Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

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

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.

Breaking Bad Mike and Jesse

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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…

1. Breaking Bad (AMC)

Fact: if you believe that there is any show on television that’s better than “Breaking Bad,” you are wrong. Period. End of story. Although the show began with a concept that spoke to many a family man – if you knew you were going to die, to what lengths would you go to make sure that your family was provided for? – it has since evolved into so much more. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul continue to startle with the depth of their performances, but Giancarlo Esposito‘s work as the chillingly efficient Gus Fring was the kind of work that makes an actor’s career. With an end date now in sight, the series has grown more gripping than ever, and there’s little doubt that we’ll see Hank (Dean Norris) figure out what Walt (Cranston) has been doing behind the back of him and his fellow DEA agents. In other words, folks, for all the shit we’ve seen hit the fan so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Breaking Bad lab

2. Mad Men (AMC)

Yes, we know it hasn’t been on the air since 2010 (we covered that in the intro, you may remember), and, no, we don’t know any more about what to expect from the new season – which premieres on March 25 – than you do (series creator Matthew Weiner is notoriously tight-lipped, and we’re pretty sure he threatens to do terrible things to his cast’s pets if they leak anything to the press), but if we’re going to be doing these TV Power Rankings on an annual basis, then we’re forced to go with our instincts here and presume that “Mad Men” will continue to be as awesome in the future as it has been up to this point.

Mad Men female characters

3. Modern Family (ABC)

It’s a little hard to take the cynics seriously when they say that “Modern Family” isn’t as funny as it used to be when we continue to laugh so hard at each and every episodes. Admittedly, the storyline about Cam and Mitchell trying to adopt another baby has been a little hit-and-miss, and the idea of Claire running for public office seemed a lot funnier in concept than it has in execution, even with David Cross in tow. But the heart of the show continues to be the relationships between the three distinct family units – Cam and Mitchell, the Dunphys, and Jay and Gloria – and their respective kids. If things haven’t been quite as funny this year, so be it: it’s still funny, and we’re still watching.

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One-man mock draft: “The League”

When FX debuted “The League” in 2009, my first reaction was: What took so long? With how popular fantasy football has become over the last decade, I’d been waiting for someone to do a movie or TV show about a bunch of degenerates in a fantasy league. Granted, “The League” is not without its warts, but it fills a growing and rabid niche while also being careful to not exclude people who aren’t into the game. As it says on the show’s official website, “To be a fan of ‘The League,’ you don’t need to know much about fantasy football, or sports at all. You just need to have friends that you hate.” Well put.

In honor of the show’s third season kicking off this week (Thu 10/6 on FX) and Season 2 now being available on Blu-ray and DVD, I decided to stage a one-man mock draft under the following premise: Something has made it impossible for me to manage my team in a long-running fantasy football league this season, and I need to pick my replacement owner from one of the show’s six main characters. From left to right in the photo above, there’s Pete Eckhart, the league’s most successful owner and a shrewd trader who divorced his wife in season 1; Andre Nowzik, the butt of so many jokes who earned a bit of revenge by winning the league’s Shiva Bowl at the end of the first season; Rodney Ruxin, reigning league champ and owner of the well-deserved nickname “The Herdsman”; Kevin MacArthur, lawyer and league commissioner who is still looking for his first title; Jenny MacArthur, who used to co-manage a team with husband Kevin before taking over her own team last season; and Taco MacArthur, Kevin’s younger brother who knows surprisingly little about fantasy football but a considerable amount about weed, women and hooking up. I didn’t include fan favorite Raffi, a no-brainer choice for the last pick, or Raffi’s buddy Dirty Randy, who will be played by Seth Rogen this season in what promises to be a memorable guest appearance.

The commissioner has stepped to the podium and it’s nearly time to make my picks. Check out the quick trailer for Season 3 below and then follow my draft, from #6 to the top pick at #1.

6. Taco
I’ve got nothing against stoners, but I wouldn’t let Taco anywhere near my fantasy team. He’s an idiot, which is usually great for the show but not so much for sustained fantasy success. I’d definitely, however, hire Taco to record a victory song to post on the league message board after I take home the title.

5. Kevin
The first thing to know about Kevin is that he’s the only owner in the group never to play in the Shiva Bowl. Ouch. Aside from Taco (and Raffi), everyone in the league knows more about the game, and wife Jenny actually dumped him to take control of her own team when Raffi was replaced late last season. Kevin is more trustworthy than the slimier Ruxin (below), but playing it safe rarely results in league championships.

4. Ruxin
To be clear, not much separates Kevin and Ruxin in this draft. Ruxin knows what he’s doing when it comes to fantasy football, and he’s ruthless, which is a great quality for any successful fantasy owner. But I just don’t trust the guy. Case in point, near the end of the first season, he let Jenny blackmail him into trading Peyton Manning to Kevin for pennies on the dollar. Still, Ruxin is coming off a Season 2 league title, whereas Kevin has never even sniffed the championship game. I may not trust Ruxin, but I’d choose the upside knowing my team would be competitive with him at the helm.

3. Andre
This guy gets a bad rap. Well, okay, he deserves most of it, but you’ve got to love an underdog. After being the group’s punching bag for so many years, maybe all Andre needs is for someone to believe in him. A case could be made for Andre to go after Kevin and Ruxin, but keep in mind that Andre not only won the Shiva Bowl in the show’s first season, but he also at the time was sleeping with Shiva, the trophy’s namesake and the hot former valedictorian of the group’s high school class. Sure, he took home the dreaded “SackO” as the league’s worst team last season, but I’m playing a hunch and banking on a rebound at #3.

2. Pete
Winning the league three times really beefs up your résumé, but that’s not all Kevin has going for him in this draft. He’s ruthless but not as slimy as Ruxin, he’s mastered the art of lopsided trading, and he arguably knows more about the game than anyone else in the league. He eats and breathes fantasy football, so I know winning would be priority #1 with Pete. Plus, he’s recently divorced and is a notorious slacker at work, so he’ll be more focused on my team than the other guys. So why isn’t Pete my #1 pick? Because he’s not Jenny.

1. Jenny
Like a career backup running back finally getting a chance to shine, Jenny seems destined for stardom now that she’s out of Kevin’s shadow. For years, Jenny made her husband look good with her behind-the-scenes counsel and maneuvering (like the aforementioned Peyton Manning trade with Ruxin), and now she’ll flash her skills while managing her own team. She’s already proven her ability and willingness to get a sweet deal worked out, and after so many years in a supportive role, she’s hungry and ready to thrive. Pete is probably the safer choice but, in more ways than one, Jenny is the hot up-and-comer.