Here’s the second of my five Golden Teddy posts. I’ve done my Most Excellence in Music post, and to come are Most Excellence in Stuff, Most Excellence in Writing, and Most Excellence in Film. The second will probably come in late January, because most of the good movies from 2010 haven’t played here yet. I’ll do Stuff and Writing today or tomorrow. (I changed Most Excellence in Books to Most Excellence in Writing, because I haven’t read that many books this year, and I seem to have short-shrifted stories, articles, and poems in the past.)
Anyway, here’s the TV!
And please note: I watch a lot of TV, but I don’t watch a lot of what’s on. So, I don’t have an opinion about a lot of things — like The Real Housewives of [Insert City Here], The A List, CSI: [Insert City Here], or anything animated, because while I almost always like The Simpsons, I almost never like Family Guy or Southpark — and thus, they won’t win any awards.
Most Excellence in Being Exactly What You Are and Nothing Else
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmC77zrxkjg]Smallville. I’ve watched almost every episode of Smallville, and I’ve been watching since its premiere ten years ago. I stopped for a bit somewhere in the middle, when it got really silly and strangely focused on Lana Lang’s occult powers, but I returned three years ago when other DC ‘verse folk showed up. It got geekier, more myth-y, campier, and simply more fun. Now, in its last year, Smallville is all about Clark and Lois and their destiny. It’s all going somewhere, and it’s doing it as if the show were a filmed comic book. It’s one of the shows that I’m most excited to see on the list of stuff the TiVo has recorded. I love this fan-made promo video for the final season.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJk6b3kAvME]True Blood. The first season was awesome in its shocking blood, sex, and astronomical production values, and the second season was pulpy but unsatisfying and sorta, well, bad. But this past season, the third, True Blood went back to being great at being what it is: blood, sex, astronomical production values, and a coherent, engrossing through-line that made you want to keep watching. And there are two reasons: Joe Manganiello, who was so hot that it was hard to sit still watching him on screen, and Denis O’Hare, whose uber-baddy was camptastically evil.
Most Excellence in Filthy, Gorgeous Camp … and Sadness
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQT4yvkNR_U]Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I have no problem admitting that I started watching Spartacus because I’d heard there were lots of naked gladiators in it. And there are. But it was also insanely entertaining, in 300 meets Rome kind of way: So much blood, so much sex, so many shots of Lucy Lawless’s breasts, so many discussions about honor, so very little subtlety. And Andy Whitfield, who played the titular character, is such an amazingly hot and fierce (in the gay and traditional definitions) action hero. It is deeply awful that promptly after becoming world famous for this role he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and blarg, the role has been recast with some guy who will never be as awesome.
Most Excellence in Scaring the Living Poo Out of MeThe Walking Dead. Like vampires, zombies have gone high-brow in the last decade. Danny Boyle started it with 28 Days Later, and now we have a high-art cable show on the same network as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The pilot of The Walking Dead is easily one of the scariest and creepiest 90 minutes of televisual entertainment I’ve ever encountered. I’ve heard complaints that after the first couple episodes, the show got boring. As far as I can tell, “boring” means that the show didn’t focus solely on blowing the heads off of zombies but rather on the human emotional upheaval of the apocalypse, which The Walking Dead does much better than Battlestar Galatica ever could. The acting and writing are as good as anything else on the air right now, and the action — of which there is a lot — is intense and often brilliantly directed. As you can see from the clip here.
Most Excellence in Wrongness (Comedy)
Raising Hope. I liked My Name Is Earl, but there was something a bit mean-spirited about it; the characters, despite Earl’s desire to do the right thing, were deep-down not very good people. Raising Hope, which has the same creator and which is set in the same town, uses white trash humor a bit more humanely and lovingly. At the heart of the show is family, love, and responsibility. And it’s crazy, crazy funny.
Most Excellence in Wrongness (Drama)
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RB8t0CCZB4]Breaking Bad. Since the premise of show is watching when, how, and why people “break bad” — become criminals, do terrible things, compromise their ethics and morals — I shouldn’t be surprised by the number of times I screech “Oh, no!” when I’m watching Breaking Bad. The one here is the most epic. Lawd. It’s really hard to watch. I’m not even sure if it’s entertaining. But it’s damn good drama. That said, I’m probably only watching it because my dissertation is about meth, and so is this show.
Most Excellent Endings
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEqcMPsUqQ8]Lost. While no series finale can touch the last episode of Six Feet Under — which I think should be used as the definition of “sublime” — the finale of Lost is one of the few that actually both ends a story and does it in a satisfying, emotionally rewarding way. It took me a while to comprehend it fully how it worked, but the ingenious duel storylines of the last season, one of which only in hindsight took place in a sort of Purgatory, allowed a mysterious build-up of catharsis that I had only experienced while reading great novels. I wept in the same way I did after reading the last page of Atonement.
Most Excellently Awful, Sharp-Jumping, Are-You-Fucking-Kidding-Me?! Ending
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qesx7T6s6_o]Project Runway. After three months of watching Mondo make exquisite, artful, original and deeply personal women’s clothes and also watching Gretchen making dreadful clothes inspired by Joni Mitchell album covers from the late 70s, it was, to say the least, appalling to watch Gretchen win Project Runway. It was one of the best seasons in a while: drama, drama, drama, and some cool clothes, too. But in Mondo being robbed, it was the first time that someone truly, truly undeserving won.
Most Excellence in Being Dreadfully Awful
Fox News. What’s that sound? It’s all 73 of my readers saying “duh.” All you need to know about how evil of this station is in the survey that showed that its viewers are the most misinformed compared to viewers of MSNBC and CNN. And how did Fox’s spokesperson respond? By attacking the authors of the study because they’re researchers at the University of Maryland. Cuz it’s a party school! As if that has anything to do with whether the methods of the researchers are valid. If the researchers were from Harvard? Liberal! If they were from Oxford? European! If they were from Bob Jones University? Silence. Based on the amount of partisanship, cynicism, anger, and discursive evil it has wrought, Fox News is the single worst thing to happen to the American polity since Watergate.
Most Excellence in Pointing Out How Dreadfully Awful Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC Are
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JnDY2Gv5YQ]Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And I don’t even watch their shows; I just watch the clips when they’re posted on Facebook. Sadly, as good as Stewart and Colbert are at shredding into tiny, tiny, tiny pieces the falsities and cynicism of Fox News, nothing changes. Everyone with a clue knows that Fox News is not news, but rather hateful, dishonest propaganda. And everyone who wants to hear only what makes uneducated white Christians feel good about themselves will happily watch Fox and believe whatever they’re told.
Most Excellent Topic of Argument for Pop Culture-Minded Grad Students (that isn’t Black Swan)
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTnwv2NN-DI]Glee. Some people love it, some people hate it, a lot of people thought this season isn’t as good or consistent as last season (as if it was ever consistent), and I love how it makes people fight about art, drama, and the representation of gays and lesbians on TV. Queeny and manipulative and damaged and funny, Kurt is all sorts of problematic, and so are his storylines, and I love when people get all indignant about Kurt, pro or con. Also: It’s fun to watch people trash Glee in total and thoughtlessly expose their either external or internal homophobia. And by “fun,” I mean “depressing and useful.” Also: This clip shows the cutest, gayest, and most subversive thing I’ve seen on network TV in a long time.
Most Excellence in Continued Excellence (Drama)
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkCzGBK3aWY]Mad Men. I don’t think there’s any debate about this being the best season since the first. I can quibble about some odd dramatic transitions, or lack thereof, particularly in the moment when Don decided to stop, or curtail, his drinking, for that scene was never shown. And I found his journaling a tad weird. But “The Suitcase” was the best episode of the entire series, and the drama of Anna’s death, Don’s quick and weird engagement with his toothy secretary, Roger’s disastrous lies, and Peggy being Peggy created an emotional roller coaster for both Don and the audience. You get why he drinks.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGnjj6pbU9E]The Good Wife. There are two shows that when I see them in my TiVo list, I get excited: Smallville and The Good Wife. Clearly, I like a lot of TV, but when it comes to pure entertainment, The Good Wife does it without being shocking, depressing, or challenging. These are all qualities that I like in a show, but sometimes you just want a procedural/soap opera that is well-acted, well-written, and not insulting to your intelligence (unlike every other legal procedural on network television.)
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGoI1eW9zvs]Fringe. While there’s not too much competition right now, even if there were some competition, it’s still the best sci-fi on TV. And it got so much better this year for three reasons: 1) Taking the drama to the parallel universe, which is so Crisis on Infinite Earths; 2) Giving us Walternate and Fauxlivia, roles that give two of our heroes the opportunity to play slightly different versions of one character, which leads to some superheroic acting; 2) Joshua Jackson being all Joshua Jacksony — Yum.
Most Excellence in Continued Excellence (Comedy)
30 Rock. It’s beginning to have that not-so-fresh feeling, but the satire is still genius. Explaining comedy is hard. Here’s a clip.
Modern Family. For the same reason as last year: incredibly funny and not mean. 1/2 Arrested Development, 1/4 All in the Family, and 1/4 Leave it to Beaver. And we have a clip to prove it.
Parks & Recreation. It’s almost as good as The Office was when that show was at its best. I’m worried about the new presence of Rob Lowe, who I’ve always found to be incredibly unctuous, but Parks & Rec wonderfully uncynical, openhearted, and silly. Clip!
Wow. I really do watch too much TV.