Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Let Me Count the Ways

Now that the official 2006-2007 season is well behind us, I thought it was time to reflect on what my favorite series were from last year. For our purposes here, I'm only considering shows I watched in more or less "real-time." In other words, I'm still not caught up on Battlestar Galactica yet, so I won't be counting it here, even though it truly is just a superb series. So, my ten favorite series of the past season:

10. The Simpsons - The truth is that watching TV at 8PM on a Sunday just doesn't happen for me. I've caught several episodes this year, though, and while the show is not really close to the heights it once reached, it's still a damn solid, damn funny show, capable of really getting me now and then. Perhaps my biggest laugh of the season, in fact, came courtesy of The Simpsons, in an episode in which we see Lisa try to turn Groundskeeper Willie into a gentleman in an obvious homage to My Fair Lady. Lisa, trying to get Willie to confide in her his real dreams and aspirations, asks him what he really wants. And he starts to sing the classic tune: "All I want is a room somewhere." Then he stops. Silence. I laughed for minutes.

9. House - Too formulaic by half, but the writing is so sharp - and Hugh Laurie is so damn good as House, and the character so well-drawn and compelling - that I don't mind so much. Still, I would like to see them move further afield from the standard template they've, in just two seasons, worn to pretty much a nub.

8. Big Love - This series is just fascinating. I think polygamy is wrong. I'd be against a law making it legal. And yet I have no idea why. Logically, I can't explain why it should be illegal. And yet I'm against it. This bothers me quite a bit. And this series doesn't help much. A delicate balance of sweetness and real creepiness that I don't think I've seen before makes for a strange TV-watching experience. I love this family and am slightly repulsed by them at the same time. And I love that the creators zigged when we thought they would zagged by "outing" the family in the season finale, rather than, as I kind of expected they would do, keeping the device of their having to hide as a prominent feature. Can't wait for season two.

7. - My Name Is Earl - Another show that perhaps leans too heavily on a formula but is saved otherwise by wonderful acting and writing. And who knew Jamie Pressley could be this good? Not the creators, I don't think, given how quickly they abandoned the bits about Joy trying to get Earl's money, which seemed like it would be a long-running gag initially.

6. ER - Still compelling, still capable of true greatness (the James Woods episode), and still highlighting some stellar female acting and female roles, which can be hard to come by even in today's high-quality TV environment (Maura Tierney and Parminder Nagra, I'm looking at you).

5 - The Sopranos - It suffered a little from the fact that this was not a full season, eight-month layoff be damned, which messed with the timing some. Still, those first few episodes were easily classics, and the "gay Vito" storyline ended up being much more poignant and honest than I expected it to be.

4 - The Office - It can sometimes get just a wee bit too uncomfortable and cringe-inducing for my tastes, but otherwise this is just a hilarious series. I do wonder how long they can keep up the "being filmed for a documentary" conceit--after a while, won't it seem odd that they are still being filmed? Another show that surprised me by resolving, or at least starting to resolve, what seemed like it would a long-running source of tension, in having Jim and Pam reveal their feelings for each other in the season finale. Is there any chance Steve Carrell won't be taking home a (richly deserved) Emmy?

3 - How I Met Your Mother - A canny and sharp-eyed blending of the traditional sitcom with the newer, single-camera style exemplified by shows like Arrested Development and The Office. Great casting, very sharp writing, a wonderfully playful sense of time and use of flashbacks within flashbacks, and an engaging, surprising, twisty long-term story to tell. I find that I look forward to this show more than most others.

2 - Gilmore Girls - I've already made my case as to why this season wasn't the shark-jumping fiasco so many thought it was. Let me just add here that Lauren Graham took character turns that would be hard for anyone to play--character turns that, from interviews, she really didn't care for or believe in - and knocked them out of the park. Watch that drunken Lorelai speech at Lane's wedding again and revel in its brilliance even more as you realize that the actress thinks that her character really wouldn't be doing this. I'm so curious to see how much of a role she has in her upcoming big-screen, big-time supporting role in the Bruce Almighty sequel Evan Almighty. I'm hoping it's meaty enough to really let her have some fun with it.

1 - Lost - A stellar second season that took the show in surprising new directions while cementing our sense that, on this show, anything can happen. They did show some signs of slippage in terms of juggling the sheer quantity of compelling characters they have, and I really don't understand why they are looking to cast more, but still--I am completely and wholly hooked, and will happily re-watch this whole season before season three starts in the fall.

Until Whenever

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