January 7, 2009 | Comments ()

By Seth Freilich | TV | January 7, 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. You don’t have to read Part 1 or Part 2 first, but Wooderson thinks it’d be a lot cooler if you did.

Dan:

Line-jump all you want. I’m easy on that sort of thing. (And, as people will verify, I’m easy with pretty much everything else. And yes, this is me flirting with Seth.)

My roommate and I opted for HBO over Showtime, so I’ve yet to plunge into the worlds of “Dexter” and “Weeds.” And while I know that’s an embarrassment in the age of TV on DVD, all I can say is that I’ve been busy watching other shows on DVD and on air, as well as trying to make it to the movies, carrying on a social life, and working one of those damn “jobs” that my parents say I need to have.

I’m with everyone else in agreeing that these past few years have been strong ones, and also that things look like they’re about to take a dip before anything really good comes along. But I think the important thing to remember is that great shows are out there — even if they only occasionally flirt with greatness — but that they often take a back seat to shows that are more easily sellable as “great,” you know? AMC’s “Breaking Bad” is better in just every conceivable way than FX’s “Damages,” but “Damages” has flashy ads and a bored-looking Glenn Close and is being hard-sold as a good show, but it’s just fucking not. It’s not. The good shows are out there, but they take some finding. Everybody knows about “The Sopranos” (very good), but far fewer have seen “The Wire” (unimpeachably great).

Let me step off that soapbox and onto another: What the hell is up with “Battlestar Galactica”? Oh yeah, I forgot: The show can only fill up 12-13 good episodes per season, so any season that asks for more than that — meaning every one but the first — is going to have some godawful filler moments to go with the better ones. This is the season that saw four of the final five Cylons try to make sense of their lives and their loyalty to the Colonial fleet even as they braced themselves for the possibility that they’d be turned against their will on their fellow survivors. But Lords of Kobol, was there some crap to wade through. Starbuck’s very own “Heart of Darkness” adventure was trying, as were her sweaty, repeated pleas of “Frak me” to the understandably emotionally confused Sam Anders. Cally’s discovery of Tyrol’s identity was a fantastic twist that should have been mined for suspense, intrigue, and the kind of spiritual struggle that would be interesting for Cally (who’s been pretty one-note) to experience: She’s fervently anti-Cylon — she did shoot Boomer back in the day — but she’s also completely devoted to Tyrol, refusing to leave him even when he went batshit delirious and beat her so bad he broke her jaw. I think watching her figure out what to do, and how it would happen, would have been the kind of interesting character drama that “BSG” can do pretty well. But oops, Cally was dead 20 minutes later after Tory blew her out the airlock. Damn, but that was poorly handled. And do not even get me started on what they did to Romo Lampkin, turning him from an interesting supporting character to a frakking loon with a gun and dead kitty. Just … blerg. The series didn’t start to find its footing again until the action picked up toward the end of what’s been the first half of Season Four, which resumes this month on the way to the series finale. The midseason twist was good, getting the survivors to Earth in a truce with the Cylons only to find a ruined postapocalyptic wasteland, and I think creator Ron Moore is ultimately smart enough to have crafted a good ending. Here’s hoping, anyway.

milf-island.jpgAnd what’s with the “30 Rock” knocking? Yes, the show came back crazy weak after the strike — “MILF Island,” a few jokes notwithstanding, was worthless — but the episodes this fall have been getting better and better. Steve Martin was great as Gavin Volure, proving that anyone can be fooled by a Tracy Jordan Sex Doll. And come on, “Reunion” is destined to live as one of the show’s classic outings: Quick, funny, angsty, and unrepentant, not to mention packed with amazing lines. (“We all have ways of coping. I use sex and awesomeness.”) I loves me some Tina Fey, and she’s making the best network comedy out there right now.

Speaking of comedies, though: We have to give it up for “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Bed pooping! Gas hording! Taco beds! And the soul-shattering glory of the Night Man musical. Fantastic all around.

Don’t forget to pay the troll toll.

Sarah:

I’ve got to disagree with Seth and Beckyloo on “Weeds.” This fourth season was solid and still had laughs, but even if the plotlines didn’t have you rolling, so what? That doesn’t make the show any less good; it just makes it less funny. And it’s not like it is trying to be funny and falling flat; the show has gotten a bit more serious, but that darkness is compelling and the series’ mood is largely reflecting that of the country’s. I say the new direction is welcome, and pigeonholing a show into the specific compartment you want it to be in, such as comedy, doesn’t leave much room for growth for most shows. Oh, and “True Blood” doesn’t suck. You guys suck. Burn!

Beckyloo’s theories on “Mad Men” are interesting, and I definitely agree with her in that the show thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is. Watching it, I feel like I’m watching a slow-paced documentary on the birth of the 60s. There really aren’t lessons or insights to gain — we’re just watching characters in impeccable costumes and sets show us how much life sucked way back when. Don Draper is largely irredeemable, especially in the way he callously cheats on his wife and lies about it to her face, making it hard for me to care for him. And having fallen in love with “The Wire,” a show that genuinely changed the way I think about society, it’s hard for me to give a flying rat’s ass about rich white people who invent problems to drink themselves into a stupor over, all while lounging in their schmancy offices, not working. The show is simply cold.

fey-and-poehler.jpgFor a new direction: 2008 was definitely “the year of the woman,” as lame and Time-cover-worthy as that sounds, and along with the breakout of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, the two other women who stole the political coverage of the election were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on “Saturday Night Live” as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. One of the more interesting TV developments of the year was “SNL” becoming culturally and politically relevant again, thanks mostly to Fey. I credit her and Katie Couric for the takedown of Palin, to which I am indebted to them, but it’s a shame that it took that impersonation to skyrocket Fey into the zeitgeist. She’s always been fabulous, but hey, she’s got brown hair and glasses! Just like Palin — how unique! She nailed the impersonation, but she’s more than that, and hopefully more people tune in to the always-fabulous “30 Rock” to see why. Back to “SNL”: The problem with its recent popularity is that the funniest players were alumni coming back to steal scenes, not only with Fey but with Will Ferrell coming back to play W. once. Will the show continue to matter now that it’s back to the regular cast, which is now short of the also fabulous Poehler? And can they please hire some black actors to play the Obamas so I don’t cringe every time I see Fred Armisen in blackface?

Beckylooo:

This roundtable shit could for serious go on forever. Someone’s gonna have to cry uncle. In an attempt at clarity and focus, Ima rock some bullet points.

1. Dan — I agree wholly with your take on “BSG.” (Though I get the feeling I’ve got more love for the show than you do.) What kills me is there’s room in the story for them to jettison the filler episodes (Woman King? Argh!) and continue exploring the overall arc but they don’t. It passeth my understanding.

2. “Breaking Bad” is great, though I’ve yet to finish the first season. But what’s your hitch with “Damages?” It’s one thing if you don’t like it, to each his own. But it’s not a bad show. It’s not great but it is really well constructed and solidly acted. I’d be interested in your supporting evidence for it being, you know, not good. Which it is. Really.

3. I’d like to clarify my position on “Weeds” as it’s a shade different from Seth’s. I don’t mind that it’s not as funny this season, my problem, or rather, what makes it less strong of a show than that which once was, is that there’s zero pathos. And if you’re not funny and you’re not making me feel anything more than loathing for your main character, methinks you’ve got problems. Simply put, Nancy sucks at life and it’s dragging the show down. There was one moment and one moment only in all of last season when I didn’t want to punch her in the face (her mea culpa over Popeyes). That’s not enough for me.

4. Tina Fey is my heroine. (That’s lady hero, not something you inject into your veins while listening to jazz.) And even though I don’t find this season of “30 Rock” to be on par with the last two, it’s still a little slice of comedy heaven. But as much as I love her, I can not credit her with the resurrection of “Saturday Night”…. seth-meyers.jpgI’ll give you three words for why SNL is kickin’ ass again: Seth. Motherfucking. Meyers. When he took over as head writer (2 years ago), the whole tone of the show shifted. They started taking crazy risks, doing way out there sketches (the Anne Hathaway eps alone was a bizarro bonanza of hilarity. The Lawrence Welk show. Mary Poppins the whore. Come on now!). Poehler will be missed. She and Tina took that shit to church each and every Sat night this election season, god bless both their bones. But the prize for renewed cultural relevance has gots to go to Mr. Meyers. (Sorry to betray the sisterhood, Sarah.) And I so totally disagree with your premise that the funniest players were returning alums. Kristin Wiig is a revelation. (Virgania Horsens Balloon Ride … Come fly with me!) And two of the new chicks, Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins (whose Arianna Huffington is inspired), are clearly forces to be reckoned with. Jury’s still out on the third new chick, Abby Elliot. Haven’t seen enough of her. And the rest of the cast remains solid. Hammond (always gold, always), Hader (Italian talk show host much?), Keenan (deep house dish), Armisen (political “comedian” Nicholas Fehn never fails to slay me), Samberg (Mark Wahlberg talks to barnyard animals? Jizz in My Pants etcetcetc? Yes, please, more, thanks.) The show’s the strongest it’s been in years.

Which brings me ‘round to my earlier point about being at the tail end of a golden age of tele. I’d like to amend that statement. I think we’re at the tail end of a golden age of television drama. I think thanks to “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “SNL” and the heretofore unmentioned “How I Met Your Mother” (one of the most underrated shows on network TV), we’ve got some mileage left in the comedy tank. Oh, and I haven’t even jizzed in my pants yet over the New Zealand import “Summer Heights High!” Shit … This is seriously a never ending endeavor.

This shit’s concluding tomorrow, kids. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

2008-tv-roundtable-part-3.jpg

TV | January 7, 2009 | Comments ()



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