Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Year in Television - 2008

Ah, television. The companion that keeps me warm on winter nights. The babysitter that keeps my boys entranced for hours on end. The bouncer that keeps boredom on the right side of the velvet ropes.

In a word: savior. Television is my savior. I love it like a child that never talks back but still consistently delights, disappoints, angers, and challenges. Yes, challenges. This year, unlike any before, there have been an influx of intelligent, thought provoking programs that expand my thought process.

So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Biggest Story: The dreadful, ultimately pointless writer’s strike that shortened the season and may have inadvertently reinvented programming as we know it. This is by no means a bad thing. Most seasons are 10 episodes too long, anyway. Why not create two separate seasons with first run shows in each. We see it happening already with ‘24’ and ‘Lost’ not beginning until January and running straight through to May. Prior to that ABC takes a chance on the time traveling ‘Life on Mars’ and Fox runs ‘Prison Break’. Whether you agreed with the strike or not, this could now be the standard. Personally, I like it. Maybe it wasn't so pointless after all.


Generation Kill: If you’ve seen this already, you’ll probably buy it when it’s released on DVD. If you haven’t, rent it so you can experience the camaraderie, boredom, comedy, frustration, confusion, joy and horror of the initial occupation of Iraq. Told from the point of view of an embedded reporter in a marine recon unit that was one of the first to enter the region the miniseries is harshly critical regarding the strategy of the war from the outset, disbelieving over the complete lack of experience and common sense displayed by most commanding officers, and ultimately respectful over what all the soldiers had to go through and the sacrifices they make in order to serve us.

Stay frosty, fellas!

The Office: A show that gets funnier by the episode. Takes seemingly mundane and ordinary situations to absurd, hilarious levels. The note on the microwave, last week’s holiday party/intervention, Michael’s entire doomed relationship with the new HR woman, Toby’s return and attempted framing for having salad in his drawer, even last year’s intended proposal at the fireworks display. While those are the highlights, this show does what precious few do: Makes us care about the characters. We watch because it’s funny; we keep coming back because we like spending time with these people. This generation’s ‘Seinfeld’.

House: A show definitely hurt by last year’s writers strike. The last few episodes with Amber’s death seemed a bit rushed and interviews with the producers said that they did have to put in 5 episodes worth of story lines into 3. Despite all that, this is still the most intelligent, funny and thought provoking show on television.

Lost: On the flip side, this show was helped enormously by the strike. By cutting out at least 5 filler episodes, every week was critical to the development of the story, the characters and everyone’s motivation. I still have no idea what’s going on, but that ‘bloop’ when the island disappeared still echoes in my head.

30 Rock: I resisted this for a while, but this now has wrapped me in it’s web of lunacy. Between Steve Martin’s agoraphobe, an imaginary Oprah, a psychotic Jennifer Aniston that Alec Baldwin can’t resist, this show has hit everything out of the park this season. This and ‘The Office’ make the best 1-2 punch since ‘Cheers’ and ‘Seinfeld’ nearly 15 years ago.

Dirty Jobs: What can I say, I fucking love this show. If you aren’t familiar, this is on Discovery Channel and involves the host, Mike Rowe, taking part in jobs like penguin habitat cleaner, blood worm farming, making cheese (which is nastier than you can ever imagine), working an oil refinery and other nasty, uh…dirty jobs. My only complaint is they need to make more episodes as I’ve seen the same ones over and over.


Bones: Thought they slipped up at the end of last season by revealing one of their most likable and rational characters as an inside man to a serial killer they’ve been tracking for years. Heard that this storyline was also effected by the writer’s strike, but no amount of ground work could have explained that turn of events. Still, this is funny, human and endearing in ways I can’t really explain. I just like it.

Life on Mars: Not quite there, yet, but very promising. Bizarre, funny, tragic and very well cast. Having Harvey Keitel as a 70’s cop can never be a bad thing.

Fringe: Alternates between ludicrous and fascinating. Needs work, but they seem to be heading in the right direction. That I’m looking forward to it’s return next month is enough to put it here.

Myth Busters: I would have had this in the above section, but they seem to be running out of ideas and out of steam. Still watch it whenever I see it on, but hasn’t been as entertaining this season. Although they did try to tenderize steaks using explosives which was a highlight.


According to Jim: It’s one thing to be awful (there’s plenty of bad television around), but quite another to be so bad it’s almost mystical. I wish I were exaggerating when I tell you I watched an entire episode in a trance like state trying to figure out why this show is still on. Can anyone explain how this show remains on for nearly a decade (look it up) while truly funny shows like ‘Arrested Development' struggle to stay on the air? Anyone?

John Adams: I’ll admit it. I didn’t get this at all. I’d try to describe it, but there are only so many ways to express ‘mind numbingly boring’.

Grey’s Anatomy: Believe it or not, this show has become so whiny and annoying even my wife has stopped watching. Last time I checked one of the characters was talking to a dead lover who is by her side all the time. Have always hated this show, but at least it didn’t try to cater to anyone but women and wimpy guys trying to score with some chick that was really into it. But this season has become a legitimate train wreck.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: I get it. They’re doing good deeds and helping families in need. I just wish they wouldn’t be so obviously manipulative in a ‘let’s get the family to cry by putting up photos of their dead father all over every room and have Ty talk in his fake sympathetic voice. Are the cameras rolling? Good, get a close up of the ten year old’s tears’ way.


John and Kate Plus Eight: Kate, with her borderline obsessive compulsive disorder, annoys me sometimes, but this show still fascinates me. Not sure why, either, but if I stumble across this I wind up watching the entire thing. Maybe it’s because John seems like a guy I could hang out with. Or that their lives in general are complete chaos. Or that watching this makes me realize how easy my life really is. Let’s go with that one.

American Idol: Got caught up in this for the first time last season. That may not continue this year as they’ve added a fourth judge just as the three main ones got in a groove. Can be bone grindingly awful for the most part, but for some reason I enjoyed it. I know, shame on me.


Chuck: That blonde is smoking hot.

Pushing Daisies: Keep hearing good things about this, but can never figure when it’s on. I know, I have DVR, but I’m not good planning that far ahead.

Mad Men: My problem is I hate coming into a show late. I need to watch shows like this from the first episode on. In order. Maybe their network will start showing a marathon one weekend or something.

There we go. If anyone has recommendations, by all means pass them along.

Today’s distraction: A list of the most appalling television shows. I haven’t even heard of many of these. Including ‘Hurl’ which is exactly what you would think it’s about.


BeachBum said...

Dammit. I forgot one. 'Ace of Cakes' is another reality show I love. Watched this for three hours one night when they were running a marathon. Strangely addictive in a variety of ways.

Chuckwagon said...

I really haven't watched most of the programs you mentioned, so I can't comment one way or another. However, I agree that shows like "24" and "LOST" have been helped by the strike. I also agree with you about "House" and "Grey's Anatomy". I love "House" and hate "Grey's Anatomy". As for "According to Jim", all I can suggest is that the network (ABC, I believe) is kowtowing to the likes of Jim Belushi and Kimberly Williams Paisley. With regard to "Chuck", besides being named after me, the only redeeming factor is the "HOT" blonde in the show.

Have you seen "Private Practice" yet? If not, give it a watch, if not for the story, at least for the "babes"!

Anonymous said...

Nice work her sir. One show I recommend if you're into cop shows is "Life" on NBC. We are currently halfway through season two, and season one is only something like $25 on DVD so you can very easily catch up. Check out a couple episodes on NBC.com

Hammen said...

I just bought seasons 1 and 2 of 'How I Met Your Mother' and it's one of my favorite sitcoms (sitcoms in the traditional sense) of all time.

BeachBum said...

CW - I have refused to watch Private Practice for the sole reason it's a spin off of Gray's Anatomy. Principles, my man.

10, I actually just caught an episode of Life last week. My only problem is I can't figure out the angle. Did the lead cop just get out of jail? Is that why he's a bit off?

Hammen, other people have told me I would enjoy that, too. Like 'Pushing Daisies' I can never figure out when it's on. Mondays? That would be perfect since MNF is over and I have nothing to watch that night.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, long story short he spent 12 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, and now he's really into zen and such. It's a cool show, very non-traditional and interesting.

A Tribute: deer a train and basketball said...

I second the 10's thought on watching Life. Damien Lewis is awesome in it and the storey is actually pretty badass. Kind of like the count of monte cristo in a way.
Chuck is also a pretty solid show if you decide to get into it.
I was wondering if you watch Heroes? This season kind of sucks.
Also you should probably put Dexter on your list some where if you watch it.

BeachBum said...

I've seen Dexter twice and fucking love it. The problem is it's much more effective on Showtime than on network television. I may Netflix the first season and get into it that way.

I watched Heroes it's first season and thought it was great. The second season completely blew and I stopped watching half way through and haven't seen it since.