Three tiers of TV

Now that I’ve been out of school for a few months, I find myself watching more and more TV.  While I was in school, I basically just watched The Office and whatever live sporting event was on.  Now, it’s not that I have more time on my hands than I did when I was at Harding, because I don’t.  My schedule is more structured, though, and I’m actually at home most of the time during primetime TV hours.

So, in the past few months, I’ve found myself watching more and more shows, and I thought I’d sift through it on here and say what’s really worth watching to me.  I’ve divided shows up into my must-watch shows, shows I’ll watch if I’m around when they’re on, and other shows I’ve caught from time to time and liked.

My intention is not to say that the shows I watch are necessarily the best on TV, nor is it to say that any shows I’ve left off my list are awful.  It’s more like this: these are the shows I watch and why.

Must-watch

The Office (NBC, 8:30 PM Thursday)

It’s possible that The Office could be in its own category on here, but there are a few other shows I set aside time to watch (other than sports).  It’s the most accessibly clever series I’ve ever followed.  The characters are over-the-top but easy to relate to.  Steve Carell is the perfect unreasonable-but-likable boss, John Krasinki (Jim) and Jenna Fischer (Pam) (and maybe B.J. Novak as Ryan) are believable as the “normal” people.  Rainn Wilson (Dwight – the nerd) and Angela Kinsey (Angela – the uptight *cough* accountant) are among the great niche characters.  Every office, I’m coming to learn, has people like the ones on The Office, though maybe not so strange in every way.

The plots of the show as a whole and each individual episode are both outlandish and feasible at the same time.  Virtually every episode is hilarious from beginning to end.  In my mind, there is simply no match for this show.  Last year, when I was in college and the show was at its peak, I would watch each episode at the original air time, watch it again later that night with most of my friends, and probably watch it one more time between then and the next week’s episode.  I haven’t done that this season, but I probably could without letting it get old.

Jumptheshark.com tracks pretty much every popular TV show and tries to decide whether or not the show has reached the point where it stops making sense, ceases to be interesting, or is so different from when it started that it’s just not worth watching.  It’s named after the Happy Days episode where The Fonz jumps a shark on water skis, which is widely considered to be that series’ turning point in that regard.  Here’s what they say about The Office:

[***SPOILERS if you haven’t caught up***]

About 75% say The Office has “never jumped,” while the remaining 25% are split between four reasons why it has jumped.  About 40% of those people cite “the third season” as jumping the shark, while about 30% say it jumped on “day one,” presumably because they either don’t like it or were partial to the UK version.  20% say Jim kissing Pam was the moment it jumped, and about 10% think Jim transferring to another office did the series in.  I’d be in the “never jumped” category.

[END SPOILERS]

Lost (ABC, 10 PM Wednesday)

I never really thought I would get hooked on this one, which was a ratings powerhouse for the first two seasons when I wasn’t keeping up with it.  Two seasons of DVDs later, I was indeed hooked on what may be the most intricate show on TV.  Sure, it’s basically the dramatic/action version of Gilligan’s Island (they can’t really rescue them, or the show’s going to be over), and the plot is something way past unbelievable, but it’s a great show.

I can’t help but think that ABC didn’t know where they were going with Lost when they started out.  They crashed a bunch of pretty actors on an island and spent a lot of money on the premiere, and all kinds of crazy things have happened to them in the 90 days since (in the show’s time – the Red Sox just won the World Series a few weeks ago, as far as they’re concerned).  They’ve covered for that well, and the flashbacks that sometimes dominate the show are now integral to its success.

[***SPOILERS***]

Like The Office, about 75% of voters on JumpTheShark say that Lost has never jumped.  Both shows are in their third season, which is pretty good, and I would have to agree with the majority on both.  Of the dissenters, almost half give the vague answer of “the third season” as their shark-jumping moment.  Under 20% say that Mr. Eko’s death by the black smoke did them in.  15% say it jumped on day one, and about the same say Ana Lucia was why it jumped.  I can understand the folks who say Mr Eko’s departure was a bit crazy, but I guess I’m still in the “never jumped” category.

[END SPOILERS]

Heroes (NBC, 9 PM Monday)

“Save the cheerleader, save the world” goes the familiar ad that aired for over a month on NBC’s Heroes promos.  However corny that may sound, I’m very excited about this series and its potential, which I think has yet to really materialize.  Basically, a bunch of regular people find out they have superpowers, and the entire first season has centered around them meeting one another and dealing with current supervillian Sylar.  The characters are pretty good and not really like something out of a comic book, which I guess is appealing to me, and I’m anxious to see where they’re going with it.

[***SPOILERS***]

A slightly-lower-than-the-other-shows 70% say that Heroes has never jumped.  Almost half of those who say it has jumped give “too many new characters with super powers” as their response.  I can understand that.  It’s an ensemble cast with the plot going a million different directions at once.  “Save the cheerleader” was the next most common response, with Claire meeting her real dad (Nathan) and Stan Lee’s guest appearance as a bus driver as the other responses.

[END SPOILERS]

I’ll watch if I’m around when it’s on

American Idol (FOX, 8 PM Tuesday/9 PM Wednesday)

Now in its sixth season, Idol has become a ratings powerhouse for churning out some of the bigger stars in pop music today (Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, etc.).  I hadn’t watched it before this season, but it became a weekly routine for me because of the human drama involved and my own curiosity about who people thought were the best singers.  I latched onto a few favorites (Chris Sligh, Phil Stacey, Blake Lewis, and Melinda Doolittle, if anyone’s wondering) and kept watching each week.

What bothers me the most about Idol is the results show, which is pretty much an hour-long advertisement/infomercial that toys with the contestants’ emotions, assuming it’s not completely staged (with the contestants in on it).  This week’s “Idol Gives Back” fundraising effort is quickly climbing the list of shark-jumping moments for the show, and it disappointed me enough that I’m not exactly ready to crawl back next week.  The shout-outs to large donor News Corporation and partner-in-sharing Myspace were a bit much for me, since they failed to mention on-air that News Corp. is the parent company of both FOX and Myspace.  The mounting hype with no payoff has also come to bother me a little, and when they didn’t eliminate anyone this week, I actually booed at the TV for a minute or two.  Luckily, Lost came on when it was over, and I became engrossed in that.

House (FOX, whenever they decide to show it)

It’s tough to follow when FOX will be showing House next.  Will it be Tuesday this week?  Friday?  Monday (like next week)?  It’s still an interesting show, and it’s another one I never thought I’d like because I thought it would be too much like ER, I guess.

House is different because Hugh Laurie (Dr. Gregory House) is a brilliant actor, playing the talented doctor that everyone loves to hate.  The supporting cast is good, too, but it’s House who makes the show interesting.  The ridiculous cases and snail-paced plot for the rest of the characters can be a bit mind-numbing, but you can count on the writers giving House a handful of great lines in each episode.  I suppose that’s what makes it worth watching to me.

Other stuff I guess I could watch

30 Rock (NBC, 9 PM Thursday)

I’ve only caught one or two episodes, but I can see how Tina Fey’s show is considered to be among the better comedies on TV.  I didn’t latch on to it because I wasn’t impressed with Fey on SNL, but it turns out she’s a pretty good writer and producer.  The cast is more than eccentric, which works for the 30 Rock and makes it more intersting than the sitcoms everyone else shows.

The Simpsons (FOX, 8 PM Sunday)

The Simpsons have been on the air since I was too young to get most of the jokes, and I’ve come to appreciate it more and more over time.  Somehow, the writers have found a way to lock the characters in time and make it funny over and over again.  I’ll be interested to see what they do with the upcoming movie, because that’s the type of thing that could push a show like this over the edge.

Family Guy (FOX, Sunday)

I somehow own the first three seasons of this show, which is basically The Simpsons‘ raunchier and quicker-hitting counterpart.  It’s probably not as good as its predecessor overall, but it seems like every episode has a handful of scenes that are just priceless.  I’ve stopped following the new episodes, but the first 4 seasons or so were great (before the demand for DVDs brought it back to life on TV).

My Name is Earl (NBC, 8 PM Thursday)

Earl was an instant hit for good reason.  Jason Lee is brilliant and the plot is just crazy enough to work.  The problem for me is that it got old too quickly, as the episodes follow pretty much the same format.  It’s still great for a few laughs, though, and I’ll watch it occasionally before The Office.

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central, 11 PM weeknights)

These shows fit more of a live late-show format, but they’re actually watchable compared to their network competitors.  I could watch Conan if I stayed up that late, and I Leno’s “headlines” still get me, but that’s about all I can stand of the regular late-night fare.

Stewart and Colbert are actually funny, especially with Colbert’s character parody of Bill O’Reilly’s bravado and cluelessness, so if I’m up that late and not in the mood to watch the news, they’re my choice for that time slot.

Final Thoughts

I’ve noticed that I watch a lot of NBC and FOX, which probably doesn’t mean anything.  The networks tend to cycle every few years with who has the good shows, anyway.  What it probably means is that I watch too much TV and need to think about doing other things, like playing with the cat, reading the Bible, or pretty much anything else.

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