Archive for the ‘the zombies’ tag
Spoilers for Angel (Season 5) and House (Season 4)
My official Best Television of the 2000s list will feature only shows that aired at least three seasons in the 2000s. I am making this restriction because one of the marks of a great show is its ability to sustain its stories and characters over a long period, and three seasons seems as good a cut-off as any. Also, since the traditional television season runs from fall to spring, I’ve decided to include seasons that began in the fall of 1999 and I am ending with seasons that concluded before fall of 2009. That means that shows debuting in fall, 2009, are ineligible (Community, Modern Family), and it also means that on-going shows that debuted in spring, 2009, are ineligible unless they had the bad fortune to be cancelled immediately; that means no Glee, Dollhouse, Parks & Recreation, Castle, or Better Off Ted. Those shows got too late a start to be included in the best of this past decade, as I am arbitrarily determining it. Because of these restrictions on my count-down list, I thought it appropriate to say a little bit about a few shows that didn’t make the three season cut-off, but were spectacular nonetheless. I’m also including three shows that I think managed to pull off one truly great season amidst a number of less spectacular ones, and those are included at the end. Below are the highlights, in alphabetical order.
Andy Richter and Conan O’Brien teamed up for a Thursday night mystery-comedy hybrid that only aired four episodes before being yanked. (Six were filmed.) Featuring a stellar supporting cast around beat-down everyman Richter, the show exhibited remarkable comic timing over its first few episodes. When Andy Barker, CPA, moves into the office formerly held by a private detective, he finds people mistaking him for a P.I.; he may not know how to handle a gun, but he can handle your taxes when it’s over.
For fans of Chuck, Remington Steele, accounting
Perhaps the greatest science fiction show to ever air on television, this series brought a legion of new fans to Joss Whedon. Its fans called themselves “Browncoats,” and turned Firefly into the most essential television show of geek culture in the 2000s. But is it any good? Beyond good, this show’s 13 episodes (shown, as jilted fanboys like to point out, out of order by the evil Fox Network) created a fully realized world from the first episode. The pilot is too slow and too long, but beginning in the second episode, this outer-space A-Team demonstrated that stories about vigilantes fighting against an evil centralized power could somehowstrike a chord with viewers during the Bush administration. Like many great shows, the most essential member of the cast was the location, in this case a creaky old spaceship with more smuggler’s holds than the Millenium Falcon. Wonderfully cast, with a sly sense of humor that combined Whedon’s subversive expressivism with Ben Edlund’s comic exaggeration.
For fans of Battlestar Galactica, The Tick, men in tight pants
Freaks and Geeks is remembered today as the greatest dramedy, the greatest high school show, the show most like your own life, and the show that launched a thousand careers. This brainchild of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig told the story of high school from those least interested in remembering it. Surprisingly, those of us who had successfully blocked our own experiences found glorious catharsis in watching the failures and (very occasionally) successes of the two bands of outsiders (those intentionally existing outside the system and those too nerdy to fit in comfortably). Essential viewing for people who love television.
For fans of Glee, Friday Night Lights, awkwardness
An unrepentant throw-back to a sillier form of science fiction and fantasy shows, The Middleman proved that sharp writing and smart characters can make great television using the flimsiest of CGI. When a smart young artist (Natalie Morales) working a temp job gets nearly eaten by a mutant science experiment, her unflappability catches the eye of The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) who recruits her as his sidekick. There’s perhaps never been a show in the history of television that required so many repeat viewings with a pen and paper handy to unpack its jokes and references. Often times, an episode would pick a theme (Die Hard, sixties rock band The Zombies) and build as many references as it could into its 44 minutes. This show never achieved the critical mass of devotion it deserved.
For fans of Get Smart, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, meta-humor
Chuck has found unexpected life, being renewed for a third season that begins this January. This is the only show on this list still on the air, so catch this bandwagon while its still hot. (Wow, now that is a mixed metaphor.) Chuck Bartowski is a hard-working Buy More employee whose brain, due to unexpected help from his college roommate-turned-nemesis, becomes the living computer that stores all of the US government’s information. This is a fun, funny, sexy, silly blend of action and comedy that really found its stride in its second season. The best thing to happen to Mondays since Memorial Day.
For fans of Alias, Eureka, Adam Baldwin
Immigration. Unemployment. Bureaucracy. Topics for a gritty documentary somehow became occasions for the musical comedy duo to perform their songs. Each episode is a poorly constructed attempt to cram three pre-established songs into 30 minutes of story. Somehow, despite the obvious problems with this plan, the show managed to create moments of sublime comic awkwardness squeezed between occasionally brilliant, occasionally boring musical set pieces. In its way, it was one of the most ambitious television shows of the decade.
For fans of Dead Like Me, The Ben Stiller Show, Michel Gondry
In its strike-addled first season, Life was a gritty cop drama, light-hearted character study, and on-going mystery in absolutely perfect balance. No procedural has ever managed to so perfectly blend those three elements as well as Life did in that first season. Its second season renewal came with strings attached: bigger (and subsequently less plausible) weekly hooks, less of the on-going story arcs, and Donal Logue as the new police captain. The second season fell to merely an above-average cop show, but was fortunately able to tie up many loose ends in its memorable series finale. The show drew out a nice parallel between generic Eastern religion’s emphasis that everything is connected and the basis of good detective work, which is following connections. Unlike most shows that attempt to make a character religious or philosophical, the writers were fully aware that the form of Zen being practiced by Charlie Crews is a watered-down, pop psychology version of Zen, which kept the show from ever falling into self-parody.
For fans of Castle, Burn Notice, staying out of prison
Abandoned by film, television became the home of screwball dialogue in the 2000s, and not even Gilmore Girls or 30 Rock could manage Pushing Daisies‘ speed. More brilliant color and wacky quirkiness than any show should rightfully be able to manage, Barry Sonnenfeld somehow managed to create an engaging dream world in which a pie maker brings people back from the dead and solves crimes along with the love of his life whom he can’t touch, a crabby detective, and Kristin Chenoweth. Death has never been so funny.
For fans of Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, color
UPDATE: Silly me. I left Kings off the list. Great modern fable.
Long-Running Series with One Great Season
Angel never discovered what it could do well until its final season, by which point fans’ whiplash was so great from its overhauls each season that no one knew what this show was any more. However, by having Angel go to work for the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, Joss Whedon and Tim Minear wisely guided the show into complex thematic territory: at what point do you stop protesting the system and find a way to work within it? Mirroring Whedon’s own complex relationship with the Fox Network, Angel and his band of merry men try to be constructive from inside a destructive system. And by bringing Spike over from the now-finished Buffy the Vampire Slayer, shooting for darker, more gothic horror, and achieving more sublime humor, the fifth season became by far the series’s best. Watching Angel is worth it simply for the show’s finale, which is perhaps the finest final episode in the history of television.
A weaker knock-off of England’s Prime Suspect, The Closer began its run on TNT as a law & order procedural with the added element of watching an unknown, and therefore untrusted, female cop head LAPD’s Major Crimes division. A breadth of capable acting by the supporting cast grounded Kyra Sedgwick’s head-flailing approach to characterization. In later seasons, the show became unbearable in its explorations of Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson’s inexplicable relationship with her boyfriend Fritz, unnecessary relationship with her adopted cat, and unwatchable relationship with her family. But in that first season, The Closer was a smart woman-in-the-workplace drama with workable stories about how only she could wrangle a confession out of the bad guy.
Modeled on Sherlock Holmes, Gregory House, M.D., is a jackass to everyone, including his trusty confidant, his busty boss, and his team of diagnosticians. The writers always knew how to write for House (or Hugh Laurie’s indelible performance at least made it seem that way), but he was always surrounded by thin, unnecessary characters led by Cameron, the whiniest female lead this side of Felicity. So when House fired his staff at the end of Season 3 and began Season 4 by whittling down an auditorium full of candidates, new life was breathed into this occasionally stale medical drama. House was allowed to be his devastatingly truthful and hilariously cruel self and a better cast of supporting characters stepped in. The writer’s strike created some story-telling problems for the back half of the season, but it was still an audacious reinvention that amazingly worked, at least until Season 5 became too enamored with the Foreman-13 story.