Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Last Blog of the Decade!

Looking back at this past year, my taste in TV shows shifted ever so slightly. I've never been on a high diet of crime procedurals or science fiction, and I don't watch as many reality shows as I used to, so luckily for me it was a strong year for new comedies. As some of my old favorites continued to age, I found plenty of fresh blood to keep me entertained. Unlike my monthly music inventories, my list of five favorites is not intended to be complete; sometimes I read those critics' best-of lists, and it's like they're taunting me for nothing having HBO or Showtime. Nevertheless...
1. "Mad Men," AMC. Just when the muted angst and slow-like-molasses plot movement was about to drive fans away, some British dude gets run over by John Deere tractor. As grotesque as that scene might've been, it was an unexpected high point in what was probably the show's strongest season yet. The JFK assassination, the defining moment in American history that warped the perfected, Camelot-esque existences of nearly every principal character, was treated with realism, gravitas, and an unexpected level of shock. Memorable Episodes: "Guy Walks Into An Ad Agency," "The Grown-Ups," "Shut The Door, Have a Seat."
2. "Parks & Recreation," NBC. This show might be the pleasant surprise of the year. What was initally conceived as a slapped-together, in-it-for-the-money spinoff of "The Office" has become a tight political satire about the lowest and seemingly irrelevant rungs of local government. If this show was merely a star vehicle for Amy Poehler, P&R would've died a quick death. Instead, it thrives on the strength of its supporting cast; Aniz Ansari has found a breakthrough role in affable d-bag Tom Haverford, while Nick Offerman has proven to be a Rock of Gibralter as breakfast-loving sourpuss Ron Swanson. Memorable Episodes: "The Stakeout," "Practice Date," "Kaboom."
3. "Community," NBC. I'm surprised that I haven't seen this show on more best-of lists. Much like its fellow Thursday night comedies, "Community" revels in the latent absurity of its setting (a West Coast junior college) and the precision-like casting of its ensemble (dark horse Emmy consideration for Joel McHale and Danny Pudi). Memorable Episodes: "Spanish 101," "Football, Feminism, and You," "Debate 109."
4. "Modern Family," ABC. Though nothing will ever replace "Arrested Development" in most comedy geeks' hearts, "Family" is a strong heir apparant. Brownie points to Ed O'Neill for not playing his grandfather/sugar daddy character as a rehash of Al Bundy, and Ty Burrell may very well be reinventing the cookie-cutter "idiot dad" archetype. Memorable Episodes: "The Bicycle Thief," "Come Fly With Me."
5. "Better Off Ted," ABC. Like my #4 pick, "Ted" is the next-generation model of another brilliant-but-cancelled early '00s Fox series, "Andy Richter Controls The Universe." (The fact that it's produced by Michael Fresco and co-stars Jon Slavin is no coincidence.) Alas, it appears that nobody's watching and ABC is antsing to pull the plug, so enjoy this while you can. Memorable Episodes: "Racial Sensitivity," "Jabberwocky."
Honorable Mentions: "Glee," Fox; "American Dad," Fox.

Best British Import: "Look Around You." A wry parody of the educational strips that you watched in elementary school, with topics ranging from math to germs. "Look Around You" aired for two seasons on BBC earlier in the decade, but it became a cult favorite online and Adult Swim picked up the TV rights in early '09. Each episode is about ten minutes long, which also makes it perfect for viewing on YouTube.

Of course, no year is perfect. These were my three least favorite TV shows in '09:
1. "Sit Down Shut Up," Fox. A complete mess of a show, from the one-dimensional characters to the forced, repetitive premise of nearly every episode. What makes this especially disappointing is that no less than six major players on this show were alums of the brilliant "Arrested Development," including producer Mitch Hurwitz and stars Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Henry Winkler.
2. "The Jay Leno Show," NBC. I can't believe it took an overhyped time slot change to convince most of America what most comedy connisseurs have known since 1992: Jay Leno just isn't that funny.
3. "Secret Girlfriend," Comedy Central. A homage to '80s sex-farce movies, with "you" as the main character. There's precious little artistic license here; a unique twist on the single-camera concept is wasted on frat boys punching each other and gratutious shots of scantly-clad women jigging around.

I conclude my last blog of the decade (and the year, I guess) with a quick reflection at everything that's changed in the past ten years. What stands out most in my mind is the number of technological advances made since then. Think about it: in January 2000, there was no Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube, or Twitter, Huffington Post, or Townhall.com. There was no iPhone, iTunes, or iPod, though iMacs were still the rage. There were no plasma TVs, DVRs, or converter boxes. Three of the most-used search engines in the United States were AskJeeves.com, AltaVista, and Netscape, with Google just barely in the top ten. Blackberry was in its nascent stages, and was little more than an expensive walkie-talkie. Only a select handful of people had ever texted, and you couldn't access your e-mail on your cell phone. The majority of Americans still used a landline to go online. Even TV Tome, the for-us, by-us TV episode guide that evolved into the site we know today as TV.com, wasn't launched until June 2000.

It was a terrible decade in terms of foreign and domestic affairs, and a shrill and bloated ten years in pop culture; however, it was the American political dynamic that changed most signifigantly, and probably not for the better. In 1999 we had two major political parties finding a very delicate semblance of bipartisanship; that was followed by a gung-ho, all-encompassing Republican majority that ignored its opponents as it tried to push through a mountain of high-impact and controversial legislation while losing favor with the American public, which was then succeeded by a Democratic majority that was essentially doing the same thing. The rift between conservatives and liberals has grown exponentially, and the internet has become a new battleground for their partisan bickering. Political discourse has become a multimedia haymaker of illogical conspiracy theories, self-righteousness, and constant reinforcement of the same tired bullet points. On the other hand, ten years ago Gary Condit, Jack Ryan, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich, John Ensign, and Mark Sanford were still by and large upstanding public citizens, so maybe it wasn't all that bad.

What will happen in the next ten years is anyone's guess. I guess that's the thrill of the future; it's a big frontier where anyone can stake a claim. So many elements of our culture hit their nadir in the 2000s, and from this point there's nowhere to go but up. It may not be a clean slate, but there's plenty of room for opportunity. I wish you all a wonderful 2010, and make sure to savor every moment that you can.


  1. Yeah I hate it when shows are on cable. I refuse to drop $600 year for television. I still wouldn't do it for $60 a year.

    I've been watching the four comedies you listed. While I like all four of them & think Annie from "Community" is super cute, I will say this:

    "Modern Family" offends my traditional senses to fullest but IMO they show how lame being modern really is (and it is completely ridiculously cliched) and makes me so glad I'm "not them". Phil Dunphy will up as a legendary father-noodle-wuss in the ranks of Mike Brady & Ray Barone.

    "Better Off Ted" is witty & hilarious, but who knows how much longer they can pull off that formula. The show isn't the type to stay on for 5 to 8 years anyway.

    Biggest new piece of shit: "Cougartown". I'm sure there's a bunch of fat ladies eating ice cream & drinking wine who find this show hilarious. Bill Lawrence must have a severe case of inferiority complex if he keeps making shows where the women are dominate bitches.

    So how soon will Jay Leno be canceled?

    The '00s was a decade of going from one extreme to the other, and set the new standard for fiscal irresponsibility & stupidity. It's going to end the way it started: under a lot of snow. I can't believe I'm going to be starting my 5th decade on this planet. Predictions? A 7th NHL team will end up in Can-o-da & at least 2 more sports work stoppages.

    I can't believe there will never be anymore Luanne Platter.

  2. I'm with you on almost all of the TV shows, and Lenos new show is killing Conans ratings.

    And since I haven't seen you mention this anywhere else, what did you think of the Bears on Monday Night? Where the hell have they been all year, and why didn't the coaches listen to Cutler about Aromashodu!

  3. Actually I watched the 2-hour "Community" marathon instead on Monday Night & stopped watching Bears after week 10. I just got so sick of them. Bunch of pathetic shits. I was hoping the Bears would lose so "Losie" Smith & Jerry Angelo would get fired. The problem is Losie is due $11 million in the next two seasons & the Bears are cheap. I put my interests towards the Blackhawks, that's the real ticket in town. To hell with those loser Bears and Bulls!

    I didn't even think about Leno killing Conan's ratings. I haven't even watched a single second of Leno & my mindset is to the point that he doesn't even exist.

    On another topic, I find cop / Sci-Fi / lawyer / crime shows incredibly boring & can barely hold any interest in "the Mentalist". It's just another version of a tired formula "weird story / cops arrests bad guy".

    I read a very disturbing article yesterday about the Big 4 networks and revenue, the lack of it. Somebody predicted that one of the Big 4 networks could end up as a cable channel in '11 because they can make a lot more money being a cable channel. That would suck.

  4. Oh Joe, you were talking to Stu and not me. LOL! I am so dense!

  5. Since you live there too I don't mind getting your opinion too. I hope that Turner [at least] gets fired, but the win does give me more confidence for next year.

    And in the pick em league I'm in, I actually picked the Bears [along with three other people] which helped me out even though I lost. I got 10 games right, the winner had 12.

  6. I won't win my pick 'em league, though I did a lot better picking games than doing fantasy football.

    Turner has to go, no question, though I'm still not sure about Lovie. He's a demanding, high-octane asshole of a coach, and most of his ex-players don't keep him in high regard, but I had more confidence in Smith than I ever did with Wannie or Jauron. That Bears-Vikes game was awesome, though it was too little, too late.

    NBC gave up a lot to put Leno in prime time; it was a risk regardless of whether or not it was going to be a success. I have noticed that getting pummeled in the ratings by cookie-cutter crime procedurals has taken its toll on Leno's general demeanor; he often looks frustrated and uninspired (well, more so than usual).

  7. That game did make me more confident for next season seeing them play like that.

  8. Wait, what?! "a demanding, high-octane asshole of a coach"... are we talking about the same Lovie Smith?! I've never seen Lovie raise his voice or get mad. From what I've seen & read, Lovie says the same lines over and over, he's a player's coach, his Cover 2 defense is antiquated, the team lacks depth & has serious talent evaluation problems, and inspires mediocrity. That Vikings game: the defense gave up 30 points in the 2nd half, and it comes down to a dome team playing out in bitter cold with an aging old quarterback who traditionally bombs in December. Unfortunately there will be few, if any changes.

    The move behind putting Leno at 9pm was a cheap financially driven tactic. Now what's going to be interesting is how long they'll continue to forfeit the 9pm ratings war. Whoever thought to put Leno on the Tonight Show in the first place really dropped the ball. How much different things would be if Letterman got it.

  9. How different things would be if NBC had any semblance of leadership. How is it that CBS, ABC, and Fox are holding steady, while NBC keeps tripping on itself? Last I checked, The Peacock only has two shows in the Nielsen Top 25, and one of them is "Sunday Night Football," which ended last weekend. Putting Jeff Zucker in charge was the beginning of the end.

    As for Lovie- I vaguely remember hearing something where Smith went apeshit on Thomas Jones a few years back. It was a closed door meeting, and Lovie went ballistic. I've heard other people say he's more intense than outward appearances might suggest. It's speculative, but I can't imagine that Lovie is keeping his cool though the all the pressures of being a head coach, especially as he watches the Bears crumble.