Sunday, April 4, 2010

Annual TV Commentary: 2008-2009 (Part 2)

In my effort to transfer various blogs over here, here's the first of what has become a sort of mini-tradition, my annual TV reviews. Here's the second, for the 2008-2009 TV season, and remember that there are spoilers for each show's respective season at the time.

Heroes NBC (Sep '08-Apr '09)
As much as it pains me to admit, I think Heroes is beyond repair. For me, no matter how bad a TV show's storylines get, the strength of the show's characters and the show's acting are usually enough to keep me watching. But, with Heroes, my biggest issue is that pretty much the entire cast of characters make me sick. Claire's a whiny, badly-acted brat. Peter's a self-absorbed moron. Mohinder is still around. And it takes a truly terrible show to make once great characters like Nathan, Sylar and Bennet completely unwatchable. This season was just as much a mess as season two. Characters had no motivations that made sense, they switched agendas constantly, and so much of the season featured annoying characters sitting around, spouting that same pretentious, appalling dialogue that has pretty much become a trademark of this show. I didn't care about Danko, I didn't care about all the serum hoodoo at the start of the year, Robert Forster was a terrible bad guy, Kristen Bell probably thanked her lucky stars that Elle got killed, Hiro's brattiness over Ando's powers was embarrassing, Sylar is over and should seriously be written out, and the amount of characters that have been completely destroyed by ass-hat writers and stupid retcon is insane. The show lacks focus, jumping from one mini saga at a time, until it's hard to see through the garbage. The only thing keeping me watching is Ali Larter, who I adore. Bryan Fuller raised the bar a little toward the end of the season, and I hope that he completely takes over next season and the show starts from scratch again. If that doesn't happen, I'm out.
Favorite Scene Tracy freezing everything and everybody around her in the underground parking lot, before being shattered to pieces herself.
Favorite Character Tracy Strauss
Favorite Episode The Butterfly Effect (3.2)
Rating D

The L Word SHO (Jan-Mar '09)
If there was ever a blueprint for how not to write a long-running series' final season, The L Word's last eight episodes would pretty much be it. One huge hot mess, even before its embarrassing finale the season suffered from contrived storylines, character assassinations-a-plenty and scenes of endless nonsensical uber-naturalistic rambling from the main cast. It was not only frustrating but also damn shameful for the writers to craft almost every storyline to fit the "Who Killed Jenny?" arc. And for what? Elizabeth Berkley's character, Dylan's return, the Shane/Niki affair and Alice getting fired were all written in to give the characters motive for murdering Jenny. It wouldn't have been so heinous if Jenny was even murdered. Or if we even knew what the hell happened to her. Every little detail, no matter how character-destroying, was engineered to fuel an implausible story arc that ended up going absolutely nowhere. Jenny herself, always the most complicated and intriguing character on the show whatever your personal opinion of her as a person, was no longer written as a damaged victim or a vapid diva but suddenly an out-of-control, manipulative monster. It just didn't ring true. The fans deserved so much better, and the complete lack of closure on pretty much every character and storyline was just one huge slap in the face. Even the closing "slow-motion walk toward the camera" was ruined by the inclusion of pregnant Max and his glued-on mustache. While I love this show and the wonderful actresses that made it so great, this final season deserves to be left buried and forgotten. Really sad.
Favorite Scene Jenny's insanely tactless script meeting with Alice, where she criticizes her movie proposal and recommends that she should become a cartoon voiceover artist. Genius comedy right there.
Favorite Character Bette Porter
Favorite Episode
LMFAO (6.3)

Rating D

Mad Men AMC (Jul-Oct '08)
Pretty much every show that has an amazing first season fails to keep up the show's momentum in its second year, with the term "sophomore slump" reserved for so many series nowadays (looking at you, Desperate Housewives, Heroes, Ugly Betty etc.) Mad Men, the greatest show you're not watching, created 13 more episodes that maintained everything beautiful about season one and made it even better. Like last year, the characters are mindblowing in their complexity. Don went on an emotional quest to find himself, sleeping with sleazy Hollywood types, getting thrown out of the Draper home and encountering sexually-free European tourists while in L.A. (that episode in particular featuring cinematography the closest thing to '60s era Bond movies that has ever graced modern television). As always, Jon Hamm powerfully underperformed in the part, saying so much with so little extravagance. Worth noting is his complete change in performance as he regressed to Dick Whitman again and re-connected with his namesake's widow. Elsewhere, Vincent Kartheiser continued to breathe more sleaziness into Pete, who is by far the most heinous, laughable creature on TV today (his using his father's death to try and elicit physical affection from Peggy, and telling Duck that he wants to get a dog "just for the office" being two examples of this). We also had amazing subplots like Harry's dismal journey into TV, Paul's doomed relationship with a black woman, Salvatore's doomed attempts at flirtation with Ken while at the same time ignoring his clueless beard, Duck's drinking problem and subsequent coup at Sterling Cooper, and the confused theories over the meaning behind Cooper's art purchase. But, more than ever before, the season truly belonged to the females in the cast. January Jones was again heartbreaking as Betty, her complete unraveling following the revelations of Don's affair being the emotional highlight of the season. From the vomiting in Don's car to the stumbling around the house in her party dress for days, you just wanted to jump into the TV and comfort her. Her burgeoning sexuality was also really uneasy to watch, with her uncomfortable encounter with the AAA guy to her own act of infidelity (and emotional payback to Don) in the back of a bar with a complete stranger. Peggy becoming one of the boys was awesome, but with Elisabeth Moss' stunning performance you always knew she still had a raw sense of Catholic guilt over her pregnancy last season. And then there's Joan, providing some of the season's most saddening scenes, with her crying over Marilyn Monroe's death, to her quiet, beautifully played disappointment at being dumped from the television department despite understanding the job so much better than the men who ran the place. And then there was the rape, which was devastating. All credit to Christina Hendricks for performing so perfectly in some really difficult scenes. Every single episode, every performance, every character is a work of genius. By far the greatest show on TV, and following the strength of this season quickly becoming my favorite show ever.
Favorite Scene Pretty much every moment is a work of art, but a scene that just brought home how shocking and different the era was when, after a family picnic, Betty casually threw up the picnic blanket, scattering all of the Draper's garbage onto the picturesque lawn before walking back to the car with her family.
Favorite Character Betty Draper
Favorite Episode The Gold Violin (2.7)
Rating A+

Nip/Tuck FX (Jan-Mar '09)
Like the first half of this 22-episode fifth season, these eight episodes were again a mixed bag of well-written drama and embarrassing garbage. The season was anchored by Christian's breast cancer and his subsequent marriage to Liz. While I appreciated that the writers made sure to inform us that Liz was not even remotely attracted to men other than Christian, I still never bought the storyline. It felt lazily written, and I never thought it was realistic that Liz would go so far as to actually marry Christian, whatever her so-called love for him. Of the rest of the cast, most of them just drifted in and out. Julia completely disappeared after episode three, last seen covered in Portia de Rossi's ashes (don't ask), Kimber became this obnoxious Joan Crawford-esque mother from hell, Matt continued to move aimlessly through life, and Sean spent the whole season getting involved with unbalanced women. Outside of the badness, it was actually the guest stars that provided the most entertainment, possibly proving how stale the main characters have gotten. Dina Meyer stole the show as a self-masectomizing femme fatale, Raj provided some likable comic relief, Jennifer Coolidge inspired one of the most memorable musical numbers in television history, Morgan Fairchild did a great Sharon Gless impersonation and, finally, Richard Burgi had sex with a couch. Ultimately, when the show wasn't dabbling in dumb stupidity (like baby collagen, the androgynous bisexual hillbillies, the baby fetishist, self-sucking), it actually continued to be a great trashy soap opera. It's never going to return to its previous levels of greatness, but Nip/Tuck is still one of the few shows on TV I get completely excited over. It's one hell of a mess most of the time, but it's at least an entertaining mess.
Favorite Scene Kimber is thrown out of her home by Ram and Eden, but not before she launches into an awesome attack on the two of them and proclaiming that "the legend of Kimber Henry will live forever".
Favorite Character Christian Troy
Favorite Episode Giselle Blaylock and Legend Chandler (5.22)
Rating C+

Pushing Daisies ABC (Oct-Dec '08)
More of the same from Pushing Daisies, everybody's favorite dead-person-touching show. While I still found Ned and Chuck's banter annoying, I liked the main arcs for all the cast, from Chuck's resurrected father, to Dwight Dixon's romancing of Vivian, and Emerson's search for his long-lost daughter (Lil' Gumshoe, aaahh...) Also loved any time that Olive and Lily were on screen, two characters who got a lot more to do this year. Some of the mysteries were a little hit-and-miss this year, at least compared to the first season. Almost all the murders and the motives of the killers seemed to follow a similar pattern (victim about to get a promotion, or special attention, killer bitter and jealous etc.) As always, the mysteries were stronger when they actually had something to do with the main group of characters, like Ned and Olive's detective-ry at the Cook-Off, or Emerson's on-again, off-again girlfriend Simone being involved in the Chinese restaurant mystery. The show usually became less involving when they mere just hired to investigate something, or when a murder occurred at exactly the same place they happened to show up at ("Jessica Fletcher" syndrome...) While I was (unexpectedly, I may add) not majorly bummed when ABC canceled the show, I was bummed that I had to watch the last three episodes online. I won't spoil it here, but I was happy that the finale brought some (admittedly shoe-horned in) closure to everything. Whatever the strength of the individual episodes, Pushing Daisies was always a charming hour due to the awesome chemistry from the show's ensemble, who you could always tell really loved working together. Rest in peace, show.
Favorite Scene While so many individual moments were awesome, the scene with Olive breaking into Eternal Flame just had everything that was great about the show: being moving, hilarious and undeniably sweet.
Favorite Character Olive Snook
Favorite Episode The Norwegians (2.10)
Rating B-

Smallville CW (Sep '08-May '09)
When you think about it, it could have been a lot worse. Considering the show lost its two best characters last year, season eight wasn't complete garbage. It was even, at least in the first half, actually pretty good. Tess Mercer was actually an intriguing character, clearly not Lex but still original enough to make her interesting. Davis Bloome was also a great addition to the cast, and played with an actually talented actor. I liked his chemistry with Chloe, and his growing concern that he may be responsible for all those squicky murders across Metropolis. Sure, there were blips along the way (Space Ho! Lie-Detector Dude!), but it was a strong opening to the season. Then, following the explosive Bride episode, things just spiralled out of control. Chloe realized journalism wasn't for her (uh... come again??!!), Lana became a superpowered goddess who was still pined over by Clark, and Jimmy became some lame drug addict. The poop hit the fan, and in a really bad way. Just when Smallville starts to grow, there's a sudden 180 and everything becomes contrived, ridiculous and lazy, filled with annoying Canadian guest stars who can't act and silly storylines involving Tori Spelling and Lois getting shoe-horned into as many dumb plots as possible, since the writers clearly can't think of anything for her to do. And don't even get me started on the hilarious retcon of Jimmy Olsen, his murder and his long-lost, never-before-seen little brother. Heh. Despite such a successful build-up, the season ended with a lame battle between Clark and Doomsday, Davis turning into a cold-blooded killer for no reason, Lois disappearing and Clark once again filled with guilt and gloom, because that's clearly what the audience wants to see. Snore.
Favorite Scene The Lois/Tess catfight in the finale was pretty trashy, even for this show, but admittedly fun.
Favorite Character Davis Bloome
Favorite Episode Prey (8.6)
Rating C

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