Sunday, January 03, 2010

Best of 2009: TV

2009 was a great year for TV, with some long running shows having their best season yet, and a lot of great shows staying strong. It’s a wealth of riches on the list here, let’s check it out…

10. True Blood
Best Episode: ‘Timebomb’

The show improved on its first season by refining its campy appeal and upping the stakes. The season peaked early, at the end of the Fellowship of the Sun arc, and kind of petered out at the end, but the peak was great. I think there’s still room for some more real emotion in the show, but they know that it’s supposed to be fun and the show is able to poke enough fun at itself to make it work. I wish Alan Ball was doing something better than this, but if it’s a show like this or another ponderous film like “Towelhead,” let’s stick with this.

9. Bored to Death
Best Episode: ‘The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer’

This show was ostensibly a comedy and was never particularly funny, nor was it dramatic, but it was charming throughout. I loved the New York locations, and the three leads were all a lot of fun to watch. The show struck a tricky balance, and as it went on, it just got better and better. I love the quirky world they’ve built, and hopefully it’ll continue to grow in interesting directions in season two.

8. Parks and Recreation
Best Episode: ‘Greg Pikitis’

I’m one of the few people who actually really liked the show in its first season, so I was even more excited when it took a major quality leap in year two. The show has one of the deepest comedy casts of any series, and the characters are developed in ways that make sense, and over the course of the series so far, they’ve developed the kind of depth and emotional engagement that make for a long running sitcom. There’s been some very sweet moments, like the relationship between Dave and Leslie, or April’s fliration with Andy, but throughout it all, they keep things funny and snappy. It’s the best comedy on TV right now, and a few more seasons at this level could make it one of the best sitcoms all time.

7. Big Love
Best Episode: ‘On Trial’

I liked the first two season of Big Love, but the show made a quantum leap in quality in the third season. The big emotional hook for me was Nikki’s work at the D.A’s office, and the way that her flirtation with her boss opened up a window to a new world for her. But pretty much every element of the season worked, and it had a hyped up, every episode’s a season finale level of intensity that made the whole season riveting to watch. It’s always nice to see a show realize its full potential, and that’s what Big Love did this year.

6. Battlestar Galactica
Best Episode: ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’

The controversial final season of Battlestar worked for me on most levels, but had some key missteps that stopped it from hitting the series’ highest heights. The much beloved military coup arc did nothing for me, and the resolution to the final five storyline was extremely convoluted and didn’t really hold together in terms of making sense. But, I love a lot of the ideas throughout, and thought the final episode was haunting and epic. Visually, the show was on its game, and certain moments, like the appearance of the final five on the flight deck, were haunting and burned in my memory. Like the show as a whole, it had moments of brilliance mixed with ideas that didn’t quite come together. Still, to see such an ambitious and mostly successful work reach a satisfying conclusion was merit enough.

5. Doctor Who
Best Episode: ‘The End of Time: Part II’

I was holding off on writing the list until the last of Tennant era Who had aired. Technically, End of Time II aired in 2010, but I’m grouping it with ’09 for list making purposes. This year’s Who started off with a dud, but the last three episodes were all fantastic. The intense ‘Water of Mars’ ominously set the stage for an epic finale that didn’t quite come together on a plot level, but was so satisfying emotionally, I’ve got to include it here. I felt emotionally fulfilled at the end, but like the Doctor said, I didn’t want him to go. I wasn’t sure what the specials could add to the epic finale of ‘The Stolen Earth,’ what they gave us was a Doctor coming to terms with his own mortality, an extended meditation on the inevitability of death, and a call to do the most we can with the time we have.

4. Torchwood
Best Episode: ‘Children of Earth, Day Five’

More than any other show this year, Torchwood made a massive jump in quality. The first two series were very hit and miss, but this intense, character focused miniseries was intense brilliance from start to finish. The characters were all the same, the scenarios were the same, but the focus was so much tighter, and over the course of the series’ five episodes, it crescendoed to higher and higher intensity, culminating in a final episode that featured devastating scenes of the UK giving in to alien demands and Jack sacrificing his ties to humanity to save them. It’s a series that forced the characters to make tough choices and never backed down from putting the audience through the ringer. Not since Buffy season one to Buffy season two have I seen a series make such a giant quality leap between seasons.

3. Friday Night Lights
Best Episode: ‘Tomorrow Blues’

Speaking of shows that made a giant leap, after the disastrous second season, Friday Night Lights bounced back with a fantastic third season and is now working on an even stronger fourth year. It’s very rare that a show can as successfully reinvent themselves as FNL has, but the East Dillon setting has reinvigorated the series and changed its narrative. I’m always frustrated by shows like Alias and Battlestar Galactica that hinted at big change then retreated from it. By shifting its basic status quo, FNL has become a much more exciting show, and this most recent year may top even its brilliant first season. Seamlessly introduced new characters and consistent brilliance from Chandler and Britton keep this one of the best hours on TV, and that’s not even bringing it the series’ unparalleled cinematography.

2. Mad Men
Best Episode: ‘Seven Twenty Three’

In its third season, Mad Men continued to be the most challenging and artistically ambitious series currently on the air, and perhaps ever. The complexity of the stories increased, and the end of the season opened up some amazing new directions for future plotlines. I don’t think this year quite matched the second season, but the consistency of its ambition only adds to its reputation. The fact that nine year old Sally Draper is more complex and well developed than the vast majority of adult lead characters is a testmanet to the show’s greatness.

1. Lost
Best Episode: The Incident

Lost’s great problem since the start has been its inconsistency, so it was surprising and exciting to see it finally produce a season that was just outright great from start to finish. The series attempted an ambitious time travel storyline and nailed it throughout, giving us great timeloop moments, like Locke coming across himself in the past, but the primary joy was seeing our lead characters in the 70s, and getting an insight into what the Dharma Initiative was like back then. Those episodes were just so much fun and built such a great world, I would have loved to stay there for much longer. And, one scene in the season finale totally changed the game looking forward, opening up a myriad of interesting new storytelling possibilities. It was all anchored by great character work on Locke, Ben, and in particular the series’ heart, Sawyer and Juliet. If the last season is as good as this one, it’ll go down as one of the all time great series.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Favorite show of the decade..."Friday Night Lights"

Favorite actor of the decade...Kyle Chandler