Friday, January 28, 2011

Evaluating TV's Fall 2010 Semester (...Finally)

I'm back with another breakdown of recently ended television shows, this time delayed roughly a month more than I had originally planned, and I apologize for that if you were waiting.
This slew of shows from the fall is almost exclusively comprised from AMC, HBO and FX, which are easily my favorite three networks. However, this is a bit of a mirage, as the big four networks broadcast their programming differently, and most of their shows will wrap up in the the late spring.
This edition covers shows having ended after September 16th, when my last recap was published, through December 31st, 2010.
Boardwalk Empire
(Season 1, HBO)
When you hear Marty Scorsese directs the pilot of a new gangster show on HBO, you expect it to be good. And, unlike Treme, the other highly anticipated HBO show that debuted this year, Boardwalk didn't disappoint. That pilot was extraordinary, featuring great performances, writing and direction, as well as superb set and costume design. It looked more impressive than most big-screen period pieces do. That says a lot about how far television programming has come, as I doubt anyone would've been able to say that even five years ago. As fantastic as that Scorsese-directed episode was, the rest of the series never slowed down a bit in subsequent weeks. More often than not, blood, bullets and fisticuffs exploded onscreen with Great Depression-era culture and dilemmas. I felt the "slow" sections of Boardwalk were included more as a chance to let the audience catch their breath as oppossed to there being a lack of ideas in the writing room. Season 1 ended with a bit of a wimper in comparrison to the other events the series displayed thus far, but also showed promise of grander plots to come next year during the final minutes.  A-

Bored To Death
(Season 2, HBO)
This show is simply a lot of fun. Jason Schartzman is a good straight man in all the hijinx his cases get him into. Ted Danson's aging, rich playboy facing cancer and Zach Galifianakis' brokenhearted comic artist trying to find happiness were infinitely more interesting this time around than they were in season 1. As a trio, they kill almost every situation they're in together.  B

(Season 1.5, SyFy)
The second half of the first season of Caprica was a welcome surprise. After underwhelming me and much of the Battlestar Galactica fanbase with the first wave of episodes, the new batch accomplished much of what I had expected early on. Season 1.5 no longer feared to associate itself with the BSG brand, exemplified by diving deeper into Tauron culture and making direct (albeit sometimes misleading) links to its predecessor. Wallowing in sorrow took up too much time in early episodes and turned off too many people, and unfortunately, the spinoff never recovered from it. At this point, it may not be worth it for disgruntled BSG fans to take a second look, but I was very impressed on where they took the show in those final few episodes.  B+

(Season 5, Showtime)
I am not a big Dexter fan, which I've discussed previously on the site. However, this may have been its strongest season yet. After an excruciatingly slow start, season 5 finished in explosive fashion. Each season the show finds a way to come up with a more interesting villain than the year before, and Johnny Lee Miller rose to the occasion this time. However, Julia Styles was the great strength this time out, as her portrayal of victim-turned-vindicator Lumin gave the show a spark it had never seen before. And I was happy to find that I didn't miss Julie Benz much at all. There's really no telling what's in store for the next season of Dexter, but I won't be surprised if it wins me over a little more than previous seasons have.  B
After the jump, I'll recap nine more shows that finished up their most reason season by the end of 2010, including Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Best of 2010 - The Year in Television

First off, my apologies if you were waiting for this final piece of my Best of 2010 trilogy. The holidays, work, intense procrastination, blah-blah-blah...
Second, writing about TV over the course of a calendar year is far more difficult than I realized it was going to be. It's simply not a natural time to do so. Most shows are in the middle of their current season at the moment, and if I get really technical about my analysis in this recap, I should take into account the second half of last season's episodes as well (which, because I'm a crazy person who thinks about this stuff too much, I do).
Anyway, on with the list.
Terriers (FX)

This scrappy PI duo was the very definition of television bliss. Rarely does a show steadily improve over the course of 13 episodes the way Terriers did. The first three or so installments were nice, well-constructed hour-longs. You'd chuckle at the banter between Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, and be pleasantly surprised that the plotlines weren't too obvious as they proceeded to solve that week's case. But there was a little something bubbling up underneath these two men and their predicaments. Then around the end of end of that fourth episode, you realized these mofos just Veronica Mars-ed your ass. You had NO idea that was going down, and from then on out, they never stopped hittin' the pleasure buttons as you fell harder for every character on the show with each passing week.
But I'm one of the few who watched it, and now it's gone. I haven't been this disappointed in a show's cancellation since... well, Veronica Mars. Have no fear, however, new viewers. While Terriers only lasted one season, it at least ends in a way you can still go on with your life, as there is no insane cliffhanger and the majority of the key storylines are resolved in a satisfactory way during that last hour. If you're going to watch anything on this list, let it be Terriers.

Mad Men (AMC)

Another stellar season from the always excellent Mad Men. In it's fourth year, the show examined lowest points of multiple characters, none moreso than Don Draper, as our favorite ad agency struck out on it's own in a new business endeavor following the series-altering events of season 3. Don't worry, there's still plenty of drinking, smoking, bad-mothering, racism, sexism and skinny ties to go around. We're introduced to a litany of ladies vying for the heart of Mr. Draper (a great guessing game over the course of the season as to who he'll end up with), Lane's father, Peggy's lesbian friend, suave Glen, new bitch-faces from Pete, Roger begging, and Joan riding a bus. Not to mention an astronaut. Season 5 can't arrive soon enough.

Community (NBC)

For my money, there's nothing more consistently funny on the airwaves than Community right now. In particular, the second half of the first season was amazing episode after amazing episode. The ensemble half-hour is at it's best when parodying classic genres, whether it be post-apocalyptic warfare, zombie infestation, space exploration, or the American mafia to name a few. I sell this show to friends and family by saying Chevy Chase is great in it, which he is. But really, he's the one I look forward to least. Community is comedy gold. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Of all the shows that are tricky to review based on it's scheduling, none pose more of a problem than FNL. Season 4 originally aired on DirecTV at the end of 2009, and then re-aired on NBC in the spring of 2010. Season 5 is in mid-swing on DirecTV currently, but most of you won't have access to it until NBC airs it later this year. Fortunately, any way you look at it, great television was aired in 2010 from Friday Night Lights. Season 4 was perhaps the show's strongest, and season 5 thus far has been no slouch. Despite its flaws (none of the kids seem to know what a text message is, and there's almost zero Latinos present in an entire Texas summon me to write such lofty claims, but this one does. I'm sorry that season 5 will be its last.

Justified (FX)

Based on characters from the great Elmore Leonard, Justified expertly combines well-scripted crimes, quirky characters and an Old West mentality in a modern setting, and is without question one of the highlights in television over the past year. After reading a lot of other reviews on the show from critics, there seemed to be a consensus that Justified was uneven at the outset of its first season and then improved steadily as it concluded. I suppose they're right, but I enjoyed it immensely right out of the gate. Great one-liners, intense glares and gunfire are never in short supply. I found myself rooting for the villains just as often as I was the heroes, which is no small feat. Season 2 starts in February.

Fringe (FOX)

Is this the best sci-fi show on television? Well, there are some other very strong contenders for that title at the moment (who have all made my Others Worth Your Time list after the jump), but I think the answer is yes. The second half of last season really threw the show into a new realm of awesome, and season 3 has only improved upon that high level. As dueling universes continue to battle, wrapping an already complexly wound mythos even tighter, Fringe is surpassing previous seasons work both in terms of storytelling and acting. Anna Torv in particular has excelled in this two-Earth format, displaying a range in her ability she'd never been given opportunity to explore previously. FOX has moved the show to Fridays in 2011, traditionally a timeslot where good science-fiction such as Firefly and Dollhouse have been sent out to pasture. However, the network execs say they believe it can be a longtime staple, ala The X-Files at that position on the schedule. Time will tell.

Louie (FX)

This harsh, often provocative new 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 as many as four loosely connected stories, may be a turn off to some, but I appreciate the subtlety he utilizes by constructing each of the vignettes into a cohesive episode. As I enter my 30s, many of these topics on the show hit pretty close to home, sometimes uncomfortably so. But I'm sure that's the point. The show's humor is rooted in truth -- philosophically, if not in actuality.

Lost (ABC)

Like it, love it, or loathe it, the final season of Lost was both memorable and entertaining. Personally, I've teetered back and forth whether I was actually satisfied by its conclusion. Regardless, it was an engaging end to a show many of us have labored with for years, and in my opinion was one of the best of the year.
After the jump, my pick for Television Series of the Year is revealed, as well as some other extras.