The Year in Television
Fuck Tony Soprano: there, we said it. Not only does David Chase's massive soap opera for the male midlife crisis not appear on this Top 10 list, but only one voting viewer put it on a ballot. You Sopranos lifers can hit your friendly neighborhood Bada Bing! to argue whether or not the final episodes lived up to the series' best or the hype, and whether or not that may be the reason the show doesn't play in this wrap-up. We're going to chalk it up to being tired of watching weighty dramas about the psychological and emotional crises of the American male, those veritable captains of industry.
Don't get us wrong: Man's man fare continues to find its way into our weekly viewing schedules. But the men of these shows aren't the center of the universes around which the series spin. They're testosterone cartoons (The Shield's Vic Mackey), punching bags for dead-aim jokes about guys (Rescue Me's firefighters), graciously refreshing portrayals of a man allowed to be smart and angry (House), or merely vehicles setting up the gayest show on basic cable (Nip/Tuck). Even shows that you'd presume to be rather dude-dominated don't play out that way. The scheming legal thriller was reinvented with two powerfully cold-blooded female leads in FX's Damages. The continued greatness of Friday Night Lights is due entirely to it not being about high school football. And The Tudors--with Irish lady-killer Jonathan Rhys Meyers starring as the Tony Soprano of his era, Henry VIII--is less the story of a throne than one of the most deliciously ludicrous and steamy bodice-ripping soap operas ever. Move over Rome--although all fans of Zuleikha Robinson thank you for being on naughty HBO--there's a new leering king on the air.
And that's just the tip of the small screen's 2007 treats. From the week-in/out fabulousness of Ugly Betty's and Pushing Daisies' sets and costumes to the dorky fun of Bionic Woman and Gossip Girl, from the surprisingly deft drama of The Riches and Five Days to the outright silliness of Dirty Sexy Money and Reaper, and from the continued glee of My Name Is Earl, Boston Legal, and Everybody Hates Chris to the ongoing excellence of BET's American Gangster, most weeks TV offers more consistent entertainment than the movie theater.
A special shout-out goes to PBS's arts programming this year. It not only aired Simon Schama's BBC-produced Power of Art, but the American Masters series in 2007 featured programs on photographer Annie Leibovitz, Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, artists David Hockney and José Clemente Orozco, and actress Carol Burnett.
Our pick for the best show of the year? The trials and travails of a suburban mom-turned-drug dealer, her family of misfits, and the makeshift families she creates around her. Weeds consistently mixes laughs with tension, politics with slapstick, and adherence to conventional TV forms and sly subversions of it. And no other show on TV right now so deftly finesses music into its soundtrack: the season opener's spot-on use of the Thermals' "Here's Your Future" continues to land a punch.
Was Tony whacked? Who cares. Six months on, the one truly great thing about the The Sopranos was that it was on HBO, which means you didn't have to sit through the erectile dysfunction ads you know would have accompanied it. If I want Levitra spots, I'll just tune into The Unit. (And I do: see "Confessions of a Neo-Con TV Fan.") Below are the year's best TV shows as determined by ballots from CP couch potatoes Anna Ditkoff, Lee Gardner, Joe MacLeod, Bret McCabe, and Wendy Ward. (Bret McCabe)
1 Weeds (Showtime)
Nancy, a suburban widow turned marijuana dealer played by the lovely Mary-Louise Parker, does her best for her sons--which makes her totally fun to have a glass of wine with but no Mother of the Year. And just when you cheer her on for sealing the deal to grow product--'cuz, yeah, screw the middle man--she fucks her contemptible boss, makes her eldest son a part of the biz, fucks her hot co-worker, and has no clue what to do with her ghost-whisperer youngest, and you're instantly reminded just how dark this black comedy gets. With a dope cast of folks who haven't ever been this quick-fire funny on the small screen--Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon, Justin Kirk, Matthew Modine, and Mary-Kate Olsen!--Weeds brought heroin into our living room at the beginning of this season and took Nancy away on a Segway at the end. We are already jonesing for next season. (Wendy Ward)
2 Brotherhood (Showtime)
Faithfully lining up to score the last few unsatisfying season crumb-hits of The Sopranos confirmed our powerlessness before addiction, and before we could go into brain-twisting withdrawal--at which point we found ourselves eyeing our VHS tapes and actively considering starting all over again, from Episode 1, also recently available on the cable-teevee on-demand service, for chrissakes--we sampled Showtime's Brotherhood, a well-timed methadone supplanting HBO's heroin, and at the close of the second season we are working the program and have transitioned from greater New Jersey to Providence, R.I., where the food isn't as good, the sex is predominately grimy and regrettable, and there's a refreshing lack of irony, but the characters are all spectacularly, entertainingly flawed, and there are more women in the game, so all due respect, but fuck the Sopranos, because we now gleefully, schadenfreude-ly witness the cripplingly dysfunctional and oh-so Irish-American Caffee brothers and their known associates' violent, humorless, engrossing power struggles twisting family, government, crime, and general poor judgment. (Joe MacLeod)
3 The Office (NBC)
When it was first announced, the very idea of an American version of the brilliant British comedy series sent anyone familiar with the cult hit into an eye roll. The idea that the show would be going strong--maybe stronger than ever--three years and four seasons later would have sent those orbs turbocharging. Yet even after resolving the season-spanning Jim/Pam sexual tension, usually a poison pill for a series, The Office is still safely on this side of the shark. And while the show's phenomenal writers continue to find fresh material for the marquee main characters, it certainly helps that the bench just keeps getting deeper--when Schrute fatigue threatens to set in, the camera can turn to Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), Stanley (Leslie David Baker), Kelly (Mindy Kaling), Angela (Angela Martin), Andy (Ed Helms), or (a personal favorite) creepy-uncle Creed (Creed Bratton) for dependable laughs. More is more. (Lee Gardner)
4 Project Runway (Bravo)
With awe that folks can sew while we're buying H&H and pure unjustified condescension, we tune into Project Runway every week to root for our favorite personalities, criticize not just the clothes but the weird-ass challenges that spawn them, admire Heidi Klum's adoption of the English language and post-babies bod, and fawn over Tim Gunn. We wish the contestant designers knew how hard we judge the judges when they are judging, especially Elle fashion director Nina "Bitchface" Garcia and Michael "Coypcat" Kors, who always repeats what the guest judges say. Speaking of, Sarah Jessica Parker? We're smitten with Bitten! Anywhoo, the signature looks, collections based on outdated fads, and freaking men's wear for a sportscaster run totally hit or miss with us, which leaves 47 minutes of pure judgmental viewing on our part. And when some freaky chick is spit-marking the jersey, it's not about the clothes. Whee. (WW)
5 Tell Me You Love Me (HBO)
Just a few of the brilliantly simple insights that make Tell Me You Love Me more than a relationship drama: Old people sex involves wine and a fireplace; it doesn't take a couple to go to couple's therapy; other people's lives are easier to figure out than our own. Peopled with a married couple who aren't having sex and haven't for a long time, a rich young couple who can't conceive, a single twentysomething woman who uses sex to keep intimacy at bay, and the therapist whose own marriage includes three hearts, TMYLM creates an warmly lit environment where honest love and real sex flourish but usually not at the same time. And yes, real sex, as in realistic sex, with balls slapping ass and everything. Erotic? Sure, just as long as we can talk during it. The show's creators could not have imagined just how interactive a television show TMYLM is, but you invite us in and we're going to discuss. (WW)
6 Californication (Showtime)
We're not going to ruin anything for you if you haven't seen it, but as much as we've been consistently entertained watching David Duchovny's self-destructive novelist-with-a-cock-of-gold "Hank Moody" character fuck, drink, and drug up his life trying to get back to the lady he should have married (Karen, played by the disturbingly X-ray-eyed beauty Natascha McElhone), we're ready to get off, as it were. Seriously, they nailed the thing in one season, 12 episodes, done, scene. Take a hint from Ricky Gervais and move on, OK? Plus, as fun as it's been, by now "Hank Moody" (sheesh) should have genital herpes, five outside kids, a caved-in, dead nose-cartilage face, and multiple stab and bullet wounds from all his antics and the constant smarting off. However, we're ready to entertain applications for a spin-off featuring the energetic, effusive Evan Handler as Charlie, "Hank Moody's" agent and de facto best friend, baldheadedly staring his id in the face, and sweating it profoundly. (JM)
7 30 Rock (NBC)
Speaking of more is more, 30 Rock wastes not a second on, say, dramatic moments with Hollywood blacklist survivors, or unnecessary walking-and-talking around an oversized set, it just makes with the jokes, a constant stream of them, in Airplane!-like rapid fire. And what goddamn jokes. We'd quote a few, but trust us, we can't do them justice. Fortunately, the cast can, and if the revelatory Alec Baldwin doesn't win an Emmy for "role-playing" through half the stock African-American characters of the past 50 years of TV and film in the space of two minutes during the episode "Rosemary's Baby" we're gonna, like, burn down TV or something. And if Tina Fey can't make every show on the network, NBC should at least put her in charge of programming. After all, wouldn't you watch America's Next Top Pirate, Are You Stronger Than a Dog?, and MILF Island? (LG)
8 So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
It's a rare TV show that gives you a greater appreciation for art--at least outside of public television. But So You Think You Can Dance does just that. It shows a mainstream TV audience a world of dance beyond club-floor bump and grind that includes styles from ballroom to B-boy, giving each its full respect. Before watching this show, you might think of contemporary dance as little more than a punch line, a bunch of earnest people in black body suits rolling on the floor and pretending to be trees. Afterward, you'll find yourself comparing the choreography of Mia Michaels and Wade Robson. And while this show is likely to teach you a thing or two about dance, with its choreographers, judges who care about talent rather than personal drama, and unbelievably talented contestants, SYTYCD always feels more like inspiration than education. (Anna Ditkoff)
9 Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi)
Three seasons into Ronald Moore's Sci Fi Channel original series and it hasn't lost its pitch-black tone, its atmosphere of inevitable dread, its riveting tension, its unapologetic political venom, or its disorienting ability to surprise. A reinterpretation of the late-1970s series, Moore turned its robots vs. humans conflict into a mediation on what it means to be human, and, in this latest season, whether or not being human is such a good thing. The series finale dropped a grenade of a cliffhanger into the mix, one that felt almost too volatile to consider even for this time-tripping show. But if any series can outright tell you that everything you thought you knew about certain characters is wrong and then richly mine that uppercut thematically, it's this one. (BM)
10 How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
If you were a fan of the British show Coupling, the American version probably broke your heart. Sure, it had most of the same setups and gags, but it lacked the forbearer's spirit. Well, How I Met Your Mother is the American realization of that spirit. The actors have the same kind of effortless rapport, the writing is funny and smart--not in small part for its willingness to be totally stupid--and the situations are a perfect mix of outlandish and mundane to create completely relatable escapism. We love watching former Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Alyson Hannigan's loopy humor, especially when played off former Freaks and Geeks-er Jason Segel. And Neil Patrick Harris deserves every bit of praise he gets for his lovably smarmy Barney. The very fact that straight man Josh Radnor not only hangs with this group but also centers it is a testament to his skill. We never really thought we'd heart a sitcom again, but this one caught us by surprise. (AD)
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