Saturday, December 01, 2007

2007: My Favorite TV Series of the Year

About this time last year, I decided to blend my best-of TV and movie lists into one, since the “boob tube” has become such a strong competitor with major motion pictures. The trend certainly continued this year, and the TV I watched was so strong I decided to give it back its own category.

Here are the best series I watched in 2007:

1. “Lost”
May’s two-hour season finale of “Lost” was without question the best piece of filmed entertainment I saw all year, on television or in the movie theater. Not only that, it’s one of the single greatest episodes of TV I’ve ever seen. The closing scene has veritably haunted me throughout the latter part of the year; though I’ve only watched it twice, my thoughts often drift back to the last few seconds of the show, that’s what a mind-job of an episode it was (“episode” doesn’t even feel like the right word).

The second season of “Lost” was a wreck, and I just about gave up on it. But the show returned to form in fall 2006 with its mini-season of six episodes that effectively catapulted the momentum forward into 16 stellar episodes this past spring—every single one was good, and several were downright great. It all culminated in the season finale, but I won’t say any more for fear of spoiling things for those who may not have seen it (the Season 3 DVD set hits Dec. 11, and I’m trying to come up with reasons why I shouldn’t buy it).

The conclusion of Season 3 was so outstanding and turned the tables on the series so violently, my only fear is that the production team of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof won’t be able to handle the shape-shifting, time-altering, brain-teasing beast of a twist they unleashed in the closing seconds of this last ep. My hope, on the other hand, lies in their unprecedented commitment to end the show once and for all after three more 16-episode seasons. If they already have the endpoint in mind and know where the target is they have to hit and when, then maybe they have a shot at getting us there in one piece.

After this stunning season, I’ll certainly be there for every single step.

Favorite Episodes Other Than the Season Finale:
“The Brig”/“The Man Behind the Curtain”—These two ran back-to-back. In the first, Locke and Sawyer work out some Daddy issues; in the second, we get a look at Ben’s history.

2. “Arrested Development”
For about, oh, the past decade I thought no comedy could ever possibly come close to my love for “Seinfeld.” Well, this year “Arrested Development” sure made a run at it. I blame a combination of poor marketing by Fox (they should have played up the dry wit as much as the loony elements in the commercials) and tough timeslot competition (originally Sunday nights opposite “Alias”) for missing this show when it first aired, but I made up for lost time this summer on DVD. Certainly not since Larry David left “Seinfeld” has a show been better written than “AD,” and with such fully developed and iconic characters (Will Arnett’s G.O.B. is my favorite). This show packs more jokes and gut-busting laughs into 20 minutes than any I’ve ever seen—you have to watch each episode at least twice in hopes of even catching the majority of them. All three seasons are gold, Jerry, gold.

Favorite Episode: “The One Where They Build the House” (Season 2)—Tobias dresses as a Blue Man to spy on his wife, Lindsey. What else needs be said?

3. “Dexter”
It must take some twisted minds to make a serial killer seem sympathetic, but such is the case with this wonderfully gruesome and morally gray Showtime drama starring Michael C. Hall (“Six Feet Under”). Hall is Dexter, a charming and, yes, likeable serial killer whose foster father taught him to control and sate his bloodthirsty urges by living according to “The Code of Harry”—meaning, only attack and chop up bad people who’ve managed to avoid the law (Dexter works for the Miami Police Department as a blood-spatter specialist, no less!). This show gives you everything: Gripping drama, emotionally resonant characters, probing moral questions, heart-pounding suspense, mindbending mystery, and even a chuckle now and again. Certainly one of the best series on TV—if you can get past the sliced and diced bodies, of course.

Favorite Episode: “Shrink Wrap” (Season 1)—As a longtime “Sopranos” fan, maybe I’m just a sucker for therapy-themed shows (as you’ll also see in No. 4). This ep puts Dex on the couch to great effect. Plus, Lauren Velez’s work as Lt. Laguerta is absolutely outstanding. PLUS, the hour ends with a tremendous reveal about the Ice Truck Killer. Yes, it’s a killer episode.

4. “Bones”
I didn’t pick up on this delightful show (is that really the right term for a series about decayed skeletons?) until this fall, but it’s become an instant favorite. This stems primarily from the dynamic duo of co-stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz (Angel from “Buffy”), who admirably pick up the Mulder/Scully baton, albeit with a lighter mood. Deschanel plays the title character, otherwise known as Dr. Temperance Brennan, a brilliant and beautiful forensic anthropologist who specializes in, you guessed it, bones; Boreanaz is her FBI agent partner, Seeley Booth (what a great name!), who calls Bones in to solve crimes involving skeletal remains. Though Bones and Booth uncover a carcass-related mystery each week, it’s their crackling chemistry and lightning wit that make “Bones” more than just another “CSI” (Boreanaz says they improv together every weekend to hone their repartee). In true Fox “fair and balanced” fashion, the two investigators typically take up opposite sides of a given issue and debate the philosophy while working the puzzle. Bones, the atheist scientist, tends toward the humanist response, whereas Booth, a devout Catholic, comes from a more spiritual and—dare I say the evil word?—conservative perspective. The great thing about the show is that rarely does it make a judgment either way; the lead characters present their arguments to each other and, thus, the audience as well, and the writers deftly leave it up to us to decide who we agree with more. Who knew decaying corpses could be so entertaining? And, to top it all off: The show is set in D.C.!

Favorite Episode: “The Secret in the Soil” (Season 3)—Again, another shrink-themed installment. This one puts Bones and Booth in front of young Dr. Lance Sweets (dubbed “Sweets” for short, by Booth), and forces a revealing look at their relationship. A strong runner-up goes to the Halloween-themed episode, though—somebody needs to cast Deschanel in the Wonder Woman movie because she looks perfect in that outfit (see below)!

5. “The Office” (American version)
I was opposed to this show back when it debuted in 2005 because, as a big fan of the original British version, I simply wasn’t interested in a bad American knockoff. And that notion certainly wasn’t helped at all whenever I caught pieces of this “Office” over the past few years, because American star Steve Carell shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as the original “Office” star Ricky Gervais (even though, technically, I did just mention them in the same sentence). I was pressured into watching the American version by friends, though, and after giving it a fair shake (all of Season 2 on DVD and, concurrently, this fall’s start to Season 4), I definitely grew to like it and understand why so many others do, too. Make no mistake: I still cannot stand Carell’s Michael Scott, and he isn’t anywhere close to the same league as Gervais’ David Brent. Here’s the key difference: Gervais played Brent as smarmy and uncouth; Carell plays Scott as smarmy and just dumb. As every “Office” fan I’ve ever talked to has told me, I can now confirm: It’s the rest of the cast and the characters they play that make this “Office” worth watching—and downright addicting. Pam, Jim, Dwight, Stanley, Toby … every single person in that building is funny in their own way, and had me laughing uproariously this fall. Unfortunately, since Carell’s the big star, he gets the majority of the screen time. Here’s hoping he gets tired of slumming in TV and moves exclusively to feature films, because much like his character, this “Office” would keep right on tickin’ without him.

Favorite Episode: “The Injury” (Season 2)—Michael burns his foot in his George Foreman Grill, and Dwight goes to rescue him. Tears-down-the-cheeks hilarity ensues.

6. “Flight of the Conchords”
How can you resist Bret and Jemaine, otherwise known as Flight of the Conchords—New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody duo? These two lovable, doe-eyed morons delivered the best new comedy of the year, along with their even more clueless manager Murray (“New Zealand: Why not?”), and uber fan/stalker Mel. The key to the show is the contrast between Bret and Jemaine’s low-key, monotone real-life personalities and the extraordinary expressiveness they display during their inner monologue songs. “Business Time,” “Bowie’s in Space,” “What You’re In To” … every episode had at least one instant classic. So glad the show was picked up for another season.

Favorite Episode: “Mugged,” which featured Bret and Jemaine in their gangsta rap personalities, “Rhymenoceros” and “Hiphopopotamus,” whose rhymes are bottomless …

7. “Entourage”
“Entourage” may have leaned a bit too far toward the drama and away from the yuks, but the series gets massive credit for delivering, on the whole, entertainment of the highest quality for five straight months—a marathon in HBO’s world. Jeremy Piven remains the No. 1 reason to watch this show, but this year it got back to examining the underbelly deals of Hollywood. What I love about “Entourage,” other than the sparkling (if profane) dialogue, is the education it provides. My brother and I talk about this all the time: Watching this show, you come away feeling like you know a lot more about the business. And its writing staff continues to live right on the cutting edge of current trends and hot-button issues; just days after featuring a weed “doctor” in an episode, for example, a real-life huckster of the same ilk got busted in California. And in 2009, Javier Bardem will star in “Killing Pablo,” about, yep, Pablo Escobar, whom Vinny Chase portrays in the fictional biopic “Medellin.”

Favorite Episodes: Since “Entourage”—in HBO’s insane math—actually gave us two seasons this year, I gotta include two episodes. First, Season 4 premiere “Welcome to the Jungle” was a revelation in half-hour comedy filmmaking, as it took us on-set documentary-style for the production of “Medellin” (and provided one of the best Johnny Drama scenes ever). Second, “The WeHo Ho,” where Ari has to cover for Lloyd (the best secondary character on TV. Period.) so the loyal assistant can get out of trouble with his boyfriend and come back to work.

8. “The Sopranos”
After a disappointing 2006 run, the legendary HBO mob drama did return to form this year—for a while, anyway.

Favorite Episode: “Remember When,” Uncle Junior’s coup de grace.


1. “24”
No surprise here. Despite a few moments of grace here and there (the fight near the end of the season between Jack and the big bad terrorist was one of the best action scene of the series), this show experienced a rather stunning fall after 2006’s Emmy-winning Day 5. Day 7 isn’t off to a great start, either, what with multiple rewrites, Keifer Sutherland’s DUI arrest/jail time, and now postponed production due to the Writers Guild strike. I’m starting to think Jack Bauer isn’t the only one cursed.

Worst Episode: Wow, so many to choose from. I’ll go with the fourth episode of the season, “9:00-10:00 AM,” because the end of this installment is where the whole season started to go wrong. Up to this point, things were pretty good, what with Jack back from the clutches of the Chinese and dealing with the ramifications of his captivity and torture. But toward the end ***SPOILER ALERT*** Jack kills fellow CTU agent Curtis Manning, a choice that also proved fatal for the writers this season. Too many likeable characters were killed in too quick a time (going back to Day 5), leaving a huge vacuum in the show’s empathy quotient and too much screen time for weak members of the series (I’m looking right at you Morris!). And then to top it all off, the freakin’ nuclear bomb goes off in Valencia. This was WAY too early for such a dramatic event, and it established a plot hole so massive, not even the fantasy world of “24” could overcome it: There just wasn’t enough fallout after the bomb. For the most part, life in “24’s” California went on as if nuclear bombs go off all the time. Yes, this episode was the first step into Day 6’s abyss.

2. “Heroes”
I never fell head-over-heels for “Heroes” (it was always a bit too self-aware of its own mythology) but it was one of my favorite shows of 2006. Everything was going all right this year, too, right up until the final three episodes. Creator Tim Kring probably should have just stopped with the excellent time-warp-to-the-future episode “Five Years Gone,” because the show plummeted after that.

Worst Episode: “How to Stop an Exploding Man,” the Season 1 finale. So, so, so awful on every conceivable level. This episode was so bad, I immediately gave up on the series the second the credits started rolling, and haven’t watched it since. Good thing, too, since Kring gave Entertainment Weekly an exclusive interview a few weeks back frankly admitting how much Season 2 has sucked. Points for honesty, but nowhere near enough to bring me back.

3. “The Sopranos”
The finale sucked, plain and simple. Reiterating thoughts brought up by “No Country for Old Men,” I’m not one who needs everything tied up in a nice, tidy bow. But there are ways to do no resolution (see the series finale of “Deadwood,” for example) … and then there’s cutting to a black screen in the middle of a scene. It was cheap, gimmicky, and a deliberate F-you from David Chase. Which I guess shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Worst Episode: “Kennedy and Heidi” not only featured the stupid and unsatisfying death of my favorite “Sopranos” character, but it also provided the series’ last infamous Tony dream sequence. You either like these or you don’t. I do not.

4. “PTI”
The budding TV fame and success of co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon has not been good for this duo. With a year of “Monday Night Football” under his belt, Kornheiser is even more of an insufferable arrogant snob than ever—it used to be funny, now it’s just annoying. Wilbon’s on TV more and more now, too, which has relegated him to little more than talking-head status alongside his longtime buddy—the likes of which they’ve both abhorred and decried for years. When “PTI” first came on the air six years ago, both of these guys were still working regularly as columnists for The Washington Post; there were out there, down in the trenches. Now Kornheiser doesn’t write at all, and Wilbon only occasionally as they get sucked deeper and deeper into the ESPN bubble. Losing what little touch with reality they may have had working in the Post newsroom on a regular basis hasn’t been good for either of them and their groundbreaking sports debate show. Don’t get me wrong: I still watch it, but they’re both so full of themselves now, “PTI” has lost its singular humor, charm, and edge (they both suck up to everybody now, and Wilbon only gets animated about issues that don’t matter). Now I look forward to the days when the Miami Herald’s Dan le Betard subs for one of them, because he still gets it.

5. “Football Night in America”
I absolutely hate this show. It was in Week 1 of this season, I think, when I looked at the screen and realized there isn’t a single person on this Sunday-night recap show that I don’t despise, especially with the additions of the insufferable Keith Olbermann (who may actually be the Worst Person in the World) and Tiki Barber. All I want on Sunday nights is HIGHLIGHTS—and a lot of them. Since the NFL banned ESPN from running the infinitely superior “NFL Prime Time,” now all I get on NBC is 30 seconds of footage and 3 minutes of talking heads for each game. “Football Night in America” needs more actual football, because its current version is horrendous.

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