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Are They Tivoworthy? Top 20 TV Shows of 2005
2006-01-04 07:38
by Scott Long

Never in television history have there been so many high-quality programs. I would argue that the top TV shows have overtaken theatrical movies as the better overall product. The major film companies have become slaves to marketing, most concerned with how their movies will be able to open to their target audience (12-25 year olds). Add to this their other focuses---selling globally and how much extra can be gleaned from action figures and commercial tie-ins----and it's amazing there are any quality releases from the major studios.

Sure television networks have many of these same financial instincts, but the advent of HBO's original programming has been the greatest instigator in pushing for more quality shows. Since HBO was not just looking for high numbers, but more importantly, buzz, which would draw people to pay 13 bucks a month for their channel. (The majority of people paying the high premium are a person over 25, so worrying about reaching the teen market is not necessary.) This is why HBO was able to develop a "Sopranos". Another albatross for networks that HBO didn't have was FCC restrictions, which take the edge and reality away from most shows.

The top young directors start in Indie films, hoping to build a career where they can eventually get major studio funding like Stephen Soderbergh or Wes Andersen. Good luck in making that happen in today's Hollywood system, as a big opening weekend rules. Most of the great directors interested in storytelling over special EFX are behind a Television camera. I wonder if Scorcese or Coppola wouldn't focus their talents on television, if they were starting out in 2005?

Following HBO's approach has been Showtime and FX networks, which also have fewer restrictions as the broadcast networks do. Steven Boccho, creator of Hill Street Blues and LA Law, foresaw this happening a decade ago and created a show on ABC (NYPD Blue), which featured more language and bare skin than had been shown before. Its first season was as good of a drama as network television has ever had. Unfortunately for the networks, they can't go much farther in pushing the edge, as the FCC and their own commercial sponsors won't allow for it, so the cable networks have a big advantage on that front.

The competition from the cable networks has been a good push for the major television networks. This has been shown in how even the highest-rated Nielsen programs, CSI, Lost, and Law & Order feature quality stories and acting. Even with so many channels funneling away viewers from the major television networks, they still have the bonus of being able to reach much larger audiences than cable. This allows for bigger budgets, which does help balance the quality issues to a certain extent. While I still think the best dramas are on Cable, the line is getting blurred a little more, which is helping the Major's close the gap.

Before I go on, don't for a second think that I'm not saying there isn't a large, steaming pile of bad programs on the tube. The biggest reason that there is more quality shows, (the myriad of remote control choices) is the same reason there are even more bad shows.
My top 20 TV shows list is one which features the programs I think were most Tivo-worthy for the 2005. Instead of compiling a list in ranked order, I have split the shows into 3 categories, as it's impossible for me to rank a comedy versus a drama, as they are of different worlds.

Tivo-worthy Dramas

Deadwood- 2004's best show continued on its riveting path of blending Shakespearean dialogue and Wild West action. While technology has changed our world immensely from the 1800's of "Deadwood", the show demonstrates that greed, insecurity, lust, and love are at our core, no matter what the century is. If Ian McShane isn't the best actor on television……

The Shield- …..Michael Chiklis must be. I just discovered this show on DVD over the past couple of months and it's brilliant. My Top shows list of last year is incomplete, as I didn't list this show because I'd never seen it. After seeing Will had rated is so highly, I made a note to catch it. Watching the whole season on DVD is a treat that waiting for it on a weekly basis can't match. Much like "Deadwood", "The Shield" always seems real. Both shows have casts who are not just pretty faces, which adds greatly to the reality they project. On the other hand, there is not a network drama that doesn't have at least one major babe or a hunk as part of their regular cast. I'm looking forward to the show's creator, Shawn Ryan, collaboration with David Mamet which will air on CBS in March.

Six Feet Under- Kind of hard to speak specifically about this show's last season without spoiling it for people planning on catching it later. What I will say is this is that this show should go down as the best family drama in television history.

24- Somewhat of a comeback for this show, as its 3rd season had started slowly. Year 4 featured all the same heart-pounding action as before, but the Arab-terrorist cell angle gave it more realism. Since the show is on Fox, it pumps in more melodrama than needed sometimes, but it's hard to point to a better drama on network TV.

Prison Break- The best new drama of 2005, I would have rated this show above "24", but the last 3 episodes had a lot of filler and the big finale was a huge dud, leaving its loyal viewers left hanging, not giving any resolution until the show resumes in March 2006.

West Wing- After slipping in quality caused by the departure of creator Aaron Sorkin, a new storyline focused on the campaigns of new faces Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits has revitalized the show. Alda's character, Senator Arnie Vinick is a Republican nominee for President who only a bunch of liberal television writers could create. The character's politics and honest approach is what I wish John McCain was really like. My favorite element to Sen.Vinick is his refusal to discuss his religious views. How refreshing it would be for a candidate to not pander to the masses by refusing to use religion as a voting tool?

Breaking Bonaduce- No honest. This was the best reality show I've ever seen. Focused on the beyond dysfunctional life of Daniel Bonaduce, nothing on television had more real emotion and pathos than this VH-1 original. Bonaduce lives his life on the edge like it came from the pages of Bob Woodward's "Wired". (biography on John Belushi) The weakness of all these other celeb-reality shows like "The Osbournes" and "The Newlyweds" is that they thinly veil the "reality" versus the scripted. If Danny Bonaduce was just playing a character, his acting performance should go down next to the Hackman's and Duvall's, as he was completely riveting. Since I saw his work in the movie H.O.T.S. a hundred times (Skinemax classic), I really believe "Breaking Bonaduce" is about as real as a reality show can get.

Tivo-worthy Comedies

Arrested Development- Season 2 of television's most inventive show, was as good as the first. Jason Bateman plays his understated character, Michael, with a consistently note-perfect delivery. His brother, Gob (Will Arnett) is the funniest supporting actor since the prime days of "Seinfeld". AD proves that sitcoms on network TV are not DOA, just that the mass audience is just not sophisticated enough to get its absurd intelligence. (Note: Season 3, which aired this Fall was a step-below the first two installments, but still funnier than any other show on the networks.)

Curb Your Enthusiasm- While not as good as past seasons, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was still the most thought provoking comedy on the air, despite what Joe Buck believes. My favorite episode of 2005 featured "The Daily Show's" Rob Corddry playing a registered sex offender, who just happened to an incredibly moral person and overall great guy, well except for his one problem. Only a show on cable could tackle a topic like this with a comedic tone.

Starved- See review from

The Family Guy- I'm always reticent to list an animated show highly on a comedy list, as it's a lot easier to get laughs in the cartoon universe. Having said this, "The Family Guy" has more laughs per minute than anything probably ever shown on television. While not as brilliant in it's social commentary as the peak years of "The Simpson", "The Family Guy" is superior to the show now.

Weeds- Starring the always-great Mary-Louise Parker, who plays a recently widowed mother of two that decides to sell marijuana to keep her family living in the comfortable suburban life they had grown accustomed to. If you were looking for a darker, edgier version of "Desperate Housewives", this was the place to move to. Oh and by the way, as luscious as Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria are, there is something so sensual about Ms. Parker that makes her the sexiest woman on TV.

Boondocks- Not just content with being the edgiest comic in mainstream newspapers, creator Aaron McGruder brought his strip to the Cartoon network. Similar to Chris Rock's stand-up in its no-holds barred look at race in the United States, "Boondocks" was the best new comedy of 2005. Veteran comic/actor John Witherspoon does stand-out voice work as Granddad.

The Daily Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and Real Time with Bill Maher-
These three talk shows take very different directions to accomplish it, but they all have in common being consistently funny.

Tivo-worthy News and Variety

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel- Network television's newsmagazines have went into the toilet, as they now mainly focus on sensational stories that can be shaped into an Agatha Christie mystery, with dreamy Stone Phillips voice-over's. Only 60 Minutes consistently pushes for tougher edged pieces, but considering their reporters resemble the cast of "Cocoon", it just doesn't seem to possess the energy and quality it did during the 80's and 90's. While I'm not a big fan of his books, Bernard Goldberg is the best newsmagazine correspondent around. Mary Carillo is not far behind and let me say her piece on the father and son triathlete team was the most moving piece I've ever seen on a newsmagazine.

Frontline/American Experience- These 2 PBS documentary programs are consistently excellent. They also feature great narrators who have voices that could make the Nicole Ritchie novel worth listening to.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann- Yeah Anderson Cooper looks better in a Gucci suit and sure Bill O'Reilly has quadruple the ratings, but this is the most entertaining and informative cable news show. KO has been skipping from one network to the next, but it appears with Countdown that he has finally found his perfect home.

Rock Star: INXS- I believe Will and I have spoken enough about this show. This is the show American Idol dreams of being. (Quality-wise, not ratings wise.)

2006-01-04 15:37:25
1.   Mark T.R. Donohue
I can see how it would be easy to overlook given its network (and being on opposite "Lost"), but "Veronica Mars" is my favorite show on TV right now by a wide margin.

Love "AD," love "Deadwood." I have been terribly disappointed so far by "The Boondocks," which looks great and is well-voiced but simply isn't very funny. The rest of the Adult Swim block seems to be experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, however, with "Stroker and Hoop," "Squidbillies," and particularly "12 oz. Mouse," which is one of those love-it-or-hate-it shows that I happen to love.

"My Name is Earl" is a pretty good show for a network comedy as well.

2006-01-04 16:54:46
2.   Todd S
I only watch a few TV shows (Family Guy is the only crossover with this list), so I'm not very qualified to comment. But this is the Internet! And so I get to recommend:

Gilmore Girls.

Why would I admit to watching this show? Good question. My excuse is that I watch it with my wife, who likes it. It's a soap opera, with OK acting, but VERY intelligent and funny dialogue. Give it a look-see if you're in the mood for something a bit different.

2006-01-04 17:20:21
3.   Andrew Flynn
I would agree with Mark above that "My Name is Earl" is a bright spot on NBC, along with "Scrubs" (newly back) and "Office Space" (which is close to its BBC original.)

On HBO, "Extras" (also by the BBC creator of The Office) only had 6 episodes in its first run, but they were cringe-worthy almost as much as Curb.

Other notables that weren't listed by Scott would be the new "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central, which I'm begrudingly starting to believe is better than the Daily Show. HBO's "Rome", "Sopranos", and even "Entourage" (highly entertaining, if not well-written) are must-records as well.

2006-01-04 20:56:06
4.   TFD
Scott: One quibble. This past year was a FAB year for movies. I believe that TV is still far behind the movie business, although since HBO they've been gaining ground. When you bring "Rock Star" INXS as quality top 20, the 20th best film of the year (Wedding Crashers maybe) looks awfully good.

And...when the hell does "Deadwood" start again? God I have serious withdrawls. Rumor was they were going to put on behind the new Sopranos, but Albrecht switched his mind and is going to put something else there for a new-series boost.

2006-01-04 21:15:10
5.   Scott Long
I've heard great things about Veronica Mars lately, so I will be checking it out.
I think some of Adult Swim is funny, but I'm tougher on cartoons, as it's easier to be funny when you are not based in reality.

I don't begrudge the Gilmore Girls, as it's got a cool way about it, but I have a problem with shows where everyone seems a little too smart and clever. I love Lauren Graham, especially when she's playing poker or on a talk show. She's a real talent.

I tried to keep the list to 20 shows, but if I had a 21 and 22 it would be My Name is Earl and Office Space. Earl is a poor man's Raising Arizona, which means it's still excellent. It should be a battle of Jason's (Lee and Bateman) for the best actor in a comedy emmy.
"The Office" is hurt some by being inferior to the English version which is one of the greatest comedies of all-time. Having said that, it's still a quality show.
I like Scrubs. It reminds me of "Wings" and "News Radio", as a show that will probably be discovered on a larger scale during reruns.

I was disappointed by Extras, because I thought Gervais was so genius in "The Office". Having said that, it did have some great moments, with the episode where Ben Stiller was a complete asshole reciting how much his movies made at the box office, my favorite.

To me the most disappointing show of 2005 was "Rome". Sorry, but it just never connected with me. HBO is a magical place and if a show is not top-notch, I'm harder on it as being on a pay-cable channel gives it so many more opportunities to push boundaries.
While I like "Entourage" more, I also hold it to a higher standard, which it doesn't reach consistently. Jeremy Piven, though is sensational and completely carries the show.
Ever since Joey Pants was rubbed out, The Sopranos has dropped a notch.

I haven't watched the "Colbert Report" enough to rate it.

Finally, if you are reading this and thinking Jesus H. Boobtube, do you watch a lot of TV, you would be right. I would say I watch 3 hours a day. I use my TIVO and don't do many commercials. I don't flip around because of this. I don't go to movies anymore and don't even watch many of them on video, which gives me more time. Outside of baseball season, I don't watch a lot of sports besides Big 10 football and basketball. I watch enough of the other sports just to know what's going on, but college sports just has more raw emotion to me.

Whew, now I can get off the couch. Thanks for being my shrink. You can't say I won't respond if you have any comments.

2006-01-05 07:19:02
6.   JVarghese81
I like the listing - lots of stuff that I enjoy watching but you missed out on a couple of my favorite shows right now: House and the newly returned to TV, Scrubs.
2006-01-05 09:13:59
7.   AgRyan04
I've got to give some love to "The Office" and "How I Met Your Mother"....and "Grey's Anatomy"

The only other show I watch (now that I no longer have HBO) is Arrested Development.

I'm sad to say that this is the first year of my life that I've spent more hours watching primetime shows that I have Baseball Tonight....but that's for another column....

2006-01-05 14:54:58
8.   Ali Nagib
I'm just curious, why do people like "The Boondocks" TV show? I've been a huge fan of the comic for a long time, but having watched every episode of the tv version, I have to politely say that it sucks. The humor is hit and miss at best and the social commentary is far more groan-inspiring than thought-provoking. Hey, I know what would be a good ending to a show...let's have the grandfather beat a blind old man to death. Now THERE'S some humor. Another problem is that the comic is essentially based on 3 characters, whereas the tv show has to shoehorn in extra people just to carry the plot. Riley and Huey are off doing something this week, so Grandpa has to be teamed up with "Uncle Ruckus" the WHOLE DAMN EPISODE. A very minor and not particularly funny character in the comic, the one-note humor is painful when dragged out ad nauseum for the entire 22 minutes.

I don't know what can be done to fix this show, but so far I have found it neither funny nor interesting. Maybe cutting it down into 11 min halves (as many other animated shows have done to great success) would help streamline the stories and keep the excessive weight of bad extra characters and painfully drawn out plots

2006-01-06 07:34:20
9.   Mike Carminati
Good list, but you missed the best show on TV, Battlestar Galactica. And 24 did have a comeback but still is not better than Lost. Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and My Name Is Earl are the only three comedies on TV worth watching. I tried to watch 2.5 Men since it's so popular and wanted to hang myself by the time the end of the intro.
2006-01-06 07:35:11
10.   Mike Carminati
Oh, and Entourage has to be on there somewhere.
2006-01-06 08:15:26
11.   Blah Blah Blah
I discovered Veronica Mars when a buddy of mine, local NC musician Jeff Hart, mentioned that one episode was going to feature two of his songs. The show surprised me with its quality.

I agree that Gilmore Girls gets on my nerves, also, with its "we're so clever" attitude. On the other hand, I'd watch Lauren Graham do dishes.

Wings was much better than NewsRadio.

I actually watch very little TV, but do like Arrested Development and Stewart/Colbert best when I do. Given my last statement it obviously makes no sense for me to invest in HBO, so I miss out on their stuff.

2006-01-06 08:20:36
12.   Blah Blah Blah
Oh, and Scrubs and Gilmore Girls are by far the best shows my wife makes me suffer, er, I mean, watches. Not that they have much competition against the likes of 2.5 Men (ouch), Yes Dear (OUCH!), Hope and Faith (OUCHOUCH!!!) and Desperate Housewives (but at least this last one has eye candy).
2006-01-06 12:32:33
13.   Murray
"Battlestar Galactica" is my favorite thing on TV right now. Carminati is totally fracking right.
2006-01-06 13:13:13
14.   chris in illinois
News Radio with Phil Hartman was a great show. The episode in which Phil's character punched the 'gym teacher from the Braekfast Club' in the face made me shoot beer out of my nose.
2006-01-06 13:31:04
15.   Sushirabbit
I'm such a total freak. My favorite show is Victory by Design. All 8 episodes. I watch it over and over with the volume on full blast. Alain de Cadenet has the best job on the planet in my book.

It's a car show. I also watch C-Span. I also go back and watch old Dodger games and any other baseball games I have Tivo'd like the College world series.

Tivo is awesome - hacking out 20 minutes of an hour show. Heck I watched Texas vs. USC and loved being able to blast through all the commercials and InstantReplayReviews

2006-01-06 14:41:25
16.   Voxter
It's been said before, but I just wanted to put in:


I started watching the show on the advice of a local arts weekly in Portland last winter, and got totally hooked. I have since moved to Bend, a much smaller town, where UPN can be gotten over the air but not on cable (why? I dunno). So every Wednesday at 9 I unplug my cable and plug in my antenna. That's how much I like "Veronica Mars".

The difficulty that the show has in gaining viewers, I suspect, is that it's often hard to follow if you haven't been watching since the beginning of the season. So it gets good press, or a guest cameo from some "Buffy" graduate (including an odd one from Joss Whedon himself), people tune in for an episode, and think, "What the hell is going on?"

I'm also a big fan of "Bruce Parry is Going Tribal", which is a documentary show selling itself as a reality show, about a former Royal Marine (the aforementioned Mr Parry) who goes to the remotest parts of the world to live, as much as they'll allow him to, as a member of various native tribes who are largely cut off from modern, Western culture. Half the show's fascination is to see Parry's unflagging British-ness clash with his sincere desire to blend in -- the war on his face between revulsion and politeness when he does something like eat a live, squirming beatle or strip naked to have his privates adorned in the traditional native West Papuan way is priceless. Anyway, the show's on Discovery (by way of the BBC), though I'm not sure it's on at any fixed time.

2006-01-06 14:49:49
17.   Voxter
I also find myself consistently amazed at the sheer vapidity of almost every sitcom I see that isn't "Arrested Development". When I attempt to watch something like "King of Queens" or the thank-God-it's-finally-over Ray Romano show, I find myself:

a) Profoundly irritated; and
b) Unsure if I would know where the jokes were if there wasn't a laugh track.

This goes for every show in the Fat-Guy-With-a-Hot-Wife genre, every "family" show I've seen that isn't "Bernie Mac", every Lovable Schlub show aside from maybe "My Name is Earl"; just about any show that includes canned laughter made after about "Frasier"'s fifth season. When you need to tell people when to laugh, you're not making good television.

2006-01-06 15:08:30
18.   Voxter
Of course, the shows I watch most are my DVDs of those oldies but goodies, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel". I have a tendency to pop them in for background when I'm cooking or cleaning and there's f-all on the radio. I used to use the ubiquitous reruns of "ER" for a similar purpose, but the show jumped the shark when they killed off Goose -- er, Dr. Greene, and I've seen every episode up to that point about a bazillion times.

Being a writer, working from home, and living alone, I end up watching a lot of television during the day, if I'm blocked or don't have any new project lined up. As a result, I have views on just about everything that's in reruns around noon (watch out for "Judging Amy" -- it's like noxious gas) or somewhat earlier ("Spin City" was good until Michael J Fox took off). Very little in the evening appeals to me much, other than "Veronica Mars" and "Arrested Development" -- I used to watch Stupid Man ("Smallville") and "Law & Boredom", but no more. Give me reruns of "Mythbusters" or something. (Or a good book, really.)

And I miss "The Wire".

And done.

2006-01-06 16:46:09
19.   Magnolia88
I know others have already spoken up about this, but it can't be said enough: do yourself a favor and rent/borrow/steal the season one DVD of "Veronica Mars" because you will want to add that Tivo-worthy drama to your list.

For my money, "Veronica" is the best drama on network TV, ahead of "Lost," 24, "The West Wing" (although it's gotten a lot better) and definitely "Prison Break" (which is fun but almost cartoonish in its absurdity at times). It's too bad that "Veronica" airs opposite "Lost" because many people (me included) consider them the two best dramas on TV.

Season one of VM is a whodunit murder mystery, so don't try to start watching midstream, but it's worth the effort to start with the Pilot to appreciate the fairly complicated backstory. Ignore everything you have read/heard about the show and go in with an open mind and it will surprise you. If the Pilot doesn't grab you right away, wait a few episodes and then make up your mind because it does take a while to find the right balance and tone between the mystery, the interpersonal drama and the ever-present witty dialogue.

I'm also told "Battlestar Galactica" rivals "Veronica" for best show on TV, but I've never seen it and hope to catch up with it soon. I also can't compare "Veronica" to "Deadwood" or "The Shield" but it definitely stands up to anything the broadcast networks have to offer. It also beats the pants off the final season of "Six Feet Under," although the finale was fantastic. (I don't watch cop shows as a general rule, so "The Shield" and "The Wire" will never interest me.)

If I had to limit my viewing to only two shows, it would be "Veronica" and "Arrested Development." "The Office" has also been growing on me a lot lately. I agree that it's not quite up to the UK version, but what is? It's gotten better and better, though and I have stopped comparing the two.

2006-01-07 18:09:03
20.   Scott Long
I plan on watching Veronica Mars in the near future. I am worried, though, that the show is kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but without the supernatural element.

I have a hard time watching series' that are not based in reality. I guess that is why I'm not a science fiction fan, despite the rest of my family being trekkies. I will watch Battlestar Galatica, but if it isn't far superior to any other television science fiction show, in will score low with me.
(Yes, I'm aware I'm probably insulting a significant portion of the Toaster audience by knocking Trek or Buffy, but when else have I demonstrated a fear of driving readers away?)

By the way, I should mention that I have liked a couple of Star Wars movies, Trek's Wrath of Khan, the first 2 Terminators, and Total Recall, so I can dig science fiction, but no TV series of this genre has moved me. Maybe Battlestar the new generation will change this.

2006-01-09 08:56:06
21.   stevegoz
Scott, the magic of Galactica is that it is so strongly grounded in reality, so frakkin' real. My sci-fi antipathy is stronger than yours, but I love love love love love this show.

The sci-fi elements are minimal, actually; these people are US, except they have spaceships that can travel faster than the speed of light and there are only 40-something thousand of them left, flying through space in hopes of finding a new home after their 12 planets were wiped out by their own creations. They fight with bullets and missiles, have to grow food and recycle their water, need to refine fuel, etc. More importantly, they are engaged in a genuine debate over what the best course of action is, even as you may find yourself shouting "you're the last few thousand humans left; get along and band together for the common good already" at the telly now and then.

Anyway, I liked it a lot from the mini-series on, and this past Friday's excellent episode (which will rerun tonight on SciFi, I believe) cemented its status as my favorite show.

2006-01-11 12:29:47
22.   walbers
thanks for endorsing my own personal Mary Louise Parker fantasies....i've always found her to be extraordinarily attractive and sexy and nice to see my thoughts vindicated! 2 out of 2 Wills agree that MLP is one of the hottest babes on TV!

she was really good on the HBO Angels in America show.

rgds, will

2006-01-11 14:33:58
23.   walbers
whoops...that's one out of one Will's as this was Scott's column and I don't know how Will Carroll feels about her. LOL rgds, will

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