Saturday, November 10, 2012

Top 10 TV Shows

Here’s something you might find shocking: I hate television. Seriously. I didn’t grow up with that shit in the house and I see no reason why kids these days should be allowed to even watch. TV is, without a doubt, largely responsible for American’s steady decline in brains and increase in cholesterol levels. Don’t try to tell me I’m wrong, not when ninety percent of all TV shows are shrieking contests between vile, self-inflated “stars” whom we all want to drop into mincing machines. Or vapid popularity contests bolstering the myth that anyone can be famous. Oh, wait...thanks to TV, anyone can be famous, as evidenced by the fact that Jeff Dunham exists. Yeah, TV is a pile of festering sludge and I hate it.

That said, there are some really great TV shows out there. Hey, even a well-used toilet produces an occasional diamond amidst the floaters. (Or it does in my house; I always assumed that was normal.) I don’t watch television but I do seek out shows that catch my eye, and sometimes, I am rewarded. Here are my faves.

(Disclaimer: Dang-Blasted hates TV. Never forget this.)

10. Robot Chicken
I remember being in 5th or 6th grade when South Park came into being, and utterly obsessing over this cartoon that featured adult humor and that our parents didn’t want us to see. Since then, we’ve witnessed the rise of the grown-up TV cartoon (by “grown-up,” of course, I mean “primarily aimed at college fratboys”) and I confess to a couple faves. Robot Chicken has pretty much nailed the formula for lowbrow laughs; they know how to surprise us with hit-and-run gags and unlikely pop culture pairings, and since they’re making the show for their own generation, they’re fully aware of which facets of childhood we’d most like to see ruined. The Smurfs star in a parody of Se7en? Sign me up! I had trouble choosing between this and Family Guy, but the latter lost points for its regular forays into pointlessly cruel humor. Robot Chicken is only cruel when it honestly makes the gag funnier, and there’s not enough of that in TV cartoon comedy, so kudos. Also, they get an A for sheer effort. Stop motion ain’t easy!

9. The Adventures of Pete & Pete
As a tyke, I would watch Nickelodeon all day at my grandparents’ house (thinking all the while on how much I hated television, of course). Some of those shows stuck with me, none more than the ones that gained new meaning as I grew up. The Adventures of Pete & Pete is an absolute buried treasure of children’s programming. Its kooky, bizarre, stylized version of suburban life in the ’90s is dead-on. You see, from the point of view of a child or teen, the world is kind of like that. Mundane things like math tests, romantic prospects, and sibling rivalries take on the weight of an epic quest and the gravitas of a religious text. This show basically wrote its own mythology, and it’s beautiful. Just watch Mike Maronna (as Big Pete) intone the narration, his eyes locked onto the camera like laser beams. Didn’t matter what he was talking about; to him, it was always, at that moment, the Most Important Information In Human History. Every adolescent has felt that way, and it takes a retroactive viewing of Pete & Pete to make us realize that someone knew. And they made it into a show, bless them.

8. The Muppet Show
You may notice that all of these early entries (the next one, too) are comedies that rely heavily on out-of-nowhere humor. Guess my comedic preferences are pretty obvious, huh? I truly adore the Muppets, and although I was too unborn to appreciate their show back when it first aired, I can safely say that it’s utterly timeless. What you see when you watch The Muppet Show is a lot of people having a lot of fun, doing something they love so much that time and effort are no objects. Actually, you don’t ever really see Jim Henson and his merry band, because they disappear so well into the beloved fuzzy forms of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Rowlf, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, the Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and his Electric Mayhem, and all the other dozens of characters they invented to entertain us. There’s so much for viewers of all ages to laugh at and I’m quite sure that the Muppets have achieved immortality by now. Introduce this show to a child sometime. If they’re going to watch, let them watch something joyous.

7. Metalocalypse
This show is disgusting. Tasteless. Degenerate. And watching it gives me many Earl-Grey-out-the-nostrils moments. Metalocalypse proves that gross-out humor works just fine when it’s played with a wink-winky satirical slant. It charts the adventures of Dethklok, the world’s most popular heavy metal band (despite the fact that they’re pretty fucking terrible), and provides a spot-on running parody of celebrity culture, as the delusional band members live out the American dream of ultimate excess and decadence, yet routinely fall prey to their own crippling insecurities. News flash: When you can literally have anything you want, it doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. You could read this show as a sobering look at how irrelevant our lives really are when you strip away material wealth...or you could just ignore all that and enjoy it because it’s rip-roaringly funny in the most NSFW of ways.

6. Mythbusters
A lot of shows are good for half-watching while you do something else. I could half-watch Mythbusters all day. It’s another example of people doing something they love, and it’s hard not to be jealous -- and hard not to appreciate the sheer amount of effort and resources (do they even have a budget cap?) put into each investigation, whether they’re trying to murder a motorist with a flying soda can (Busted!), scaring elephants with mice (Confirmed!), or seeing if a deep-sea diver can be sucked into his own helmet (Confirmed, in the grossest way possible). The contrast between Adam Savage’s cackling mania and Jamie Hyneman’s deadpan grouchiness is perfect; they’re the little angel and devil on everyone’s shoulder when we’re tempted to try something crazy just to see what’ll happen. The Mythbusters crew risk their necks and cause excessive explosions so we don’t have to, and I thank them for it. If I didn’t hate TV so much, I might think I was actually learning something!

5. American Horror Story
C’mon, I’m recapping this show right now. Would I do that if I hadn’t fallen in love with its particular brand of batshit? I’ve written a lot of stuff about AHS lately so I won’t go on for too long, but I honestly consider it a delightful love letter to the horror genre. Yeah, it goes over the top on a weekly basis, but like Metalocalypse, it’s tacky and grotesque in a very self-aware kind of way, and its cast is biting into their larger-than-life roles with relish. I’m intrigued by the contrast between the slower-paced haunts of Season One and the jagged roller-coaster ride of Season Two. Makes me wonder what they’ll do next! Occult terrors? Monster hunting? Evil kitchen appliances? Whatever ghastly object they pull out of their toybox next, I’ll be there. Hopefully, so will Jessica Lange.

4. Gargoyles
It can’t quite be emphasized how much ass this show kicks. It’s the sort of show people bring up when they grumble about how much better children’s programming used to be. Seriously, Gargoyles -- in which a clan of Scottish beasties (with American accents) are magically turned to stone, then awaken in modern-day Manhattan -- is dark, epic, thematically rich, and character-driven in a way that most cartoons can only dream of. Yeah, it was on the Disney channel and so included a bunch of wholesome moral messages, but wholesome moral messages are a lot easier to swallow when delivered by badass winged monsters. Didn’t hurt that they had such sexy voice talent as Keith David, Marina Sirtis, and Jonathan Frakes. Or that series creator Greg Weisman snuck a gay character past the censors (helloooo, Lexington!). Both the show and its spinoff comic ended too quickly, but they left an indelible impression; how many kiddie toons can boast their own fan convention? Yes, quality entertainment can be found in the most unlikely places.

3. Azumanga Daioh
Why do I love this weird anime about Japanese schoolgirls? Kinda hard to say. Part of it’s the aforementioned spontaneous humor, but I think it has more to do with plain old good vibes. It’s just a show about a batch of teenage girl stock types -- the space case, the prodigy, the ADHD victim, the hot introvert, etc. -- and the trials and tribulations of secondary school. It’s very wacky and random in that fluid anime way where the characters’ emotions alter their physical appearance to an absurd degree. It features, among other things, a creepy/goofy pedophile, a lovestruck budding lesbian, and flying pigtails. It seems dumb and probably is on many levels, but...watching it makes me feel really good. I adore, just adore, the characters. I root for them. I laugh at them, but in a sympathetic way. For all its weird shit, this show is incredibly faithful in its depiction of innocent adolescence. It’s more real than anything you’ll see in the cesspool of “reality TV.” And it makes me laugh my ass off. Two for two!

2. Fringe
I am amazed at how much Fringe has done with a tired premise. It began life as a seemingly blatant X-Files ripoff -- FBI agents investigate strange phenomena, case-of-the-week, yawn -- but those who stuck with it were rewarded, because everything changed when it became clear that its bizarre incidents and human mutations were caused, not by aliens or government spooks or the paranormal, but by an entire parallel universe bumping up against our own. Since then, Fringe has bent our minds into all kinds of strange configurations, as reality has shifted, the actors have gotten to play alternate versions of their characters, and each season has brought new surprises. It seems like too brainy a show to survive, but its fans (me included) have helped keep it going for five awesome seasons, the last of which is airing right now. This show DESERVED to go out with a bang, and happy endings of this sort are rare in the merciless world of TV ratings. I adore every gooey, freaky, shape-shifty, time-warpy second of it. And somebody should be arrested for never giving John Noble an Emmy for his work as brain-damaged scientist Walter Bishop; the man redefines not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

1. Lost
I just...couldn’t...put any other show at number one. I followed Lost through its entire run and the degree to which I got invested in it was frankly embarrassing. Is it a perfect show? Of course not. Its overly convoluted mythology alienated a ton of fans, especially when it ended. (Metaphysics instead of answers! You’re welcome!) But I forgive the show its trespasses, because for me, the journey really did matter more than the destination. You can call that a cop-out if you like. Lost succeeded when all its imitators failed because it was intensely character-driven, because its collection of dysfunctional souls stranded on a mysterious island became, over those six seasons, among the most rich and fascinating characters out there, each with his or her own personal journey. Yeah, there were polar bears and time travel, smoke monsters and 1970s-era comic book science and some bibble-babble about the Nature of Good and Evil, but what mattered most was that we cared for our heroes. We desperately wanted them to come out okay. Or I did. I may have cried a bit at the end. But don’t tell anyone.

Because, like I keep saying, television sucks and I hate it. These shows are just flukes. I swear.

Ooooh, Homeland looks really good...

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