Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TV Year In Review (Fall Seasons)

Spoilers are abundant in this post, people! So before you read, go back and watch every single episode of every single show listed. Take the week off work if need be. I can wait.

Kind of a middling season of the Race that took a lot from the personality of its winners, the uniquely bland Meghan and Cheyne. There were a few interesting locales and challenges, but overall, this year didn't bring much aside from the always-entertaining Harlem Globetrotters team and the instant-classic of a scene when Mika and Canaan (the overly-religious dating virgin couple) had a complete and total breakdown when Mika refused to go down a giant water slide due to her fear of both heights and water. On the one hand, it was a goddamn water slide. On the other hand, Canaan dealt with his girlfriend's fears by tenderly and understandingly....screaming at her and at one point seemingly about to physically toss her down the slide. Smooth move, Canaan. Maybe this is why you weren't getting any. Actually, the fact that they were dating virgins made his constant pleas of 'Just go down, Mika!' even funnier.

Also, the Race producers are extra, extra cruel for introducing a 'team is eliminated before we even begin' challenge this season. That's just mean, man --- going on the Race would be a great experience, even if the money and competition wasn't involved. To cast someone, cut them before they even leave LA and sequester them anyway for a month while the show is filming is harsh. The only bright side is that couple who were the first to go seemed pretty douchey.

If Larry David needs an extra year break between 'Curb' seasons from now on, I wholly support it. The show roared back into top form with arguably its strongest season, and two of the episodes --- "Vehicular Fellatio" and "The Table Read" --- instantly joined the pantheon of CYE's all-time best installments. (It's also not a coincidence that these were the two eps that Leon, possibly the funniest character on TV, was most prominently involved in.) The much-publicized Seinfeld reunion actually ended up being a fairly minor part of the overall season, given that half the episodes featured none or little of the old cast getting back together, but still, the non-Seinfeld stuff was great and the material that did concern the reunion lived up to the hype. The two stars of the season: Bob 'Marty Funkhouser' Einstein and Jerry Seinfeld himself. I never appreciated Funkhouser as much as I did this year, culminating in that hysterically dirty joke that he told during 'The Table Read' that had to have been improvised on the spot by Einstein. As for Jerry, he and Larry had such great chemistry that I'm demanding that Seinfeld returns to become a Curb semi-regular like Ted Danson. It's not like Jerry has anything better to do, aside from possibly stealing Conan O'Brien's job.

(p.s. In trying to find a picture for this entry, I actually googled "Larry David + women's panties." Sigh.)

I had my issues with Dexter's third season, since the subplots were becoming onerous and the finale was a huge disappointment --- so, pretty much anything not involving Jimmy Smits was a letdown. So it was good to see that season four stepped things up nicely, with an equally good villain (the great John Lithgow), a mostly coherent main storyline, fairly inoffensive subplots (Maria and Batista got married, Quinn is apparently great at cunnilingus, Masuka drives the most hilariously pimped-out truck on the planet) and, best of all, a final episode that provided the biggest shock of the whole series. Am I on board with Rita's death? Somewhat. As opposed to many in the Dexter fan world, I wasn't annoyed at Julie Benz's character and, if anything, thought more could have been done with her doubts about Dexter's behaviour. Eliminating Rita turns the series on its head and could either give Dexter more or less incentive to rid himself of his 'dark passenger.' He could either get obsessed by her death and take it out on Miami's underworld or he could try even harder to become normal since now he has three kids for whom he is solely responsible. There's also the fact that the investigation of Rita's murder could open a whole 'nother can of worms, since now the police will be questioning Dexter's involvement with Trinity, why Rita's death didn't fit Trinity's killing pattern (the past bathtub victims were all single women), and possibly what would happen if Trinity's family recognizes "Kyle Butler"'s wife as another victim of their crazy-ass father. Given that Quinn (Dexter's new nemesis on the force) is already suspicious of him, Masuka knows about Rita kissing their neighbour and even Deb's general good police instincts, I'm very interested to see what the fifth season holds for ol' Dexter.

I don't know what to make of this show, even after watching a whole season. I appreciate a dramedy, but 'Hung' doesn't seem to know itself if it's more of a comedy or a drama. Worst of all, by the last episode, I found myself not giving much of a damn about any of the characters anymore and I'll probably skip the next season. On the plus side, Jane Adams, Tom Jane and (of all people) Anne Heche delivered good performances. Then again, should I even give Jane credit? He was playing a guy with a remarkably huge dick --- you don't think he wasn't fired up to play this role? Jane probably put even more effort into this role than he did during the making of 'Homeless Dad.'

Ok, the picture doesn't have much to directly do with the show, but c'mon, it's NPH at Christina Hendricks' Christmas party. That's just tremendous. Is there any doubt that Barney Stinson is a big Mad Men fan? Now that 'How I Met Your Mother' has introduced the concept of time travel, there isn't any reason why Barney couldn't go back to the 60's to wreak havoc. Can you imagine an entire episode devoted to Barney trying to pick up Joan Holloway? Or Barney and Don Draper having a "seduce-off"? That's pure gold.

But anyway, back to Mad Men itself, which finished off yet another outstanding season. We went from Italy to the British invasion to a man having his foot destroyed by a lawn mower to January Jones actually showing some acting ability* to a mediation on the Kennedy assassination to the high-fiving, adrenaline-rush of the last episode, when we saw the birth of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce. Between the new company and Draper's marriage breaking up, the whole show has been turned on its ear, and, not unlike as with 'Dexter,' we'll be seeing a completely new Mad Men universe at the start of next season's premiere. Will we stick in 1964 to see how the new company gets off the ground, or will we suddenly jump to, like, 1966 or something and we'll suddenly see Pete Campbell in a Beatles moptop?

* = sadly, Ms. Jones saw her progress erased after she delivered one of the worst Saturday Night Live hosting gigs in recent memory. Tough break, January.

I've previously complained about how Survivor has gotten hooked on the idea of making one particular contestant the star of the season, and thus said star gets a good three-quarters of the screentime to the detriment to the other players. In Gabon it was Sugar Kiper, in Tocantins it was Coach Wade, and this time around in Samoa, it was Russell Hantz who was heavily promoted as "the biggest villain in Survivor history" and received no fewer than four confessionals in every show bragging about how smart he was and how easily he was going to win the game. For most of the season, it looked like it would be true, since S19 featured one of the sorriest casts in the history of the show. Of the 20 people in the cast, I would be hard-pressed to find a half-dozen that really played the game with any sense of creative strategy, and thus Russell stood out simply because he had a personality, unlike half the mopes on the show. Hopefully this isn't an indication of the next phase of 'star casting' --- a dull overall cast that makes the 'star' stand out that much more. Earlier Survivor seasons obviously had a lot of dominant personalities, but you also always got a good feel for what the other contestants were all about too. Never in earlier seasons would you have a guy like Brett, the blandly anonymous member of the Galu tribe who was virtually never shown or highlighted in any way until the second-to-last episode when he won an immunity challenge. Brett ended up in fourth place and received less overall screentime than Russell did in any given episode. That's just a failure of editing and/or casting such an uninteresting guy in the first place.

Linda Holmes wrote a fantastic blog post that basically summed up all of my thoughts on the season and why Russell ultimately lost to much more pleasant Natalie. For all of Russell's alleged strategic brilliance, he was also a douche, and at the end of the day, a jury won't vote for a douche that didn't just vote them out, but makes them feel dumb for being voted out. It's one thing for a Survivor finalist to say, "I made this strategic play to vote you out," and quite another to basically say, as Russell did, "I really put one over on you suckers, I'm the smartest one here, ain't I great?" As Linda pointed out in her blog, Russell wasn't exactly making any game-shifting choices when it came to people that he 'wanted out of the game.' On top of that, I'd also add that his post-merger moves were also pretty uneventful because since Russell, Natalie, Mick and Jaison were in a such a hole (down 8-4 in numbers to the former Galu tribe), their strategy was very limited. They voted as one and acted as one, meaning that it was hard for any of the Galus on the jury to see the 'strategy' that might have gone into it. So in a final vote of three people who basically played the same game, it was no surprise that it came down to a contest of who the jury liked the most, and thus Natalie was the runaway winner. The intense focus on Russell throughout the entire season was also a huge hint to the audience, since basically it told the audience that the guy wasn't going to win. There's no narrative thrust to a story of a guy who boasts he's going to win a game, competes against mostly inept opponents and then indeed wins, but there is a much better story about a braggart who is overcome by his own hubris by an opponent that he underestimated throughout the entire game. The capper was Russell's behaviour at the reunion show, near-tears over not winning and having to literally try to bribe Natalie to 'give him' the title of sole Survivor. I'll say this about Russell, he genuinely wanted to win more than anything, whereas in the case of Coach and Sugar it seemed like they were mostly just interested in being on TV. But that said, c'mon Russell, suck it up and take your defeat like a man. That was legitimately pathetic. THIS GUY is supposed to be one of the all-time great Survivors? Cirie Fields and Rob Cesternino would eat this Russell for lunch, and that's just amongst the non-winners.

Survivor wasn't the only reality show that featured 'star casting' this fall, as TUF featured Kimbo Slice as the star attraction of its season of heavyweight fighters. The good news is that Kimbo came out of the show looking great, presenting himself as a humble, likable fighter who is always trying to improve. Even though Kimbo lost in the first round, he lost to the eventual winner, Roy Nelson --- a guy who frankly was just way too good and experienced for this weak-ass cast. This season had some of the worst fights in TUF history, perhaps topped off by the James McSweeney/Wes Shivers fights where both men spent most of the second round literally bent over in the middle of the cage, sucking wind. Out of the 16 guys in the cast, Nelson is the only one with a legit future as a heavyweight fighter, and even that's not fair since Nelson was too good to be put up against these jabronies in the first place. It was like watching Mac Danzig roll his way through the lightweight season, except minus the fact that Danzig's main strategy isn't to maneuver his guy over opponents and literally crush them down until the fight is stopped. But then again, Nelson also comes to the cage to Weird Al Yankovic's "Fat," so it's impossible to hate the guy. So the fights were mostly terrible, the two coaches didn't even end up having their headline fight (Rampage Jackson went off to star in the A-Team movie rather than face Rashad Evans) and the winner was the guy who Dana White spent half the show deriding as boring. Methinks it'll be while before we get another heavyweight-only TUF season.

1 comment:

Swain said...

I also wonder if Russell's loss has to do with the lies he told at the beginning of the show. His whole 'I was there during Katrina' seemed to be a dangerous exploitation of a still tender wound on the American psyche. I can't help but wonder if the jury heard about that lie, and decided it was too much. There's lying, and then there's that moment.