Now that we’ve finished my picks for the top TV of the past year, let’s look at the stuff that almost made the list:
Numb3rs — It breaks my heart to leave this off the list, but the show has stumbled in its second season. For one thing, the crimes are starting to look like they were hobbled together out of various math problem illustrations. Another problem is the writers’ tendency to fall victim to Instant History Syndrome; an prime example was when a foreign VIP was a target for assassination, and suddenly we find out that Math Genius Brother is suddenly an expert on the subject of assassination, based on one consulting assignment he once did with the NSA — and which we’re just finding out about.
Sorry, that just felt too pulled-out-of-a-hat for me. Besides, the whole premise of the show has always been that Charlie is good at only one thing: Advanced Math. He crunches the numbers, and the crime experts make the real-world applications. It ruins the mystique when he suddenly becomes a database on criminal behavior.
Mostly though, I fell out of love with this show when they dumped Sabrina Lloyd and replaced her with some droll, thatch-haired scarecrow. This changed has served to hollow out the heart of the whole series.
Besides, dumping co-stars pretty much never solves a show’s problems, and always create more.
Prison Break — Threshold, Invasion, and Surface get all the attention, but this was the first series to really steal from Lost — that is, to use that show’s technique of bunches of complex characters and an over-arching storyline that keeps peeling away more layers as time goes on.
The character list along is mind-boggling: The wrongly-accused assassin; his super-genius engineer brother, who helped design the prison who got himself sentenced to that same prison to break his sibling out; the feisty female prison doctor (who happens to be the daughter of the governor); the gruff but fair warden (Stacy Keach); the sinister vice president (Patricia Wettig), who arranged the murder of her own brother in order to further her own political and financial ambitions, then pinned it on Engineer’s brother, and who is pushing for his speedy execution to cover up the truth; the two bumbling secret service agents who are helping the V.P. try to keep a lid on the conspiracy, leaving a trail of bodies (including an anti-death-penalty bishop) in their wake; and of course the endless assortment of criminally insane thugs inside the prison who are helping or hindering the planned breakout according to their own agendas.
The main reason I left this series off my list, aside from the fact that it regularly stretches believability past the breaking point, is that we have enough shows (and games and movies and music) these days that are romanticizing prison and pimp culture, until the thug life is starting to seem like the norm, and not the aberration.
Otherwise, it’s a fascinating show, because of all the various plot motivations that ricochet back and forth.
G4TV — A year ago, this video gaming channel would have easily made my list, but lately it’s begun to show signs of heading straight down the drain.
The focus used to be on fun, quirky, self-produced shows that talked about video games and related issues, but in the past few months they’ve been buying the reruns of lots of existing show, like Fastlane and The Man Show, in an apparent attempt, as one message-board writer put it, “to become Maxim Magazine”. Even some of the last few original shows, like the cars-and-strippers group known collectively as The Whip Set, are geared the adolescent male demographic and have almost nothing to do with games or computers.
An even stranger move is that this month the network will begin airing reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation — hardly the only channel to do so, and a move that doesn’t seem like it’s aimed at either the old or new demographic.
What the heck is going on over there??? Whatever it is, expect the channel to be greatly weaked or gone by this time next year.
Joan of Arcadia — Another definite Top 10 in its first season, it begin to stink in its second (too many hints that Joan wasn’t seeing God, she’s just insane) and is now gone.
Hey, Hollywood: Quit screwing up the good things you’ve got — we’re trying to help you succeed, but you’re making it damn difficult!