Whenever I get into a conversation with someone who says they don't watch television, it invariably winds up with them admitting “…oh, yeah, I DO watch this, or, well, I hate to admit it but I sometimes catch that.” It's amazing how much television non-television watchers watch. What's unfortunate, however, is how much good television they're deprived of, mostly because it gets lost amidst all the desperate housewives, the Law and Orders, the CSIs and the constant shuffling of air times and nights. There really are some extremely high quality shows on TV these days, shows that aren't as soapy as the housewives or as predictable and formulaic as the big franchises just mentioned.
In my opinion the most brilliantly crafted show on television right now is Boston Legal , from the genius of Patrick E. Kelly. At the end of each episode, my husband and I frequently look at each other and say something like, “it doesn't get any better than that.” Each episode is a perfectly crafted gem of impeccable writing and inspired acting—moments of quirkiness and humor brilliantly blended with emotional intensity and pathos. The casting is nothing short of phenomenal, providing perhaps the only role for William Shatner that could erase in our minds his image as Captain Kirk and replace it with his tragically comedic tour de force as Denny Crane. And James Spader has created for himself a totally unforgettable persona, one he inhabits so well that it's hard to imagine that he's not Alan Shore . His every gesture, head held slightly higher than anyone else's, eyes semi-myopic except when he wants us to know he cares, arm across his mid-section as though protecting himself from the world, all contribute to one of the most unique and deeply fascinating characters on television. The rest of the cast is outstanding as well, delivering each masterful line of dialogue to perfection. In the final moments —when the two tragically flawed but strangely lovable heroes ritualistically light their cigars, pour a drink and bask in the glow of each other's company— it just doesn't get any better than that.
Kudos also to Grey's Anatomy , a doctor show that gives us totally three-dimensional characters involved in life, not just internal organs. It's reminiscent of the best of ER, but with an ultra-modern twist; it's a little sexier, a little funnier, a lot less medical lingo and, therefore, a lot more character development. Again, it's all about the writing and the acting, carried out superbly on both counts. As each of the new doctor's back-story is revealed, we become more vested in their lives, and the episodes have more resonance because of that. There's still high drama — emergency surgeries and bombs about to go off — but the focus is on the characters and their reactions to these situations, as well as their complex interactions with each other. There is genuine yearning on this show, feelings hurt, passions unfulfilled, emotions stifled and deep love expressed. That is what propels the show, and what never fails to touch our hearts.
When it comes to doctor shows, however, my favorite is House . Not everyone can get their arms around the eponymous Dr. House; he's not a warm and fuzzy doctor. In fact, he's probably the most sarcastic, pill-poppingly perverse and thoroughly unlikable character on television…except when he, in collusion with the writers, lets us in. In those moments we see his tortured, fathomless loneliness and we ache for him.
What makes Hugh Laurie's portrayal of Greg House so brilliant is that he can make us like him (think James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano) even as we cringe at his caustic remarks and lousy bedside manner. He's been hurt; he's damaged goods and we know it, so we care. The fact that Laurie is a good-natured Brit who plays the harrowing part to perfection with an American accent (and agonizing limp) just adds to our admiration of his acting prowess. Again, it's writing and acting that really set this show apart. Every episode has at its core a mystery; what is the cause of the illness? But instead of endless computer animated graphics of the insides of people's guts and brains like we see on CSI, we get writing that illuminates the brilliant deductive reasoning and debate that goes into making the right, and often life-saving diagnosis. And during that time, we are also treated to the strong performances of all the supporting actors; each makes the most of their limited screen time by creating a totally unique and consistent personality for their highly individual characters.
And, to round off my list, there's always American Idol and in another week, The Apprentice . With THAT much high quality, what else can a television watcher ask for?
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com