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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Blu Tuesday: The Newsroom, House of Cards and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Newsroom: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: Following a mandatory leave of absence after a political tirade goes viral, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Bridges) returns to find that most of his staff has quit. Seeing an opportunity to rebrand the nighttime program, his boss (Sam Waterson) hires Will’s ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), to executive produce a show that values quality news over ratings-driven infotainment.

WHY: Aaron Sorkin’s last TV project (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) may not have been his best work, but he’s hit a homerun with this HBO drama, which uses actual news stories (the BP oil spill, the death of Osama Bin Laden, etc.) to ground the show (and by extension, its characters) in reality. The writing is every bit as snappy, whip-smart and funny as we’ve come to expect from Sorkin, while the cast is littered with great performances from veterans like Bridges, Mortimer and Waterson, as well as up-and-comers like John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill and, quite surprisingly, Olivia Munn.

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on half the episodes, the four-disc set also includes all of the “Inside the Episode” recaps, a handful of deleted scenes, and a 25-minute roundtable discussion with Sorkin, Daniels, Mortimer, Waterson and directors/producers Greg Mottola and Alan Poul about making the show.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“House of Cards: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After Senator Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the House Majority Whip, is passed over for the Secretary of State position, he exacts revenge on those who betrayed him by exploiting his devoted wife (Robin Wright), a young reporter (Kate Mara) and a troubled congressman (Corey Stoll) to help do his dirty work.

WHY: Based on the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, “House of Cards” is an enthralling and immensely addicting drama that boasts the kind of top-shelf quality we’ve come to expect from networks like HBO and AMC. In addition to being produced by David Fincher (who also directed the first two episodes), there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Kevin Spacey delivers his finest performance since “American Beauty” as the calculating politician, while Robin Wright is the perfect complement as his stone-cold marriage partner in crime. Corey Stoll also delivers some fine work as the congressman who gets ensnared in Underwood’s puppet strings. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the series is partly based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” because there are so many political power plays in each episode that it has the Bard’s fingerprints all over it.

EXTRAS: Sadly, no bonus material has been included.

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A Chat with Peter Farrelly (“The Three Stooges”)

The initial reaction to the idea of a new Three Stooges film for 2012 brought no end of moans and groans from Moe, Larry & Curly purists, but after Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s film hit theaters, many were surprised by the fact that it didn’t completely suck. Indeed, it was actually about as good as anyone could’ve hoped, thanks in no small part to the Farrelly’s devotion to making the best possible tribute to the comedic trio that they possibly could, aided in no small part by the efforts of Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry), and Will Sasso (Curly). Bullz-Eye talked to Peter Farrelly in conjunction with the film hitting DVD, and he spoke about the trials and tribulations of getting the film made, his Zen attitude toward the lengthy casting process, and his continued optimism that the Farrellys’ next film will indeed be “Dumb & Dumber 2.”

Bullz-Eye: Not that you haven’t been asked this more than a few times, but…what’s your very first memory of experiencing the Three Stooges?

Peter Farrelly: You know, the God’s honest truth…? I don’t remember it. Because they were always there. I’ve been watching the Stooges since I could turn on a TV. But I guess the thing I recall the most is, for some reason, I went through a period when I was, like, a freshman in high school where they were on every day from I think 4 – 5 PM, and I just remember it being the highlight of that winter. [Laughs.] Every day, because it was freezing out, you’d just get in the house and turn on the TV. Every kid in my school at that time was watching. For some reason, they were going through some sort of a renaissance. Everybody was watching them that year.

BE: Not that you guys have ever been afraid of testing boundaries, but it would seem to be pretty daunting to update the Three Stooges. I think the last time anyone tried it was with “The Three Robonic Stooges.“

PF: Yeah, we knew it wasn’t gonna be easy, but we love the Stooges and…the God’s honest truth is that we felt like they were going away. I had little kids…well, they’re 11 and 13 years old now, but the last few years, I asked their friends, and two-thirds of them did not know the Three Stooges. Or they had heard of them, but they didn’t really know who they were. And that bothered us, because we’re huge Stooges fans – they’ve given me more laughs than anybody – and we wanted to bring them back. But we knew that…you know, look, anytime you do anything like this… There was a huge, huge opportunity to fall on our faces, but I did believe that it should be done, the movie should be made, and I felt very confident that we could pull it off.

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Sunday Reading: Aaron Sorkin, Woody in Rome and a great summer drink

Aaron Sorkin is back on TV, and you can catch “The Newsroom” premiere tonight on HBO. Will Harris was able to preview the first four episodes, and fans of Sorkin won’t be disappointed with this new series. Jeff Daniels is one of the best actors in the business and he has a great supporting cast to help him deliver Sorkin’s signature dialogue.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t been watching Louie C.K., you can check out the fabulous season 2 of “Louie” which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.

Nothing impressed our movie critics much this week. “Brave” was a bit of a disappointment, while “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” had a hard time living up to its romantic comedy billing. Meanwhile, Woody Allen moves from Paris to Rome with his latest effort, and the result isn’t all that bad. Woody has become a caricature of himself, but at least he’s picking great locations for his movies.

For our car review this week we had the 2012 BMW 335i Sedan. Yes – it proved to be a badass vehicle. We were in San Diego this week driving the new Hyundai Veloster Turbo so check back this week for our driving impressions.

Finally, try the simple Cliquet for the perfect summer drink.

  

The Light from the TV Shows: HBO’s “The Newsroom” is unabashedly Sorkin-esque…which is a good thing

It’s arguably the laziest possible comparison to suggest that Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” comes across like “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” fused with “The West Wing.”

With that said, however, it’s also hard to deny the inherent accuracy of such a statement, given that it’s a series that takes place behind the scenes of a television program, except rather than sports or comedy, the predominant thrust of the program is politics. Plus, it’s full of bombastic speeches, rapid patter, romantic comedy, and – oh, yes – more than a few walk-and-talks.

In a nutshell, “The Newsroom” is about as Sorkin-esque as anyone could possibly hope for his return to television to be. This, of course, opens a whole other can of worms…but we’ll get to that.

“The Newsroom” begins by introducing newsman Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, as he sits on a political discussion panel in a college auditorium, and although it’s basically a blind introduction which offers us nothing about his career, we can already tell from his responses that whatever talents he once had as a newsman have been supplanted by a desire to play it safe. It’s also a bit of a given that, in short order, he’s going to give an answer that causes him to break out of his rut, but it’s a testament to Sorkin’s writing and directing that, when it does finally happen, it still manages to feel pretty damned inspirational.

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