Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Year That Was: TV 2005-2006

Last year I went on a multi-page detailed discussion of television, and this year I'm going to make it a little briefer. It might still be a little bit longer than a normal post, but it will be shorter than last year's.

As always, one on a limited budget can't possibly see every show that's playing, and I even had to cut a few from the list this year as I added a couple of new ones to my weekly viewing, which was already crowded from last year.

My favorite show of 2005-2006 was Lost. Last year's "champ" was 24, which slid a little bit even though it was always a must-watch show for me. But of all the shows on TV this year that I didn't want to miss, it was Lost I felt the strongest about.

In order, my favorites:

1. Lost
2. House
3. 24
4. The Office
5. My Name Is Earl

Special mention goes to the departing Arrested Development, which ended its series run with a four-episode sendoff. It was regularly the funniest show on television. My favorite episode of this season involved a special guest appearance by Jason Bateman's sister Justine, who played a woman, Nellie, who might be Michael's (Jason Bateman) long-lost sister. He doesn't know that she's a high-class escort and he introduces her into the family business, where she is led to believe she's supposed to "service" the staff. It leads to this classic exchange, something like this, over the phone:

Michael (talking to guy at work): Yeah, that's great. But you forgot to say "away" there...All right, so it's working out great, then? OK, you forgot to say "away" again...

Michael (to Lindsay): He said Nellie has blown them all away.

Not to mention when it's discovered that Nellie isn't Michael's sister, and he finds out that she makes some ridiculous amount of money for what she does, and Michael says, "Marry me!" There's a pause, and Michael says, "That's strange on so many different levels."

But there to take the comedy throne after Arrested's departure was The Office, which in its second season hit a wonderful stride. It was darn near close to rivaling Arrested in cleverness. This season was a tremendous leap over last season.

Lost continued to give us lots of mystery, and when it was ready to shake our faith with potential simple answers, it came back with a vengeance. We're about as in the dark as we were at the end of last season, which is frustrating for some but not for me. Lost is a serial, not a series of random episodes that all have to be self-contained in order to be good. The same issue many times hurts a series like The Sopranos, which sets up a lot of things with certain episodes for payoff later. That's how a series like this should be viewed, as one long movie. There still seems to be fans or former fans who want all the answers now. And then I ask, again, how long would this series last if that happened? At the end of this season, we had our usual characters-in-peril cliffhanger ending--but we also got an intriguing lead as to how they might eventually be rescued--the final image of Season 2. Season 3 should be great.

Second place...House? You betcha. The cases are always fun, but not as fun as Hugh Laurie's portrayal of the most litigable doctor ever. I was glad they got rid of the Sela Ward subplot early in the season, as the whole will-they-or-won't-they-get-back-together-for-real thing got tired and bogged down episodes. Coming in a tie with Hugh Laurie as the top reason to watch is the writing, perhaps some of the best on TV, and what gives House his character in the first place.

24, always that great adrenaline rush, did suffer from several things. The lack of a true villain was one--there were about 4 main bad guys in the whole thing, never a Marwan. And perhaps the most ludicrous moment was when President Logan (Gregory Itzin) was discovered to be behind it all--Itzin's performance necessarily had to change from indecisive leader to cold madman. But what makes 24 always a must-watch is Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. What all good action entertainment has, whether it's a movie like Die Hard or Hard-Boiled, or a TV show like this, is a guy who isn't afraid to put political correctness behind and do the right thing even though everything else says back off.

I quite liked My Name Is Earl, as well. It wasn't surprising to see Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee thrive in this world, but Jaime Pressly, who had never shown serious acting chops before, many times could steal scenes from these guys. I like how the show stays true to its karma rules, and the various situations Earl gets into are unlike anything you've ever seen on TV before.

Other shows I watched were the promising Prison Break, which did get ultra-ridiculous with the number of mishaps on the way to fulfilling the title's promise. I also watched every episode of Invasion, even though honestly, I probably could have stopped at any time and not missed it. It was on after Lost, and I always taped it. It's a show that had some highs, not very many lows, and was always in-between. Which means the second season could get good--the finale to this was one of the better ones I saw.

I also watched the end of a show that probably could have been better if it had not painted itself into a corner--Alias, in its final season where it was forced to introduce more characters to fill in the void left by the pregnant Jennifer Garner, who spent the first half of the season in understandably non-kickass mode. It came full circle, had a nice ending (love the fate of Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) delivered to him by Jack Bristow (Victor Garber)), but what a shame.

Reality, or lack of it--I watched American Idol and Survivor. Survivor introduced Exile Island to the game, which could have been used to better effect. In the end, it was kind of wasted, especially when once again, the clearly superior player had no chance of winning. And the most-watched season of American Idol yet was probably one of the lamest. Antioch, TN contestant Mandisa was the best one, and everyone knows it, and yet she was voted off fairly early. So we got Taylor Hicks, who is a fun presence with a good voice, but he got that weird "character" following that lends itself to a show like this. He was voted for his prematurely gray hair and his antics more than he was voted for great singing. And none of the contestants ever seemed to bring it. Almost every performance was a yawner. I might say goodbye to that show, even though it always pulls me back in.

Speaking of saying goodbye--I started watching, and left, Bones, which started off promisingly and probably stayed fairly consistent, got butchered by its constant time slot changes, and then it moved to Wednesday against Lost and it was over. I also said goodbye to The O.C., which went from guilty pleasure to consistent bore. I've never seen a show go in so many circles. It was Ryan and Marissa, and they always would get together, and then something stupid would break them up, and then they would always meet new people, and then they'd get jealous. I heard Marissa (Mischa Barton) got killed. Good for her. Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson are the best thing about that show, and they never seem to focus in their direction enough. I also couldn't get around to watching How I Met Your Mother when 24 returned. Another great concept show, Neil Patrick Harris was always a delight, and it's time structure allowed for some funny sequences.

Other shows: I enjoyed Numbers in its second season. It's never outstanding, but it's good Friday viewing. Fox's Sunday lineup--The Simpsons, in its 17th season, probably had one of its lower laughter registers in years, and the newer school of animation enthusiasts prefer Family Guy now. I enjoyed Family Guy this year, but South Park nailed on the one thing that has always bothered me about the show--its completely random gags that could fit in any episode--and South Park's revelation that Family Guy's writing team was actually a bunch of manatees who randomly pushed "idea balls," each containing a pop culture reference or subject, and putting them together to form jokes. It was a vicious attack on the show, and you can never watch Family Guy the same way.

Meanwhile, FG creator Seth MacFarlane's American Dad wasn't liked by even the Family Guy crowd. I actually liked it quite a bit--it had one of my favorite lines of the year in an episode where Stan's (MacFarlane) son Steve (Scott Grimes) asks a hot girl out on a date, and it's agreed as long as he can find a date for her hulking, ugly friend. Steve gets family alien Roger (MacFarlane) to dress up and be the date, and when he's found out the girls get hysterical and Roger knocks them out. He says to Steve, "Did you see where they went?" and Steve asks, "Where who went?" and Roger replies, "The black guys who did this."

And with critical whipping boy The War At Home I was far more forgiving than I thought I would be. A show that looked completely unfunny actually turned out to be occasionally funny, even though there's only a couple of characters who get any laughs--Michael Rapaport is pretty damn funny, as is the guy who plays his girly son Larry (Kyle Sullivan). If it ever moved to a different timeslot there would be no way I'd follow it, but it makes for a good time-waster between Simpsons and Family Guy.

Fox also introduced two comedies that have no chance of lasting very long--The Loop, which was pretty funny, and Free Ride, which was not for the most part. I think The Loop is staying on, but Free Ride isn't. What made The Loop better than usual was Philip Baker Hall, whose boss character could spit out some pretty funny lines, and Mimi Rogers, as the Mrs. Robinson type. The reason they have no chance is that neither could really be distinguished from the other in ads--the main characters looked the same, they had similar plots in many ways (especially the best friend, will-they-or-won't-they theme).

And now, time for the new hot girls I fell in love with this season (in no particular order):

1. Katherine McPhee, American Idol. A gorgeous presence, always welcome, even though she always frustratingly sang below her talent level.

2. Alexis Dziena, Invasion. I think Dziena has the chance to be a breakout star. She's going on 22, but she looks 15 or 16, which is how she got into last year's Broken Flowers as Lolita and made a stunning appearance in the nude. In Invasion, she's a very sweet girl, showing sharp contrast between two roles, making it hard to believe she was ever Lolita.

3. Rachel Nichols and Amy Acker, Alias. If you're ever caught up in some world espionage, never trust a hot girl, as these two proved in the final season of the show.

4. Sarah Wayne Callies, Prison Break. Yep, if you were in prison, you'd want this woman to do your checkups. Or maybe you wouldn't because you'd go mad with want.

5. Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother. As we find out in the first episode, not the "mother" that Ted (Josh Radnor) meets, which is a damn shame because she might be the hottest, most down-to-Earth chick you'll ever see in real life.

I had no chance to watch Scrubs, a show I'm going to need to rent on DVD. I watched much of the 2004-2005 season, and I know it's good, but it competed with House and I had to make a choice. I also didn't watch Desperate Housewives, which I heard started falling off in its second season, and I didn't watch the newest ABC flavor-of-the-year, Grey's Anatomy. I missed the always critically-acclaimed Veronica Mars, another show that competes with Lost, and is a serial show that you can't pick up in the middle. I also didn't watch one episode of either incarnation of CSI. There's a lot I missed, but you got to start somewhere.

Anyway, three months of wondering now take place--House was shot and in critical condition in the cliffhanger, there are numerous balls in the air as to who survived and what dangers await the other castaways in Lost, and Jack Bauer is now on a boat to China after the season 3 mishap where a Chinese consulate was killed came back to haunt him in season 4, in 24. I guess I gotta go outside or read books now.


At 6/15/2006 08:39:00 PM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Nice list. Nice writing too, as usual.

But Numbers never being great? I have to disagree.

Okay, maybe not totally disagree...because I know what you meant. It's not going to win Emmy's and all. If Lost scores a 100% in the KW grading scale (which it does) then Numbers is consistently a 93%. And that's why I love it. I get more addicted to it every week. It's a smart and sharp "procedural", sure....but its family elements are the payoff, with Krumholtz and Morrow really doing great subtle work as the two brothers.

Numbers' consistency is why I rate it high...it never fails to satisfy. Sort of like a Pop-Tart.

Oh yeah...the rest of your list is pretty right on with what I think.


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