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May 13, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | May 13, 2006 |

So over the last couple of weeks, folks have been throwing up (both figuratively and literally) their 2005 television lists — 10 best shows, 10 worst shows, 10 best one-liners, 10 sexiest characters, 10 best waxed assholes, etc. Well, I certainly don’t want to be left out of the fold, so here’s my list. I don’t have much to say by way of an introduction, because I think Dustin has summed up my feelings perfectly — you can read his introduction here, and you might as well read the list while you’re there (and while I wouldn’t even think about ranking Munich behind Cinderella Man, I’ll leave that debate to the Pajiba movie-folks). Anyway, I decided there were enough “best of” and “worst of” lists, so instead, I present you with:

The TV Whore’s 10 Random Things about the Year in Television That Was

Wherein the TV Whore waxes, probably not so poetic, about 10 things he thinks about the last year of television.

Item the First — Say “Adios,” Muchacho.

A lot of shows chose to retire or had their asses cancelled this year. But there are four that I feel like specifically mentioning (and I won’t be including “Arrested Development” because it’s not officially dead yet and I’ve already ranted quite enough about its status and apparently offended many of the Middle-America monkeys, to boot!).

“Everybody Loves Raymond.” OK, I didn’t love Raymond, I never loved Raymond, I didn’t get the people who did love Raymond, so buh-bye buddy. Don’t let my TiVo remote hit your ass on the way out.

“Reunion.” The few people I know who tried watching this high-concept “drama” gave up because of the piss-poor plot, the disastrous dialogue, the atrocious acting, or some combination of the above alliteration. But I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did — about four episodes in, the terribleness of it passed from the realm of really bad to hilariously bad. Nobody believes me, but at the time this show was yanked, it was one of the funniest shows on the tube. Fox has refused to air the four-or-so episodes that are still in the can and I, for one, would totally rent, if not purchase, a DVD of them — not to find out anything more about the so-called plot or the murder mystery, but simply for more laughs. Comic gold, I tells you.

“Threshold.” I love me some aliens. I love me some good sci-fi. I love me some Carla Gugino. So when “Threshold” started, I loved me some “Threshold.” The pilot was great — good plot with lots of fighting-the-alien-conspiracy potential, a fantastic cast, solid dialogue. But it quickly got very repetitive, in just the 10 or so episodes that aired. To wit, aliens show up in some city, aliens do something in an attempt to mass-convert regular Joes into aliens, the Threshold people catch aliens, rinse, dry, repeat. So although I’m kind of sad to see it go, I’m not sure that it was going to live up to its potential and I’ve accepted the loss and am steadfastly moving on.

“Six Feet Under.” The first two seasons of this show were fantastic, the third season slumped a little and I was not much of a fan of the fourth season. But the fifth and final season just got better and better as it chugged along, from the cock-tease of Nate’s death (narm!) one week to his quiet death the next, on through to the super series finale. I’d put the last 10 minutes of that finale up against any series finale — it was simply the perfect way to end the show, and I’m so glad “Six Feet Under” went out on a high note. Unlike many deaths, we won’t have to ignore the crap at the end of the show’s life in order to conjure up fond memories of the way it was. Well done, Alan Ball, and Godspeed on whatever you’re going to bring us next.

Item the Second — Keeping Up the Good Fight.

I can think of four particular shows that I hoped against hope would not hit a sophomore slump this season, and each has carried its first season mantle in admirable fashion (and while two of the four are only halfway home at this point, there’s every reason to believe they’ll continue on in fine form).

“Deadwood.” If you cocksuckers watch this show, you know why I’m including it. And if you don’t, then you’re a bunch of no-good dirt worshippers who should have one last drink and then go fuck yourselves (and speaking of “Deadwood,” the single best television article this whole year was a May article from Salon’s Heather Havrilesky (who rules, by the way), wherein the entire article was written in “Deadwood” speak — if you haven’t read it, go do so now!).

“Veronica Mars.” This year saw a great end to Veronica’s first season, and a just-as-strong start to her second. I was worried about the season-long mystery before the second season premiere — how can you get more dark than having Veronica trying to solve her best friend’s murder and her own rape? Well, throwing a bus full of kids off a cliff seems to do the trick! Mixed in with the same witty and cheeky dialogue and characterizations that made the first season so enjoyable, this show continues to be one of the most entertaining things out there.

“Rescue Me.” I’ve always loved Dennis Leary — he reminds me of one of those asshole guys who I was friends with in high school even though I knew he was a total asshole. I can’t explain it. But “The Job,” Leary’s short-lived cop show, really got things started for him and writing partner Peter Tolan, and “Rescue Me” has moved them to another, more mature level. The dialogue is oftentimes hilarious, the storylines are poignant without being overly sappy, and the acting is great from top to bottom. The cast has been fantastic, and switching up Leary’s hallucinations from fire victims to Jesus, Mary, et al. was hilariously brilliant (and much better executed, I suspect, than the upcoming “Book of Daniel”). This show is top-notch, and if you missed the first two seasons, do some DVD catch-up.

“The Office.” By the end of the short-run first season, this show had managed to overcome my skepticism by not trying to be the British version and, instead, creating its own creature out of the original’s tone and style. With a full-ordered second season, the show has managed to really find its groove, and episodes like the one with the office Olympics and the Christmas party are showing how good this show has become and how much continued potential for funniness it’s got.

Item the Third — The Resurrection.

Unlike many people I know, I stuck with “The West Wing” through every bloody season, every single damn episode, fondly remembering the early Sorkin days when this show was really something. The 2003-2004 season was utterly abysmal, but I stuck with it anyway, for no good reason other than I’m a TV Whore and it’s hard for me to quit a show that I’ve put out for. But something started to happen last season, as the focus pulled back from the White House and shifted to the campaign trail. It started getting interesting. As the second half of last season pumped along earlier this year, I found myself actually enjoying the show again. And this season, it’s been even better. To be sure, it’s not what it once was, and I think Sorkin is still missed (my anticipation for his upcoming “Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip” holds no bounds), but it’s again become a show I look forward to watching, and I can’t wait to find out how things play out (although the end game of a President Santos has been all but certain since early last season, it’ll be fun to see how they get there, and it will be morbidly fascinating to see how they resolve John Spencer’s untimely death).

Item the Fourth — In Need of Some Resurrection.

While “The West Wing” spent the 2005 year pulling its bootstraps up and getting back down to business, two other shows slipped further down the well.

“The O.C.” I’ve talked about the problems with this one before, and this season hasn’t really righted the ship. Although I’m still watching, I’m not really enjoying, and I fear for this show’s future — I don’t think bringing a trampy mini-Cooper back from boarding school or wherever the hell she was is going to get the job done.

“Nip/Tuck.” After the third season’s Carver-revealing finale, I almost wrote a long article ranting about how pissed I was with the third season and its final two-hour culmination. But I found I couldn’t properly express my ire, and so I seethed in internet anonymity instead. And I still can’t quite express my feelings for this season, but suffice it to say that it feels like it’s gotten too gory and over-the-top solely for the sake of being gory and over-the-top and it’s lost some underlying element it had the first two seasons. And as for the Carvers’ identity, come on — they had to resort to a 10-minute exposition from Kit just to explain it all, like in a bad Bond movie. That’s just cheap. Plus, with last year’s season-finale surprise of Eva being a post-op tranny, this year’s similar “surprise” that Quentin didn’t have any man-junk just wasn’t that good (in fact, the best part about it was the twenty minutes I spent online reading about the fascinating alpha-5 reductase deficiency disorder that he had). I hope this show improves next year, but I suspect that it’s had one botox injection too many.

Item the Fifth — Off to a Fine Start.

While there have been a bunch of new shows this year, most are crap. But there are three, in particular, that I’m real pleased with so far. I’m not including “Weeds” only because it’s discussed down below, and I’m not including “Criminal Minds” because, even though I surprisingly find myself loving the show, there’s nothing special to it — it’s just a decently solid show. But these three shows have a little something special.

“Everybody Hates Chris.” I may have hated Raymond, but I most assuredly do not hate Chris. Even if this show was just more standard sitcom fare, I’d dig it just for the great music (it’s the only television show I can actively recall ever using Newcleus’ “Jam On It,” a staple of my childhood). But it’s not just more standard sitcom fare — while not as boundary-pushing or edgy as it would be if it aired 10 or 15 years ago, it’s still fresh and funny, with just enough heart to give it substance. And Chris Rock’s narration is funny as all-can-do (really, he could probably read off cereal ingredients and I would be pleased as punch).

“My Name is Earl.” Although I don’t have a total man-crush on Jason Lee, I may be a little man-smitten with him, and I was very excited about this show. So far, it’s supported that pre-season excitement. Although I could use a little less schmaltz at the end, when he completes his karmic good deed, I won’t complain as long as the laughs keep coming. Oh, and like “Chris,” this show also makes fantastic use of the music (“Cherry Pie” was not merely a childhood staple of mine, but it was my driveway shoveling soundtrack). And for what it’s worth, “Earl,” is responsible for my favorite sitcom quote of the year — “hey Crab Man’s moms!”

“Rome.” Although this sucker started off slow as can be, it managed a strong build-up over the course of the season, and by the end, I was as addicted as I’ve been to any other good HBO show. The brutal murder of Gaius Julius Caesar in the season finale was as shocking as anything out there … whuzzat? … everyone knew he would be murdered? … oh, er … right. Well, knowing his murder would be coming actually helped the drama of the finale, as the anticipation of it slowly mounted much like the whole first season. I’m firmly hooked now and can’t wait to see the Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and Augustus/Octavio-fueled drama of next season (although the real heart of the show will presumably, and justifiably, remain with Vorenus and Pullo).

Item the Sixth — The Other It’s-Not-TV Network.

HBO isn’t the only cable network out there worth its salt in original TV programming anymore. F/X has certainly made the leap and, back in 2003, I suspected that Showtime might be making the leap, with the darkly amusing “Dead Like Me” and the spectacularly under-watched “Out of Order.” Well, I think it’s time to officially welcome Showtime to the club. “Sleeper Cell,” the just-finished show/mini-series, was really good, and having it fresh on the brain will create a strong hurdle for the upcoming season of “24” to jump. But it’s another show that’s really responsible for Showtime’s new TV cred.

“Weeds.” The first time I heard the premise of this show, a suburbanite widow selling pot to make ends meet, I immediately suspected it was more likely to be chronic than skunk. But I didn’t think it would be so good that it would blow “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Extras” out of the water as my favorite cable comedy. But that’s just what it did. Cannot wait for the second season, and in any universe that is just, it will be followed by the only better comedy on TV, “Arrested Development.” While you’re out there picking up those “Rescue Me” DVD’s, snag these too, would you?

Item the Seventh — Crazy Is as Crazy Does.

“Chappelle’s Show” … sigh.

Item the Eighth — Some Shows are Great Despite the Fact that They’re Really Not All That Great.

There are two shows that I’m watching right now that aren’t great, but that I absolutely love anyway. First, there’s “Prison Break.” It’s totally over-the-top and makes me long for the late, great, over-the-top “Oz,” but it’s still wildly entertaining. Not sure that Fox made the best idea in kicking such a popular show off the schedule until March, but I suppose we’ll see.

The other show I’m throwing in here, I debated for a while. I really love this show a lot, so that wasn’t the issue. The question I found myself facing was whether the show was really that good. And I’ve decided that I don’t think “Grey’s Anatomy” really is all that good, but I don’t care, ‘cause it’s a great show anyway. The dialogue is what makes it a winner. The medical plots are quickly getting totally ridiculous, and the relationship drama (particularly between the annoying Meredith and Dr. McDreamy) is totally drawn-out and cheesy. But the show just has that something that makes it entertaining despite itself. Things like having George quoting The Silence of the Lambs (“it puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again”) while giving relationship advice, solid comedic timing, and an excellent use of music keep the show fresh enough that I don’t mind any of its flaws and actively look forward to new episodes.

Item the Ninth — I Just Don’t Fucking Get It.

I tried watching “How I Met Your Mother” and couldn’t make it past two episodes. Half a season later, it keeps getting love from folks all over the place, and I just don’t get it. Sure, Neil Patrick Doogie’s character was amusing, and the rest of the cast is pretty decent, but it just felt like a weak standard-fare sitcom with punch lines that were either obvious or not that funny. Someone please explain to me why I should consider re-adding a Season Pass for this on my TiVo, ‘cause (not to be too repetitive here) I just don’t get it.

Item the Tenth — Reality TV Isn’t Supposed to Be, Like, Real.

I love a lot of the reality TV. As long as “Survivor” is on, no matter how much it sucks, I’ll watch it. Ditto for “The Amazing Race” (although I’ll never watch a family edition again!) and any “Real World/Road Rules” competition show on MTV (seriously, these are the highest of high comedy). But this year, there were two reality shows that were a little too real.

“American Idol.” To be fair, I’m not talking about the show itself because, from start to finish, it’s about as manufactured as you can get. I’m talking about the whole Corey Clark/Paula Abdul “controversy” from last spring. Seriously, I want my reality shows to stay within the realm of their own pretext. When “Primetime Live” is doing specials on Clark’s allegations, you know things have just gone too far. Add in the fact that last season sucked, and I say a big “boooo” to “American Idol.” Of course, I’ll still watch this crap when it starts anew in a couple of weeks (mainly because I can’t bear to not know about something in pop culture and, for better or worse, this show remains in the pop-culturosphere), although thankfully TiVo makes it infinitely more bearable (the results show becomes a breezy two-minute view).

“Breaking Bonaduce.” Yikes. When I first started watching this, I thought it was hilarious. But it just got more painful to watch as it went on, as this horribly dysfunctional couple tried to cope with Danny literally getting closer and closer to the brink each week. I want my reality TV light and fluffy, with the characters so flawed in non-serious ways (think every MTV reality show) that I don’t have to feel bad enjoying their exploitation. “Breaking Bonaduce” was a bit much for me.

Item the Bonus — TV Itself.

I want to step back from talking about shows for a second, to make a comment about that thing that shows us the shows. Even though I’ve had an LCD television for about five months now, I hadn’t bothered to get the HD cable box for it. Absolutely no good reason for this, and it’s actually surprising because I’m a total tech/gadget geek who generally leaps onto some fun new technology quicker than a homeless guy on a mostly-smoked-but-not-quite-finished cigarette butt.

But this past week, as I celebrated the holidays with some good friends and their 42” plasma television full of high-def goodness, I became a total convert. The first thing I did, upon returning to D.C., was to bum-rush the Comcast offices to get my HD box. While it’s admittedly at its best with sports (I’m currently watching the Orange Bowl as I type this [go Nittany Lions!] and it’s like I’m actually on the field getting my ass kicked by guys nine years younger than me), more and more shows are being broadcast in HDTV, and they’re delicious. With the price of HD-capable televisions quickly dropping to the range where normal humans can purchase them, I expect more and more shows will move into the HD realm, and I can’t recommend enough that, if you really enjoy the TV, you gotta get yourself some HD.

This message was not brought to you by any HD company but, if Phillips or Samsung or Sony wanted to throw a nice, big plasma my way, myself and my living room would be very grateful.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He lives in Washington, D.C., and couldn’t be happier that summer “intern season” is finally here.

Ten Random Things About the Year In Television / Seth Freilich

January 10, 2006

TV | May 13, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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