Friday, August 19, 2011

Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 1)

In about a month, it'll be fall. So I'm finally getting off my tuchas and writing about some shows that began nearly a year ago. As a result, some reviews will be intentionally vague as my memory hasn't retained all the details for something that I last saw seven months ago.

This edition covers shows having ended after January 1st, when my last published recap took us up until, through early June 2011.
30 Rock
(Season 5, NBC)
After a bit of a down year in season 4, Tiny Fey's baby rebounded this past year. They're still using sharp humor to cut through pop culture and they're obviously not afraid to bite the hand that feeds them with the constant prodding of Comcast stand-in, Kabletown. Alec Baldwin continues to be absolute perfection as Jack Donaghy, while I think they struck a better balance of utilizing their strengths as a show more often (Fey, Baldwin and Tracy Morgan) and toning down the presence of the quickly tiring roles of Kenneth and Jenna. It may not be quite as good as some of the other Thursday comedies on NBC these days, but it still has some quality laughs left in it.

(Season 2, FX)
Wow, what a gem this animated wonder is. On the surface, it's a spoof of the espionage genre, taking to task the Bourne and James Bond franchises as well as Get Smart, among others. But more exacting examination displays the same reoccurring humor that Arrested Development rewarded its devoted fans with by carrying over jokes from previous episodes to new ones. As a result, the show continuously improves. Or at least has thus far.

The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
(Season 1, Disney XD)
This is a really fine adaptation of the Marvel Universe. Good for kids, but also developed with older audience members in mind as well. If the recent Marvel movies (Iron Man, Thor & Captain America) have whet your appetite for these characters and diving into the continuity of the funnybooks is too daunting, this is for you. And I think well-established fans of the comics will enjoy them too. I certainly did.

Big Love
(Season 5, HBO)
Sigh. This show lost me the previous season, and I grudgenly forced myself to watch this final string of episodes. Well, if you consider achieving three stars on every level of Angry Birds while listening to the last four or five installments as "watching," that is. Kinda amazing how nearly every character became unlikeable by the end. Frankly, it's not worth carving out the hours in your life to get through the remainder of the series if you haven't yet. I'm sure there's a good episode of "Real Housewives of Whatever City They're Doing That In Now" you could watch instead. Probably near the same sense of accomplishment would be had in doing so.

The Chicago Code
(Season 1, FOX)
Shawn Ryan had a rough year in television. This and the wonderful FX show Terriers both got cancelled while he was at the helm. For a network police drama, The Chicago Code was pretty damn good. But it still seemed to utilize the usual tropes for police dramas on the big four. However, Jason Clarke, who I enjoyed on Showtime's Brotherhood a few years ago, stepped up his game to a new level here; he was unquestionably magnetic onscreen. It was also nice to see that Matt Lauria, who was so earnest on latter seasons of Friday Night Lights as farmboy Luke Cafferty, has some acting chops as well as a rookie officer. But beyond those two, there wasn't much to get excited about. I would've watched another season had it returned, but ultimately there was nothing much to lament with its departure.

(Season 2, NBC)
Simply put, this is the best comedy on television. POP-POP! There were some missteps, most notably the largely unfunny claymation Christmas episode that had so much potential. But overall, Community is just so angry. But it's intelligent with that furor, something far too uncommon among network comedies these days. One of my favorite example of this was when they showed how easy the Modern Familys and The Offices of today's television landscape are able to manufacture cheap laughs through the injection of interview scenes within the main narrative during the editing process. Of course, in this case I'm analyzing the show from a craft perspective as I watch, which you probably aren't. Not to worry, as you can watch the genre-spoof episodes with as much pleasure as I take in watching the often genius comedic scenarios unfold. The two-part season finale was especially amazing this year, simultaneously lambasting and giving a great big bearhug to the Western and Space Opera. Can't wait to see what they do with paintball next year.

Doctor Who [2005]
(Series 6.0, BBC)
The first half of this year's Doctor Who was, as far as I'm concerned, absolutely brilliant. Matt Smith continues to impress as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor. I think it's safe to say he's now surpassed Christopher Eccleston as my favorite Doctor. Yeah, really. And considering he's already partnered with Karen Gillan's Amy Pond -- without question my favorite companion -- there's little for me not to love about what direction the show has gone these past two years. Even Rory has been allowed to grow into a character I care about with constant displays of bravado in the name of Amy, unlike the hopelessly dull Mickey of previous seasons, who was essentially a flesh K-9 placed in the storyline for little more than comic relief. Continued kudos goes to Steven Moffat, who between the past two seasons of Doctor Who and the recent Sherlock miniseries, is quickly becoming the British equivalent of Joss Whedon. Only he might even be better. The second half of the season returns later this month.

The Event
(Season 1, NBC)
Granted, I stopped the pain and gave up on The Event at the season's midpoint, but based on what I sat through, this was one of the worst pieces of episodic crap I've ever seen. The showrunners appeared entirely clueless as to where the story was going. Now, I've been told by a couple of people with far more patience than I who watch the series until it concluded that it improved after I jumped ship. But even their explainations of what happened afterward sounded like what was once a 10-pound bag of catshit was now 8 pounds of catshit. As far as I'm concerned, that's still a hella-lot of catshit.

Friday Night Lights
(Season 5, Direct TV/NBC)
Without question one of greatest dramas ever to be aired on television. And it ended perfectly. Not much more I can say. Watch it. Treasure it. Then re-watch it.

Texas forever.

(Season 3, FOX)
Fringe is another show that continues to improve. If there was anyone left calling it an X-Files clone at the start of the season, they can't do so in good conscience any longer. The show has now fully embraced its own mythology, rarely offering an episode that doesn't largely contribute to the grander storyline. That decision hasn't been good from a ratings perspective as it's hindered the addition of new viewers, but creatively it was the way to go, and I applaud them for it. Definitely the best sci-fi show being produced in America right now. I was surprised it got a fourth season, but happily so. Hopefully it thrives in the Friday Night Death Slot it was placed into at the end of last season, and then maybe those X-Files comparisons will be apt again, albeit for different reasons as the adventures of Mulder and Scully was the last show with success in that time slot.

Human Target
(Season 2, FOX)
The first season showed promise, but it clearly needed some tweaks. On the plus side, the producers recognized this, too. Unfortunately their answer to that was Mrs. Pucci, who has to be one of the worst additions to a cast since Oliver on The Brady Bunch. Obviously she was brought in to make the show more female-friendly, but I found her presence insufferable and ultimately ruined the show despite its fairly impressive television stuntwork. Good riddance.
And thus concludes part one of this installment. Part 2, featuring reviews of Modern Family, Justified and Star Wars: The Clone Wars among others, will arrive within the next week or so AS SOON AS YOU CLICK THIS LINK!