Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ten Years on TV: The 50 Best Seasons #40-31

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. Flavor of Love: Charm School, Season 1 (VH1, 2007)
Yes, I'm serious! Look, Mo'Nique didn't just have one indelible impression on American pop culture this decade. She also told Pumkin that she came as the whore of Charm School. We could debate the sincerity with which VH1 (and/or Mo'nique) wanted to better these girls versus give them another venue to fight and curse, but what emerged was an honest-to-God process of redemption for several of Flav's most hard done by women.

Top Episode: "Tore Up from the Floor Up," where Brooke fellated an ice sculpture, got called a whore, and professed her love for her titties.

#39. The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons (MTV, 2002)
I don't mind telling you I wrapped myself in knots trying to figure out which season of the Challenge to include on this list. The latter seasons have had all the high-drama fights and such, but there was something about those first few seasons. Sarah going on that improbable run on The Gaultlet. Emily's rampage through the girls' team on Battle of the Sexes. But Seasons was the first mega-Challenge and had too many awesome moments to miss: Belou showing up with her baby and a mullet; Holly and Chadwick's awful relationship, Coral teeing off on stupid Stephen; that hurricane toga party. Music rights be damned, MTV needs to get these seasons out on DVD now.

Top Episode: Titles are elusive, but the episode where the hurricane hits and Belou tees off on Chadwick and Holly for criticizing her parenting set the bar awfully high.

#38. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season 2 (FX, 2006)

Picking one season of this show is especially painful because of the episodes you have to leave out. In this case, while Season 2 marks the strongest collection of episodes, it still leaves out "Underage Drinking: A National Concern" (Season 1), "Sweet Dee's Dating a Retarded Person" (Season 3), and "The Night Man Cometh" (Season 4). Forgive me, Night Man. Please accept these kitten mittens (Season 5).

Top Episode: "Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare," where ... yep, they sure do.

Click below for #s 37-31...

#37. Nurse Jackie, Season 1 (Showtime, 2009)
#36. Weeds, Season 1 (Showtime, 2005)
#35. United States of Tara, Season 1 (Showtime, 2009)
It's not entirely fair to group the three Showtime half-hour shows about female protagonists living on the fringe of their middle-class worlds, but this is honestly where they ended up on the list, so I figured why not write about them together. Give or take a Dexter, these were the shows that made Showtime indispensable for me, featuring three of the most indelible performances of the decade in Mary-Louise Parker, Toni Collette, and Edie Falco, but it was smart writing and deep ensemble casts (all reflected in the Top Episodes below) that really made the shows.

Top Episodes: "Chicken Soup" (Nurse Jackie), where Zoey (Merritt Wever) worked up the courage to get her stethoscope back from O'Hara (Eve Best); "Lude Awakening" (Weeds), where Elizabeth Perkins, in the role of her career, lets it all go and enjoys the world's last pharmaceutical quaalude; "Betrayal" (Tara), where Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) is shocked to find a new alter emerging, and Marshall (Kier Gilchrist) burns the shed down.

#34. RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 1 (Logo, 2009)

I wrote about this at great length earlier this year, but just to reiterate: this was a brilliant send-up of the reality competition genre AND a great reality competition in its own right, with some great contestants, and RuPaul at her Tyra-best.

Top Episode: "Girl Groups," where Akasha lip-synched to a Michelle Williams song with so much creativity, uniqueness, nerve, and talent that Michelle herself wept; and Tammie Brown left with her dignity.

#33. Dexter, Season 1 (Showtime, 2006)
Much as it's had some peaks since then, I don't think this show has ever been as beginning-to-end captivating as it was in that breathless first season. Michael C. Hall gave one of TV's great performances this decade.

Top Episode: "Born Free," the honestly epic climax.

#32. Skins, Season 1 (BBC America, 2007)
This British series was my pick for the decade's best depiction of teenage drama, at least the ones not involving a football team or a sleuth outcast. With each episode, the cast of characters grew wider and deeper, with unexpected moments of pathos dotting the sex-comedy elements.

Top Episode: "Cassie," where a previously frivolous character is given a shocking amount of depth it would take lesser shows a whole season to achieve.

#31. State of Play (BBC America, 2003)
The U.S. remake was actually pretty okay, is the thing. The only reason it felt like a miserable failure, to me, was because the Brit original was so amazing. Taut investigative intrigue from a newsroom, with the episodic structure really giving you a sense of the economic pressures affecting the newspaper story, and allowing things like the romance between an MP's wife and the lead journalist.

Top Episode: Episode 4, where awesome gay Syd uncovers an awesome gay secret about the key witness.


Claire said...

I just watched episode 4 of State of Play with my dad. He's really sucked in.

Stephanie said...

THANK YOU for #39. I have always remembered the "Battle of the Sexes" as my favorite season due to Ruthie's redemption, PUCK and castmembers Melissa & Colin blogging a gorgeous collection of inside dirt all season.

But you just reminded me of so much goodness from "Battle of the Seasons". It may have to be a tie.


Joe Reid said...

They really do all need to be on DVD. Seriously, just dub in generic music -- I'm sure we're not gonna miss Lenny Kravitz and Yellowcard all that much.

Battle of the Sexes was a strong contender, but for the fact that I became so resentful of how boring and orderly the guys made their elimination procedure. Yes, yes, you're much more fair than the women and SNOOZE. Give me Emily and her eight miles of crazy any day.

(Also! I was totally addicted to Colin and Melissa's blogs back then too! How weird!)

Stephanie said...

I would always read them before I watched so I could look for things they mentioned, like someone passed out in a corner or Laterrian getting more and more sleep deprived and insane. (He disappeared into the jungle after he was voted off! Awesome!)

As much as networks try to integrate TV shows with the Internet, this was the only time the combination worked for me. Their blogs made it the most fun audience experiece I've ever had, aside from a Lost finale or two.

Stephanie said...

Also! I discovered Telvision Without Pity through Melissa's blog. So maybe she was addicted to you, too!