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Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Mount Rushmore Of Television Shows

What are the four greatest seasons television programs according to me? Well I'm glad you asked.

(created by Matthew Weiner)

The first season of Mad Men is like George Washington. I got into the show very early on (admittedly my mother watched the pilot episode when it originally aired, told me about it a few episodes in, I stared to get hooked, and then I realized the critics were loving it as well) and Mad Men was one of the first real dramas I watched. I know the show is very young (and due to the advent of DVD players and the internet I have been able to watch other great and classic TV shows) but Mad Man is one of my first.

What makes the first season of Mad Men so great is that you get the full complexity of Don Draper throughout the entire season. The show introduces the mystery about Dick Wittman and then actually addresses and answers it by the seasons end. Normally with a secret as deep as Dick Wittman, shows will let it linger for three or so seasons before really releasing it. Not Mad Men. The end felt so fulfilling and exhilarating (probably because show creator Matthew Weiner didn't know if he would be able to make more seasons) that the season felt complete and was great.

The reason why I think Season One is the best is because the show lets Don Draper be Don Draper. The guy's a dick and a philanderer but he's so smooth and charming and just everything you want to be as a man. Yet there's a sad and troubled undertone to him. As the show progresses- I don't want to say a different Don Draper because "different" has a false connotation that I do not wish to use- you see a more evolved Don Draper. I like the "new" Don Draper and Season Four- which shows a completely different Don than the first three seasons- is my second favorite season of Mad Men but the character that I saw Jon Hamm play in the shows first season will always be my favorite and what makes the first season of Mad Men so great.

Breaking Bad (AMC)- SEASON THREE
(created by Vince Gilligan)

Breaking Bad is like Abraham Lincoln. I just saw the show within the past four weeks (like how Lincoln came later than some other presidents on the monument) and it was amazing. Season 3 of Breaking Bad is probably my favorite single season of television ever (just like many consider Lincoln to be the greatest president ever).

Choosing my favorite season of Breaking Bad was tough. Season One is out because it was only seven episodes and we really just see the beginning of Walter White (Gilligan said he wanted to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface). Well we really don't see a whole lot of Scarface in Season 1. Season Two is out because the beginning of the season was so tough and so hard for me to get through that I almost stopped watching the series. While the end of Season Two is amazing, I have to judge seasons in their entirety. Plus, the mystery of the flashforward and the burning purple doll in the pool and such was a left turn and a bold and daring choice by Gilligan and crew but the reveal was ultimately kind of upsetting.

Therefore it came down to (obviously) Seasons 3 and 4 and what it really came down to was Jesse Pinkman. The first half of Pinkman in Season 4 was not that fun to watch. I understand why the show took the character there (they had to after what Jesse did in the finale of Season 3) but I have to judge seasons as a whole and I enjoyed Jesse throughout ALL of Season 3 versus only part of him in Season 4.

Season Three of Breaking Bad follows former Chemistry genius-turned high school Chemistry teacher-turned meth cook Walter White and his former student-turned dropout-turned meth dealer protoge Jesse Pinkman. While Walter White cooks the best meth in all of the Southwest he and Jesse have problems finding a distributor. The two man cook team struggled to find one throughout the first two seasons but their search to find one in Season Three is the most entertaining.

Season Three also introduced the duo's lawyer Saul Goodman (played by the comic great Bob Odenkirk). Saul is meant to add comic levity and it is much needed to help ease the tension for the rest of the show. Part of the problem with Season Two was that it was TOO tense and hard for me to watch but Saul Goodman helped change that. Saul also helps Walter and Jesse navigate through uncharted waters of the meth game which turned into a nice change of pace from the other three seasons.

(created by David Simon)

The first season of The Wire is like Thomas Jefferson, it's the show I saw in between Mad Men (George Washington) and Breaking Bad (Abraham Lincoln) and while it's great (like Jefferson) it's also not the first season that comes to mind when asked "What's your favorite television series?" (like Jefferson- although substitute "television series" with "President")

Most people consider Season Four of The Wire not only The Wire's greatest season but one of the greatest seasons ever but I disagree with them. The reason is because I get invested in characters and while many consider Omar the best character on The Wire, my personal favorite has always been Avon's #2 man Stringer Bell.

The Wire follows around the city of Baltimore. Season One focuses on the gangs of Balitmore and the cops trying to catch the big men in charge of the gang. The show's "main" character is detective Jimmy McNulty and his "rag tag team" and trying not only to identity Avon (the head of the main gang in Baltimore) but take him down.

Season Two builds on Season One but Simon took a bold left turn and the main focus of the season turns to the docks of Baltimore (although you do find out the connection between the dock and the Baltimore gangs).

Season Three turns its focus back to the gangs versus the cops but it adds the political side of Baltimore- mainly up and comer Tommy Carcetti and adds a new gang to rival Avon- led by Marlo. I never liked Marlo. Mainly because he is (purposefully) a stark contradiction to Avon and especially my boy Stringer Bell. In Season One you see Bell go to business school at night. Stringer Bell takes the realistic approach to how to run the gang like what was shown in Freakonomics and Gang Leader For A Day. But Marlo is a pure street vicious S.O.B. Marlo is probably very realistic to how gangs operate but as a character I just disliked him. At least with Avon and Bell you loved to hate them. With Marlo I just hated him.

Season Four drew the focus back to the gangs but emphasized how kids were effected by gang culture. Most fans of the show loved Season Four because of this. As's Alan Sepinwall stated, it's a whole 'nother game when you turn your attention to the kids (I'm paraphrasing). But as a man who got drawn into characters, mainly Stringer Bell, I was disappointed in Season Four with the de-emphasis on the adult leaders of the gang and I did not get to see as much of Bell as I would have liked to.

Season Five built upon ALL the characters and plot lines of the first three seasons but added how the news and media affects everything.

The choice for me came down to Season One or Season Three. I really liked the Hamsterdam plot line of Season Three (You just have to see the show to understand Hamsterdam) and the huge role Stringer Bell played but it's that damned Marlo kid and his whole plot line that made Season One of The Wire my favorite season of the show.

Justified (FX)- SEASON TWO
(created by Graham Yost)

Justified is like Teddy Roosevelt. You know it's technically eligible but you're not quite sure what it's doing among the others. However, Justified is one of my personal favorite shows, and its second season might be the most fun you'll have watching a television season.

Based upon the short story "Fire In The Hole", Justified was supposed to be a procedural show about U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and about how he chases a different outlaw bad guy ever week. The first season was pretty much that format, and it was fine, but it felt like a slicker version of a CBS show.

Then Justified took the leap in Season 2, both creatively and structurally. The show became more serialized and introduced one of the greatest Heavys in television history- Mags Bennett played by the incomparable character actress Margo Martindale. Martindale ended up winning an Emmy for her work on the show, and it is not difficult to see why. Similar to how The Joker made The Dark Knight the instant classic that it is, Mags Bennett did the same to season two of Justified. She was both dark and evil, yet full of charisma and charm. With her three sons, Coover, Doyle, and Dickie, Mags Bennett ruled Harlan County with an iron fist and warm bottle of her apple pie moonshine.

The second half of the show's second season was a pure adrenaline rush as the show pit Raylan vs. the Bennett family vs. the show's main antagonist Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). It was a white-knuckle roller coaster ride that you never wanted to end. Ultimately, you knew the protagonist U.S. Marshall was going to win out, but you just didn't know how. It was that thrill factor that made the show so entertaining that why the second season of Justified is one the greatest seasons of television of all time. According to me.

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