The Best TV in 2006
I know i'm usually taking this space to complain about all the annoying things on TV these days -– all these new game shows with washed-up comics and actors are my prime examples du jour. Still, this critic remains convinced 2006 was one of the best years for the small screen in ages.
It’s not just that outlets finally ponied up the cash for well-produced series with innovative storytelling styles and complex characters. There is so much great television on so many different platforms that if you can’t find something cool to watch among the broadcast networks, cable channels, video podcasts, streaming video and DVD releases, you just aren’t trying.
As proof, here’s my list of the 10 coolest things about TV in 2006.
10. Battlestar Galactica
Forget that it used to be a cheesy ‘70s TV show starring Bonanza dad Lorne Greene. The Sci Fi Channel’s remake has become a gritty, imaginative allegory for the Iraq war, as a nearly-decimated group of spacefaring humans flee the Cylon machine race determined to exterminate them. This fall’s two-hour debut, featuring a brutal Cylon occupation, suicide bombings and a turncoat human security force managed to echo the war in Iraq and the Holocaust almost in the same moment. Pure, science fiction geek heaven.
9. FX as the new HBO
Rescue Me, Denis Leary’s brilliant dramedy about a firefighter who screws up everything except his job is Exhibit A here. Filled with characters both real and totally outlandish -– How does a guy wind up sleeping with his deceased cousin’s wife, and her son’s teacher in the same lifetime? -– Rescue Me joins other FX successes such as the amped-up cop drama The Shield and bizarre plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck as the three boldest shows on TV (and keep an eye out for the Tuesday debut of former Friend Courteney Cox's new show about tabloid news, Dirt). It’s the kind of entertainment HBO used to deliver before it got paralyzed by its own hipness.
8. Heroes saves NBC.
NBC thought heavy hitters like Aaron Sorkin and Tina Fey would turn its fourth-place fortunes around. But it took a comic book-fed mystery about a scattered group of people who slowly discover capabilities such as mind-reading and teleportation to bring viewers back to the peacock network. Comic book nerds everywhere stand triumphant.
7. 24 comes into its own
Its success last season with a breakneck plotline featuring superbad hero Jack Bauer against the President of the United States spawned a raft of new serialized shows this fall. And in Hollywood, when they rip you off, it's always the the ultimate compliment.
6. YouTube rewrites the rules for TV
Time was, when something cool happened on TV, you had to pray a friend stuck a tape in the VCR. Then three computer geeks saw how fast video clips of Jon Stewart berating the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire flew across the Internet and created their own video-sharing Web site. Now, anything of consequence that happens on video -– from Michael Richards’ n-word rant to Impressionists Week on David Letterman’s Late Show -– is available at the flick of a mouse button. And just ask former Virginia Senator George Allen how a couple of ill-timed racial slurs hurled during a campaign speech can cost you a cushy incumbency when YouTube keep the clip rocketing across cyberspace.
5. The networks stream video online
When you can call up crystal-clear online versions of top-rated series such as Lost, Desperate Housewives, Heroes and CSI from the networks’ own Web sites, the concept of appointment viewing goes out the window. Now, hit TV shows have to catch up with viewers -- who are increasingly demanding that programming catch them when and where they want to see it.
4. Dexter supercharges Showtime
Who knew watching a serial killer who only murders murderers would prove such an addictive pastime? But Six Feet Under alum Michael C. Hall seems born to play Dexter Morgan, an unassuming forensic expert for the Miami police who hides a passion for killing killers. In the process, this absorbing series helped Showtime escape its reputation as a dumping ground for shows too lame to get on premium cable king HBO.
3. The Wire stays hot
One of HBO’s last compelling series, The Wire this year added the futility and inadequacy of the modern school system to its laundry list of themes. Bent on humanizing criminals, demythologizing cops and offering no easy answers, the show this season outlined how a series of failed institutions can turn kinds from a troubled chunk of blighted West Baltimore into streetwise players and worse.
2. Ugly Betty scores beautiful ratings for ABC
Though at times a bit too cartoonish and predictable for my taste, this candy-coated fable about a plucky, plain Jane trying to make it at a cutthroat Manhattan fashion magazine shines – mostly on the charisma of cast members such as star America Ferrera (see how good ABC's makeup crew is by comparing after and before pics at left) and deliciously bad villain Vanessa Williams.
1. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart keep the media honest
When one interviewer asked how Jon Stewart and the Daily Show keep coming up with telling media gaffes, he replied: "Uh, a researcher and a VCR." Indeed, Colbert and Stewart have become so adept at pointing out the absurdities of modern politics and media that they make it look too easy. And like most sharp satirists, they understand the nooks and crannies of what they're taking apart better than many who call themselves journalists and/or media critics. From the Stewart rant that got Crossfire canceled to Colbert taking names at the White House Correspondents Dinner, this pair has shaken up mainstream media more than a trainload of bloggers and Tony Snow's office combined.
(As always, click on pictures to enlarge!)