A sketch comedy featuring an SNL cast member and a musician about the people of a particular city might not sound like the most exciting show out there, but Portlandia is a rare gem that many people don't know about. Located on the Independent Film Channel (IFC), Portlandia was created by, written by and stars Fred Armisen of SNL and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney. The two of them have put together an array of Portland-centric characters that can be enjoyed by anyone, even if you’re not familiar with Portland. Portlandia celebrates the city and culture of Portland, Oregon, which includes hippies, musicians, vegans, cyclists, free spirits and so on. There were only six episodes in the first season, but it has been renewed for a ten episode second season. Guest stars in season one included Selma Blair, Heather Graham, Steve Buscemi, Audrey Plaza, Sarah McLachlan, Jason Sudeikis and Kyle McLachlan as the mayor of Portland.
There are a number of animated shows on television these days, but there is one that stands out above the rest. Archer is about the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) and the people who work there. The head of ISIS is Malory Archer (Jessica Walter), whose son is one of ISIS's top spies Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin). Sterling himself isn't the brightest person, and seems to want to be a spy just for the jetsetting, womanizing lifestyle. Amazingly though, Archer is fairly competent at his job, and has a reputation as one of the best. All of the characters who work for ISIS are a bit crazy in their own ways, and have various eccentric tendencies. There is some fun action in this animated spy series, but the real fun comes from the interactions between all of the characters.
With powerhouses Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin leading a cast of talented comedians, it's no wonder 30 Rock is a critically acclaimed show. So acclaimed that in 5 seasons it has won 10 Emmys and 6 Golden Globes. The show takes place at NBC studios (30 Rockefeller), and acts as a behind-the-scenes look at the cast and crew of an SNL-like sketch comedy show. Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is the head of NBC and is often the problem solver for head writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey). The writing for this show is always top notch, and they seem to able to get the biggest-named cameos in all of television (i.e. Matt Damon, Condalisa Rice, Oprah Winfrey, etc).
The Office started off as an American remake of a British show, but over seven seasons it has truly become its own entity. Like any show that has been on several seasons, there have been many high points and low points. Many fans agree the show is not at the same level it once was, but the fact is it's still a quality show, and better than a lot of what's on television. The season brought the end of Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), the long time boss at Dunder Mifflin. With Steve Carrell leaving the show, many question if it'll survive. The Office does have a pretty strong supporting cast, but it will not survive without the special kind of leader this office needs. It still hasn't been announced who the new boss is going to be, but it is no doubt the most crucial piece in keeping The Office relevant.
It's really amazing how some of the most awful people on television can be some of the most lovable. "The gang" as the five main characters are referred to, are so morally inept that they would do ANYTHING to make an extra buck. Their mostly outlandish schemes and ideas, though ridiculous, always provide hilarious results. Every single one of the five "gang" members can hold their own, even with the incredible Danny DeVito among the ranks.
You would think a show that uses so many jokes about physics, gaming and comic books wouldn't have a mass appeal, but The Big Bang Theory is one of the highest watched scripted shows on television. The terms "geek" and "nerd" have really taken on a new meaning over the last several years, and it's safe to say that they are quite popular. It also helps that the writing manages to both make the general public laugh and slip in uber-geeky jokes and references along the way. This season featured a new character, Amy Farrah Fowler, who is a neuroscientist who has become very close with Sheldon. In fact, she is basically the female Sheldon. I find Big Bang Theory as one of the more consistently-funny shows on television. I'd like to believe it'll continue that trend.
Due to NBC having two new and four returning comedies all vying for four slots on Thursday nights, Parks and Recreation (as well as Perfect Couples) were held off until January as midseason replacements. With all four chosen shows performing well enough, NBC decided to turn the two-hour Thursday comedy block into a three-hour comedy block, thus including the two midseason replacements. So Parks only got 16 episodes, but this past season was another solid season (maybe the best yet). Parks added two new regular cast members in Rob Lowe (as Chris Traeger) and Adam Scott (as Ben Wyatt). This season brough two big events for the Pawnee Parks Department to plan (Harvest Festival and a memorial for Li'l Sebastian). We also saw three different relationships take place. Chris and Ann dated but eventually broke up. Andy and April started dating and eventually got married. Leslie and Ben produced sexual tension all season, but had to keep it to themselves due to their supervisor's (Chris Traeger) strict policy on employee dating. Ron and Tom were the strongest and funniest characters as usual. The season ended with Leslie being offered a government position in Indianapolis.
I really wanted to make this number 1 on this list, but I have a particular loyalty to the top 2 (though Community might have had the stronger season this year). Community has some of the best writing (and acting) on television, and they prove it every week. It's amazing that they've been able to set the bar so high for themselves and continue to deliver without disappointment. In fact, sometimes one might feel an episode is week, but once compared to other shows it still looks really good. Community began delivering themed episodes in season 1, and there was a fear that by doing so they wouldn't be able to develop the characters.
This season there was a great mix of themed episodes (space camp, mean girls, zombie apocalypse, conspiracy, christmas animation, documentary, western/star wars paintball, etc) as well as character development episodes. Pierce was made out to be a sort of villain this season, but came through in the end as an unlikely hero. Shirley became pregnant, and wasn't sure if it was Chang's or her husband's baby (it was her husband's). Jeff and Britta had a secret "arrangement" going on all season which we didn't find out about until the end. Annie, Troy and Abed were their usual wonderful selves (my favorite three on the show). Abed had a background story in one episode where he delivered a baby, and it could have easily been missed by the viewer. Annie battled her feelings for Jeff and continued to try and be perfect. Troy met his childhood idol LaVarr Burton, which provided hilarious results. There's just so many good things to talk about in this show. Maybe next season I'll blog about each episode. If there's any show I can do it with, it's Community. The season ended with a two-part epic paintball battle which featured a wild west theme in part one and a Star Wars theme in part two.
At the end of every season Chuck seems to be on the cancellation bubble. It managaed yet again to escape cancellation and will return for a fifth season in the fall. The things aren't what they used to be, I still very much enjoy the show and the characters within it. This season Chuck lost the intersect, got it back, then lost it again. However, a certain bearded buddy of his picked up a new one in the final moments of the season. I'm really interested in seeing what takes place next. There was a great story arc this season involving Chuck's mother (played by Linda Hamilton) and a villain named Volkoff (played by Timothy Dalton). That's some power names for you. Big events this season included the birth of Ellie and Awesome's baby (to the sounds of Jeffster performing Salt N Pepa's "Push It" in the hospital) as well as Chuck and Sarah's wedding. Morgan also became more active in helping out his fellow spy friends. One weakness might be the introduction of the GRETAs, a Buy More employee who was actually an undercover spy (with revolving actors). It seemed to be a way to attract viewers more than anything. GRETAs included Summer Glau, Olivia Munn, Isaiah Mustafa (Old Spice guy) and Stacy Keibler. Otherwise a solid season that as always left me wanting more.
How I Met Your Mother had it's weakest season ever in season 5, but rebounded beautifully. There were almost no low points in this season. Major story arcs included Marshall and Lily trying to have a baby, Ted designing the new GNB headquarters, the death of Marshall's father and Barney's search for his father. Robin wasn't a focal point this year, though there was a great new edition to the Robin Sparkles saga. Marshall and Lily kept failing to get pregnant, then halfway through the season Marshall's father had a heart attack. This brought a lot sadness to the group, and made Marshall a much more somber character this season. In fact, Jason Segal (who plays Marshall) was able to showcase some impressive dramatic chops because of it. The new GNB headquarters required a historical building, the Arcadian, to be demolished. This led to a battle between those who wanted it down and those who thought it should be a landmark. Ted ended up dating the lead activist on the opposite side of of the fight, and that eventually led to a division between them and within the group. Barney finally found his father, and struggled to accept that his father was gone for so long.
In the end, we finally saw Barney's doppleganger (the last of the group), Lily became pregnant, Ted dumped his girlfriend and took down the Arcadian and we find out that at some point in the future Barney gets married. Overall, a great season. "The gentleman!"
Honorable Mention: Cougartown (ABC), Blue Mountain State (SpikeTV), Perfect Couples (NBC)