Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best of 2007: Top 10 TV Series

10. 30 Rock
Best Episode – Greenzo

The second season was a bit uneven, but this show was still anarchic and hilarious in a way not seen since Arrested Development. It’s comedy was occasionally stupid, but always in a smart way, and the cast is consistently stellar. And, David Schwimmer’s guest appearance in “Greenzo” was better than the entire run of Friends.

9. The Office
Best Episode – The Deposition

Another show where the year started out uneven. The goofy race episode nearly killed it for me, but the abbreviated season ended very strong with the devastating “The Deposition.” This episode is the closest the American version has gotten to the original’s blend of dark, dark darkness and uncomfortably funny humor. For me, the darker the show gets, the funnier it is and the more emotionally affecting it is. So, go darker like that episode, not goofy.

8. Flight of the Conchords
Best Episode – The Third Conchord

The best new comedy of the year, Conchords never failed to entertain thanks to the fantastic songs in each episode. The songs were both goofy and funny, and genuinely good songs, surveying a variety of genres over the course of the series. Some felt awkwardly shoved into the episode, like “Frodo, Don’t Wear the Ring” and “Bowie’s in Space,” but generally they fit well. And, on top of that, the non-singing parts of the show were fun, if a bit repetitive. I’m not sure how well it will hold up in year two, but this year was a lot of fun.

7. Gilmore Girls
Best Episodes – Lorelai? Lorelai?

The show was far from what it was under the Palladinos, but Lauren Graham is such a strong presence, she, and the actors surrounding her, keep the show entertaining. Lorelai is the series, and even though I’m not a fan of the season on the whole, it was nice to see her get a happy ending. This wasn’t an X-Files level collapse, even slightly off Gilmore Girls is still strong.

6. Big Love
Best Episode – Take Me as I Am

The first season of Big Love had its moments, but didn’t ever really click for me. The second takes a big leap, going deeper into the characters’ lives and exploring the darker side of what it means to polygamist. The stuff at the compound is still hit or miss, but Barb’s arc, Rhonda’s arc and Ben’s arc all more than made up for it. The show grew a lot, and I’m eager to see where they go in season three.

5. Battlestar Galactica
Best Episode – Crossroads: Part II

This calendar year was not a particularly strong one for BSG. We got a bunch of weak filler episodes after the stellar opening run of year three. However, the two part season finale was amazing, primarily because of the final ten minutes, as bizarre and invigorating as anything I’ve seen on TV. The spiraling camera shots and surreal battle to “All Along the Watchtower” made up for what had come before, and even as I pondered the nonsensicalness of the cylon revelation, I was awed by its execution. But still, they’re going to have to do better next year. A great season opener and closer does not make up for phoning it in the rest of the year.

4. Friday Night Lights
Best Episode – Mud Bowl

If the show had not been picked up for a second season, it might be ranked even higher. The end of year one was fantastic, particularly the emotionally devastating “Mud Bowl” episode, as powerful as anything I’ve seen on television. However, the second year fumbled a lot of that opportunity with some really poor writing. The Landry murder plot is the most obvious target, but there was a lot of other lazy plotting along the way. The cinematography is still some of the best in TV history, and the acting’s stellar, but the writing is going to have to get better. Still, there are moments in the show that are almost unspeakably beautiful, the aforementioned mud bowl, the team’s trip to Dallas stadium in the season finale, and Lyla’s baptism in the season premiere. That baptism was at a Malick level of beauty. Why not tone back on the meth dealers, murders and underage relationships and get back to telling simple stories about a football team and the town it inspires.

3. Mad Men
Best Episode – The Wheel

The loss of The Sopranos left a big hole in the TV landscape, where would we find the adventures of a morally conflicted hero who cheats on his, gets drunk with his male coworkers and has many unresolved psychological issues? If HBO was smart, they would have put this show on after The Sopranos’ finale, not John From Cincinnati. The show picks up on much of what made The Sopranos great, the barely there stories which exist primarily to bring character tension to the surface, and the marvelously subtle characterization. There are so many fantastic performances here, Jon Hamm as the inscrutable Donald Draper, Christina Hendricks as the gorgeous manipulator Joan and my favorite, January Jones as the psychologically disturbed housewife Betty. The show really grew on me as the season went on, each episode adding more layers to the world and characters. The evocation of period look, and sensibility, is unlike anything attempted on television, and I’m eager to see the show move forward through the 60s and the change it will bring to our characters. There are certain shows you enjoy in spite of the fact that you know on some level it’s not good, this is not one of those, it’s challenging art all the way through.

2. John From Cincinnati
Best Episode – His Visit: Day 6

It’s been tough to watch this show pop up on countless worst TV of 2007 lists. While it might not be for everyone, JFC was a challenging work that showed how much wonder and joy can be found in everyday life. Milch continued the work he began on Deadwood, showing how social networks and community can be built, but added in the spiritual component, which took everything to a new level of philosophical interest. In future years, people will be analyzing JFC in universities, writing books about it and generally hailing it as a lost masterpiece. If you take the time to understand the series’ cosmology, it’s not that hard to understand, and along with this philosophical stuff, there’s some fantastic character development. Butchie’s transition from selfish junkie to caring man is inspiring, and the supporting cast went deep with great performances. I loved this show, I loved its message and I loved its execution. Give it a look when it comes out on DVD, it’s Milch’s masterwork.

1. The Sopranos
Best Episode – Walk Like a Man

It’s indisputably one of the best, and most influential TV shows of all time and this final nine episode run was probably its strongest season. Say what you will about the finale, the four episode run leading to it was the show’s strongest run. There was a crushing sense of doom hanging over the entire season, which delved deeper into Tony’s psyche than ever before. In the twin tales of his two ‘sons,’ Christopher and AJ, we recognize simultaneously how warped Tony is and how ordinary he is. The beauty of that last scene for me is that it takes Tony out of the mob world and puts him into the everyday world. Those people at the diner aren’t all potential killers, they’re people like you and me, he is part of everyday American life, and the blood it takes to uphold that dream is quickly forgotten if it’s spilled in the service of ‘family.’ My favorite arc of the year was Christopher’s dissolution, captured most wonderfully in “Walk Like a Man,” which sends him on such a spiral that his death in the next episode is a mercy killing. The season is a masterwork, and a perfect conclusion to one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

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