Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TV Guide's Smart TV

TV guide recently did a photo gallery type article on the "smartest" shows on television. Smart TV is my fave, how about you? Trick question, the answer is 62. Here's the list with some smart comments from myself:

Mad Men Why It's Smart: Its depiction of the cut-throat brutality of 1960s Madison Avenue educates us on the sins of our fathers. Its probing scripts use key historical events (for example, JFK vs. Nixon and the Bay of Pigs) to anchor discussions about honesty, temptation and patriotism. How Smart Is It? While the world of Sterling Cooper is at heart an old boys' club, producers had the wherewithal to flesh out the show's popular female characters in Season 2. PCF: I've never watched it but it looks good, plus it has won like a million awards. I want to check it out.

Lost Why It's Smart: What started as a simple desert-island drama has morphed into a dense, kaleidoscopic serial that really bakes your noodle. For every question the show answers, it raises five intriguing others. Why did Oceanic Flight 815 crash? We're really not sure, but it has something to do with electromagnetism, time travel, redemption, absent fathers, fertility issues, an abandoned nuclear warhead, and some guy named Jacob… so far. It's a wild ride. How Smart Is It? Among the staggering number of books woven into the show's mythology are Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. PCF: I might get things thrown at me but giant polar bears and secret "Others" really don't float my boat, meaning I would be on that island forever. It was disappointing that I couldn't get into it since I loved JJ Abrams' Alias. And they killed Greg Grunberg in the first episode! Is nothing sacred Abrams?

Law & Order Why It's Smart: Any journalist worth his notepad will tell you that the most dramatic stories originate in the court system. Producer Dick Wolf knew that, and created a crisply written series chock-full of meaty New York lawyer-and-police stories, many of them inspired by true events. How Smart Is It? It has been on the air for 19 years. PCF: I'll watch Law & Order when nothing else is on. It doesn't keep me coming back every week, I don't love the characters. At the very least the writers need to be smart to be writing the same show for 19 years.

Late Night with Conan O'Brien Why It's Smart: In addition to savvy, lighthearted takes on current events and pop culture, O'Brien's on-screen persona (let's call it Self-Deprecating Nerd) has won the hearts of many a starlet looking for a nice guy with a sense of humor. How smart is that! How Smart Is It? They don't hand over The Tonight Show to just anybody. PCF: I love Conan! And I have a shirt to prove it. Humor in a guy is his best quality. It is smart for a host to make a character of himself. And did you catch his superbowl commercial? Hilarious. More Conan!

How I Met Your Mother Why It's Smart: TV has given us Friends who live and hang out together, as well as the gang at Cheers. CBS' Mother did not simply merge those winning set-ups but did them one better by shrewdly establishing a "finishing line" right in its title. So as awesome as Barney is, and as adorably Canadian as Robin is, and as hot monkey-sextastic as Lily and Marshall are, we are left to wonder every week: How did Ted meet his future kids' mother? And who is she? How Smart Is It? Like, Doogie Howser-child-doctor smart. PCF: One of my favorite shows ever. Neil Patrick Harris is like a superhero. It is the modern version of Friends but more believable and more hilarious. I don't miss it and own all the seasons on DVD. If you haven't watched it, you're missing out. Or if you just watched the episode with Britney Spears. Hey! Every show makes a few mistakes.

House Why It's Smart: Unsolvable medical mystery gets solved by TV's crankiest supersurgeon. And... scene. That's the basic blueprint for every hour of the Fox megahit. Yet almost every week, the story unspools in such a unique fashion – and is accompanied by just the right amount of the doc's personal lives – that it feels fresh. How Smart Is It? David Shore, Katie Jacobs and the show's other executive producers should get honorary MDs from House's alma mater, the University of Michigan. PCF: House is another one of my favorites. I think House took the Law & Order format but twisted it to know more about the characters. It welcomes people who want the mystery of the week type format and those who love characters and back stories. Now THAT'S smart.
Damages Why It's Smart: Let's be honest: Season 1 could have been a hot mess had the multiple timelines and jigsaw-puzzle-like narrative been in less-than-capable hands. Instead, co-creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman crafted a mesmerizing work of art that kept us wondering who did what to whom and why until the very last elevator bell ding. How Smart Is It? The FX series is every bit as clever as Glenn Close's Patty Hewes – always one step ahead of every foe ... or friend. PCF: I've never seen Damages and I've never really wanted to. But I can't truthfully give any real comment on this one. I think there's lack of good advertising.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Why It's Smart: Stewart very easily could have made The Daily Show a leftist, "aren't Republicans fat and white?" kind of political comedy show. Instead, he is an equal-opportunity critic, handing out jabs to both sides of the aisle. Appearing on his show has become a shrewd strategy for anyone serious about raising their profile in Washington. How Smart Is It? Studies have consistently shown that more young people get their political news from Stewart than any network news program. PCF: Jon Stewart actually made young people WANT to watch the news. Above smart, we're moving into genius territory here. But let's keep funny news on a funny news show, I'm talking to you, network news.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Why It's Smart: Cops use science to solve crimes. Real science. How Smart Is It? Actual prosecutors cite "the CSI effect," in which juries won't convict unless all forensic measures have been utilized. PCF: I'm not a fan. I feel like it's Law & Order with science. And don't get me started on CSI: Miami. Glamourizing forensic science, what will they think of next?
Big Love Why It's Smart: It's a tall order: to create a show about polygamy that is neither an attack on or a glorification of the controversial practice of taking multiple wives to ensure one's place in heaven. Ultimately, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his trio of spouses (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloƫ Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) live a normal suburban life; they just share it with additional people. How Smart Is It? It's made us see that polygamy in and of itself isn't the problem. PCF: Another show I haven't seen. But it's a show I want to. It's a creative premise, the world of polygamy. Yet they make it look normal. It seems very smart indeed.

Battlestar Galactica Why It's Smart: Strip away its sci-fi trimmings and Battlestar is as much about democracy and freedom as The West Wing was. Until last season's finale, the 30,000-odd survivors of the destruction of New Caprica were looking for Earth; in a clever reversal, their quest is now much deeper, challenging the very idea of "home." How Smart Is It? Forget global warming. As post-apocalyptic scenarios go, this one — as bleak as it is — seems likely. PCF: Whenever I hear Battlestar Galactica, I think of The Office and Dwight. It's a clever idea but a little too left field for me, but maybe it will grow on me with time. I had to watch the season of Firefly twice before I fell in love.
30 Rock Why It's Smart: Each episode is part class-system study (Jack's rich 50 is a poor person's 38), part family drama (Will Tracy thwart his kids' murder plot?) and part sociology lesson (Jenna in blackface), all complemented by a liberal dose of non-sequiturs (Cat anus!). How Smart Is It? Smart enough to use huge guest stars to goose the ratings and stay afloat, but (almost) never compromise the quality of the comedy. PCF: I want to say that 30 Rock is the smartest show on TV. It makes me laugh, alot. And Tina Fey has been my hero ever since she started to host Weekend Update on SNL. And Adam Baldwin found the character he was meant to play. I hope the Tina Fey love lasts all the days of our lives.
Overall I thought TV Guide did a pretty awesome job with smart TV show. But where is The Office, Heroes, Supernatural? There needs to be more smart shows because reality shows need to die. Do you have a favorite show that didn't make the list or just completely disagree with me? Leave a comment. Otherwise, be smart and watch smart TV. I'm taking it upon myself to save brain cells. If you have any left. I know you watch reality TV when no one is looking.


  1. I know you're not a fan, but I love, love, love CSI (Las Vegas, not the others). I think it speaks a lot for the show that it has faithful viewers (like me) who normally can't stand violence. I think in this case, it's different. CSI has mystery AND characters you can care about. Unfortunately, half the original cast is gone now, but that's another story. Have you ever seen the "miniature" storyline? I think that's one of the show's best.

  2. I'm glad you gave your comment because obviously people like CSI because it has such high ratings. I guess I just haven't seen enough episodes to see the character development and the story lines. How is the show now that the characters are different? Do you think the ratings will go down?

  3. I think CSI definitely lost a lot of viewers after William Patterson (Grissom) left, in addition to two other major characters; however, I think choosing Laurence Fishburne as Patterson's replacement was a good choice. He has many of the same traits and has blended in more smoothly than I would have anticipated. My favorite characters were always Nick and Sara, only one of whom is left (Nick). For people who tune in occasionally just to watch the mystery aspect, I don't think much will change. The writers are still packing in a lot of action and suspense, and you don't usually have to see previous episodes to understand one individually. That's helpful for all the fair-weather fans out there.

  4. Out of all of them the only one I watch is House, so I guess that must mean I'm not watch many smart shows, although I am on the verge of watching 30 rock having just heard it's good.

    Plus I've always found Dexter - although revolving around a serial killer - to be a smart well-written show. Then there are always the deceased ones such as Veronica Mars, Arrested Developement and Dead Like Me which were murdered before their time.

    Well, at least I'm smarter than the people who solely watch the tedious, soul-crushing, mind-destroying, channel ruining shows that people refer to as reality TV that in my opinion deserve to have acts of murder declared on them.