Thursday, April 29, 2010

Been awhile, so

Am going to post another article some time in the next few days, so I decided I'd spend the next post putting up another of my top 50. I believe I had 20 to go.

The Sopranos --- The Pine Barrens

Okay, this is the most overrated show of all time. You can say what you want about its supposed brillaince, but it even acknowledged in its last episodes that we were basically following the activities of a sociopath and his family. Yes, there were some flashes of genius, but for the most part David Chase and his crew glorified violence and bloodshed and called it entertainment. This hour, when Paulie and Christopher routine collection of a Russian's debt goes horribly wrong, was probably it's finest hour in both comic and dramatic possibilities. But all of the joy that comes out of great television is absent with this episode. And it doesn't change the fact that none of the story possibilities opened are ever even touched on again. So why pick this (or any Sopranos episode) in the first place? Because when I saw it, I thought it was genius (I didn't really start to detest the show until Ralphie lost his head.) and there are moments that shine.But this episode is like The Sopranos as a whole, it glories in the moment, but when it's over, you're a little ashamed you watched.

Dexter --- The Getaway
Now this is how you write a brilliant series about a sociopath! Michael C. Hall always astonished me in this series, but in the season 4 finale, he deomonstrates why he is one of the best actors in Hollywood. His confrontation with the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow, who's never played a psychopath quite like this) is memorable, particularly in the final scene where Dexter seems to come to grips with who he is. His relationship with Debra seems barely shaken from the thunderous revelation about who her brother really is. But it's the final scene, where Dexter, finally seems capable of getting the happy ending we actually think that he's earned--- and then comes home to see his newborn son in the blood spatter of Rita makes us realize that he will never emerge whole. I don't know where they're going to take this series in Season 5, but this may be it's crowning achievement.

Arrested Development --- Mr. F

Oh, I loved this show so much. Why did it seem that the only people who ever watched it were me, Emmy voters, and all the TV critics. Every aspect of the show, writing,acting and narration were so brilliant , it's hard to pick a favorite. But this episode stands out in my mind not just for all these reasons--- or Charlize Theron's gem of a performance as Rita, but how it takes the most blatant of taboo of all, and turns in it to a hysterical joke. ANyone else who watched or witnessed it would think that it was offensive; I found it comic gem. I personally don't care if they ever do an movie of this show--- just the memories of it are enough even now.

Star Trek: The Next Generation ---- The Best of Both Worlds (I)

The best incarnation of the series, this is probably the best single hour that we ever saw of any of the Star Trek franchise (and it's airtime just makes the deadline) It's good to see the Borg back when they still seemed this all-encompassing threat rather than just another big monster that the writers pulled out of their hat every season. And it was a real blow to see Picard taken prisoner, leaving Riker to make the most shocking decision in the show's history. And even when he sees his former captain decked out in Borg armor, he doesn't hesitate for a moment. "Mr. Worf. Fire." Best last line of a season ever,'

NYPD Blue --- A Death in the Family

I never thought that this police drama was as good as it could be --- all of the characters talked like they were characters in a cop show, instead of actual cops. But that doesn't change the fact that, at it's peak, it was nearly perfect when it dealt with emotions. Seeing Andy Sipowicz deal with the first (of far too many) losses was one of the most painful episodes of TV i'VE seen. Even though we don't know Andy Jr, that well, the fact that everybody did, and what he was seems to cause real pain. And watching Dennis Franz going down the path that we know will eventually lead him into the bottle --- of the four Emmy's he won, this is the one he really desreved.

Monday, April 19, 2010

And now for something completely different...

Going to interrupt my musings on TV for a bit. Sort of

Mad For This Kind of Action

I've always been an action figure fan. Where most people sort of manage pass the habit off by the end of their adolescence, my fascination with them lasted well into my senior year of high school. I had long since forgotten the series or games they were connected with, and used them mainly as proxies for other games that I was playing. But eventually my 'maturity' kicked in, and I left them behind.

I got out way too soon.

Action figures have never gone out of style. DC Comics, Japanese anime, fairly recent video games--- these have always been good sources for action figures. But despite the fact that television has mostly left behind the animated series market where most action figures came from, a lot of recent TV has formed the inspiration for new series.

The most prominent example of this have been series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, and the various entries in the Star Trek franchise. But over the past few years, other series that have been more on the fringe have been appearing, and according to websites like Entertainment Earth, selling out. The new version of Battlestar Galactica is perhaps not a huge surprise; sci-fi series particularly seem to sell well. Similarly, Lost and Heroes--- shows that straddle the border between sci-fi and fantasy --- seem to have a certain market, particularly with the new versions that have come out in the last few months. But what of Dexter, which now has a complete set of Bobblehead dolls for almost every cast member? Showtime's series about America's favorite serial killer doesn't fit the "heroic" model that traditionally goes with it.

But the news that maybe the most border shattering of all came just a couple of weeks ago, when Mattel announced that Barbie will be producing four dolls from the Emmy winning series Mad Men this July.

First of all, to any man reading the article: it's time we admit an inconvenient truth. Action figures are dolls for guys. We have all this equipment and guns and weapons for them, but they're accessories in the same way that the Dream House was. We're playing with dolls, here. Deal with it.

Second, this is uncharted territory for a series that has received as many awards as Mad Men. Have any other 'traditional' drama series ever tried this kind of marketing? The Sopranos never did. West Wing never did. ER, Six Feet Under, anything David E. Kelley created? No to all three.

Considering how desperate TV bosses are to squeeze as much revenue as they can out of their franchise show, this seems to me an idea whose time is well overdue? And if a show on AMC, a network which has been lurking in the shadows on basic cable, can inspire this kind of artistic frission between television and products, why can't the networks jump on this?

Consider the possibilities. Grey's Anatomy has enough popularity that I'm sure there enough women who want their own McDreamy doll. (I hear that there's a Patrick Dempsey figure inspired from the Disney film enchanted that's already been a big seller.) CSI and Law & Order have inspired computer games, and have had enough actors on their shows to keep manufacturing companies in business for years. (And that's without going into either of the two spinoffs each show has inspired.) The sitcom market is less inventive, but considering the success of The Office series of bobbleheads, this might be just the thing that helps comedies like Modern Family enter the mainstream. (It's cast is certainly large enough.)

This could also be useful for fringe shows that haven't quite found Nielsen Glory yet. AMC could market it's other critically acclaimed series, Breaking Bad. A high-school teacher action figure with his own (sold separately) meth lab could strike the right chord in certain markets. United States of Tara from Showtime could inspire a whole series of action figures based on all of the personalities that Toni Collette has to play. (Further inspiration for her expanding her repertoire.)

Some people might consider this "selling out" But there is something about this kind of product that appeals to the kid in me. I know that when the representatives of Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency come out in a few months time, I will be the first on my block to have some.
Even if I am still playing with dolls.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Next 5 --- Last for a bit

Six Feet Under --- Everyone's Waiting
This is another of those shows which I think where the sum of its parts was far smaller than the whole. The acting was fabulous, the characters erractic. That said, the series finale is probably the benchmark of how series should end. Having seen everything the Fishers have gone through for these five seasons, showing them at the end of their lives, and (for the most part) finally having the peace that they deserved, created a final five minutes that were truly haunting. Seen independent of everything the series did, it still puts chills down my spine.

Joan of Arcadia --- Pilot
This series never got its due. It premiered with the odds stacked against it--- a teenager who talks with God?-- and CBS never marketed right. I'm amazed it managed to last two seasons. But Amber Tamblyn proved herself with the right amount of wit and verve for the subject, and made the journey through high school--- an ordeal in itself--- engaging and entertaining. By combining the show with a far more interesting police procedural than half of the shows that ended up on CBS, they utilized Joe Mantegna far better than he got on criminal minds, and a family unit that was probably the least dysfunctional on TV. I only wish we learned what it was God really wanted of Joan.

Alias --- Phase One
One of the most undervalued shows ever. Sydney Bristow was the most kick-ass female on TV since Buffy (we're getting to her) and this episode used her to the best of her abilities. But more than that, this episode demonstrated what a game changer J.J. Abrams was. ANy other writer would wrap up the action laid out in the Pilot and have a scheduled endgame. The fact that he did so halfway through Season 2--- aired right after the Super Bowl, no less!--- showed what a rule breaker he was going to be. And even if he did eventually come back to the pot a bit too often with this show, it doesn't change the fact that the last two minutes prove that he was ready to play for keeps.

Seinfeld --- The Opposite
I've already admitted I've never been wild about this show, but after years in syndication, certain episodes have begun to appeal to me. And I've got to admit that this particular episode where sad sack George finally starts to enjoy success in life by going completely against his better instincts and judgment is hysterical to watch. And his monologue where he chews out George Steinbrenner in a fashion that must have been every Yankees fans fantasy is a high point. And watching poor Elaine immediately suffer horrible reversals because of Jujyfruits to become George, well that was priceless in its own way too.

Big Love --- Come, Ye Saints
Is it possible to really like a series even when you completely disagree with the main character's motivations? I've always felt that Bill Hendrickson walked too fine a line when trying to balance his plural marriages, and this episode shows the family absolutely reeling because of the implosion of his fourth marriage. The family continues to go through a horrible breakdown that shows Paxton, Jeanne Trippelhorn, Chloe Sevigny, and the shows secret weapon Amanda Seyfried giving some of the best performances they ever gave on a show dealing with them. The last few minutes where Sarah suffers a miscarriage (perhaps because of the strain of what's happening) are absolutely devestating. And yet none of the actors or writers got an Emmy nomination for one of the best moment of that series. That's highway robbery

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Next 5

I'm not going to number these anymore. Realized that I was creating the kind of listing I'd started on this project to avoid.

Gilmore Girls --- Raincoats and Recipes
How do you pick the best episode in a series that (as long as the Palladino's were in charge) never seemed to miss a step? Lorelai and Rory's fast talking, hysterically, and (let's not forget) coffee fueled relationship proved that you could have a mother daughter relationship who cared about each other. This episode, at the exact midpoint of the series, may have been it's finest hour. The Dragonfly Inn opens, Emily and Richard have a breach, and Luke and Lorelai finally acknowledge what we've known since the Pilot --- they're perfect for each other. But critical was Lorelai's decision to sleep with a married Dean, the episode that would have the girls first real breach, and show that, for all their fast talking, these women were human.

The Office (American version) --- Casino Night
It took me a little while to understand this shows appeal but it's really growing on me now. And it's not just that this is the episode where Jim and Pam relationship finally solidifies that I picked it. I want things to work out for Michael personally. Yes, he's an inept boss, and it's amazing the Scranton Branch of Dunder Mifflin is still standing. But that is his charm. And in this episode where he fails to successfully juggle his two romantic entanglements, we begin to wonder if he can get any happiness out of life. Then again, maybe Dwight is his sole mate after all. God knows he's the only to treat him seriously.

Damages --- Trust Me
Though I'll never convince my mother, this is one of the most inventive and daring shows on TV. And though some people said the second season was weaker than the first, I think this one may have been the best I've seen so far. Patty Hewes is ruthless, but in the last couple of episodes of this season, she loses just about everything she has. And though the flashbacks made it hard to see how it was possible, she still manages to come out ahead in her war against UNR. And the confrontation between Ellen and Patty at the end was astonishing (without the expected buildup) that it mesmerized. Here's hoping that DirectTV picks it up for a fourth season cause this is one show I'd gladly follow all the way to the end.

How I Met Your Mother --- Swarley
There are any number of good episodes to pick for this series, but I like this episode not just because it puts supercouple Lily and Marshall back together, but because it gets under the suited veneer that is Barney Smithson. Watching him reel in reaction everytime someone mentions this nickname he got at a coffeehouse was even funnier than a Robin Sparkles video. (I especially liked the bit at the end where McLaren's suddenly becomes Cheers.) Oh Neil Patrick Harris, is there anything you can't do? There doesn't seem to be any evidence to the contrary.

ER --- The Ambush
I hold that this was one of the most overrated series in history, but that doesn't change the fact that when it was good, it could be brilliant. Ignore the gimmick that it was 'live', and you get to see for the first time the underpinnings of the staff of County General. Doug and Carol still being flighty about their relationship, Carter readjusting to his new status at the ER after leaving his surigical reisdence, Benton snubbing his student while worrying about his premature son, and Mark Greene, the heart of the show, still reeling from a brutal attack a few weeks earlier. All trying to do their jobs while there's a camera in their face. Almost as a throwaway, William H. Macy's Dr. Morgenstern, the chief of staff, suffers a heart attack. I always felt his leadership was critcal to the show. His gradual fade out was a blow that this show had trouble recovering from.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Next 5

I'm trying to be fair and include some comedies

35. Murphy Brown --- Uh Oh, Part 2 and 3
Yes, I know that this shows topicality caused it to date very quickly, but that doesn't change the fact that for the first five years of it's run , it was one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen. And never did Candice Bergen and her cast demonstrate their rapid fire wit better than when Murphy first realized that she was pregnant and had to tell everybody. Grant Shaud's reaction while in a drugstore was so brilliantly sustained that he should have won an Emmy for that episode alone. And Eldin's joyous reaction was so wonderful, it reminded me why I loved that character. His premature death was a loss I feel deeply. So what did Dan Quayle know?

34. Friends --- The One With the Prom Video
Even though they would beat the Ross and Rachel thing to death on this show, it doesn't change the fact that the episode where they finally hooked up was a pure gem. Phoeber's description of them as lobsters, Chandler's dismay at getting a cheesy bracelet from Joey -- small gems. But that video where we first see just how fat Monica was before she became--- well, Courtney Cox--- and Chandler asks just how many cameras are on her--- that one just makes me ROTFL every time I see it

33. House, MD --- Broken
Because I believe that this is a better show when it puts the focus more on Hugh Laurie then on the team, this two-parter--- which cuts House away from everything that he has held familiar as he desperately tries to get off his Vicodin addiction--- may have been the show's high point. Watching this strong personality finally come to the realization that he was faliable--- that was stronger than almost every other diagnosis --- even the one he makes in the second part. Plus any series that gives us a chance to see two of the greatest actors today--- Laurie and Andre Braugher--- in the same room, that's a faceoff for the ages.

32. South Park --- The Passion of the Jew
Hysterically funny but very erratic, now that The Simpsons is in decline, it's been the strongest cartoon on the air this past decade. And this episode--- where the children all react to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ in hysterically different ways--- I find even funnier then their more infamous episodes involving Scientology and Family Guy. Whether it's Cartman leading the inspired fans of the show in goosesteps down main street or an insane Mel Gibson's chasing Kyle and Kenny down Road Warrior style demanding his $18 back, this is an episode that is simply, well, holy.

31. Law & Order --- Indifference
It's easy to forget--- drowning in spinoffs and networks that seem to air it 24/7--- how truly brilliant this show could be, particularly in its first few seasons. And this very early episode in the shows inagural season showed how brilliant it could be. A reconstruction of the David Steinberg-Hedda Nussbaum case so accurate that it needed a long disclaimer, this episode about the death of a child still haunts nearly two decades later. Every regular seems so angry at the senselessness of Deedee Lowenstein's death, and that helps us feel the pain more than the dozens of similar cases that have followed. And the final act, where the normally stoic ADA Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) practically spits out accusations, while circling him like a bird of prey, is one of the most wrenching courtroom sequences in television history. This one will haunt you, even as the final line of dialogue echoes.