He’s Baaaack…

Annual Pop Theology contributor Ernest Myers graces us with his presence once again with his Top 10 Television Shows of 2008.  It might be an easy way out, but I like the ending…

The 10 Best:

10. Most of the Presidential Coverage (the good stuff: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Tina Fey, Chuck Todd): The withdrawals haven’t been as painful as I would expect, but seriously what am I going to do with all the free time I now have? What am I going to without my daily 2 hour dosage of Chuck Todd?

9. Saturday Night Live – More Vincent Price. More Vinni Vedeccii. Just more Bill Hader.

8. The Office – Amy ‘Sweet Bea’ Ryan brought the show, and Michael’s character, to new heights and every episode since she left has suffered slightly from the feeling that something is missing. So naturally I’m pumped that another Wire cast member, Stringer “Get on with it, motherfu…” Bell has signed for multiple episodes working at Dunder Mifflin. Anytime I see a cast member from the Wire on something… it just makes it 10 times more awesome. Like Lt. Daniels on Lost and Fringe, Rawls showing up on Damages, Clay Davis in Verison commercials, Marlo and Bubbles not sucking like everyone else in Heroes, hell, Carcetti being in the new WWE films John Cena vehicle 12 Rounds makes me kind of want to see it. Where I draw the line is young Michael on 90210. That’s just weird. (Oh yeah the Office… it’s been okay this season. I still laugh.)

7. Always Sunny in Philadelphia – This show is a little like having a one night stand with someone you wouldn’t normally find attractive and probably below the standards you’ve set for yourself, but for whatever reason it happens, and you have fun. It’s a great time. Still though, you feel a little awkward and not quite right about it the next day… and then you just keep meeting up with that person, even though they’re really not your type and sometimes they do things that maybe annoy you or weird you out and sure you don’t want anything long term and you’re kind of embarrassed to tell you’re friends – even though you know they would do the same thing – cause hey, ya’ll are just having fun right? You only live once… No one’s going to get hurt… right? Right? Yeah, this show is kind of like that.

6. Lost – I can’t believe I’m putting Lost as only my sixth favorite show. That’s how good TV shows are right now. The new characters were great, the flash forwards were exciting, Sayid somehow became an even bigger badass, Ben was even creepier, Jack wasn’t so much of whiny little b**** (just a pill popping one). A tons of questions were answered and because it’s Lost, we ended up having tons more. If I ever had doubts during the early seasons of the show season 4 silenced those. They’re going to pull it off. I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

5. 30 Rock
Jack Donaghy: …let me ask you a question, Kenneth. If Mr. Bright here told you to vote Republican, would you do it?
Kenneth Parcell: Oh, uh, no, sir. I don’t vote Republican or Democrat. Choosing is a sin, so I always just write in the Lord’s name!
Jack Donaghy: That’s Republican. We count those.

4. The Venture Brothers: Season 3 – At this point, the Venture Bros. mythology almost makes Lost look simple. Like Lost there is tons of flashbacks and reveals and weird science fiction elements built in to the premise. Like Lost the main character is haunted by the memory of his dead father which severely impacts the decisions he makes in the future. Like Lost there is an island. But it’s a cooler island. It’s Spider Skull Island. Like Lost the secondary male lead is a buff blond dude with long hair who has no problem with the ladies. Unlike Lost the main villain is a guy who dresses as a butterfly, flies around in a giant cocoon and calls himself the Monarch. And unlike Lost it’s the funniest half hour on TV. I just wished more than just one of my friends watched it, so it’s awesomeness could be appreciated by a wider audience. Go Team Venture.

1. (3 way tie)

Friday Night Lights: Season 3
The Wire: Season 5
Mad Men: Season 2

I couldn’t pick between the three. I just couldn’t. If you’re not watching any of them, bump them all up on the Netflix Queue. All three are better than any movie that came out this year, and before it’s all said and done, they might go down as three of the best dramas ever made for television. So much has been written about them (especially The Wire and Mad Men) that it seems redundant for me to add too much. But if I had to summarize, I’d say:

Mad Men is about the ‘good old days’ of America that in reality probably weren’t as good as we like to remember them…

The Wire is about an America that I didn’t really know about. An America that too often gets ignored…

And Friday Night Lights is about the America I know. The America my family and friends grew up in.

Honestly, I can understand a hesitancy to watch The Wire. It’s not an easy show. While it’s probably the most rewarding show out of the three, it’s tough and at times unpleasant. This is complex show and you really have to concentrate and rewatch in order to let it all soak in. By season 5, there something like 50+ major characters to keep track of. At the same time, it can be surprisingly funny and emotional. But every emotion is earned, not thrust on you or manipulated. You find yourself rooting for, or at least respecting, characters, all of whom have some degree of flaws. This isn’t a show about good cops and bad drug dealers but instead it’s about people looking out for themselves or their families, people who all answer to some form of bureaucracy whether it be city hall or the local drug boss, and a few people who are trying to do the right thing, even if they’re not always rewarded for it and sometimes worse off because of it. Season 5, for all it’s faults as the weakest season, still managed at the end to be deeply poignant and powerful. The entire run of this show should be required viewing in high school Senior Civics classes but that said, when people say they don’t think they can handle The Wire, I get it….

And I get can get not watching Mad Men. It’s a slow burn of a show. Heck, during the first half of season 2, it doesn’t seem like much of anything is happening, until everything starts to slowly (and then quickly) unravel, leading up to an incredibly powerful final three episodes. Don Draper can be a hell of a charmer but a guy who seems to have developed that trait out of a necessity to keep an emotional distance from those around him. He seems to have some sort of core decency but you wouldn’t always know it by the way he conducts himself, especially in his marriage. In fact, most of the guys are kind of creeps and, wow, how some of those women suffer because of it. But everyone sure looks great, and the acting is superb (special props this season to January Jones) and the story continually keeps you off balance (it took me a couple of viewings to get a grasp on the California episodes). It’s really one of the most finely crafted shows ever on TV. But hey, some people don’t like to watch repressed people in period pieces drinking martinis and smoking an endless amount of cigarettes. So if that’s your reason for not watching Mad Men, I get it….

What I don’t get, however, is how every person in America isn’t watching Friday Night Lights. I don’t get it. With the sole exception of two people who I think are mostly saying they don’t like it to screw with me, every single person I know who watches the show is a full-on, die hard fan of Friday Night Lights. So that’s like, what, a 95% batting average. Those are pretty good odds.

This isn’t a show just about high school football. It’s about a town and the people who live there. If you come from the South or live in a small town you’ll recognize these characters: You know a Buddy or a Tyra or a Grandma Saracan or a Mama Smash or a Taylor family. These are people who went to your high school or you saw at church or who served you at Applebees. It’s a show about the struggles and joy of everyday life, about trying to get into college, trying to fix up and turn over a house so you can make enough money to support your new child, planning a tea party wedding shower for your sister and her stripper friends (well I’m sure that is some people’s lives…).

I wouldn’t be such a fan if it was just some beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, high school soap opera with an awesome soundtrack. It’s the little things that makes this show great. Nobody does better reaction shots than Coach Taylor or can do a face of disappointment like Tami Taylor or look as happy at a touchdown as Buddy Garritty. Not only does it have the most realistic depiction of a married couple and parents of teenage daughter ever with the Taylors, Season 3 expanded on the best brother/brother relationship on TV with Tim and Billy Riggins. After a slight dip in quality in the first half of Season 2, Season 3 got back to the incredibly high caliber of Season 1 and is in some ways even more satisfying as our relationship with the characters and the town of Dillon has grown.

And it’s not too late to pick up on watching Season 3 as it happens. (Especially if you are a family with one of those rating boxes, as I know at least one of my potential readers is). After the season was shown first run on DirectTV it has just now started back on Friday nights on NBC. You can watch the first two online and then TIVO this Friday. Episode 3 is a great one. Then go back and watch season 1. If you feel like you’re watching too much TV, then drop Bones, or Numbers, or any other show that somehow gets higher rating than this one (read: every show) and pick Friday Night Lights up. Honestly, if you buy Season 1 (it’s $22.99 on Amazon) and you watch it all, and you aren’t 100% completely behind the show… I’ll give you your $22.99 back. I’m not kidding.** This show is that good.

(**Offer only good for the first two people who take me up on it. And you have to collect in person w/ a copy of the DVDs I’m buying back from you. So that means visiting me in NYC. But I don’t think anyone will take me up on the offer. You’ll love the show too much.)