10 - 6
Mandy Patinkin, Thomas Gibson, Lola Glaudini, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A. J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Paget Brewster, Joe Mantegna, Rachel Nichols, Jeanne Tripplehorn
After every episode of Criminal Minds, I wonder aloud why I watch such a televised abomination. The acting is soulless, the plots rely on ridiculous logical leaps, the criminals are sensationalist exaggerations, the victims and their families based on archaic 1950s family-values codes of square traditionalism. But the show’s transcendent badness keeps me coming back for more punishment. This year, Emily Prentiss (Paget “Punky” Brewster) departed the BAU (seemingly) for good, Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gube Grayler) got a phone booth girlfriend, and Derek Morgan (Shemoore) exited a shower wearing nothing but a towel (I shudder just typing that). And this slickly ludicrous formulaic drama rolled on, blissfully unaware of irony and thus richly susceptible to it. It’s an easy target, but a familiar one. Ross Langager
Tommy Helm, Big Gus, Jasmine Rodriguez.
Who would have thought… a show where people who regret their questionable body art can seek the help of professional tattoo artists for an ink and needle makeover. While the trio of talents here are rather interchangeable—save for the sole female member, whose equally blank, personality wise—the work they do is wondrous. Perhaps, even miraculous. Most times, you can’t even tell where the original corporeal catastrophe begins and the shiny new branding begins. In fact, the series suffers from a bit of familiarity. While they claim concern, the artists always end up wowing us with their ideas, and execution. Bill Gibron
Perhaps it’s his upbringing, raised in the Glasgow slums and council flats, then becoming one of the world’s best fine dining chefs, that most informs every entertainment project that Gordon Ramsay touches. Rising from humble beginnings through sheer will, brilliant talent, and massively hard work to the highest levels of British celebrity and society is a compelling narrative. Food is his raison d’être and it’s driven Ramsay to create a global restaurant empire based on excellence; he has some 14 Michelin stars at present. His rise has not made him a snob, quite the opposite. Ramsay believes that there are more out there like him and they need a chance—hence, shows like Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef. Ramsay brings those famous high standards and an exaggerated hothead persona to his own little bootcamp of fine dining training, Hell’s Kitchen. The show is known for shouting matches, tears, schadenfreude, outrageous fights, bad food, great food, flameouts, losers and winners. But everyone gets a chance and must meet the same set of his expectations. It makes for flashy reality TV and some have questioned how “real” some of the scenes actually are. But the drive of so many of the contestants is inspiring and it’s exciting to see them grow from episode to episode. Notably, among the avalanche of food shows, Hell’s Kitchen has elevated just as many women as men to winners, something that Top Chef needs to start being embarassed about.
Bruce Greenwood, Joe Anderson, Leslie Hope, Eloise Mumford, Paul Blackthorne, Thomas Kretschmann, Daniel Zacapa, Shaun Parkes, Paulina Gaitan
In the 21st century, the American broadcast television networks rarely set trends. They mostly follow either their own established patterns or try to adapt what works on cable television for a mass audience. The River was likely greenlit due to the success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, but the show took much of its inspiration from another source, the flash-in-the-pan success of “found footage” horror movies. With the guys behind the Paranormal Activity films establishing the show’s look and premise, they turned The River over to a group of genre tv veterans and let them go. The result was a surprisingly successful mashup of The X-Files, a boat in the jungle, and a faux-reality tv conceit.
An estranged wife (Leslie Hope) and her adult son (Joe Anderson) searched the Amazon rainforest for their missing husband/father, nature show host Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood). To get funding for their expedition, they agreed to let a camera crew track their every move. Each week, the group would discover another jungle-based supernatural threat and have to deal with it while tracking the clues that would lead them to Cole. The show started off pretty intense, but got wackier and harder to swallow as the group got closer to finding Cole. Still, the found footage style worked very well on a weekly series and there was a lot of fun to be had with The River. But predictably, almost nobody watched and the show never had a chance of making it past its initial eight episodes. Chris Conaton
RuPaul’s Drag Race
RuPaul Charles, Michelle Visage, Santino Rice, Merle Ginsberg
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Competitive reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race is an education in the venerable art of drag and its subculture for those of us who yearn for sequins, high camp, and elaborately choreographed lip synching routines. The next generation of drag superstars vie for RuPaul’s seal of approval, accepting weekly challenges designed to test their creativity and ability to perform. The show’s most recent season served up arguably the finest and most diverse baker’s dozen of competitors yet, counting Vegas showgirl Chad Michaels, charismatic Miss Congeniality winner Latrice Royale, and gothic comedy queen Sharon Needles among its ranks, delighting viewers with their “charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent”—and forming a deliciously subversive acronym in the process. Lana Cooper