Thursday, September 16, 2010

TV's Summer 2010 Report Card

I'm back with another comprehensive recap of the past few months of my television viewing. Looking back, it was an excellent summer for TV. I mean, when the David Simon entry is the amongst the least interesting shows you've watched, I believe that's a sign you've surrounded yourself in some quality programming.
This edition covers shows having ended after June 1st, when my last recap was published, through September 12th.
Breaking Bad
(Season 3, AMC)
Is this now the best show on television? In my mind, only Mad Men gives it a run for it's money. Season 3 was THAT good. A horse with no name. Gustavo. Hank slamming the SUV into reverse. The tortoise. Saul. Leg blood on a hospital floor. Motherfucking Badger's voice. The Chicken Brothers. Mike the PI/hitman. That one god-damned fly. And those are just the ancillary bits of Breaking Bad I get jacked up for. I don't think Mad Men, as phenomenal as it is, is constructed in a way that I can enjoy it as I now enjoy the trials of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.  A+

Doctor Who
(Series 31, BBC)
What a blast this latest incarnation of Doctor Who turned out to be. Even if you prefer David Tennant as the Doctor, I think you have to admit Matt Smith did an admirable job taking over the reigns of the series. I feel he did a fantastic job and accepted him by the time the second episode of the season rolled around. And of course, there's the mega-crushable Karen Gilliam as Amy Pond, who is easily my favorite companion not only because she's a cutie pie, but also because she's intelligent, mischievous and . Rory was also a nice addition, and was in perfect doses. But let us not forget Steven Moffat, who I justifiable praise on this site constantly, taking over the show's direction from Russell T. Davies. A fabulously entertaining season resulted from mixing high concept science fiction, simple humor, and repeatedly tugging and tearing at our heartstrings as each week's story progressed. As much as I enjoyed this season, I expect 2011 to bring an even better one.  A-
After the jump, you'll find the nine other shows I watched to completion this summer, including Entourage, True Blood and some more fantastic imports from overseas.

(Season 8, HBO)
After eight seasons, I think I just watch out of habit any more. And I have zero desire to ever re-watch any of the series. But, since next season will be it's last (at least on the small screen), I'm sure I'll sit down to finish it off. Even though Entourage has allowed its main characters grow and -- in the case of Vince -- regress, I think I outgrew it a few years ago. Although Stan Lee makin' eyes at a porn star was something different this go around.  C

(Season 2, HBO)
I still haven't completely figured out what I like about this show, but I do, "like" being the key word. Just a perpetually down-on-his-luck guy trying to do right by his kids, clients friends, students, pimps and an ex-wife who he's still hopelessly in love with. There's subtle humor mixed in with that of the gratuitus variety, which is an appealing combo, but what I might be most drawn to is that the show's heart is in the right place. Even if it's naughty bits always aren't. I was pleasantly surprised to read that Hung received an order for a third season, so we haven't seen the last of the troubled life of this Detroit gigolo yet.  B

(Season 1, FX)
My favorite new show of the year thus far. Justified combines well-scripted crimes, quirky characters and that Old West mentality in today's world in a refreshing way since it's set in Kentucky. Pop in some tangled love triangles, crazy backwoods kin and some psychotic villains, and action, heartache and humor follow. Justified is anchored by Timothy Olyphant, who should always wear a cowboy hat in everything he does. My favorite aspect of the show is when it embraces it's Elmore Leonard roots, following characters we're likely only ever going to see in that particular episode, but who provide a wealth of story in their own right when paired with our regular cast. I'm highly anticipating season 2.  A

(Season 1, FX)
This harsh, often provocative comedy from Louis C.K. plays up his existence as an aging, out-of-shape comic through his daily life, whether it be encountering obsessed fans, his family or the women he hopelessly attempts at dating. It's unconventional structure, sometimes tossing out four loosely connected stories, may be a turn off to some, but personally I appreciate the subtlety he utilizes by constructing each of the vignettes into a cohesive episode. As I say goodbye to my 20s, many of these topics on the show hit pretty close to home for me, sometimes uncomfortably so, and I believe that's the point. The show's humor is rooted in truth -- philosophically, if not actuality. Season 2 of Louie has already been green-lit by FX.  A-

Party Down
(Season 2, Starz)
Sadly, season 2 of Party Down was its last. It's a great shame too, because after coming into its own early in the inaugural offerings last year, this summer's cadre of episodes turned out to be even better. Each character was given a little subplot in each episode, which ain't too shabby for six principals in a half-hour comedy. Toss in some excellent guest stars like Kristen Bell, Thomas Lennon and Steve Guttenberg (seriously, "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday Party" was the f'ing bomb), and it was always a treat to watch the chaos unexpectedly unfold as they interacted with the main cast members. Definitely DVD-worthy for those of you that missed it.  A-

(Series 1, BBC)
This modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes narrative was highly enjoyable. Beaming with rapid-fire wit, masterful cunning and superfluous deduction, this Holmes is made for today's audiences. The second installment was the lesser of the three, but was still a fun 90-minute mystery, much like the stronger efforts. Internet rumors suggest there will be more in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.  B+

(Season 1, HBO)
Overall, the new show from David Simon (The Wire) did not live up to my expectations. I still like it a lot, and have hope that it will improve during its follow-up season next year. We know the sprawling cast. We see how beat down they've become. The stage is set for their rise. While I'm sure there will be more hardships in storylines to come, the rejuvenation of New Orleans has to progress, which hasn't been completed yet in real time. Maybe Bubs will show up in season 2? Hey, a man can dream...  B-

True Blood
(Season 3, HBO)
Wow. What a lame season finale. I'm probably giving that final episode a little too much weight here, but it's the freshest and I really can't ignore how unsatisfying that turned out to be. Which is a shame because this season of True Blood seemed to be the most cohesive yet before Alan Ball dropped that turd in front of me. Well, as cohesive as tossing up as many over-the-top storylines the writers could conjure and squeeze into 13 hours could be. They actually pulled off the introduction of werewolves and the Vampire King of Mississippi was simply an outstanding villain, although I don't know that he was enough to forget the super-douche that Sam turned into, Tara slipping further into un-likability, or mother-flippin' fairies, which were my sore spots of season 3. But I'll be back for more the next go around.  B

Underbelly: The Golden Mile
(Season 3, Nine Network)
Under-what? Yes, Underbelly. The deliciously violent, explicitly sexual import from Australia is probably the best television show you've never heard of. Each season of Underbelly tells a tale of vicious gangsters, corrupt policemen, out-of-control junkies, unethical lawyers, dirty businessmen and the women who love them. Toss in a legit cop or two who strive to take them down, and you've got a recipe for one of the most enjoyable and thrilling stretches of television I've ever had the pleasure to watch. Oh, and it's all based on real life. The creators behind the series know how to craft a story and, even better, film one. There are sequences that I'm certain Scorsese would be jealous of. Season 3 of Underbelly is a victim of the shear excellence of the preceding installments. While still engaging, it simply was not as explosive as the other two seasons, and it's impossible to not compare them to each other. It's the television equivalent of debating whether The Godfather II is better than The Godfather, or vice versa. Again, The Golden Mile is good, just not great.  A-
I'll be checking back in at the close of the year with what I expect to be a great slew of fall shows, including Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire.