Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, December 23, 2005
      ( 12/23/2005 04:33:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"WE'RE GONNA HAVE A TEEVEE PARTY TONIGHT!" "ALRIGHT!"It's that time o' year – when List-O-Mania reigns supreme – and who am I to resist the calling? 2005 being a fairly sucky year, finances-wise, it's not that easy cobbling together a hefty list of great music or movies or books. But if there's one thing yours truly did over the past 365 days, it was watch a lot of television. Good thing, too, because – faux reality shows aside – it proved to be a decent year for creative tubery. Here, there, is an over of some of the year's high points:
Top Five:
  • Deadwood: For the language alone (you could close your eyes and simply revel in its colloquial poetry – but then you'd miss Al Swearengen's piercing looks or E.B. Farnum's obsequious gestures or Calamity Jane's sublime booziness), the show's unmatched. But that's only part of the package. More than any other cable drama to date (and, yes, I'm including The Sopranos in this estimation), David Milch's mud-spattered western is humane and unflinching in its depiction of darkness and heartbreak within a self-contained society of fallible good folk and unapologetic thugs. It's a story of democracy and the American melting pot, in all its shabby glory. No, I don't get all the political machinations in it either, but, then, I never could keep that Old Norway stuff straight in Hamlet. Doesn't matter: this is still the best effin' drama on television.

  • Epitafios: Police procedurals may be one of the most sure-fired ratings getters in teevee drama these days, but the head's-up best was a thirteen-episode Argentinian mini-series that hardly anyone outside of Latin HBO subscribers saw. Dark, grisly and existentially tough in a way that American network fare still can't effectively manage, this serial killer manhunt story remains unsettling weeks after its final episode was first broadcast in America. Hey, HBO, why not show this on your regular American channel?

  • Lost: I was initially piqued by this second season when we saw that old-fashioned turntable (and heard the dulcet tones of Mama Cass Elliot) in the island bunker, but the film reel from the Dharma Initiative (with an added snippet to be revealed later) clinched the deal. Despite a lotta attempts at replicating its dark 'n' creepy serial format, nuthin' came up to the level of Lost.

  • Veronica Mars: And then there are mysteries you know will actually reach a satisfying conclusion. After a dynamite first season finale, it looks like we've happily only scratched the surface when it comes to depravity and corruption in sunny Neptune, Ca. Add an ace ensemble cast, crisp dialog, and the best-written young punk asshole on television (Jason Dohring's Logan Echolls), and you've got a prime entertainment in the best Buffy the Underdog tradition. Bonus points this season for heightening the class tensions that have provided an undercurrent from day one. And for not trying to replace that great Dandy Warhols theme with a more current second season track . . .

  • Weeds: For years, the best new sitcoms have been animated ones, but with The Simpsons only sporadically achieving its former greatness – and King of the Hill continuing to suffer the fate of the too-frequently-preempted – this short-run Showtime series has snagged the coveted title. Wresting jokes from Bush Era financial desperation, upper-middle class angst and pothead rambling, writer Jenji Kohan has created a sitcom that does everything Desperate Housewives tries to do – in half the time, with twice the laffs. Sorry, Springfield; Agresta has replaced ya . . .
Flawed But Durable:
  • Boston Legal: Its leads have grown more cartoonish (we don't need a "Denny Crane!" joke every fifteen minutes to get the point by now!), but whenever I watch, I find I still get caught up in wondering who will win this week's big court case – and, more often than not, I also find myself conflicted as to who I think should win the week's big court case. Which is what you want in a lawyer show that isn't Perry Mason, right?

  • The Daily Show: Still makes me laff, though I also wish that Stephen Colbert hadn't left to do his own show. Like Rob Corddry on "The Week in God," tho.

  • House: If Logan Echolls is the best y.p.a. on television than Hugh Laurie's Gregory House is the winner in the old punk asshole sweeps. Even more important, he's not dishing it out on a bunch of namby-pansies (to borrow a Denny Crane-ism): both his colleagues (cancer specialist Robert Chase and administrator Allison Cameron) and his ex- are capable of deftly aiming the barbs House-wards – the show's at its best when it shows these A-Types verbally duking it out. There's a medical mystery involved every week, too, but how often do you really care about it? (Aside from that young kid cancer victim, that is.)

  • Medium: This 'un surprised me. After initially discarding it based on its tabloidy premise, I found myself getting engrossed in this psychic mystery series largely on the basis of its finely realized family scenes. Better than it has a right to, thanx to lead Patricia Arquette and Jake Weber as her long-suffering hubby.

  • The Shield: Last season was the one where the show graduated beyond being a series of twisted cop shock takes to a genuinely affecting look at the way that policework can grind away the humanity of even the strongest adult. Be interesting to see where they take things this year, but I've gotta note that fx's current promos using Johnny Cash's rendition of "Hurt" is one of the classiest ads run all year. . .
In A Class By Itself:
  • Masters of Horror: The show's only as good as its individual episodes, but when its guest directors and their collaborators are on (most recent example: John Carpenter's cinema horror tale, "Cigarette Burns"), this is delectably nasty viewing for fans of modern horror. Can't not mention it: I eagerly look forward to every episode, even the out-and-out failures, if only for the chance to see some great directors play rough on the small screen. Sure beats the last remake of The Twilight Zone . . .
And that's it for me this year. And for the record, I tried and I tried to get behind Arrested Development, but somehow that show never managed to connect in the way that, oh, Larry Sanders or even Seinfeld (two sitcoms that in part paved the way for AD) did for me. My greatest current failing as a teevee watcher, I guess. . .

Also Regularly Watched, Though Occasionally I Wonder Why: Surface, Bones, nip/tuck, My Name Is Earl, South Park, Monk, King of the Hill, Simpsons, West Wing, Cold Case, N.C.I.S., The O.C., and C.S.I., not to mention any new 'toons on Sunday night "Adult Swim." Yeah, I watch too much television - or at least too many damn shows with initials for titles . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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