2010 in Review: TV
I realize Chad and I mostly use this space to write fart jokes, make fun of people even geekier than ourselves, and post Michael Bay fan-fiction, but with the end of the year looming, I’m slipping into auto-pilot mode and don’t really feel like coming up with original content.
Ironically writing up these lists will probably be the longest pieces I write, aside from whatever the fuck you call those short stories during Action Movie May.
I’m going to do a list of my favorite shows today, movies Tuesday, and if I feel like it, comics Thursday, but that’s up in the air as I’ll be back in Indiana and far from my pile of comics that came out in 2010.
That may just be a very Michael Bay Explosive New Year’s Eve.
As I said, up in the air.
Anyway, onward, to victory. Or lists, or whatever.
Sons of Anarchy – This year’s Season 3 had comparatively much larger stakes affecting the future of the club in every sense as opposed to Season 2’s war with the white supremacists.
Jax, the series’ lead’s, son was kidnapped by people connected to the IRA, and any overt aggression made by the Sons would not only endanger the baby, but also the club’s main source of revenue, gun running up and down the Pacific coast.
Couple that with Jax’s mom, Gemma going to prison for a double murder, one of which she actually did commit, and the current head of SAMCRO, Clay, getting older.
Despite all that, for some reason, the season didn’t have the urgency and danger of that nearly flawless second season. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Season 3 dealt with the future and in Season 2 everything had immediate and terrible consequences.
The season finale does forgive many sins and flaws as the club finally got all it’s ducks in a row and went about shooting the shit out of said ducks. Whatever lag or bloat this season had was instantly forgotten by that finale that not only tied off most of the loose ends, but set the series up for a really great season 4 as it appears the story’s through line is coming back to the first season’s Hamlet as a told by a biker gang.
The acting was solid as always. Charlie Hunnam’s truly growing in to the role of Jackson Teller, being able to embody that Jax is a father, a lover, a son, and incredibly dangerous.
It’s hard to go wrong with Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal as the patriarch and matriarch of the show, but the rest of the cast is amazing, and if they weren’t all so ugly, maybe they’d get as much attention during the awards season as the pretty people.
The Pacific – I felt a little weird watching the Pacific because the atrocities the Japanese inflicted on Asia are largely downplayed compared to the genocide Hitler waged on Europe. The difference is Hitler was better organized and had more consistent lines of transportation, but the aim was the same and both would be empires traded in the same violence and spewed the same hate and racism.
As someone who is both part Chinese and Filipino, the war in the Pacific hits really close to home, and frankly the visuals of watching the Japanese getting shot by Americans got my blood up in a way I don’t altogether understand or am comfortable with, but it happened.
The team behind Band of Brothers knocked it out of the park again. The actors, the sets, the way it was shot, the little details right down to how the cigarette packaging looked or the way someone might wear their hat are parts of very ambitious whole. It’s an incredible achievement.
This series is not going to get the kind of love that Band of Brothers received. This is largely thematic. BoB celebrated the honor, valor, courage, sacrifice, and camaraderie born in the fury of war, and the the Pacific was an examination of that sheer, unrelenting horror of war and what being exposed to that kind of mechanized violence can do to a person and what someone has to become to survive it.
Neither series celebrates war, but Band of Brothers is about triumph, and what you find out about yourself when you’re shot at, and the Pacific is about survival and the things you must strip away from your soul to come out on the other side.
Now, which one do you think is much easier for repeated viewings?
Couple this with the fact that the conflicts in Europe and Asia were two very different wars. Germany was a lot like the USA. Immigration worries and racism ran rampant in the US at the time (and now), and we were almost a German speaking country. English won by a few votes during the infancy of our nation. Our ties to England could have easily been ties to Germany based just on a common language.
Germans would surrender. Most of them, while patriots, were not Nazis.
The Japanese would not surrender. They’d fight to the last in the name of their country and their emperor. Instead of capturing an airfield, docks, or interrupting their supply lines and then having the enemy force surrender, Allied forces would have to peel each and every island like an onion and kill nearly every member of the army.
Fighting is one thing, but being forced by necessity to obliterate someone is completely different.
The producers could have easily followed the Band of Brothers template and had another hit on their hands, but they instead chose to show the war for Asia in all it’s jumbled, island hopping, brutal reality. It may not be as easy to watch as Band of Brothers, but it’s no less relevant.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand – Or as I like to call it, True Blood but for straight people.
This show has all the violence, gore, subtle and overt homosexual sheen, cheesy dialogue, and camp of True Blood but instead of being about a bunch of bored pretty people who are magic, or something, is about gladiators murdering each other and one man will drown the whole world in blood in his quest for vengeance.
Do you see? Do you see why this might appeal more to hetero male sensibilities than a diner?
I’m not coming down on True Blood in any way, but it’s like Rescue Me. Rescue Me is a soap opera. The drama is ridiculous and the situations the characters find themselves defy all logic, no matter how flawed their intelligence might be, but it’s also about firefighters so your average guy can tell himself that the crew is just busting each others’ balls, when really they’re just being bitchy.
This show’s pitch started as basically 300: the Series, and if it stayed with that, it would still be a guilty pleasure. However the violence, while gory, much of it is the stylized blood of 300, takes a back seat to a lot of the drama and intrigue around the gladiator school, or ludus.
I’m not going to lie to you, the first two episodes are rough. The dialogue is wildly over the top, second only to the violence, but after that second episode the series finds its groove and begins to offer a lot of characterization. It begins to build relationships into a web, and then sets about watching all these characters begin to ruin each others lives via a sword buried in someone’s chest or the wrong words in the right ear.
The casting is at first mostly window dressing as nearly everyone looks good naked, something the show is not shy about, and is equal opportunity in terms of gender, but they are almost all ringers. For people who stand around in loincloths all day, there are some really great performances. Lucy Lawless in particular seems to savor every drop of venom she gets to spew.
Also, 13-year-old Matt will by psyched to know that Xena takes her clothes off. A lot.
South Park – I love this show. I will always love this show. I also love and will always love the Simpsons, but I’ll admit maybe it’s time for that yellow war horse to be put to pasture. Like, 11 years ago.
I’m not counting South Park out yet, because there were occasional moments of brilliance. I still can’t think of the head of BP lying on a bearskin rug saying sorry without laughing, so I’m going to chalk this season up to fatigue.
Archer – I’d like to take this space to formally apologize to friend and regular reader, JP, for not jumping on the Frisky Dingo boat when he first told me about it. It took being exhausted and drunk for Joey, one of the chucklefucks over at DestructoBox and LOL J/K, to get me to sit through season one of the short lived Adult Swim show.
JP, I’m sorry.
Frisky Dingo was brilliant because it abandoned the story it wanted to tell in the first two episodes, and became this weird combination of stream-of-consciousness story telling and tightly woven, well-scripted plot. Seriously, check it out. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Watch it over vacation right now if you have time.
Archer is by the same creative team, and while being a show on FX limits it’s ability to be as fast and loose with the rules as its spiritual father, it’s still immensely funny and silly, but in the best way.
The show is about the office politics of a spy agency.
That’s it, but they do so much with that simple premise. It’s funny, engaging, and there is not a more quotable show on TV.
Adventure Time – Arguably the best thing on Cartoon Network, the cartoon follows a boy and his crazy talking dog as they go on adventures in D&D inspired world run by LSD freaks and ecstasy peddlers.
The show is an unabashed celebration of the imagination. It’s about how when you’re a kid every possibility is open to you and the joy in discovering something new in the world.
Regular Show – Remember how a few lines ago I said Adventure Time was arguable the best show on Cartoon Network? Meet the show that keeps it from being undisputed.
If Adventure Time is a celebration of being a kid, Regular Show is about the little victories you find in your twenties when you refuse to grow up.
While grounded more in reality in terms of setting, it would appear the gods of this world are also high as fuckers on all kinds of fun, illegal hallucinogens.
I would give parts of my body and years off my life to be able sit in their writers’ room. I wouldn’t even talk. I just want to be there.
Justified – It’s a modern western starring the vastly underrated and thoroughly watchable Timothy Olyphant as US Marshal Raylan Givens.
The show follows Raylan as he is ousted from a plum post in Miami and sent back to his hometown in Kentucky to help deal with gun runners, meth dealers, and all manner of illegal hillbilly activity.
The show stumbled a bit early on after an incredible first episode when it tried to be a procedural show with a new case every week, but that was a bad fit as it took the emphasis off a stellar cast and the great work they were doing on Raylan’s quick draw marshal and Walton Goggins skinhead who finds religion and becomes a cross between evangelical and backwoods Batman.
Olyphant is incredible as Raylan Givens, and it’s probably my favorite television performance as he plays a man smart enough to talk his way in and out of every mess he finds himself in, but would be much happier if he could just shoot everyone. There’s a righteous anger always brimming just under the surface of Givens and you get the feeling that maybe he’d feel a lot better if he just let it out.
The performance is even more impressive when you consider that he has the quieter role compared to Walton Goggins who gets to play a white supremacist who goes to prison, and actually, truly gives himself over to God, and becomes a missionary and vigilante. It’s a great role, one that Goggins throws himself into, and in my humble opinion, is quickly approaching the range and emotion he had in the Shield.
Probably my favorite new show of the year.
Community – I straight up love this show. It’s like the Dr. Strangelove or Starship Troopers of television: a satire that functions as the thing it’s mocking. You can enjoy Community as a well-written, well-acted, well-produced sitcom about a group of strangers that come together to become a support system and, later, surrogate family to each other.
Yet, the show can be so meta (hipster alert. sorry) and play with conventions of the sitcom or how every character fulfills the list of stock sitcom characters, then grows beyond it.
Sometimes they even mention the kind of episode they’re having (“well tell your disappointment to suck it! I’m doing a bottle episode!”), but for the most part it’s subtle in how it plays with expectations and characterizations.
Every episode is like attending a writing class on how to construct a sitcom and characters, but I can still show it to my mom who just wants to laugh.
It’s mainstream and subversive. It’s silly and serious. It’s everything and more a half hour of TV should be.
Modern Family – Ladies and gentlemen, Modern Family is the Beatles and Shakespeare of TV. It’s both popular and good.
Given it’s monstrous ratings you’re probably already watching it, and your well-versed in the criticism for it, ie; it’s really, really, good.
It’s amazing how well this show handles broad stereotypes and gives them new life. They could have so easily let Cameron and Mitchell be lazy laughs by making constant gay jokes. Instead, that’s window dressing (and again, the actors elevate what could be easy jokes into something much better) because they’re actually the new parents who have to contend with having a child dependent on them and how that feeds into their old lifestyle.
The married couple with three kids find themselves struggling to define themselves as they sort of woke up one day to find out that they’re the married couple everyone else looks to guidance when Phil doesn’t feel any different from the guy he used to be, and Claire feels like she’s been forced into becoming the mom for everyone.
Jay and Gloria are a May/December marriage complete with what could have a been an annoyingly wise-cracking child. Instead Jay is dealing with a kid who basically sees him as an equal, and approaches him as an adult. What’s the guy who’s been a father for most of his life supposed to do with a kid who knows nothing about the world, but doesn’t need help?
The show’s hilarious, with interesting inter-family dynamics that change as the families come together, but there’s a heart-felt sentiment that always feels earned.
Fun fact for people who know me in real life: Eric’s going to be Phil in seven years, tops.
30 Rock – Given the number of ringers on this show, Kenneth, Tracey, Jenna, etc, I love how they always come back to and center on the friendship between Liz and Jack.
They’re the heart and soul of the show, the backbone that all the insane bits get grafted onto, and the most impressive part is that they didn’t even flirt with the easy road of making Liz and Jack combative with each other when the show first started.
Jack was put in charge of the show, there was friction for half an episode and the pair become one of comedy’s best duos.
This section is for great shows I saw two episodes of and then stopped watching.
Treme – I didn’t have HBO while this was on. That’s pretty much it, but it’s also following the footsteps of David Simon’s other works the Wire which is one of the best things, ever, and Generation Kill which is an incredible look at the people we throw into harm’s way that neither pities or demonizes the American soldier. I love both those series dearly, and Treme has a lot to live up to in my eyes.
So a bunch of musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans is a great hook, but I didn’t feel the obsessive need to follow up every week. Maybe watched as a whole on DVD will help me come around.
Boardwalk Empire– Again, no HBO. Also I didn’t know Omar from the Wire was in it, so my bad. I will catch up.
Terriers – I really liked this show. It had great writing, and the two main characters had a real loose, lived in vibe that only close friends can have, and I for the life of me don’t know why I wouldn’t tune in or kept deleting it off the DVR.
Now it’s canceled, and I feel like a dick.
That’s it. Questions, comments, arguments are welcome.
And one more for good measure,
I’ll see you guys Tuesday with my movie list.