Outstanding TV Shows of 2011

After the conversion from Analog to Digital TV broadcasting, more channels have been opened up to allow more free programs to be viewed by the general public. With the digital and HD format, not only the picture quality rivals to that of the cinema but also the variety of the programs has blossomed to include cooking demo, language learning, travel log, foreign country programming, etc. As a result, it is no longer a straight forward chore to surf through the airwave to locate the TV shows that are of interest with outstanding contents.

MI-5


This is a TV series from the Great Britain about a government agency, MI-5. MI-5 stands for Military Intelligence section 5. The famed and fictitious secret agent James Bond belonged to MI-6. It is similar to the recently established US agency of the Homeland Security. Its primary function is to counter terrorist threats, be them domestic or foreign origins. The series is shown once a week on the Public Broadcast channel. Each episode has a semi-independent storyline with complicated plots, fast action, and high suspense showcasing the talents of dedicated and ordinary looking agents. There are also deliberate and careful character developments over the long haul. As a result, for someone who is new to the program, it will take time to get to know all the participants and their inter-relationships. Since its inception in 2000, several beloved characters have been killed off in the line of duty. It brings an extra dimension of realism and urgency to the fight against terrorism.

For the American audience, MI-5 offers not only good entertainment but also an informative window into the British culture; how they think and live in a more complicated, close, and tense society where surveillance cameras are situated at every major street corner and in a region populated with nations with deep religious convictions and hostilities that can be traced for thousands of years.


Cooking Showdown

This is a weekly cooking show from Japan being shown on one of the channel reserved specially for the foreign country programming. Unlike any other cooking program where an expert chef singlehandedly demonstrates the preparation of a popular dish step by step. This program starts with 2 teams each has 4 celebrity guests represented by a host. Each team is assigned to stand behind a dish of the day by random choice. Two pre-selected chefs then begin to prepare each dish simultaneously right in front of the 2 teams as well as a live studio audience. During the process, any team member is free to interject usually humorous comments.

Each chef first introduces the ingredients of the dish. Then, one of the ingredients from each dish is selected to show its origin, For example, it can be a fruit, vegetable, seasoning, animal part, fish, bread, etc. In doing so, the program breaks off to run an earlier tapped short piece that documented how and where the selected ingredient came from. This is usually the highlight of the show. After the diversion, the program returns to the studio and continues with each chef starting the actual process of making the dish and shows the facial expressions of the team members and their comments.

After the 2 dishes are expediently completed, each team member is up for a vote in the same time by raising the sign of the favorite dish (he is free to vote for either dish). Before the final voting result is revealed, the program again breaks off to give a quick tour to some of the restaurants that specialize in catering to the 2 dishes of the day. After returning to the studio, the team members who have voted for the dish with the most counts get to consume the dish in front of the studio audience while the losing members can only watch with regret and envy.

California Gold with Huell Howser

This is an outstanding interview-style documentary program being shown on the Public Broadcast channel. The show is produced, written, and hosted by the energetic, engaging, likable, and easy understandable Huell Howser who has been with the program and its follow-ups since 1987. As the title implies, it is about the people, places, and establishments in California that the audiences around the world may find unique and interesting. What is popular and special about this program is the host’s informal, informative, and intimate ways of extracting and presenting the subject matters. There is seldom a dull moment as the audiences are often hooked from the first moment and will likely to stay to the end. The most recent examples are the shows about:

1) the harvesting of the hops and its preparation for beer making,

2) a family restaurant called Tallyrand that is well known in Burbank,

3) Russak's Cured & Smoked Prods (sausage, cow tongue, etc.) in Los Angeles.

Hustle

This is a British con game drama made with humor, sophistication, and worthwhile human values. The cast members are photogenic and ethnics and all can play into the required roles to execute a wide variety of cons to its successful completion. The closest American equivalent TV program was the 1960s popular and iconic Mission Impossible. However, Hustle has less violence and firepower but more dialogue and brainpower. If you ever wonder what actor, Robert Vaughn (from the 1960s UNCLE fame), is doing after all these years, you can find him alive and good as ever playing the patriarch of the con group. I personally find the British accent difficult to understand. But, the problem is solved with close caption.

Wild!

This wildlife in nature TV show distinguishes itself from other similar programs like NOVA and National Geography in its single-mindedness and concise story telling. Each episode has a consistent theme of life and death drama with wild animals and nature as the actors. In one episode, the show introduces the audience to a little known Pantanal of Brazil where 60% of the world’s wildlife and fauna can be found there. Each entity has a simple role that is to survive and reproduce. Yet, each day brings forth a new story of life and death that is beautiful, violent, peaceful, and chaotic all at the same time. In another episode, it shows how two eagles try their best to raise their chick in a lush green valley. Just as the chick gets big and strong enough to leave the nest, it is attacked and eaten by a wild cat roaming in the valley floor below.

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