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January 2, 2008 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | January 2, 2008 |

Another year of television has tucked its head behind its tail and ridden off into the sunset, or some other terribly mixed metaphor of your choosing. And as with my previous year-end wrap ups, I’m eschewing the typical top 10 and worst 10 lists, because the internets is filled with such things. Instead, I’m going to follow last year’s lead and continue to roll with my wonderful categories. Get busy reading or get busy dying.

Best Finale. This was an incredibly difficult category to narrow down this year. While I’d argue that this television year, on the whole, was a bit lackluster, there were some seriously excellent season and series finales. On the series wrap-up front, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale” was an under-the-radar gem, with some fantastic laughs (Clive Owen’s self-effacing bit was a particular favorite of mine) and surprisingly strong dramatic elements. “The O.C.” also went out on a high note, albeit not quite as strong, and it made me mourn — just a touch — the show’s passing, something which I never would’ve thought possible before the resurgent Fourth Season began. The “Veronica Mars” finale, while a melancholy event for us fans, also reminded us exactly why we loved the show so much. Going back in time, “Rome” went out with an absolutely brilliant finale which may have even given me a little of the eye mist, and I desperately miss the show almost as much as “Deadwood.” On the season finale front, meanwhile, the “Lost” finale and its flash-forward gimmick gave the show a fun twist that actually didn’t piss folks off, and managed to give us some true forward momentum (apologies for the pun!) on the plot. And the final episode of “Battlestar Galactica” offered one of the best “what the fuck” TV moments in years, and I absolutely can’t wait to see how things are going to shake out. But all of these finales pale in the wake of the most anticipated finale of the year — one with its own whopping what-the-fuck moment — “The Sopranos.” It sure as hell pissed a lot of folks off but, as I said back in June, I thought it was the absolutely perfect finale for the show, and aside from the brilliant final scene, it offered quite a bit of finality, all wrapped around one of the most tense hours of television in quite some time. While the show had some ups and downs in its final few seasons, it went out in stellar form. Besides, anything that causes an ever-so-minor resurgence of Journey can’t be anything but a great thing, right? Right.

Biggest Disappointment. Last year, this category was “Biggest Disappointment of the Fall Season.” But I’m broadening the category this year so that I can properly capture the year’s biggest disappointment, which managed to pull off the most impressive feat of disappointing us twice in the span of the year. Now I know I’ll be flamed for this as I have been in the past, but whatever — “Heroes” turned into an utter disappointment this year. First, there was the Season One finale, which was the television version of blue balls. We had this storyline strongly built up over the course of a season, only to get no true release. Instead, we got Sylar hit with a fucking parking meter and a little space explosion which most of us knew didn’t actually kill Nathan or Peter. Those of us disappointed with the finale went into Season Two with lowered expectations but, for me at least, the season failed to even meet those lower expectations. The slow and repetitive pacing further highlighted the show’s weak dialog; the new Mexican Wonder Twins were only one step better than “Lost’s” Nikki and Paulo; and, worst of all, it didn’t even have the week-to-week grip of the first season. Am I off the show? Not really. But it’s most definitely become “just another show I watch,” which is a disappointment considering how high I was on the show this time last year.

Best New Show. “John from Cincinnati,” without a question! … OK, maybe not. But I will say, this was another tough category. But not for the same reason as with the finales; rather, I can’t really think of any new shows this year that I looooove. Shows that would truly break my heart if they never came back. For example, I know lots of folks were big fans of FX’s “Damages,” and while it had some redeeming qualities, I wouldn’t put it up as a top-tier show. “Chuck” and “Reaper” have both been enjoyable but are generally too formulaic from one episode to the next (although both have had good episodes that break from the mold, which makes it all the more disappointing when they go right back to the same old formula). I’ve bemoaned my ill-destined love for “Journeyman” several times, but despite that love, it was a bit too rocky, and a bit too much like other shows that came before it, to really qualify as the Best New Show. Everything I’ve heard suggests that “Mad Men” is a contender for the throne, but as I still haven’t caught up with the first season yet, I can’t go around crowning it the Champ. Many folks would likely argue for “Pushing Daisies,” and I hear you. It’s different (stylistically, visually and story-wise) from the usual network fare, and it’s pretty entertaining. But as times goes on, I’m finding that it also suffers from a bit of the formulaic episode, and Jim Dale’s narration annoys the fuck out of me (I don’t need to hear the show’s premise every episode, I don’t need to hear the cutesey years-months-days-hours-second stuff every time he tells us when something happened, and I really don’t need to be told what characters are thinking and feeling when it’s readily obvious from the show itself). Complaints aside, the real reason I’m going past “Daisies” is that there are two others new shows that I simply look forward to more each week. The runner-up is “Cane,” which only loses because it doesn’t have the fun of “Dirty Sexy Money.” “Dirty” is campy in all the right ways, it’s got a great cast which has managed to meld together well, and what it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in entertainment value. And sometimes, all I really want out of a show is to be entertained, pure and simple.

Biggest Resurgence. Speaking of “Damages,” one of the great things about the show was Ted Danson. Between his strong dramatic turn here, and his continuing excellent comedic turn on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I almost gave him the official nod for this category. But instead, I have to go with “Lost.” Ever since the first season, many (myself certainly included) have bitched and moaned about the perceived diminishing returns. This hit an all-time high at the end of the first half of Season Three, last fall, which felt like it could’ve been one step removed from a death knell. But then the second half of the season dropped last spring, and son of a bitch if it wasn’t pretty damn good. The above-mentioned finale was really the culmination of several months where we had some honest-to-god answers, finally regained a bit of legitimate character growth, and felt like we were moving forward rather than simply running in place. This, coupled with the show’s creators putting together a timeline for the endgame, has created the hope that we might get a payoff at least half as good as the expectations created by the first season. I’m actually looking very forward to the new (shortened) season’s premiere at the end of this month, and not just because the television landscape is dry, but because I’m actually invested in the show again. And that’s what a resurgence is all about, right?

Biggest Desurgence. Well, I thought about arguing that the inane and incessant “news” coverage of the Anna Nicole Smith death and aftermath was the complete desurgence of television news, but it sadly doesn’t amount to more than the latest blip on a generally continuous downward slide. And I gave serious thought to giving this award to “Entourage,” which offered us two surprisingly inconsistent and far-fewer-laughs-than-usual season. But then I remembered “24.” Holy hell did that last season suck the most stink-ass batch of eggs ever.

Best Miniseries. I suspect that this title should go to Ken Burns’ “The War,” but much like “Mad Men,” this is something that’s still in my “to watch” pile. And while I know “Planet Earth” aired on the BBC in 2006, I don’t recall if it aired here in ‘06 or ‘07. So I’m going to cheat and give the nod to something which wasn’t exactly a miniseries, but merely the first series (a.k.a. season) of a British show — “Jekyll.” Steven Moffat put together a relatively interesting take on the whole Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline, but the script, on its own, wouldn’t make this a top notch series. Rather, it earned that through James Nesbitt’s performance as the titular Jekyll (and his darker Hyde). Nesbitt gave one of the best performances of the year, particularly when he was in baddie Hyde form. He was immense fun to watch, and this remains one of my all-around favorites of the year. (You know, well after I put this column to bed, I remembered BBC America’s “The State Within” from earlier this year. Despite a slightly disappointing ending, it was a very solid miniseries, and if you’re looking for something to get you through the cold winter months, you could do worse than snagging this on DVD.)

Best Laughs. I mean, is there really any question here? Sure, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” had a pretty decent third season, “Weeds” was as strong as always, “Californication” was a welcome newcomer (for me, at least — some critics hate the hell out of this show), and half of the episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” were strong. But Jesus Christ, “30 Rock” has moved into the realm of sheer brilliance. Alec Baldwin’s performance during the therapy session in “Rosemary’s Baby,” channeling five characters in the span of a minute, was simply a comedic tour-de-force. From the opening “hey dummy, I’m mad at you too” to the (literally) dying “dey got me — da honkies shot me,” this performance is worthy of every television award on the planet. And this was simply the culmination of brilliance that’s been building all year, through the second half of Season One and throughout the current season. This show has overtaken “Sunny,” “Curb” and “The Office” as the one that requires me to rewind the most because of the shit I miss over my own howls and cackling. There is simply no comedy that’s more of a joy to watch right now, and this show is one of the biggest reasons I want this writers’ strike over and done with as soon as possible.

Worst Network Bungling. I’ll generally kvetch about the networks and their treatment of shows until I’m blue in the face. But at first blush, I can’t think of anything particularly heinous this year. That’s probably in large part because the networks had to stick with new fall shows a bit more than usual, thanks to the strike. I almost gave the honor to the same network that earned it last year, HBO, because of its terrible decision: (a) to pick up “John from Cincinnati,” thereby all-but-ensuring the death of “Deadwood;” and (b) then making the rather poor decision to premiere it after “The Sopranos” finale, when folks weren’t in the mindset to welcome a new show right after the Big Blackout, especially a practically incomprehensible show. But I’m not giving HBO the nod. Instead, I’m giving a collective nod to NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox, all the over-the-air networks. This year feels like the year that cable really took a step forward in television programming. Not just HBO, Showtime, but basic cable. FX continues to put out new shows which often equal, or better, the network fare. And now AMC and TNT have jumped into the mix with generally well-respected shows, again pushing the boundaries of what can be done with the medium. And yet, almost all of the new shows the networks hit us with are variations on a theme. For every “Pushing Daisies” which actually tries to do something different, there are so goddamn many of the same cop and lawyer and doctor shows, the same lowest common denominator comedies, the same crap. And in the wake of the strike, NBC has the perfect opportunity to make a strong move, by giving sister channel SciFi’s “Battlestar Galactica” some network love. But no, it’d rather give us “Celebrity Apprentice.” Fucking Donald Trump….

Best Show of the Year. And so we come to the big gun, which “Friday Night Lights” almost wins. The second half of Season One, last winter and spring, was almost to-a-note perfect. The second season was solid, and better than almost anything else on network TV, but some of the storylines (particularly the infuriating murder thread) knocked it back to earth. Still a great show, but just not as perfect and, since I’m looking at the year as a whole, I have to give “Friday” a ding. “Riches” was a surprising joy, and “Big Love” gave us an even stronger second season, but I didn’t really find either show as compelling as three other shows. On the network side, “The Unit” has just been firing on all cylinders. Last spring’s season finale was absolutely spectacular (actually, I realize I left it out in the Finale category above, but I’m too close to finishing this column to go back and tinker with things now) and I just enjoy the hell out of the show. But it’s a little popcorny. The recently concluded Season Two of “Dexter,” meanwhile, was also an immense pleasure to watch. And it would’ve gotten the nod, but for “Rome.” I know a lot of folks didn’t watch “Rome,” but that’s their loss. The second (and sadly, last) season of the show, covering the span of a hefty 14-odd years of Roman history, was nothing short of breathtaking. It had pathos and humor and a slew of incredibly strong performances. While not as rich as “Deadwood” or as layered as “The Wire,” “Rome” is still the type of show with enough nuance that repeat viewings are just as rewarding as watching it the first time. In fact, the next time I decide to make a big TV DVD purchase, “Rome” is going to be it. And that’s the kind of thing that deserves being called the Best Show of the Year. So there you go.

And finally, my favorite category from last year’s column continues its misogynistic ways….

My Newest TV Hottie. Anna Friel, who plays Chuck on “Pushing Daisies.” Sure, she’s kinda’ like the poor man’s Zooey Deschanel, but that doesn’t make her any less cute.

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. He’s already washed the last year of TV out of his mind to make way for the impending final run of “The Wire.”

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2007 in Review / The TV Whore
Jan. 2, 2008

TV | January 2, 2008 |

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

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