Before we get things started I feel like I should say that these “Best Of” lists tend to become more bloated year after year. With everyone weighing in on everything, they start to turn into “Things That Exist” lists. So it goes without saying that this is completely subjective, and shouldn’t be taken as any sort of final word. So, without further ado, I present to you…
Why didn’t I include your favorite show? Well, the biggest thing I look at when putting together a list like this, aside from the writing and the acting, is how much I enjoyed it. Sure, you could probably make the case that a show like Louie has more artistic merit than American Dad. But American Dad makes me laugh in a different way than Louie does. Anyway, you probably won’t agree with everything I’ve got here, but such is life. Onto the list!
Breaking Bad (AMC)
What is there to say about Breaking Bad that hasn’t been said already? So few shows make it up to that rarefied atmosphere, populated by the likes of Deadwood and The Wire. But even those that do still can’t help but get their milkshake drunk by Breaking Bad. I’m sure anyone who listens to NPR will have heard some story or other about America’s love affair with the antihero (they run at least one a month). And that’s a description that certainly seems to fit Walter White much better than it does the likes of Tony Soprano or Dexter Morgan. Just like Walt can’t seem to admit to himself that the things he’s doing are destructive and hurt those around him, we can’t admit to ourselves that Walt’s a bad guy, and stop ourselves from cheering him on. This season, we saw Walt finally go to war (and, spoiler alert, win) with Gus Fring. And its finale — if AMC hadn’t have been able to get their act together and bring this show back for the fifth and last season it deserves — would have served as a decent end to the series. Although not as bloody as people probably expect. We may be a little iffy on the details, but we know the story of Walter White isn’t going to end well.
For some reason, I was under the impression that people hated Archer when it first came out, and there wasn’t much of a chance that it would get picked up for a second season. Also, that it had only gotten a seven-episode first season. So, after watching “Skytanic,” I remember staring out the window for a long time, having a good cry, and thinking that Archer was a show I would always cherish and mourn, like a beloved pet who had died before its time. I’ve been wrong about things in the past (only a few), but never was I so happy to be wrong about something as I was about that. If for no other reason, Archer would have made it onto my Top 1o list for “Placebo Effect,” the episode you see pictured on the left, when Archer discovers the chemotherapy drugs drugs he’s been taking to cure his breast cancer (I know. I love it, too) are fake, and goes on a bloody rampage to punish those responsible. Archer’s second season also expanded the show’s world. It delved deeper into the characters’ backstories, made Gillette a main character, and gave us the wee baby Seamus. This isn’t a show I can watch with my mom. Most of the time I can’t watch it with my wife. But I keep trying. And if one day they understand even a fraction of its greatness, I’ll have done my job.
I know, I know. The world has seen more than its share of tortured cops, fighting the darkness around them which looks eerily like the darkness inside them, but I wouldn’t mind listening to my only child’s death rattle if it came out in a British accent. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a show moodier than this one. You hear so many pretentious film-snob types talking about this or that show using Chicago or New York City as a character, so it’s with some sadness that I say Luther is a show that turns London into one of the most oppressive, depressing characters I’ve ever seen. And with that in mind it’s easier to see John Luther as a kind of necessary evil that a city as dark as this one, with suck dark characters in it, has birthed. There are a lot of cops out there who skirt the law, walk a fine line between the good guys and the bad guys, but aside from Vic Mackey (and there was some crazy stuff going on there) Luther may be the only one I’ve seen who doesn’t pay any attention to it at all. For him, the badge and the job only pave the way for the things he does to the bad guys. Also, he’s Idris Elba and British.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
What originally started out as The Sopranos in old-timey suits quickly turned into something so much more. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Boardwalk Empire isn’t even about Prohibition anymore. This is a show about power, the things we do to get it and the things we do to hold on to it. Season 1 was good. At times it was great. But season 2 went out and bought us all hats, then told us to hold the f**k on to them. It’s a show that, especially in its second season, has taken some huge risks, and definitely isn’t one to take its characters right to the brink, and then pull them back at the last minute so the status quo can be maintained for the next season (again, I’m looking at you, Dexter). It’s big. It’s expansive. And if it could find a way to erase the picture of a naked Paz de la Huerta from my brain, it could be one of greatest TV shows of all time.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
There have to be thousands of nerds all over the world right now, sitting in their parents’ basements, angrily painting their Warhammer 40K game pieces, pissed off that mainstream pop culture has taken yet another one of their children, made it its own, and is now walking around showing it to everyone like it was the first one to pull it off some dusty library shelf. But, to be honest, if it weren’t for HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, a sprawling fantasy series about family, politics, ice monsters and rough sex, we’d still be passing this one over for the likes of Harry Potter and Twilight. If you’ll allow me to jump up on my “it’s all about the characters” high horse for a second, it’s shows like this that show us terms like “fantasy” or “science fiction” are just constructs we impose on ourselves. Dragons, gigantic ice-walls and nomadic horse people or no, you can still tell a smart, grown-up story. And that whole thing with Ned getting his — SPOILER! — head chopped off really blew my effing mind.
The Good Wife (CBS)
A CBS drama in my Top 10? Surely these are the end times. I’m genetically predisposed to be suspicious and unkind to procedurals. But what I love about The Good Wife is that it’s a smart show that’s only masquerading behind a procedural. The court cases give us something to glom onto. Something that, if we’ve been away for a few weeks, makes it easier to jump right back in. But there’s a great drama being played out behind all that. One that’s outgrown the premise the show set for itself when it began all those… two years ago. Where the show began, telling the story of the titular good wife, a woman who had decided to stay by her man in the midst of a sex scandal, it’s now grown into something more, moving between the goings-on at Gardner-Lockhart, to the States Attorney’s office, to family problems to the two men in Alicia’s life. On top of all that, the show does a great job of slapping Matt Czuchry whenever he gets that douchebag grin on his face, which I’ll always owe it for.
American Dad (FOX)
The hell? Now, I know what you’re all thinking. But hear me out. Remember back in 2002 when we all reluctantly admitted to ourselves that The Simpsons’ best days were behind it and that Family Guy had taken its spot as the funniest cartoon on TV? Well, it happened AGAIN! Family Guy will always have a special place in my heart, and the show’s still very good, but while it hits when it hits, when it misses, it really misses. That’s not a problem I really see on American Dad. This is a show that kind of lives in the shadow of its big brothers, Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park, and because those shows are so big, American Dad is kind of free to do whatever it wants, and never becomes the victim of people’s expectations for it, because I’m not sure there really are any. And aside from Archer — which takes the top spot for best animated show on the air right now — American Dad is the only cartoon that always makes me laugh. Even its bad episodes are pretty good. And that’s a very rare thing.
Happy Endings (ABC)
Oh, how I love this show. There are plenty of funny comedies out there (and more than a few painful ones), but you can count the number that are as well-oiled as this one on one hand. Like The Good Wife, this is a show that eventually moved beyond its premise. Although you’d probably be better off comparing this one to Cougar Town. When it became clear that the relationship troubles between Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert just weren’t doing much for audiences, and remembering that it had an embarrassment of riches in a funny cast that had genuine chemistry with each other, it did exactly what it was supposed to do: it turned into a show about people hanging out with each other, and it makes me laugh more than Modern Family, which I had to get special dispensation from the pope to write on this blog. For those of you waiting for NBC to reinvent Friends, they’ve finally done it. And by “they,” I mean ABC. Sorry, NBC. You’re gonna be on the bottom for a while yet.
Friday Night Lights (NBC)
It’s been almost a year since this one went off the air, and I have no idea how long it’ll be before we see another one like it. Maybe never. And that makes me sad. There are plenty of realistic dramas out there. I have no problem believing that shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Luther are realistic enough portrayals of things that actually happen. But never have I seen a show as genuine as this one. And as a native Texan who lives in the shadow of that towering behemoth known as high school football (along with the football my dad duct-taped to my hands) I can attest to how right the show got almost everything it touched. Sure, the actual football may have never been that great, but the drama was the important thing. Also, the show gets major kudos for the marriage between Coach and Mrs. Coach, otherwise known as the best marriage in the entire TV universe. Clear eyes, full hearts blah blah blah but I miss those two so much it hurts.
TV is SERIOUS BUSINESS, you guys. So there’s nothing I hate more than to see good shows trying to pander to as broad an audience as possible. Too often that sort of thing doesn’t work. You can’t please everyone, so why dilute good storytelling by trying? Luckily, you don’t see too much of this on cable shows, and in the case of Showtime’s freshman drama Homeland, I dare say (daren’t I?) you don’t see it at all. For me, the best word to describe this show would be “uncompromising.” There was no finding its footing. This is a show that knew what it was doing right from the start. And it didn’t make things easy for the viewer. Homeland piled so much crap on top of Claire Danes and left on such a cliffhanger that I genuinely have no idea where its going to go next season. Talk about shaking up the status quo. This show gagged it and drowned it in a river. But with great power comes great responsibility. Homeland could come back every bit the great show it was this season, or it could fail spectacularly. It probably won’t, but it could. It won’t.
That’s all, folks! I imagine next year’s list will look a bit different from this one. 2012 heralds the return of Mad Men. And there are some great new shows on the horizon, like HBO’s Luck and…well, others. And who knows? Maybe The Killing will get its act together and pop up on this list next year. Hahaha! Just kidding!
From everyone here at Public Access (it’s just me), have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, or… those are the only two, right? While I’d normally give a rundown of what to watch over the next few days, I imagine most of you will be busy with your families, and the annoying yap-yap-yap of their voices would ruin any enjoyment you might get out of TV (I call it the boob tube!) this weekend. Anyway, try and enjoy the Holidays, and we’ll see you in a couple of days.
I was recently listening to the excellent IGN UK podcast, in which the IGN team was discussing its most anticipated movies of 2012. Editor-in-Chief Alex Simmons said that his was the upcoming Bond film, Skyfall. He said he believed that Skyfall would mark a return to form for the franchise, bringing back the gadgets, the cheekiness, the sexism he felt were absent from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He said that he had recently seen Ghost Protocol, and felt that it was a movie that out-Bonded these past few Bond films, saying that it proved you could have the gadgets and the humor and still have an intelligent, smartly made spy thriller.
I don’t think a BMW i8 that shoots rockets from behind its headlights or a wristwatch that shoots poison darts from behind its headlights and a good story are mutually exclusive things, but all those gadgets do make it harder for the movie to tell a good story. And in the case of Ghost Protocol, the gadgets are definitely the movie’s biggest problem. Why is that? Because there are too damn
many of them. No matter what problems the IMF comes up against, they’ve got some technological wonder to help them get past it. Tom Cruise has to climb seven stories outside the world’s tallest building and has nothing to hold on to? There’s an app for that. Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg have to move down a hallway but appear invisible to the guard sitting 10 feet away? There’s app for that. Jeremy Renner has to move through a giant computer mainframe that’s boiling hot so he can’t touch the floor or walls? There’s an app for that.
So, in the end, what you’re left with is a movie in which half the tension comes from wondering whether or not the gadgets are going to crap out. And guess what? SPOILER ALERT… they do. But even that’s sabotaged by the knowledge that while things may go sideways, they’ll never go too sideways. The team’s got to come back for Mission Impossible 5. There’s too much money at stake.
These aren’t the only problems the movie suffers from. Things can’t be all sex and explosions, so it tries generating sympathy for Jeremy Renner’s character by making him believe he’s responsible for withholding some vital piece of information during some previous mission that led to Cruise’s wife being killed. And if the scene weren’t so choreographed and Renner’s acting weren’t so subpar (this is the same guy from The Hurt Locker, right?) it might have worked. Also, while he looks good for a 49-year old, Tom Cruise is getting a little too old to play the action hero. Of course he finds an excuse to take his shirt off, and you notice he’s in the beginning stages of old-man physique. Again, good for a 49-year old, but these Mission Impossible movies definitely have a sell-by date.
This is the part of the review where I say that despite Ghost Protocol’s problems, I still enjoyed it. As long as you don’t think too much about it, you should have a good time. And honestly, not thinking too much about it isn’t a problem. We’ve seen so many movies like this that eventually we tune out all the details about rogue Russians and launch codes and just enjoy the eye candy blowing up in front of us. Fortunately, there’s plenty of that here (not the old-man physique).
There’s no reason that not being able to resist the siren song of Tom Cruise doing what he does best — sprinting, hanging off of stuff — should make you feel bad. It’s too strong for most people. There are definitely worse things you could do. But if you’re looking for a movie that delivers the action and a smart story, you’re probably better off waiting for Skyfall.
The Golden Globe nominations were announced this morning, so I thought I’d throw my opinion down the bottomless pit of commentary you’ll be hearing over the next day or two. As most people will tell you, the Golden Globes are silly little ragdolls who are involved in all sorts of nonsense, so these sorts of rundowns aren’t good for much beyond bitching at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association about what they left out, and giving them the odd kudos for what they got right. On to the outrage!
Actress in a Supporting Role
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierece
For reasons unknown, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — the shadowy cabal behind the Golden Globes — lumps TV shows and miniseries together in these supporting categories. So there’s not much we can do besides just kind of stare, slack-jawed at what a hodge-podge group they’ve slapped together. We’ve got Kelly MacDonald, who’s done some great work on Boardwalk Empire this season, and then we’ve got Sofia Vergara, who boobs and Colombia. And, um… what was I saying? Jessica Lange is kind of an interesting choice. Although I’d argue that the girl from American Horror Story with Down syndrome is doing just as good a job as she is, maybe even better.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
Tim Robbins, Cinema Verite
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Was Paul Giamatti in Too Big to Fail? I don’t remember him. Anyway, I’m happy to see Peter Dinklage getting all this recognition for his role on Game of Thrones, but I’d happily trade him for Aaron Paul. And instead of sticking the guys from Modern Family in these categories every year, why don’t we spread the love to people like Zachary Knighton or Adam Pally from Happy Endings, which is seriously showing up its fellow ABC comedy in the funny department this season.
Actress in a Comedy
Laura Dern, Enlightened
Zooey Deschanel, The New Girl
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Laura Linney, The Big C
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
My family keeps asking me if I’m watching The New Girl, so I’m thinking of faking my death and moving to Europe. Listen, if Tina Fey wins this one for the rest of 30 Rock’s run, I’d be perfectly happy. And having her in this category is a sort of universal constant, like the tides or Michele Bachmann’s facelift. The HFPA gets big ups for nominating Amy Poehler, which may be the most consistently funny comedy we’ve seen these past few years. However, their kudos are kind of canceled out with the addition of Laura Linney, who is not funny, and never has been. The contention that The Big C is a comedy is one of the greatest lies ever perpetrated on the American people.
Actor in a Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
David Duchovny, Californication
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Thomas Jane, Hung
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Again, Baldwin’s nomination reminds me that there is a God and that he loves us. But the addition of Johnny Galecki reminds me that there is also great evil in the world — on the level of Sauron or Voldemort — and that that evil watched The Big Bang Theory. Like The New Girl, this is a show I’m morally opposed to. Does anyone else feel like LeBlanc is a dark horse for the sake of having a dark horse in the race? Has anyone ever seen Episodes? Can we confirm that this is, in fact, a real TV show?
Best Television Series – Comedy Or Musical
This category may be the show’s single biggest mess. Modern Family is a good show, despite the fact that I’ve found it becoming a bit derivative (of itself, of all shows) these past couple of years. But The New Girl? Glee?! Although I suppose having Glee nominated in a comedy category — and yes, that’s why it’s here, not because it’s a musical — is some weird meta joke in and of itself.
Actor in a Drama
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Kelsey Grammer, Boss
Jeremy Irons, The Borgias
Damian Lewis, Homeland
Steve Buscemi and Bryan Cranston sitting atop this category is as it should be. As is the absence of Michael C. Hall. There’s a lot of talent crowding the field here — it’s nice to see Homeland and The Borgias getting some recognition — and you have to consider the return of our blessed Kelsey Grammer, so I see it as wide open.
Actress in a Drama
Claire Danes, Homeland
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Madeline Stowe, Revenge
Callie Thorne, Necessary Roughness
Homeland may be the best new show this season, so Claire Danes winning for her role as Temple Grandin seems like a lock. But award shows seem to have some strange fascination with Julianna Margulies, so her pulling off some sort of upset isn’t a completely inconceivable possibility. I was happy to see Mireille Enos pop up here, despite the fact that The Killing finale almost gave me an aneurysm. She won’t win, but her role in the show deserves to be recognized.
American Horror Story
Game of Thrones
Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Homeland, all great shows. Do Boss or American Horror Story belong here over shows like Breaking Bad (which exists on a level with other great shows, like Breaking Bad and the AMC drama Breaking Bad)? Probably not, but three out of five ain’t bad. And considering Lange’s nomination for supporting actress, I imagine that, along with The New Girl, the HFPA sees American Horror Story as one of this year’s Shiny New Things.
Why do we watch the Golden Globes? For Scarlett Johansson and her hot dresses. It definitely isn’t because they’re the end all and be all of what’s good on television. I’m not even sure you could accuse them of snubbing good shows, since at times they seem to be so completely unaware of them. It is what it is. Watch the show. Enjoy Ricky Gervais pretending like he’s so above the Hollywood fray, and we’ll see you all again next year.
Community has always been a show I’ve had problems with. I’ve talked a lot about how, when it first airs, a show takes a few weeks to find its voice, find what it’s good at. That wasn’t really the case with Community. In a few weeks it had become almost a completely different show. Definitely not what NBC had been advertising for months and months. In the beginning, you could see this turning into the next Friends — something like what Happy Endings has done — but it quickly veered off in a completely different direction. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it was with no small amount of disappointment that I noticed the direction Community seemed to be moving in was right up its own ass.
Meta. Self-referential. Call it whatever you want, but as it went on, the show seemed to become more and more pleased with itself and the stories it was telling. Patting itself on the back every now and then wasn’t completely unwarranted. Some episodes — “Modern Warfare” — were kind of fantastic. Others — “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” — began to remind me of one, long Family Guy cutaway and really forced me to ask the question, “Do I even like any of these characters?”**
(**We may be better off asking if these people are characters at all, or just vehicles for the show’s writers to make pop culture references (could this show even exist without Abed?). They never seem to learn anything. That in and of itself isn’t bad. The characters on Seinfeld and Always Sunny never learn anything, either. But at least those shows are unapologetic about it. On Community, we see the group go through some problem, fight and argue, eventually realize their mistake, make up and come together, and next week we’re right back at square one. I think it says something when Pierce, arguably the show’s least likeable character, feels more rounded out than Jeff.)
That question popped up again with this season’s “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux,” which spent half an hour riffing on Hearts of Darkness. It was around the time we see Dean Pelton huddled in his office, smearing ash on his face that I realized the show, and particularly this episode, wasn’t even trying to be a sitcom anymore. Community had transformed into some bizarre piece of performance art. It had turned into the conversation we have with that group of friends we see only once a year, who are all back in town for the Holidays, or a friend’s wedding. Sitcom structure and a 30-minute runtime do not necessarily a comedy make. A gangstered out Senor Chang marching into the study room and shooting up the place in “Modern Warfare” isn’t inherently funny. It’s a callback to John Woo movies, and the setting makes it funny. I felt like we saw a lot of the same in “Regional Holiday Music.” Many of the show’s swipes at Glee didn’t really strike me as jokes, but the writers’ own problems with the show they were just making a part of tonight’s narrative.
Does any of this make sense? I hope not. I’m really trying to make it as difficult as possible to follow.
If I force myself to take any enjoyment I might be getting out of the show and throw it out the window, to be as analytical as I can, this is what I get. If I turn all that off, I do enjoy the show. This season more than last, for some reason. And I liked tonight’s episode. I thought the things it had to say about Glee were funny, even if it was just a slightly repackaged conversation I keep having with my wife. I loved Mr. Rad (played by SNL’s Taram Killam), Pierce’s confusion at what regionals were, and Annie’s slutty Santa song to Jeff that quickly devolved into infant babbling. And after an episode like “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux,” which really had me wondering what the hell the show was up to, I thought it was a good note for the show to go out on. I say go out because we don’t know how long it’s going to be before Community comes back, now that NBC has yanked it off its mid-season schedule. Hopefully by the time it comes back, I’ll have had an Ebeneezer Scrooge-esque change of heart that’ll let me enjoy the show more than I am now. Because right now, it’s kind of turned into the Newt Gingrich of sitcoms. It can’t help but let everyone know why it’s better than they are.
The longer I watch, the more I’m convinced that once all is said and done, Doc Durant is going to come out the hero of this grand drama we call Hell On Wheels.
I mean, it couldn’t possibly be Bohannon, could it? He doesn’t seem to do much more than look at everyone around him from under that big, Cro-Magnon brow of his with mild contempt, like he can’t believe they’re occupying the same space. At times, when his purpose is to advance the episode’s plot in some way, he possesses an uncanny ability to get from point A to B without having to do any actual work. In tonight’s episode, when Elam and other former slaves decide to walk off the job until they’re paid (which they know isn’t coming for a while becaaause… Bohannon told them) Bohannon knows what’s going on almost before their shovels and pick-axes have hit the ground. “Hey! It ain’t quittin’ time!” he yells, almost falling off his horse he can’t get over there fast enough. Who said anyone was quitting? Maybe Elam needs a drink of water. Maybe he’s got to take a piss. Maybe he’s happened upon a chest of 15th century Spanish gold bullion and he’s just looking for someone to share the moment with. Sure, it turns out Elam was quitting. But Bohannon didn’t know that.
Anyway, Elam says he’s not working a minute longer until he gets paid. He USED to work for free, but not anymore. See, he used to be a slave. I’m not sure if you knew that. So Bohannon tells him that the last thing he needs today is a slave uprising**, which Elam appreciates none too much. So one tells the other to get back to work, the other says make him, and it isn’t long before they’ve both got their dicks out, swinging them around, measuring them, stuff like that. Of course, Durant can’t allow this sort of behavior, and after stopping Bohannon and Elam from groping each other’s private parts (that’s not a joke, go watch the episode) and reassuring the men that their money is on the way, he proposes a boxing match between the two men, which he believes will help air grievances, real or imagined, and be good for the general disposition of his men. But really, it’ll be a way for everyone to forget the fact that they’re not being paid, and that their money might not be coming at all.
(**There’s been a lot of talk about Bohannon’s supposed progressivism; being a man who owned slaves but set them free a year before the Civil War and kept them on at wages. But when he says things like this, you get the idea that maybe Bohannon’s personal philosophy changes to fit whatever the writers need that week.)
And once it’s on, it’s on like Rae Dawn Chong. No one cares about the money anymore. You can practically hear the camp’s chants of, “Monorail! Monorail! MONORAIL!” And with their bloodlust sated, Durant is able to turn his attention to other important matters, like wooing Lily Bell, and trying to divine whether or not she knows anything about Robert’s maps. And the way he does this is kind of interesting. At this point it’s obvious that one of Durant’s obsessions is how history will remember him. He believes, and tells Lily as much, that without Robert’s maps, he’ll only be remembered for failing to complete the railroad. Then, he appeals to Lily’s own vanity and concern for Robert’s memory. “Unfortunately,” he says, “Robert will probably not be remembered at all.” Is this a tactic that’s likely to work with her? At first I would have said no. Lily seems like a woman who’s got a pretty good head on her shoulders and doesn’t busy herself with such petty concerns. But in the end she gives up the maps. Why? If she was just going to give them over, what was her reason for holding out on Durant this long? Are characters on this show supposed to have consistent motivations for the things they do? I’m guessing no.
It may come as not so big a surprise that the least interesting side of tonight’s episode is the boxing match which it’s centered around. Bohannon and Elam go at it. It looks like Bohannon’s going to win. Then it looks like Elam’s going to win. Then one of Elam’s coaches (sure) gets in his head with all this crazy talk about not wanting to go too hard on Bohannon because Elam’s half white himself, but he needs to think about his mom who was raped, and you know, get angry, get his head back in the game. The whole thing would have been much easier to stomach if Elam didn’t look like he wanted to murder everyone he came into contact with up to this point. Anyway, then it’s over. At this point, we’ve seen so many of these kinds of stories in which the favorite and the underdog win that it’s a little hard to either one not to feel a little contrived. But in this case, once we saw money being exchanged between one of the Irish brothers (Scottish? Does anyone remember what these guys’ names are?) and Elam’s friends, we knew how the entire thing was going to go down. And it turns out that, when one brother tells the other — who’s just so incensed that he would deign to hurt their BEST friend Mr. Bohannon — “Money is my friend,” or something like that, that one moment rings truer than almost any other in the entire episode. These people are living on the frontier, and when things get tough they’re going to look out for themselves. Now they can get out of hock to the Swede, who as it turns out is a pretty big douche. And no offense to Mr. Bohannon, but what the hell has he ever done for them? Really, how could Brother #1 really think he’s their best friend? Makes no sense. Maybe it doesn’t need to.
Anyway, everything turns up aces in the end. Durant gets his maps. Elam gets to hold his head just a little bit higher. Bohannon looks appropriately humbled, which is a good thing. Although I guess it’s entirely possible he’s just sore or a little hungover and will be back to his smug self by lunchtime. But for a few hours at least he’s forced to live down here with us mere mortals. And when Elam comes in to get his pay — which Durant has blackmailed the bank into sending — he doesn’t gloat or act like a douche about it. So maybe it’ll help the two work together in the future. Who am I kidding. I’ll bet they’ll still be pissed about all sorts of stuff.
But we’re not done yet! Other stuff happened, too! Apparently the Indians aren’t taking the threat of war with the white man seriously enough, so Reverend Cole and Joseph Black Moon take it upon themselves to head out, meet with them and let them know that shit goin’ down. But not before Cole’s daughter turns up, who he obviously doesn’t have a very good relationship with. Before heading out with Joseph, he tells her to stay in his tent, unless it’s on fire, then she can leave. Which I suppose is the bare minimum you could tell the child you’re on slightly awkward footing with. Anyway, as the episode closes, we see that maybe the Indians are taking war with the Union Army a little more seriously than they let on, when they come and cut down one of their own from some weird vision quest human slingshot thing (I guess American exceptionalism took care of all that weird bullshit). The Indian cut down says that he had a vision of a great beast made of steel, whose breathed smoke and shook the ground. He said that he killed it. Spoiler alert. The beast is a train. Second spoiler alert. He doesn’t kill it.
We knew this was coming. We knew it was coming for quite a while, in fact. But actually watching it happen was so much worse than I had imagined. Stuck in a room — I imagine not too far from Princeton — and having gotten news of Angela’s death, we watch as Jimmy takes a heroin-induced trip down memory lane. Flashing back to the days of his doe-eyed youth, when he and Angela had little to worry about besides 17th century literature and keeping the noise down while they were screwing so Jimmy’s landlady wouldn’t hear. Ah, nostalgia!
We’re introduced to one of Jimmy’s professors, who takes a break from the Dead Poet’s Society after Jimmy gets into a bit of a scrape with a classmate to let him know that the two of them are cut from the same cloth. That while everyone else at the school comes from a life of privilege and entitlement, people like them,”need to be clever.” Little does Jimmy know that his professor is just another in a string of father figures who’s going to let him down. Which he does in spectacular fashion by hitting on Gillian when she drops by the school to visit. When Jimmy’s mom turns him down, he gets a little violent and, well, that’s not the sort of thing Jimmy can just let go. Like he said, people from his neck of the woods tend to come out swinging, and that’s exactly what he does here. His professor gives him the first punch as a freebie, tells him that he understands and if Jimmy walks away now he’ll forget the entire thing ever happened. But Jimmy’s not done swinging yet, and that closes the book on his days in the Ivy League.
Of course, none of this is reason enough to call it a night, and both Jimmy and his mom throw a few back before heading home. And as she stumbles out of her clothes, and drags Jimmy into bed with her she says, “There’s nothing wrong with any of it!” And that closes the book on the days when Jimmy hadn’t had sex with his mother.
He. Had. Sex. With. His. Mother. I would wonder what sort of value system this guy grew up with, but he’s already in college. We know that Gillian’s a little more… hands on, in her parenting style. But Jimmy knows things like this aren’t normal. Still, he’s grown up having weird shit like this forced on him. And I wonder how much that played into the idea that going up against Nucky was going to be quick and (relatively) painless. Making a huge, life-changing leap like that. After all, that night with his mother, and learning just a few hours earlier that Angela was pregnant drove him toward making another big change in his life: joining the Army and being shipped off to Europe.
The episode did a lot of cool things, weaving Jimmy’s flashbacks and the sound of Angela’s voice, telling him that she had to go now — both literally and figuratively, now that we know what we know — into what was going on in the present day. Eventually, Jimmy cleans himself up and comes back home. In my review of last week’s episode, I said that once he found Angela, Jimmy would have to explain her death away to those who knew her. Well, the only one looking to explain things away is Gillian, who’s already got the story cooked up in her head, about moving away to Paris to live with friends. Jimmy sits, distracted, as Gillian says that a month from now, Tommy won’t even remember who she is and that just tears it. Jimmy’s out of his chair, choking Gillian and telling him that he’ll remember. And then the Commodore’s out of his chair, stabbing Jimmy in the back with that spear he was weightlifting with or whatever in the beginning of the season. Jimmy pulls out his knife and stabs his father in the stomach. And Gillian, always one to turn a negative into a positive tells him to finish the job and that’s the end of the Commodore.
This is some craziness, huh? Almost makes you forget there was a rest of the episode that went along with it. But, the world of Boardwalk Empire is vast, and while Jimmy was playing out his version of Oedipus Rex, our other characters were watching their carefully laid plans go awry.
My absolute favorite had to be Van Alden, who for a moment looked like he had come to the realization that he had made some poor decisions in his life. Killing Agent Sebso, keeping Lucy locked up in his apartment. He had accepted that what he had done was wrong and was ready to face the consequences. He signed the divorce papers. He was giving Esther Randolph more information. He even turned down Mickey Doyle when he offered him a piece of the Boys’ takedown money. And then Nucky’s butler (I guess?) tells Nucky about this one time about a year ago, when this crazy Prohibition agent drowned his partner in the river in front of his congregation. This is great news! Now, Van Alden can’t testify at Nucky’s trial. He’s going away for murder! And right when they’re slapping the handcuffs on him… BOOM! Gunshot in the leg! He’s running out of the building and… no one makes a move to stop him? Well, after he took that shot I guess I wouldn’t be trying to chase him down, either. There was so much of this season that felt as if the writers had no real idea of where they were taking the character. And if he’s going on the run in season 3, then it’s entirely possible they still don’t. But I like where all this is headed. Crazy Van Alden is the best Van Alden. At least that’s how I feel right now. It’s also entirely possible I’ve jumped back and forth on which Van Alden is the best Van Alden.
And finally, we’ve got Nucky, or should I say Margaret. Who’s of course due for another serious discussion with Nucky about all the crap he’s involved in, about how he murdered her husband, and how she’s just not sure if she’s cut out for this kind of life. Except this time she almost slips about her night of unrestrained passion and unbridled enthusiasm with Owen Slater. And there’s always the possibility that her guilty conscience will move her to testify against her man. After all, she has been subpoenaed, so who knows what’s going to happen. We’ve now entered ENDGAME, and I fully expect the finale to throw all sorts of crazy crap we didn’t see coming in our collective faces.
2004 was a good year for TV. It was a year that gave us Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Deadwood, House, Rescue Me, Stargate Atlantis, Entourage, CSI: NY and Veronica Mars. You may not love all of these shows, but there are some pretty big hits in there, and many of them have only just ended their runs or are still on the air. Most years aren’t like this. Most years, we watch as the television landscape turns into a killing room floor, as networks take their cattle prods to the heads of all those new shows they’ve spent so much money on but no one seems to care about. There’s so much junk to wade through that whenever we find a show we actually like, it’s really exciting. Maybe you’ve found the next big thing, and you’re there right from the beginning!
So you’ve found your show, and just like the kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma realizing for the first time that he’s from Tulsa, Oklahoma and smoking crystal meth to dull the pain of it all, you begin to get addicted. And if your show, like so many others, is an underdog that isn’t performing too well in the ratings, things only get worse. “F**k those guys at the AV Club!” you proclaim to no one in particular, “This show is the BEST show on TV!” And then one day the unthinkable happens. Your show gets canceled. The depression sets in. Your rip your clothes and smear ashes in your hair. You go into seclusion. You vow never to watch FOX/ABC/NBC (probably NBC)/CBS/FX again, because how could you continue to support them after this? Well, as a friend once told me, it never gets easier but it does get better. And it’s true. Eventually you’ll forgive the network for killing your baby. But from now on that show will hold a special place in your heart. And while, in some dark corner of your mind you’ll be peripherally aware of the fact that your show had its shortcomings, you’ll choose to ignore them, and you’ll never ever voice them aloud. Your show was perfect, and must only be treated with veneration and respect.
This sums up much of the sentiment I heard going around the internets when FX canceled its poorly-advertised buddy-private investigator series, Terriers, almost one year ago today. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James starred as Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack, two unlicensed private investigators who, over the course of the first (and only) season, get into all sorts of tomfoolery in the fictional town of Ocean Beach, California. The show popped up on a metric shitload of “TV’s Best Of” lists and its cancellation was seen as one of the biggest tragedies of last year’s television season**.
(**I heartily endorse TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Dan Feinberg’s excellent Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, but listening to the praise they so generously lavished on the show was a little sickening.)
Now, Terriers has popped up on Netflix Instant, and we’re seeing some of that same chatter bubble up to the surface, bemoaning the death of that perfect show. Talking about it as if, when it died, a piece of our innocence had died along with it. Yes, Terriers was a good show. Above average, even. But in the end, it was a repackaged cop drama whose biggest selling point was its two lead actors. The story-telling was at times uneven, with the Lindus investigation — the season’s main arc — drifting in and out of the narrative. I’m not saying a show has to hit its main arc and focus on nothing else every week, but Terriers felt like it was spinning its wheels the same way The Killing was by pushing off the Rosie Larsen investigation, sometimes for weeks at a time. And during these off-weeks, Hank and Britt seemed to be incredibly lucky, running into all those people who just happened to be in the market for private investigators, and unlicensed ones at that. Sort of like the time I asked Cornelia Neptune, who went to the high school I used to teach at if she could find out if there was any treachery afoot when my grandmother left her fortune to her lawyer, Herschel Goldfarb.
Anyway, the show’s problems didn’t start and stop with the storytelling. Terriers’ dialogue sometimes reached a Gilmore Girls-like level of obnoxiousness (One of the more memorable lines comes in the pilot, when Logue says, “You killed my friend, and now I’m going to destroy you!”). Karina Logue, who played Hank’s mentally-ill sister, Stephanie (and who just happens to be Donal Logue’s real-life sister) was undoubtedly one of the best parts of the show, and was kind of unceremoniously swept aside toward the end of the season.
When added together, all of these things equal a show that’s good, but very rarely is it great (if at all). I liked Terriers, too, and I’ll admit that it was a show I rarely thought about when I wasn’t watching, but always seemed to enjoy more when I was. It had a lot going for it. It was fun, and other shows should be so lucky to have the same sort of chemistry we saw between Logue and Raymond-James. But ultimately this was a show we knew was going to be canceled, and quite a bit before it was made official at that. And I think people’s disappointment clouded their critical eye, so that for years and years they’ll be looking at it through rose-colored glasses. Luckily, the show works as a self-contained unit, so not getting another season isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. And now that it’s on Netflix, it’ll always be there for people to enjoy. But we should enjoy and at least pretend to be aware of its shortcomings.
This recession is tough for everyone, you guys. All over the country, people are having to tighten their belts, cut back and pinch pennies to make ends meet. It’s been a hard pill to swallow, but we’re all learning how to do more with less.
Take the writers on The Office, for example. On this week’s episode, they were able to take one, single joke and stretch it out so that it lasted the entire half-hour. Pretty impressive, considering the spot they’re in. I mean, the show’s been on the air for eight years! How many more jokes are they suppose to write? Like good little squirrels, they’re saving up for the harsh winter (read, the next 4-5 seasons we’re sure to get of the show).
The thing is, dragging a joke out, and then dragging it out, and then dragging it out some more isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Shows like Family Guy do it quite often and sometime it really works for them. The problem with “Mrs. California” was that it not only took a joke, but an uncomfortable joke, and dragged like a dead raccoon that got caught underneath my car.
When Robert California runs into the office saying that his wife’s going to be walking in any second, that he promised her a job in the office and “under no circumstances” could that be allowed to happen, Andy’s forced to find a way to let her down easy. And he does, only to have Robert push back, and push back, and push back again. Eventually Andy gives her a job, gets chewed out by Robert, and now has to find a way to get her — the “her” here is Maura Tierney, who in a perfect world was never replaced by Lauren Graham on Parenthood — to quit.
There comes a point here when you realize that Andy really is a poor sap, and so very different from the character we were introduced to in season 3. Because he’s always going to be trying to get his dad to like him, never does it cross his mind to scream out, “What the f**k is wrong with you, Robert California?” If he doesn’t want his wife to work there, he should have never promised her the job. And now that I think of it, what exactly is the problem with Mrs. California working in the office in the first place? This isn’t a Jim and Pam thing. Robert doesn’t work there so they wouldn’t be seeing each other every day. And when he does come in, he what, sticks himself in the conference room with a few papers and his cell phone for a few hours?
And Andy as a character being effectively neutered wasn’t even the worst part. No, the worst part of the episode was the fact that Mrs. California didn’t seem to have a single negative quality. She came in, she was nice and polite. When Andy runs around telling everyone to act like a jerk she even says she understands. So when we see Oscar and Kevin and Phyllis trying to push her out of the group, the whole thing gets a little painful to watch.
But… things weren’t all bad. No, around this black cloud I was able to spot the faintest of silver linings, which came in the form of Dwight’s gym. And no, it wasn’t his medieval Amish gym filled with rocks and gravel buckets. It was his conversation with Daryl, asking if his “start out slow” mentality was the same one he brought to a plate of buffalo wings. And Dwight’s promise to turn to turn Daryl into LeBron James, who we learned is really named…
“… LeJean Brames.”
But we were forced to chew through quite a bit before getting to that one particular nugget. If this is what the show’s become, it’s going to be a cold, long winter.