Saturday, June 26, 2010

Annual TV Commentary: 2009-2010 (Part 2)

Here's the second and final part of my annual TV commentary, this time for the 2009-2010 season. This is a tradition that I started a couple of years ago over at, with my own feelings about the just-wrapped seasons of some of the major shows that I watch. And remember that each review features spoilers for each show's respective season.

The Good Wife CBS (Sep '09-May '10)
CBS is pretty much wall-to-wall procedurals. The Good Wife, a legal drama airing right after two derivative NCIS series, manages to buck the trend. Sure, the series still has that case-of-the-week structure, but it also has a great arc for its protagonist and memorable subplots for the rest of its cast, all of which combine to make one of the best new ensembles on TV. The journey of Alicia Florrick, doting wife of a state's attorney jailed following a sex scandal, throughout the season was remarkable, and by far the most interesting part of the show. Julianna Margulies' understated performances perfectly captured such a dynamic character as she evolved from a quiet, almost subservient wife to a successful lawyer. I also loved the shift in dynamics when husband Peter is put under house arrest and Alicia began to realize that the lifestyle she leads now is far greater than the one she left behind. The rest of the cast were equally great, from Alicia's will-they/won't they shenanigans with Will, to Diane's flirtations with Gary Cole's Republican ballistics expert, and the sexually ambiguous and routinely snarky Kalinda (I loved the episode where she surprised everybody by being completely unaware of her Indian roots). So much of the shows success (at least for me) is from the fact that it's a real legal show. Unlike David E. Kelley's series, The Good Wife features genuine, believable legal cases and processes, many of which surprised me. In general, the show gets major points for, in this day and age, turning the procedural format on its head. One of the best new shows of the season.
Favorite Scene While under house arrest, Peter assumes Alicia is having an affair when he discovers condoms in the house. Outraged, Alicia angrily throws the condoms into her bag before leaving. She was pretty bad-ass there.
Favorite Character Alicia Florrick
Favorite Episode Doubt (1.18)
Rating B+

Hung HBO (Jun-Sep '09)
Like Breaking Bad and Weeds, Hung is yet another black comedy about a down-on-their-luck individual who turns to controversial means in order to make ends meet. While Hung's first season was sometimes infuriatingly slow, and arguably nothing in particular really happened over the course of the ten episodes, the show's strength lies in its memorable characters, in particular the females. Jane Adams steals the show as unlikely pimp Tanya, and I couldn't help rooting for her to become a more aggressive and confident woman. Hopefully the bug squishing in the finale shows signs of personal improvement for her. I also really liked uber-bitch Lenore; Margo Martindale's client; as well as Natalie Zea's complicated Jemma, whose arc was the only storyline this season I found myself truly invested in, but that's probably just because it's Natalie Zea. While Hung featured some great characters, I don't know if I'm gonna tune in next season. The show undoubtedly has a strong premise, but beyond the first couple of episodes I found myself a little bored at times, generally uninterested in a lot of what was happening.
Favorite Scene Ray and Jessica's tearful phone conversation, where Jessica has paid for his services, unaware that her "happiness consultant" is in fact her ex-husband.
Favorite Character Tanya Skagle
Favorite Episode "Doris Is Dead" or "Are We Rich or Are We Poor?" (1.6)
Rating C

Mad Men AMC (Aug-Nov '09)
Still the greatest TV I've ever seen, Mad Men had a characteristically wonderful third season. One of the things that I love about this show is how such surprising and monumental moments are simply thrown into the third act of an episode. This season's representation of that device was in Betty stumbling across the key to Don's "drawer to the past", exposing his previous life. Out of nowhere, one of the biggest developments in the history of the series occurred, and it's that kind of un-showy, un-spoiled drama that makes Mad Men so remarkable. Season three did, however, break tradition a little in terms of episodes. We had a lot of self-contained storylines this year, and certain arcs dropped for episodes on end. Don't get me wrong, that didn't harm the show at all. But it was a marked difference, made more obvious when strong characters like Peggy seemed to drift through the season with little story arc. Such a large cast also unsurprisingly left certain characters with the short straw. Salvatore had some truly character-changing moments (his wife's devastated expression as he did his Ann Margret routine, for one), but was disappointingly written out soon after. Joan, her crumbling marriage and her desperation to save face over her unfulfilled dreams of housewife happiness, too disappeared for long stretches. While there were (for the first time, I may add) problems, the show never managed to actually bother me. Every week was still a work of art, featuring stunning writing, truly multi-faceted characters and gorgeous visuals. The breakdown of Don and Betty's marriage was at the forefront of the season, from his affair with Sally's creepy teacher to her slow-building passion for Henry Francis. I loved that raw, sexual chemistry they had when they went to Rome, which completely dissolved again on their return home. And then there's the scene where they literally hit at each other. Elsewhere, Roger's resurrected interest in Joan along with Jane's increasing drunkenness was awesome, as were the continued presence of Pete and Trudy and their ridiculously nerdy chemistry (the dancing!) The somewhat polarizing London Fog takeover didn't entirely work, but it did make way for a truly awesome and unexpected closer to the season, which The AV Club perfectly described as akin to Alias' Phase One episode in terms of completely re-shaping the series. As always, Mad Men is remarkably deep and gorgeous to watch. Season three didn't totally hit the heights of the previous two years, but it was still pretty damn near perfect.
Favorite Scene Like last year, it's hard to pick one specific scene, but for pure visuals and atmosphere, I loved the moment in My Old Kentucky Home where Don takes a long walk toward Betty, who is stood facing away from him amongst the trees. He reaches her, and they slowly embrace and kiss. A really beautiful moment.
Favorite Character Joan Holloway
Favorite Episode Souvenir (3.8)
Rating A

Melrose Place CW (Sep '09-Apr '10)
I've always been a huge fan of trashy night-time soap operas, and it's unfortunate that since their zenith in the 1980's and early 1990's they've been pretty much banished from the schedules. So I was unsurprisingly consumed with anticipation when I discovered they were resurrecting Melrose Place, the bitchiest, most ridiculous night-time soap of the '90s. Unfortunately, this wasn't Melrose Place as we knew it. It's the diluted, Diet Coke version of that show. The cast was pretty "blah", but that can be worked around. Hell, the majority of the original Melrose cast bugged (Billy, anyone?), but the real crime of MP 2.0 was the complete lack of fun. Seemingly thrown out of the mix was anything resembling trashy fun. Catfights, back-biting, bitchy banter, rivalries and craziness were hard to find, and the writers remarkably made story arcs involving prostitution, cat burglary, extortion and murder as dull as a box of rocks. The only time the show really perked up was during the rare instances the trashiness shone through. Every once in a while we did have some memorable dialogue, there was the occasional slap across the face. A catfight or two. But, man, did it have to take so long to find them? The Sydney murder arc was mildly intriguing, but got more fun when Amanda showed up in search of the missing painting. Maybe it was just the golden oldies appearing, but there was a sense of old-school fun in that arc, and it utilized MP 2.0's greatest asset: the Ella/Amanda rivalry. Also really liked Jane's return, which is odd as I couldn't stand her back in the day. Elsewhere, Lauren pouted and sounded Australian constantly; Jonah's storylines bored me to tears, as did his douche-iness; and both David and Riley blew. While Ashlee Simpson was god-awful, Violet was actually pretty fun in her looniness, so of course they wrote her out thirteen episodes in. I'm not sad the show's dead. If anything, I'm sad that this was such a great opportunity that was just squandered. If most of the cast were off-screen, and Ella wasn't pining over men clearly beneath her and the rivalries and bitchiness took center stage, the show could actually be really fun. Oh, and one last thing: Heather Locklear owns. That is all.
Favorite Scene Ella regrets having once idolized Amanda, calling her "old" and "washed-up". Cue one of Amanda's trademark bitchslaps. And scene.
Favorite Character Amanda Woodward
Favorite Episode San Vicente (1.12)
Rating D+

Nip/Tuck FX (Oct '09-Mar '10)
One of my favorite ever shows finally reached its end (long overdue, some may say). The first half of season six started well but got progressively worse, only redeeming itself with a series classic finale full of sadness and enough emotional sucker punches to serve me for a life time. Rose McGowan was fine as the crazy con woman Teddy, even if the storyline itself was ridiculous, while I loved Vanessa Redgrave's comeback as Erica, even if her exit was a little too melodramatic for me. I also really appreciated the use of Kimber, who seemed to get some kind of plot-heavy reward after being abandoned by the show for the whole of season five. The final nine episodes were mostly successful when it came to Sean and Christian's inevitable disbanding. There has always been so much resentment and bitterness throughout their relationship that it was only right to see that tension coming to the forefront for the final episodes. The only problems with the story was that it made Christian even more loathsome, and Sean more frustrating to watch. Elsewhere, Kimber had a great exit, and a fitting end. A relentlessly tragic character, she's always been desperate and naïve and it was totally right for her to finally decide to end it all. It was sad seeing one of my favorite TV characters jumping to her death, but it fit the girl to a tee. The final two episodes saw the return of arguably the most important guest star this show has ever had: Miss Ava Moore. Still as manipulative and tragic as always, her return didn't disappoint, and Famke Janssen put in some really great performances too. The season's finest hour was the one-room therapy episode Dr. Griffin, in which Sean and Christian's relationship was completely laid bare and dissected. There was enough tension and drama here to make you completely forget about some of this show's lesser storylines over the years. For the finale, I was personally fearful that we'd get something hollow and annoying, like The L Word's closer last year. But it actually turned out really great, a low-key send-off for the remaining characters, every one of them getting some kind of closure, whatever you may think of that closure yourself. Despite not always being perfect, I really loved this show, even with the relentless craziness that quickly became Nip/Tuck's trademark, and I think I'm gonna miss it. Happy it's over, but sad at the same time too.
Favorite Scene A lot to choose from, but the final scene of the series, with Christian picking up a Kimber lookalike in an exact remake of their very first meeting in the pilot, was awesome.
Favorite Character Kimber Henry
Favorite Episode Dr. Griffin (6.16)
Rating B

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