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January 10, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | January 10, 2007 |

There’s little doubt that the 2006 was the year of serial TV. During the upfronts, all the networks listed new serial after bloody new serial, all the while wearing big, fat horse-blinders so as to ignore the extensive criticism that there was such a thing as too … much … serial. Fast-forward to the fall, and those blinders just weren’t working anymore, as the networks were forced to face the truth that there is such a thing as too … much … serial. Which of course meant that we saw a bunch of those freshman serials getting put out to pasture quick as can be — some deserved the fast plug (“Vanished”), others, not so much (“Kidnapped,” “Daybreak”).

But the deluge and subsequent failure of many of the serialized dramas isn’t the only thing that happened this year, of course. We did manage to get some strong new shows worthy of continued viewing (“Dexter,” “30 Rock,” “Big Love,” “Friday Night Lights”). We saw some of our old favorites get back on track after losing their way (“24,” “Nip/Tuck,” “The O.C “). We said goodbye to our favorite comedy (“Arrested Development”). And we saw an inauspicious dismissal of one of our favorite dramas (“Deadwood” — and I’ll believe in those two wrap-up movies when I see ‘em).

As with last year, I’m going to skip a “best of” or “worst of” list of shows, ‘cause the internets is full of plenty of them, and if you’re an even semi-regular reader of this column, you could probably figure out my lists anyway. Instead, I’m just going to hand out some random honorifics to the television year that was 2006.

Best Finale. In terms of a season finale, there’s really no question here. We’re talking about “Battlestar Galactica,” kids. The choice to flash-forward a year was a ballsy move, to be sure, and it’s one that pissed off and worried a good hunk of the fan-base. Personally, I loved the decision, and it had me immensely excited for the third season. But I also loved how pissed off others were about it. Everyone had an opinion about the thing, and most of those opinions were backed by lots of passion. And getting fans riled up is exactly what a great season finale should do.

Meanwhile, there’s also no question about what the best series finale was. The demise of “Arrested Development” was a long time coming, to be sure, and its last breath didn’t hurt any less than we thought it would. But at least the Bluths went out with as much style as they could. The finale was absolutely loaded with the types of in-jokes and humor that fans had grown to love and it made for a fitting and satisfying conclusion to one of the best comedies ever. But for fuck’s sake, when the hell are we going to get our Bob Loblaw spin-off already?

Biggest Disappointment of the Fall Season. I’ve got a three-way tie here. Based purely on the pilot and the excitement the pilot generated (for me at least), the biggest disappointment was “The Nine.” While I had my questions about whether they could succeed with this show, I really liked most of the cast and I found the first 15 minutes to be utterly engrossing (and the rest to be solid enough). Clearly, however, my questions about success were well-founded and, unfortunately, prescient. The dialogue never got better, the gimmick did get old quick, and the writing was plodding. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that of poor Tim Daly’s career. He’s managed to shed any “Wings”-related baggage and put out consistently solid performances, here, in “The Sopranos” and in last year’s too-short “Eyes,” but he still doesn’t have anything long-lived to show for it. One of these days, Tim, one of these days.

The second big fall disappointment, this time based on the underlying premise, has got to be “Jericho.” A nuclear holocaust leaves a town left wondering about what happened and if it’s the last place on Earth … how the hell do you botch this up as much as “Jericho” has? Sure, casting Skeet Skeet Skeet Ulrich was a fantastic first step. But they should’ve been able to get by that. Alas, more shitty writing and a lack of focus has left this show sputtering. And it’s only going to get worse, I hate to tell you — word has it that when the show returns next month, they’re going to focus less on the big story and more on: 1) a suspicious neighboring town; and 2) the mysterious black guy’s business. Yes, less focus on the big nuke story is totally what this show needs. I think I’m officially done with this one now.

But the flat-out biggest disappointment of the season has got to be “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Of course, it was burdened with ridiculously high expectations — with Aaron Sorkin at the helm and a talented and well-rounded cast walking-and-talking, folks were expecting the best of “Sports Night” mixed with the brilliance of early “The West Wing,” and there’s just no way Sorkin could meet these expectations. And it certainly hasn’t. More disappointing still, the show has fallen short of even being a great show. At its best, it’s a decent show (and sometimes it doesn’t even get quite that high). I continue to watch because there are still some solid moments here and there, but I can only do this because I’ve come to grips with my disappointment and moved past it.

Best New Show. There were a couple of real contenders here. If it weren’t for increasingly grueling dialogue, “Heroes” might have been a viable option, but with the shit that comes out of those characters’ mouths, it really doesn’t have a dog in this fight (I’m still enjoying the show, don’t get me wrong, I just wish the writing would ratchet it up a notch or three). The two viable options that just missed the mark are Showtime’s “Dexter” and HBO’s “Big Love.” When I initially reviewed “Dexter,” I had some concerns about it but, happily, it placated every one of them. By the end of the season it was a surprisingly light (given the serial-killer subject matter) show and a real showcase for Michael C. Hall. Can’t wait to see what they do with the second season. And ditto that, plus some, for “Big Love,” another show that goes off the beaten path with regard to its subject matter yet nevertheless manages to keep everything grounded and relatable. In fact, I’m much more excited about the upcoming second season of “Love” than I am about the also upcoming, much-heralded run of “The Sopranos.”

But all that love for serial killers and polygamists aside, the true best new show is “Friday Night Lights.” I never would’ve guessed that a network show would be able to beat out two great pay shows, since Showtime and HBO just generally tend to do things better (and it’s not just because they can say “fuck” and show titties, though these things don’t hurt). But sumbitch if NBC didn’t put together one hell of a show. Ostensibly a football show, “FNL” is really about family life in small-town America, about class struggle, about all the usual growing pains that high school kids face, etc. It’s a dense and rich show, with excellent writing and even better acting (Kyle Chandler, in particular, has been knocking it out of the park all season). Just a great show. And while I fully expect it won’t see a second season, I’m just glad as hell that NBC is giving us a full run this year. I don’t know how many times I can tell you this — if you’re not watching it, get going.

Biggest Resurgence. Several shows lost their way over the past couple of seasons but managed to pick themselves back up this year. For “Survivor,” CBS totally missed the mark with its lame “divide the tribes by race” beginning, but the second half of the season was as entertaining as the show has been in a good while. “Nip/Tuck” similarly regained some of the fun it lost during the Carved-out third season, although it’s still not back to season-one or -two form. But “24” did get itself back to season-one form, delivering a tight and fun run (although it was still over-lauded by everyone, in my opinion, because at the end of the day, it’s still just fluff). Similarly, “Lost” saw the errors of its second season and … oh no, wait a minute, it got worse. Never mind on that one — fuck “Lost.”

But the biggest (and most surprising) resurgence has been the current run of “The O.C.” With Marissa’s baggage fully gone, the fourth season has been moving along in fine fashion. The best thing about the first season was its wit and humor, and those are both back again, thanks in no small part to the addition of Taylor as a regular character. In fact, “The O.C.” is one of the shows I’m most enjoying right now, and I’m really happy to see the show going out on a high note (and not at all bummed about its cancellation because I suspect this quality wouldn’t hold over the long term, so better to go out high than crawl away low).

Best Miniseries. Last year, the best miniseries was easily Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell.” While this year’s follow-up, “Sleeper Cell: American Terror,” wasn’t quite as good, it was still compelling as hell and, more importantly, absolutely better than anything “24” has thrown at us in its five seasons. But “American Terror” doesn’t get the top miniseries honor this year, because FX’s “Thief” was better. Andre Braugher, who’s always been a solid actor, gave a finely layered performance in a dark show that was, as I said in my original review, almost more of a character piece than anything else. It’s a shame that “Thief” didn’t manage strong enough ratings to possibly get turned into a series, but that failure doesn’t detract from the overwhelmingly strong quality of this puppy. If FX ever reruns it or puts it out on DVD, there are many worse ways you could spend six hours.

Best Laughs. Since “Arrested Development” is, sadly, no more of this mortal coil, it gets an honorary nod here, but moves aside to make room for someone else. Now “South Park” comes real close to getting the win, because when it hits, it’s strong as hell. And there have been several great episodes this year. But there were also a couple that felt a little light (though still better than 90 percent of the other comedies out there), and the run, as a whole, just didn’t feel quite as consistent as some other years. Still a great show, mind you, just with a couple of minor hiccups along the way. An even closer runner-up here was “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” While I enjoyed the first season and chuckled along with it, I didn’t love it. But things really clicked with the second season — it was much tighter, the writing was stronger, there was a bit more characterization and separation between the three male leads, and Danny DeVito was just fantastic. I laughed my ass off during the whole run and, in fact, probably enjoyed it more than my prior favorite non-network comedies, “Weeds” and “Entourage” (which isn’t meant as a sling against either of them as “Entourage“‘s third season was solid and “Weeds”’ second season was fantastic).

But “Sunny” doesn’t get the win simply because I laugh more at “The Office.” Consistently. Probably to the utter annoyance of all my neighbors (thin walls in my apartment and all that). I laugh so hard that I typically have to pause the DVR at least twice an episode so as not to miss something while I continue laughing. This show is just solid, solid comedy. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

Worst Network Bungling. Lots of networks bungled all sorts of shit this year. NBC gave up on “Kidnapped” too early but then promised fans it would finish out in the Saturday night graveyard, only to then renege on this promise and yank the show entirely. ABC likewise promised that “Daybreak” would get a proper end-run online, which is better than nothing, only to pull any reference to the show from its site and claim that there was some type of music clearance issue holding things up. The CW continued the losing ways of its prior network incarnations, only putting two new shows on the air and pulling one of them (“Runaway”) less than a month after it premiered (and without looking it up, I don’t even remember what the other new show was, so I can’t say how it held up).

But the worst network bungling goes to, perhaps for the first time, HBO. First, they foisted the one-two anti-comedy punch of “Lucky Louie” and “Dane Cook’s Tourgasm” upon us. Then, they stuck a knife in our back and twisted the fuck out of it by deciding not to let “Deadwood” have its fourth and final season. This hurt all the more since so much of the third season (particularly the Brian Cox theater troop stuff) seemed to be gearing towards that fourth season, so without a proper conclusion, the decision actually detracted from the third season’s quality. And as I said in the intro, I’ll believe in the wrap-up movies when I’m actually watching them.

This isn’t the first time the network has made a misstep (seven inexplicable seasons of “Arli$$” anyone?), but it’s definitely the biggest set of mistakes the generally infallible network has ever made. The “comedy” shows were just disappointing, but that “Deadwood” debacle hurt, and left me wondering if I could ever fall back in love with HBO.

Best Show of the Year. Luckily, it didn’t take HBO long to win me back. season four of “The Wire” was simply everything that’s good about TV. This show has always been a perfectly acted, written, and paced drama, but everything seemed to step up a notch this season. The secondary political and drug-war storylines were as fascinating as ever, but the primary focus on the kids and education was simply brilliant. There are plenty of other shows I love, but there was no single show I anticipated more each week. Hell, they even killed off my favorite character (who I won’t name so as not to spoil it for the DVD folks), and while this would have brought out a rage in me on any other show, here it just brought out a sadness; but I have such faith in the show that I knew it was simply the way things had to be, and thus there was no anger.

Look, at this point, I’ll follow “The Wire” anywhere. And thankfully HBO at least learned a little something from the “Deadwood” bungling and is going to allow me to follow “The Wire” in its intended fifth-and-final season. All I know about that season, at this point, is that there’s going to be a significant focus on the media, but I don’t care. They could say, “Season five’s going to be all about the effect of different bowel movements on the Baltimore sanitation system,” and I’d say, “Bring on the poo.” Besides, I’d love to see what kind of damage Omar’s shits do to city plumbing.

And finally, because 1) it always nice to ring in the new year with a little sexism, and 2) I haven’t even made one specific reference to a TV chick being hot:

My Newest TV Hottie: Amanda from “Ugly Betty.” She’s yummy.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He’s too tired from writing this column to come up with anything clever to write here.

"If It Ain't a Serialized Drama, It Ain't Going on Our Network!" - 2006 Television in Review

Pajiba's Year in Review / The TV Whore
January 10, 2007

TV | January 10, 2007 |

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

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