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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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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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Shipping Meme to Help Cope With Boredom

Six Ships I Love:
1. Josh/Donna (The West Wing)

2. Jeff/Annie (Community)

3. Jessica/Hoyt (True Blood)

4. Charlie/Claire (Lost)

5. Matt/Harriet (Studio 60)

6. Mason/Daisey (Dead Like Me)

Three Ships I Liked, But Don’t Anymore:
7. Jack/Kate (Lost)
8. Leslie/Mark (Parks and Rec)
9. Rachel/Jessie (Glee)

Three Ships I Don’t Like:
10. Sawyer/Kate (Lost)
11. Bill/Sookie (True Blood)
12. Jeff/Britta (Community)

Two Ships I Am Curious About, But Don’t Actually Ship:
13. Britta/Abed (Community)
14. Chance/Emma (Human Target)

1) Why do you dislike #11 so much? (Bill/Sookie)
Well, Stephen Moyer is a terrible actor, so it’s pretty hard to like Bill when he’s doing anything. He treats Sookie like property, gets pissy when she doesn’t do exactly what he wants her to, and treats her like a child. And Sookie, who is supposed to be this sassy badass, just takes it.

2) Who is someone you know that ships #13? (Britta/Abed)
Nobody specifically, but I know they exist in the fandom. Every ship in the Community fandom has at least one follower.

3) What would be your ideal scenario for couple #3 (even if the show isn’t on the air anymore)? (Jessica/Hoyt)
Jessica goes to Hoyt and confesses that she killed that guy, and Hoyt forgives her and helps her cover it up and cope with her first kill. And then they’re together forever.

4) Which is your favorite episode for #1? Try to pick just one. (Josh/Donna)
Probably 17 People. So much good snark, so many good revelations, and “If you were in an accident I wouldn’t stop for red lights.” Perfect.

5) How long have you been following couple #6? (Mason/Daisey)
I started Dead Like Me when it was in syndication about three years ago, and I started on season 2, so I missed a lot of the great buildup from the last half of season 2. But I caught up and they’re just wonderful.

6) What’s the story with #8? What made you stop liking them/caring? (Leslie/Mark)
They had good chemistry, and it was always nice when Mark did sweet things for Leslie, but in the end it kind of doesn’t measure out to how thoughtless he can be toward her. Tom was right when he said that Mark’s an idiot and Leslie can do better. And then Ron started being the one who did sweet things for her, but instead of them being undercut by him being a jerk, he’s always sweet, even if he masks it with a gruff exterior.

7) Which ship do you prefer, #2 or #4? (Jeff/Annie or Charlie/Claire)
Right now, Jeff and Annie, but probably just because Community is still on the air and we’re really only at the beginning of the ship.

8) You have the power to make one ship non-existant. Choose from #10 or #12. (Sawyer/Kate or Jeff/Britta)
Well, Sawyer/Kate don’t exist as a couple anymore. The finale made it clear that the Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Juliet were the people that were meant for each other. So I guess Jeff/Britta. They’re awesome as friends, but they just don’t work romantically.

9) What interests you about #14? (Chance/Emma)
Emma won’t take any of Chance’s crap, which is probably what he needs. But now that it seems Catherine probably isn’t really dead, he belongs with his true love.

10) When did you stop liking #7? (Jack/Kate)
I wouldn’t say I stopped liking them. I mostly always shipped them as the lesser of two evils just because I hated S/K so much. There was a string of a few episodes that made me ship J/K hardcore, but it didn’t last long. So I didn’t stop liking them. I just went back to being lukewarm.

11) Did your waning interest in #9 kill your interest in the show? (Jessie/Rachel)
Not at all. I liked Jessie/Rachel, but I still ship Puck/Rachel above them. The nonsensical character assassination of Jessie pissed me off, but not enough for me to not want to watch the show.

12) What’s a song that reminds you of #5? (Matt/Harriet)
Have a Little Faith In Me, the song that played during their argument montage at the end of K & R pt. 1. Perfect.

13) Which of these ships do you love the most?
At the moment, Jeff/Annie. But Josh/Donna is my all time favorite ship.

14) Which do you dislike the most?
Bill/Sookie

15) If you could have any of these two pairings double date, who would it be?
Matt/Harriet and Josh/Donna. They’re both Sorkin pairings, so the dialogue would be AMAZING!

16) Have #2 kissed yet? Elaborate if you’d like. (Jeff/Annie)
Yes, twice! Let’s hope there’s a lot more kissing down the road.

17) Did #4 have a happy ending? If the show hasn’t ended yet, do you think a happy ending is likely? (Charlie/Claire)
Well, yes and no. I mean, Charlie died and Claire went crazy. But they found each other in the afterlife and were able to move on together.

18) What would make you start shipping #13? (Britta/Abed)
Some kind of indication from the writers that it would possibly happen. There have been a few cute moments, but at the moment I have a hard time actually visualizing them in a relationship, so I’d need to see that the writers could do it.

19) If only one could happen, which would you prefer – #2 or #6? (Jeff/Annie or Mason Daisy)
I guess Jeff/Annie. Mason/Daisy will probably always have a certain layer of fucked up/not getting their act together-ness. Jeff and Annie could actually work.

20) You have the power to decide the fate of #10. What happens to them? (Nick/Sara)
I don’t want them to get together just because they’re significant others both died on the island. I just want them to stay buddies.

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Community Season Finale – This is the one that divides us

I really adore the Community fandom. Not just the show (though I love the show so much and it’s bee awhile since I was this into a show), but the people in it. Usually when I find a fandom, I find my ship group and I stick with them. But with the Community fandom,  everyone was so awesome I felt really comfortable posting in the general livejournal group. I ship Annie/Jeff so hardcore some people would probably find it creepy. But there were no ship wars. Some people ship Jeff/Britta. Some ship Annie/Troy. Some ship Annie/Abed. But we never fought about it. We all just got along really well. It’s probably because the writers of the show have shown that they’re really open to pretty much every couple, and they have no problem giving us little moments for all of them. So when there was a good J/A moment, the J/B were cool about it. Hell, sometimes they were even happy for us. And vice versa.

It seems like that might all be over with last nights episode. Now, I want to be perfectly clear that I’m not referring to all Jeff/Britta fans, and I’m not bashing anybody at all. These are just my observations and interpretation of events. At the end of the day, we all still love Community and they’re all my buds. But a lot of the J/B shippers… they didn’t really take the episode well.

Maybe it’s because it really looked like the show had decided to definitively, at least for the rest of season one,  make it about Britta and Jeff thanks to their doing the deed in Modern Warfare, and the episode summary  s0 the Jeff/Annie kiss completely caught them offguard, especially since, from the episode description, it seemed that this was a J/B centric. I don’t want to get into a “we have the moral high ground” thing at all. I absolutely don’t want it to sound that way. But after Britta and Jeff slept together in Modern Warfare, the J/A shippers didn’t freak out.  We weren’t upset. We weren’t crying foul, or calling the writers hacks just because our ship didn’t sale in one episode. And that seems a lot like the J/Bers are doing now.

There were other issues people had with the episode and I want to address these issues. I am, of course, an enormous, crazy Jeff/Annie shipper, but I’m going to try really hard to keep  Jeff/Annie stuff out of this (Except for where it actually applies, of course).

I do agree that the episode felt kind of rushed. They had a lot of people and things they had to fit in, and it was a jam packed episode. There was just a little too much happening.

A lot of people feel that Britta was so out of character this episode, especially with telling Jeff she loves him. I don’t think that’s true. We’ve seen before that she can be really competitive (The Art of Discourse) and that she can be really stubborn when she starts something (Introduction to film). Even this episode shows how competitive she can get with how badly she wanted to win Tranny Queen. Really that wouldn’t make much difference to the whole Jeff thing, except maybe as something to rub Slater’s face again. And I think that’s exactly what this was.  I really don’t believe that Britta actually LOVES Jeff. I think she had very strong feelings for him, but it’s not love. She said what she thought would make him stay when she saw him kiss Slater. And “I love you” is a lot more dramatic and compelling than, “I like you a lot” or even “I have feelings for you.”

And I don’t think her yelling it like that was out of character. If she actually did love Jeff, I would agree that it was out of character.

While I do believe that Britta has feelings for Jeff, I think that the entire thing in this episode was about the competition with Slater. Yes, they slept together a few weeks ago, but after that she really hasn’t shown that much interest in a romantic relationship. But as soon as it looked like Slater was vying for Jeff she was ready for a fight. Perhaps hernfeelings and her fear of losing Jeff was the thing that pushed her into it, but what kept it going was the competition that kept her going. We’ve already seen earlier in the season that Britta has issues with Slater. It quickly became more about Keeping Jeff From Slater and less about Being With Jeff.

I think that Britta/Jeff/Slater exchange after the confession of “love” really shows that Britta didn’t mean it. First, Britta responds to Jeff’s “You love me?” with “Do you love me?” That could be seen as her being too scared to say ‘I love you,’ except for the fact that SHE HAD JUST SAID IT. She didn’t want to say it again, and she was more concerned with whether or not Jeff loved her – over Slater. And then instead of trying to talk and work the issue out, she engages in a childlike argument with Slater, as though Jeff wasn’t even there.

And then there was the look on her face as she watched him run away. If she had seriously meant that declaration of love, her face would have been way sadder. And this isn’t a case of the actor not portraying what the writers intended. Gillian Jacobs is an awesome actress who completely gets Britta. If Britta was supposed to be upset/heartbroken at Jeff running away from her after she publicly declared her love for him, Jacobs would have nailed it. But she just looked kind of resigned. Like maybe she’d realized it was a bad move on her part.

Reading all that, it might seem like I hate Britta. I don’t. I LOVE Britta. I think she’s amazing and wonderful and goofy, but very deeply flawed in a very human way that I find identifiable.  But that doesn’t mean I think everything she does is the right thing to do. Like I said, she’s flawed, and she made a huge mistake here. I love Britta. And I love her and Jeff together. As really good friends. I don’t think their characters and their personalities would work in a relationship, and I don’t think that Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs have the romantic chemistry needed for a romantic pairing. They’re amazing as buddies.

It felt like the show was kind of showing how they don’t work as a couple. Shirley points out to Britta that she really needs to start communicating with Jeff about her feelings for him, but she doesn’t do that. Even when she says how she feels, she isn’t being honest. And they show that the don’t have a natural flow to them during the kegger scene when Jeff moves to brush away her hair. Jeff is clearly trying to flirt when he says they won’t see each other for months, and then Britta kind of shuts him down by pointing out that they have cellphones. He then goes the brush away her hair, and Britta flinches away. Yes, Britta is a guarded person who would normally flinch away from someone doing that. But this is Jeff. A guy she’s supposed to have feelings for, a guy she’s slept with, who’s touched a lot more of her than just her hair.  With that history, flinching away is not something a girl would do if she really loved him. It shows that when it comes to the romantic aspect of relationships, they’re in very different places on completely different pages.

In contrast, this whole episode shows how natural and easy it is for Annie and Jeff. All they do is communicate. From their easy conversation in the beginning to Annie’s confession that she’s leaving. He’s the only one she feels like she can tell, and he’s completely honest with her that he wants it to work out so that she’ll be happy, but he’s also completely honest that he hopes it doesn’t work out so that she’ll come back. And then the final scene, where they not only communicate, but express how much alike they are in a lot of ways. And I think that’s where a lot of the kiss came from. A lot of it was living in the moment, but a lot of it was that with it’s so easy and it works so well without all the competition and the misdirection.

There have been some people expressing a squicky feeling because of the age difference. While I understand how that ca be an issue for some people, I really don’t think it’s too much of an issue for Jeff and Annie. Annie is not that same girl she was in the pilot. She’s matured a lot. Add to that the fact that she had already lived a lot of life before college. She was a drug addict and she went to rehab. In a lot of ways, she had to grow up really fast. Yes, sometimes she can still be a bit naive and inexperienced. But she’s not some child. She has very much blossomed into an adult.

Another thing that people complained about what how the J/A thing in the finale came out of nowhere. And that’s just not true completely. I’ve already covered how it was set up in the episode itsel. But there have been so many moments throughout the season leading up to it since the Debate episode. The look in Romantic Expressionism is the big one. There was also the moment in the episode prior to the finale where Annie admitted to going for a professor look. It’s been subtle but beautiful, and it’s definitely there.

Finally, I really think Jeff’s dialogue during the last scene, about how he likes Michelle because she makes him feel like a better person, and that he likes Britta because she makes him fee like the person he is. Annie is clearly the in between of that. Again, it’s so much easier being with her. He doesn’t feel like he has to be one or the other. He can be who he is, but with Annie who he is is a person who is evolving and becoming better. And that’s really because of Annie.  The majority of his character growth has come from his interactions with her, not Britta.

I’ve also seen people say that Jeff/Britta is about real feelings while Jeff/Annie is all about lust. I think that it’s not even possible for that to be further from the truth. While I do think there are some real feelings between J/B, if either of the relationship boils down to mostly being about lust, it’s them. The whole thing in the beginning was about Jeff wanting to nail her without even knowing her. I really don’t think they’ve had enough genuinely emotional interactions for their connection to be more about emotions and feelings than just chemistry and the physical. J/A, on the otherhand, have been almost completely about their character development and their relationship with each other.

I am a little worried about where they’re going from here. I’ve been told that my view of romantic relationships on television has been seriously messed up because the first ship I was hardcore about was Josh and Donna on The West Wing, who didn’t get together for seven years. So it might just be that, but I worry when they do something like this with my ship so early on in the series. For one, it is kind of more fun to have a slow burn before realizing they’re  in love. I worry that they set them up to kiss so they can have a weird awkward relationship early in season 2 and then split them up for good. But I’m hoping with the way the so clearly showed how much more natural Jeff and Annie are together is a sign that they’re serious about this. But I also don’t want them together and happy going into the next season. That’s just so not them. But I have all summer to fret. Right now I’m just going to enjoy the high from the kissing.

Which is another thing people are getting pissy about. There’s been a lot of “how dare they kiss like that while Britta is inside after expressing her love?” Again, I might feel different if I thought Britta really did love Jeff. It probably wasn’t the nicest and best thing to do, but I really don’t think they’re stabbing her in the back.

And none of this “Annie’s a hussy who kissed him!” or “Jeff’s a sceeze who took advantage!”

I’ve watched the kiss a lot. In slow motion a few times. And that kiss was totally mutual.

For the first kiss, Annie does sort of lean in first. But Jeff soon leans into her. He’s have to. With her hands not on his face, him leaning into her is the only way she’d be able to reach him. But that second kiss… Jeff goes in first… like big time. Annie responds quickly of course, but Jeff goes for it first, pulling her to him almost the same way he did at the debate. Only this time, she doesn’t push him away.

Thank god.

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The Most Pointless Tournament in the History of Time

Over at Hulu, there’s been this tournament going on – Best In Show – where popular television shows have been battling it out tourny style to see what show is, in fact, the best. Well, perhaps not best. But most loved by fans.

Yeah, read that again. Most loved by FANS. The people who are supposed to be voting in a fan-decided poll. The people whose votes only count for one vote.

So then why does super douche critic Ken Tucker get a vote that counts for 25% of the final vote?

Seriously, how does that make any sense? Why would you run a fan-based tournament only the set it up so that the critic gets to basically hand pick the finalists?

Let’s look at it like this. Say 100 people have voted. Show A has 60% of the vote, while Show B has 40% of the vote. Clearly, the fans have spoken. They prefer Show A. And not by some tiny difference of something like 5%. They prefer Show A by a pretty damn big 20%. That’s not something you can just brush off. In a poll that’s meant for the fans to be choosing their favorites, that means there is a clear winner.

And while the fans, who, again, this tournament is meant for, get votes that count as one vote, as one person, the Ken Fucker gets to swoop in with 25% of the vote. So, basically, his vote counts as if he were a bunch of people.  In our Show A and Show B scenario, there have now been 101 people who have voted, but that final 1 vote counts for several people instead of just the one it should count for. So now Show A has 48% and Show B has 52%.

Tell me I’m not the only one who sees how RIDICULOUS that is.

Seriously, what is the point of running a tournament for the fans if you’re just going to turn around and say to the critic who’s running it, “But if you don’t like the way things turn out, you can just pick who you want to win. It doesn’t matter.”

I really can’t think of any reason why Ken Tucker should have been allowed a 25% vote. Really. Give me a reason. I would love to hear it.

This is frakking playground behavior. This is the way a ten year old would behave, telling his classmates they’re allowed to play the game, but only if he wins in the end.

I can understand the need to have a high weighted vote in the case of a tie. That makes sense, giving the critic perhaps the “tie breaking” vote, or a vote worth something like MAYBE 5%. But 25%? That absolutely ludicrous, and it renders the entire thing pointless.

And before you ask, yes, it’s Community’s loss that triggered this rant. Am I getting a little overly upset about a television show losing? Yeah, probably. But if it had actually lost, fairly, through the actual votes of the fans I wouldn’t have been that upset. But the fact of the matter is that Community DID win. It DID beat The Simpsons. And not by some small margin, not by something so small that there needed to be a tie breaking weighted vote cast. It won by 20%. But because Ken Tucker doesn’t like Community, it doesn’t get to advance to the finals.

And that, my friends, is bullshit.

So the next time any site thinks of running a tournament like this, that’s “for the fans”, try actually making it for the fans, and not just another chance for some lame critic to jerk off over his favorite shows.

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