Characters Count With TV Critics

Feb 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

This winter’s Critics Poll could borrow the slogan from USA Network: “Characters Welcome.”
TelevisionWeek’s semiannual survey of TV critics nationwide was led by character-strong dramas and comedies over mainstream and action-driven choices, with ABC’s freshman breakout “Pushing Daisies” making its Critics Poll debut at the top of the list.
“Daisies” was followed by AMC’s Golden Globe winner for drama series “Mad Men,” with Showtime’s serial killer portrait “Dexter” coming in third.
Top critic picks matched many shows honored with nominations and awards by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association this year, with FX’s “Damages,” Showtime’s “Californication” and NBC’s “30 Rock” among the stronger Critics Poll showings.
ABC had the most programs in the top 20, with six shows represented and “Daisies” leading the pack. Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote that “Daisies” is “sweet without making your teeth hurt, smart without making your head hurt; this one’s actually living up to the promise of its pilot.”
In second place, AMC’s “Mad Men” continues to rack up honors despite its niche basic-cable home.
“A grand sociological treatise that also managed to be wildly entertaining, examining how we got where we are, what we lost (and gained) along the way and why no one can trust anyone,” wrote David Kronke, Los Angeles Daily News. “Even women I know who couldn’t stand the sexism still managed to love it.”
The second season of Showtime’s “Dexter” has likewise received plenty of acclaim, enough to boost an edited version of the show onto CBS this spring.
“From the opening credits through each episode’s conclusion, this show is carefully crafted and simply riveting,” wrote Christine Champagne of TVWatch. “It is a true original with a wonderfully talented and diverse cast led by Michael C. Hall, who in conjunction with some great writers makes a serial killer a truly relatable guy.”
In fourth place is the second season of NBC’s comedy “30 Rock,” one of four NBC shows in the top 20 and up a couple of notches from last summer. “In another time, on another NBC, this would be thought of in ‘Cheers’-‘Seinfeld’-‘Friends’ territory,” wrote Tom Jicha of South Florida’s Sun Sentinel.
Last summer’s No. 3 choice, NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” came in fifth. Although its sophomore season was somewhat less highly regarded than its first, critics still sang its praises.
“These are proud, idealistic and hard-working people,” Terry Morrow of the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel wrote of the show’s characters. “Southerners know their particular reality, but everyone else usually never understands it. Rarely has a weekly series had such wonderfully drawn characters.”
FX’s legal drama “Damages” led the list of Golden Globe nominations, and critics likewise responded to the show, ranking it at No. 6.
“An irresistibly entertaining legal/murder thriller that kept us on the edge of our seats all summer as it jumped around in time to tease us with shocking revelations and lethal twists,” wrote Matt Roush, TV Guide. “Glenn Close is as brilliant as you’d expect as the ruthless Patty Hewes, but the real surprise in this series was Ted Danson’s galvanizing portrayal of a deceptively charming corporate monster who couldn’t escape once in Patty’s cross-hairs.”
Fox’s “House” made its best showing yet in the Critics Poll, landing in seventh place for a season that injected a new twist into the show’s format.
“What seemed like a silly gimmick at first—Dr. House interviewing potential team members as if they were contestants on ‘Survivor’ or ‘The Apprentice’—turned into a clever way to break what had become a slightly predictable mold last season,” wrote Jay Handelman of Florida’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “Hugh Laurie continues to give one of the best performances on TV each week, and it’s been fun watching him spar with all these wannabe Houses.”
ABC’s “Ugly Betty” slipped a few places to No. 8, but Mr. Handelman argues that its lessening popularity with viewers is no indication that the show’s quality has eroded. “Viewership may be down, but ‘Betty’s’ creativity is up in this second season, which has made the characters more interesting, engaging, over-the-top (when necessary), aggravating and hilarious,” he wrote.
NBC’s “The Office” also dropped slightly, but it still topped Sacramento Bee columnist Rick Kushman’s list. “What show do I look forward to most?” he asked. “‘The Office.’ It is simply the smartest, most surprising, most human and most perfect comedy on TV.”
Showtime’s “Californication” came in No. 9, but critics were curiously uninspired to comment on why they liked the freshman series.
Rounding out the top 10 was ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which has been on a Critics Poll roller coaster since it debuted.
“Talk about a comeback,” Mr. Morrow wrote. “‘Desperate Housewives’ has had a creative revival like no other. … The show has often played too loose with its mysteries. The comedy has undermined the drama. However, this season, this soap has found that perfect balance.”


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