January 6, 2009 | Comments ()

By Seth Freilich | TV | January 6, 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. If you missed Part 1, go get some. If you’re all caught up, carry on….

Sarah:

Where to begin? I mostly agree with Seth, and while I have watched the first two seasons of “Mad Men,” I still can’t really tell you what the show’s about. But it sure looks pretty. I agree with Daniel in that the writer’s strike was evil and most of the shows worth watching are on cable, including the just-ended “The Wire” from David Simon, Long May He Live. And Beckylooo, well … thanks for working really hard to save the world? Glad you enjoyed working on “The Shield.” I’ll get around to it.

Aside from “The Wire,” “Lost,” “Battlestar,” “Daisies,” “The Office” and “30 Rock” (I thought Jen Aniston’s bit on the show was great), the TV series that kept me going through the crapfest that was 2008 were Showtime’s “The Tudors” and “Weeds” and HBO’s “True Blood.” natalie-dormer.jpgIn its second season, “The Tudors” really hit its stride and upped the emotional intensity surrounding a young Henry VIII and that whole breaking-up-the-Catholic-church thing so he could get a divorce, then killing the woman he got a divorce for so he could marry a cute blonde. Drama! Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry is brilliant, but Natalie Dormer stole many a scene as Anne Boylen and she deserves as much award recognition as Meyers gets. While the series may soon rival the “Harry Potter” films for the title of Most Famous British Actors In One Place, it’s been sorely overlooked.

For its fourth season, “Weeds” broke the mold of a suburban mom selling pot to neighbors by sending Mary Louise Parker’s Nancy and her two sons and brother-in-law away from their home (that Nancy kinda helped burn down) and into new business opportunities elsewhere in southern California. Definitely darker and more revealing (you see a lot of Mary Louise), the show delves deeper into the dilemma of Nancy’s moral compromises and what she’ll do to keep her family together, or better yet, alive. Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon are consistently funny in supporting roles, but along with the show’s wit comes a dose of social commentary on issues ranging from illegal immigration to the handling of the American drug war to the political corruption seeping its way through Mexico and, often, into the U.S. Considering more than 5,000 people in Mexico died in 2008 in drug-related violence, “Weeds,” which bills itself as a comedy, is dealing with more pertinent issues by looking at the drug trade and its cartels in Mexico and southern California than most nightly newscasts, and in doing so is one of the smartest shows on the air.

As for “True Blood,” I mostly enjoy what Alan Ball is doing with the Charlaine Harris novels of waitress Sookie Stackhouse, and while the show had a bumpy start, halfway through the first season, I was completely hooked. It helps that I read the guilty-pleasure novels and tune in to see where the writers will actually take the characters, but “True Blood” offers something different than most shows on TV — a quirky, dark, realistic small Southern town whose inhabitants have to figure out how to deal with the pesky vampires living next door. It’s an interesting concept with a compelling cast, especially Stephen Moyer as the vampire Bill. Some of it is campy, yes, but some of the episodes’ sequences are downright beautiful. It may be in a different form than Ball’s “Six Feet Under,” but the themes aren’t far apart. Also: As someone who grew up in Texas and lives in Alabama, I will vouch for the authenticity of the accents.

Seth is right: We are living in an age where our information and entertainment can’t keep up with our technology, and many media have been and will continue to be dramatically altered to flow with the digital revolution. But the Golden Age isn’t coming to an end — we won’t let it. There are still gems on the tube, people. Let the Philistines have “Two and a Half Men” and whateverthehell is the latest reality craze. We have a few great shows. Isn’t that enough?

And Seth: You’re still my favorite whore.

Seth:

Sarah, good on you for reminding me about “Weeds.” Because, yeah, we sure as hell did get to see a lot of Mary Louise. Yum. Although, I have to otherwise kinda disagree with you. I thought Season Four was an improvement over Season Three (although I wants my Conrad back!), but it was still lacking. I’m ok with comedies also doing some serious stuff, but this show is not a drama, it’s a satire. And if it doesn’t bring some laughs, the serious bits don’t work (for me, at least). And I found it disappointingly lacking on the laughs. Same for the second season of “Californication” and the last bajillion seasons of “Entourage” (although that doesn’t even have the excuse of trying to be serious — it’s just turned to poo).

license-to-drive.jpgMeanwhile, for someone who just spent the last half-year singing the national praises of Hope, who’da thunk Beckylooo would be such a TV pessimist? (Not to mention, you snidely refer to License to Drive like it’s not awesome. The two Coreys, Carol Kane and Heather Graham in the trunk of a car for 80 minutes? TV could only be so lucky!) I can’t much disagree with your take on “True Blood” — sorry Sarah, that show’s bad. I watched every flipping second of it, and while there were a few ok bits here and there, and some very purty shots, overall, it’s a steaming pile. But Beckylooo, if you get past Jimmy Smits’ facial hair, you’ll find that he gave an aces-up performance, especially as the season moved on and things got a bit silly.

Dan, I feel you on “The Mentalist,” although I’m not sure why. I dig Simon Baker, but am otherwise lukewarm on the cast (I find The Craft chick annoying as ever, and the “Reunion” chick is as stale as she was on that show). I also don’t care for the slightly ongoing storyline about the Red Smile serial killer or whatever the hell his name is. And yet, despite watching very few procedurals on a regular basis, this one has managed to stick in my weekly rotation. Best I can figure, even with the above complaints and the fact that you can usually see the end of each episode, or at least the general spin, coming miles in advance, there’s something just kind of comfortable about this show. No fancy math or science. Just a basic whodunnit with an interesting central character.

This is enough rambling for one e-mail, so I won’t answer the most interesting question to come out of this discussion so far, to my mind, which is whether “Mad Men” is overrated. I’ll simply say I think not, and leave it at that (for the moment, at least).

Beckylooo:

Oh “Weeds!” Of course. (Apologies if I’m jumping the line here, Daniel). Season 4 was most def an improvement on the belly flop that was 3, but I think this shows best days are behind it. I’ll keep watching if only for Celia and Doug but the show long ago lost its balance between heart and humor. It’s no longer about how far a mom will go to support/protect her family (if it ever was). It’s a show about a bunch of selfish, asshole, narcissists who’ll do anything to get off. Their kids are only an afterthought. There’s lots of comedy to be mined there — case and point: Celia and Isabelle. But the Botwin side of the equation has become increasingly bleak as Nancy’s selfishness sets up shop in the land of the totally irredeemable. If she gave a shit about her family, she’d have stuck with the front-of-house gig at the maternity store but her addiction to adrenaline was a tad too powerful. Thank god for Andy. Who knew he’d become the heart of the show? And yes Seth, Conrad is deeply missed. Along with Heylia.

And Sarah, mad respect to a fellow Texan but if Anna Paquin’s accent is legit, I’m packing for a long weekend with my boyfriend Ryan Gosling.

jimmy-smits.jpgI just finished “Dexter” last night and I’m sorry Seth but BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Worst. Season. Yet. Totally flimsy set up (why the fuck did the Skinner give two shits about Freebo again? Money? Yeah, whatever. It would have been far more interesting if the Freebo connection was a coincidence and he was just (spoiler alert) a mad man tree trimmer dude.) And I saw every twist coming from 8,000 nautical miles away. Not one “Holy Shit” moment all season. Oh yeah, and the disaster that was Jimmy Smits facial hair can not be mitigated by his ham-tastic performance. Thank the lord Dex (*spoiler alert*) killed his ass. Here’s hoping they jump forward 5 or so years next season and Dexter has to contend with the budding darkness in his demon spawn when dead puppies start showing up in the back yard.

And “Mad Men” … So here’s what it’s about (and I say this having only seen a fraction of Season 2): the personal and cultural ramifications of the shift from a “Need” to a “Want” economy, centering around a character created to embody the engine of said shift. It’s overrated because, instead of just telling us honest, compelling stories about people muddling through a rather epic epoch, it spends too much energy building big flashing neon signs to make sure it’s underlying theme is illuminated. It’s not a bad show. It’s just forever trying to prove how smart it is, rather than owning up to the fact that it’s a glacially paced soap opera dressed up in really fabulous clothes. In fact, coming full circle, “Mad Men” is really the beginning of “Weeds.” Don Draper might as well be Nancy’s dad.

In related news, I highly recommend the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self,” which I was given for Christmas and is now the lens through which I view all pop culture. At least this month.

Lastly, LTD was hardly the worst of the 80s fare, it was just the first that popped into my head and my least fave of the Corey oeuvre, but my point stands. I’m not saying TV’s hopeless…. There will always be good shit to offset the bad. But it’s going to be a long, long time before we live in a landscape as rich and exciting as the one we have for the last 10/15 years. We’re about to lose “BSG” and “Lost.” “FNL” is all but dead. “Sopranos,” “Six Feet,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “The Shield” … Name me one show that comes close to picking up the mantle dropped by any one of those shows. Unless it’s “The Tudors,” which I’ve yet to see, you can’t. No one’s making it. (Though we’ll see what “Damages” brings Season 2. Strong show. Lots of potential.) I’m sure “The Mentalist” is satisfying, or something. But procedurals, while entertaining, will NEVER be as gratifying on a grand scale as a well written, character driven drama. And in this economy, the only thing that makes sense to Net Execs is “CSI: Hoboken” and “Are You Smart Enough to Date My Mom?”

Now I have to go try to write some TV. I’m so screwed.

Will Beckylooo write some TV? Will Seth fantasize about Mary Louise Parker and Heather Graham getting it on together in the trunk of a car? Will Sarah begin sucking blood? Check back tomorrow for Part 3, where these questions and ten more creative, funny ones will all go unanswered.

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TV | January 6, 2009 | Comments ()



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