Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

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When we published our first TV Power Rankings in 2005 listing the best shows on television, the revolution in TV viewing habits was well underway with cable shows like “The Sopranos” raising the bar for TV dramas. Meanwhile, DVDs and on-demand viewing started to change the way we watched our favorite programs and discovered new ones. Since then, the changes have only accelerated, and now many teenagers and people of all ages are addicted to streaming TV, watching everything by their own schedules. Many have even “cut the cord” and eliminated their cable TV subscriptions altogether. Water-cooler discussions about “must-see TV” have given way to shows aimed at niche audiences.

With these developments, the quality of the shows has improved dramatically. That may not be true for sitcoms and most of the stuff on network TV, but many have called this the new “golden era of television,” as the cable networks in particular have given talented writers and directors the freedom to create masterpieces like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” Now with Netflix triumphantly entering the fray with the excellent “House of Cards,” the bar keeps getting raised even higher. I watch fewer movies these days as the quality rarely matches that of the best TV shows, which also have the advantage of developing characters over a much longer time period.

“Breaking Bad” has been one of our favorites for years, and it tops our list again as it completes its final season. When it’s all said and done, it will be part of every conversation of the best TV shows ever. Our list is dominated by cable TV dramas and we’ve left off reality shows. Some are entertaining, but none match the quality of the programs on our list.

We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to avoid some of the write-ups if you want to avoid learning about plot developments.

1. Breaking Bad

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Expectations for the fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” would’ve been running high anyway, given that Season 4 concluded with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bringing an explosive end to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) while also revealing just how far he was willing to sink to get things his way. It doesn’t get much lower than poisoning a child to trick your former partner into working for you again, but the knowledge that it truly was the beginning of the end (i.e. the final season) really amped up the adrenaline. With posters for Season 5 showing Walt surrounded by stacks of cash and emblazoned with the tagline “Hail to the King,” the question at hand was whether or not Mr. White would be able to keep his ego in check successfully enough to take over Gus’s meth empire. The answer: not entirely. Although Mike (Jonathan Banks) agreed to join the operation more out of an attempt to help keep Jesse (Aaron Paul) safe, he quickly grew frustrated and tried to bail out, only to end up in a terminal tussle with Walt. Meanwhile, the domestic situation in the White house has reached all new levels of tension, thanks to a power struggle of sorts between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). As the first half of Season 5 wrapped up, however, the biggest reveal of all took place, with Walt’s DEA-agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), finally discovering that he’s the infamous Heisenberg. This show has yet to disappoint, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to start now. – Will Harris. Check out our “Breaking Bad” blog here and our Fan Hub page here.

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Weekly Web Series Review: Smart Girls at the Party

Described by host Amy Poehler as “a celebration of real friendship, real fellowship, and a kind of community with other girls,” the web series “Smart Girls at the Party” is a kind-hearted, fun and educational program for kids and their parents alike, but especially for young girls. Often specifically focusing on girls who enjoy activities traditionally thought of as being more for boys, the series enjoyed a significant viewership boost in its first season when it introduced its youngest interviewee, seven-year-old Ruby, who speaks precociously about feminism. Its most-viewed episode to date features a 14-year-old boxer named Precela, and another highlight features a young robotics engineer named Rachel.

These are the “girls who are changing the world by being themselves,” in the words of Poehler, who hosts the show with the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of a news anchor before ending each episode with a dance party. Along with producer Meredith Walker and musical director Amy Miles, Poehler explores the special talents and interests of each girl – or in a few episodes, groups of girls – and interviews them, always ending on a “very serious question,” such as “pizza or cotton candy?” or “which is cuter, a baby panda or a baby monkey?” However, despite poking fun at self-serious interview questions, the series never makes fun of the girls or treats them or their interests with cynicism or irony. Instead, it clearly aims to imbue its young audience with a sense of self-worth and individuality, without being boring or preachy.

Now in its second season, the series has markedly improved from its first few episodes, adding a “World Famous 20 Second Song” segment for Miles and boasting higher production values. There are also some familiar faces in the dance parties that parents will enjoy spotting, including Poehler’s husband Will Arnett (who returns from the first season), as well as her “Parks and Recreation co-stars Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza. Look closely and you’ll also spot folks like Jon Hamm, David Cross and Jack McBrayer in later episodes. With its own new channel on YouTube, “Smart Girls at the Party” is slicker and more fun than ever, and is highly recommended for viewing with children, especially daughters, between the ages of five and fifteen.

  

A Chat with the Cast and Crew of “Casa de mi Padre” – Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Génesis Rodríguez, Nick Offerman and writer Andrew Steele

Be sure to check out our 5 Questions interview with the beautiful and talented Génesis Rodríguez to read how she learned to cry on command!

Everyone in show business knows that comedy is hard. Apparently, however, it’s not hard enough for Will Ferrell. The SNL-bred all around comic superstar decided sometime ago he wanted to make a film in Spanish. He didn’t know what the movie would be about, but one thing was clear, the far from fluent Farrell would need to learn his part semi-phonetically, which by all accounts is every bit as difficult to do as you might imagine.

With the help of writer Andrew Steele and first-time feature director Matt Piedmont, that movie evolved into “Casa de mi Padre” (“House of My Father”). A broad but reasonably affectionate and detail-oriented spoof of telenovelas and Mexican and American exploitation movies, the film stars Farrell in one of his best performances yet as the 100% virtuous Armando Alvarez. Armando’s unwavering good guy nature is tested by the disrespect of his wealthy patriarch dad (the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) as well as the fact that his beloved brother, Raul (Diego Luna), has become a powerful narco at war with the ultra villainous La Onza (Gael García Bernal). Even more challenging is the increasingly melodramatic mutual attraction betwixt Armando and Raul’s fiercely stunning fiancée, Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez).

Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to meet with several members of the cast and crew one day earlier this month. Along with comedy superstar Ferrell, we met with Latin-American heart-throb and respected U.S. actor Diego Luna, who may still be best known stateside for co-starring in 2001′s hyper-sexual “Y Tu Mamá También” with real-life lifelong best pal and “Casa” co-narco Gael García Bernal. Also along for the ride was fast rising comic actor Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation,” who portrays a bigoted DEA Agent. To discuss behind-the-camera matters we also spoke with screenwriter Andrew Steele (“The Ladies Man”). Also present at the event was the beguiling Génesis Rodríguez, who is the subject of a separate “5 Questions” feature.

Below are some highlights of the rather freewheeling discussions.

Will Ferrell on how “Casa de mi Padre” came to be.

I had always thought that it could be interesting to put myself in the middle of a Spanish language movie and fully commit to speaking Spanish. That heightened world of the telenovela meets the bad Mexican spaghetti western — all of that seemed like it could be a recipe for a type of movie you hadn’t seen before.

Diego Luna on his opinion of Will Ferrell’s Spanish.

He sounds perfect. You understand everything, basically. I was very worried. Forty days before we started shooting, I sat down in a bar with him and the director and he knew no Spanish at all. He couldn’t speak it.

He said, “Yeah, well, I’m gonna try.” Thirty days later he gave this two-minute monologue and, in fact, he makes sense. He understands what he’s saying. That was impressive, and [it was also] very impressive that two weeks after he forgot everything.

Will Ferrell on learning his lines in Spanish

Patrick Perez, who translated the script from English into Spanish, I kind of got to know him and he said, “Hey, I’m willing to work with you on your Spanish if you want.” I said “That’d be great.” We just started working about a month to six weeks out in front of the movie, meeting three or four times a week. Once we started filming, we would drive to the set every day and drive home every day. In the morning, [we'd] work on the scene or scenes for that day. On the way home, [we'd] start to work on the next day, to try to just embed it into my brain.

Every day I finished I felt like I’d wrapped an entire movie. It was just “Groundhog Day.” Diego and I laugh about because he improvised every take and I had no idea. “Okay, he’s finished? Now, I go.”

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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