Sunday, December 18, 2022

TV Picks - Moving Forward

As 2022 comes to an end, so does my deal for a weekly TV picks column over at Primetimer. I might do some other writing for them next year, but that has yet to be determined. 

I will continue to post TV picks on a somewhat regular basis on this blog and might even involve some social media. Since I no longer have to adhere to a weekly schedule or worry about editing (not all TV is good TV), expect a slight shift in tone.

I'll be playing around with some formatting ideas but keeping things simple. Focus will be on new stuff that's coming out (maybe even some movies), what I'm currently watching, a little bit of Q&A, and other TV-related bits of interest. 

Thanks for caring about what I have to say when you're deciding what to watch on TV.  

Monday, December 12, 2022

TV Picks - Week of December 12

TV has been an essential part of my life from the day my mom plunked me down as a toddler to watch Sesame Street. I've never left. It has always been an informative world of creativity, escape, news and just plain fun. It inspired me then… it inspires me now. Most say TV watching is a passive activity, but for me the opposite couldn't be more true.

Growing up, I transcribed the TV Guide at home every week. I analyzed weekly scheduling and summer programming. I tuned in as network and syndication paved the way for cable, satellite, and streaming. I studied communications at school, but always made time for TV. I even coined a phrase and created a web site that turned this lifelong passion into a career.

I've watched well over 10,000 hours in my lifetime, so I've paid my dues when it comes to expertise. I've seen it all, and still can't get enough. Occasionally, a program comes along that is truly different than the rest. Any TV fan lives for these moments because they are magical when they occur.

This will be my final Hein's Picks column for Primetimer, and my plan was to take a bow with the 10 greatest shows of all time. No real surprises — The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, The Office (UK), The Larry Sanders Show, The Twilight Zone, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

But this column has always been a bit more personal, so I'd like to leave you with a list of shows that have made the greatest impact on my life. There are well more than 10, but I'll do my best to narrow down the list.

In chronological order…

Sesame Street
"Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away..." Every morning of my young life started with telling me how to get to that New York City street. As a child of the '70s, I was born at the right time during the launch of this legendary show. Sesame Street taught a lot of life lessons and exposed different cultures and learning, but for me, it was all about the Muppets. Pre-Elmo episodes actually had an edge and some great music, speaking to little kids like me in an unpatronizing manner. And it made me laugh. I'd stack Grover and early Kermit the Frog up against any of today's comedians. Clever, funny, and innovative — a great recipe for any TV program, and more special for a children's show. The Muppet Show gets an honorable mention for carrying on this tradition a few years later.

The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling terrified me, and I couldn't get enough. Entering that dimension of sight, sound, and mind late at night and discovering the clever tales of this black and white anthology series was inspiring. It taught me that a good story with a little bit of suspense will always mesmerize and entertain. The different premises and actors each week added to the mystique. I never miss a Twilight Zone marathon to this day. “To Serve Man,” “Time Enough At Last” and “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” are forever ingrained in my mind. There's always room for one more, honey.

The Lawrence Welk Show
I know what you're thinking. How can this ballroom music dance fest possibly be on your list? As an elementary school kid in Mt. Lebanon Pennsylvania, Bowling for Dollars and this bubbly show were the highlight of Sunday night (there was no night-time football). Even back then, I recognized this was the cheesiest of the cheesy. The accent, the music, the dancing — it was a guilty pleasure that paved the way for Bob Ross and so many other shows of its kind. So bad, it's so good.

The Odd Couple
When I moved to New York, a staple of syndicated comedies greeted me upon my arrival. The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, The Munsters, and other classics aired every afternoon, but this Garry Marshall gem starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman stood out. I was too young to appreciate all the layers of this smart comedy, but I had a front row seat to TV comedy writing excellence. November 13th is a day I'll never forget (and neither will Felix or Oscar).

Happy Days
An obvious choice, but not for the reason you may be thinking. Yes, Fonzie's jump in that leather jacket on water skis over a fin changed my life. But this was must-see TV well before that fateful leap. Garry Marshall knew how to make great television, and the Cunninghams were the right sitcom family at the right time. Happy Days was wholesome to watch with the family, but The Fonz made it cool. It was nostalgic, but often winked at modern family issues. Every kid wanted to be The Fonz, but most of us were Richie. My entire family enjoyed this one (and Laverne & Shirley, which followed right after).

Saturday Night Live/SCTV/Monty Python's Flying Circus
If you went out on Saturday night, you made sure to be around a TV at 11:30 to see what The Not Ready For Prime Time Players were up to. I was babysitting my brother and couldn't believe what they were doing on television. Lorne Michaels' creation was groundbreaking in so many ways, and everyone wanted to be on or write for SNLSCTV, which was even wackier with an equally talented ensemble, took things to a zanier level. Then flipping on PBS to discover Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the birthplace of both shows, was a game changer. "Argument Clinic" is the finest sketch ever written, and I always look on the bright side of life thanks to these sketch comedies.

This Week In Baseball
This syndicated gem aired well before ESPN or any of the sports network juggernauts rose up and dominated the cable airwaves. Mel Allen hosted this weekly Major League Baseball highlights show, and the strings of "Gathering Crowds" inspired athletes everywhere to make that magical catch or hit that towering home run. This opened my eyes to the power of music in television. It also made me realize that I'd never be a professional baseball player.

The Joker's Wild/The Price Is Right/Wheel of Fortune/Jeopardy!
The first job I actually wanted was to be a TV game show host. Who had it better than Wink Martindale, Bill Cullen, Jack Barry and of course, Bob Barker? I knew what categories to pick, how much to bid, where the Daily Doubles were and how to solve puzzles like REMOTE _ONTROL. The Joker's Wild traumatized me with that devil (if you watched, you know), but Gambit, High Rollers, Match Game, Name That Tune, and others provided a challenge. I wanted to be in the TPIR audience screaming higher and lower and hoping I’d be asked to come on down. Wheel and Jeopardy! graduated to nighttime fun and provided me with useless trivia knowledge that I still use to this day.

The Cosby Show/Family Ties/Cheers/Night Court
Following ABC’s Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Taxi lineup, this was my prime era of must-see TV. Seinfeld and Friends would later move into this comedy block as ER took over for Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. Thursday nights were all about these comedies that had a sweetness and some outrageousness to them.

I knew I was in love because I watched this hourlong drama weekly with the gal who I've now been married to for over 31 years. Debbie opened my eyes to many shows including The Good Wife and Virgin River. There's nothing wrong with a cheesy romance if you're watching it with someone you love.

Arthur/Blue's Clues/The Powerpuff Girls/The Wonder Pets/Yo Gabba Gabba
When I had kids, the TV was always on. I grew up being babysat by TV, so I had no problem with my kids tuning in. Most children's TV is annoying to adults, but when you find a show that you can tolerate, that's when the magic happens. These animated classics provided plenty of joy for me and my daughters as they grew up over the years. Barney and The Wiggles do not make the cut.

Oz/The Sopranos/The Wire
Television drama hit a new high every Sunday night on HBO. Oz set the stage, The Sopranos elevated the game, and The Wire is the best of the bunch. This felt like watching a movie every Sunday starting at 9 and set a precedent that Succession tries to live up to today. Sunday nights on HBO were truly special.

Previously… on Lost. Three magic words. This Damon Lindelof/Carlton Cuse creation is one of those shows that comes around every decade or so and changes television. This isn't about whether you were satisfied with the ending or what it all meant. Lost was all about the adventure. I fully appreciated this drama when I rewatched it with my daughter as she experienced it for the first time. Penny's boat is well worth saving.

Mad Men/Breaking Bad
AMC went from American Movie Classics to the home of the next groundbreaking television. It restored my faith that excellent programs could still be made. Mad Men had the style and drama of a previous generation. Breaking Bad had the ultimate anti-hero and led to a prequel that was almost as good as the original.

Game Of Thrones
I still get chills hearing the opening theme (and now it's wisely back on House of the Dragon). This saga symbolizes the shift of epic feature films to the big screen in your living room. Translating George R.R. Martin's universe was no small feat, but I was happily immersed in the world of Westeros as the drama unfurled. There's nothing better than a great theme song followed by an hour of gripping content (with or without dragons).


There are many more programs I could have included, and one day I'll write another book detailing all the pivotal TV milestones in my life. Primetimer has been kind enough to publish my weekly picks over the past few years, and I thank them for that.

Get vaccinated and boosted. Stay healthy and safe.

And stay tuned…

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

TV Picks - Week of December 5

Looking back at 2022 (with one month to go), the programming choices were… eh. Breakthrough shows were few and far between. Some very good series came to an end. Others were spin-offs or new takes on classic titles. There was lots of good TV to watch, but very few shows made a lasting impression.

To keep my list short and sweet, only multi-episode series are featured. There were plenty of excellent comedy (Rothaniel) and music (The Howard Stern Interview: Bruce Springsteen) specials, but more than one episode is required to get on this year-end list.

Best of 2022: Honorable Mentions

Lord of The Rings: The Rings Of Power (Prime Video): This version of LOTR is a solid series. The mega-budgeted tale is new, but the characters felt familiar. It is beautiful to behold and a solid adventure. Worth the watch, but it falls just short of my personal Top 10.

Love On The Spectrum U.S. (Netflix): The most feel-good show of the year. Watching these singles with autism try to find love is heartbreaking, inspiring, and the only reality dating series worth viewing. 

Stranger Things (Netflix): I can still hear that Kate Bush song. Season 4 offered an entertaining battle between Eleven and her pals versus the forces of the Upside Down. No real surprises in this latest chapter of the best sci-fi/horror show on TV, but an upgrade over the previous season.

Cobra Kai (Netflix): The ongoing Daniel LaRusso/Johnny Lawrence SoCal karate battle continues to reinvent itself while maintaining its nostalgic appeal. It's impressive how they keep these cameos coming back from the original films while keeping the show fresh and fun. Good stuff.

For All Mankind (Apple TV+): Time is catching up to this great space series from the mind of Ronald D. Moore. When it's good, it's great. When it's not, it drags. But no character is safe in this third season of the alternate reality space exploration drama.

The Bear (FX): Jeremy Allen White gives a masterful performance as a top chef returning to his family's Chicago sandwich shop following a death in the family. The intensity of the inner workings of a struggling kitchen grabs you from the pilot and never lets go. Yes, Chef!

Best of 2022: Top 10

10. The Crown (Netflix)

The fifth season of this dramatization of the life of Queen Elizabeth is excellent television. It's at number 10 on my list because this is the weakest season to date. Charles and Diana dominated the headlines back in the day, but too much attention is paid to a very tall Lady Di and Prince Charles McNulty. The Crown is at its best when it gets into ALL of the family drama, and it needs to spend a little more time with the Queen. There are a few gems in this 10-episode season, but overall it's not up to its award-winning royal stuff.

9. Severance (Apple TV+)

It's a slow burn, but the ending makes it all worth it. Severance is trippy, a bit confusing, and magical to watch. Adam Scott and Patricia Arquette make you feel the pain of going to and from the office. Ben Stiller's directing keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the plot twists are sharp and surprising. A solid new series, and I look forward to Season 2.

8. Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

Oh, those Duttons. This Montana ranch drama is good enough to base two prequels and a Fox Nation documentary series on. Forget your politics and just enjoy Taylor Sheridan's drama at the Yellowstone Ranch. The scenery is beautiful, the acting is solid, and being in office doesn't stop John Dutton from doing his thing.

7. Andor (Disney+)

It wasn't too long ago that any Star Wars spin-off, especially if it aired on TV, was dismissed as a joke. Those days are long gone, and this Rogue One origin story ranks right up there with The Mandalorian. There's nothing cutesy is this Diego Luna-led drama, and with all those planets in that galaxy far, far away, there's plenty more material to be milked. 

6. Abbott Elementary (ABC)

Season 2 of this elementary school comedy is still fresh, funny, and just makes you feel good. Bonus points to Quinta Brunson and crew for proving that a network sitcom can still work these days — and that it doesn't have to be dumbed down to do so.

5. Hacks (HBO Max)

Jean Smart continues to shine in the second season of a comedy that should be featured on the main channel's playlist. Taking Deborah Vance's show on the road seems like a stunt, but it makes the whole gang coming together all the more sweet. The rest of the cast gets to shine, but make no mistake, this is Jean Smart's perennial Emmy ticket. She's that good.

4. Better Things (FX)

Pamela Adlon says goodbye as only she can in the final season of this eclectic comedy. Sandwiched by Monty Python tunes is a poignant look at Sam Fox, mother of three and daughter of a British mom, navigating life as a single working actress in Los Angeles. Better Things is funny, sweet, and very emotional as it ventures to vulnerable places other shows would never dare to go. Great series, satisfying finale, and it will be missed. 

3. Barry (HBO)

Yes, Barry is a comedy. A comedy that goes to some very dark places. The hitman turned wannabe actor finally faces the consequences of his actions in this third season. Barry has always felt more like a film than a TV series. Bill Hader continues to lead the way making a character you should truly hate feel likable and misunderstood.

2. Better Call Saul (AMC)

I can't believe it's over. The final season of Better Call Saul delivered just as well as its predecessor Breaking Bad. There's plenty of black and white to delve into as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman's path comes to an end. Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn continue to put on a clinic in their lead roles, and the rest of the ensemble is right there with them.

1. House of the Dragon (HBO)

This had all the odds stacked against it, but it also had dragons. It followed Game of Thrones, which left most with a bad taste in their mouths years ago. It premiered the same time as the ridiculously high budget Lord of The Rings series on Prime Video. The plight of the Targaryen family from 300 years earlier made me realize how much I missed this fantasy world. Great characters, fantastic sets, George R.R. Martin drama, and the return of the classic theme song were all part of the best show of the year. You can go home again… if it's Westeros.

(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

It feels redundant to add great shows to watch at the end of a Best of 2022 list, so let's consider the list below complete and a good place to start watching!

Previous Picks:
Life's Too Short (HBO Max)
Narcos (Netflix)
The Newsroom (HBO Max)
Homeland (Showtime)
Warrior (HBO Max)
Oz (HBO Max)
Fauda (Netflix)
Monty Python's Flying Circus (Netflix)
Taxi (Paramount+)
It's Garry Shandling's Show (Prime Video)
The Office (UK) (Hulu)
The Prisoner (Prime Video)
The Twilight Zone (Paramount+)
Black Mirror (Netflix)
The Leftovers (HBO Max)
Deadwood (HBO Max)
Rectify (AMC+)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Weeds (Showtime)
Hannibal (Hulu)
Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
Dexter (Showtime)
Alias (Hulu/Disney+)
The Great (Hulu)
Atypical (Netflix)
Sherlock (PBS)
Magic City (Peacock)
Imposters (Netflix)
Episodes (Showtime/Hulu)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Damages (Hulu)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
Justified (Hulu)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Bordertown (Netflix)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)


If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated and boosted. Stay healthy and safe!