What's the New Best Show on TV?
With 'The Sopranos' and 'The Wire' gone, what takes over as the best television has to offer?
All five at some point, somewhere, have been proclaimed as the Best Show on Television. In the case of "The Wire" and "The Sopranos" especially, there are quite a few people who would tell you one or the other is the Best Show Ever.
I'm less interested in rehashing that argument at the moment (although, for the record, I'm a Wire guy). But with all the aforementioned shows off the air, it seems like the right time to ask the question: What's the new Best Show on Television?
I don't see anything out there that would get anything close to universal acclamation as the top series. There's a lot of quality TV to be had at the moment -- strike-afflicted, reality-junk-heavy schedules aside, maybe more than at any other time, thanks to the explosion of original programming on cable. But one extra-special series that stands above all the others? I'm not sure there is one, at least not at the moment.
That said, there are more than a couple contenders out there. Here are a handful of possible BSoTs, in no particular order, with pro and con arguments for each.
Pro: The ABC show has gotten a big shot of creative energy by opening up its structure (allowing for flash-forward as well as flashback sequences). Hard-core fans of the mysterious elements are (finally) getting some answers -- or at least hearing the right questions get asked -- and the flash-forward device allows for further exploration of characters that were starting to become a little stale.
Con: Tendencies in the past to get too absorbed in its own mythology and a sometimes glacial pace (which has been alleviated some now that the writers know how much time they have left).
Pro: Has won over lots of people not predisposed to sci-fi (or the Sci Fi Channel) with strong writing, a willingness to speak to present-day issues like religion and politics and never taking its premise or its audience for granted. It's also promised to answer some big questions in its upcoming final season, which begins in a few weeks.
Con: The quality of the acting can be a bit uneven. Plus, Starbuck survived? Really?
Pro: Has surpassed all expectations about its longevity and is still going strong in its fourth season. It's kept the spirit of its British predecessor intact while becoming its own distinct entity, and it has one of the best and deepest groups of funny people anywhere on TV.
Con: The hour-long episodes in the fall showed you can sometimes have too much of a good thing. How long can the documentary conceit last before it becomes patently ridiculous?
Pro: AMC hit it out of the park with its first original scripted series in years, delivering a supremely stylish and very smart show about the birth of consumer culture, as seen through the eyes of the ad men who helped create it. It looks unlike anything else out there, and its ensemble of actors is almost uniformly strong.
Con: It's only been on for one season, so it has yet to prove it can stand the test of time.
Pro: For six seasons The Shield has given us one of the most riveting characters on TV in Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis). The people around him have gradually become compelling in their own right too. It also has a visual style that fits in nicely with the often frenetic pace.
Con: Mackey's ability to stay ahead of the forces trying to take him down stretch credulity more than a little bit. If that's how the series ends it'll be pretty hard to swallow.
"Friday Night Lights"
Pro: It features brilliant, naturalistic acting -- particularly from stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, but the cast is strong from top to bottom. When it's on, it's also one of the funniest hour-long shows around.
Con: The disastrous murder subplot at the start of season two took the show to a very strange place and destroyed some of the dynamics that made season one so fantastic. If the show does survive to next season, can it come all the way back from that?
Pro: A singular performance from Michael C. Hall in the title role of a killer who only kills other really bad people. Dexter also has a wicked sense of humor and a worldview that's alternately repulsive and seductive.
Con: Sometimes relies too much on Hall to the exclusion of its other characters.