The Great Big TV Scoreboard 2


Almost a year ago to the day (ok, within 2 weeks), I wrote about my weird obsession with ranking TV shows. It’s a side effect of the discussions I have with my friend, Marty. A lot has changed in the last year. Some shows have taken  a step forward, I’ve become familiar with others, and some shows have taken horrible steps into the abyss. It’s time to update the Great Big TV Scoreboard.

As you may recall from last year, this is all about the premium cable drama. Comedies and network shows are excluded.

Off the Cliff
I finally gave up on True Blood, and I should have done so a few seasons sooner than I actually did. It came in at #12 last year, but I feel like it’s almost an insult to even include it with the other shows on this list.

The Bottom Tier
The bottom tier is full of shows that I watch, but I know that I shouldn’t. Or I’m at least aware that it’s occasionally bad TV, even if I enjoy it. These shows are a lot like drinking 10 shots of tequila. It’s often a regrettable experience, but I’ll be damned if it’s not fun at times.


A team of trained chimps hammering away on a typewriter could not have come up with a worse ending.

12. Dexter
Sweet chocolate Jesus, what a horrible ending for this show. Without the first four seasons, I’d have it in the same category as True Blood– falling off the cliff. There’s only so much goodwill that those first four seasons can buy and I assure you that it’s not enough to justify ending your character arc with a sharknado and a lumberjack job. The signs were all there for us viewers. It had been getting progressively worse and worse, but the hope was that Showtime had one more bullet in the chamber. They did not. If you gave up on the show before it ended and want to know how everything wrapped up, it was a lot like this.

11. The Walking Dead
I almost feel guilty for having The Walking Dead this low. It’s not that it’s inherently awful in the way that Dexter was at the end. It’s just that we’re 3.5 years into the show, as of this writing, and I still don’t give a good goddamn about any of the characters. If you’re a fan of the show- not a zombie cultist who will watch the show at all costs, but just a normal fan- ask yourself one question. Would you actually care if any of the characters died? There are two or three that might (MIGHT) make me a little disappointed, and even that’s a stretch. By and large, the show might as well be called Zombie Targets. The action is fun and every few episodes, I feel like they’re taking a turn for the better with character development… until they fumble it almost immediately. The banishment of a certain major character this season is a perfect summation of what’s wrong with the show. That character (you all know who I’m talking about) had just done something really wild, really interesting, really cool in a way that could establish several character’s motivations, and then he/she was gone within 2 episodes. And that particular character isn’t the only one. The show simply doesn’t understand how to create and nurse tension, introducing it and then blowing it up almost immediately time and again. It’s the fatal flaw.

The Middle Tier
The middle tier is populated with a lot of very good shows. At various points in time for  most of these shows, I’ve wanted to put them in the top tier. But they’re just flawed enough that I can’t give them the loftiest of lofty ratings.

10. American Horror Story
Last year, I identified The Walking Dead– ironically- as the show with the most potential to climb the list. This year’s potential riser is American Horror Story. Season 2 was fun, if far from great. Season 3 has been a whole barrel full of fun so far. There’s no doubt that it dabbles in the bizarre, and takes some insane risks. But I admire the show for embracing exactly what it is- a supersexed version of the supernatural that doesn’t neuter itself. And for what it is, the writing is good. The people who make American Horror Story could easily punt, relying on their sex appeal and army of supernatural beings to create just another dumbass soap opera. But they do better than that quite frequently. The street cred of the cast provides a hell of an anchor. Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Danny Huston are assets that most of these shows don’t have, and they make shaky plotlines work when they otherwise would not.

More of this, please

More of this, please

9. Boardwalk Empire
This show, combined with #8, proves that both Terrence Winter and Matthew Weiner were a tremendous team on The Sopranos and also that they desperately needed what the other provided to truly succeed. I want to like Boardwalk more than I do. I really do. But it’s gotten so dry in the last few seasons. Since I last made this list, BWE has had 1.5 seasons. Every time it seems to pick up steam, it gets bogged down in politics or boring personal lives. It’s at its best when they focus on the classic gangsters- Capone, Luciano, Lansky, Torrio, Masseria, and Siegel (speaking of which, where is Siegel?). I’m even willing to concede that season 3 had its moments thanks to Gyp Rosetti. But the most recently completed season was a drag until the finale. The early sizzle of the show is gone and its getting progressively worse. Boardwalk Empire is the five-tool baseball player with tantalizing star potential and subpar production. It pains me to compare it to, say, the J.D. Drews of the world, but there you have it.

8. Mad Men
“HEY, EVERYONE! DID YOU SEE WHAT WE JUST DID? ISN’T IT SOOOOO SMART?” seems to be the standard modus operandi of Mad Men. And a lot of what they do with their characters IS smart. But it’s a tawdry soap opera at heart. I’ve been waiting for it to break away from that mould for years. It succeeded very briefly in seasons 4 and 5, but season 6 saw the show revert back to its old horrible habits. Characters are getting boring? Throw in some adultery. Problem solved. I know its every critic’s darling, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. The characters have barely moved the needle in their own lives. It’s stale. The sleek, dazzling veneer of the 1960s is now several years old to us viewers and the commentary lacks the teeth that it once had. Apparently, Mad Men‘s famed “wheel” was a gerbil wheel, we’re the gerbil, and we’re running over the same scenery again and again. (ok, apologies… that was a stretch)

Vic_Mackey7. The Shield
Here’s the first (and I guess only) new show on the list. When the #1 show on this list concluded, I needed my very own methadone to wean me off of the addiction. The Shield has admirably filled that role thus far. For context, I’m done with six of the seven seasons. Even using the word “gritty” is a cliché; actually making something “gritty” is triply so. But I can’t think of a single show that does it better than The Shield. Similarly, TV shows have probably reached the saturation point for anti-heroes. But Vic Mackey takes it to a whole other level, a darker place where even Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Don Draper don’t reside. It’s because Mackey is completely unlikable. There is no justification whatsoever for his actions. He is relentlessly bad, and wholly unapologetic about it. And that’s refreshing, believe it or not. Nobody is trying to convince me that I should like him despite his criminal activity and that’s so very different from most anything I’ve seen. The show itself has had its high points- the Glenn Close season was spectacular- and Michael Chiklis is amazing in the role. Ultimately, it’s short-circuited by a few bad actors and Mackey’s absurd ability to constantly slip out of administrative danger. Still, it’s a very good show, and was a heck of a forerunner in some ways for every show at the top of this list.

6. Six Feet Under
The longer some of these other shows go into their respective runs on TV, the more I’m coming to appreciate Six Feet Under. It was consistently a very good show and they knew when to cut themselves off. And, of course, they knew HOW to cut themselves off, as well, with arguably the best series finale ever made.

The heart and soul, respectively

The heart and soul, respectively

5. Justified
Justified just keeps getting better and better. At one point, I said that Justified was the best possible combination of CSI and The Dukes of Hazzard. That may have been true during seasons 1 and parts of 2, but it has since moved well beyond that. The characters are all fully developed, and Raylan constantly gives audiences just the right dose of aw-shucksiness. Each season has a solid plan that the writers execute, buttressed by a brilliant supporting cast. Guest spots from Patton Oswalt and Jim Beaver last season, for instance, were particularly inspired. The anchor of the show is the back and forth between Raylan and his perfect foil, Boyd Crowder. In fact, I dare you to find a more perfect set of foils on TV. You can’t. I’m not sure Justified can go much higher on this list, but it’s a testament to the talents involved that it’s in the ballpark with numbers 1 through 4.

The Top Tier
I won’t go so far as to say that all of these shows are flawless. But their flaws are minor- the positives are so amazing as to render the negatives completely moot. Barring something odd or catastrophic, I’ll go to bat for these shows for as long as people are willing to talk about them.

4. Game of Thrones
Speaking of shows that keep getting better and better, Game of Thrones doled out a heaping helping of amazing entertainment last season. I still haven’t gotten “The Rains of Castamere” out of my head (ok, they kind of hammered it home all year, but whatever- that’s insignificant). The Rains of Castamere episode is an all-timer and further emphasizes a huge part of what I love about the show- nobody is safe. If you want character development, think back to where Jaime Lannister was two seasons ago. Think of where Daenerys began. Or Jon Snow and the trials by fire that he’s had to endure. Other than Hodor, there isn’t a single character that hasn’t undergone a really interesting arc. And if you want story, GoT has it in buckets, often as a slow burn with a tremendous payoff. As of right now, it’s at #4 but it’s the one show on TV right now that can crack my top three depending on how the series plays out.

3. The Sopranos
It’s probably unfair, since there hasn’t been an episode of either The Sopranos or The Wire for over 5 years now, but I think I’ve finally decided that The Wire was better. Again, it comes back to knowing when to end the series. The Sopranos lumbered and lurched at the end, staying on for too long and not having an escape plan. Hey, I get it. Everyone wants a good party to last forever. But nobody wants to be there at 3 am when people are puking in the bushes and the ugliest people there are taking off each other’s clothes in the living room. Vito Spatafore was the bush-puker in The Sopranos. It had done so well for so long, and had built Tony’s potential fall from grace up brilliantly. And then suddenly, the entire series hinged on a gay mobster who was a completely insignificant character for more than half of the show’s run. It was sloppy in what was otherwise perfect.

2. The Wire
There’s nothing that’s changed in my opinion of The Wire. That is to say, The Wire is still the same amazing show that I thought it was 12 months ago. Any show that unseats it from this slot has its work cut out.

1. Breaking Bad
For the record, I realize this is the least surprising reveal in the world- that I’d have Breaking Bad in the #1 slot. Hell, it was #1 on this list last year, and all they did was polish the crown. The final eight episodes of the series presented one gut punch episode after another, leading in a fever pitch all the way up to the instant classic episode Ozymandias. It was breathtaking. Breaking Bad didn’t just take the top slot here. It dropped the mic on the capacity for quality of premium  cable TV.

There’s a fourth category- the shows that were cancelled after only a few seasons. It’s almost impossible to compare them to the rest of the list because there’s no telling how well they may have done with further seasons. Strangely enough, I feel the same way about all three shows in this category. I thought they were great and I would’ve loved to see where they were headed. If they were still active and there were more episodes coming, I’d place all three towards the top of the middle tier. They are Rome, Carnivale, and Deadwood. Find my thoughts on those shows here.


Filed under Television, TV Shows

13 responses to “The Great Big TV Scoreboard 2

  1. V

    Absolutely brilliant list. And it’s nice to see someone include Justified, it doesn’t get enough credit IMO!

  2. Fantastic list! I remember seeing a few episodes of the Sopranos and hearing my mum praise it to heavens, but until a few months ago I hadn’t even heard of The Wire. Ohhh, how I want to watch it. My future watchlist goes pretty much like your here – the first four are definitely frontrunners, though.

    And as for Breaking Bad, the only one I’ve fully seen from this list – yes and YES and a thousand times YES. Ozymandias is still haunting me. Such an amazing show.

    • The Wire is so, so, so very good, AND it’s based on a very true story (although the characters aren’t the same as the reality). It’s all based on David Simon’s work for the Baltimore Sun.

      The fun thing about premium cable TV is that there’s pretty much something for everyone. The fantasy nerds get Game of Thrones, Mad Men fills the soap opera void, The Sopranos (and others) give you all sorts of crime drama, etc…

  3. I’m sad to say that I totally agree about The Walking Dead. Despite a solid finale, I’m basically watching it out of habit at this point. It’s great to see The Shield on there. I expect it may rise after you’ve watched the final season, which is nearly pitch-perfect. One of the great finales of all time. Can’t wait for Justified to return in January. Love that show!

    • I’m about a third of the way on The Shield’s final season and I’m digging it, which I’m glad to say because it felt like season 6 lost its stride a little. Although I kind of have to laugh that the Armenian thing is still an issue after 4 seasons. (not a complaint, really… just kind of funny in contrast with Walking Dead)

      Justified is almost the perfect blend of legitimately good writing, and a show not taking itself too seriously. There’s a bit too much of that with a lot of these newer shows, like The Killing and Low Winter Sun. Dark is one thing, pitch black and joyless is quite another.

  4. Love it – I’m so glad you brought up The Walking Dead. That character that got banished is my favorite, and that storyline is so out of character and full of plot holes that it’s seriously distracted me from enjoying ANYTHING else on that show right now. I’m with you, The Walking Dead isn’t a great show, it’s just an entertaining one to watch, but I am really invested in that character and I’m surprised at how pissed off I am. I’ve seen a few “she’s covering for…” theories that I like, and frankly, that’s the only way this story can redeem itself in my eyes. Either she’s covering for someone else, and is accepted back into the fold. Or she did it, and she’s accepted back into the fold. If she dies, I’m done caring about that show. Not to mention my other favorite character is the one that banished her, so I’m not too pleased with him now either.

    Sorry for the rant.

    • No, no… that’s great stuff. I LOVE the Walking Dead rants. My friend Marty and I do this all the time with that show.

      What kills me is that it could be a legitimately good show. Hell, I could live with… uh… that character… getting banished EVENTUALLY but they introduced it and it was done in 2 episodes. Come on, writers, let that thing simmer a little bit.

      • The one stupid detail I cannot let go of is that she’s wearing the same clothes. How did she stab two people to death, burn their bodies, and not mess up her clothes? She couldn’t have had time to wash/dry them in between all of this crap.

        • Maybe she washed them all in the blood of thousands of fence zombies.

          (I am so glad that we will never see another scene featuring a bunch of fence zombie stabbing)

  5. Why does ‘Game of Thrones’ make me crazy? You are such an astute observer of filmed entertainment and you enjoy it, which makes me think that I am just missing something. I do admire the producers for including Sibel Kikelli in the cast, For someone who performed in adult films in her native Turkey, she has proved herself a very good actress. Have you seen the film, ‘Head On’? She’s real good.
    Also, I had to fire 2 of my employees today so thanks for giving me something else to think about.

    • Yikes! Right before Christmas, too. Sorry to hear that.

      I don’t know if you watch South Park, but they just had a hilarious three-episode arc making fun of Game of Thrones. And their biggest gripes seem to be:

      a) too many weiners

      b) that the show promises these huge things (dragons, zombies/white walkers) but they take so long to fulfill the promise

      And it is definitely a slow burn show. I wonder if that’s what gets you about it?

      I haven’t seen Head On, although now I feel obligated to find some of her OTHER work.

  6. OMG THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS ON WALKING DEAD! I’m forced to watch it each week because it’s the water-cooler show where my boyfriend works so he feels the need to keep up with it. I am just so frustrated with all of it, but all I ever hear is this gushing about how it’s so well written blah blah blah. I think everyone on there is a fine actor, but, like you said, I just don’t care about anyone. It follows almost the same story arc each season and they seem to bring in new characters *just* to kill them off.

    I almost didn’t watch American Horror Story this season because last year was such a disappointment after the first, but Coven has just been so much fun. Cannot wait to see how it all plays out.

    And clearly I need to catch up on Justified! New season is out on DVD this week so hopefully I can snag it from the library and get caught up before the next one starts.

    That was a fun list! 😀

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