The next few weeks will bring with them a cavalcade of 10-best lists from TV critics across the media landscape. Before all that excitement begins, here is the first installment of my annual year-end look back at shows from the previous twelve months that likely won’t turn up in anyone’s “Best of” columns, but are nevertheless deserving of special recognition.
“Tosh.0” (Comedy Central) – Once again, Comedy Central’s uncompromisingly crude “Tosh.0” stood out as TV’s funniest show. Even after 100 episodes, host and executive producer Daniel Tosh and his crew haven’t lost any of their manic enthusiasm for cobbling together the most shocking and unreservedly vulgar videos available on the Web, packaging them with more skill and entertainment savvy than is evident in any of the many similar shows on other basic cable networks. As I noted last year, the most fascinating thing about the success of this fearlessly edgy show is its popularity with children. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but from what I’ve seen, parents really enjoy watching it with their kids. That said, I have trouble referring to “Tosh” as a family-friendly program. I just can’t bring myself to locate it in the same arena as “Leave It to Beaver,” “The Waltons,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Cosby Show” and other legendary examples of fine family fare.
“General Hospital” (ABC) – Barely escaping ABC’s ruthless demolition of its widely cherished daytime drama schedule, “General Hospital” – a series that had long ago become painful to watch – was excitingly reborn under the oversight of the talented executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati, the men who made “One Life to Live” so vital in its final years. “GH” is once again big fun for anyone who appreciated the stories it told during the last three decades of the previous century, fueled primarily by the returns of popular characters from the ‘80s and a shift away from the low-grade mob drama that had so grievously compromised the show. As an added bonus, a handful of relocated characters from “One Life to Live” were brought on board to keep storylines from that much-missed show going, as well. (Would the arrival in Port Charles of a character or two from “All My Children” be too much to ask?) “GH” will mark its 50th anniversary in 2013. How wonderful that it will do so in such fine form.
“The Pitch” (AMC) – Boldly following in the footsteps of surgically altered housewives, desperate singles and singers of questionable talent, the executives and employees at advertising agencies put their professional strengths and weaknesses on sometimes unforgiving display for all to see. The result was the smartest and most surprisingly emotional new reality series of the year. If nothing else, “The Pitch” went a long way toward explaining why the number of underperforming advertising campaigns in this world far exceeds that of the truly effective. It will return in 2013 as one element of AMC’s upcoming Thursday night reality programming block.
“Face Off” (Syfy) – Syfy’s grandly entertaining special-effects make-up show continued to earn its place among television’s best reality competition series. Just as one need not be a fashionista to enjoy Lifetime’s still-vital “Project Runway,” one need not be a fervid fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror movies to appreciate the extreme creativity on display from talented artists seeking to raise their profiles in an exceedingly competitive business.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (Me-TV) –‘70s sensation “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” makes my list because the wise programmers at Me-TV earlier this year scheduled it at 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, prompting me to watch the entire series from beginning to end for the first time in decades, falling for it all over again (with a little help from my DVR, rather than my DVDs). “Mary” may feel a little dated around the edges, but it holds up spectacularly well as smart, sophisticated situation comedy, and its amazing ensemble – Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Cloris Leachman, Georgia Engel and Betty White – remains one of the very best in television history. (Moore was so right when she long ago introduced them at the end of the series’ finale as “the best cast ever.”)
After a fresh look at the show, all I can say is the first five seasons, when Mary lived in her charming studio apartment, are far superior to the final two, when the poor woman was made to live in a bland one-bedroom in an ugly high-rise. It was also better when Rhoda, Phyllis, Bess and Lars were around. And while I’m at it, let me assert that “The Lars Affair” – the episode at the start of the series’ fourth season that introduced Betty White as Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens – is funnier than the episode often designated as this show’s best, “Chuckles Bites the Dust.”
Next week: Five more shows (and a few runners-up) that should be acknowledged before the year ends.