Category Archives: Television

My Completely Unashamed Love Letter to a Ficational Character

 

A few weeks ago over at my livejournal I posted  a picspam/essay about why I love the character Britta Perry from the show Community so much, and while it started out sounding okay, it kind of devolved into  crazy fangirling. I think it’s because I was posting the pictures to my live journal as I was writing the essay, so it was kind of like watching the episode again. And I kind of fail at rational thought when I’m watching the show, because I just enjoy it so damn much. So my brain refused to behave rationally on that one. So I figured I’d try again without the pics, and that maybe I’d manage to be a little more sane about the whole thing.

I ship Jeff and Annie. A lot. Possibly more than a lot. It’s probably reached the point of being somewhat unhealthy, and if I was truly honest with my therapist about the amount of time I devote to a couple that isn’t actually real, I would likely be much more heavily medicated than I am. People assume that since I am a Jeff/Annie fan that I hate Britta. But I don’t. Britta is actually my favorite character on the show. I love Britta and I ship Jeff/Annie. It’s possible. I’m walking proof.

I actually didn’t like Britta for a good chunk of the first season. Thanks to The West Wing and that black hole of sucking known as Mandy Hampton, I have a reflexive dislike of characters that seem like they’re being written specifically to be the foil and romantic interest for the main guy. And for the first part of the first season, I kind of felt like that’s what Britta was, whether the writers meant for her to be or not. I just thought that the  “rebel” thing rang so false. Ooh, she’s a badass. She’s protested things and been tear gassed and she didn’t finish high school and she likes Radiohead. She’s so against the mainstream! Surely she will be Jeff Winger’s badassed salvation. I kind of hated that. A lot.

It was about halfway through the season when the character  began to feel genuine. Quirky characteristics kept being thrown into the character, but whereas initially they seemed to be treated as “reasons Britta is against the mainstream and is so cool”, they began to be shown in a different light. Mostly the “there’s something genuinely wrong with this person, and that’s not necessarily attractive” light.  These faults that at first were there to make her look cool were now there to make her look human. And I started to fall in love.

The moment I knew for sure it was love was during Romantic Expressionism. The whole way that early scene unfolds between Britta and Annie is kind of brilliant. Britta is clearly resistant to the idea of Annie dating Vaughn, but she wants to be cool , so she kind of sort of gives her the okay. Annie then says that Britta is the “coolest girl” she’s ever met. Britta quickly proves that’s not so by responding with “Give me some fivesies.” Annie does, and Britta turns it into a snake. At this point, even Annie thinks she’s a dork.

And that’s what Britta is. A huge dork playing at coolness.  The episode just gets better and better, with insecurity pretty much seeping out of Britta’s pores until she finally breaks down and admits that she doesn’t want Vaughn dating anyone else, especially Annie. She’s not that cool, okay, homeslice.

Britta’s at her best when she’s getting kicked. I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say when you’re talking about your favorite character, but it’s true. I like Britta because I get her. I’m not one of those people who goes around saying they identify with the coolest characters on their favorite shows. I love Agent Dale Cooper a whole lot, but nothing about what he does resembles me or my life in any way.  I’m pretty honest about the fact that I’m a mess. And so is Britta. And yeah, sometimes when I step back from it, that mess is just as funny as it is sad. So when the group is making fun of her for pronouncing the word “bagel” wrong, or getting on her for being a buzz kill, I can laugh, because I get it. And yeah, it hurt at the time, but when you look back on it… it was funny.

Another reason I love Britta (and relate to her) is her track record of failure. Like Jeff said in this weeks’ episode, “Don’t worry. She’ll be bad at it.” Britta’s key characteristic in the group, other than the whole buzzkill thing,  is that she fails, whether it’s at friending a lesbian or pulling off a prank, she’s never quite successful.  But she keeps trying. She’s so earnest in her attempts that when she fails, it’s impossible not to feel for her. She tries so damn hard.

But what REALLY makes her such an amazing character is that oftentimes she’s trying really hard for really selfish reasons, which I think was highlighted well in this week’s episode. She was driven back to her “rage against the machine” mode not because he friend was in peril, but because she wanted to be in peril, because she wanted a facebook group, because she wanted to be recognized. She tried (and failed) so earnestly for very self-centered reasons. Any other show, and the situation would probably make me hate the character. But this is Community. And the writers of Community manage to make a character’s flaws a reason to love them. These flaws just add a whole new facet to the characters. A whole new side of them to love, warts and all, just as the characters love each other.

I hope I’ve somehow managed to express my feelings for Britta in a way that doesn’t sound crazy. Because I’m pretty sure the way I feel about her might be a little crazy. I’m pretty sure I have family members I don’t feel this strongly about. Again, something that, if I were to tell my therapist, would probably at least shift my treatment. Maybe if I was more honest therapy really would be like In Treatment, and I wouldn’t feel like I was wasting a lot of my parents’ money every week because my therapy session didn’t turn into some intense battle of wills. But, really, I’d rather just keep lying and go on with loving television characters more than real people. That’s healthy, right?

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Thanksgiving Shipfest: The West Wing – Josh/Donna – 17 People

The West Wing – 17 People

I love this episode. It’s probably my favorite episode of the series. Everything about it is perfect, not just the shippy goodness. So it’s going to be kind of difficult for me to just focus on the Josh/Donna stuff without mentioning the amazing tension of the storyline where Toby finally learns about the President’s MS. But I’m going to try.

I think season 2 is the best season for Josh/Donna shipping. By the time we got to 17 People, over a season and half had passed, so we’d seen an excellent and completely natural development of this relationship. But it was still only the second season, not so far into the series where you’re getting frustrated because OH MY GOD IT’S BEEN YEARS WHY HAVEN’T THEY KISSED YET. The UST was at its most perfect point.

In 17 People we got both the snark and the sweetness of the J/D ship. They’re arguing for most of the episode over the date of their anniversary. Donna insists it’s when she first started working for him. Josh thinks that it should be the second time she started working for him – after she had quit, gone home to her boyfriend, and then come back – because that was the one that stuck. It’s a great argument because you know that it’s not the fact that Donna left that really made Josh upset. It was that she left to go back to her boyfriend.

And it’s fun to watch Josh and Donna banter. That really was what made their relationship. He was her boss, but she was still really smart and could argue just as well as he could. They were, in that respect, on equal footing.

Throughout the series Josh and Donna had a lot of moments where they just almost confessed to their feelings. They always seemed like they were just about to say it, and the famous ‘red lights’ comment is probably the best. It’s moments like that where we see how deeply dedicated that are to each other. You know that if Donna had known Josh had been shot before she got to the hospital, she wouldn’t have stopped for a single red light on her way there. Just like Josh was useless at his job after the bombing in Gaza because all he could think about was being with Donna.

And, since it’s still shippy, I’ll give a little shout out to our B-team ship of the episode, Sam and Ainsley. Really, looking back, all of Sam’s ships were disappointing because nothing ever came of them. I liked Sam and Mallory a lot, but that just kind of petered out, and nothing ever came of Sam and Ainsley. But they were a good match. I really think Ainsley was just the Republican female version of Sam. They were both smart, both incredibly well spoken with an excellent handle on the English language, and both awkward and neurotic. This is a great episode for them. Like Josh and Donna, they can both give as good as they get when it comes to arguing politics, and they both have excellent points on the Equal Rights Amendment. That and the chemistry between Rob Lowe and Emily Procter make they’re little B-story delightful.

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Thanksgiving Project: The Ships I’m Thankful For

I wanted to do something special on this site for the holiday, and after all kinds of lame ideas (okay, the live-blogging rewatch of The Mouse and the Mayflower would have been pretty awesome. To me, anyway), I came up with this brilliant idea. I ship hardcore. I mean, when I get obsessed with a ship, there are few who are as intense as I am. They’re provided me with so much entertainment over the years, so they’re what I’m thankful for this year.

Sadly, the only day I have off is Thanksgiving, so I can’t just do an epic one day marathon. So I’ve decided to spread it over the five days of the Thanksgiving “weekend”: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’ve decided on twelve ships. Those ships are, in no particular order…

Josh/Donna, The West Wing
Jeff/Annie, Community
Matt/Harriet, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Mason/Daisey, Dead Like Me
Mitchell/Annie, Being Human
Ned/Chuck, Pushing Daisies
Eric/Sookie, True Blood
Jessica/Hoyt, True Blood
Rose/Ten, Doctor Who
Charlie/Claire, Lost
Veronica/Logan, Veronica Mars
Raylon/Ava, Justified

I will watch one episode for each ship and then write something about it. It might just be a shipper analysis, but I might also be inspired to write a fic. Who knows!

This is where I’d appreciate some help. I’d love it if you guys voted on the episodes I watch, because it’s hard to narrow it down. Vote here!  Please vote!

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Episodes in a Bottle

Last night’s episode of Community was fantastic. After a front part of the season heavy with expensive, high concept episodes, they produced a bottle episode – an episode based in mostly one room, usually close to real time, featuring nearly no extras or guest stars. Shows do bottle episodes when they’ve produced a lot of really expensive episodes and now need to pinch pennies. In eight episode, the study group of Community have gone to space (sort of) and fought zombies, so it’s understandable why NBC would want them to do a bottle episode.

Well, it turned out to be, by far, the best episode of the season so and easily one of the best of the series. The characters are best when they’re really dealing with each other, actually being friends, and this episode brought all kinds of ugly things to the forefront. But our study group made it through, and were stronger in the end because of it. And a season that felt wildly uneven and somewhat untrue to its characters finally feels like its back on track.

When a good show does a bottle episode – it’s usually great. And Community made me think of some of my other favorite bottle episodes.

First of all, I want to praise HBO’s In Treatment, which is basically a series of bottle episodes. Each episode takes place in one room – Paul’s home/office – and takes place in real time. Each episode is a session with one of his patients.  That sounds like it might be boring, but the characters are so incredibly well-written and brilliantly performed, each half hour is an extremely intense exploration of the human mind. So, well done HBO, for essentially making a bottle series and a damn good one at that.

One of the most amazing examples of a bottle episode is Seinfeld‘s Chinese Restaurant episode. The entire episode takes place in a – you guessed it – Chinese restaurant, and takes place over a half hour while the friends wait for a table so they can eat before going to a movie. A simple enough premise – as so many episodes of Seinfeld were – but it’s one of the funniest episodes of the show.  It doesn’t have the kind of emotional revelations that Community’s Cooperative Calligraphy had, but…. it’s Seinfeld. What it lacks in emotional resonance, it makes up for in “Oh my god, that has happened to me and it’s SO TRUE.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer did a good bottle episode in the sixth season entitled Older and Far Away. There were a few scenes early in the episode that took place at the school and in the graveyard, but the majority of the episode took place in the Summers home for Buffy’s birthday. Birthday’s were never good things for Buffy – something bad always happened, and this was no exception. Thanks to a wish Dawn unintentionally made to a vengeance demon, Buffy and her friends end up trapped in the house. The episode doesn’t take place in real time, but with most of the episode taking place inside the house, it still qualifies. Being trapped in the house makes everyone a little crazy and some things are brought to light – Dawn’s shoplifting, Anya’s feelings about Willow’s addiction to magic. Season six was a dark season (which brought a fair amount of hate from fans), and this episode was no exception, delving into the way the group had fractured after Buffy’s return from the dead.

It might be a bit of a stretch to call The West Wing‘s 17 People a bottle episode, since it takes place in several different rooms. But the episode does take place on a single set, and it takes place in real time, so yes, it counts. It’s also probably my favorite episode of the series. It’s a masterful episode, one of the most intimate of the series, and the beginning of the explosion of the most important storyline of the show’s first four seasons. Toby has figured out that something is up with the Vice President’s behavior – that he’s making appearances that suggest he’ll be running for President in the next election – which leads Toby to wonder if, for some reason, Bartlet might not be running again – which leads to the President finally confessing to one of his staff that he has MS. The scenes between Toby and Bartlet are stunning and filled with tension. Neither really knows how to react to the situation. Toby’s not sure whether to be worried, upset, or outraged at being lied to, and the President isn’t sure whether or not he should be apologetic. This heavy storyline is then balanced out by two lighter ones. Several members of the staff – Josh, Donna, Sam, Ainsley, Ed, and Larry – stay late to punch up some jokes for the Correspondents Dinner, and Josh and Donna and Sam and Ainsley each have glorious shipper B-plots. Sam and Ainsley fight, adorably, over the Equal Rights Amendment, while Josh and Donna argue over their anniversary and when it actually is.  Really, aside from the episodes in season 7 when they FINALLY get together, this is probably the best J/D episode. “I’m just saying, if you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for a beer.” “If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights.” Yeah, I’m saying it now… Best Bottle Episode Ever.

I have a soft spot for Christmas episodes, and when Bones was good (way back in its first season), they produced an awesome Christmas episode that was also an amazing bottle episode. When Hodgins does a messy job cutting something open or somesuch, since he’s been partaking in the Christmas party, the lab gets locked down with Brennan’s team – plus Booth – locked inside. It was still fairly early in the show’s run, and this episode was needed, I think, to really solidify the chemistry between the cast and tie the team together tightly, which was what made the show so good for its first few seasons. Also, Booth tripping as a side effect to the treatment? “It’s Christmas Eve Day! The only day that’s both a day and an eve! It’s Christmas miracle!” Amazing.

Firefly was an amazing show, and the very premise – life on the run from the Big Brother government in deep space – naturally produced a few bottle-type episodes in its half season run. The very best one – and probably my favorite episode of the series – is what is now considered the show’s final episode, Objects in Space. It takes place over the course of one night. A night during which the crew finally decides that, yes, River is some kind of goverment created psychic super assassin. Later that night, after they’ve all gone to bed, a bounty hunter climbs on board to find River, and ends up engaging Simon and River in some serious mind games. It’s a beautiful episode, where we finally get to see inside River’s head, to see things as she sees and perceives them. And we finally get to see her really become one of the crew. It actually hurts that – with the exception of the movie – we never got to see what happened to her relationship with the crew next.

Frasier is one of my all time favorite television comedies. It’s absolutely fucking brilliant. Total, all out, unabashed farce that’s so smart it’s scary. It’s like a Neil Simon play that lasted a decade. It had more than one bottle episode, but the best was definitely The Dinner Party.  This episode is what Frasier did so damn well. The episode starts out with a plan, and then one thing goes wrong, and then another, and then another, and then it’s all out chaos. This one was even more hilarious and more chaotic because it was a bottle episode, taking place in real time, and it was just totally NUTS. I really miss Frasier. It was such an awesome show, and it plays just as well on rewatch as it did the first time.

Much like Firefly, the fact that the Doctor and his companions in Doctor Who were traveling in a time machine/space ship through time and space kind of lent itself to bottle-type episode. Sometime they’d on a planet somewhere, where they could explore the landscape and the villages and the whatnot. And sometimes they’d land on a space station, or someplace confined where they couldn’t really go anywhere. There really are a lot of bottle-type episodes. Most people, when talking about them, go with Midnight, which is a really good episode. But I’m going to go with something else, just to be different. I was tempted to go with The Long Game, but for some reason just the fact that it’s such a HUGE freaking space station with so many extras makes it feel not at all like a bottle episode. New Earth is a pretty good one, too. But I’m going to go with Dalek from the first season. The Doctor and Rose find themselves in a big, locked down, personal museum of alien stuff, where a mean and kind of crazy collector keeps his prized possessions – among them a Dalek, the Doctor’s greatest enemy. It’s great because for the first time we get to really, truly see the Doctor lose his cool because of his anger and fear of the Daleks, and we really get to see the Doctor’s feelings for Rose when he thinks he’s lost her. It’s a really good episode.

I do have to mention the Angel episode Spin the Bottle. It’s not one of my favorite episodes, but it is a classic and excellent example of a bottle episode.  It features only the main cast and takes place entirely in the hotel. And it is pretty fun. Lorne does a spell to help Cordelia recover her memory, but it ends up just making everyone revert to their teenage selves. It’s almost comforting to see Cordy the way she was when she was on Buffy, before all that character development, and it’s just delightful to see what everyone else was like before they all met.

Deep Space 9 is my favorite of the Star Trek series. Being set on a space station there’s not as much action as there is on the other Star Trek shows.  But what it lacks in action it more than makes up in some awesome and intense character relationships. In its first season the show produced a bottle episode, which was basically an interrogation by Kira of a Cardassian. The tension continues to mount slowly and brilliantly. It’s SO good.

So, there we go. My favorite bottle episodes! What are your favorites? Did I forget some that you really love? Let me know! Post some comments!

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How FX Become One of the Best Networks on TV

A few years ago, FX was, to me, just the network that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was on.  It didn’t have as many original series as it does now, and with the exception of  Sunny, I didn’t really like any of the shows they did have (and I flat out despised Nip/Tuck). So, really, FX was just the channel that aired Sunny.

Well, they did have pretty great syndication, which was better than it is now.  They aired Buffy reruns (and this was before the show was in syndication on about a bajillion cable channels), which I always watched, despite the fact that I had (and still have) the complete series on DVD. They also aired The X-Files, which was amazing and incredible. Nowadays, with the exception of Chiller, I believe, no cable network I’m aware of shows regular episodes of the show. And I don’t get Chiller. Which makes me a sad Panda.

The Shield

The year before Nip/Tuck premiered, FX really changed the way they did things with The Shield, which was their first major original series. I didn’t watch the first few seasons when they were on, but eventually I started watching and I caught up. I don’t adore The Shield like I do so many shows I watch, but it is a good show, a solid cop drama with some really great and well developed characters.  So The Shield led the way for FX to become magnificent.

But even with it going in the right direction, I wouldn’t have called it a great network, or even a good one. In the early years of their original program, they put out a few shows I really didn’t like. I really just hate Nip/Tuck, I don’t really like Rescue Me.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia really was the start for me, but it was a slow start for FX. Sunny is, I really believe, completely brilliant. One of the funniest shows of all time. It doesn’t give a shit about being PC, it’s completely irreverent, and the absurd and sometimes intentionally mean spirited humor is perfect and hilarious.

The Riches

In 2007, FX started to really build beyond that amazing comedy with two new shows, The Riches and Damages. They also debuted Dirt, a drama starring Courtney Cox, but that show was really, really terrible. Between the two good shows, I did love The Riches more. It combined some really tense storytelling with a strong sense of humor and, most importantly, an incredibly written family dynamic. Sadly, the show only last two seasons. The show’s cancellation could have been a sign that the network would never reach greatness.

But they still had Damages.

I think Damages is the point where it started to be an amazing network, rather than just a good one.

Damages is one of the most intense things on television, and it’s brilliantly acted. From there on, I think FX just kept getting better and better, quickly.

Right now, a few of my very favorite shows are on the network.

Right now, Terriers is in-season, and it’s a really good show. If  a show is about private detectives, I’m probably going

Terriers

to watch it, and Terriers is such a good show. I’m so happy to see Donal Logue in a series like this. He is a funny guy, but it’s great to see him in a dramatic series where he can show what a great actor he really is. It also stars Michael Raymond-James, who proves what a really good actor he is. I had only seen him in True Blood, where he played SPOILER ALERT…………………………………..the murderer…………………………………………….. So I was worried about how I’d feel about him in this show. But he makes Britt the most lovable, sympathetic guy. This show is really good, folks, and you should be watching it.

I don’t watch Sons of Anarchy, but apparently, it’s amazing. It’s received some amazing critical notice, so I thought it should be mentioned in n article about how well FX is doing.

My current favorite show is actually on FX. That show is Justfied, and it’s absolutely amazing. I think Raylan Givens is the role Timothy Olyphant was born to play. He’s such a complex, fascinating character and Olyphant is so

Justified

unbelievably perfect. The rest of the cast is really, really amazing, too. Especially Walton Goggins, who plays Raylan’s BFF/antagonist. The show is an exploration of good vs. evil and the gray in between, while finding time to explore the relationships between fathers and sons, friends, lovers. It’s just such an awesome show. The second season starts in February. Watch it.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is amazing, and it’s still great, but comedy was something FX has kind of had a problem with.  Last season their follow up to Sunny was the terrible Testees which was crude and disgusting, which would have been okay, had the show been remotely funny. Thankfully they seem to have started getting it right. Last year they debuted Archer, which is an incredibly hilarious and pretty filthy cartoon for adults. Its new season starts in January. The League follows Sunny on Thursday nights, and it a solid comedy with a really strong ensemble cast that has great chemistry. And they’ve picked up a comedy starring Elijah Wood, Wilfred, about a man and a dog, a dog who looks like a normal dog to everyone else, but who appears as a man in a dog costume to Wood’s character.

So, yeah, FX is awesome. And I hope they keep it up. A new drama series, Lights Out, looks pretty good. It’s a show about boxing and, well…… boxing is kind of one of my weaknesses. I hope it’s good.

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The Best of the 2009-2010 Television Season: The Performances

Naturally, I couldn’t list every performance I loved from this season. This article would be a hundred pages long if I did that. So I cut it down to my very favorites.

Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, Justified

Boyd Crowder was supposed to be a one-off character, meant to die at the end of the first episode. But Walton Goggins did such masterful work making his genius racist criminal so engaging and charismatic that test audiences wanted to see more, and Boyd was kept alive. Boyd became the main antagonist of the season, though not quite the villain. After his near death, he claimed to have “seen the light”, starting a church and vowing to clean Harlan of meth. But throughout the entire season, we’re never really sure if Boyd’s conversion is genuine or not. But either way, Goggins managed to make Boyd both sympathetic and compelling. At the end of the season, we discover that his conversion was genuine, but the things that happen to him reveal this are so heartbreaking we almost wish that it wasn’t. I can’t wait to see what happens with Boyd next season. With his father dead, the entire Harlan crime empire could be his for the taking.

The cast of Community

It really would be wrong to single out one or two actors from Community. While they all give excellent performances that are worthy of individual recognition, the show is as wonderful as it is because of the chemistry between the actors and how well they work as a group. Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown create brilliant group dynamic, and the show is funnier for them being able to play off of each other. Each character is wonderfully drawn as their own person, with their own consistent habits and quirks, but it’s the way those habits and quirks clash and interact that makes the show so funny.

Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica Hamby, True Blood

True Blood has a large cast, and for the most part the show is really well acted. But in season two the real stand out was Deborah Ann Woll as the newborn vampire Jessica.  There was something surprisingly human about Jessica adjusting to living as a vampire. It’s a double edged sword for Jessica. She loves the power and the strength, but misses her family, and with Bill taking care of her, she feels almost as trapped as she did back home with her firmly religious family. It’s also adorable and kind of heartbreaking watching her fall in love for the first time, having to deal with these new feelings not just as a 17 year old girl, but also as a vampire. Woll is wonderful in the role, hilarious as the bratty teen, menacing as the vampire who can’t yet control her impulses, and heartbreaking as the young woman who has no idea who she is.

Jordana Spiro as PJ Franklin, My Boys

My Boys isn’t a well loved show. Which is sad, because it’s really, really funny. It has a great cast, but the best of the cast is the show’s lady, Jordana Spiro. I can say this as someone as a girl who grew up with mostly guy friends – television hasn’t done the best job at capturing the girl whose friends are all men. They so often fall into the stereotype of tomboy, or they’re trying desperately to prove themselves as a girl. Jordana Spiro gives PJ a beautiful middle ground – she’s a tomboy all right, who can spout sports stats like a second language, but that’s combined with her struggle to assert some kind of femininity, even when she has no idea how to do that. She also gives PJ a special, unique relationship with each of her boys, making the group dynamic feel so completely honest.

The cast of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

You probably won’t find five people on television more horrible than Mac, Dennis, Charlie, Frank, and Sweet Dee. But there’s something so lovable about that horribleness, thanks to its talented cast. They’re awesome on their own, but they’re at their best when they all end up together, scheming and hating each other just a little bit and trying so hard to be cooler than they are. No other cast makes being pathetic so funny.

Matthew Fox as Jack Shepherd, Lost

Matthew Fox has done solid work on Lost for six seasons, but since the end of season three, his work has been flat out stellar, and in the show’s final season, he did his best work. After so many seasons of denying his destiny, Jack became a man of faith, a man who comes to embrace that destiny, if for no other reason than the idea of that destiny is the only thing he has left. It was almost cathartic to see Jack finally find and accept his purpose, and the show’s final moment was both heartbreaking and uplifting because of it.

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, Justified

Natalie Zea’s character Winona said it best in the show’s series premiere – “You do a good job of hiding it, and I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly… you’re the angriest man I have ever known.” Raylan Givens is a quiet cowboy, a man with a strong sense of decency and what’s right. But lurking beneath all that is a layer of anger – an anger that, as the season goes on, we come to find out mostly comes from his upbringing – that he tries to stifle. It frequently comes out, but that’s usually in the line of duty and can be explained away as doing his job (he does seem to shoot people an awful lot). The balance between the two sides of Raylan, and especially the quiet anger just simmering beneath, might be completely misinterpreted and misplayed by anyone but Olyphant, who manages to not just portray those aspects of Raylan beautifully, but who also manages to make him so damn charming while doing it.

Michael Sheen as Wesley Snipes, 30 Rock

This year’s biggest Emmy injustice is Michael Sheen being totally snubbed for his work as Liz Lemmon’s love interest/nemesis on this season of 30 Rock. Overall, the season was really uneven. But Sheen’s storyline and performance managed to make the it worth something. This completely baffling man (“Popcorn? At the cinema?”) who is basically the polar opposite of Liz Lemmon being pared with her, and her HATING it, was so brilliant. It was so amazing, in fact, that the season finale kind of sucked because they shucked it. The idea of Liz ending up with this guy is jut so this show, so the fact that she found someone else is just disappointing.

Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, Glee

Those of us familiar with the popular and brilliant musical Spring Awakening were already familiar with Lea Michele before Glee made her a huge star. We knew she was talented, but I don’t think most people realized what a gift she had with comedy. Some have said she’s so good at the role because Michele basically is Rachel, but there’s an absurdity to the character, certain lines and body movements, that don’t come just from being like a character, they come from a very special and natural sense of comedic timing.

John Noble as Walter Bishop, Fringe

Fringe is getting a lot more recognition than it did in its first season. However, it’s mostly for its crazy sci-fi-ness and nutso storyline. But the very best part of the show is John Nobel and his performance as Dr. Walter Bishop, the insane genius who’s just barely hanging on to the sanity he has by a thread (a thread that looks suspiciously like his son, Peter). The second season gave Walter more reason to be emotional, not just nuts, and Noble more than rose to the occasion, being both hilarious in his crazy moments, and completely heartbreaking. I don’t think any actor on television has managed to be more expressive with their face, and the look in Walter’s eyes, the feeling that haunts him, it all Noble.

Jackie Earl Haley as Guerrero, Human Target

Yeah, the whole cast of Human Target is awesome. Mark Valley is jut flat out charming, and Chi McBride is funny as always. But Jackie Earl Haley steals the show. He’s just so charismatic as Guerrero. He has the loosest morals, is the least friendly of the team, and yet he’s the one you constantly want to see more of. Haley plays to role with so much nonchalance that it’s almost a situation of wanting what you can’t have. But we did get a few moments to look into Guerrero’s life and emotions, and Haley play the moments so well, doing just enough to let the viewer know he’s affected, but not overreacting and chewing the scenery.

The Braverman Siblings, Parenthood

I am a sucker for sibling relationships, so Parenthood is kind of like catnip to me. And while Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia are excellent, the strength of the show lies in the four actors playing their children – Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepherd, and Erica Christensen – that make the show as good as it is. And there wasn’t even an adjustment period to get used to these actors together. They just clicked automatically, and jumping right into the action, we get the sense that these four people have an entire lifetime of history between them.

Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

There’s a moment in the episode of before the season finale where anti-government government employess Ron Swanson is told that the government of Pawnee is about to be shut down. A look of complete glee crosses his face. The simple moment, just a quirk of the lip and a brightening of the eyes, was one of the funniest moments of the series, and that’s thanks to Offerman’s performance. Ron Swanson is a quiet, serious man, who tends to find himself in ridiculous situations, like refusing to seek treatment for a hernia. But throughout the show’s second season we’ve gotten a chance to see Ron Swanson’s soft side, both in his growing soft spot for Leslie (it’s gotten to the point where he’ll do just about anything for her) and in his mentor role to Aubrey Plaza’s April.

January Jones as Betty Draper, Mad Men

When Mad Men first started, I had huge problems with Betty. She seemed whiney. She wasn’t a very good mother. But all those things I disliked about her grew into this fascinatingly complex character, a woman who feels stifled but doesn’t understand why, a wife who finally decides it time to stand up for herself. Like all the characters on the show, some of Betty’s actions are infuriatingly frustrating, but Jones is able to so quietly and subtly show us the reasons behind her character’s actions, and she always reminds us of how truly confused Betty really is.

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The Best of the 2009-2010 Television Season – The Shows

Emmy nominations are out this week, which means its time for the final wrap-up of the television season. I’m doing mine in several parts. This one is the shows. I watch A LOT of shows. I don’t think all of them are good. And of the ones I think are good, I don’t think they’re all great. So I’ve singled out the 11 shows I do think are great.

11. Archer

FX keeps putting out good television, but with the exception of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it hasn’t had the best luck with comedy (Testees was embarassingly bad). Thankfully, this season they put out the filthy animated comedy Archer. This one’s not for kids, folks. It’s raunchy humor and spy antics blend together so perfectly. And its stellar voice cast (including Jessica Walter, H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer) are all flat out perfect. Running jokes and serialized storytelling make regular viewing a treat.
Best Episode Skytanic
It doesn’t really do anything better than any other episode. The narrative picks up a little as the relationship between Cyril and Lana starts to become troubled,  but other than that, it’s not unlike every other episode. Except for the fact that it’s HYSTERICAL. From Archer’s inability to understand the way the zeppelin works, to the constant Hindenberg references, and so on, it’s the funniest episode of the series. “Yay metaphor!”

10. Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec had a really rough first season. So rough that I wasn’t actually interested in watching the second season. But I did, for lack of anything better to do. I’m glad I did, because the improvement was huge, and Parks and Rec quickly became one of the funniest shows on television. It comes from the same idea of The Office, but its heart is much bigger and it lacks the snarky cynicism. It’s a show about dreams, no matter how great or small, and about friendship. Even its douchiest characters (I’m looking at you, Tom Haverford) are lovable and have their moments of sweetness.
Best Episode: Telethon
I’m not sure why I feel this episode is the best of the season, but I didn’t even have to think about my choice. It’s just a great episode. There’s Ron/Leslie goodness, Amy Poehler gets to let loose and be really funny the more tired and then hopped up on sugar she gets, and the relationship between Anne and Mark crumbles (come on, you can’t tell me I’m the only one who hates this pairing)

09. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is one of the most absurd, ridiculous, and un-PC shows on television. And that’s a good thing. A very, very, very good thing. The comedy faltered a bit in its fourth season, not quite as gut bustingly hilarious as its first three seasons, tending more toward the “everybody yelling at each other at loud volumes” type of comedy over the seemingly stupid but actually quite clever satire it had perfected through seasons one, two, and three. Thankfully the gang returned to form in their fifth season (and I seriously can’t believe it’s been on for five years), trading their constant yelling for dysfunctional team scheming. From Kitten Mittens, to Birds of Prey, to the DENNIS system (that’s Demonstrate your value, Engage physically, Nurturing Dependence, Neglect Emotionally, Inspire hope, Separate entirely), the season was back to its ludicrous brilliance.
Best Episode: The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention
It starts out with a brilliant concept, the gang drinking wine out of Coke cans, and snowballs into pure hilarity from there. The gang giving Frank an intervention while drunk is one of the funniest and most horrible things the gang has ever done.

08. Glee

The season’s biggest sensation is pretty damn good, despite the annoying fangirls who inevitably make any show that could be remotely appealing to teens look completely unappealing to the rest of the world. It’s not perfect. Both it’s first thirteen episodes and the back nine had their problems (Teri and her fake pregnancy in the first thirteen, lack of cohesion and Quinn’s magically disappearing baby bump in the back nine, not to mention the character assisination of Jesse St. James), but in the end it’s still something of a small miracle: a television musical that’s actually good (suck it, Cop Rock), managing to be both hysterically funny and completely heartbreaking in the same hour-long time slot. And not only does in manage drama and comedy, but week after week it produces amazing musical numbers with the most talented young cast on television.
Best Episode: Bad Reputation
In the last episode before the actually continuity of relationships between characters started to get fuzzy, Bad Reputation produced two of the show’s very best numbers, Total Eclipse of the Heart and Run, Joey, Run. There was something for all three Rachel-shipper groups (Rachel/Finn, Rachel/Puck, Rachel/Jesse). And, best of all, we got a glimpse into the heart of softening mean girl Quinn Fabray, who was really underused for much of the back nine episodes, but who’s shaping up to be one of the best characters on the show.

07. Fringe

Fringe has never received the attention it deserves, but people have really started to take notice with the show’s second season, which takes the ideas that started in season one and begins to really tell a whole, complete story with them. We now have a better idea of what’s going on, and it’s becoming a glorious piece of serialized storytelling. While most episodes of the season seem to be one-shots, the all in some way, be it narratively or emotionally, tie into the overall arc of the season and the show. While there’s a lot of big science going on, a lot of talk about universes collapsing which will all be even more important next season, I’m sure, at its heart Fringe is a show about family, both the ones we’re born with and the ones we make, and how far we’re willing to go to keep them safe.
Best Episode: White Tulip
While most people are calling this season’s Peter the series’ best episode (and it is pretty damn good), I found White Tulip more emotionally satisfying and important. And, you know, it deals with time travel. Which is awesome. And it has Peter Weller. The science of the episode is just cool, and while it may not fit into the scientific narrative, it’s extremely important to the emotional narrative, and helps us to understand even more where Walter is coming from, and why he’s done the things he’s done.

06. Mad Men

I keep waiting for Mad Men to fall apart. Shows aren’t supposed to be this good for this long. It’s going into its fourth season this month, and unless the writing staff drank a large keg of stupid over the winter, it looks like it’s going to be just as good as previous seasons. Mad Men is a slow build. Unlike shows like Glee and Community, whose storylines and character relationships can evolve and change a dramatic amount in just one episode, Mad Men has been slowly building the tension in its storylines throughout the season. And it works. The failing marriage between Don and Betty finally came to a head this season with Betty discovering her husband’s secrets and planning to divorce him. And the tension at the office finally broke with the season finale. Through all this, there were also bizarrely hilarious moments (oh, guy who lost his foot to a lawnmower, we hardly knew ye).
Best Episode: Shut the Door, Have a Seat
This season’s finale left more questions than any season finale before it, which is a good thing. The fate of pretty much every major character is left in question. And for the first time, there’s the possibility for completely new storylines. January Jones was passed over for an Emmy nod last year, but it would be a crime for that to happen this year. The scenes between Betty and Don were the most emotionally charged of the episode, and despite Jon Hamm’s amazing performance, that was all thanks for Jones.

05. Human Target

So this is easily the “one of these things is not like the other” of the list. Yeah, on the surface it looks like nothing more than a fun action series. And it is that. Every single episode offers wonderful action scenes where our charming hero gets to beat the bad guy, and make a quip while doing it. While the first few episodes weren’t much more than that, the show quickly became something more – a show about a haunted man and the things he’s haunted by. Past sins, lost love, and the way those thing tie together and effect the way he works. Add to that the ridiculously likable cast – Mark Valley, with just the right amount of charm and sadness; Chi McBride, hilarious as the high strung boss with a past of his own and a complete devotion to his business partner; and Jackie Earl Haley, easily the stand out, snarky all over the place, but with just as much devotion to Chance as anyone. It’s one hell of a fun show, with all kinds of potential. Thank god Fox was smart enough to pick it up for a second season.
Best Episode: Corner Man
While the storyline culminator Christopher Chance was an amazing season finale, the episode Corner Man is an example of the best parts of this show. While it’s a standalone episode, it still ties into Chance’s emotional conflict. It has an awesome bad guy, a hot lady (and a BSG alum as well, something this show likes), a lovably goofy client. It’s funny, it’s action is amazing, and the interaction between its three main cast members is perfect.

04. True Blood

So, yeah. Vampire are big now, thanks to crap like Twilight. But, let’s make sure one thing is clear. True Blood ain’t Twilight. For one thing, True Blood‘s vampires are actually vampires. They feed on humans, kill people, and have crazy sex. And, oh yeah, they don’t fucking sparkle. True Blood also lack the earnestness that Twilight has in abundance. And that’s a good thing. It recognizes the ridiculousness of its story and characters and relishes it. It’s camp, intentionally so. The second season wasn’t quite as intimate as the first, with two different storylines happening in two different cities, but the vampire mythology became more in depth and cohesive. And of course, there were the characters. This season had lots more Eric, who is easily the coolest and sexiest vampire on the show. Michelle Forbes popped up (as she does often in shows I enjoy) as the season’s real big bad, Eric’s maker Godric’s appearance was too brief, but still mesmerizing (and allowed for deeper insight into Eric), Evan Rachel Wood was delightfully crazy as the Vampire Queen of Luisiana, and Debrah Ann Woll extended her role as the newborn vampire Jessica. And then of course there was the teaming up of Jason and Andy. Season two provided great gore, amazing hilarity, and moments of startling emotional honesty.
Best Episode: I Will Rise Up
While the infiltration of the Fellowship of the Sun was the better of the season’s two storylines, it’s aftermath was even better (and no, not just because it had Sookie sucking on Eric’s chest, resulting in a really hot dream scene). The sibling relationship between Jason and Sookie was re-established and solidified, we got a nice look into the workings of the vampire PR machine, and we finally got to see deep into Eric’s heart, with the moving death scene of Godric. And things finally started happening in the Bon Temps set Marianne storyline. You know, besides Tara and Eggs acting crazy.

03. Justified

I was pretty sure I was going to at least like Justified. FX has been putting out a lot of quality television, and being based on Elmore Leonard character’s is a pretty good sign. I wasn’t really prepared for how much I love it, but I suspect the writers weren’t really prepared for the course the first season took. What started out as an insanely entertaining and funny show about a quiet cowboy who shoots people turned into an amazing study of the difference between right and wrong, an exploration about where we come from and how that shapes who we are, and, most importantly, a story of fathers and sons. Timothy Olyphant did award worthy work this season, but the real scene stealer was Walton Goggins, whose best work of the series is, unfortunately, not eligible for Emmy consideration due to air dates. Goggins made Boyd Crowder develop believably from the worst of the worst to sympathetic, confused, and sympathetic Woobie. The most fascinating part of the show quickly became the relationship between Boyd and Raylan, the antagonism and camaraderie that exists between them.
Best Episode: Bulletville
It really sucks that the season finale Bulletville is ineligible for Emmy consideration this year due to its airdate, because it was easily the best finale of the season. First of all, with a body count of about 16, it appeals to one of the things that drew me to the show in the first place. It was tense and violent in the best possible way. But, most importantly, it was about the relationships that became the centerpiece of the series, those between the boys – Raylan and Boyd – and their fathers – Arlo and Bo. And, of course, the relationship between Raylan and Boyd. We also finally get an answer to the question of whether or not Boyd’s conversion is genuine, and the conclusion is heartbreaking. The final ten minutes of the episode are just amazing, and the final moment is perfect.

02. Community

I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about Community. After watching the first two episode I was unimpressed, thinking that it tried too hard. Then, several weeks later, I caught up with the rest of the episodes when I was home sick one day, and discovered that the more it went on, the better it got, and it really didn’t take long to become the best comedy on television. It’s a very self aware show, which is one of its greatest strengths. Not just because of the meta humor that provides, but because it allows the writers to be hyper aware of the viewers and what they think, and lets them tweak and play with characters and storylines accordingly. Thankfully, it strikes the perfect balance between fan service and doing its own thing. Its most valuable asset is easily it cast, who have tremendous chemistry together, so that every character can interact with every other character in their own storylines and nothing is lost.
Best Episode: Romantic Expressionism
Modern Warfare is probably the flat out funniest (and most ambitious) episode. And as a Jeff/Annie fangirl, I might lean a bit toward Debate or even the finale Pascals Triangle Revisited (which plays better on rewatch). But I think Romantic Expressionism is the the best example at all the wonderful things Community can be. It has two hilarious storylines (Pierce trying to be funny at Troy and Abed’s movie night, and Jeff and Britta meddling in Annie’s relationship with Vaughn), amazing group dynamic, awesome meta humor (the EPIC sexual prospects stare down), and, yes, a Jeff/Annie moment that’s pretty epic in its own right. And, you know, an incredibly random and amazing line. (“Thanks for eating all the macaroni!” “Shut up, Leonard, nobody even knows what you’re talking about!…… I did eat all the macaroni. It’s messed up that he knows.”) This was also the episode when I completely fell in love with Britta and her glorious dorkiness.

01. Lost

I won’t lie, the fact that this was the last season certainly figured into Lost being placed at the top of the list. But I really did love the season. I actually really liked the flashsideways and its resolution. I wasn’t bothered by not getting the answers to every single question (because I never thought we would. We got the most important answers, that’s what counts.) The show, for me, has always been about the characters and their journey, and I’m just really happy that the writers chose to focus on that. There were some excellent mythology based episodes, but as the series wound down and came to an end, the moments that have stuck with me most have been the ones about the characters: the reunions and the laughs and the deaths and choices made. Lost has always been one of the most emotionally involving shows for me, and its ending didn’t disappoint.
Best Episode: The End
Is there even any question? Yeah, the long awaited Ab Aeterno was awesome, and The Candidate was absolutely amazing, but the series finale was the show’s most emotional episode by far. Like I’ve already said, I was completely emotionally satisfied by the ending, and I’m really glad that they were able to make it a relatively happy ending. This episode produced scenes that I will never forget, not the least of which is Jack’s beautiful death scene, his eye closing, signaling the end. But there was also the reunion of my favorite ship of the show, Charlie and Claire, which is probably my favorite moment of the entire series.

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