Television is largely a wasteland of the inane, the lame and the shame. Endless hours of reality shows that are as close to reality is we are to Jupiter. Loud, obnoxious commercials full of lies and deceptions. Formulaic dramas, unfunny comedies, hateful ill informed talking heads. I could go on. But if one digs deep enough it is possible to discover some hidden gems. Not many mind you. Frankly I don't have a lot of time for TV so I'm very very selective. Most of the best uses for our flat screened beauty is watching sports (and not a lot of that) and films. Here I present 12 TV shows that I happily occupied my time with this past calendar year. You will note that two of the shows on the list have long since ended their original run. The latter has not aired new episodes in over 50 years. Still, all the listed shows provided much needed entertainment and even some insights and cause for intellectual musings. I have not included any one and done specials or straight news shows.
1. The Wire (2002-2008). Yes I know, the show ended seven years ago but I only wised up and started watching in August of this year. I rank it among the best five dramas in TV history and wrote about it a few months ago.
2. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Positively brilliant. Oliver and company have taken what The Daily Show has done so well and ran with it. Through the luxury of only having to appear weekly and being on HBO and thus free of too much silly censorship, they can go deeper and more effectively into issues usually focusing on one a week. They have shown a light on such issues as sex ed in the US, mandatory sentencing, child labor in the fashion industry, patent trolls just to name a few.
The Late Show. First we enjoyed the last few months of the great David Letterman and then after a few months in limbo along came his successor, Stephen Colbert who was made for the late night talk show format just as Dave was. Genius to genius. Laughs aplenty.
4. The Daily Show. Like the Late Show we enjoyed the end of a hosts run with Jon Stewart bowing out in August and saw a worthy replacement come along in the form of Trevor Noah. It would seem many of the writers stayed on board and the show is witty and insightful as ever and still taking down pompous politicians and ridiculous newscasters and commentators. A few "correspondents" like the the wonderful Jessica Williams stayed on and a few new ones came on board such as the hilarious Roy Wood Jr.
5. Fargo Season 2. Unlike True Detective, Fargo came through with a season two that was every bit the equal of the first one. Writer Noah Hawley never disappoints. There are surprises, there is a great cast (Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson, Kristen Dunst and more.) The violence is unflinching but there is a warm human touch too.
6. Better Call Saul. The highly anticipated spin off from Breaking Bad did not disappoint in no small part because of the great acting chops of star Bob Odenkirk. While the first season seemed largely designed to set up what should be some great stuff to come, it was well worth watching.
Orange is the New Black. Season three maintained the same quality as the preceding ones. More emphasis was placed on other characters besides Piper (Taylor Schilling) and the result was just as compelling as what we'd seen before.
8. The Simpsons. More than the new episodes -- which are terrific -- being able to enjoy over 25 seasons of reruns is a year round Christmas gift.
9. Show Me a Hero. This was the HBO six episode series about real events in Yonkers, New York over civil rights housing issues. Oscar Isaac starred and gave a transcendent performance. It was this show that inspired me to watch The Wire, which was made by the same people.
10. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Talk about "as if torn from today's headlines" this was the HBO series on Robert Durst, the multi millionaire who kept getting away with murder. No sooner did the show start airing then Durst was arrested. Just today he was order extradited from New Orleans to California to stand trial for one of the several murders to which he has been linked.
You Bet Your Life (1950-1961). You tube has dozens of hours of episodes of the seminal "talk show" hosted by Groucho Marx. Whenever I have had a spare 20 minutes and needed an emotional pick me up, YBL has come through.
12. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I came for the former student (Andy Samberg) and stayed for the laughs. I love a good sitcom but there are precious few worth even one look these days. Here's one with a wonderful ensemble cast that never stoops to dramatic pablum, always remembering that laughs come first last and in between and delivering them.
I hope there is more to come from TV in the coming 12 months. Then again I don't. I barely had time for these shows.