Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Years on TV: The 50 Best Seasons #20-11

Low Resolution celebrates the end of the Double-Oh decade with an enthusiastically biased take on the last ten years on TV. I've limited myself to one season per series, tried very hard to keep it to seasons that began and ended in the Aughts, and haven't included mini-series and TV movies, but for two extremely worthy exceptions. Enjoy!

[Previously: #50-41, 40-31, 30-21]

#20. The Amazing Race, Season 3 (CBS, 2002)
It's tough to remember when this show was struggling to find an audience, but it almost didn't come back from its fourth go-round (and basically got a last-gasp summer run that turned things around). I was onboard from minute one, and while the early seasons were all hugely entertaining, Season 3 had the added benefit of my severe ambivalence toward Flo and Zach, whose improbable run to the finish came to the tune of a chorus of cheers (for him) and boos (for her).

Top Episode: "Did You See How I Stopped It? With My Face," wherein Heather and Eve took a cab to the pit stop when they were supposed to walk, thereby falling from first to last and getting the boot.

#19. The Paper, Season 1 (MTV, 2008)
I've written about this show at great length, and with incredibly good reason -- it is only the most underappreciated TV season of the last decade, if not beyond. I love laughing at those Jersey Shore idiots as much as anyone, but if one-third of the people yammering about that show had watched The Paper just once, it might have gotten a bit of the notoriety it deserved. Amanda Lorber, Adam Brock, Miss Weiss, you'll remain the Situations of MY heart, at least.

Top Episode: "Superteen Bonding," where we were graced with the well-rounded presence of MICHAEL JAN!

#18. Lost, Season 4 (ABC, 2008)
Okay, guys, here goes. We're in a circle of mutual respect and trust, right? Here's the thing: I watched Lost from the beginning, I stuck with it, I supported it, but I never fully loved the first three seasons. I know Seasons 2 and 3 got the big backlash, but even back in Season 1, the flashbacks would get repetitive and Jack was annoying and the structure got weirdly predictable. Still incredibly watchable, but never quite something I LOVED. Until the end of Season 3 -- pretty much as soon as the showrunners set that end date -- when the mythology really started to take shape, and they let Ben and Locke become the deceitful hearts of the show, and Juliet emerged, at which point I flipped a switch and became a pants-wettingly passionate fan. So Season 4 was, for me, what Season 1 was to most everyone else. So awesome!

Top Episode: "Ji Yeon," because Sun and Jin have always been among my favorites, and it also doubles as an amazing Juliet episode, where she pulls all sorts of underhanded shit to make sure Sun leaves the island (thus saving her baby).

#17. Mad Men, Season 1 (AMC, 2007)
It's funny, in the early days of this show, I was completely riveted and yet equally horrified. It played like a horror movie of white-male regressive oppression. kind of still is. But I hardly ever think of that angle anymore. At least not explicitly. Because I've become so engrossed in the characters and their stories.

Top Episode: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," as addictive a TV pilot as I can remember.

Click below for #s 16-11...

#16. Undeclared, Season 1 (FOX, 2001-02)
Judd Apatow's other swiftly cancelled wonderful comedy. The cast is brilliant -- Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Charlie Hunnam, and Carla Gallo were the standouts -- and the absurdities of college were sharply observed. Fox fucked with this show as severely as it did with any of Joss Whedon's properties, it should be noted.

Top Episode: "Eric Visits Again," featuring Jason Segel in his BRILLIANT performance as Lizzie's psycho ex. MORTAL KOMBAT!!

#15. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 (WB, 2000-01)
Considering the first three and a half seasons were in the '90s, plus the general downturn in quality that Buffy took during its UPN seasons, this wasn't a super hard choice. But the fact is, I ADORED this season, featuring girlie god Glory, Spike before he became a bodice-ripper, the great running subplot about Giles and Anya running a magic shop, and the heartbreaking retardification of Tara. And then Buffy went and died at the end! Tears! Oh, the tears.

Top Episode: "The Body," duh. Just total crushing brilliance.

#14. Big Love, Season 3 (HBO, 2009)
I certainly loved the first two seasons of Big Love, but the third was an incredible leap in quality, and a real grab for the mantle vacated by The Sopranos as the signature HBO drama. As with the best HBO shows, it features a rich, deep supporting cast (Mary Kay Place, would that the world were equipped to appropriately award you), but it all revolves around the trio of stellar women: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin. Watching the power struggles is great, but it's the undercurrent of real loving bonds and a strong sense of family that gives the show depth.

Top Episode: "Come, Ye Saints," where the Henricksons trek to Palmyra and endure the usual road-trip trappings, plus major revelations, including the indelible moment where Nicki helps Sarah through her miscarriage.

#13. Bands on the Run, Season 1 (VH1, 2001)
You guys, what a perfect season of reality TV. Part competition show (VH1 set four unsigned bands on a cross-country tour to see who could rack up the most ticket sales -- and MERCH sales! Can't forget the MERCH!), but it was so loosely organized that it turned into a great candid snapsot of boozy Flickerstick, gothy Harlow, douchey Soul Cracker, and...that other band with baldie up there and the keyboards. The camaraderie, conflict, and actual great music (I own two Flickerstick albums) was some kind of charmed alchemy. In a way, I'm glad VH1 never attempted a second season. No way that lightning strikes twice.

Top Episode: "Columbus, Part 2," wherein our heroes, Flickerstick, were in last place and needed to win a Battle of the Bands to survive. And they did!

#12. The Office, Season 2 (NBC, 2005-06)
Everybody expected the U.S. version of The Office to be terrible. Terrible! That first season made it through with a reluctant "Not so bad" vibe, but it was the second season that really established it as the best comedy on TV, with a surprisingly deep cast of office weirdos as their secret weapon, plus a quartet of strong leads in Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Rainn Wilson.

Top Episode: "Office Olympics," still the single best evocation of the show's central theme: how to create something meaningful out of days filled with the most meaningless of work.

#11. Arrested Development, Season 2 (FOX, 2004-05)
Flip a coin between the first season and the second, really. I'll tip the scales for Season 2 for a few reasons: Maeby's job as a movie studio executive (Marry me!), the rapid proliferation of chicken dances, George living in the attic, Motherboy, and the inexplicably objectionable Ann (her?).

Top Episode: "Spring Breakout," where Lucille takes a break from rehab so she can beat Kitty in a drinking contest, and Buster, left to his own devices, mistakes a box of wine for juice and ends up performing "Rose's Turn" all over the penthouse.


Jenn said...

"Ji Yeon" over "The Constant"? We have a problem, sir.

I wonder how "Undeclared" would do on TV now that people actually know who Apatow is.

Stephanie said...

This list is full of so many of my favorites, I'm struggling to predict #10-1. (Though I trust you completely.)

Buffy Season 5 was my comfort food when I had a sick parent - watching the Slayer go through the same emotions as me was oddly reassuring.

And The Office Season 2 is without a doubt the best $24 I have ever spent. I watch it at least 3 times a year.

notanillusion said...

Other reasons to love Season 3 of TAR: Ken and Gerard, the Bald Snark, and Jill and Jon Vito. Still my two favorite race teams EVER. Ken and Gerard should have their own show.

The Bloody Munchkin said...

Bands on the Run! I'm not the only one who's still wistful for that show! I loved it for reasons I can't even recall any more.

Also, Motherboy. Oh Arrested Development, how much I love you, and Super Dave....

Joe Reid said...

Jenn: Another "Lost"-based secret of mine is that I'm not a huge Desmond-and-Penny guy. I like them fine, but I'm not as invested in their story as I am in Ben's and Locke's and Jin/Sun's and Juliet's. I've read people who pretty much ONLY care about what will happen to Des and Penny next season. That's not me.

Munchkin: Another show that NEEDS to be on DVD, if only so we can get you to recall why you loved it so.

mathan said...

Props on Bands on the Run. It was one of the few reality shows that I actually watched.

Courtenay said...

Season 3 of TAR led me to Television Without Pity, and thus to Linda Holmes and to you. (I googled something like "Flo wins The Amazing Race there is no God" and wound up with Miss Alli's recap.) The psychic pain of Flo's victory was a small price to pay for the entertainment the two of you have provided me ever since. Thanks, Flo!

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