-The best sitcom of all time.  It's easy to forget in a world where every sitcom tries to be "quirky" just how pioneering this show was.  The first American sitcom not shot in traditional 3 camera format and with no laugh track, and their "sitcom" episode is an awesome wink at that fact.  Some of the camera work on this show is amazing in light of the style they chose to shoot this show.  I can't deny that there is a drop off somewhere around season 5, but the remaining seasons are still funny, and it's amazing this show had the run it did, as it moved time slots multiple times and stared down cancellation rumors on more than one occasion.  The dynamic between Turk and JD in the early seasons is hilarious and is the key to the whole show.  My favorite all time line from the show is from Dr. Perry Cox, "As I wake up each morning and wonder WHY I should put both my feet on the floor I find precious few reasons. Escaping Jordan's morning breath? Yes. Scotch. It's too early to drink it but people it is NEVER too early to think about it. Or the possibility I may happen across Hugh Jackman and be able to give him the present I've been holding for him.......BAM!"

Clip-Turk auditioning for the air band with his Poison dance

2.  Mad Men-This is the best show on television right now (possible exception-Breaking Bad).  It's the type of show where sometimes I have no idea what the hell is going on but continue to stare at the screen.  Maybe it's the pretty people, awesome costumes, or amazing set design.  But I suspect it's because I want to see what Don will have for his next drink.  Maybe a more amazing feat than cheering for a serial killer is the Don Draper phenomenon.  Despite the womanizing, anger issues, and drinking problem, women love him, and I want to be him.

1.  The Wire-I'd be willing to debate any other show on this list.  Maybe you could convince me to replace or change the order of a few of them.  But not The Wire.  It's the best show ever made.  Five almost perfect seasons.  Honestly the other shows on this list couldn't hold The Wire's jock.  The characters and settings seem real and not fabricated nor over the top.  And the storytelling is astonishingly tight.  Plot lines that would be throwaways on other shows lead to major climaxes on The Wire, and even if they don't they provide so much texture to the story.  Every layer of drug trafficking is analyzed without even a whiff of moralizing.  It's like you aren't even watching a show at all, but rather staring reality in the face.  The only consistent theme or motto is the loss of hope.  But the series somehow manages to remain more fascinating then depressing.  My favorite is season 4, which takes place in the school system.  My only small complaint is in regard to the final season.  I think David Simon, as a journalist, put a bit too much of himself in Gus's character, and therefore the portrayal of the demise of the newspaper business was a bit biased/over-the-top.  Literally that's the only thing bad I can say about the entire series.  The show is a creative masterpiece even down to the changing theme song.  In the words of the series most legendary character, stick-up boy Omar, "Oh, in-deed!"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010

I ordered a signed copy of this book a few months back and it has proved to be a valuable resource, in particular at the whisky party I threw this fall (  With Michael Jackson dead and gone, Jim Murray is probably the world's most known and important whisky writer.  Unlike Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch (which I plan to review later), this book encompasses the entire whisky world, and includes reviews of whiskies made in such odd places as Spain.  Each section has a short intro/overview of the whisky making region it will cover, including updates about it, e.g he details how a Canadian distiller called Glenora fought the "might of the Scotch Whisky Association,"  who was challenging it's right to have "Glen" in it's name because it sounds too much like a scotch (the Scotch Whisky Association obviously lost).  The sections themselves are simply alphabetical lists of whiskies from that region of the world.  Murray reviews and scores them with 100 point system.  He explains the need for even half points in his scale as whisky is "the most complex drink in the world" and therefore in need of a detailed system for rating it.  He rates balance, nose, taste, and finish to come up with the score and writes about each.  Here is a sample of his accessible style, when describing the nose of George Dickel no. 12: "So floral and perfumy that I actually sneezed!" 

The book also contains his award winners for the year.  Sazerac 18 year Rye was his "World Whisky of the Year," and George T. Stagg the "Bourbon of the Year."  Both of these are from Buffalo Trace distillery's Antique Collection, which comes out each fall.  I have actually had the pleasure of a shot of the Sazerac 18, and I can tell you it was one of the finest whiskies I've ever sipped.  Murray loves Buffalo Trace.  Of their flagship label, Buffalo Trace, he writes "as an everyday bourbon there is little to match this one."  He does note that some of the Pappy Van Winkle line, also from Buffalo Trace, are over-oaked.  His scotch of the year was Ardbeg Supernova. 

One minor complaint about the book:  he describes Pappy Van Winkle 15 as a "classic corn rye whisky," with "waves of juicy rye lap(ping) kindly on the palate," but my understanding is that Pappy is a wheated bourbon.  Maybe he is tasting rye anyhow, who knows.  That aside, it's a fine book.  The Whisky Bible is meant to be a pocket reference, something you bring in the store to help you choose your next bottle, or set next to your glass to read some tasting notes as you have that first pour of the bottle you got for Christmas.  The fun of it in the end is cross referencing your taste in whisky against Murray's.  I understand the 2011 version is a slightly different format, at least in terms of the shape/size of the book, and that a blended scotch took home the award for World Whisky of the year this time.  Murray is open to all types of whisky being potentially great, and it's simply astonishing how much whisky this man has tasted.  He did his homework so you wouldn't have to.  Don't you wish you had that type of homework, though?