“Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own/cause you can’t finish what you start…”
Elliott Smith – Alameda
A recent conversation unearthed a reference to the film Into the Wild and the eventual conclusion its ill-fated protagonist reached: “Happiness is not real unless shared”. I concur, at least to the point that happiness cannot reach its fullest potential unless shared. As usual I find ways to sabotage any move toward such things. It is better if I remain one-dimensional and keep watching TV.
Chronicled below in no particular order is a whole lot of TV I watched in 2010 (or at some point in recent years). Some shows are new, some are ongoing, some were long ago canceled, some were recently canceled (some after only one season). Some totally suck but filled the time/provided background noise. Some are brilliant, like serial cinema on the small screen. In no particular order…
When it began, it was new, fresh and asked viewers to side with a serial killer. And we always have. Anti-hero Dexter Morgan forces us to sit on the edge of our seats, holding our breath, every time he almost gets caught… breathing a sigh of relief when he escapes.
Law & Order UK
Setting the tired old L&O franchise in the UK breathed new life into it. Watching mostly to take a look at Jamie Bamber of BSG fame, I found that he was not the most interesting part of this new chapter in the franchise. The rest of the cast embodies its roles more than competently, with special mention for Bradley Walsh as Ronnie Brooks. He's nailed the balancing act between good detective and compassionate guy, coupled with some of the same kind of tongue-in-cheek commentary and sarcasm that made the original L&O's Detective Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach) so central to the success of the original.
A six-part BBC series, a little heavy on the melodrama but compelling and fascinating all the same. Not just another cop show, thanks mostly to Idris Elba in the title role. Elba has been ubiquitous of late, with good reason. A talented actor, not too hard on the eyes.
I still have not made up my mind about the reimagined version of V. Sometimes it shows tremendous potential and builds suspense, but the first season was often too slow, not engaging and overacted. I felt that in the last few episodes, it started to generate a bit more steam, so I look forward to seeing how it plays out (as well as, for nostalgia's sake, seeing how the roles of original V cast members Marc Singer and Jane Badler play out). (I also did not mind seeing Battlestar Galactica's Sam Anders (Michael Trucco) as John May.) Having been a child during the original run of V back in the 1980s, I am tied to the nostalgic aspect of the cheesiness of V. Television has changed a lot in general since then, so after a slow start, maybe this will develop further as it goes on.
What began as a story of a suburban widow trying to find a creative way to take care of her kids and not lose her house has turned into an ever-crazier soap opera. To watch you have to suspend any notion of reality and get onboard for sheer entertainment value. Entertaining because of the richness and humor of the characters (Andy and the kids, mostly) and in spite of the total lack of likability (which continues to grow) for self-centered Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker), the show has gone off the rails, lost the plot and become ridiculous. That does not make it uninteresting or unwatchable, but if you are expecting something like what you got in the beginning, you will be disappointed. What intrigued me about the latest season is that I found myself asking 'who are these people and where did they come from?' – particularly about Nancy, and some of those questions start to be answered. Interestingly, it seems Nancy has always been self-involved and manipulative. What we first imagine she does for her family, we come to learn she is doing only for herself. Her family are accessories, even if she has apparent pangs of guilt over what she has dragged her children into.
The Big C
With a lot of advance hype to live up to, and a premise that could not possibly be fodder for a 30-minute "comedy", the first season of The Big C, while uneven at times, was nevertheless all it promised to be. It hit the right notes at the right moments with humor and levity when needed, with insight and emotion when needed. In the deft hands of Laura Linney, and a great supporting cast, this show was a definite must-not-miss for me. Linney embodied Cathy Jamison and all of Cathy's fears, anxieties and the desire to live to the fullest when faced with terminal illness. The show struck a unique balance between portraying Cathy's decisions as heroic (in that she chose to control how she handled her situation, in terms of how she lived each day, how and who she told about her situation) and portraying them as foolish/short-sighted/selfish. I felt that Cathy as a character, and Linney's portrayal of Cathy, were relatable and deeply sympathetic.
In each of its seasons, I have marveled that it is possible to watch a half-hour of two people simply sitting in the same room talking. The fact that it is never less than riveting is telling. I am addicted to this show about people's problems and how they perceive and deal with those problems. And of course about the therapist who tries to help them through it and his growing ambivalence about his chosen profession. (Paul Weston, as played by Gabriel Byrne at his world-weary best, is a gifted therapist but one who faces challenges both with the treatment he gives and in his personal life; the fact that he has remarkably little insight into himself and his own motivations leads to some of the series' more charged scenes between his first therapist, deftly played by Dianne Wiest, and his later therapist, portrayed with convincing subtlety by the talented Amy Ryan.) Highly recommended.
The Walking Dead
I had no expectations for this show since I have absolutely zero interest in the premise of zombies. Imagine my surprise when the human factor, the suspense, the horror (not in the "horror movie" sense) and depth pulled me in and made me talk about and look forward to each week's episode in the abbreviated first season. In much the same way that Jose Saramago's novel, Blindness, disgusted me and moved me to the point that I could not put the book down, The Walking Dead brings to life something unimaginable, creating a visual representation of a world (and all its gory details) that we hope we never have to experience. At the same time, it strips down barriers created by the artifice of society and shows humans at their most raw, their most needy, their most vulnerable and shows us what people are really made of under the most unendurable conditions.
A guilty pleasure for me, little more. I may love and admire the work of Alexander Skårsgard and Denis O'Hare, but I don't view this show as a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. This is not to say that it does not have great moments (sex and gore and the occasional humor). After all, I do continue to watch avidly.
Friday Night Lights
Yeah, who would have guessed? A show about small-town American high school football. When I tell people that I am a devotee of this show, their face, without saying a word, betrays a sense of befuddlement. How can it be that I would watch something like this? Without going too far into analysis or into repeating words of TV critics, the show is not really about football. It encompasses little pieces of all of life. At the show's center (morally and otherwise) we have the most honest portrayal of a marriage ever on television, brought to life by Connie Britton (as Tami Taylor, Coach Taylor's wife) and Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor) — never mind that I have been following Chandler's career since the beginning when he starred on little-seen Homefront. Since its inception, the show has struggled with low ratings and has been on the chopping block more than once. It was ultimately saved by a network deal with DirecTV that enabled the show to continue for a couple more seasons. The show ends its five-year run this year — it is well worth going back and checking out all the seasons you missed.
Slow moving but deliberate, this show had a lot of expectations placed on it before it even started. Did it live up to them? In large part, I think so. With a stellar cast and a lot of intrigue surrounding the machinations at the meeting point of politics and organized crime in the 1920s, this inaugural season lived up to its potential.
Not much can be said about Mad Men that has not already been said. Understated, sometimes deeply funny, sometimes deeply sad and always beautiful. A tremendous cast playing well-fleshed-out, ever-evolving characters, the show is both richly satisfying but always leaves you wanting more. Its latest season was the best so far, and throughout its run, Mad Men has proven that it will take risks and it will shake things up. While not always expected or popular (with viewers or critics), Mad Men is uncompromising in this way, which makes it stand among the very few truly great television shows.
Brothers and Sisters
How does this show keep getting renewed? I admit that I watch this show, but I watch it because there is a part of me that loves the self-torture of watching something I so vehemently hate. From Sally Field's annoying, high-pitched voice, to the improbable storylines, to the whiny tone of Rachel Griffiths's voice (not limited to this show — as much as I loved Six Feet Under, her Brenda has to be one of television's most whiny bitches ever), to the generally annoying parts of every single aspect of this show (I cannot think of one thing I like, in fact), this show has no place on TV. End already. (This will also help me break the cycle of addiction to watching things that almost literally make me sick. I really need to stop yelling at my TV, "Oh, come on, seriously???")
Lie to Me
A little bit of a guilty pleasure. Generally entertaining, Tim Roth's misanthropic, difficult Cal Lightman is a character not unlike Dr Gregory House or Adrian Monk — completely annoying and infuriating (particularly if they were real and you had to deal with them in any meaningful way). On TV, though, Lightman is a human lie detector, and this premise enables him to "solve cases" in a sense but often gets him into as much trouble as not.
Another guilty pleasure. Spies, explosions and some fairly entertaining humor.
This show annoys me. Not as much as Brothers & Sisters does, but enough that I should not watch. Somehow I felt I had to watch it to enhance my pop culture knowledge (after all, I am widely known to be an encyclopedia of television – in order to keep this title, I need to know about even those things I don't want to see). I do not recommend this show, although the occasional episode or character is interesting.
Many times I have been watching episodes of Breaking Bad, and I find that I have stopped breathing. I cannot believe what I am seeing; the descent of Walter White into a meth-cooking underworld of crime and violence is gradual and slow enough that you barely recognize it happening (much the same way his descent happened to him, I assume). As a milquetoast, suburban husband and high school chemistry teacher facing a terminal illness and no way to provide for his wife and children, Walter White looks for solutions in what he knows best: chemistry. Bryan Cranston's Walter White is nothing short of miraculous, while White's protégé (former student/delinquent), Jesse Pinkman, played with equal craft by Aaron Paul, is believably messed up, angry, yet compassionate. While at times darkly comedic, the show examines human frailty, relationships and shows what people can become capable of. With each season more breathtaking than the last, I am anxious for the next season to begin.
Heading into the final season of Big Love, I don't find myself eager to see what the future holds in store for the polygamist Henrickson family. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the show, both the internal workings of the three Henrickson wives and their relationships with their husband Bill and the workings of the Juniper Creek compound, and have even been moved by some of the stories and acting, I think the show has run its course.
Anxiously awaiting the latest season of Californication, which has been in equal measure heartbreaking and hilarious, I wonder what has become of Hank Moody since the end of last season, when he was hauled off to jail. Quite a different season-ender from, for example, the season-ending episode of the first season, when Hank's true love, Karen, after he spent the entire season trying to woo her back, finally succumbs and runs away with Hank and their daughter, Becca. I had been disappointed with the "happy ending" for that season, but with time, I realized that Hank Moody is Hank Moody — there is no such thing as a happy ending. David Duchovny's Hank is a sex addicted, squandered-talent writer whose love for his family never quite manages to be enough. He almost always ends up hurting the people he loves most. Natascha McElhone imbues Karen with a perfect balance of a professional, serious woman who has simply had enough (but who is nevertheless repeatedly charmed by Hank, knowing every time it is going to lead to destruction – haven't we all been there?). The surrounding cast of characters (including hilarious guest run from Rick Springfield playing himself in the most recent season, which I think might be the best yet) complete the sometimes raunchy and sometimes touching (sometimes both simultaneously) picture. How many other shows do you know that can pull that off?
Generally very funny network comedy. I have liked it since the beginning, still enjoy it, but don't find it particularly innovative at this point. (I am quite partial to Alec Baldwin's talents in general, and his Jack Donaghy is arguably pretty funny.)
Slow to build an audience, but this is a sitcom that transcends the sitcom genre and goes to places you would never expect. Probably the funniest show on TV today, it is a must-see.
Not a funny show on the whole. In fact it can be quite insulting in both its premise and its easy stereotypes leveraged for laughs. I've heard a few funny lines on the show, but overall I would not waste my time. (The stereotypes, by the way, while mostly skewering India, Indians and the whole offshore call-center scenario, is fairly insulting to "the average American" and even to Australians.)
The jury is still out for me on The Event. Some of the acting is atrocious and over-the-top, but at least suspense did build episode by episode. The story has not been cohesive, threatening to cause viewers to lose interest. However, by the later episodes, some pieces of the puzzle started coming together (while more questions, perhaps more compelling questions, started to be asked). Given my general respect for the work of Blair Underwood and the ubiquitous Zeljko Ivanek, I am prepared to keep watching to give it a chance.
The Good Wife
Heaps of praise have been piled on this show, all well-deserved. Despite its dubious title, the show blends a carefully crafted legal drama (not just any procedural) with a cast of characters you want to know more about (some are mysterious, such as Kalinda (the much-lauded Archie Panjabi), while others' lives and scandals have been front-page news, such as the lead, Alicia (Julianna Margulies)). Part of the show's appeal is under the surface, wrapped within these mysteries. While some people are overtly mysterious, even those who have been in the public eye have secrets, feelings and their own sets of private mysteries. The Good Wife has elements of melodrama and all kinds of things that could easily push it into mundane, ho-hum territory, but the performances and writing make this a veritable roller coaster that always leaves you wanting more.
Both a critical and popular hit, it took me a while to warm to Modern Family, but I am glad I finally did. While I still rate Community as the best prime-time sitcom, Modern Family is right up there with it. Looking at three families (all part of one larger, extended family) in documentary style, we get a glimpse at quite varied comedic material within families (both traditional and non-traditional).
Some rather unbelievable things (with no consequences) occur in the course of Nurse Jackie, but I can overlook that for the entertainment value. I find it hard to resist the no-nonsense Jackie, hard-working, married mother of two, adulteress (with the pharmacist in the hospital that employs her) and drug addict. How Edie Falco pulls all this together and creates a deeply flawed but ultimately likable character is the key to this show's success (and indeed Falco's success). The outstanding supporting cast plays a big role in what makes this show work as well (the other characters are in fact not always likable, but they are quite human and imperfect).
United States of Tara
This show is an emotional roller-coaster ride, sometimes comical but often just a trip into the confused mind of the titular character, Tara (the incomparable Toni Collette). Somehow blending Tara's multiple-personality disorder with the subplots about her family with ease, the show tackles the difficulties each member of the family faces (both independently and as a result of Tara's illness).
SGU Stargate Universe
Being a little bit of a scifi geek and a closet Star Trek girl, I actually do not care for any Stargate shows, but when I saw that Robert Carlyle was in the latest, SGU, I decided to give it a chance, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. Unfortunately, it has already been canceled, so the next half of the current season (to be broadcast sometime next year) is all she wrote.
While this show held a slight promise of offering something more interesting, somehow none of the characters is charismatic enough to make me care. In fact several characters are completely unlikable. Anne Heche's Jessica is indecisive and whiny while Rebecca Creskoff's Lenore is a conniving psycho who delights in tormenting and using others. While Jane Adams's Tanya is exactly what I would expect (Adams is expert at playing a mousy loser who manages to be annoying and intrusive more often than not), I also cannot find anything redeeming in her. Thomas Jane's high school teacher/washed-out baseball player/male prostitute, Ray, should therefore pick up all the slack. You should really, really care about him and want him to succeed, but Jane fails to make anyone care. (I found that I cared a lot more about Ray's colleague, Mike (Gregg Henry), who was not that important in the show.)
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The personification of putting your foot in your mouth, and always having that same foot swiftly come around and kick you in the ass, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Larry David have captured the humor in sheer human unpleasantness.
How to Make it in America
Entertaining story about would-be entrepreneurs with an idea and the drive to work hard to achieve it (but still ending up not quite making it). Through dumb luck and even dumber carelessness, the two main characters manage almost to capitalize on their creativity but "take their eyes off the prize" (almost literally) and end up at square one. While I found this to be worthwhile, the first season was not particularly memorable. I will check out season two in the coming year and find out if it gets more memorable.
Kind of guilty pleasure… a team of former criminals teams together to use their criminal abilities to right wrongs. Mild, harmless entertainment. (Its title, take note, employs proper use of the word "leverage", which many otherwise professional people have co-opted and misused — one of my great pet peeves.)
I am at a loss for words when it comes to the first season of Treme; brought to TV by the creators of The Wire, employing quite a number of the same beloved cast, Treme was somehow slower, more meandering. It had less of a plot and more of a "mood" feel to it. We were meant to watch and get a sense of post-Katrina New Orleans and how people at all levels of society were dealing with the aftermath. The slow pace sometimes made viewing slow going but ultimately I felt that with careful viewing, I became invested in the characters. Thus when events transpired that caused various characters to move on (literally and figuratively), I did feel a certain sense of loss and regret. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.
Ruthlessness… but she always has a reason. (Reminds me of a line from a poem, as so many things do… "You always had a reason and you have them still" — "Song of the Fucked Duck" by Marge Piercy). Glenn Close's Patty Hewes is perhaps television's most Machiavellian character. She will do absolutely anything and everything to achieve her ends – she believes that her ends DO justify the means, and rarely does she let slip the steely exterior, carefully cultivated over a lifetime of cold, calculated decisions. Little by little, we see glimpses of Patty's past, and some of her means and ends, while never clear, at least appear to have reasons (for her). Taut, fearless storytelling and excellent supporting casts (right down to the bit parts) make this an intense legal thriller every season. (It, like Friday Night Lights, faced cancellation but got a reprieve via a cost-sharing and distribution deal with DirecTV.)
I had not been planning to watch this show, as it struck me even without seeing it as vulgar. Vaguely, mildly funny at moments, but mostly the kind of crass humor that fails to impress me, I watched it anyway. The premise: a low-income, trailer-park-esque loser, Jimmy, has a one-night stand with a girl who turns out to be a murderer. She gets pregnant but still gets the death penalty. The loser immediately becomes a single father. Not a great way to start. Apart from the thin storyline, there has always been an abrasive quality to Martha Plimpton, which is pitch perfect in her role here, but which is still annoying for me. Much more enjoyable is the comedic talent of the versatile everywhere-man Garret Dillahunt. This pair plays the parents of Jimmy and thus the grandparents of baby Hope.
Is there any justice in TVland? Terriers lasted just one season and gave us a buddy comedy (two guys who are unlicensed private investigators), unfolding mysteries that turn up a huge corporate conspiracy and fertile ground for many more adventures. Unfortunately there will be no more adventures, but watching the one season was well worth the time.
I'm a big fan of Timothy Olyphant, and he is perfect for Justified's lead character, US Marshal Raylan Givens. I cannot quite pinpoint what it is that makes this show so compelling. It is simply well done with interesting heroes and villains (and sometimes something in between) alongside an overarching story of someone reluctantly coming home to a place they thought they'd never return to.
Leaving aside the dreadful title and the first few episodes of the show, which tried to focus on the whole "cougar" concept, I gave this show a chance, and I am glad I did. While not ingenious, not brilliant and not particularly memorable, it's great for a few laughs. A good ensemble cast for solid comedy, Cougar Town can (and does) make fun of its own name.
An older show that I only got around to watching recently, I was struck by the supernatural/otherworldly qualities and understated acting here. I expected to dislike the show, so was pleasantly surprised when it drew me in. Where else and how often do you get to see the The Man from Another Place from Twin Peaks (Michael J. Anderson)?
In some ways, this show should be funny — and sometimes it was. But more often than that, I found that it grated on my nerves. Maybe it went too far to be awkward? A very self-involved therapist to the stars has no self-awareness whatsoever and routinely proves herself to be the head case most in need of treatment.
The Whole Truth
Canceled without even airing one full season, this was a fairly standard legal show except for the twist — the prosecution and defense processes were shown separately, discretely, with some events overlapping (but shown from a different perspective, depending on whether its was the prosecution or defense point of view we were seeing as viewers). While there was nothing inherently special about this, there was something special about the casting and the chemistry between the leads. Rob Morrow and Maura Tierney, both television veterans, should perhaps have been given a better chance to pull this one off.
It took me a few years to get around to watching this, as I did recently. I did not have high hopes or expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this show was smart and funny — a shame to have such an abrupt ending to this tale of a family of Travelers assuming the identities of a wealthy family (to whose deaths they had been witnesses), the Riches. I have never been a big Minnie Driver fan, but this show made me a convert (especially coupled with Eddie Izzard).
When a Dutch friend insisted that I watch the new version of BSG, I was sort of indignant. Not someone who takes recommendations very well, I felt skeptical and a bit miffed. Like why on earth would he think I would want to see something like this? Of course, I based my prejudice on the cheesy original version of Battlestar; my sour attitude in general is just something natural. I did, however, relent, and I was immediately hooked. From the opening scene in the starting miniseries to the very end (despite some confusions and turbulence throughout the run of the show), this was a testament to what television can be, can strive for — science fiction or not. This show transcended genre and style and remains among my favorite television shows of all time.
Billed as a prequel to Battlestar Galactica, Caprica failed to capture much interest, squandered viewers' patience and did not really capitalize on the loyal following of BSG fans. Most characters were brittle at best, but largely not a single one stood out as someone likable. It was a standoffish and cold feeling show. I kept watching, hoping for developments or signs that something would improve, but it never did. The show has already been canceled.
I cannot say much that has not already been said about Tony Soprano and his family, his therapist, his affairs and his "extended" family. The show deserves the praise it has received and deserves credit for being one of the early springboards for great cable-based drama. Nothing has revolutionized the quality of TV like the move off mainstream network television. We can thank The Sopranos for upping the ante.
Another one-season show, ended prematurely, that could be quite funny at times.
Canceled after one promising season, Rubicon moved slowly but showed a lot of promise. Quashed promise.
This could have been promising… very interesting premise (some unexplained event causes the entire world to black out for two minutes, during which people see their futures; they return to consciousness and have to deal with the aftermath of having seen what is coming), but it was just wasted. It seemed to go around in circles, and in many cases, key roles seemed horribly miscast (Joseph Fiennes as FBI agent-sometime-rule-breaker-alcoholic Mark Benford, as the most prominent example).
Although this show lasted for a number of seasons and had numerous stars who went on to bigger things, very few people seem to remember this show. A small-town guy, Dave (Dave Foley), arrives in New York City to become the news director of a news radio station. A quirky, unusual comedy formed with a quirky bunch of characters formed the core of this show (also a victim of network interference, which was often flouted). This was also the last stop for the late comedian, Phil Hartman, before his wife murdered him. The show only lasted for one year after his death.
Underrated, fast-moving sitcom that only lasted two seasons. Really strong work from The Good Wife's Josh Charles and pre-Six Feet Under Peter Krause. One of those rare shows that can be too clever for its own good (ultimately led to its demise) and moving/human.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Perhaps it was timing, perhaps it was some kind of overload/backlash against backstage-at-comedy-sketch-shows shows (this came out around the same time as the similarly themed 30 Rock), perhaps it was an anti-Aaron Sorkin move, I don't know. Whatever the case, this packed-to-the-gills-with-funny sitcom did not last long, but it was clever, silly and lost too soon. While the leads (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) enjoyed a witty repartee together, and their foil, ally and boss, Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) kept up with them, supporting cast also made this show superb. I was particularly fond of Steven Weber as Jack Rudolph.
In much the same way as The Tudors brought the reign of Henry VIII to dramatic life, Rome accomplished a similar feat for ancient Rome. Dramatic, beautiful sets, intense storytelling and strong casting made this series shine a light on a period of time that is (for unimaginative me) dull and lackluster.
An outlandish show that grew progressively more outlandish over time. It never enjoyed a strong sense of credibility or reality, which was fine for the sake of entertainment. Some things were highly annoying — how they switched the actress who played Teddy midway through the season or the endless reappearances of Kimber (I really do not see the appeal there). Over the course of many seasons, there were many such annoyances. But there were moments, from the intriguing first season to some of the moments of self-reflection on the part of both main characters (as well as the way the bonds of their friendship were repeatedly tested, but they managed to maintain their relationship) that showed a more "enlightened" version of this out-to-shock soap opera.
Flight of the Conchords
Too hilarious- New Zealand group Flight of the Conchords offer a two-season HBO comedy that pokes fun at cultural stereotypes and the supposed cultural naivete of New Zealand. I was particularly fond of the episode in which they make fun of the French. 🙂
More often than not, Ugly Betty was a standard "family fare" show on ABC, where everyone turns out good and nice and happy (except the villain, who never really faces any true consequences). On occasion, however, it could be incredibly funny (intentionally or otherwise). It was not really my thing, and I think it probably ended at the right time (there is only so far you can take the idea of someone being ugly, awkward and badly dressed when they are day by day "improving" while still being true to themselves). Ultimately the show highlighted how being true to oneself and not necessarily conforming is important. In a world where everyone is striving to be the same, it was a welcome message.
While this particular period of history fails to hold my interest, particularly when flat and described in writing, bringing it to life in a semi-fictional form does pique one's interest. For example, when one reads about Henry's many wives, the details become jumbled, but telling a story about each woman and each marriage makes it memorable. Performances here were outstanding and intense. I was especially fond of Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon.
An interesting show that got a little out of control in the end but which was a fascinating look at an undercover agent infiltrating a terrorist sleeper cell.
One of the best shows on television (arguably, ever, but certainly in the last few decades), The Wire put a very different spin on the idea of a "cop show" because it was so much more than that. Why else would it be so important in politics? Ask Reykjavik Mayor, Jon Gnarr. I cannot really overestimate the brilliance of this show, the heartbreak the show asks us to bear and the grind of reality the show makes us face about society.
Six Feet Under
Like many people, I was hopelessly drawn into this show when it made its original run. The characters were endlessly fascinating, fragile but real. Upon second or third viewings, I am amazed (and annoyed) by how completely self-obsessed and selfish these people are, as if only their own feelings and concerns mattered. At the same time, I believe viewers could really only care about these people and relate to them as well as they did because we could see the imperfections of these characters clearly.
The Dead Zone
From a decent film/story, and even a promising first season of a TV show, The Dead Zone seemed to go on a bit too long and eventually ended. There was only so much of Anthony Michael Hall's affected "intense" face one could take. Not bad for some mindless entertainment.
Dirty Sexy Money
On occasion, this short-lived and mostly uninspired show offered a spark. Often with shows that have large casts, some subplots are more interesting than others. I was intrigued to find out where things might go with Blair Underwood's character, Simon Elder, but we never got to resolve those mysteries nor the mysteries on which the show was founded.
Not the best show by any means, but it was elevated sometimes by some interesting storytelling and the talent of Jonny Lee Miller in the title role. It didn't last long (maybe for good reason).
Gone much, much too soon… a show that could be exciting, funny and thoughtful all at once. Kind of like "Chinese-influenced cowboys in space", Firefly was a brief flight of fancy kept together under the leadership of Mal (Nathan Fillion, currently starring in Castle). Fast-moving, and rich with likable, misfit characters, Firefly was an adventurous exploration that did not even get to show its entire, only season on TV (the DVD features all of the episodes). The film Serenity came out later to try to tie up some loose ends; the film, strangely enough, seems to have ignited a belated interest in Firefly the TV show, which seems only to have found its audience after its death.
I would not have imagined that this would be something I would enjoy. The whole "Wild West" idea has never much appealed to me, but with a stellar cast and more profanity than I have ever heard strung together in my entire life, the few seasons of Deadwood that existed were a treat.
I did not know what to expect from Brotherhood, and while the first season yielded a lot of promise, I found my patience got a bit taxed. It was an interesting look at how political candidates start out with good intentions but have to make so many compromises (for any number of reasons – but a better portrayal of this can be seen in The Wire).
The funniest television show ever. I can watch it over and over, laugh at the same thing and discover new things in its multilayered style. Never gets old and ended far too soon.
Not the most realistic (and highly violent) representation of a free-wheeling cop and his renegade, hand-picked team of cops who dig themselves deeper and deeper into trouble and spend all their time trying to stay two steps ahead of the trouble (often creating even more trouble trying to dodge past crimes). Addictive to watch, somehow always making you cheer for this team of bad cops, it could not have ended well. Fueled by great characters, particularly Jay Karnes (as Dutch) and CCH Pounder (as Claudette), it was a gripping show right until the end.
An interesting idea, although sort of gimmicky and too racy for network TV in theory, the show ultimately had very little to do with swingers, even if they came into the equation. More prevalent were examinations of adult relationships. We never got to explore further, though. The cast was great, particularly Molly Parker.
I am not sure precisely what prompted me to watch this show (boredom?) nor why I kept watching it. Especially in the end it got a bit preachy, religious/spiritual and was never particularly free of these elements. I have mixed feelings on Holly Hunter (sometimes she is fantastic and others she is annoying. Here I could see a bit of both, which has little to do with Hunter but more to do with her character). I was interested in the backdrop and backstory, i.e. Oklahoma City and an underlying story dealing with the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy and how that affected people in OKC. Generally this show had its moments, but it is not something I would recommend.
Dramatic prison show; well worth watching if you can stomach it.
A short-lived but thought-provoking show about a therapist who starts to take stock of his life, family and career after a young patient commits suicide in his office. Huff, brought to life by Hank Azaria, did not really get much of a chance to get off the ground, ending after just two seasons.
An interesting premise and often very funny in its first few seasons, Monk was an excellent show and Tony Shalhoub always a fantastic actor. It lost its charm after a few years, particularly as it became more and more difficult to tolerate Monk's quirks and phobias.
Tell Me You Love Me
What could have been an intriguing idea ended up being mostly a self-involved and whiny look at people's relationship problems. Several couples/individuals with very loosely connected stories seek the counsel of a therapist, but almost no one comes out sympathetic or likable, other than the therapist herself. Of particular note, Sonya Walger (as Carolyn) comes off as a selfish, indecisive bitch, for lack of a better word. Oddly, she is expert at playing this kind of role (I rarely see her do anything else). Even when she was supposed to come across as somewhat sympathetic, as in her roles in the recent season of In Treatment, Sleeper Cell or the one-season dud FlashForward, she has a harsh, shrill quality that makes her impossible to like.
Portrayal of the Iraq war, sometimes weak and inadequate leadership (going all the way up to the top). Based on an account written by a journalist embedded with 1st Recon Marines. Applause of course for the superlative performance of Alexander Skårsgard (elevated by a superb supporting cast, particularly Stark Sands).
Band of Brothers
I cannot say much about Band of Brothers. Without exaggerating, I would call it something like a masterpiece. I am not a big fan of war films, but this miniseries was moving beyond what mere words can say (and actual critics have said enough already, to say nothing of the popularity of this series, which I only got around to seeing in 2010).
I only recently got around to watching this Baltimore-based crime show. Gritty and spare, it was a pioneer of more realistic storytelling, delving into some of the more personal demons that law enforcement officers/detectives battle (depression, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, relationship difficulties) in the face of their difficult and often very unrewarding work. (Homicide often featured stories of cases that went unsolved, and how this haunted detectives for years.) Unfortunately the show was not given full creative freedom, and the network tried to force it to be something it was not. (As a rather tragic aside, I noticed in one of the early episodes that the late Adrienne Shelly played a murder victim's friend, and said to Kyle Secor's character, Detective Tim Bayliss, "It's good to know that if something like this ever happens to me, you'll be there." Shelly, the actress, was murdered several years ago.)
Probably a show that came a bit before its time (therefore making it short-lived), The Comeback uses Lisa Kudrow's considerable comedic talents to illustrate the sometimes humiliating lengths one will go to in order to revive a dead acting career and comeback from "has-been" status.
The Office (UK)
I admit that I have never given a fair shake to the long-running, popular US version of The Office, and maybe I will. But the original UK version goes further on awkwardness and general office incompetence than the US version — both factors which make the UK version feel a lot more satisfying and cringe-worthy. I watched this several years ago and still believe it is great TV.