Ever since reality TV made it possible for networks to produce shows for a fraction of the cost of a normal sitcom/drama, the public perception of television has dropped. And rightfully so. There's a lot of shit out there.
Anytime there are more than two shows dedicated to showing nothing but clips off the Internet, you know there's trouble. Even so, some quality programming has slipped through the cracks.
In fact, if you're one of the few people who make a point to watch scripted television, it could be argued that we're actually enjoying a 'Golden Age of TV.' *
While that may be true, the numbers seem to indicate that no one cares. For as much as critics rave about Community (more on that later), it continues to get its ass kicked by The Big Bang Theory, a polished turd from the bowels of comedy hell known only as CBS.
It's strange that America's most watched network happens to be the one that features the most frequently bashed programs.
You may be reading this thinking 'Hey, I'm smart and I like CBS, what gives?? This is not an anti-CBS piece, I'm merely trying to raise awareness that there are BETTER SHOWS on other networks. I want to believe, for the sake of humanity, that people watch American Idol nine days a week because they don't know that other, better entertainment is available.
That's where I come in.
You, the reader, probably have a life. You've got shit going on, responsibilities (gross), maybe even a few people who DEPEND on you. I don't have any of that. Let me help you here. This is what I'm good at. Imagine me as a sort of Dr. of TV. Shouldn't you trust a pro?
Keep in mind, none of this is new information. I am breaking no new ground. Hell, none of these shows are new (please don't use this an excuse, though with TV on DVD, DVR, Netflix and hundreds of free TV sites on the Internet, catching up on a few seasons of a show is not a challenge).
I may be beating a dead horse, but when shows like Two and Half Men frequently dominate the ratings (which are outdated because they don't take DVR/online views into account blah blah blah, but that's another argument for another writer), something has to be done.
Without further ado, the five shows you SHOULD be watching, either to enjoy yourself or have saved on your DVR so people think you're smart/cool/interesting. We'll start with the dramas.
*Both sides of the argument are right. There's tons of crap, but there's tons of good shit too. With cable slowly taking over the planet, the amount of content on television is astounding. While it's inevitable that most of what's on is garbage, there are also plenty of terrific shows no one is paying attention to. There's quality out there, you just have to know where to look.
1). Breaking Bad (AMC, Sundays 10 p.m. EST)
-Two Sentence Synopsis: Mild-mannered Chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and decides to break into the Crystal Meth business as a means to support his family. He's quickly in over his head, and the show explores the ins-and-outs of the business as well as Walt's plunge into the dark abyss that is the drug trade.
-Why it made the top 5: Honestly, this is probably the top dog right now. There is not a more compelling show week-to-week than Breaking Bad. The writing, the acting and the art direction (at least two shots per episode have the 'wow' factor) are all top notch, and it just keeps getting better. Creator Vince Gilligan (The X-files) has kept the audience on their toes for almost four seasons. Just when you think you know what's going to happen, the story takes a sharp left turn and leaves your jaw on the floor. Easily the most intense 45 minutes of the week.
-Basically, if you're not watching it I don't know what the fuck you're doing with your life. It's a show that actually GOES somewhere. There's no stagnation, and each season seems like a natural progression from the last, instead of a reset from the previous year (looking at you, Dexter).
2). Mad Men (AMC, Sundays 9 p.m. EST)
-Two Sentence Synopsis: Slick New York ad-exec Don Draper (Jon Hamm) works for a reputable Madison Avenue ad firm in the 1960s. He juggles a successful career with an interesting home life, and also harbors some skeletons in the closet.
-Why it made the top 5: Because people have been raving about it since 2008 for a reason. While some of the storylines seem arbitrary, and sometimes the 60s imagery gets a little heavy-handed, the payoffs are always worthwhile and the slow-burn of thirteen episodes gives the show the intoxicating, moody atmosphere other networks are desperately trying to replicate (see Pan Am, The Playboy Club). Fortunately, it has substance underneath all that style.
3). Community (NBC Thursdays 8 p.m. EST)
-Two Sentence Synopsis: Former hotshot lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) heads back to school to get the diploma he had previously forged. Along the way, he befriends a ragtag group of misfits... hilarity ensues.
-Why it made the top 5: Before you write it off as a Rodney Dangerfield Back to School clone, give it a chance. There isn't a smarter, quicker comedy out there (early 30 Rock notwithstanding). Episodes are frequently play homage to various genres (season two alone featured a zombie episode, a stop-motion Christmas special, a mockumentary episode, and a clip show). *
-The ensemble is spectacular; if you have any appreciation for television as a creative medium, you'll love Community.
*Instead of looking back at the best moments of the season/series (like most shows), Community once again subverted expectations and ran clips of adventures viewers hadn't seen. Fucking genius.
4). Parks and Recreation (NBC Thursdays 9 p.m. EST)
-Two Sentence Synopsis: Extremely driven Parks and Recreation Department employee Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) leads the Parks & Rec department in serving the small town of Pawnee, Indiana. I can't believe that was one sentence.
-Why it made the top 5: It's the most consistently funny show on television. Greg Daniels and Michael Schur (The Office) have built a well-oiled machine, with an absolutely perfect ensemble cast that knocks it out of the park basically every week. While Community may exhibit higher highs, it can't match 'P & R' in terms of overall consistency. Between seasons two and three, there isn't a single weak episode. Poehler and the cast mix comedy and the more dramatic plotlines effortlessly. It's a joy to watch.
-Plus, Ron Fucking Swanson.
5). Louie (FX Thursdays 10 p.m. EST)
-Two Sentence Synopsis: Louis C.K. creates, writes, produces, directs and stars in this 'series,' which is more of a collection of short films put on TV. Intercut with clips from stand up performances, the show veers from laugh-out-loud funny to startlingly dark and depressing.
-Why it made the top 5: This, among all the others, is one man's vision. While it isn't as over-the-top funny as other shows, it feels about 10x more authentic, and the moments that aren't as funny are definitely as captivating. Louis' singular vision shines through, and if you can appreciate the darker side of life, you'll definitely enjoy Louie.
I fully understand that some readers will look at this article, roll their eyes and go back to watching Jersey Shore. That's fine. Enjoy it. If you just want to turn on the TV so you can turn off your brain at the end of a long day, by all means, go ahead. But this is 2011, America. We demand excellence from everything else in our lives, why should we let our TV off the hook? It's not like he's paying the bills.