January 5, 2009 | Comments ()

By Seth Freilich | TV | January 5, 2009 |


Rather than having someone post their meandering thoughts on the last year in television, we opted to have four people provide lots of meandering thoughts on the year in TV. Welcome to Pajiba’s Roundtable on the Television Year that Was.

Seth:

Looking back on the year in TV, my initial reaction was to label it underwhelming. The cloud of the writers’ strike left its stink on two seasons, fucking last spring up but good and rippling into the least “new” new fall season ever. Good freshman shows from last year came back for sophomore reboots this fall and, but for “Chuck,” pretty much wound up unable to defeat the cards stacked against them. New shows didn’t fare much better, with “The Mentalist” being the only true fall hit (although “Fringe” managed to do okay for itself). With the pay and free cable networks coming more and more into their own, the traditional networks are finding more and more trouble keeping weekly viewers. And then you’ve got DVDs and DVRs and the Net taking further bites out of weekly watchers, not to mention the general apathy I think the strike left many feeling.

And yet, when I started to really think on it, things weren’t so bad, were they? Sure, there was the same amount of crap there ever is, with “Knight Rider” leading the pack. But I don’t think there was more crap than usual. And the good stuff? We got to see the best show in the history of television (“The Wire”) bow out relatively gracefully. We saw another great drama (“The Shield”) end in, from what I understand, was one of the best series finales ever (I fully own my shame in not having watched this show yet). We saw a pop culture sensation (“Lost”) return from the depths of boredom (all the while another pop culture show (“Heroes”) dug itself deeper into a hole of meh from whence it’s likely never to return). “Mad Men,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Breaking Bad,” “30 Rock,” “Generation Kill,” “Dexter” … there was really a lot of good shit on this year.

I’m not one for top ten lists, but I think you could take those suckers and build a list that could go head to head with any other year. So fuck underwhelming — I think this was a rather outstanding year for television.

the-unit.jpgI’ll leave off my opening missive with this — of all the great shows listed above, I didn’t mention the show I actually most enjoyed watching this year. And much though I love “The Real World/Road Rules Challenge,” that’s not what I’m talking about. No — while not one of the best shows on TV, now or ever, I absolutely fucking love “The Unit.” It’s not consistent. Sometimes the women’s storylines are crap (but the gals are also sometimes given A-material and fucking knock it out). Sometimes the mission plots are a mess. But through and through, I find that the show has managed to do what few others have ever been able to consistently pull off (I’m pointing my finger right into your chest, “24”), by being a good action show. Smart, occasionally funny, well acted and almost always well written, with gripping action pieces and plots (both episodic and ongoing) that keep me from turning away. So many shows have become background noise for me now, something that’s on while I surf the net, pay my bills, put curlers in my hair, etc. But never with “The Unit.” (Except for when the credits kick in — damn it, CBS, give me back the kick-ass opening from the first couple of seasons!) Hell, I don’t even watch most of my reality television live anymore and yet I still watch this one live every week, unwilling to wait even 15 minutes so I can fast forward through commercials.

So that was my favorite show of the season. What about you?

Dan:

I’m with you, Seth, when you say that the stink of the WGA strike hung over the year in TV, but I think the strike actually wound up killing one of the best shows of last season, “Pushing Daisies.” The show’s balance of whimsy and death was always tough to pull off, but the series lost storytelling momentum — and, worse for its fate, viewers — when it left the air in fall 2007 having aired only nine episodes. Plotlines were dropped or tweaked by the time the show came back ten (!) months later, and as much as I’ve cared about the show, it just wasn’t the same. And now that creator Bryan Fuller’s moved over to “Heroes,” there’s no doubt about the show’s gloomy future. It’s a shame, too, since it was great and sweet and heartbreaking while it lasted. Oh well. We’ll always have the Pie Hole.

bunk.jpgI’ve spent enough time and space praising “Lost” as the best pop show on TV, and it is, so I’ll leave that alone for now. But this year did see the best show ever end its run. My children, I speak of “The Wire,” and to those who doubt its quality or status, I say to you: Wise up. Its first four seasons were outstanding television, and I would go mad trying to pick a favorite between Dookie, Hamsterdam, or Frank Sobotka. But I say that the show’s final season was just as strong, as well as the latest reminder that most of the shows worth watching these days are on cable. I admit that the central plot arc gets increasingly whatthefucky before things start to become clear, but I stand by creator David Simon, a howlingly bitter ex-newspaperman who’s too pissed at the laziness of modern American consumers and their complicity in the crimes that ravage the underclass to let the show end on a weak note. Even as the body count piles up, Simon doesn’t give the viewer the kind of classic shootout or wrap-up that fans knew wouldn’t fit in the first place. But by the end, as the finale entered the last season-ending montage of Bodymore, Murdaland that we’ll ever get, “The Wire” had grown to something epic and mythical, a sprawling and damning work of storytelling and social conscience. When friends ask me about my favorite show, or the best ever, I tell them that we have to talk as though “The Wire” never existed, because to compare it to other series wouldn’t be fair. It’s just too good.

I also developed, this year, a soft spot for cornball procedurals like “The Mentalist” and “Bones.” There’s something completely comforting about a show with no surprises that’s still shot and presented like you have no idea what will happen!, you know? Simon Baker and The Girl From The Craft are fun together, as are Angel and Older Deschanel over on “Bones.” Plus that show has John Francis Daley — yes, Sam frakkin’ Weir — as a psychiatrist, which means it deserves at least a couple of viewings out of nothing but loyalty. The shows aren’t great in the typical sense of the word we mean to use, well, great, but they are consistently watchable in that way that lets you zone out, do a load of laundry, check your mail, and still be alert enough to catch every cheesy zinger and last-minute “twist.” They’re comfort food, if comfort food came from Taco Bell.

I think I’ve hogged the table for long enough this round, and I haven’t even gotten to the shittacular happenings on “Battlestar Galactica” or the glory that was Liz Lemon’s high school reunion. Whoever wants next: Fire away.

Beckylooo:

Oh Seth, I’m not sure you’ve fully come to grips with just how shameful your lack of attention to “The Shield” actually is. If you were just some humdrum occasional watcher of the tele who claimed “The Unit” as your fave, I’d say, “You should check out Shawn Ryan’s first show, The Shield. You might like it.” But you co-publish a pop culture criticism site on which you’ve dubbed yourself “The TV Whore.” Take it back, sir. You are no whore. You are a garden variety golddigger. For a television critic to profess love for “The Unit” having made no effort to experience “The Shield” is like a rock critic saying, “Hey, I found this killer record called ‘Nashville Skyline’” while ignoring what he KNOWS to be the superior ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ I mean, seriously dude. Just stop writing about TV until you’ve put Season One at the top of your queue. Then you can send me a big thank you gift for enriching your life (preferably something I can wear to the inauguration, cause I got nothing).

Full disclosure, I worked on “The Shield” for three years, but I’d say this even if I didn’t have a deep emotional connection to the cast and crew: the finale was as perfect an ending as a story can hope for. Shawn and crew tended to each character with love and respect. Every note that needed to be hit was played pitch perfect. The ending was deeply satisfying without being pat. There were no bows tied. Life goes on (for most), complicated as ever. But it managed what “The Sopranos” didn’t — to leave our anti-hero’s melody unresolved without making the majority of the audience feel empty and angry. I won’t go into specifics as I have to assume there are many out there who’ve yet to see the show and it’s an ending that shouldn’t be spoiled (though once you get there, it’ll be clear there was no other way it could have gone down). Michael Chiklis is a mother fucking beast of an actor and though he won’t be nominated, he deserves another gold angel looking thingy for what he did in this final season.

And Mssr Carlson, were there seriously people who didn’t dig the final season of “The Wire”? If so, tell me where to find them so I can punch them in the face for having no taste, metaphorically speaking, of course. Speaking of the final season of “The Wire,” Seth … Clark Johnson (who played Baltimore Sun editor Gus Haynes) directed the pilot and the finale of “The Shield,” as well as a bunch of episodes in between. Which reminds me … Dan, you too should be ashamed. Shuheesh to both of yous.

As far as the rest of the year, I don’t have too much authority to comment. I missed much of the fall season due to the whole helping elect a president thing, which means I haven’t seen a stitch of “Friday Night Lights” (aka the dying hope for quality, unique, compelling network drama). In trying to catch up with what did make it onto the tivo, I’m finding myself totally bored. john-black.jpg“True Blood” is laughable thanks to the phony southern accents and a bunch of performances straight out of the John Black School for Acting with Your Jaw (how you go from “Six Feet Under” to Anna Paquin and vampires is beyond my powers of comprehension). Jimmy Smits’ facial hair makes “Dexter” almost unwatchable. “30 Rock”, while still funny, lost its groove, largely thanks to the comedy cancer that is Jennifer Aniston. Let’s see, what else is out there … I’ll stick with “Fringe” for my boyfriend Josh Jackson (I stuck with “Dawson’s Creek” all those years for the same reason. I loving referred to it as “Pacey’s Crack”). “The Office” is doing just fine for itself (though it’s become a bit like an old, worn out pair of cozy slippers - not quite as fuzzy as when you first bought em but comforting and warm nonetheless). While “Mad Men” is hands down the most beautiful TV show to ever grace the screen, it’s also the most overrated. Really, my favorite show right now is probably a toss up between “Ace of Cakes” and “18 Kids and Counting.”

If the last 10/15 years were to TV what the 70s were to film, we’re in for choppy seas. Lord willing will get a Heathers to go with License to Drive. I fear the sun is setting on the Golden Age of Television.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where some crazy shit happens. We’re talking craaaazy. … Or maybe there’s just some more, you know, TV talk.

2008-tv-roundtable-part-1.jpg

TV | January 5, 2009 | Comments ()



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