Thursday, December 27, 2007

At Year's End: The Best In Television

Okay, first thing's first: head on over to Modern Fabulousity and read his stacked and awesome ModFabulous: Television post. Gabriel was nice enough to invite me to be a part of his expert panel TV bloggers to choose the best 2007 television. So after coming up with a ballot to submit to him, I figured I'd flesh it out into a year-end feature of my own. And since it's far too late for me to stretch out this intro any farther. The Year In TV:

The Top Ten TV Shows Of 2007

1. 30 Rock
The smartest, funniest, most consistently great comedy since...well, The Office. Interestingly enough, Tina Fey's little showbiz parody has become an equally sharp comment on corporate culture as its Thursday night companion, even if Jack Donaghy's brand of corporate culture includes more dinners with deformed Hapsburg princes.

2. John From Cincinnati
I can't hold it against anyone who didn't get, didn't like, or felt jerked around by David Milch's latest adventure in flowery dialogue and metaphysics, and I'd have traded it all for another season of Deadwood, too. But this weirdo summer offering wherein Jesus comes to a small California surfing community and repeats our words back to us as prophecy was inexplicably delightful.

3. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
In its third season, this most underrated comedy took its already scumbaggy characters to new depths. Dennis's vanity got him turned out as a whore, Charlie and Dee's opportunism got them hooked on coke, and Mac's bizarre notions of family values led him to another paternal disappointment. A slow, McPoyle-heavy start to the season gave way to some of the best episodes in the series: Fatty Magoo's epic battle with the Aluminum Monster, the gang's attempt to unload a brick of "nose clams," Dennis, Dee, and Charlie getting jobs at TGI Fridays, and that season-capping dance marathon.

4. Battlestar Galactica
Despite a third season that was scattershot and underwhelming, it still ranks among the top five shows of the year, if only for that bugfuck insane scene where Laura Roslin screams for Gaius Baltar to be thrown out an airlock, not to mention the Cylons-along-the-watchtower season finale. Now that Kara Thrace has come back to life, as human or Cylon or both, I wonder if she'll be able to avoid spending another season being drunk and self-destructive. Weirder, I'm not sure whether that would be a good or bad thing.

5. Dirty Sexy Money
The best new show of the season, as it turns out, and the most sparklingly written prime time soap in many years. Even the show's most notable flaw -- the fast-forward-worthy scenes in which Nick's wife Lisa attempted to justify her existance on the show -- has been remedied in the past few episodes by teaming her up with Jeremy. But the fine writing is met by even finer acting, with can't-miss performances from Donald Sutherland, Glenn Fitzgerald, Natalie Zea, and Seth Gabel.

6. Friday Night Lights
If not for the ludicrously dumb murder plot that has marred the first half of this season (and the only-less-dumb-by-comparison romance between Matt and Grandma's caregiver), this easily places as my number one. Thank God, then, for Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler tearing up season one and for the Jason-Lyla-Riggins Y Tu Mama Tambien tribute episode last month.

7. Mad Men
The "good old days" of the 1950s and early 1960s rendered as a misogynistic horror show of corporate culture, this was the scariest, most sharply observed case against straight white men I've ever seen. It does for the post-war generation what The Sopranos always did for mobsters, the only difference being that it hasn't yet had the chance to become a mainstream hit and have millions of viewers mistake its monstrous lead characters for heroes. A price I'll gladly pay if it means we get more of this show.

8. Frisky Dingo
I've always been appreciative of the Adult Swim brand of comedy but never an avid viewer. Not until I got turned on to this 15-minute gem of a show about billionaire himbo and superhero Xander Crewes and his nemesis, the erudite yet monstrous Killface. Season Two saw both nemeses on the presidential campaign trail, as well as the emergence of trigger-happy security professional Wendell and revenge-mad assassin Val. Not so much a parody of superheroes as it is a parody of...everything. It's glorious.

9. Lost
Big points for rebounding creatively (if not with the Nielsens) from a dismal season 2, primarily by being ballsier than we expected the creators to be. Not all the experiments worked out (viewers really reacted badly to Nikki and Paulo, though I found them to be a clever little joke on the producers' part) and some didn't go far enough (the Desmond episode where we found out he could see the future could have been a series-altering development, but the show jumped back from it), but by bringing Locke back to prominence (and as a bona fide third party), and developing Juliet as a worthy lead character, the show has set the table for what could very well be a memorably strong run for the finish line.

10. Ugly Betty
I liked Ugly Betty quite a bit last season, but I really see it coming into its own in Season 2. I've said it before, but the appeal of this show is not in its centrail conflicts -- I like America Ferrera quite a bit, but her romantic triangles and struggles to remain a good girl from Queens in big, bad Manhattan tend to bore me. Good thing for the show that this has become a true ensemble show. The sibling rivalry between Daniel and Alexis Meade, Wilhelmina Slater's mad grabs for power, Hilda's struggles to crawl out from under her heartbreak...there are among the more compelling stories on TV. Plus, and this is no minor point, the show has been able to spin Marc and Justin, two potential stereotypes, into two of the most layered, exuberant, and proud gay characters on TV. Bravo.

The Top Ten TV Performances Of 2007

Brian Van Holt
If the characters in John From Cincinnati were either frayed live wires sparking off in all directions or fonts of wisdom sprouting up in the most unexpected places, Van Holt's Butchie Yost was definitely the former. Every week, as another layer of insulation was stripped away, Van Holt made this open wound of a man into someone both endearing and worthy of salvation.

Brooke Smith
Pick a show she's been on this season: Grey's Anatomy, where she replaced Isaiah Washington and provided the kind of upgrade you'd expect when you replace a homophobic fuckwad with a kick-ass character actress. Or on Weeds, where she showed up far too briefly as Nancy's best friend/chief rival. Hell, she even brightened up her little corner of the Dirty Sexy Money pilot -- she's since been replaced by Sheryl Lee, but not even Laura Palmer alive and well can compare to the sarcastic tour-de-force that Brooke brings to everything she does. Love her.

Donald Sutherland
It was tough choosing a best in show designation for Dirty Sexy Money, a show whose strong freshman season has featured an almost peerless ensemble cast. What isn't tough is choosing the best Sutherland working on TV today. Sorry, Kiefer, Dad's got you beat by a mile. If I see nothing else on network television all season (and with the writers' strike going the way it has been, that just might be the case), at least I got to see Donald Sutherland speaking Swedish to a illegitimate grandchild while seated a foot and a half away from a lion.

Ginnifer Goodwin
Choosing one best performer from among the triptych of Big Love sister-wives is a divine exercise in futility. Ladies, ladies, you're ALL awesome. Great big chunks of Season 2, however, belonged to Ginnifer Goodwin's Margene, who discovered where her power lied within the Henrickson family and took up agency for herself at long last. (...Only to get deep-sixed by Barb something fierce in the finale, but that's why we love this show.)

Christina Hendricks
Of all the throwback, sexist, racist, horror-show attentions to period detail in the spectacular freshman season of Mad Men, Hendricks's Joan is the clearest indication that the show is being produced in 2007. A pre-feminist dynamo, Joan is the proto-Mean Girl who has learned to play the game and play it well. There's as much going on behind Hendricks's eyes at any given moment as anything else happening on the show.

Kristen Bell
In its unfortunate (and perhaps inevitable) letdown of a second season, there have been far too few bright spots on Heroes. Even solid performers from last season like Zachary Quinto and Hayden Panettiere got boring and repetitive. Aside from poor Jack Coleman holding the entire show up with both arms, though, the most exciting performance was given by Kristen Bell as the electrified Elle. She started out like Veronica Mars Gone Bad, but it didn't take Bell long to bring Elle into her own: a damaged, infantile live wire who has long since given up trying to understand her role in this great superhero war. If scripted TV ever comes back, she's be one of the few reasons to think Heroes has a shot at pulling out of its tail spin.

Glenn Fitzgerald
Another stellar member of the Dirty Sexy Money ensemble, Fitzgerald has been knocking around the film industry for as long as I can remember. He was the single greatest thing about the pilot, a rageful and childish imp of a priest, forever nipping at the heels of Peter Krause's good lawyer. As the series went on, Fitzgerald didn't fall back to the pack so much as the rest of the cast caught up to him, but he's ferociously held on to some of the season's best line deliveries. Pity Brooke Smith had to leave the show and deprive us of her and Glenn's Series 7 reunion, but we take what we can get.

Zeljko Ivanek
Standing out among the Damages would seem to be an insurmountable task, particularly for a Hey! It's That Guy character actor extraordinaire with a funny name that people would rather just move on to singing Ted Danson's praises than attempt to pronounce. But Ivanek's sad, overwhelmed southern lawyer -- a principled man who has learned to swallow his principles long enough that it's quite literally killing him -- became the unexpected MVP of this already well-acted show. Nice job, Governor Devlin!

Kaitlin Olson
Choosing a favorite from the It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia cast is like choosing among my children. My stupid, vain, greedy, nasty, amoral children. Olson edges out her manly competition due to her seemingly endless ability to find new notes to play Sweet Dee's exasperation at the guys and her blind enthusiasm with which she throws herself into their schemes anyway.

Ed O'Neill
David Milch does love a wise old fool, does he not? That old mining town of Deadwood seemed like it was full of them. O'Neill's Bill Jacks sure seemed like a fool during the early hours of John From Cincinnati, what with talking to his dead wife and birds and his easy irritability ("Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ!"). But as the season wore on, Bill's lunacy looked more and more like the mask of a sad and traumatized man. No one in Milch's cast drew laughs or tears with half as grace.

The Top Eight Reality TV Performers Of 2007

Dale Levitski (Top Chef: Miami)
[Rocked the kitchen with a hot underdog hook and a sharp, sarcastic wit that was quite a bit hotter.]

Saaphyri Windsor (Flavor of Love: Charm School)
[Once I got over the guilty feelings of watching this show in the first place, I was hardcore rooting for Saaphyri for the win. Maybe the most satisfying reality TV winner this year.]

Lauren "Lo" Bosworth (The Hills)
[Every second week or so -- about the time when we're all starting to wonder why we even bother with this fake-ass show full of assface rich brats like Spencer Pratt and Brody Jenner -- Lo shows up, sits Lauren down for some straight talk, manages to be the only person in a fifty-mile radius who manages not to sound like her words aren't scripted, laughs her ass off at stupid Justin-Bobby, and generally makes us all wish she were our friend too.]

Melinda Doolittle (American Idol)
[The best voice on Idol since Kelly Clarkson. I'm just going to keep saying this again and again while I cross my fingers and pray that her first album isn't a gospel album.]

Kathy Griffin (My Life On The D-List)
[She's already one of the funniest women on television, but this season on the D-List also managed to make Kathy Griffin, struggling to cope with the end of a marriage and the loss of her beloved father, also made her among the most relatable.]

Laurel McGoff (Kid Nation)
[In a town full of apple-polishers, Laurel got to be the coolest kid in school through her brains, talent, leadership, and friendly personality. And then the show ended and she had to return to a society that values none of those things.]

Tabatha and Tyson (Shear Genius)
[Much as I enjoyed the underrated Shear Genius, the fact that it didn't end with a climactic Tyson v. Tab showdown for first place was kind of bullshit.]

The Five Guiltiest TV Pleasures Of 2007
Gossip Girl
Flavor of Love: Charm School
The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency
The Bad Girls Club
The Real World/Road Rules Challenge

Five TV Shows I Dropped In 2007
Prison Break
Private Practice
Bionic Woman

Three TV Shows I'd Like To Add In 2008
The Wire
The Tudors
So You Think You Can Dance

Three Shows I've Stockpiled On DVR For The Long, Scriptless Winter
Pushing Daisies


Carrie Ann said...

Great roundup, Joe. YES to picking up So You Think You Can Dance this year. You will be so glad you made that call. That show is just pure entertainment, and Cat Deeley is the most delightful reality TV host ever.

StinkyLulu said...

Ditto to Carrie Ann on SYTYCD. It's crazy fun.