Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TV Year In Review

I did a season-in-review type of deal last December for the shows that finished up before 2009 was out, so if I ever don't go into detail about a program on this list, that's because it's covered in this post. Anyway, the gimmick here is simple: all 28 of the shows I watched in depth this season, ranked from my least-favourite to my favourite. Boom!

First, here are the shows I fully intend to watch but haven't gotten around to it yet.

* It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I just recently got into this show and have only watched through the third season. S1 was solid, S2 was a bit shaky since I felt they were a bit too into shock value and they had trouble integrating Danny DeVito into the cast. But the third season, good lord, just pure hilarity from start to finish. If I had to pick a favourite moment, it's either Charlie's running commentary when the various McPoyles are coming out of their trailer ("Seriously, what is that a jar of?!"), Dee slathering on blackface to dig up her mother's grave but nobody taking any note of it, or Charlie thinking the door marked 'private' actually says 'pirate.' Just funny stuff all-around. Can't wait for S4 and the recently-completed S5.

* Justified. Saw the premiere, enjoyed it, but haven't seen any of the other episodes. So technically, I guess you could argue the show failed since the primary goal of every program is to get you to keep watching, but really, I liked it. The simple rule for Timothy Olyphant seems to be that if he's in a show or movie where he wears a cowboy hat, it's quality. If he's not in a cowboy hat, there's trouble.

* Party Down. The second season started up in April but I haven't seen any of it yet. It's just half-hour episodes so I could probably bang through it in an afternoon if I put my mind to it. This show seems to be coming apart at the seams a bit; Jane Lynch left for 'Glee,' and now Adam Scott has left for 'Parks & Recreation.'

* Sons of Anarchy. I've heard so many good things about this show that it seems like I'll have to start watching sooner or later.

* Treme. Like 'The Wire,' I suspect that this show will be best enjoyed if watched in a big chunk so I can better keep track of all the characters and plotlines. I'm also keeping expectations low since 'The Wire' was pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime program. I'm not expecting David Simon to hit a grand slam every time out, but a solo homer would be nice here.

Now, onto the list itself! Apologies to Chuck, Friday Night Lights, House, and the hundred other shows I somehow don't find the time to watch.

32. Bored To Death. I gave up on this one about halfway through its first season and was genuinely disappointed that I didn't like it more than I did. The concept of a blase private eye who's basically just pretending to be a detective is so promising that it's a shame it was wasted on a total schlub like Jason Schwartzman. I get that the character is supposed to be disaffected, but come on, at make him somewhat interesting instead of a guy you continually want to punch in the face. Of the other leads, Zach Galifianakis had nothing to do and Ted Danson...well, here the negativity parade ends because Ted Danson was just awesome. Seriously, just make the show about the Danson's character and I'll jump back on the bandwagon for season two.

31. Cougartown. Another one I gave up on after a few episodes. As it happens, apparently the show really hit its stride as the season went on and might be worth a second look. Will I actually ever give it a second look? Nah.

30. Men Of A Certain Age. Again, gave up on it quickly. It just moved sooooo slowwwwly. It got good reviews, but then again, most TV critics are middle-aged guys who could relate. If I wanted to see Ray Romano in a dramatic role, I'd just re-splice 'Ice Age' with footage from 'Apocalypto.'

29. Hung. (See the older post!)

28. The Ultimate Fighter: Liddell vs. Ortiz. Just a pretty blah season all-around thanks to a pretty uninteresting crop of fighters, a tired conflict between Chuck and Tito, and even what tension did develop between the coaches wasn't paid off since Tito pulled out of the fight. I'm still not sure of the reasoning why Tito had to be fired from the show (he could've and should've been allowed to corner Kris McCray for his last fight given how he'd coached him from day one), but I'm just chalking that up to Dana White being pissed at Tito for possibly accepting the coaching job without any intention of actually fighting. I'm sure Liddell wishes Tito had stuck around too given how interim coach Rich Franklin knocked Chuck's lights out. Court McGee winning the finale fit the whole theme for the season --- Chuck picking a better team of grittier fighters. (That scene of Dana doubting Chuck's team selection was very amusing, by the way. Dana: "What's up with your team?" Chuck: "No no, I looked them up on the internet, they're tough guys.") It kind of sucks that both McGee and Kris McCray have already lost this season but made the final anyway due to injuries and the 'wild card' rule. It would've been better for the concept of the show had a fighter gone undefeated on his way to the TUF crown, but hey, at least it sets up easy rematches with the guys who beat them the first time. And McGee's loss to Nick Ring was pretty controversial anyway, so he's a semi-clean victor.

27. How I Met Your Mother. The 'gang sees their doppelgangers' theme that ran through the season was pretty apt since it seemed like I was often watching an imperfect version of the HIMYM I used to love. It seems like the series is running out of stream quickly, to the point that even the cast is phoning it in. Jason Segel and NPH, for instance, seem to have already checked out and have their minds focused on their various other projects. I haven't heard anything about the sixth season to effect that it will be the last one, but they either need to get their groove back or start wrapping it up in a hurry.

26. The Simpsons. What is there to say about the Simpsons at this point? Yeah, the new episodes are good for a few laughs but aren't anything special. Sure, they're still capable of cranking out a couple of shows per year that wouldn't have been out of place in the golden era. Rinse, repeat.

25. Family Guy. I'll give FG some credit since it seemed like they went out of their way to address many of the problems that made the previous season so weak. They played around with the format of several episodes, actually had some stories and character development, and generally just delivered their best season in at least a few years. Then again, in some ways, I feel they overcompensated for the criticism. For instance, the consensus was that Brian had become too much of an irritating character over the years. So this season, Brian had no shortage of horrible things heaped upon him, topped off by Quagmire delivering a three-minute long rant about what a terrible person/dog Brian is. It was weird. It's even odder given that Brian is basically Seth MacFarlane's voice, so it was like Seth himself was putting himself through some self-flagellation over the low quality of the show. Dude, calm down. Just make better cartoons. You don't need to have your cartoon dog alter-ego give a baby a rimjob to make up for it. (This actually happened. And yes, it was disturbing as hell.)

24. American Dad. Disappointing year for AD. After being fantastic for the last couple of years, it took a bit of a step back this season. It seemed like the writers suddenly weren't quite sure how to balance the wackiness anymore. Just three great episodes: the one following the Rapture, Stan becomes a bully to Steve (thus setting up the fantastic Stelio Kontos beatdown) and the season premiere when Steve relives Vietnam on a golf course.

23. The Cleveland Show. Not a bad debut season, though it seems that while the ingredients are all there, they haven't quite found the right formula yet. It's interesting, I think the producers intended for Rollo and Tim to be the breakout characters, but Cleveland Jr. is by far the funniest character on the show. It's not even close. On an unrelated note, I'm not sure how all four FOX Sunday cartoons ended up slotted together on this list. I swear it wasn't intentional.

22. The Amazing Race 15. (See the older post!)

21. The Amazing Race 16. Both editions of TAR were pretty average this season, with TAR16 getting the slight edge due to generally better locales and the nonstop comedy of the 'cowboy' team of brothers from Oklahoma. The show also spent way too much on the idiotic feud between the model team and the lesbian team (not trying to be blunt here, but the whole show, they were just referred to as 'The Lesbians') where both sides ended up looking petty and simple-minded. On the plus side, man, do I ever want to visit the Seychelles sometime.

20. The Ultimate Fighter: Jackson vs. Evans. (Older post!)

19. Jersey Shore. *sigh* Yeah, I watched. And I'll watch the second season. Why and how are these idiots so oddly entertaining?!

18. 24. Ol' Jack Bauer made it. Ok, sure, there was a bit of a lack of tension in the final minutes of the final episode since the rumours about a '24' movie were swirling, but still, part of me still thought that they might actually conclude the show with Jack being shot in a back alley like a dog. Even if that movie never gets off the ground, I can take this as a series finale. It ended on an oddly touching note between Jack and Chloe as Jack basically echoed the producers' viewpoint in saying "Wow, I can't believe after all this time, Chloe was the only one who's here at the end." (I'm still in favour of 24's ultimate ending being Jack and Chloe hooking up, just for the guaranteed look of bemusement that would be on Jack's face.) The final season had the usual ups and downs of any 24 campaign, but it did go out with some amazing moments. That 2-3 episode stretch featuring the final hours of President Hassan's life were as dramatic as anything the show has ever done. The return of President Logan, which made me realize just how much I missed having that sniveling rat bastard on this show. Gregory Itzin was so good that he finally made me appreciate Cherry Jones' acting abilities; those scenes where he was Lady Macbeth-ing her into the cover-up were fantastic, culminating in President Taylor's final full-on heel turn when she outright threatens Dalia Hassan with nuclear annihilation. That was great. Where the hell was THAT President Taylor for the previous two seasons? It would've been interesting to have the 'evil president' story again, except this time with a competent president rather than that weasel Logan. And man, if I keep one image from this season in my head, it's the sight of a masked and armoured Jack launching an assault on Logan's motorcade, while Logan is sitting in his town car, screaming and scared shitless. Here's an abbreviated clip. Just some great stuff. So yeah, between Itzin, Jones and Anil Kapoor, there was more than enough guest-star power to make me erase the dumb-ass Katee Sackhoff/Freddie Prinze Jr. storyline from my memory. It was definitely time for '24' to end its run, but they went out on a pretty good note.

17. Saturday Night Live. Like "24", SNL can't help but have its ups and downs over the course of a year, and this season it was generally more up. It probably helped that the only stand-out horrible episode was the January Jones-hosted stinker in November, whereas there were enough good-to-very good shows to more than balance it out. Jon Hamm, Sigourney Weaver, Tina Fey, Taylor Swift (!) and, of course, Betty White were the best hosts and thus more or less were responsible for the best episodes. (Blake Lively's show was also pretty good, if she herself was kind of an average host. Smoking hot, but an average host.) I can't help but feel that the cast is probably due for a big overhaul, though the only cast members who seem worn out to me are Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. So really, the show could just ditch them and Jenny Slate and I'd be cool with it. I'd nominate Seth Meyers too but he's the head writers, so it's not realistic. Nasim Pedrad showed some great potential in her first year, and the cast MVP is (in an upset) Kenan Thompson. How did it take seven seasons for this guy to break out? He was suddenly hilarious in everything this season. Is this a sign that he's out of his shell, or was it like that one NHL season when Bernie Nicholls inexplicably scored 70 goals? An additional note about the Betty White episode. As great as White was and how fun of an episode that ended up being, the real hidden value of that show might be that bringing back all those old cast members was a great idea in and of itself. An annual SNL alumni night would be a great hosting gimmick. For instance, the next time Adam Sandler makes a movie like that crappy one he has out now with Spade, Rock and Schneider, have those four all do a team-hosting gig with all of their old characters. Or bring back as many of the 70's era cast who would still be willing to do it. Or hell, even the Crystal/Guest/Short/Shearer 84-85 season that Lorne Michaels likes to pretend never existed. That could be all kinds of fun.

16. The Office. Holy cow, did people ever turn on this show. Admittedly, season six was the weakest of the series, but boy, from the critical reaction you'd think they were running plotlines where Dwight was molesting children or something. The problem was, basically, that the big over-arching stories of the year (Jim becoming co-manager, Dunder-Mifflin's financial problems and subsequent buy-out by Sabre, the Andy/Erin relationship and Jim and Pam having their baby) just weren't as intrinsically funny as S5's big plots of the Michael/Holly relationship and Michael starting his own paper company. While S5 managed to find great material within those stories, S6 felt like it was trying too hard to generate concepts that fit the bigger picture. Really, this show works just fine in its basic concept of 'funny people in an office setting.' You don't need major plotlines unless they're as bang-on as the ones in the fifth season. Steve Carell has made noises about possibly leaving the show once his contract is up after this season, and it might be time for the show to end as well. Who can they possibly find to fill Carell's shoes? We've already seen what things are like with Pam, Jim or Dwight in charge, and elevating Andy probably just creates a poor man's Michael Scott.

15. Peep Show. A very funny British series starring the great Mitchell & Webb comedy duo, 'Peep Show' finished its sixth season in the fall and delivered a good one. I'm not totally sure the series can go now that there's a baby involved (Mark and Jez's antics will now just seem like child endangerment more than....well, just antics), but still, I trust the program will continue its quality. Peep Show has just six episodes per season so it's easy to catch up. It's a difficult show to describe since it's hard to properly encapsulate the dynamic between Mark (pretty much the ultimate nebbish loser, played by David Mitchell) and Jeremy (pretty much the ultimate self-absorbed slacker, played by Robert Webb). Maybe the best comparison is it's like if you took the social awkwardness of the U.K. Office, combined it with the venality of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and then molded that combination onto the story of two flatmates.

14. 30 Rock. Like with the Office, It seemed like a lot of folks jumped hard off the 30 Rock bandwagon this year. While I liked the season seemingly much more than the critics did, I can see the problems. For one, there were too many jokes. "But Mark, how is this a problem for a comedy?" Well, I'll tell you, straw man. It seemed that every other line was either a joke or an intro to another joke. There was no time to breathe and properly set things up, and rapid-fire farce is tricky to pull off. The best 30 Rock episodes are the ones where Liz is at the center of a maelstrom and through it all actually does learn some good advice from Jack, whereas this season Liz was an active part of that maelstrom herself. Ironically, this may have been Tina Fey's best season and Liz is now as developed as she's ever been, while Tracy, Jenna and Kenneth all kept hitting the same notes over and over. 30 Rock has in all likelihood jumped the shark, but still, there were plenty of very funny episodes and it seemed like the ship was righted in the latter half of the year. Michael Sheen as Liz's settling soul-mate was fantastic.

13. The Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town. I covered this in a separate post in February, so check that out. I would've liked a tighter final episode, but hey, at least they provided a decent surprise murderer. Not too shabby.

12. Survivor: Samoa. (Older post!)

11. Archer. Whoa, where did this thing come from? I was late to the Archer experience, only hearing about it second-hand and in vague descriptions as 'a funny spy cartoon.' Little did I realize when I checked it out that the show featured half the Arrested Development cast in voiceover roles and featured some of the most bizarre humour on television. Now, I mentioned earlier about how the Brian-licks-Stewie's-buttcrack scene in Family Guy was pretty disturbing. "Archer" delves into similarly weird territory except on this show, it's somehow hilarious. If you're the type that finds the fact that one character is described as "the Pele of anal sex," then Archer is probably the show for you.

10. Dollhouse. Joss Whedon knew he was living on borrowed time just in getting a second season of 'Dollhouse,' so he basically decided to go all-out and cram about three seasons' worth of plot into 13 episodes. It didn't seem like the plot advancement was getting too overbearing until about the last couple of shows, when the ending suddenly seemed a bit too pat, but even still, this was a hell of a conclusion. Better to have a show go out on somewhat of its own terms like Dollhouse rather than whimper to a finish like 'Buffy' or get cut off at its peak like 'Angel.'

9. Modern Family. The title is almost a literal description, since it's a nice blend of an old-style family sitcom dressed up in the modern mockumentary styles. There were episodes or moments when things got a bit too Pollyannaish, but I have no problem with a show wearing its heart on its sleeve once in a while as long as it consistently delivers the laughs. I'm interested to see how this show will fare in regards to Emmy nominations, since it's such a pure ensemble that it's hard to necessarily single one person out from others. For instance, Eric Stonestreet and JT Ferguson work so great as a duo that one couldn't be nominated over the other. The kid who plays Manny, though, is just hysterical.

8. Lost. Oh no, I've already written about a zillion words about LOST this year, I don't have it in me to write any more. Also, I may or may not have slotted LOST in the #8 spot to match it up with one of the Numbers. Man, I'm a nerd for this show. It will be missed.

7. Community. This show is such a meta-commentary on itself that it seems to have a built-in answer for whatever minor criticisms I might have about it. For example, I feel like they work a bit too hard to build up the Greendale College cast of characters, as opposed to a show like "Parks & Recreation" (which I'll get to in a minute) that developed the town of Pawnee seemingly more organically. But then again, whole episodes have been done on the status of the main characters within the college and how others feel left out to comic effect, so this is clearly something that creator Dan Harmon is aware of. If you read Harmon's Twitter feed, he's obviously tuned into how the online community (hey, that's the show's title!) perceives his show and is quick to change things that aren't working. But anyway, this has been a very nuts-and-bolts entry about what is just a straight-up hilarious show. As a non-Soup watcher, I'm only now catching up to the genius that is Joel McHale, and it's a tossup to determine which of the ensemble is actually the funniest. Even Britta has been greatly improved since around mid-season when the writers seemed to figure out what to do with her. It's the highest-rated new show on my list, and one so funny that my friend Eric listed no fewer than four Community episodes on his list of the ten best episodes of ANY show during the past TV season.. I considered doing my own list on this subject, but figured it would lead to me spending days locked in my room looking at spreadsheets. "Modern Warfare," a.k.a. the paintball episode, would've probably been as equally high on my hypothetical list too, Eric. And I too share your crush on the TV season's It Girl, Alison Brie. Fun fact: Brie was the first of only two celebrities on my Twitter feed who have actually retweeted or replied to one of my comments. (The other? You guessed it, Frank Stallone.) Has this contributed to my ongoing schoolboy crush? Yes, yes it does. (A crush on Brie, not on Frank Stallone. He's not my type.)

6. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. I've got a big Survivor post in the works for later in the month, so I'll save my "Russell is terrible at Survivor and you're a fool if you think otherwise" argument for then. But overall, HvV was one of the better Survivor seasons ever and for me, certainly one of the most satisfying given that Sandra (one of my favourite players) captured her second title and Russell Hantz was again made to look like a jackass. There are rumours that Survivor will make All-Star seasons a semi-annual thing, which I'm not crazy about since it seems like the novelty will wear off pretty quickly. Like, this one was cool since it was fun to see old-timers like Jerri and Sandra mix it up with the newbies, but the "hey, so-and-so is back!" appeal will lessen if someone is returning after just a series or two. I stand by my criticism that three-timers shouldn't be brought back (even if they're great players like Parvati), but I'm afraid that we'll see some of these same people back for a fourth time sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, we have Survivor 21 in the fall with a whole new cast, and thankfully we can get back to enjoying this show without goddamn Russell.

5. Dexter

4. Mad Men

3. Curb Your Enthusiasm. (I covered these three shows in the older post, but man, how good a year of TV was it that this trio all had phenomenal years and none of them even cracked the top two?)

2. Parks & Recreation. Last January, I renounced my knee-jerk dislike of P&R's first season by calling it "the funniest show on TV that doesn't involve Larry David." As great as Curb was, P&R being awesome for 24 episodes outweighs Curb being awesome for 10 episodes, so Parks gets the silver medal. Why my massive change of heart from S1 to S2? Firstly, P&R has done a fantastic job of developing the town of Pawnee into a Springfield-esque location for insanity and memorable characters. Secondly, my knee-jerk (and, admittedly, pretty unoriginal) complaint about Leslie Knope being too much of a female Michael Scott was alleviated simply by having Leslie be acknowledged as really good at her job. Amy Poehler is much more interesting as a competent person who gets occasionally carried away with her idealism than she is as an idiot with occasional moments of brilliance. Thirdly, Leslie's improvement as a character matches the development of the rest of the cast, most notably Nick Offerson as the immortal Ron F'in Swanson and Chris Pratt as the simple-mindedly enthusiastic Andy. Between those two, Aziz Ansari being Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones as a straight-woman, and Aubrey Plaza set to battle new cast member Adam Scott in a "who can be more sardonic and underplayed" contest next season, it's a pretty tight group from start to finish. NBC, in its continuing quest to be America's dumbest network, is holding P&R's third season off until January, but hopefully whatever garbage they have debuting in the fall will fail quickly so we can get back to Pawnee as soon as possible.

1. Breaking Bad. Again, simply the best show on TV for the second straight year. There might not be a single more exciting period of television on any show than the segment of 'Breaking Bad' that runs before the opening title credits. It is always something out of left field and completely absorbing, even if it's sometimes not at all related to the episode itself. This season began with Walt and Jesse seemingly becoming more corrupt from their meth enterprise, but by the finale, it seemed like they had regained a bit of their souls. (Or at least they seemed a bit better by comparison than the scarily normal/amoral Gus, superbly played by Giancarlo Esposito.) The acting, the writing, the development of characters like Hank, Gus and Skyler, the great suspense of Hank's showdown with the Cousins or a drugged-out Walt almost confessing to the murder of Jesse's girlfriend, the cinematography, the plot twists, everything is virtually perfect. It's all topped off by arguably the two best performances on TV --- Bryan Cranston as Walt and Aaron Paul as Jesse. Cranston has two Emmys already, and I'm firmly on the Paul bandwagon for this year. It's a sign of a great show when things are tightly plotted and yet you have no idea where this program could go. After Sunday's finale episode, I am ready to watch the fourth season right this moment. There is also a strong chance I'm getting a porkpie hat and going for Halloween as Walter 'Heisenberg' White.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hmmm...about number twenty-five. If i remember correctly, "Family Guy" had already established that Brian and Quagmire did not like each other. Once Cleveland wasn't around, they decided to just bring up the rant. But i think that's mostly about all the bad characteristics of Brian and little by little showing Quagmire being serious more often.

Good work on that article though!