Please watch me

Thomas Ward, Caitlin Stasey, Josh Thomas and Debra Lawrance in Please Like Me

In October, the little watched cable channel Pivot shut down. Few people noticed, and even though this is the sort of thing I do notice, I didn’t find out until one of its shows, the Australian import Please Like Me, debuted its new season on Hulu. At first I was happy, because I don’t get Pivot but I do have Hulu, and Please Like Me is my favorite TV show. I’ve called it the gay love child of Girls and Louie, as frank and maybe more funny in its examinations of gay sex, chronic depression and the agonies of adulthood. It is a masterpiece of the New Golden Era of TV, but it is criminally under-watched. Hulu could change that! Then I found out the problem. Without Pivot, Please Like Me doesn’t have funding for another season. This may change, but the comments the show’s creator and star Josh Thomas has been making do not express much optimism. Season Four may be Please Like Me’s last. [Update: It’s over, per Josh Thomas. Sad face.] And among its six episodes are some of the best half hours of television of the last several years.

Please Like Me is a half-hour, single-camera comedy that revolves around Josh, a wise-cracking gay twentysomething living in Melbourne. He shares a small house with his dog John and straight, long-time best friend Tom. John is played by Josh Thomas’ dog John, and Tom is played by Thomas Ward, Thomas’ long-time best friend. Josh’s flighty, sweet Mum, played by Debra Lawrance, is bipolar and attempted suicide in the series’ first episode; Josh comes out, to one’s surprise, to his girlfriend Claire (Caitlin Stasey) and to Tom in that episode, too. Also around is Josh’s gruff but loving father Alan (David Roberts), who has a baby with his much younger Thai girlfriend Mae (Renee Lim). Aside from Claire, who ends up dating Tom as well, Josh and Tom’s various relationships have major roles, the most important being Josh’s neurotic boyfriend Arnold (Keegan Joyce) and Tom’s sweet and quirky girlfriend Ella (Emily Barclay).

Over the first three seasons, Josh has grown up considerably, fully embracing his sexuality, managing his mother’s mental illness, and settling into a job running his own gourmet food cart. He’s also still occasionally selfish and foolish and his reliance on jokes gets him in trouble with just about everyone. Tom, meanwhile, is still a man-child with no direction and fickle morality. The beginning of the fourth season has Josh tentatively settled into his relationship with Arnold, and Tom is planning to move in with Ella. Alan and Mae have repaired their relationship, and Josh’s mother seems to be stable living with her friend Hannah (Hannah Gadsby), who she met while in a psychiatric hospital. Things start going awry on a camping trip for Hannah’s birthday, and by the end of the season, Josh, Tom, Mum, Hannah and Alan are put through the ringer on their way to epiphanies of various sizes.

Thomas, who writes or co-writes every episode, is particularly adept at what is known as a “bottle episode,” which usually focuses on one setting and only regular characters. Season Two’s brilliant Scroggin focuses solely on Josh and Mum as they hike a park in Tasmania; I put it on the same artistic level as Mad Men’s Nixon vs. Kennedy and The Suitcase or Seinfeld’s The Contest. Season Four has two bottle episodes. The camping trip for Hannah’s birthday is the setting for Porridge, and Thomas and Ward weave old and new threads into a hilarious and sad ode to misplaced expectations. Josh takes his parents to an expensive and pretentious dinner in Degustation, partly to cheer up Mum, and almost the entire episode takes place at the table as the three share stories, reveal secrets, make jokes and get angry. I laughed so loudly while watching it my neighbor knocked on my door to ask if I was OK. The fifth episode of the season starts out as a typically silly sex-and-neuroses story and then the second half is a bottle focused on shocking grief.

Josh Thomas and Debra Lawrance in Please Like Me

While much is resolved by the end of the season, and I’ve read some critics say that it would be a fine place to end the show, there is too much undone and unsaid to satisfy me. Of course, I can’t stand to lose characters that I’ve grown to love. I’m still not over the last episodes of Six Feet Under, Lost, or Mad Men. With Please Like Me, however, if enough people watch it on Hulu, it might return. Hulu’s head of content Craig Erwich has left the door open: “We’ll have to see. I wouldn’t rule it out. Let’s see how Season Four goes, what the fans think of it and how it is, and then also where the producers [want it to go], but it’s certainly always an option.”


Please Like Me

Created by Josh Thomas

Starring Josh Thomas, Thomas Ward and Debra Lawrance

On Hulu

Originally published in LGBT Weekly

The Normal Heart is no longer dated; it’s timeless.

When Larry Kramer premiered his play The Normal Heart off-Broadway in 1985, his agonizing, angry autobiographical story about the AIDS epidemic in New York City and the few activists desperately trying to help their lovers and friends hit like the city like an emotional meteor. While a very few theater critics were able to see through the anger and desperation and criticize the play for its occasional polemical two-dimensionality, most people who saw it experienced it like Kramer’s alter ego in the play Ned Weeks did AIDS: enraged and distraught. Kramer, who helped found both Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and ACT-UP, is arguably the least subtle of modern American civil rights heroes; he makes Malcolm X seem like a cranky assistant principal. But of those heroes, only Marin Luther King, Jr. was as great a writer. Whatever dramaturgical problems the play had, Kramer wrote speeches for his characters that were powerfully eloquent enough to mobilize audiences to turn on the city that had long sheltered but had ultimately failed gay men. (It’s doubtful that New York’s closeted Mayor Ed Koch could have prevented the AIDS from becoming an epidemic, but it’s inarguable that his selfish, terrified inaction made it worse for New Yorkers infected with HIV.)

You’d think with a figure like Larry Kramer and a play so powerful and celebrated and a topic so immediate and dire, The Normal Heart would have been filmed quickly. But two things intervened: Kramer’s irascibility scared the bejesus out of closeted Hollywood, and Barbra Streisand, who held the rights to the film for more than a decade, thought the cinematic narcissism called The Mirror Has Two Faces was more important for her to make. It wasn’t until a celebrated 2011 Broadway revival of the play that the combined forces of HBO and Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) finally managed to begin filming.

Their stunningly good production of The Normal Heart is arriving more the 29 years after the play’s premiere. In that time GMHC became an entrenched bureaucracy and ACT-UP rose and fell and protease inhibitors made HIV a manageable illness like diabetes in wealthy countries and those countries have helped make it so for millions in poor countries and gay marriage is legal in 17 states and it is Supreme Court decision away from being the law of the land. Honestly, we don’t need The Normal Heart the same way we did in 1985. While the play was written as contemporary political theatre, it can’t be that now. Now, it is just history. This would seem to ensure than the film would be less than what the play was, but the opposite is what has happened. Kramer’s adaptation of his own play not only makes it work better for the expansive power of film, but it also fixes the particularly dated features of the play, tempering the anachronistic prevention arguments, deepening once flat characters, and expanding the story from its local specifics into a more universality. The Normal Heart is no longer dated; it’s timeless.

Kramer’s alter ego is Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), a neurotic gay writer unlucky in love and critical of gay men’s shallow promiscuity (and thus disliked by many of them). It is 1981, and his friends start getting sick and then dying, and based on the expertise of a cranky, wheelchair bound doctor (Julia Roberts), he helps organize a group of gay men to do something. In the play, the organization is unnamed, but in the film, as in reality, this organization is GMHC, now one of the country’s largest AIDS service organizations. While attempting to get The New York Times to write more about the disease, he meets Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), a beautiful fashion writer, and they quickly fall in love. Meanwhile, Ned and his GMHC partners worry and grieve about their lovers and fight and fight about tactics and personalities, with Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch) representing the WASPy conservative accommodation-minded opposite of Ned’s confrontational Jew and Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons) as their sweet, smart middleman. The stakes are powerfully raised with Felix reveals to Ned that he has a Kaposi sarcoma lesion growing on his foot. Between Felix’s illness, Bruce’s opposition, and the disapproval of Ned’s brother Ben (Alfred Molina), Ned is in a constant state of agony – and righteousness. The end of the story is pre-ordained by history and circumstance, and you will cry.

Kramer’s screenplay reorders scenes, deletes several expository AIDS 101 monologues, gives Roberts one extra minute to earn more sympathy, and greatly expands Tommy’s character. Based on Roger McFarlane, Kramer’s close friend and the first executive director of GMHC who went on to run multiple other AIDS organizations, Tommy was a small but key character in the play. In the film, he comes to represent the pragmatic, responsible, moral good that came from the idealistic and fraught early fighting between Ned and Bruce. Parsons, who has won three Emmys for The Big Bang Theory and is possibly the great comic actor of his generation, shows that he is as versatile and powerful as the film’s star Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo, to his credit, has never been as great on screen, despite brilliant performances in You Can Count on Me and The Kids Are All Right, and he is funny, heartbreaking, annoying, and very sexy. Performing a character created to be cried over, Bomer is obvious, but good. Roberts’s casting was maligned by some purists, but her cold, angry performance is flawless.

The biggest surprise for viewers not familiar with New York theater is Joe Mantello, best known now for his direction of, among other major Broadway shows, Wicked. As Mickey Marcus, one of Ned’s best friends, Mantello erupts in the third act of the film with the greatest of Kramer’s speeches, a barnburner of rage and agony. Like Parsons and Bomer, Mantello is an out gay man, and they join several other famous out actors – including Stephen Spinella, Denis O’Hare, and BD Wong – in a largely out gay cast. That would have been impossible in a film shot during the 1980s.

While Kramer and the cast are responsible for much of the film’s success, I have to give director Ryan Murphy his due. I think he’s the most overrated producer and writer in television. Whatever Glee’s charms, it’s wildly inconsistent and occasionally unwatchable, and American Horror Story is sadistic misogyny as low-brow art. I was terrified of what he would do to such an important work like The Normal Heart. But the film, despite being a little long and edited occasionally too bluntly, is beautifully directed, with scenes tautly staged and occasionally gorgeously shot. And when everyone in a cast delivers such consistently great performances, it can’t be simply their natural talent. Murphy directed them, and the film, to greatness.

The Normal Heart
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Larry Kramer
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons
Premiering on HBO on May 25 at 9pm

Looking for ourselves in Looking

The afternoon of the day that HBO’s Looking premiered, the influential gay critic Alonso Duralde posted on Facebook, “Tonight is the premiere of LOOKING. The this-doesn’t-reflect-my-specific-queer-experience-so-boo-hoo-the-hell-with-it backlash is already in progress.” The producers and publicists of Looking, a half-hour dramedy about three gay men looking for love and sex in San Francisco, have generated so much hype in the gay press and the gay ghettos of social media that they quickly and unintentionally also generated an anti-hype machine. Almost immediately after hopeful articles appeared suggesting Looking might be as zeitgeist-defining for gay men as Girls was for young, urban women, the backlash began. Before anyone had seen an episode of the show, when all that was offered was thirty-second trailers and billboards in the real-life gay ghettos, people complained that it would too white, too shallow, too tame, not enough like Queer as Folk, too much like Queer as Folk. Praise often generates criticism, if only because contrarians exist and no aesthetic opinion has ever been universal, but I think something more specific is behind the arguments about Looking. Gay men rarely see accurate depictions of themselves reflected outside alternative, independent media, and when something like Looking deigns to represent their lives, gay men argue about what their lives are and what they should be.

Looking is written by the somewhat unknown Michael Lannan but directed by Andrew Haigh, who was responsible for Weekend, one of the most lauded gay films since Brokeback Mountain. Weekend was a naturalistic, emotionally and physically raw examination of modern gay lust and love, and Haigh’s involvement in Looking has a great deal to do with its pre-premier hype. And the first episode of Looking looked and felt like Weekend, complete with slightly jagged hand-held photography, gorgeous and seemingly natural light, and dialogue quick-edited into impressionistic snippets rather than linear conversations. While the opening scene featured both a furtive, aborted hook-up in a wooded park and a much less awkward threesome, the sex in Looking is not as daring or as explicit as it was in Weekend, or for that matter, Queer as Folk.

Otherwise, I could not tell whether the show could be as transformative or as disappointing as hoped or feared. There’s not much characterization or plotting you can do in 29 minutes, especially when tone and atmosphere are as important to Lannan and Haigh as story or backstory. We do know that 29-year-old Patrick (Jonathan Groff, best known for Glee and Spring Awakening) is single and doesn’t want to be and gets nervous and awkward when meeting men. Dom (Murray Bartlett), who is older and chiseled and full of swagger, is a direction-less waiter who until this episode has never been rejected by a man he was interested in. Bearded Augustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) decides to move in with his boyfriend, and then he promptly initiates a threesome with a co-worker. The humor is light and wry, the drama slow and subtle; the emotion comes from what is not said, from glances, expressions, and meaningful silence.
Looking is the anti-Girls, which is all about narcissistic, consciously witty monologues; whereas Girls is lily-white and as stagey as Woody Allen, every moment in the much more racially diverse Looking is meant to be as believable as hidden camera documentary. And unlike Girls, whose protagonist is a completely normal woman who has both typically and atypically pretty friends, Looking features one nearly perfect-looking man after another, men who seem only to be interested in men like themselves.

Herein lies the conflict and contention. I doubt too many viewers would claim that the problems of dating, mating, and monogamy are foreign from the actual gay experience. And I know groups of friends who are strangely, if not uniformly, young and attractive; Patrick, Dom, and Augustín do happen. But most gay men do not experience their lives like the men in Looking. They either aspire to these lives and looks or they are focused on something else completely. The majority do the latter: they’re suburban dads, small city bears, genderqueer kids who can’t and don’t imagine themselves living in the Castro. If there were multiple depictions of gay men on national television, I doubt few people would be angry about Looking. But most gay characters on television are witty sidekicks consciously constructed to play well in Peoria. For example, very little about Mitchell and Cam on Modern Family rings true, even if they’re funny and probably great for the cause.

Looking is the first major American television series to treat gay men like living, breathing human beings. And no human being, no three human beings, can represent an entire community or culture. Haigh recently told The Atlantic, “It never was our intention to be the ultimate gay show about all gay people. We just want to tell the stories of these characters and their lives.” But when there are so few shows with gay characters and only one with believable gay protagonists, that one will seem like it is trying to be that ultimate, and that one will disappoint, even anger the people who don’t identify with its characters. This is not the fault of Lannan, Haigh, or HBO; it’s a problem with the larger heterosexist culture, one that we all have to work to change.

Episode 1: “Looking for Now”
Written by Michael Lannan
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Starring Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, and Murray Bartlett
Looking airs Sunday nights on HBO, starting January 20.

The 2010 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Television

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:]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:]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:]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 Me

The 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:]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:]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:]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:]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:]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:]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:]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:]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.

The 2009 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Television

Sorry for the delay. I’ve been busy. And this is the embarrassing Golden Teddy Award, because it shows just how much TV I watch.

Most Excellence In Happy Endings

[youtube:]Southland. The best new show of 2009, Southland was canceled not because of bad ratings but because it was too “gritty” for a 9pm time-slot, and NBC had given 10pm every day of the week to Jay Leno. (Yeah, that worked out.) Southland ended up on TNT, which is a cable channel, which means it can be as gritty as they want it to be. It’s easily one of the best cops shows I’ve ever seen. Plus, it has Ben McKenzie, who makes my knees weak. And having a complex gay cop played by the complex character actor Michael Cudlitz helps a lot.

Most Excellent Show About A Vampire


[youtube:]The Glenn Beck Program. Okay, I don’t actually watch Glenn Beck. But he’s a vampire. And an evil one. Unlike the more complex ones in…

[youtube:]True Blood. As gruesome police procedurals like CSI were to the mid-00s, vampires were to 2008 and 2009. True Blood is the only good thing to come of this trend. And while it’s not “good” in the way that, say, Mad Men or Buffy the Vampire Slayer are, since it’s not really about anything other than what it is, it’s very good at what it is: Pulp. Sex, violence, comedy, love, and utter ridiculousness. It’s really, really fun.

Most Excellence In Family Fare

[youtube:]Modern Family. It’s rather hard to take something as cliched as the family sitcom and make it relevant and new and laugh-out-loud funny, but Modern Family does it. It has the absurdity of Arrested Development and 30 Rock, but it’s actually real — these people could and do exist. More or less. And it’s not mean, unlike so many other family sitcoms have been. These people love each other, even when they’re angry. It reminds me of Roseanne in that way. Also in the ways that there are complex gay people in it.

Most Excellence In Being 30 Rock But Set At the Monsanto Corporation

[youtube:]Better Off Ted. This show is ridiculously funny, an amazingly well-made absurdist satire of the modern corporation.

Most Excellent Show That Revolves Around One Excellent Performance

[youtube:]The Good Wife. Like The Closer, a close second in this category, the lead actress and her well-written lines take a rather cliched premise, in this case a woman lawyer going back to work after being a housewife, and turns it into something that transcends the genre. Julianna Margulies is AMAZING.

Most Excellence In Starting Out Very Bad, Getting Canceled, and Getting Really Good

[youtube:]Dollhouse. The first season was so, so, so very bad, but I was determined to stick with it, since Joss Whedon has never done me wrong before. And when it came back, shockingly, for a second season, it got better. But when Fox cancelled it, it got awesome. Once there was an ending in sight, they knew what to do. And they’re doing it with all the teh-awesome-ness available. Smartly, they’ve tamped down anything having to with Eliza Dushku’s supposed acting versatility and ramped up Olivia Williams and Fran Kranz, who are both fabulous.

Most Excellence in Starting Out “Meh” And Then Getting Really Good

[youtube:]Parks & Recreation. This is Part 1 of “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.” Three of people I was friendly with in college produce, write, or star in it, and I’m jealous that they’re rich and famous. But, damn, this is a funny show. Of course, it helps to have Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari, who are comedy geniuses.

Most Excellence In Wish Fulfillment

[youtube:]Glee. The plots are absurd, but watching outcast fags and drama geeks get to be stars makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. The musical numbers are wonderful (as is the auto-tune!) and Jane Lynch is the best villain on TV.

Most Excellence In Guilty Pleasure

[youtube:]Smallville. This show also has benefited from seeing an end. It’s still not good — cheesy, badly acted low-budget silliness — but knowing the Lois (Erica Durance, who I ♥) and Clark are eventually going to end up together and stop living in Smallville gives the narrative some traction.

Most Excellence In OMG THIS IS SO BAD!!!!

[youtube:]The Beautiful Life. Honestly, I have never seen anything worse on television. Ever.

Most Excellence in Continuing Excellence

[youtube:]Mad Men. Every year, we get 13 Cheever short stories brought to life. It is the best show on cable, and one of the best things every put on TV. They have no censors, as clearly evidenced by this scene. Wow.

30 Rock. Comedy gold!

[youtube:]Lost. They know where it’s going. Still the best show on network television.

[youtube:]Damages. Evil and brilliant. And Part 2 of “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.”

[youtube:]Breaking Bad. It’s like The Sopranos will a moral compass. In New Mexico. Without Italians.

[youtube:]Fringe. The X-Files, but less annoying. Really.