Repeating its January performance, ABC’s character-driven sci-fi drama “Lost” topped TelevisionWeek‘s semiannual Critics Poll, again besting runner-up and ABC stablemate “Desperate Housewives.”
The continued critical praise for both shows helped ABC win honors as the most improved network for the second consecutive poll. NBC was named least improved, also for the second time in a row.
UPN’s “Britney and Kevin: Chaotic,” a collection of amateur home movies shot by pop singer Britney Spears and husband Kevin Federline, was voted worst show by the critics, who had no shortage of scathing critiques.
“Amazing Race” was once again named favorite reality series, while NBC’s “Fear Factor” was voted the least favorite.
Cable TV dominated the list of the best movies, while broadcast dominated the list of the worst.
Sixty-two television critics weighed in for the 42nd installment of the survey, which ranks the best and worst series; movies, miniseries or specials; reality shows; and the most improved and least improved networks.
Last winter, “Lost” led the series poll a scant few months after its debut. This time critics returned to praise the show’s blend of eerie storytelling and compelling characters. Some, however, tempered their comments with criticism of the show’s May finale.
“For its many complex, resonant characters, its lush look, its tight innovative storytelling, and for being so totally different,” wrote Rob Salem of The Toronto Star, explaining why the show was his No. 1 choice. “All that being said, the finale really ticked me off.”
Countered TV Guide’s Matt Roush: “Some people were put off by the season finale, which naturally refused to answer almost any of the show’s many ongoing questions. But I wasn’t frustrated, I was mesmerized. From the triumphant pilot episode through the spooky, scream-inducing finale, ‘Lost’ had an amazing freshman season.”
Another success story was the second season of HBO’s neo-Western drama “Deadwood,” which rose from No. 7 a year ago to third place in the latest poll. Critics seemed to be in a contest to find words of praise worthy of the show’s standards of literary eloquence.
Ellen Gray of The Philadelphia Daily News wrote: “Not only has David Milch surpassed ‘The Sopranos” David Chase but he’s proven that the liberties he’s taken with language amount to true poetic license. Even if the characters and story lines weren’t the most vivid on television-ever-“Deadwood” would be a pure pleasure to listen to, with the profanity that once seemed so startling now playing as notes in an opera about the Old West.”
Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle came back with this description: “Shakespeare in the mud-with a gun and mouth that always go off.”
The fourth season of FX’s cop drama “The Shield,” which saw the addition of Glenn Close as a series regular, repeated the show’s No. 5 ranking, same as last summer.
“Riveting cop drama just got better,” wrote Charlie McCollum of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. “Not only was the writing and storytelling consistently raw and edgy, but the show got superior performances from newcomers Glenn Close and Anthony Anderson.”
Once again making an appearance in the top 10, at No. 8, was Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
“I’ve run out of great things to say about Jon Stewart,” wrote Mr. Goodman, who then thought of another: “He’s just about the best person in the universe to let into your house every night.”
Aside from “The Daily Show,” “The Shield,” “Deadwood” and “Rescue Me,” the top 20 series were all from broadcast networks, representing a resurgence after the encroachment of cable programs into the poll in recent years. Last summer half of the top series were from cable, dominated by HBO and Comedy Central.
One returning stalwart is Fox’s thriller “24,” which despite having “its best season since year one,” according to Mr. McCollum, came in at No. 7, down a bit from last summer’s No. 6 ranking.
The debut season of Fox’s medical drama “House,” however, has grown on critics since its fall debut. After coming in 10th in the winter poll it rose to No. 6 this time around. “A fascinating central character portrayed by a brilliant actor as well as gripping drama and absorbing moral quandaries,” wrote David Kronke of the Los Angeles Daily News.
A few critics expressed relief that last year’s second-ranked “Arrested Development” would return for a third season. “You can watch a single episode five or six times and still not pick out every reference in it,” wrote Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic. “Give a lot of credit to Fox for bringing it back.”
The Horror of ‘Britney’
Critics often attest that pans are more fun to write than raves, but comments about this season’s worst shows were somewhat scarce.
One exception was UPN’s “Britney and Kevin: Chaotic,” voted worst series by the critics.
“Indulgent and tawdry home-movie display of self-absorbed self-love. What was this doing on a broadcast network, even UPN?” wrote Mr. Roush.
“A reality show so bad it actually sucks intelligence from viewers,” wrote Sonia Mansfield of the San Francisco Examiner.
A few critics seemed to resent UPN, which has received critical support for “Veronica Mars” and “America’s Next Top Model,” for airing the series.
“Note to UPN,” addressed Melanie McFarland of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “We gave you good reviews. We did our best to persuade people to watch your network. Why would you do this to us?”
Runners-up for TV’s worst include Fox’s Pamela Anderson sitcom “Stacked” and Fox’s “The Simple Life.”
“Please put these women to rest,” wrote Jay Handelman of the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, referring to “Simple Life’s” Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. “They were funny for a week, until it became obvious they were screwing things up intentionally. Now the joke’s on viewers who keep tuning in.”
Critics’ picks for best and worst movie, miniseries or special showed a clear divide: Eight of the 10 best picks were from cable networks, while nine of the 10 worst were from broadcast.
The best list included selections such as HBO’s top-ranked “Lackawanna Blues” (“a lovely memory piece about a faded way of life,” wrote Mr. Roush) and Sundance Channel’s “The Staircase” (“an astonishing documentary miniseries about a bizarre and lurid murder trial from the defendant’s point of view,” wrote Mr. Kronke). The highest-ranking broadcast selection was CBS’s “Elvis” biopic, in 10th place. PBS’s “Island at War” ranked sixth.
The race for the top spot on the worst list was a tight one, between CBS’s dual nature-run-amok movies “Locusts” (“if only because the super-breeder locusts were suddenly rendered sterile after the big stupid finish,” wrote Pat St. Germain of The Winnipeg [Manitoba] Sun) and “Spring Break Shark Attack” (“so bad it was almost good, but it wasn’t self-aware enough to slide into campy guilty pleasure,” wrote Mr. McCollum).
Coming in third on the worst list was NBC’s “Hercules,” which Tim Clodfelter of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal wrote was “so poorly promoted and lackluster it was like a conspiracy to keep viewers away.”
The only cable offering able to make it onto the worst list was Oxygen’s “Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber.”
ABC was once again named the most improved network, thanks to the continued quality of shows such as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.” Still, several ABC fans knocked the network for quickly canceling its detective drama “Eyes.”
“‘Eyes’ was a far too short-lived show that was stylish, witty and had an intriguing serialized story,” wrote Mr. Kronke.
Concurred Dave Walker of The New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Too bad about ‘Eyes,’ which I thought had the best pilot of them all.”
As in the winter 2005 poll, NBC was named least improved after failing to produce any ne
w hits. This time, though, NBC’s critics took aim more squarely at NBC Universal Television Group President Jeffrey Zucker, blaming the network’s decline on poor leadership.
“It wasn’t a free fall,” Mr. Goodman wrote. “It was like they were shot in the head by a sniper and dropped to the ground in a clump. Nice shot, Jeff.”
Added Neal Justin of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “NBC got cocky, plain and simple. They’ve been down before and recovered, but not without a keen and knowing leader in their programming department. So far, that person hasn’t emerged.”
Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that The WB, which has lost ground to main competitor UPN, hasn’t exactly had a stellar season either.
“The WB used to be hot and trendy, and is now gasping for breath,” he wrote.
Reality’s Best and Worst
“Amazing Race” has twice won the Emmy for best reality series and keeps topping TelevisionWeek‘s reality show rankings. Critics frequently praise the show for providing high drama and suspense without degrading its participants.
“Every week, ‘The Amazing Race’ has me on the edge of my couch yelling, ‘Run, damn you, run!'” wrote Ms. Mansfield. “The only other show that results in me yelling at the screen is ‘The Real World,’ and it goes something like this: ‘Ahh, who are you people?’ What’s wrong with you?'”
“American Idol” and “Survivor” also made the best reality list.
“Fear Factor,” which came in fifth on the worst shows list, topped the worst reality series list. In arguably the best barb of the survey, Chase Squires of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times managed to knock both the show and its contestants when he wrote: “Didn’t we used to get in trouble for making the ‘special’ kid eat bugs?”
Critics seem to have turned on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” which tied for second-worst reality show (with ABC’s “The Bachelor”) and was the ninth-worst show overall. A year ago “The Apprentice” was ranked the eighth-best show. Citing the increasing number of product placements on the series, Mr. Justin wrote, “The once-enjoyable ‘Apprentice’ has turned into the Home Shopping Network.”
Added Matt Zoller Seitz of The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.: “A weekly spectacle of institutionalized incompetence, dishonesty and ass kissing.”
A few shows received votes despite being ineligible for the survey, having not aired originals since Jan. 3, 2005. FX’s “Rescue Me,” which was in reruns this year, came in at No. 18 on the best series list. HBO’s “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” and Sundance Channel’s “The Staircase” both were among critics’ favorite movies/miniseries/specials, as was BBC’s “The Office Special,” which last was televised Dec. 25, 2004. Fox’s ineligible surgical makeover reality series “The Swan,” a former two-time worst reality series winner, snagged several votes again in this go-round.
The list of leading national critics we polled for our survey: Rodi Alexander, Bergen News Group (Palisades Park, N.J.), The Elizabeth (N.J.) Reporter; Marc Allan, Nuvo Newsweekly; Vicki Arkoff, Guideposts Sweet 16; Michael Ausiello, TV Guide/TV Guide.com; Ed Bark, The Dallas Morning News; Chuck Barney, Contra Costa (Calif.) Times; Walt Belcher, Tampa (Fla.) Tribune; Rick Bentley, The Fresno (Calif.) Bee; Bob Betcher, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers; Robert Bianco, USA Today; Hal Boedeker, Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel; Tim Clodfelter, Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal; John Crook, Tribune Media Services; Bob Curtright, The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle; Brent Furdyk, TV Week Magazine (British Columbia); Shelley Gabert, Emmy Magazine; Ava Gacser, Home News Tribune (N.J.); Glenn Garvin, The Miami Herald; Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle; Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic; Ellen Gray, The Philadelphia Daily News; John Griffiths, Us Weekly; Jay Handelman, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune; Candace Havens, FYI Television Features; Jeff Hidek, Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.); Diane Holloway, Austin (Texas) American-Statesman; Mike Hughes, Gannett News Service; Tom Jicha, Sun-Sentinel of South Florida; Neal Justin, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune; Eric Kohanik, TV Times (Canada); David Kronke, Los Angeles Daily News; Rick Kushman, The Sacramento Bee; William LaRue, The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard; Luaine Lee, Knight-Ridder; Sonia Mansfield, San Francisco Examiner; Julio Martinez, Latin Heat Magazine; Charlie McCollum, San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News; Melanie McFarland, Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Mark McGuire, Times Union (Albany, N.Y.); Bruce Miller, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal; Gerri Miller, Satellite Direct; Terry Morrow, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel; Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post; Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Alan Pergament, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News; Robert Philpot, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram; Rick Porter, Zap2it.com; Sarah Rodman, The Boston Herald; Ginny Rohan, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record; Matt Roush, TV Guide; Rob Salem, The Toronto Star; Dusty Saunders, Rocky Mountain News (Denver); Matt Zoller Seitz, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger; Chase Squires, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times; Pat St. Germain, The Winnipeg Sun; Jonathan Storm, The Philadelphia Inquirer; Ken Tucker, New York Magazine; Miki Turner, ESPN.com; Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah); Dave Walker, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune; Mark Washburn, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer; Diane Werts, Newsday.