Narrowcast's favorite TV shows of 2006

The past year and a half was the first time I really paid attention to prime time television since probably high school. But that has less to do with the supposed 'golden age' of TV we're in the middle of than the fact that I stopped working jobs with night shifts, and moved in with J.G., who got me into some of the shows she watches and generally got me back in the habit of actually following some shows every week. Honorable mentions go to Entourage, which is generally great but was weak this season, the promising but still developing The New Adventures Of Old Christine, and C.S.I. and House, which I think deserve to be the ratings juggernauts they are, but don't necessarily respect them as really great television. YouTube clips were chosen on a whim and are by no means intended to be representative of the series.

1. The Wire

This one's a no-brainer. I'd almost say The Wire is overrated at this point, with all the "best show in the history of television" talk and the ridiculous 98% on Metacritic, plus the unseemly feeling I get that a lot of corny crack rap fans will just hype up anything that has anything to do with drug dealing these days. But in light of the show getting once again ignored by the Golden Globes, and surely next year's Emmy's too, obviously the show hasn't gotten props at the level it deserves yet (maybe with the 5th and final season the awards will start coming in by the truckload, Return Of The King-style, but I won't hold my breath). I've already said so much about the show that I don't really need to explain why it's great at this point.

2. 30 Rock

It started the beginning of the season in the shadow of Studio 60's similiar premise, but if this show can survive weak early ratings, it might be the best absurdist ensemble workplace comedy since Newsradio. People have been asking when Alec Baldwin became a comic genius, to which I always reply since he first started hosting SNL 15 or so years ago. But honestly, I watched Glengarry Glen Ross recently, and realized that he's been trying to play fast-talking asshole characters for most of his career, but never really pulled it off before with anywhere near the success he has in this and The Departed.

3. The Venture Bros.

I realized a while back that aside from programming picked up from broadcast networks (Home Movies, Futurama, Family Guy), I don't really like much of Adult Swim's original programming at all. Aside from a few hilarious episodes of Sealab, most of the Williams Street creations have been diminishing returns on the Space Ghost formula, with roughly a dozen shows exploring the same awkwardly flailing aesthetic of comedy with varying levels of success (and Tome Goes To The Mayor might be the worst show in the history of television). And then I gave Venture Bros. a chance and fell in love with it. Sure, noone needs another super hero/arch villain satire full of droll pop culture references, but every episode is paced amazingly well, packing so many gags in that you don't even realize how fast the plot is moving. And the voice acting is perfect, from the inimitable Patrick Warburton to the villain who sounds eerily like Skeletor from the original He-Man cartoons.

4. How I Met Your Mother

If you have any doubt of how well HIMYM is navigating the post-Friends young-yuppies-and-their-love-lives sitcom formula, just stay tuned after it on Monday nights to see The Class fail miserably at the same game. What I like about this show, aside from the consistent laughs and a considerable amount of character development for a show of its type, is that they don't shy away from making the characters, especially the guys, kind of hopeless romantic lamewads, which, as that kind of guy, I think they portray pretty realistically. Jason Segel in particular is making a pretty good career out of distinctly different variations on the sensitive guy archetype, from serenading a girl with Styx on Freaks & Geeks, to the obsessive long distance boyfriend on Undeclared, to HIMYM's brunch-loving Marshall. And I'm more willing to embrace a comedy with an unabashed heart on its sleeve like this than a show like the U.S. version of The Office, which trades on ironic squirm comedy, but pulls in its viewers with the kind of shameless Rachel/Ross will-they-or-won't-they bullshit that HIMYM smartly avoids as part of its central conceit. And Neil Patrick Harris's hetero horndog character Barney might actually be funnier now that the actor is out of the closet.

5. The Colbert Report

In the long run, I'm sure I'll have more respect for The Daily Show, for providing the basic format for Colbert and having more heart at the root of its comedy. But The Colbert Report came along at the perfect time, when Jon Stewart's constant double takes and Conan-style self-deprecation were getting stale, to put a twist on the format and do something that, at the moment, is much funnier. And I say that as someone who generally has a low tolerance for Borat and the myriad other modern examples of am-I-a-character-or-not prankster comedy. Really this show is watching every night for The Word, if nothing else.

6. Veronica Mars

I never watched Buffy or anything and always kind of assumed it was crap, but this is one show that J.G. watches that I've gotten sucked into. Maybe because instead of (or at least, in addition to) the usual teen goth drama and wisecracking you've got some pretty well done noir mysteries about rape and race/class tension, which I didn't really expect. And I think I might be in the minority about this, but so far I think the decision to break Season 3 up into shorter plot arcs has been a good call. Season 1 had a strong storyline that kept the suspense up til the end, but Season 2 was kind of a mess and I started to temporarily lose interest in the show towards the end of it.

7. American Idol
I've always had a soft spot for AI, but this year was the first season that I got fully addicted and watched it almost every night. At first I thought I might just be a sucker for any old talent show, but then, J.G. watches ANTM and Top Chef and stuff like that, and I always leave the room for those, so it's really just that it's a music show that has actually proven to have a sustained impact on the pop charts (as opposed to, say, Rock Star or Nashville Star). I have a love/hate relationship with the auditions phase, which is drawn out far too long for my taste, but once the finalists are established, it's great television to watch them get tested well outside of their comfort zones from week to week and get picked apart in a way that even the most prefabricated pop star is rarely subjected to.

8. Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends

This show was created by the same guy who did Powerpuff Girls and occupies a similiar space in Cartoon Network's kid-friendly daytime lineup, but I was surprised by just how funny it can be. Mainly, though, this is in the list because of the brilliant comedic invention that is Cheese (which still might only be the best the 2nd best character named Cheese from a show on this list, after Method Man on The Wire), who's only appeared in two episodes so far, including the one that the above is a clip from.

9. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

I still need to actually give West Wing a try someday, but as a fan of Sports Night and The American President I'm willing to cut Sorkin a little bit of slack and hope this matures into a consistent show. Of course, that would involve killing off a couple characters, giving way more screentime to some others, and for god's sake enough with the rants about the religious right.

10. Meerkat Manor
The only reality show about anyone's day-to-day drama that I care about, perhaps because they're not humans. Whoever came up with this show is a genius. It's also my cat Lucy's favorite show, I've caught her staring at the screen and following the action on multiple occasions. We were so sad when Shakespeare died.
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Al, you watch a mad amount of TV!

Meerkats rule and the Corbert Report is mad funny...

It's true, I do watch a mad amount of TV. Which is strange, because I watch no amount of Mad TV. I do occasionally watch Mad About You on TV, though.
I didn't know you were a VMars fan...why haven't I been making references to Curly Moran to you throughout the year?

Dead-on with your summing up on's been my favorite sitcom of the past two years.

And I usually watch The W0rd as the last thing before I go to sleep.
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