TV To Be Thankful For: 2011
Thanksgiving is here (American Thanksgiving, at least), making it officially the Holiday Season. It’s a time for reflection, for pausing to appreciate those people and things we’re most grateful for, and for focusing on what’s really important in life. Television. Here are just a few of the many things I am grateful for this year.
***I don’t follow baseball when it’s not the Cubbies, and therefor missed the spectacular Game Six of the World Series. Its utter epicness, however, demands that any fan of televised sports at least mention it in any discussion of this nature. A great game, and one of the TV moments of 2011 that I’m most sorry to have missed.
I’ve been a fan of Always Sunny for years now, but had lost interest over the past few seasons. When I heard, however, that co-creator Rob McElhenney had decided to destroy his body in the name of Comedy, gaining 55 pounds because he thought it’d be funny for the show, my interest was piqued and I tuned back in to Always Sunny’s for its season premiere. Man am I glad I did- this season has been consistently hilarious and is quite possibly the best season yet. Fat Mac isn’t solely responsible for this reinvigoration, but whether it’s a renewed willingness to take risks or even just determination from McElhenney that if he’s going to do this for the show, it’s damn well going to be funny, it’s worked and Always Sunny is currently the best, most laugh out loud funny comedy on TV.
Yes, NBC’s terrible ratings have recently been responsible for Community being shelved and Prime Suspect being all but cancelled. However, were any of these series on a different network, or even on a more successful NBC, we probably wouldn’t have gotten renewals for Community (season 3) and Parks and Rec (season 4) and we certainly wouldn’t have gotten as much Prime Suspect as we have. It’d be great to see six seasons and a movie for all of these deserving series, but for now, remembering that TV is, among everything else, a business, I’m grateful we’ve gotten as much as we have.
The Emmys are always frustrating. Usually if the shows or performances we want to get nominated even are, they’re denied the win. That was certainly the case this year in comedy (no nomination for Nick Offerman?!?), but when it came to the dramas, the Emmy Voters (pretty much) nailed it, finally showing Friday Night Lights some love and giving the long underappreciated Margo Martindale and Peter Dinklage their due. It’s a rare thing for me to watch the Emmys with a smile on my face- this year I cheered and punched the air. Several times. I don’t expect the Emmys to change, to suddenly start nailing it time after time, but this year, they did, and it sure felt great.
I didn’t catch Louie’s second season while it was on. I wasn’t covering TV for Sound on Sight at the time, I didn’t know anyone who was watching it, and while I’d really enjoyed the first season, I didn’t feel any pressing urge to watch it week to week instead of as a marathon later. To be honest, the only reason I started watching it this week was to see if it would live up to the hype and if it deserved a mention here. It did and it does. This year, Louie C.K. embraced his unique network notes-free situation and took Louie to new comedic and cinematic heights, playing with form and tone while always grounding the series with its heart and inner core of truth. Watching Louie is a rare opportunity for viewers to watch the progress of an artist stretching himself, taking risks and growing with each experience. TV is very rarely a medium that allows for the auteur theory, that lets one person’s voice and vision come through clearly. It’s wonderful to see this so beautifully, and hilariously, executed.
It’s presidential election season again and after the gift to the Comedy Gods that was much of the 2008 election cycle, I had settled in for a long parade of repetitious ads and posturing from both sides of the aisle. There seemed to be a clear frontrunner for the Republican Presidential Nomination and it would just be a matter of time ‘til we started hearing the same old speeches once again. Then Newt Gingrich entered the race. Then Michelle Bachman won the straw poll in Iowa. Then Rick Perry blew up. Then Herman Cain rode 9-9-9 from back of the pack to king of the mountain. It’s been political musical chairs with coverage out the wazoo and plenty of fodder for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, who have delivered very nicely. It will presumably calm down after the primaries, and I don’t imagine we’ll get a Vice Presidential debate as entertaining, from both candidates, as last time, but this will certainly do for now.
Friday Night Lights ended its fifth season this year with one of its best episodes. The series has done three series finales over the years and they were all excellent. However, this time the question mark wasn’t State. It wasn’t whether Coach Taylor would keep his job. It was whether Eric would overcome his pride and stubborn nature to do the right thing and support Tami. By making this the central conflict of the series finale, Jason Katims showed once and for all that Friday Night Lights is not a show about football, it’s a show about people, and even more than that, it’s a show about a marriage- a husband and a wife and all the people whose lives they touch. Eric’s realization and apology to Tami was perfect; sincere, heartfelt, and brief; wonderfully written, and beautifully played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Just one more example of what makes Friday Night Lights such an amazing series and one that I already miss.
Little I heard about Happy Endings before, during, and after its first season appealed to me. Here was yet another “group of beautiful 20-somethings hang out at a bar” sitcom with the added annoying wrinkle that the pilot started with one of the leads leaving another lead at the altar. No thanks. Then a few trickles of positive buzz started making their way to me, so I checked out an episode and liked, but didn’t love it. Then ABC decided to put up its Halloween episode online a week early. A Halloween episode featuring quite possibly the best costume I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Yes, it helps that the episode is incredibly funny, well-rounded, and makes excellent use of its cast, but from the moment that Max started gesturing with his tiny baby hands, Happy Endings had me and hasn’t let go since. It’s one of my favorite discoveries of the year and definitely one of the best comedies on network TV. It’s also one I probably would have overlooked for years had it not been to its ease of availability and Penny and Max’s fabulous costume.
I’m a fantasy buff. I’ve loved it since before I could read, when my Mom would lull my sister and me to sleep reading us The Hobbit or Watership Down. So when word came that HBO was adapting the acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, I was nervous, to put it lightly. I’d been putting off reading the series ‘til Martin finished it, as I’d heard how excruciating the down time between books was from many of my friends. Wanting to read the books without any preconceived notions from the forthcoming series though, I got them and quickly was immersed in this somewhat familiar, somewhat strange world, which only served to make me even more nervous. Then Game of Thrones premiered, beginning with its perfect realization of the first book’s prologue. I knew I was in safe hands and they delivered, time and again. The first season was so great that I stopped reading the books (I’m currently partially through number four), so that I’d eventually be able to watch the series with fresh eyes, presuming that its strong ratings stay that way and keep the series around long enough. I have an unfortunate track record of being utterly disappointed with fantasy adaptations (LotR is the exception proving the rule. Go read Ella Enchanted. It’s a wonderful book, despite what the movie might lead you to believe). It was great to have my fears proven so completely unfounded.
Really, I’m grateful for everything about Breaking Bad. It’s one of those series that reminds you, in its absence, just how amazing it is, when no other drama on TV can even come close to inspiring as much conversation, reflection, and awe. One particular way that Breaking Bad stands above the rest, however, is its use of music. It has an eclectic and highly effective soundtrack used in tandem with sparse, subtle scoring. This is something that became increasingly apparent to me after starting The Televerse, Sound on Sight’s TV podcast. Once Breaking Bad finished up its season, we suddenly had to start searching for music from the week’s TV, whereas previously there was always at least one fantastic and memorable song used in Breaking Bad each week. Very few other series take the care to choose every element of the show so specifically, to adhere so firmly to a style all their own while at the same time, embracing change and growth. I have my issues with certain aspects of the series, but these are all within the understood parameters that Breaking Bad is without a doubt one of the best television series ever made.
I was far behind the curve on this one. I heard good things about Parks and Rec several years back and checked out the pilot, only to be strongly disappointed and absolutely turned off by both Leslie Knope as a character and Amy Poehler’s performance. Flash forward a few years and, after much prodding, I decide to give the series another look. The single element that sold me on the series, which took quite a while to find its feet, was Ron Freaking Swanson. Not only is Nick Offerman hilarious in the role, but I was very surprised by how balanced the character is, how good at his job, and how good of a friend and colleague. Unlike the standout characters on most network sitcoms, he’s a fully realized individual, not a punchline or catchphrase delivery device. 2011 gave us all of Parks and Rec’s fantastic third season and a healthy chunk of season four, and unlike most other series, as more time is spent with the character, and as more of his past is revealed, Ron only becomes more interesting and entertaining. I’m happy to have caught up with this excellent series, and incredibly grateful to have Ron Swanson in my life.
What are you thankful for this year, TV or otherwise? Post your thoughts below!
Follow me on Twitter @theteleverse to see what I’m watching and ask me for the rules to my 2008 Vice Presidential Debate Drinking Game- with a little tweaking, we should be set for 2012.