AMERICAN PICKERS (History)
This is a companion show (of sorts) to “Pawn Kings.” Here, Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe, two guys from Iowa, drive around the country hoping to find “gold” in the junk that is stored in the barns and backyards of rural America. They come across everything from old gas station pumps to motor oil signs—which they resell to collectors at a nice profit. The journey isn’t as consistently interesting as “Pawn Stars,” but it is fun to walk into a weather-beaten barn with the guys and share their excitement as they see something so valuable that their hearts skip a beat.
BIG LOVE (HBO)—√Bob Certified
I couldn’t warm up to this tale of polygamy and gave up on it after two episodes during the show’s initial year. But Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara convinced me to give it a second try when she wrote at the start of the series’ third season: “If there’s a better written, better acted, more originally conceived show on television, I defy you to name it.” I soon became so caught up in the show that I went out and bought to first two seasons on DVD just so I could catch up. It’s a remarkably affecting look at family, faith and fanaticism.
BREAKING BAD (AMC)—√Bob Certified
As unlikely as the concept seems (a high school chemistry teacher starts a meth lab to help finance his cancer treatment), “Breaking Bad,” created by Vince Gilligan, has proven to be a consistently engaging series. The emotional terrain is wide—giving us moments both manic and touching. Fine cast led by Bryan Cranston. It’s back on the air and I can’t wait to find out where it’s going to take us this season. The initial episodes are terrific.
THE COLBERT REPORT (Comedy Central)—√Bob Certified
The best (almost) daily show on television by far. If you watch it night after night, you’ll be amazed by how consistently smart, original, insightful, topical, surprising and marvelously funny it is. Colbert, as the right wing, megamanical host, is superb whether he’s simply going one on one with a guest author or tackling something as inspired as entertaining the troops in Iraq. Simply inspired television.
ENTOURAGE (HBO)—√Bob Certified
One reason I keep checking out this wickedly funny tale of Hollywood ambition and vanity is that I hope the brain trust behind the show will really go for broke one week and introduce us to Ari’s brother in the White House.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (NBC)—√Bob Certified
This is a bit of a roller coaster ride; with good stretches sometimes giving way to unconvincing plot twists and it’s easy to get impatient with the recurring choices of some of the large cast of characters. But the coach and his wife deal with the problems of family, the workplace and the everyday rites and rituals of small town Dillon, Tex., with a steadiness and edgy wisdom that gives the show its heart.
JUSTIFIED (FX)—√Bob Certified
I was hooked on this show from the opening 3 minutes where Timothy Olyphant (as US Marshal Raylan Givens) dishes out his own brand of justice by confronting a vicious criminal in a swank Miami eatery. It’s the best opening for a series since the first few minutes of “The Wire.” The show, based on an Elmore Leonard short story, is gritty, wry, entertaining, and constantly tense. Plus Olyphant, from his starring role in “Deadwood,” is ideal for the marshal who has to return to his stereotypical hillbilly Kentucky home town.
MAD MEN (AMC)—√Bob Certified
This series was on the screen before the nation’s financial meltdown, but there’s something about the unprincipled nature of these New York ad executives from the 1960s that speaks to the ruthless and greedy businessmen whose actions cased the bailout. From Jon Hamm to Robert Morse, the cast is outstanding.
MEET THE PRESS (NBC)
This was “can’t miss” TV when the late Tim Russert was the host because he was able to draw something interesting out of even the most stodgy politician. David Gregory continues to improve as the new host. Still, my interest rises and falls depending on the guest.
THE MENTALIST (CBS)—√Bob Certified
It’s not fair to say Simon Baker, the charismatic star of this light hearted mystery/state police series, is the whole reason to watch because he’s got a likeable cast supporting him, but he lights up the screen as much as anyone has done on network TV in years. A supremely entertaining show.
THE OFFICE (NBC)—√Bob Certified
After loving the original British edition of “The Office,” I didn’t think this U.S. spin-off had a chance, even though you should never bet against anything with Steve Carell in it. But the show has been consistently entertaining, sometimes spectacularly so. Super supporting cast.
PAWN KINGS (History)
This show isn’t for everyone (including my wife), but I enjoy the parade of characters who walk into a Las Vegas pawn shop and try to get the best possible price for something that has been sitting around the house for months or years: from motorcycles to NBA championship rings to antique rifles. The owners—three generations of the Harrison family—are a hoot as they try to figure out what the stuff is worth and they talk the seller into parting with it for much less.
30 ROCK (NBC)—√Bob Certified
Fey is one of those TV stars that you just can’t help liking and rooting for, and she’s got a terrific cast to back her up in this spoof of network TV life. Especially winning: Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer.