Battle of the Shows – Round 1

Vulture.com are doing a sort of battle of the best TV drama of the last 25 years. I started reading it and was really impressed at the depth of the analysis and with the unexpected outcome of the first decision. But then I read a second article and I could not have disagreed more strongly with their choice. I figured I’d run through their choices myself and explain why they are wrong.

NB – They have started out with a shortlist of 16, which was already wrong. There’s a few of my top shows of the decade missing from the get-go and of course it ignores the output of every country other than the US (oh and Canada, there’s some Canadians on the list!). But I wanted to use the same list.

So round 1 – ding ding:

Deadwood vs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This was the first category I came across (because I got the link from Whedonesque) and thought that Buffy would be in for short shrift. But I was impressed not only by the depth of the analysis, but by the fact that Buffy won. Although I’m well known as a Buffy fan, even I don’t think this was an easy competition to judge. I really love Deadwood, it’s a fascinating and unusual show that brings the poetry of Shakespeare to potty mouthed prospectors. Buffy on the surface is just an American high school show with cheerleaders who happen to fight vampires, but of course as any number of sources will tell you it’s really about life and destiny and choice. The beauty of Buffy is that it’s actually both, it’s hugely entertaining and it’s really very important. It created its own genre and dozens of shows owe Buffy their success.

The other issue to me though, and this is what really swung it – Deadwood is incomplete. Cruelly cut down in its prime, it never got to finish its story. Of course that’s not the shows fault, but when I evaluate the competition Buffy got more time and told a complete story.

The X-Files vs. The West Wing
This was where Vulture.com lost me. I’m sorry, but no way in this universe or the next is The X-Files a better show than The West Wing. My love of The West Wing is well documented all over this site, so I’ll not go over how smart the dialogue is, or how fascinating the subjects are, or how much I adore all the characters. On the flip side you won’t find any article about The X-Files because I haven’t re-watched it since I started writing reviews properly about 8 years ago. Now like every geeky teenage girl of the mid 90s I adored Fox Mulder, obsessively videoing every episode and dissecting them with my friends. But even my adoration couldn’t stick with the show when 4 seasons in it degenerated into overly complicated, drawn out conspiracy theories and endless will-they-won’t-they relationship bumblings. Then it went on another 28 seasons or something. Yes, The West Wing had some dodgy phases and although it eventually clawed its way back for a breathtaking season 7, it never really reached its original heights; but the best of The X-Files was never as good as The West Wing’s, and its worst was considerably worse and much longer.

Breaking Bad vs. Friday Night Lights
I have never seen Breaking Bad, I have sesaon 1 on dvd, but I just haven’t got round to watching it. So, I don’t really have any right to make a judgement here. However while I’ve heard stunning things of the early Breaking Bad, I’ve also heard some disappointment at the direction of later seasons. So with an acknowledgement that I’m not being fair, the only way I can vote is for the show that appealed enough for me to actually watch it. An easy win for Friday Night Lights.

The Sopranos vs. Six Feet Under
I’ve seen one season of The Sopranos and four of Six Feet Under, so I’m 5 seasons short on Sopranos and 1 season short on Six Feet Under. But the reason that I haven’t finished either season is the key to my decision. I thought season 1 of The Sopranos was ok, but I never really connected to the characters and there was nothing calling out to me to watch more. The counterpoint to that is that I haven’t seen the final season of Six Feet Under because I don’t want to say goodbye to the characters. I have had the season 5 dvds on my shelf for years, but haven’t watched them because although I know it is a superb season and often described as one of the best series finales ever, I enjoyed the show too much to watch it end. It’s stupid, but that’s why Six Feet Under wins.

The Wire vs. My So-Called Life
This is a bit like the battle of who cares less. I have friends who threaten to disown me for this, but I just didn’t get along with The Wire, I watched one season and really struggled to follow what was happening. I do have vague intentions to give it another try though. Meanwhile, I’ve got the box set of My So-Called Life and haven’t made it past episode 2 – I can’t tell you anything about it, just that I haven’t bothered to put the dvd back in. So on episode count alone, The Wire wins.

The Shield vs. NYPD Blue
This one is another unfair one as I’ve never seen an episode of NYPD Blue in my life. I suspect it’s also not fair because without NYPD Blue, would The Shield exist? I’ve seen the first few seasons of The Shield and thought it was amazing, BUT I haven’t watched the whole series because I just couldn’t take any more. It was all just too bleak, violent and depressing. So do I go for the show that is a foundation for so many great shows after it but that I’ve never bothered to watch, or the one that takes those foundations to their logical but eventually unwatchable extreme? I genuinely flipped a coin and it came down in favour of The Shield.

Twin Peaks vs. Battlestar Galactica
I’m about two thirds of the way through Twin Peaks. I watched the first half obsessively over the space of a week and have got at least 4 blog posts in my head about it. So why haven’t I finished watching it? Mostly because like most people who watched the show, I found that after they solved the initial mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, the momentum of the show just disappeared. Secondly I wasn’t actually a fan of the levels of weirdness it degenerated to, I liked the kooky and odd stuff, but the resolution to the mystery was just too much. Battlestar Galactica came pretty close to losing me a few times along the way as well with its rather extreme mythologies. But I stuck with it, because it was so well written and produced and in the end, I think it all came together, and then it dutifully stopped. Maybe if Twin Peaks had just stopped, it would have stood a chance, but as it didn’t, Battlestar wins.

Mad Men vs. Lost
I gave up on Lost somewhere in the third season, because I lost faith in the writers. I felt they were trying too hard to make a television show that could be stretched out for as many years as possible, rather than telling a well paced mystery story. By all accounts I should probably go back and watch it through because I hear it pulled it all back together in the end, but I haven’t got round to that yet. With Mad Men however, I have nothing BUT faith in the writers. It’s one of the slowest series I’ve ever watched, half a dozen episodes can go by with seemingly nothing happening except gorgeous period detail and subtle acting. But every now and then, something happens – two characters share a moment, or a single line of dialogue and you realise that all that nothingness has been building to that one perfect moment. It’s breathtaking. The only proviso I put on awarding this win to Mad Men is that it’s one of the few shows on this list still airing new episodes and it still has time to blow it.

Next up – Round 2, and the semifinals and the final

The 2010-2011 Season

As always my definitions of what counts for a season are a bit variable, pretty much anything that aired somewhere between the beginning of September 2010 and the end of August 2011 are fair game for this.

Blue Bloods: S1
Bones: S6
Brothers & Sisters: S5
Castle: S3
Criminal Minds: S6
CSI: S11
CSI:NY S7
Doctor Who 2011
Downton Abbey: S1
Friday Night Lights: S5
Fringe: S3
Game of Thrones – S1
Glee: S2
The Good Wife: S2
Grey’s Anatomy: S7
House: S7
Leverage: S3
Lie to Me: S3
Mad Men: S4
Merlin: S3
NCIS: S8
NCIS: Los Angeles – S2
Sons of Anarchy: S3
Stargate Universe: S2
Supernatural: S6
Terriers: S1
The Big C: S1
The Walking Dead: S1

There’s a few bits and bobs that don’t make the list – Outcasts (meh), Mad Dogs (ok), Warehouse 13 (fun but poor), Bedlam (awful), Falling Skies (still haven’t got round to finishing) more documentaries than I might expect (I remember being impressed by a lot of them but the only one I really remember is the superb Inside Nature’s Giants).

Between everything listed above and the pilots I reviewed that’s getting on for 600 episodes of television, probably about 500 hours, which given the national average is somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week, actually is still way below ‘average’. Of course most normal people don’t watch television in the ridiculous concentrated way that I do, so I guess I shouldn’t jump up and down and declare myself well adjusted just yet.

All in all, I’ve not been massively impressed with this year. Although I found it hard to narrow down most of the categories below there were relatively few things that I’d label as outstanding. I don’t know whether this is because I’m getting increasingly hard to please in my old age or because television writers and networks are getting more willing to settle for mediocre in the tough financial times. Either way, given that several of the shows I mention below have come to an end or are looking at likely final seasons, it doesn’t bode particularly well.

Best Shows
These are the shows that are superb – with amazing writing, beautiful direction, compelling acting and thought provoking stories. The ones that the Emmy’s and Golden Globes *should* be nominating.

  • Friday Night Lights – I don’t think season 5 was the best season of the show, I never fell in love with the Lions as much as I did the original Panthers, but even with that in mind it was still one of the absolute highlights of the year and I will miss it.
    Mad Men – this show can appear very slow and dull to a casual viewer, but if you invest in it and pay attention there is such incredible depth that with a little bit of analysis and discussion you have a real sense of satisfaction fitting everything together.
  • Fringe – I rewatched a few episodes of the first season recently and who knew that the ok but unspectacular X-Files wannabe would turn out to be such a fascinating and creative story about alternate worlds literally colliding.
  • The Big C – A comedy about terminal illness, really? But it manages to combine being hilariously funny with being beautifully moving without becoming cloying or preachy. It’s one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen in a long time.
  • Stargate Universe – as far as I’m concerned season 2 was as near to my idea of perfect science fiction as is likely to be seen for a long time. It had interesting stories and ideas, but more importantly was all done with a fascinating group of characters and a lot of humour.

Favourite Shows
These are the shows that I adore. They’re the ones that I desperately wait for new episodes of, the ones that I follow on blogs, the shows that make me smile, cry, and forget that the characters aren’t actually real. Comparing these to Mad Men is like comparing apples and oil rigs, but they still deserve recognition.

  • Glee – this is far and away my favourite show of the year. It has massive consistency problems when it comes to writing and storylines, but every single episode makes me laugh, and simply hearing one of the songs on my ipod can make me forget all about my troubles and grin like a fool.
  • Grey’s Anatomy – with the exception of a questionable couple of storylines towards the end of the season Grey’s has been right back on the sort of form that got me addicted to the early seasons of the show. Even my frustrations with what I describe as poor writing choices are only because I’m so unhealthily emotionally tied to these characters.
  • Doctor Who – I’m not sure whether I’m referring to the previous season that ended at Christmas or the one that’s currently half way through (which is likely why I’m missing the season review), but it really doesn’t matter because each has been superb, somehow managing to be hugely entertaining Saturday evening family viewing, but also superb quality drama with delicate and beautiful writing. This one really could have gone in either category.
  • Terriers – This may be a partial pity vote, if it hadn’t been cancelled would I have been so passionate about it? Don’t know and never will, so it’s on this list because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Downton Abbey – I’d been looking forward to the remake of Upstairs Downstairs and probably to the BBC’s consternation, this ITV almost-rip-off blew it out of the water. A great cast, hilarious writing and a lovely Sunday evening vibe to the whole thing made this a lovely piece of television to watch with friends and family.

Male actors

  • Tim Roth, (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) –Roth’s performance was so entertaining and unpredictable that it took me three seasons to notice that the rest of the show around him was actually not very good at all.
  • Jared Padelecki (Sam Winchester, Supernatural) – I’m a Dean girl through and through, but even I have to acknowledge this season that Sam got the better material and Padelecki acted his way through Sam’s splintering personalities impressively.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – who knew that I’d start forgetting David Tennant. The energy and charm of Smith’s doctor is just infectious.
  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Noble made it on to my list last for playing the wonderfully bonkers character of Walter – sometimes brilliant scientist, sometimes emotionally unstable child. Given that in addition to that performance he adds on the character of Walternate, an alternate universe version where he’s a terrifying politician, there was no way he wouldn’t make the list this year too.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – poor coach had a miserable couple of years struggling with having to chose between the lesser of two evils over and over, nothing ever seemed to quite go his way. Chandler’s understated performances just broke my heart.

Female actors
I still find myself struggling to find 5 decent nominees for this category, I hope that it’s just a coincidence of the shows I watch, but I fear that it’s representative and that’s very troubling.

  • Laura Linney (Cathy Jamison, The Big C) – I imagine this is the kind of role that actors dream of. Linney is simply phenomenal.
  • Julianna Marguiles (Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife) – I think this season of The Good Wife lost its way a little, but that doesn’t change that this continues to be a wonderfully rounded character and a lovely performance.
  • Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham, Fringe) – I’ve found her character a bit bland in previous seasons, but this season thanks to playing multiple different characters, Torv proved that it’s the character that’s bland, not the performance. The subtle differences with her alternate universe version were fascinating, and as for her performance of being possessed by Leonard Nimmoy…
  • Connie Britton (Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – like her husband, nothing ever seems to go Tami’s way, every piece of good news is balanced with a difficult decision. She’s got more stoic and resigned to this as the years have gone by, but watching her wrestle with the potential break up of her family at the end of the season felt like the world was ending.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Teller-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – I very nearly put her into the group category alongside Maggie Siff’s Tara because these two women at the heart of the male oriented motorcycle club are incredible. But Segal’s performance is the more nuanced one, the balance between confidence and insecurity, cold blooded scariness and utter devotion to her family.

Casts
In cases like Tom Sellek there’s one actor holding together an otherwise mediocre group, in cases like Laura Linney, she’s clearly carrying the weight of the series and standing out from an already very good supporting team. But for these guys and gals it’s the pairings and groupings that are the standout, if I commented on one of them, I’d have to comment on them all or I’d have the guilt.

  • Grey’s Anatomy – this show has always been the gold standard of ensemble acting and character development and this season has been no different. Everyone has interesting relationships that grow and mature (if you overlook some terrible backwards steps) and all are equally capable whether dealing with melodramatic emotions, intense medical scenes or hilarious comedy.
  • NCIS LA – the season has been an exploration of what it means to be partners and each of the pairings has delivered fascinating and entertaining performances, ably supported by the centre point of Hetty, NCIS could learn a lot from its offspring.
  • Glee – although Chris Colfer is clearly my (and the writers) favourite this is a spectacularly talented bunch of kids. The movie proves that they can perform just as well live in front of thousands of people, while the tv series shows that they can also deliver even the most ridiculous of storylines compellingly. All this on a ridiculously intensive schedule, imagine what they could do with decent material and a bit of sleep.
  • Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James (Terriers) – My new favourite partnership sadly gone too soon, but I loved the easy camaraderie and open friendship of two people who came from entirely different backgrounds and ended up exactly the same.
  • Stargate Universe – it took a while, but eventually I came to love these characters and performances, right from the flamboyant ones at the front, through to the ‘supporting’ array of scientists and soldiers who could steal an entire scene with a throw away reference to Star Wars or a perfectly timed eye-roll. A dysfunctional family, just like lies at the heart of every great science fiction show.

Notable absences
Not listing Supernatural as one of my favourite shows of the year actually hurt, but it came down to a choice between it and Terriers and Supernatural was edged out just because my abiding memory of the season is one of sadness. It all just got a bit much this season for the show to be as enjoyable as before, but while it was all done really well it doesn’t quite make it into the other category of top shows because it wasn’t quite even enough to stand alongside the other shows.

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead – being a genre fan I also find it sad that I can’t comment on these more favourably, but just being about a different subject doesn’t give you a free pass, you still need to be good. Game of Thrones was good, it only narrowly missed out in the favourite category, but The Walking Dead just wasn’t good enough, yes it’s great to see zombies on television but it still needed to just be better – better writing, better characters, better acting – just better. My feelings on BBC’s Outcasts meanwhile were so confused that apparently I never even got round to writing a review of it… it tried hard, but it really wasn’t very good.

British TV – there are a few British series that I watched all the way through this year, and a few that were so short they didn’t make it to proper reviews, but generally I find that I really have to force myself to watch them. Partly it’s self-fulfilling, I watch mostly US stuff, so I mostly read US blogs etc and therefore mostly find out about US stuff. I often find out about British stuff a couple of episodes in and then never get round to catching up. iPlayer et al help, but it’s one of the areas that I’d like to watch more of this year.

Mad Men: Season 4 (spoilery review)

Narrative Devices has been a bit quiet while my television viewing and writing took a break while I was on holiday in New York. Wandering up and down Madison Avenue left me with a craving for Mad Men, so was pretty happy to return and see if season 4 could possibly meet the near perfection of season 3. If I were going to make some sort of grand sweeping, somewhat pretentious statement describing season 4 it would be that it’s about people realising what makes them happy, and how some of them can have it, and others can’t.

I’ve never much liked Don as a character. He is a man of his time of course, but he’s been rude, secretive, manipulative and occasionally outright scary sometimes. My opinion of him wasn’t improved much when he spent a fair amount of this season wallowing and bitter about the loss of his family and the struggles of launching an agency. It got old pretty fast, particularly the drinking, and made the first half of the season drag. But gradually he grew up, he started to have proper grown-up relationships – romantically with a woman who was his intellectual match and with whom he could have a true partnership, professionally with Peggy following a long awaited honest conversation, and even with his daughter who in absentia as she grows up he actually seemed to act like a proper father for the first time.

Finally in the last episode of the season we see what has been really missing from Don’s life, happiness. There were flashes of it when he was with Anna (when he was being Dick, rather than having to be Don), but with Megan and his family, he was happy enough to smile, jump in pools and make an impulsive decision that he liked being happy and wanted more of it. I was a bit unsure at first about the sudden engagement, but more and more I realised that I LIKED this happy Don, that Megan is genuinely lovely and a breath of fresh air and a real character with depth and history, not ‘just’ another secretary.

Life is not so simple for other people, for them the season has given glimpses of happiness and then snatched them away. Lane at his relatively mature age experienced what it was like to be free and ‘single’ in New York, before he was beaten back to his family obligations. Pete finally got to be a partner in the firm and have a baby on the way, but he was soon reminded of the responsibilities that come with both positions. Roger’s content existance was turned upside-down when he realised that even his family name and money couldn’t get him what he really wanted – a big account, a secure company and Joan.

The female characters are always my favourites, I find the historical angle absolutely fascinating, watching the different ways that they deal with the way their roles in the home and workplace are changing. Betty is stuck in the past, the high maintenance wife who’s always impeccably turned out but is really little more than a child getting angry and stomping her feet when she doesn’t get what she wants. Her daughter meanwhile is rapidly growing up and away from her mother.

Joan and Peggy continue to be a fascinating contrast, a contrast that sometimes puts them at odds, frustrating because when they are in agreement they are formidable, inspiring and hilarious. Peggy wants things to change, she wants to fight and is finally starting to actually do so out loud. She’s worked out how to deal with the men around her, she has a new confidence and deals practically with the problems presented to her – whether that’s proving she’s not a prude (hilariously) or telling Don how she really feels (beautifully). But while Peggy has decided to live her life as she wants, Joan seems to have committed to doing what’s expected of her. Professionally she is the very definition of quiet efficiency and competence, in a very senior position but when her authority is questioned she steps back, not forward. In her personal life she has again done what is expected, married the doctor and kept his home even when he signs up to go to Vietnam without consulting her. It may be Roger that makes her happy, but she stays with the slightly troubling husband and tells Roger they can’t be together. The revelation that she is carrying the baby Roger thought she had aborted and pretending it’s her husband’s is setting up for an interesting next season!

As always Mad Men looks and sounds gorgeous, full of detail in the costumes and props. It’s a show that’s horribly slow to watch, the actual events of a single episode can be summed up very quickly and seem to the casual viewer as utterly unremarkable. But the depth that has been created for this world characters is stunning. It’s a show that benefits hugely from over-analysis around the watercooler as you debate the tiniest of glances and how it related back to an incident two seasons back. Even by Mad Men standards the first few episodes dragged a little, and the resolution wasn’t quite as satisfying as the previous season, but given that was pretty much perfect, I can live with the close second.

End of year report card

The start and end points for the television year is pretty fuzzy. Given that I watch mostly US shows, I tend to go by their year which runs roughly from September rather than the calendar year. So I decided that I’d count the start of the year as 1st September (and I go by American air dates, not the UK). BUT life isn’t that simple, because what do I do with shows that start in one year but end in another. For example Mad Men season 3 ran August-November 2009, running one year to the next. Then I looked at what the Emmys do and it turns out they run June 1st 2009-May 31st 2010. BUT they don’t strictly speaking pay attention to show seasons, it’s just whichever episodes ran in that time frame, which means from what I can tell – the last two episodes of the season of Glee weren’t eligible for entry as they aired in June 2010.

So after all that, I decided to hell with it and I’d count what I felt fit within 2009-2010 and be pretty much arbitrary about it.

Bones – Season 5
Brothers & Sisters – S4
Caprica – S1
Criminal Minds – S5
CSI – S10
CSI:NY – S6
Defying Gravity – S1
Dollhouse – S1
Doctor Who – 2010
FlashForward – S1
Friday Night Lights – S4
Fringe – S2
The Good Wife – S1
Glee – S1
Grey’s Anatomy – S6
House – S6
Leverage – S2
Lie to Me – S2
Mad Men – S3
The Mentalist – S2
Merlin – S2
NCIS: Los Angeles – S1
NCIS – S7
Outnumbered – S3
Sons of Anarchy – S2
Stargate Universe – S1
Supernatural – S5
Trauma – S1
Warehouse 13 – S1
White Collar – S1
V – S1

Top of the Class – Best Drama

  • Mad Men: For once, I’m in absolute agreement with the Emmys. Season 3 (season 4 has just started on BBC4) was a work of near perfection. The pacing, the way everything had been so carefully and subtly built up until the final episode which was one of the most satisfying hours of television I’ve ever seen. The detail of this show is incredible, it’s a slow burn, but it’s really worth it.
  • Friday Night Lights – I have a guilty relationship with this show, because despite the fact I have it ‘available’, I haven’t managed to bring myself to watch the second half of the season. This season has felt like really hard going, everybody’s’ lives really seem to suck and it’s just hard to watch. But that doesn’t make it any less superb or any less worthy of its position in the number 2 slot in the drama category.
  • Sons of Anarchy – There’s just something about this bunch of gun running, murdering, hells angels that just makes you forgive them everything they do. The closest thing I can think of to this show is Brothers & Sisters, it’s got the same sense of families fighting amongst themselves, but ultimately doing anything for each other – just with more Nazis.
  • Trauma – Maybe this show wouldn’t have made the cut if I didn’t feel bad for it being cancelled, but I really do think it was one of the better shows of the year. It’s not perfectly refined like Mad Men, but the heart and soul of it are true, the characters and relationships are interesting and different and I enjoyed every episode.
  • The Good Wife – Proving that ‘legal procedural’ doesn’t have to mean Law and Order or wanting to kill all the characters. The ensemble cast is amazing and contains some of my favourite actors, and seeing them together creating such complex characters is immensely satisfying.

Head Boy – Best Male Actor/Character (you don’t get to be a great actor without a well crafted/written character and great characters don’t survive great actors)

  • Tim Roth (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) – I don’t understand why Tim Roth and Lie to Me don’t get more attention. In a world of dark, sober, troubled and angsty television detectives, Tim Roth lights up the room. He’s manipulative and arrogant, but he’s also a brilliant father, a caring friend and of all the investigators on television, he’s the one I’d want in my corner the most.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – I had my doubts, not because he was young or unknown or anything like that, but just because I thought David Tennant had created an un-equalable character. Matt Smith blew me away with his charm, his goofiness, his terrifying speeches and his ability to make a fez look cool.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – This man seems to do less acting than anyone else on television, he hardly says anything, sometimes he barely moves, but somehow you understand every single thing the character is thinking.
  • Jenson Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) – I was a bit disappointed by the season of Supernatural, but I was never disappointed with either of the lead performances. Part of what frustrated me about the season was that it was all over the range from slapstick to suicidal angst, via homicidal range and utter psychosis. Jenson Ackles nailed each of the emotions and how stubborn, but over-his-head Dean would approach each one.
  • Hugh Laurie (Dr House, House) – I didn’t like this series of House much, as per usual I think it spent too long coasting through the middle of the season and then made some dubious relationship choices. But Hugh Laurie was consistently great throughout, except for the bookending episodes, where he was absolutely amazing.

Head Girl – Best Female Actor/Character (is actress politically incorrect?)

  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick,The Good Wife) – A breath of fresh air on network television, a woman with kids, a career, issues and most importantly a personality of her own. I loved when she got drunk with Kalinda, or acted as a big sister to Cary, or didn’t quite know how to interact with Diane. But mostly I loved the way she fell back to being a college student falling for her friend and not knowing what to do about it.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Taylor-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – Gemma had the epitome of a bad year on Sons of Anarchy, but through it all she was their Queen, she loves all the members of her family and fights to protect them, whether with a gun, her fists, or just by keeping a secret. Katey Segal was amazing.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – The other half of the best couple on television, Tammy’s not had a great year either. But like her husband, she doesn’t have to say anything for you to understand the multiple faces the character presents to everyone, including herself. When she steals her little victories wherever she can, and fights for her kids (the whole school load of them) it makes me want to hug her.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – Meredith grew up and got happy and made me love her. Last year I put her on this list partially out of pity, this year she’s there on merit, actually taking her position as ‘lead’ actress more than just being a ‘prominent female member of the ensemble’. She’s completely settled into her position as the mother of the group – her reaction to her marriage and the loss of her friends was really mature. Whiny Meredith is hopefully gone for good.
  • Sally Field (Nora Walker, Brothers and Sisters) – When Sally Field cries, I cry. When she screams, I hid under a cushion. Whether herding her unruly brood, or causing chaos all by herself, I love her to pieces.

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Walter is crazy. Utterly and completely, self-medicatingly, one-too-many-magic-mushrooms, bucket loads of crazy. But then in alternate world Walter is utterly sane and calm and scary and slimy. Noble bounces around between Walters multiple personalities and bodies with amazing talent.
  • Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel, Glee) – The best thing in Glee. He’s completely over the top and ridiculous to the point you almost want to throw him in a dumpster yourself, but then he does something heartbreaking. Also, he can belt out a tune like the best divas out there.
  • David Blue (Eli Wallace, Stargate Universe) – He’s exactly what the stereotypical Stargate fan would be like if they found themselves inside a Stargate series. He’s got no clue about the military, or really people at all. He’s a massive geek who breaks tension by making Star Wars jokes. He brings a bit of reality to the otherwise slightly highly strung Stargate team.
  • Cliff Curtis (Rabbit Palchuk, Trauma) – Cliff Curtis became one of my favourite actors this year playing the deeply troubled, but utterly charming Rabbit. A really fascinating character and a slightly unlikely leading man, but he was the heart of this show.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Victor, Dollhouse) – I ummed and erred between Victor and Fran Kranz’s Topher, but eventually the Doll edged out the geek because he got to play a different role (and accent) every week and nailed them all, even managing to play Topher to perfection.

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – She wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy this year, which I was so astonished by I had to check multiple times. Bailey follows the Sally Field rules – she cries I cry, she shouts, I actually cheer out loud. Her final scene of the final episode just destroyed me.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson, Mad Men) – “I’m Peggy Olson. And I want to smoke some marijuana” and “Beg me? You didn’t even ASK me”. Nuff said.
  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockheart, The Good Wife) – Although her colleague Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) got the Emmy, I think Christine Baranski was far superior if for no other reason than she seemed to be having so much FUN with the role. Not afraid to flirt with a colleague or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a situation.
  • Allison Scagliotti (Claudia, Warehouse 13) – like Eli in Stargate, Claudia is the voice of the fan. She’s a geek who loves a gadget and points out the idiocy of all the plans. She, and her ever changing hair colours, brings life to the show.
  • Linda Hunt (Hetty Lange, NCIS:LA) – A breath of fresh air, a bizarre mix of motherly and drill sergent that manages to make even LL Cool J quake in his boots.

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

  • Callen and Hanna (NCIS:Los Angeles) – A perfect yin and yang thing of hot headedness and cool, all bundled up in a caring (but not out loud!) partnership. Who’d’ve thought it.
  • Team Free Will, Supernatural
    “This is it… Team Free Will. One ex-blood-junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name and Mr Comatose over there. Awesome.”
    “It’s not funny”
    “I’m not laughing”
  • Christina and Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy) – When Meredith revealed the plans for her and Derek’s dream house and pointed out Christina’s Room I burst into tears yet again. I love these two sisters.
  • The Walker Clan (Brothers and Sisters) – You can’t really break this group up. They squabble and occasionally even fight, but the group of them together and the complex relationships between all of them are amazing.

Points for effort – The home of the things that are solidly doing their job, are entertaining, and occasionally verging into brilliant, but are generally just really solidly plugging away doing what they do.

  • CSI:Original had a really solid season, settling down after the changes of recent years and just turning in an entertaining, reliable and interesting season, there’s not many shows that can say that moving in to their 11th season they’ve still got some spark.
  • Grey’s Anatomy deserves a lot of praise for bouncing back from the previous terrible season, I nearly gave up on the show, but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • Brothers & Sisters – cheesy, melodramatic, sappy and utterly sentimental – it embraces these things with such enthusiasm and does them so well, it’s hard not to love.
  • Glee – If only the quality of the plots were more consistent, this would be worthy of considerably more praise. As it is, I enjoyed most of the episodes, but ended up frustrated that it wasn’t just slightly better.

Must Try Harder

  • The Mentalist – A nice idea, a charismatic lead character… but ultimately the character development isn’t, ‘mysteries’ aren’t, and the novelty wore off.
  • Outnumbered – It was still funny, but it just wasn’t as good as previous seasons. Not least because it seemed to spontaneously stop dead, to such an extent that I completely failed to note it had finished and never got round to writing a review.
  • Science fiction – it’s not been a good year for science fiction imho. V, Caprica and Flashforward were all disappointing.
  • NCIS – Still flipflopping all over the place with a lack of consistency and character development. Maybe it’s time for this one to retire.
  • Criminal Minds – I praised the show for finally having the team come together and having an impressive group of strong female characters… then they sacked two of them.

Top 25 Characters

Four years ago I came up with a list of my top 25 characters. I couldn’t resist updating the list.

1Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica)
A fascinating character, weaving from hero to villain and back again often within the space of a sentence. The religious stuff was laid on a little heavy towards the end, but the character managed to pull it off.

2President Bartlet (The West Wing)
Martin Sheen was so amazing, and the character so inspiring it’s hard to believe that he never won an Emmy. These days we may have Obama, but for a long time President Bartlet was the best hope we had.

3Sam Beckett (Quantum Leap)
Bumbling through history playing a variety of parts, but always being Sam. The only connection he had to his old life was his weird friend Al, but despite not remembering it, he desperately wanted to go home.

4Chandler Bing (Friends)
The only character in the series that managed to feel like a real person all the time (well, almost all) probably because it’s basically Matthew Perry playing himself.

John Crichton (Farscape)
Hilarious and heart-breaking, just your average astronaut (!) having a weird life.
“I try to save a life a day. Usually it’s my own…”

6The Doctor (David Tennant’s Dr Who)
Tennant’s Doctor was such a wonderful character covering the full spectrum from depression through anger to pure childish joy, that I decided he was eligible all by himself without needing his other versions.

7Michael Garibaldi (Babylon 5)
Garibaldi was always my favourite character on Babylon 5. He was the human element, he fought, he drank, he mocked everyone and the universe seemed to have some kind of grudge against him.

8Jethro Gibbs (NCIS)
I love Mark Harmon and his ex-marine is brilliant. Outwardly gruff and hard, but not so inhuman that he doesn’t show his affection to his team with a kiss on the cheek for Abby or a slap on the head for DiNozzo.

9Harper (Andromeda)
Andromeda had some epic problems with plots and writing, but it had some amazing characters and Harper was my favourite. He’s a scrounger, desperately trying to get through life as unscathed as possible while his friends seem weirdly obsessed with dragging him on suicide missions to save the universe.
Abel: You must be the engineer.
Harper: Why? Because I’m the short guy with the sense of humour, the wry wit? Huh? Because I’m so freakin’ amiable with the careless demeanor? Is that it?
Abel: Well, that – and the tools.

10Gregory House (House M.D.)
Most of the time he’s a complete and utter bastard, and yet he’s also generally right. Every now and then he shows that he might, just about care about his colleagues.

11Susan Ivanova (Babylon 5)
No one from B5 made the first list and now I’ve got two. I had decided on Garibaldi over Ivanova, but then when I started reading through quotes I remembered just how many brilliant lines she had and managed to squeeze her in.
“No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There’s always a boom tomorrow. What? Look, somebody’s got to have some damn perspective around here. Boom, sooner or later. BOOM!”

12Josh Lyman (The West Wing)
He’s a political genius who can’t keep track of time zones or find his luggage without his assistant. Sometimes he’s brilliant, sometimes he’s embarrassingly poor, but he always tries so hard.

13Rodney McKay (Stargate Atlantis)
Another character that says all the things normal people never would (I’m spotting a theme). He’s arrogant, obnoxious and rude… he’s also a geek, a genius and occasionally very sweet.

14George O’Malley (Grey’s Anatomy)
Poor George. He always means so well, and tries so hard and yet his colleagues are always the ones getting the glory. Except, just possibly, the last thing he does on the show, makes him the greatest success of all of them. His absence almost made me stop watching the show and there’s not much higher compliment can be paid a character.

15Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars)
Teenager with attitude. She’s the kid that’s so amazingly cool, the cool kids at school don’t even realise that she’s light years ahead of them. So she tells them. Except that occasionally she also has a bit of a cry, falls in love with the wrong people and needs her dad.

16Peggy Olson (Mad Men)
From a historical point of view her character is fascinating, a woman making the leap from being an object, to being an individual. As a character though she’s so compelling because she’s not making a statement about women at work in the sixties, she’s just doing what she wants to do.

17Hawkeye Pierce (M*A*S*H)
“I will not carry a gun…. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even hari-kari if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!”

18Mal Reynolds (Firefly)
The hero who doesn’t want to be a hero, it never goes smooth for poor Mal. Some people are at their best when they’re having yet another bad day.

19Doug Ross (ER)
There are reasons why George Clooney is a star and they’re all demonstrated in Doug Ross. Mark Greene may have been the soul of ER but Ross brought some character to it. He drank too much, womanised, looked great in a tux, looked great in scrubs, said what he thought and even rescued drowning children!

20Nick Stokes (CSI)
Nick is a straight swap for his boss Gil. This is partly because Gil is gone and got a little irritating towards the end. But Nick deserves this place because he’s the little engine that could, never the smartest or most heroic of theCSIs, he’s just been quietly plugging along with his Texas twang and concerned looks until someone finally realised the department couldn’t run without him.

21Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Almost all the characters in this show are great, and it’s rare for me to chose a hero over a witty sidekick, but I had to go for Buffy over the others. She does occasionally wallow, but then if your teenage years were commandeered by destiny, wouldn’t you whine?

22Malcolm Tucker (The Thick of It)
He’s loud and obnoxious and rude beyond words. But he’s also generally the only one talking sense. Also I will forgive absolutely everything he’s ever done wrong, because while he was having the worst day of his career, he ran to his secretary’s defence because people were badgering her.

23Nora Walker (Brothers and Sisters)
The very definition of matriarch. Always ready with several bottles of wine, a shoulder to cry on, a rallying call, or even just a perfectly delivered cake. Nora not only rules her dysfuntional family, but is also trying to work out what a sixty year old woman does when her kids have all left home and her husband dies leaving her alone for the first time ever.

24Dean Winchester (Supernatural)
Amongst Supernatural fans there are Dean-girls and Sam-girls, I’m a (only slightly ashamed) Dean girl. He’s a simple guy wanting to kill monsters, drink, eat pie, sleep around, drive his car and above all keep his family safe. He pretty much never gets what he wants, but always has a witty comeback.

25Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Buffy and Angel)
In terms of character development you don’t get much more extensive than Wesley, turning from the annoying twit in Buffy to the scary hero in Angel. He does what needs to be done, regardless of the costs.

Television of the Decade

Way back in December various websites, magazines and newspapers started compiling ‘lists of the decade’ and I watched with interest how different those lists were. For a start the lists did different things – “best of the decade”, “most important”, “most influential”, “our favourite” – each allowed a slightly different take on it. But even taking that into account there was a huge range. I decided what I would do was amalgamate those lists into one summary list, so in January I gathered twenty of them up and started doing some statistics.

As it turned out it was pretty hard to merge them together, some had ordered their lists, but others hadn’t, so how did I compare the two. I decided to go out, get some fresh air and post a letter and have a think about it. That’s when I broke my arm and everything went to pieces for a bit.

Two months later I came back and figured I should finish it, but by then I’d changed my tune a bit. Who cares what other people think the lists should be, they’re idiots and only my opinion is right. So while I consider whether to bother writing the original article, here’s my top twenty shows of the last decade. Chosen because they’re important, good, enjoyable or just because I love them.

1The West Wing (reviews, quotes)
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and again and again – The West Wing is the best piece of television ever produced. Yes, yes it went downhill after Sorkin left, but it eventually sorted itself out and the final couple of seasons were very close to its original glories. No other show has this cast, this dialogue, this power, this humour and this passion, it’s about as perfect as seven seasons of television can get.

2Friday Night Lights (reviews, quotes)
A show about high school football in a small town in Texas has no right to be as good as this does. The show is very intimate, filmed handheld getting right into the nitty gritty of everyone’s lives – players, supporters, teachers and all their families. You will not find a more real feeling group of characters and a better chemistry, particularly between Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as the coach and his wife. The show grows and develops each season as kids actually age and have to decide who to be and what to do with their lives and makes you care about every single screw-up and success.

3Firefly (review, quotes)
Cruely limited to just a handful of episodes, this may go down as one of the biggest ‘could have beens’ in television history. An interesting and unusual concept partnered with a great ensemble cast and perfect writing. It’s possible that it wasn’t sustainable, that the reason that the show appears on so many lists is that it never had the chance to go downhill (I’m not the biggest fan of the movie) but the world will never know and this will live in the hearts of bitter fans forever more.

4Battlestar Galactica (reviews, quotes)
Just as Babylon 5 would have appeared on my top of the 90s list, so does Battlestar Galactica for raising the bar of what a science fiction show can do. The vision for this show was impressively epic and depressingly dark. It wasn’t always perfect but the ambition was admirable and it succeeded far more often than it failed. It’s the only show on this list that I will probably never re-watch because part of the brilliance is in creating a likeable bunch of characters and making their lives increasingly miserable. Thankfully there’s enough beautifully crafted space battles and action sequences to prevent your brain exploding from the complicated debates of religion, politics and what it means to be ‘human’.

5Buffy the Vampire Slayer (reviews, quotes)
I haven’t re-watched this show in years, and I very nearly selected Angel for the list instead, but in the end I selected Buffy just for what I remember it meaning to me when I watched it. I was amongst those who mocked it when I first heard about it and then fell in love with the show when I finally caught up with it. It was a show that I had my family tape for me, and when I came home from university my mum and I would camp out in front of the tv and catch up. Angel may well be a ‘better’ show, more grown up and learning from some of Buffy’s mistakes, but Buffy earns it’s place by not so much breaking the mold as completely refusing to believe in the existence of a mold. Joss Whedon has two shows on this list, because he creates unique concepts, gathers talented actors and writes the best dialogue in the world.

6Supernatural (reviews, quotes)
I became addicted to Supernatural just last year and watched 4 seasons in roughly two weeks. Then I went back and re-watched them all again. It’s entirely fitting it ends up in this list just after Buffy, because it’s clearly an entry in the chain of successors of shows that on paper are aimed at teenagers, but are actually so much more. “Two brothers road trip across the US fighting ghosts and monsters” and yet it actually has the most carefully and satisfyingly crafted plot and character arcs of any show on this list. As it approaches the conclusion of the planned five year story arc the way everything falls together becomes more impressive with each episode. Yet while dealing with all this depth, it’s hugely entertaining and self-aware and fun. I love these characters and am utterly, hopelessly obsessed and not ashamed to admit it.

7Veronica Mars (reviews, quotes)
Another show that owes a bundle to Buffy. There may not be any monsters, but the spunky blonde at the heart of this show could easily take on a vampire in her spare time. There was a great cast of supporting characters but the heart of the story was the brilliant father-daughter relationship and the will-they-won’t-they relationships between good girl Veronica and bad boy Logan. Sadly the show peaked with its first season, the two subsequent seasons trying and failing to recapture the perfect mix of characters, episodic cases and the slow investigation and reveal of the season mystery. But even when those elements decayed, the dialogue and central relationships, along with the superbness of the first season, earn this show a place on mine, and many other people’s lists.

8Farscape (reviews, quotes)
I was sure this was a 90s show, and that was why not one single other list mentioned it, but actually it premiered in 1999 so with 4 seasons, thoroughly qualifies and people have just left it off because they’re stupid. There are few shows that have caused me to drop my jaw in disbelief so many times – this show was just WEIRD. Setting Jim Henson’s Creature Shop loose on science fiction show in another galaxy brought a creative craziness to the screen that hasn’t been seen before or since. But it wasn’t just weird, it was good. It’s like Blake’s 7 with puppets and budget. It was fun and heartbreaking but never ever dull.

9Deadwood (reviews)
Deadwood is the very epitome of what can be done on cable television in the US where they don’t have to deal with censors or advertisers and can do almost whatever the hell they want in terms of swearing, sex and violence. Deadwood is what Shakespeare would have produced if he’d written about an American frontier town in the wild west and been able to say f*** 1.5 times a minute. It does get a little overwhelmed with storylines by the third season, but by then you’ve fallen in love with the poetry, the period and the characters, even those that raise the label ‘dubious moral character’ to new levels.

10Mad Men (reviews)
I can’t really imagine watching Mad Men one episode a week as very little plot happens in each episode, meaning you’re relying on the acting and writing to provide interest, which while superb occasionally leaves you asking “but what actually happened?”. However watching it in a chunk, or even a whole season at a time reveals a show of such breathtaking subtlety that the fact that it is so popular actually makes you feel better about the human race. Anyone that says the US can’t do period drama should look at Mad Men (and Deadwood for that matter) and apologise. The unashamed way each portrays its history is fascinating, there is no judgement in showing everyone chain smoking, or a pregnant character drinking, it’s just there in the background. The slow development of the characters and plots over the first three season all paid off in the final episode of season three with one of the most satisfying episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

11Outnumbered
Outnumbered is another show I only picked up recently, in fact Christmas 2009 when my brother brought the dvd along for family Christmas and we ALL found it hilarious. Then I shared it with a housemate who doesn’t usually watch this kind of thing and HE found it hilarious. It’s hard to explain how a show set almost entirely inside a house with 2 parents and 3 young kids can be this funny, but it is so fresh and real and “oh god, I can’t breathe” funny that I couldn’t leave it off this list.

12Six Feet Under (reviews, quotes)
This show almost didn’t make the list, Dexter was in this slot right up to the point that I started writing this paragraph, but as I started writing, I realised that actually, although Dexter is superb and has an amazing character at its core, it just didn’t have the same level of impact on me as Six Feet Under did.

Six Feet Under deals with the big philosophical questions of life and death, but balances them with the day to day dysfunctionality of the characters’ lives and the practical issues of dealing with death. The humour in the show is about as black as it comes, but it is really very funny. It is also beautiful, created and heavily influenced by Alan Ball of American Beauty, each episode has a movie level of thoughtfulness about the way it’s crafted. It’s not an easy show to watch, and I’ve never quite managed to bring myself to watch the final season, but it is superb and thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.

13Band of Brothers (review, quotes)
The only mini-series on this list and I almost excluded it for that reason, but then I figured that if Firefly can make the list with only 13 episodes, it was unfair to remove this because it had only 10. It’s a series that I wanted to re-watch almost as soon as I’d finished it, because at first I didn’t really appreciate it. I had a hard time telling the characters apart, not realising that they really did have characters beyond their ranks and positions. It’s basically Saving Private Ryan but 5 times as long and that is nothing but a complement. The same people are bringing out Pacific this year to serve as a partner to the show and I can’t wait.

14Doctor Who (reviews, quotes)
I always enjoyed Doctor Who as a kid, but wouldn’t have counted myself as a fan, it was just something that the family watched on TV. I don’t know whether it’s just the age difference or a change in quality/budget, or the structuring of the series, but I’ve connected with this new version a lot more strongly. The way it’s been brought up to date without losing sight of the past has been really impressive and the quality of it just oozes from every aspect. It earns its place on this list for achieving what I thought was impossible, taking an institution and bringing it up to date without losing the heart and soul of what it was.

15CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (reviews, quotes)
Few shows define a decade so neatly and impact upon it so much. The CSI story is a fantastic one, it was turned down by three networks before CBS picked it up to air in October 2000 and has been in the top ten rated shows ever since. It spawned not only two spin-offs but hugely influenced dozens of other popular (and not so popular) shows. It turned CBS (and Channel Five in the UK) into the CSI channels. But it also earns it’s place because I actually really like it, after over 200 episodes, I still enjoy the mysteries, the characters, the fantastic graphic style, the music and the humour.

16Grey’s Anatomy (reviews, quotes)
Grey’s Anatomy raised the game in terms of what writers must do. Shows are now aiming to be ‘the next Grey’s Anatomy’, and the majority of them are failing. Grey’s is an ensemble drama in the truest sense, not only does it have a massive collection of characters, but every character has a believable relationship with every other character, be it professional, personal, or inappropriate. The characters aren’t always likable and aren’t always smart, but they’re always themselves. It’s the kind of show that when the writers make a miss-step with their characters, the audience gets upset because it’s just not right.

I think it’s those mistakes that this show off a lot of people’s lists (it only appeared on one), but at the same time it’s the way that the show has earned that kind of passion that means it deserves to be here. I almost didn’t watch the new season, but I did and it immediately suckered me back in the way the show always does. I can’t think of another show that makes me laugh, gasp and cry almost every single episode. I hate myself a bit for it, but I adore this show.

17The Thick of It
Only the second comedy on this list and another one I’m a late convert to. It’s a modern day Yes Minister, but with a level of swearing that would have made perms fall out in the 80s. While Deadwood is notable for its quantity of swearing, The Thick of It is astounding for the creativity it brings to it, the pure poetry of the diatribes that spew from these characters is breathtaking. The comedy is slightly depressing when you consider that it’s quite possibly not a million miles from the real way a government department might be run, but somehow the characters always manage to come down on the “at least they mean well” side of incompetency.

18Planet Earth
This is on the list as a representative of all the output of the BBC Natural History Department. What always impresses me is the mixture of cutting edge technology such as ultra zoomable steady-shots from helicopters with the old-school requirement of a guy sitting in a hide for 3 months to capture 15 seconds of footage. The way they’ve taken to doing a ten minute of ‘making of’ at the end of each episode makes everything feel a lot more real somehow.

19Stargate SG1 (reviews, quotes)
Stargate in one form or another has been on the air since 1997 and with about 350 episodes in the franchise at times of writing it’s just been quietly soldiering along almost un-noticed. Longevity alone isn’t quite enough to get you on the list, but Stargate has managed to make all those episodes entertaining in one way or another. Even when the episode plot was nothing special, or the massive arc storylines were getting a bit bogged down in the epic mythology, they could always fall back on some really great characters and dialogue. Unlike the Star Trek characters a lot of the time, Stargate’s characters felt real, these were real scientists and grunts and officers and diplomats dealing with aliens on distant planets. They knew it was cool and scary and bizarre and pulled you right along with them.

20Top Gear (quotes)
Scraping its way onto the bottom of the list is Top Gear. For quite a while this was pretty much the only thing that I actually watched on live television rather than on dvd or.. um.. other methods. The show has become a bit of a victim of its own success, becoming something of a parody of itself, but at its best it was by far the most entertaining thing on. It’s not so much a car show, as an excuse for three blokes to just muck about a bit, make fun of each other and do really daft stuff. Challenges like the amphibious vehicles have had me laughing so hard it’s difficult to breath, while trips like riding bikes through Vietnam or driving to the pole left me craving adventure. It’s fun and often the perfect thing to watch on a Sunday night to escape the world for just a little while.

Mad Men: Season 3

The pacing of this show is very strange, I can’t imagine watching it just one episode a week, with each episode ending in a somewhat random place and no stories ever really being wrapped up (like life I guess). But watching all 13 episodes it as I did reveals the careful developments and precision plotting, until it all comes together in a breath-taking final episode, where just a single line from a character, or even just a glance beautifully rounds out their story. While I found myself a little bored by the ongoing sagas in the Draper household, life in the advertising agency was fascinating and season 4 looks set to be equally exciting. The ensemble cast is amazing, I’ve not always thought Jon Hamm as impressive as others have, but this season’s storylines gave more range to the character and he is well deserving of the praise. I can’t wait for next season.

2008-09 – The Glittering Awards Show

It’s been a while since I’ve had much respect for the people who have power over the likes of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. The last couple of years in particular have frustrated me with the same shows and people getting nominated over and over with very worthy candidates overlooked in a way that even critics don’t seem to understand. This year is no exception. So here’s a shamelessly long list of my favourites from the year.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Hugh Laurie (House) – the show might be mediocre, but the character and acting is superb. He’s got a fourth Emmy nomination and maybe this will be the year he actually wins
  • Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) – his character is extremely private trying to keep his emotions hidden, and yet you always know exactly what he’s thinking through subtle and careful acting
  • Edward Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) – another very strong season in Battlestar Galactica, portraying a man who is tired, and old and very close to being overcome, yet still has so much pride.
  • Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) – I doubt he’d appear on anyone else’s list, but if not for the fact he’s in a show about ghosties and it’s on The CW I think he’d get a lot of attention. His character has a hell of a lot of stuff thrown at him this season (literally) and he does everything from pratt-falls to full on emotional breakdown impressively.
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist) – I originally sniffed at his Emmy nomination, but to fill out the category he’s not a bad choice. It’s an interesting character and pulls it off with charm and grace and occasional scary darkness, but I suspect if I’d seen this season of Dexter, Michael C. Hall would have taken this place.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
It’s tough taking this down to just five people, so I cheated a bit!

  • James Callis (Baltar, Battlestar Galactica) – the character and actor steal every scene they’re in
  • Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt, Grey’s Anatomy) – a really great addition to the cast, bringing both strength and vulnerability and instantly slotting into the ensemble.
  • Zachary Quinto (Sylar, Heroes) – about the only stand out thing in Heroes at the moment, his character has developed depth this season but he’s still utterly chilling.
  • Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins) and Gaius Charles (Smash Williams) – I couldn’t just pick one of the guys from Friday Night Lights. Each had a superb season as their characters really grow up.
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – Despite the fact that the Emmy’s put him in the lead actor category, I think he actually belongs in here more. Lead actors should carry the show, Mad Men could easily continue without him. That said he is extremely good.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
I actually struggled to find 5 actresses I consider ‘leads’!

  • Sally Field (Nora, Brothers and Sisters) – a well deserved nomination. Whether she’s being the matriarch to the unruly siblings, or getting a storyline of her own about continuing to live your life at 60+, she is wonderful.
  • Mary McDonald (Laura Rosslyn, Battlestar Galactica) – she brought such dignity and passion to her final episodes as the ailing president it was heartbreaking. The relationship with Adama was perfectly played.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – a character which could so easily be swept into the background in the testosterone driven town, Tammy stands up for both her own kids and those she represents as school principal while still maintaining her relationship with the Coach.
  • Emily Deschenal (Brennan, Bones) – the character of Brennan hovers at the edge of ridiculous, but with talented acting (and great chemistry with her partner) manages to stay just on the right side.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – this is partly a pity vote to be honest, I feel bad that she’s always overlooked for awards, but actually she’s doing a really superb job. I might not like the character much, but whether she’s using her excellent comic timing or wide eyed teariness, Pompeo always nails it.

Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – I want to have “What Would Bailey Do?” embroidered on cushions! I adore her character and like Pompeo she does a great job whether shouting or crying. Hopefully with her fourth Emmy nomination she’ll finally win.
  • Katherine Heigl (Izzie Stevens, Grey’s Anatomy) – Heigl was never going to get an Emmy nomination this year thanks to some dubious outbursts to the press, but she did excellent work with a difficult (and occasionally ridiculous) storyline.
  • Tricia Helfer (Six, Battlestar Galactica) – I’m not sure it’s fair that someone so pretty is so talented, but each of the multitude of characters she played on Battlestar was amazing.
  • Adrianne Palicki (Tyra, Friday Night Lights) – the writers didn’t do her character any favours this season with some wildly flip flopping choices, but Palicki was excellent throughout.
  • Taylor Momsen (Jenny Humphrey) and Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf), Gossip Girl – Both young actresses managed to make their characters more than just bitchy little drama queens. Ok they’re mostly still drama queens, but they were funny and passionate ones.

Outstanding Drama

  • Friday Night Lights – hands down the best overall show on television at the moment, it’s consistently superb throughout the season with exceptional acting and stylish direction
  • Battlestar Galactica – I’ll be the first to admit I thought ‘reimagining’ the 70s series was a stupid idea, doomed to fail. While it occasionally faltered, what this show managed to do was extraordinary. I’m so glad it got to tell its whole story.
  • Mad Men – This isn’t a show that I get really passionate about, but it is one that impresses me a great deal with its consistent quality and polish
  • Torchwood – Maybe at just five episodes it’s not a proper series, but it was so good I couldn’t leave it out.
  • Supernatural – this show is my latest obsession, but after three seasons of enjoyable fun I was really impressed at the way everything was taken to the next level for the fourth season. Characters, writing, directing and plots all shift up a gear.

Best Ensemble
A good ensemble is not just about having a group of individually talented actors and a couple of good relationships between them. It’s about being able to put any two characters from the ensemble on screen together and having it work. For all the many faults of Grey’s Anatomy, it doesn’t matter which characters end up on screen together they always have a spark. Brothers and Sisters also manages an impressive ensemble with the siblings and their extended family wonderful in just about any combination.

Best Pairings
On screen chemistry is far from easy to come by, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes in the same show. One of the big mistakes of House this year was trying to push House and Cuddy together, a couple with no chemistry and no sensible reason to be together. But at the same time the show succeeds brilliantly with the relationship between House and Wilson! Likewise, Booth and Brennan on Bones make a wonderful platonic partnership and a truly awful romantic one. Tammy and Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights make a such a lovely and believable couple because they make sense both in a relationship and as friends.

WTF?
The most startling moment of “you what now?” came not onscreen, but over the internet with the news that Fox had renewed a Joss Whedon show. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the fans or Joss himself.

Shark Jumping for Beginners
Supernatural made me laugh a lot by having an episode breaking one of the cardinal rules of shark jumping and then calling the episode “Jumping the Shark”. That’s the way you do it.
The way you don’t do it is have a character have sex with a ghost (Grey’s Anatomy) or have your main characters sleep together and then declare it all to be a dream (House, Bones).

“I only get 3 lines an episode but I really nail them”
I missed T.R. Knight on Grey’s Anatomy this season! Jesse Spencer (Chase) on House hasn’t had much to do (including cut his hair) all season and then when he and Cameron finally had a storyline he completely blew me away. I’ve got a soft spot for Scotty on Brothers and Sisters, possibly the only character who always talks sense, even if it’s only one scene every three episodes.

Most anticipated returning show
There are a number of cliffhangers that I’m eagerly awaiting the resolve of –Criminal Minds, Supernatural, NCIS and CSI:NY all ended with a bang. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dollhouse, Lie to Me and The Mentalist do with their second seasons, if they go somewhere or just bumble along. It’s an important season for Friday Night Lights, with lots of the original cast graduating and a new team to introduce. And I’m really hoping that Supernatural manages to pull off it’s potentially final season and everything its been building to.

Least anticipated returning shows
I’m not sure I’m going to bother with Grey’s Anatomy, knowing what happens in the first episode back I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it. I’m still struggling towards the end of Heroes and am not sure I’ll bother with that unless someone tells me it gets a lot better. Ditto for House.

Most anticipated new shows
There’s some interesting scifi heading to the air this year, I’m really hoping V will manage to follow in Battlestar Galactica’s footsteps, Flash Forward will succeed where Lost failed and that Stargate Universe manages to walk the narrow line of fitting in with the franchise while still bringing something new. Eastwick has a good cast (including Paul Gross from Due South!) and will hopefully fall in the guilty pleasure category, while NCIS:Los Angeles has a good pedigree and line up staring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J. The wildcard of everything is Glee which could be cheesy fantastic fun, or cringe inducing awfulness.

Dramas and Melodramas

The drama category is a pretty odd one, after all the majority of the shows I watch are counted as drama, so this category ends up only holding those that don’t fall into another category – covering a massive range from sublime to ridiculous.

On the ridiculous side of the map we have Gossip Girl and Brothers and Sisters, both of which I treat as completely shameless trash TV. The plots border on the ridiculous and the melodrama and cheese are brought in by the lorry load, but they’re both good for a laugh and the occasional sniffle. I’m not sure how well Gossip Girl will deal with moving on to college, it came dangerously close to shark jumping towards the end of the season; while the loss of one of the siblings from Brothers and Sisters should prove an interesting shake-up, and I won’t miss the under-developed character much at all.

Meanwhile on the sublime side we have Mad Men and Friday Night Lights. Both of these shows have short seasons, air off the main networks in the US and get superb critical acclaim; however one of them gets eleven Emmy nominations and the other gets none. I love Mad Men, it’s smart and dark and funny and stylish, doing period drama in a way I’ve not seen US shows do successfully before. However I think Friday Night Lights is a far superior show, which completely blows me away every episode. Every time I recommend this show to someone it takes a little bit of persuading, but they are soon as hooked and amazed as I am. I’m thrilled the series is coming back next year and just wish the awards people would give it some attention.

On the sublime to ridiculous scale Pushing Daisies sits firmly by itself in the batshit crazy section. It pitched its tent in crazy land from the first moments of the pilot and stuck to its territory admirably. I was surprised that something so different and unashamedly quirky and sweet lasted as long as it did. I enjoyed watching each episode, but I can’t say I’ll really miss it that much, I think it may have done all it needed to do.

Mad Men: Season 1

It’s so sad that amazing shows like this get buried on channels like BBC 74 and ITV 53 in the UK, it must be because the subject is so American, because the quality of this show is far superior to so much else that’s on. The period it’s set in is fascinating and beautifully created here in all it’s coolness and ridiculousness (the amount of cigarettes they smoke is hilariously scary). Working out who these characters are over the first season is fascinating and they’re revealed so carefully and slowly that it’s very hard to stop watching. None of this was really a surprise, given the rave reviews it gets, but I wasn’t expecting it to be absolutely laugh out loud funny. Really one of the best shows on TV at the moment.