Friday, September 26, 2014

The "Next Best" and new(ish) TV dramas you need to watch

As promised, below is a list of shows that I really, really like, but that couldn’t crack the top 10.  The “Next Best” list, if you will.  The same caveats apply here – these are mostly shows from the 21st century, I’m only briefly commenting on why I liked the show or didn’t quite like it enough to make the top 10 and I’ll, of course, avoid spoilers.  In no particular order….

Six Feet Under:

Another HBO show (this makes 6 including the top 10), Six Feet Under, while awesome, is just a notch below the others.  This might be the darkest of the HBO stalwarts, and rightfully so considering the show is based on a family that owns, operates and lives on the property of a funeral home.  Two great performances by Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause, actors who also star/starred in other shows on this list.


Perhaps there is a theme here, seeing as though Justified is the story of Raylan Givens, a throwback wild west US Marshall, played by actor Timothy Olyphant who also starred in Deadwood.  Or maybe great actors just tend to make the shows they star in great.  Either way, Justified is a very cool show, with a crazy good supporting performance by Walton Goggins, who, surprise surprise, starred in The Shield. 


Lost is an example of the network model really hurting a quality show.  By being a network show (and for those of you who don’t know what that means, it just means a show that airs on one of the big 4 networks – CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC), Lost typically aired 20-24 episodes per season.  As a result, a lot of Lost episodes were lacking, as the show used the larger episode order to focus on specific characters and their backgrounds; often a weak point for the show.  Nevertheless, it makes this list, which means I really liked it.  I had no problem whatsoever with the fact that Lost introduced many, many mysteries that ultimately went unsolved; probably the biggest complaint you’ll hear about the show.

The West Wing:

This is certainly the oldest show on the list, having aired from 1999 to 2006.  But it still holds up fairly well, and is the staple show that all future shows about politics and the White House would try to live up to.  Great dialogue and performances all around, with creator Aaron Sorkin at the top of his game.  It’s another network show, so you won’t get the sex/language/violence that you’ll see on a newer politically charged show like House of Cards (Netflix), but ultimately I don’t think that hurt The West Wing. 

The Good Wife:

Here is another show that I had virtually no interest in watching, kept hearing it was good and then finally gave in and played catch up.  A quality legal drama that mixes in enough other stuff to stay interesting, and has ongoing storylines that keep it from being your typical CBS “procedural” where each episode has its own story that concludes at episode’s end.  Once again, great performances, this time by Julianna Margulies, Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, Chris Noth and others, and probably the show that utilizes the best guest performances/actors (especially great guest actors as recurring judges).  This is another network show, so there are A LOT of episodes to catch up on, but they are a “quick watch.”


Homeland, of all the shows on this “Next Best” list probably had the best shot to crack the top 10.  Season 1 was amazing and most of season 2 was just as good.  But the show dipped a bit towards the end of season 2, and then struggled in season 3 when it couldn’t decide what to do with one of its main characters.  Homeland has just the right combination of terrorism and CIA spy stuff that if Season 4 regains the show’s early momentum, I may have to revisit my top 10 at some point down the road. 

Sons of Anarchy:

If you liked The Shield, then you are likely to enjoy SOA.  It was created by Kurt Sutter, who was a staff writer for The Shield, and wrote most of the crazy, effed up scenes/episodes from that show’s run, which is very evident here. I never thought I’d enjoy a show about biker gangs, but again, that’s judging a book by its cover.  The show mixes the violence surrounding biker gangs with some good family drama, and has arguably the worst mother character of all time in Gemma Teller (Katey Segal).  And by worst, I mean she’s a horrible and nasty person (it’s a great performance). 


Parenthood is basically Friday Night Lights, but instead of high school football, you have a big nuclear family and all of its drama.  It’s created by Jason Katims, the same guy who created FNL, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I’m not sure this is a show for everyone – if you love Breaking Bad, Sopranos, 24, etc., then you likely will find Parenthood lacking.  There’s no violence or suspense.  Instead, it’s just a great family drama with interesting performances.  Rumor has it the show is also a major tear jerker. But of course I wouldn’t know that because I’m a manly man who doesn’t cry….


Likely the least popular show on this list by far, Treme is a barely watched show set in a post-Katrina New Orleans.  If you asked me to describe the plot, this is pretty much all I could come up with: the show follows multiple characters around in their life after Hurricane Katrina.  Clearly, not much happens plot wise, but Treme is still a super fun show to watch.  The performances are great – it was created by David Simon, the same guy who created The Wire – so there are a lot of the same actors from that show, including Clarke Peters (Lester from The Wire) and Wendell Pierce (The Bunk).  They are both awesome.  And the music is great.   


Dexter seems to be the show that most people were surprised didn’t make my Top 10, or at least commented about how it was one of their favorite TV dramas.  Season 1 was fantastic, as was season 4.  2 and 3 were good.  But the rest?  Meh.  By the 2nd or 3rd season, all you really cared about was Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and whether he would continue to get away with being a Miami Metro PD blood splatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer who only kills bad guys.  8 seasons of that was a little tiring.  So were the supporting characters.


Shameless is clearly a drama, despite the fact that it was placed in the comedy category for the Emmy awards this past season.  And since I really like the show, I’m putting it on this list.  I would probably classify it as a dark dramedy, as the show is based on the Gallagher family; a bunch of misfits whose dad Frank (William H. Macy) is a disgusting drunk who rarely makes it home at night.  One of the few shows where the kid actors carry the load successfully (though Macy is, predictably, great).

Finally, below are some new (ish) shows that have shown promise, but will have to sustain that promise for a few more seasons before they are candidates for the Top 10 or Next Best.

The Americans:  Great premise: two Russian KGB spies pose as a regular married American couple during the Cold War era.  Season 1 was good.  Season 2 was great.  Could see this one rising quickly.

True Detective:  Only one season and it was a doozy (do people still say that?).  Knock out performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and an interesting, dark premise made this show a true breakout hit for HBO this year.  However, it’s an “anthology series”, which means season 2 will have an entirely new cast of characters and premise.  Just yesterday, HBO confirmed that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn are signed on for season 2.  Sign me up as well.

Fargo:  Another anthology series, Fargo successfully adapted the Coen Brothers’ most iconic movie into a TV show that was spectacular in its first season.  If it never aired again, Fargo would make the “Next Best” list – it was that good.  No clue what Season 2 has in store, but I’ll be watching.

The Leftovers:  The first season of The Leftovers just concluded, and frankly, I loved it.  I don’t think it’s for everyone though, as it was very dark and depressing (Premise: 2% of the World’s population randomly disappears one day without explanation).  Co-created by Damon Lindelof (Lost), it introduced a lot of mysteries without answers, something Lost fans HATED.  I clearly didn’t mind.

The Bridge:  Another cool premise and setting – the “bridge” being the one that connects Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.  The first season was good, but had its weaknesses.  Season 2 has been really good so far, though no one is watching and FX hasn’t ordered a 3rd season yet. 

Hannibal:  An interesting “new” look at an old story – that of Hannibal Lecter.  The first 2 seasons cover Hannibal’s early years, before he was discovered to be a cannibalistic serial killer.  And season 3 will apparently cover the “Red Dragon” period.  It’s a little weird, but in my opinion that’s what makes it good – it’s not just an attempt to copycat the tired Hannibal Lecter story.

Rectify:  Tough to explain this one.  The premise: due to new DNA evidence, Daniel Holden is released from prison after spending 15 years on death row.  Not much action.  Just a slow, interesting look at Daniel’s reintegration process and the toll it takes on those around him.

Orange is the New Black:  Another show where I am sort of “cheating”, in that, like Shameless, it was classified as a comedy for the Emmy’s.  It’s certainly a funny show, but anyone who has seen it knows it is more drama than comedy.  Everything about the premise would ordinarily keep me away – a suburban 30 year old white girl ends up in a women’s federal prison for a crime she committed years ago with her drug dealer girlfriend – but I loved the first 2 seasons.  Yes, I like this show better than House of Cards, Netflix’s other big hit, which frankly, isn’t even making this list. 

So, what do you think?  Other than House of Cards, did I miss any shows that you think are great?  Hopefully you can use these lists as a place to go to when you are looking for a new show to watch and don’t want to waste your time on a new network show that will likely be cancelled in a month.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 TV Dramas

Ok, enough sports posts already, right?  After all, the headline of this blog says it’s a blog about sports, TV and whatever else is on my mind.  I have written a lot about sports lately.  And that usually mixes in whatever else is on my mind.  So now it’s time to focus on TV.
I have been meaning to write this blog post for a while now, ranking what I consider to be the top 10 TV dramas of all time.  First, some caveats:  (a) this list is 100% my opinion based on shows that I have watched; I am not trying to be a TV critic here, so there is absolutely NO weight given to how the public perceives a show or how trendy a show might be; (b) I have watched very few TV dramas that took place primarily in the 1990s or earlier, so you’ll see that reflected in the rankings; (c) I am ranking the top 10 in order, and then will have a “Next Best” post later in the week that will touch on shows that, in many cases I really loved, but couldn’t fit into the top 10 and also shows that are new(er) and have shown promise, but they will need to sustain that promise for a few seasons before they come close to cracking the Top 10 or even the Next Best list; (d) this is not intended to be a review/recap of each series – I am going to avoid spoilers and just give a brief thought on each show and why it ranks where it does; and (e) I’m going to include a video clip for each show, most likely a scene that I would consider to be one of the show’s best/most fun scenes.  Some of them may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the show and plan to watch it, don’t click on the video!
So, without further ado, I present the Shots of Jame-O Top 10 TV Dramas.

#10:  Game of Thrones
This is likely to be the most controversial of the shows that are ranked.  Some people would probably have this show ranked in the top 5 no doubt about it.  And some refuse to watch a “fantasy” show with dragons.  The bottom line is that Game of Thrones is really, really good show that has a chance to be great if it continues to improve.  I was firmly in the “won’t watch a dragon show” camp after the first season or two.  But there was enough buzz about the show being great that I gave it a shot, and all the great things I had heard were right on the money.  I’m not sure I know a single person who started watching GoT (more than a couple episodes) and didn’t enjoy it.
#9:  Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire is another show that I could have left off the top 10 list, but I like it just a touch more than some of the “Next Best”, mostly for the setting (1920’s Atlantic City gangster drama) and the characters/actors/performances.  Steve Buscemi is great as the “lead”, but he arguably takes a back seat to some supporting characters throughout each season (including Michael Kenneth Williams aka Omar from “The Wire”).  If you were looking for BE to be the next Sopranos, then you probably have been disappointed with it.  Now in its final season, Boardwalk Empire has a chance to move up a spot or two if it really sticks the landing.
#8:  Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights is probably the most out of place show on this list.  Not because it is bad or undeserving, but because it is the only show here that could be described as a “family drama”, with virtually no violence or any need for a TV-MA rating.  For anyone who has avoided watching FNL because you think it’s a “football show”, you are sorely mistaken.  It’s truly a fantastic look at high school football in Texas (and really, high school in general), mostly through the eyes of the head coach’s family.  Great, great performances by all the “kids”, and even better by “Coach and Mrs. Coach”, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

#7:  24
There was a time when I thought 24 would be my favorite show of all time (“Jack Bauer” as a name for a cat?).  That was during law school when I “caught up” with 24 – and by caught up I mean binge-watched 4 seasons (24 episodes in a season, about 17 hours of running time) in the span of maybe 6-8 months.  If 24 had ended after season 5, it would almost definitely be in the top 5 on this list.  But it didn’t, and seasons 6-8 were average at best; still fun though, and I watched almost every episode live.  24 returned again this past summer, and while it wasn’t quite up to the standards of seasons 1-5, it was pretty darn great and I was glad to have Jack Bauer in my life again.  Hopefully it continues.
#6:  The Shield
If Game of Thrones is the most controversial show on the list, then The Shield is likely a close 2nd and probably the most unknown.  I recommend The Shield to pretty much everyone I know that is looking for a “new” show to watch, and I use quotes there because the final season of The Shield aired 6 years ago!  It was an FX cop drama, and frankly, maybe the best pure cop drama ever (depending on how you classify my #1 show).  Just do yourself a favor – if you are looking for a show to catch up on, rent/buy/borrow The Shield, and thank me later.

#5:  Mad Men
Mad Men can often be labeled as “boring,” simply because the show doesn’t involve anything that most people would classify as “action.”  Mad Men is not boring.  It’s great.  Set in the 1960s NYC advertising world, and created by former Sopranos staff writer Matthew Weiner, the show has a lot of the same elements as The Sopranos, just without the whackings.  Of all the antiheros on TV these days, Don Draper might just be my favorite.  The things he does are loathsome, and yet for some reason you root for him every step of the way; most likely because of Jon Hamm’s magnetic presence on screen. I’m going to repeat this principle again later on, but if you give Mad Men a chance, watch at least 4-5 episodes.  You can’t judge a show based on 1 or 2 episodes, and too often I hear “I watched the first episode and it just didn’t really interest me.”  Mad Men will interest you.  I promise.
#4:  Deadwood
Another show here that most people I talk to have yet to watch, and what a big mistake that is.  I think Deadwood gets overshadowed by the other HBO stalwarts, The Sopranos and The Wire, and unfairly so.  This is maybe the most unique show on the list, blending an interesting time period (1800s gold rush) with some of the most vulgar and unique language of any show that has ever aired on TV.  Also, Deadwood might be the most violent show on the list, despite not really having a reputation for violence.  The two main characters, Al Swearingen (Ian McShane – you might recognize his voice as the voiceover during the British Open telecasts) and Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant – his best role ever) are both incredible and have incredibly combustible tempers that create a fun and thrilling partnership.  Deadwood, like all HBO shows, is available on HBOGo, a free service for all HBO subscribers (and allows unlimited “log ins” if you want to borrow someone else’s password).  There were only 3 seasons of Deadwood before it was abruptly cancelled.  So if you are one of those people who feel overwhelmed starting a new series that has 4, 5, 6 seasons, Deadwood is the show for you.
#3:  The Sopranos
It’s kinda crazy to me that a show as amazing as The Sopranos ranks 3rd on my list.  I am in the middle of a re-watch right now (starting from episode 1 and continuing through the entire series) with Kait (my wife, who is watching it for the first time), and I am even more blown away by its greatness than I was when I originally watched the series.  The Sopranos is so great that no one has even attempted to create another mafia series since.  Sure, Boardwalk Empire is generally about the mafia and organized crime, but that is a historical piece with real life Mafiosos created by a guy (Terrance Winter) who wrote for The Sopranos.  It has virtually no other similarities.  The Sopranos is also likely the one show on this list that has been watched, at least in parts, by the most people.  While it may be surprising to see it ranked “only” 3rd, I never (even for a second) considered moving it up.  That’s because my top 2 are basically perfect TV shows.
(These last 3 shows need multiple clips each)

#2:  Breaking Bad
I know the trendy thing right now would be to put Breaking Bad #1 and call it the greatest TV show ever.  And frankly, I couldn’t argue with that assessment.  I can’t really think of a single negative thing I could say about this show.  Maybe, MAYBE you could say that the first season is a little slow.  That it really doesn’t become the Breaking Bad we all know and love until the last episode or two of the first season (you might recall that the first season of Breaking Bad aired during the writer’s strike, and thus it was only 7 episodes long, as opposed to the 13 episodes most of the future seasons had).  But that is a minor quibble, and really, every show is slower and a little more boring during the first few episodes while it settles in and finds it voice.  Once it found its voice though?  Wow.  Breaking Bad became a non-stop thrill ride, without a doubt the tensest show on this list (and maybe of all time).  And Bryan Cranston as Walter White puts on the performance of a lifetime.  Has there ever been a better character on TV?  I don’t think so.  However, I do think there has been a better show….

#1:  The Wire
The Wire is the greatest TV drama, probably TV show in general, of all time.  That is my opinion.  You can argue with me about it, you can make the case for Breaking Bad or for The Sopranos, but my opinion will stand.  I don’t remember how I got into The Wire initially.  Most likely it was from reading Alan Sepinwall, TV critic for the website Hitfix and formerly a TV critic for the New Jersey Star Ledger (the newspaper that Tony Soprano famously walks to the end of his driveway to retrieve in so many episodes of The Sopranos).  At the time, no one that I regularly discussed TV shows with had seen The Wire.  I became so enthralled with it that I bought all the seasons on DVD and immediately began lending them out to friends and family members, hoping that someone else would see the brilliance in this show.  Thankfully, almost everyone I loaned the DVDs to enjoyed the show as much as I did.  And I would bet that The Wire would rank somewhere in their top 3 TV shows of all-time list as well.  Borrow my DVDs, watch on HBOGo, or find the episodes On Demand.  Whatever you do, please make it a point to watch The Wire if you have not done so already, so that you can enjoy the decay of the city of Baltimore from the viewpoint of drug dealers, druggies, police officers and politicians alike.  I’m almost positive there will never be another show quite like it.

So, what do you think?  Did I leave off your favorite show?  Did I rank a show too high or too low in your opinion?  Be sure to check back sometime over the next week when I break down my “Next Best” list, which includes 10 shows that I really, really liked, but for one reason or another couldn’t crack the top 10.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Very Bad Week for the NFL

As most of you are aware, the National Football League (NFL) just had arguably the worst week from a PR standpoint in the league's history.  The two major story lines involved two of the more successful, fan-favorite running backs in the league, Ray Rice (formerly of the Baltimore Ravens) and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.  These stories were so huge that they essentially rendered everything else that happened last week in the NFL irrelevant, including a major change to the league's drug policy that will reduce suspensions for two of the league's premier wide receivers (Wes Welker and Josh Gordon).  Before getting into the particulars of the two stories, I want to say first and foremost that domestic violence and child abuse are two very serious issues that have absolutely no place in sport or in society in general.  Those who engage in domestic violence and/or child abuse should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  Unfortunately, the law becomes a little distorted when we are dealing with superstar athletes who are also employees of the NFL and members of the NFL's players association, organizations that have their own "laws" and rules that govern such atrocious behavior.  Add in the media and our never ending, 24/7 news and social media outlets, and these stories tend to take on a life of their own, where the culprits are punished and penalized in ways that do not conform to the law or the rules and regulations of the organizations to which they belong.

Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are likely scumbags who deserve all of the public vitriol that they are receiving.  If you are a superstar athlete who knocks his wife unconscious or beats his child repeatedly with a stick, this is what happens.  The problem, however, is the way that the organizations who employ these scumbags handle the situations.  They react, sometimes overreact, and those reactions are almost entirely based on the media/publics perceptions.  Should the Ravens have cut Ray Rice?  Absolutely.  But why did they wait until after the video of Rice knocking out his then fiancĂ© surfaced?  What exactly changed between the time Ray Rice told the Ravens and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that he knocked his fiancĂ© unconscious until the video surfaced?  Nothing, other than the media and public's perception of the incident.  And it's that perception that caused the NFL to overreact and try to retroactively fix the issue by suspending Rice indefinitely.  Again, the NFL had already suspended Rice for this incident, issuing a sickening 2 game suspension.  Now, in order to try to save face, they pile on and suspend Rice indefinitely.  Rice is going to appeal that suspension and frankly, I believe he should win that appeal.  What changed between the initial 2 game suspension and the indefinite suspension?  Absolutely nothing, other than public opinion.

As for Peterson, the Vikings announced today that he would be reinstated to the team and likely will practice and play this Sunday.  Is it disgusting that an indicted child abuser will most likely be cheered on the field on Sunday, as soon as he breaks off a 10 yard run?  Sure.  Should the Vikings keep him deactivated simply because he was indicted for child abuse and despite the fact that he has not been convicted?  No.  And if they decide to cut Peterson, or if the NFL decides to issue a "Ray Rice penalty" and suspend him, then guess what?  Peterson will appeal and/or sue, and he will likely win.  Because again, the NFL already has rules and regulations in place that supposedly deal with these issues.

So what is my point here?  My point is that just because an incident takes on a life of its own and grows into a media shitstorm does not mean it's time to throw out the rule book or rewrite that rule book on the fly.  The NFL gave Rice a 2 game suspension, most likely under the belief that this video would never surface, he would serve his suspension and the incident would go away.  The Vikings deactivated Peterson for this past Sunday's game, most likely because the NFL was under fire with the Ray Rice fiasco and so they didn't want to get bashed by the media/public.  Unfortunately for the NFL and for the Vikings, they cannot just throw out the rule book in an effort to calm the shitstorm.  They have to follow the rules.  And if those rules state that Peterson can and should be active this week, then play him.  If those rules state that the commissioner can issue whatever penalty he chooses, and he chooses a 2 game suspension, then that is the penalty. 

There are always going to be players who are scumbags and do things that violate rules and break the law.  And those players should be punished.  But we can't allow the media and public perception to cloud the application of the rules and laws to these players and their actions.  Or else why even have them in the first place?

Ok, now for some quick thoughts on the NFL teams and their results after (almost) 2 full weeks:
  • Parity:  The NFL has always been a league where teams can go from first to worst in a single season.  Recent examples include the Houston Texans, who were contenders from 2010-2012 and then went a league worst 2-14 last year, or the Kansas City Chiefs, who were a league worst 2-14 in 2012 and went 11-5 and made the playoffs last year.  2014 is no different.  As of this writing, only 6 teams are 2-0 and only 6 teams are 0-2.  One of the 2-0 teams is the Buffalo Bills, something no one predicted.  And one of the 0-2 teams is the New Orleans Saints, again a shocker.  This parity is part of what makes the NFL so successful, despite the fact that it's made up of a bunch of scumbags. 
  • Sticking with the parity theme, my favorite team, the Detroit Lions, could not have looked any different from week 1 to week 2.  In week 1 on Monday Night Football, they thrashed (an admittedly terrible) New York Giants team 35-14, prompting all the talking heads to discuss the Lions as the "it" team this year and maybe win the NFC North division.  So what did they do in week 2?  Got curb stomped by the Carolina Panthers 24-7.  SOL.
  • The unstoppable Seattle Seahawks were handled fairly easily by the San Diego Chargers Throwback Machine (Antonio Gates with 3 TD catches?).  Thankfully for them, the San Francisco 49ers fell apart in the 4th quarter last night, giving up 3 Chicago Bears TDs in route to a 28-20 loss.  As we all expected, the Arizona Cardinals lead the NFC West at 2-0.
  • What a horrendous day for injuries that likely caused many fantasy footballers to scream at their TVs.  Top draftees such as Jamaal Charles and AJ Green, and promising week 1 standouts like Knowshon Moreno and Ryan Mathews went down with injuries, a few before scoring even 1 fantasy point.  While it stinks when your studs are out with injuries, it's even worse when they get hurt early in the game and stick you with a big, fat 0 points for the week.  Hopefully Charles and Green don't miss any additional time.  If they do, be sure to check your waivers for Mohammed Sanu (WR Cincy) and Knile Davis (RB Chiefs) as they both looked good Sunday.  Also, I would like a redo on my RGIII prediction please.  Paging Hydroworx!