Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

Posts Tagged ‘24’

24 and Obama’s Realpolitik

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on May 2, 2010

Though it was conceived in a pre-9/11 world, 24 quickly adapted itself to the jarring reality of the terrorist threat facing the United States. Parodied by some as a right-wing show, 24 always embraced the complexities–the intractable moral give-and-take, the sacrifices and the political and foreign policy challenges–of battling amorphous terrorist enemies. So far, The Dark Knight is the only movie to take on this confounding challenge facing America–the challenge of defeating an enemy that comes closer to pure evil than anything we’ve ever seen, an enemy not bound by traditional limits of rationality and self-preservation. 24 has done the same thing on television for eight years.

This year, however, we’ve seen the most direct commentary on current events yet. President Allison Taylor, an idealistic internationalist president who set principle above even the preservation of her family, has seen her belief in the international system trump her moral code, leading to a chilling turn of events that has Jack seeking to thwart his once stalwart ally in the White House. It makes for great drama, but it also offers compelling commentary on the foreign policy of President Barack Obama.

As the Obama administration came to power, the internationalist wing of the Democratic Party, ostracized by the Bush Administration’s skepticism of bodies such as the U.N., was ushered back into power. It’s a well-intentioned wing that believes ardently in the power of international cooperation to solve serious problems such as nuclear proliferation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, it’s also ridden with contradictions and disturbing moral compromises. Simply put, to ensure a global coalition, concerns about issues such as human rights often have to take a back seat to the seemingly more important task of securing global agreements.

This reveals a political irony that may be shocking to some casual observers of politics. While President Bush was caricatured as a ruthless war-monger, Obama came into power promising a friendlier America, one that would work with partners — and enemies — to solve the problems of the world. Assumed in this promise is the belief that we’d continue to stand behind our defense of human freedom around the world. But, for many risking their lives in this cause, America’s new embrace of internationalism has proved troubling to say the least. Bush was the ultimate idealist, seeking to create a democratic utopia in the Middle East and doing more to combat AIDS in Africa than any president in our history. Obama, on the other hand, subscribes to the internationalist view that global agreement is the ultimate goal — one that should be achieved at nearly any cost.

Sure, this is an overly simplistic take to some degree. Bush knew where to muddle values — for instance, Guantanamo — for the “greater good.” But, it’s indisputable that his agenda was grounded in core values that could not be compromised. On the contrary, Obama’s is driven by values determined by a global consensus. As a result, international cooperation is bought with the sacrifice of American priorities and values. To get China to even consider sanctions against Iran, you have to give the Dalai Lama the cold shoulder or ignore Darfur. To get Russian cooperation, you have to keep Eastern European allies at a distance. We’re seeing the same thing play out on 24. Desperate for a peace treaty with the fictional stand-in for Iran, President Taylor is willing to cover up Russian involvement in the murder of the “Iranian” president to keep them “at the table.”

24 has always taken us beyond the simplistic portrayal of terrorism and our efforts to combat it from both the right and the left. This latest twist, where the president obsessively pursues peace on paper at the expense of her personal ideals and the nation’s values, may be its most powerful and relevant. And, for those who profess concern about human rights but embrace Obama’s cold, calculating foreign policy, it should serve as a wake-up call.

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Jack Bauer: Tragic Hero?

Posted by Mr. Feeny on April 13, 2010

Yes, it’s another 24 post. So sue me. It’s my second-favorite show on television, there are only 6 episodes left of the whole series, and last night was another fantastic episode.

But, today, I’m actually going to unite television with one of its mortal enemies: teachers. In general, I’ve found most educators look down upon television as a waste of time and brain cells. I agree…when you watch stupid, mindless drivel. But not Lost. And not 24. And not many others.

If any of our MANY English teacher readers are scoffing at that, here’s proof. I’m about to consider whether or not Jack Bauer is a tragic hero, one of the single most discussed elements of literary analysis.

***SPOILER ALERT***

What prompted this investigation was last night’s stupendous episode of 24. As I mentioned last week, Season 8 has been much better than anticipated. Excellent, even. And Hour 18 was no exception. Actually, Hour 18 is traditionally one of the biggest hours of each season. Last night had Chloe taking charge of CTU (long awaited by fans), President Charles Logan’s slimy return, Jack getting it on, and……LAST WARNING……Renee getting killed. Shocking.

I should have seen it coming. I’m an experienced 24 viewer. The threat seems eliminated, but there’s 7 hours left. Jack experiences happiness. Things seem to be winding down. The savvy 24 fan would have known it’s too good to be true.

And maybe any other season I wouldn’t have been surprised. Last year, when Bill Buchanan died. Expected. Season 6 when Jack killed Curtis. Idiotic, but whatever. It’s all part of 24.

But this is the last season. Seven hours from now, it will all be over. So it just made sense the writers would be gearing up for an ending. Sure, every other person Jack’s slept with has met a terrible end (Teri, Nina, Audrey, the Mexican from Season 3). [Kate Warner didn’t, but she didn’t matter] But this was different. There’s no other chance for Jack to find happiness, at least not for the viewers to see. He’s had his heart broken so many times, isn’t enough enough? I was willing to believe it. Renee was the one. The one who would last.

And 20 minutes later she’s dead. Jack Bauer can not have it both ways. He has to choose. Love or Country. No matter how far away he tries to get, he will always be faced with that ultimatum. And as last week showed, he values service to country above all else. He’s made his choice. And the Renees and Audreys of the world will pay the price.

See, that’s what non-24 watchers might not realize. This show has a lot of deep meaning. It’s not just about guns and explosions. There’s some great dilemmas and themes. Chief among them is Jack’s destiny.

So, is he a tragic hero? A literal breakdown of the phrase would imply he is. Jack’s certainly an American hero. And his life has been tragic. But a literary definition holds a higher burden of proof.

Dating back to Aristotle, a tragic hero has been a character whose downfall is ultimately because of his own actions. The realization comes that problems are not just happening to him; they have been caused by him. Choices he made.

Well, that doesn’t seem to fit Jack. Jack didn’t cause terrorists to attack America and carry out their evil plans. It’s not his fault.

But…what about his own pain and suffering? What if he hadn’t agreed to re-enter the field? Renee would be alive. What if he had told the Chinese what they wanted to know, or hadn’t broken into their consulate in the first place? Audrey would be fine. What if he had stayed with Teri instead of trying to find Palmer’s attempted assassins. She’d be alive.

Unwittingly, by choosing to dedicate his life to his country, Jack let those he love fall victim to pain, suffering and even death. But that choice is understandable. It’s relatable. Its sympathetic. That’s the other aspect of a tragic hero. While his suffering is caused by himself, it’s not wholly deserved. This shouldn’t have happened to Jack. Not again.

Some other aspects of Tragic Hero include a noble birth (remember Philip Bauer, played by James Cromwell? That’s certainly not the case) and an ultimate death because of his downfall. We have six episodes and a movie to find out if that happens. But after seeing last night’s episode, I think it’s pretty clear that there are only two options.

Jack will either die, or he will keep doing the job his country asks him to. Either way, he will never be happy. That we know for sure.

** As an aside, kudos to Annie Wersching for doing a fabulous job as Renee these past two seasons. She played off of Jack extremely well, showed some real moxie…and her crazy flair earlier this season was highly enjoyable. The Millikin-grad (go Midwest!) will be missed.**

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Lost and 24: A Guide to Last Seasons

Posted by Mr. Feeny on April 6, 2010

Let’s just avoid the big apology for not posting. I could come up with a bunch of BS excuses. I’ve done it before, and sadly will probably do it again. So, I’ll just profusely thank CJ for keeping this thing going. She’s been more than diligent and pretty much fantastic. Mad props to her.

What finally got me off my butt in the arm chair and back onto my butt in the desk chair was last night’s double episode of 24. Of course, as you’ve no doubt heard, this is its last season. It still posts respectable numbers for Fox, but was too expensive to make. And frankly, an 8 year run is pretty darn good (many of my favorite shows went 7 seasons at the most). I even said in previous posts that 24 should have just packed it in after last season. It was huge bounce-back year, with one of the best they’ve ever done. They should have gone out on top, I said. Even seasons are always bad, I said. They could have left Jack’s fate open-ended, I said.

Well, I admit it…I was dead wrong. Season 8 isn’t the best season of 24. It’s not even better than last year. But as even seasons go, it’s definitely my favorite. I only have a few gripes (Dana. Walsh.), but even those are overshadowed by some tremendous acting and some new plot devices.

SPOILER ALERT! This is where I start talking about last night’s episode.

The best acting of the whole season has been by Anil Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire). He played the leader of a Middle Eastern country, trying to broker a peace accord. Kapoor’s portrayal of a resolute but flawed leader was tremendous. You knew he was a good guy, but not a saint. He took away civil liberties because he got paranoid when his brother betrayed him (wouldn’t you be a little suspicious of everyone after that, too?). He had an affair (but he admitted it rather than let someone take the fall).  He had some shady dealings in the past. But he was a good man. An honorable man. And a deeply layered character, perfectly acted by Kapoor. And for once, the writers had us get to know and love a foreign leader, much more so then our own (Cherry Jones has been tragically underused, until last night).

You may have noticed I used all past tense there. That’s because last night, in a shocking move, the writers killed him off. Why so shocking? Aren’t characters killed on 24 more frequently than dreams on American Idol? Yes, but not this way. Jack was assigned to protect Hassan. That was his mission. And they set it up to look like once again, as always, Jack would succeed. But he failed. He was too late. That doesn’t happen to Jack. Innocents have died before on 24, but I can’t remember Jack being unable to stop someone this prominent from dying. Way to up the ante in the 11th hour, 24. (Actually, I think it was the 17th hour, but you get what I mean).

I'd take acting lessons from Dr. Linus

And that’s exactly what LOST has done, as well. They’ve upped their game in the last round. Disappointed with seasons 4 and 5? Not to worry. LOST has returned to its roots. Moving, emotional, deep storylines based solely on characters. No more hodgepodge of plots. Everyone working toward one end, but each person’s struggle isolated every week. Oh, and just for fun, how about a ton of answers to your burning questions every episode. This is the best season of LOST since the first.

Some time in the future (fingers crossed) I’ll go into more detail on why, both for LOST and 24. I think it can be summed up with this. Kapoor, Keifer Sutherland, Annie Wersching, Michael Emerson, Nestor Carbonell, Terry O’Quinn. They all deserve Emmy nominations. Performances like that combined with excellent storylines makes for quality television.

Part of me is sad that in two months, both these shows will be gone. No new episodes. The stories done (except for a possible 24 movie). These are my two absolute favorite shows on television. The only things I rush home to watch. I don’t know where do I go from here (homage to the last show I was depressed to see end). But, I can’t be more excited to finish these exciting rides.

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Following a long hiatus…some random musings…

Posted by Mr. Feeny on February 1, 2010

Wow, I’ve been gone so long that I’ve been replaced by a mysterious Asian doctor. From the 1970s no less. Wait a minute…have I flashed forward or backward on this blog?

I apologize to all those many (read: three) followers of my posts. I just underwent a major relocation and have been getting used to a new job. Plus, no internet or TV for a span there. As such, I’m woefully behind on several of my second tier shows: House, Brothers & Sisters, Amazing Race (I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to finish that one). But my top tier is still alive and kicking (until my satellite started giving me choppy reception [first week I’ve had it] and forced me to stop watching HIMYM and 24 and turn instead to the blog).

To get back into the flow of things, I just thought I’d put a few thoughts that have been swimming in my head down on paper. A little something for everyone.

  • Easy prediction for this year in television: 24 will have  a poor season. I thought this before the premiere two weeks ago, and nothing has convinced me otherwise. My rationale is purely unscientific. 24‘s even-numbered seasons are always a disappointment. Season 2 was the best of them, but compared to any of the odd-numbered ones, it was cluttered, dull and lacked story. Season 4 was convoluted and required more leaps in logic than normal. Season 6 was a disaster. So clearly Season 8 will be bad. So far, it’s been lackluster. Some good things, but nothing that wows me. I wouldn’t be terribly sad if this were its last year. I feel like 24 has run its course and deserves an ending now. As long as Logan and Tony make a return.
  • Dana Delany deserves an Emmy nomination. She has been fantastic as Katherine on Desperate Housewives. She has perfectly hit every note in her jilted lover/delusional/psychopath/depressed character arc. Her last two episodes were especially sensational, as her lies became public knowledge, and then weeks later, when she opened up to a psychologist. Felicity Huffman is always the Emmy voters’ default Housewife nomination. But her time has past. It’s Delany’s turn to be recognized (though Huffman’s scene in “If…” while dealing with her would-be disabled child in the future was simply astounding. Her best performance yet).
  • Another not-so-bold prediction: NO ONE will be satisfied when LOST ends. There is simply no way. They have opened up too many questions for someone after the finale to say “hmm, now it all makes sense.” Doors will be left hanging open. And all those viewers who aren’t as obsessed with the mythology will still not be happy because of whatever explanation is provided. They’ll find it too preposterous, or a cop-out. The talk the next day will be nothing but “Really!?! That’s it!?!” That’s not to say it won’t be received well. It will have the most split fan reaction since The Sopranos ended. But still, no one will be completely O.K with it.
  • ShamIdol. Only about 5% probably got to the judges.

    American Idol‘s sham production just continues to infuriate me. Yet I still watch. Because I want to see what the next big thing will be. What millions of Americans will be talking about. But I can not express to you in words how infuriated my logical persona gets when Ryan Seacrest and the editors/producers just straight up lie to the “stupid” audience at home. Take the Chicago auditions. They say that 12,000 people tried out. And they show them at the United Center. So tell me, why is it the judges are all in front of a window looking out on Michigan Avenue??? No where near the UC. Do they ever mention that? No. They imply that all 12,000 get to see the judges. When in fact, the producers screen the masses, then pick who they want to go to the actual auditions. If that’s the way they do it, fine. I understand. It’s a huge amount of people. But don’t lie about it.

  • HOWEVER, American Idol, there are tons of great singers in that line. And only a limited number of people can see the judges in two days. So, since you saw everyone, why waste half of the audition slots with people who don’t stand a chance? That’s not fair. It’s just not fair!! For a few weeks of entertainment, you trot out these jokes, instead of giving great singers a chance. You pick the best and the worst and let the judges see them. But what if the second-best would have been well-received by the judges. Kris Allen might not have made the cut. How many Kris Allens and Jordin Sparks are out in that crowd that you turn away because you have to give William Hung his 15 minutes?
  • GRRRRRRR
  • Rant over.
  • Survivor‘s twentieth season is going to be fantastic. Heroes vs. Villains from past seasons. Going all the way back to Colby and Jerri from Season 2: Outback. Don’t miss it!
  • Better Off Ted has quickly risen to be one of my favorite comedies on the air right now. So witty and casual with jokes, that you might almost miss them. Love it. Watch it on Hulu.
  • I had a great insightful column that I half-wrote about the Conan-Leno debate. But…..it’s kind of old news now. So no need. The general point: I love Conan, but he was wrong to refuse a slightly later timeslot. He’ll never be as big as he could have been in the Tonight Show chair for decades. But NBC is the one to blame for everything.
  • I finished Season 1 of The Wire. My friends were right. Fantastic show. Not ready to call it one of the best ever, but it was incredibly entertaining after a mercilessly slow beginning. Moltisanti is correct: the character investment is superb. Not in terms of where people came from, but what they’re about. We don’t know their history, but we know their emotions.
  • I’m hoping Damages has a good rebound season. I’ll do a review on it after a few more episodes. But Martin Short, Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Len Cariou (of Broadway fame)…all fantastic supporting characters this season. And I’m very intrigued by this year’s flash forward scenario……..SPOILER………..death becomes Tom Shays.
  • I just want to mention how good a year I had in reality predictions. My Dancing with the Stars selection won it. My Top Chef pick finished in the Top 3. My Survivor pick finished in the Top 4. And my three picks to be the last three standing in The Amazing Race finished 1, 2, and 4. Not too shabby.

That should tide you over for now…I wonder if my satellite’s back. I could watch Damages

By the way, thanks to CJ for keeping this thing going. It would have died had it not been for her. I’d compare her to a TV character or actor who did that with a show…but I can’t think of one. Suggestions?

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The Top Ten TV Shows of the Decade

Posted by Mr. Feeny on January 6, 2010

The best television shows of the decade. Of the 2000s. Of the aughts. Of the Ks. The best TV shows from 2000-2009.

I’m just trying to cover everything for google searches. As you can see, I wrote a ton. And I want the world to read it.

Before Moltisanti jumps on me, I just want to clarify my rationales. As I have with all my lists, I created this one not solely based on my personal feelings. If it were just up to me, The West Wing would be the best show of the decade. But it’s not the “top” show. Not the one that had the biggest impact and will be the most remembered. That’s the decider for me. These aren’t the best shows. They’re the decade’s shows. If the decade were a person, the shows he/she would pick. I recognize there are some very well written and acted shows out there that lasted only a short time, or were off network TV. But that limited reach affects their standing in the decade.  Also, some shows suffer from just having begun. Modern Family might end up being one of the top shows of the 2010s. But it’s not one of the best this decade.

My list was a lot more clever and insightful before CJ posted hers. Now it just looks tired and repetitive. But I already had my list made when she put hers up, so it’s a testament to how sure-fire these picks are. If I were rating on quality, though, like Moltisanti, The West Wing, The Sopranos, and Arrested Development would be my top three.

He redefined disdain.

1) American Idol (FOX) – No television show garnered more attention all decade than FOX’s hit singing competition. Consistently the highest-rated program on television, American Idol became a cultural pillar. You can’t help but know something about it. Whether it’s the theme song, Simon Cowell, or one of the successful winners, everyone has an understanding of what this show is. If not Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood (which is how most people would know the show without watching it), they’re at least familiar with the premise. Why? Because it’s been repeated now over and over in other shows and live events. Local idol competitions sprung up like wildfires (including one that my sister won). The show has countless problems and can be very frustrating. And its popularity will certainly drop without Paula or Simon next year. But for the 2000s, nothing holds a bigger place in the pop culture landscape.

CSI makes science fun.

2) CSI (CBS) – Why when you flip on one of the four main networks at night are you more than likely going too see a crime procedural? And why will you see reruns of all those shows on the big cable networks, like USA, TNT and TBS? Why were there 3 million crime procedurals that aired — and lasted — in this decade? Because CSI worked. It did more than work; it kicked butt. Year after year, what was basically a modern Quincy, M.E. dominated the ratings. But even though the mystery format was similar to a new show every season, the details were not. What were Crime Scene Investigators? The general public didn’t know. They watch cops, doctors and lawyers. Never the scientists. Before CSI, detectives just handed baggies to nerds and 15 minutes later we had a fingerprint match. The public was (and still is) intrigued by the process. And seeing as half of network programming can be attributed to this genre, I think its trailblazer deserves a high spot on this list.

3) The Sopranos* (HBO) – As I mentioned in my characters list, The Sopranos really ushered in a new type of drama (much like CSI…but a very different genre). It’s characteristics: non-network, dark themes and filming, gritty language and situations, and a central anti-hero. Try to count all the programs that have basically been made only because of the success of The Sopranos. The Shield, Rescue Me, Saving Grace, Deadwood, The Wire, Damages…etc, etc, etc. I know there were other shows that were like this first, for instance Oz, also on HBO. But The Sopranos made it to the mainstream. They entered into pop culture. Even people who didn’t watch knew who Tony Soprano was. Of course, it was successful because of its entertaining and exciting plots and excellent acting. But again, that’s secondary on this list.

Great Flashback

4) LOST* (ABC) – This show created the most ravenous fan base I’ve ever seen, other than Star Trek. Spoilers and theories flooded the internet. Every little piece of the canon was perfectly (or accidentally) created, ripe for analysis. But unlike other shows that have tried to copy it, you cared about the characters. The brilliant concept of a different set of flashbacks each episode forced viewers to invest in the show. That’s part of the reason its ratings declined in the later seasons; rarely were there true flashbacks (or flashforwards). Just a hodgepodge, mixed in with too much science fiction. It became more than many viewers bargained for, but it will still be on the best shows of the decade…until they completely screw up the finale.

5) 24* (FOX) – I read an interesting comment from a critic recently. He said that before 24, killing off a main character, especially in the first season, was taboo. Now, it’s old-hat. I’m not sure if that first part is true, but the second certainly is. It doesn’t seem like a show can last without some character getting written out permanently. And you have to credit 24 for that. A show that continues to reinvent itself to avoid getting tired. With the exception of Jack and Aaron Pierce, no character has appeared in every season. And other than Tony and Chloe, no one else has been a starring character for more than 4 of 7 seasons. That is risky. Imagine if the bar patrons at Cheers kept changing. Yet each season was riveting because you knew no one was safe. Anyone could die at any moment, except for Jack. It keeps you guessing and keeps viewers coming back.

6) The West Wing* (NBC) – It says a lot about the quality of The West Wing that they routinely dove into complex political theories and dilemmas, used big words, talked a mile a minute and still garnered high viewership from the American public. As CJ put it, this show was about more than politics. It was about relationships: between the president and his wife, him and his best friend, a boss and his assistant, the press secretary and a reporter, friends and coworkers in the office, a speechwriter and a call girl…well, maybe that one didn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong. The politics were superb. I disagreed with most of their conclusions, but I never felt like Aaron Sorkin wasn’t presenting both sides. Liberals and conservatives could appreciate it all the same. But, the point is, even if you’re not all that into politics, the character studies that exist in this masterpiece of a show make it a must-watch for any serious television fan.

Not just a clown

7) The Daily Show (COM) – I’m going to cheat a little here,  but I’ll explain why. The Daily Show technically premiered in 1996, giving it four years in the other decade. BUT, I still say it was one of the biggest shows of this decade. If The Simpsons or ER were as big a player in the 2000s as they were in the 1990s, I’d include them here too. (FYI, that list would go Seinfeld, The Simpsons, ER). Consider these facts. Every award The Daily Show has won came in the past ten years. The show really jumped into the spotlight during “Indecision 2000.” And its insanely popular spin-off, The Colbert Report (2005), might be one of the best shows of the decade just on its own merits. So, I rest my case. As to why the show belongs on this list (instead of just why it qualifies), Jon Stewart has become this generation’s Walter Cronkite…as terrifying as that is. The youth of America turn to him for their news. And although it’s incredibly biased, I can’t argue with the fact that kids and young adults are at least learning something about current events and deeper thought…hidden in humor and gags. The Daily Show’s interviews all decade made more news than anyone appearing on a network show or even late night TV. This really was a blend of both genres, and beat them both in the ratings and public attention.

8 ) The Office* (BBC/NBC) – I’ll include the British one here, although I haven’t seen it. But you can’t give credit to the cleverness of the American version without the original. So many comedies these days seem to miss the boat when it comes to characters. They either focus on one or two and leave the rest as decorations, or they flood the set with stereotypes. I’ll mention Cheers again. There was an ensemble show. You, the viewer, felt like you really knew each character. Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show (with all his patients), Taxi. Just other examples of how this used to be done. The Office brought that back, with a huge cast, yet each character has a unique personality. Everyone can be counted on for a laugh. The fact that a show like that was able to become so popular, and with their sometime dizzying filming style, shows a new wave of sitcoms on the way.

Survivor Outback: The Best Season

9) Survivor (CBS) – This basically completes the list of “Decade Trendsetters.” You had CSI for crime procedurals, The Sopranos for gritty dramas, and Survivor for reality TV. None of them were the first, but they all got the most attention and made future endeavors acceptable. And when you consider those three categories, that pretty much defined the decade (that and the apparent death of comedy). In Survivor’s case, it was an instant hit. It seemed scripted, the way alliances formed and disputes unraveled. But because they weren’t actors, it also had that real quality perfect for summer entertainment. The name Richard Hatch is still universally known, long after his million dollars have been spent. I personally preferred the next two seasons, in the Outback and African deserts (remember, Outback launched the career of Elisabeth Hasslebeck…hmm, The View is probably one of the Top 20 shows of the decade). Survivor continued to pull big ratings, and still is one of CBS’s top ten shows, now in its 19th season. Despite its formulaic nature, the characters constantly change, adding new excitement. And without Mark Burnett’s creation, there might have been far less reality TV for the past ten years. Since 90% of those shows were horrible, I kind of wish Survivor had failed.

10) Family Guy (FOX) – Easily the best cartoon of the decade, Family Guy still can’t compare with The Simpsons in its heyday. There, that’s my disclaimer. So Simpsons fans won’t jump on me like they usually do when I praise Family Guy. But the fact of the matter is that Family Guy will be remembered as being one of the best shows of this decade. Not as much for quality as for pure entertainment. I enjoy the show for its witty references. Most people just like the crass humor. But either way, decades from now, middle-aged men (let’s face it, girls just don’t like the show as much) will fondly watch reruns on their cereal box TVs and laugh like they did as twenty-somethings. As for its place in the decade, the show definitely helped branch into more risque and raunchy comedy on television…which I’m not sure I like.

*As an addendum, shows with astericks would be on my “Favorite TV Shows of the Decade” list, which would also include Monk, Curb Your Enthusiasm, How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development, and Dexter.

Posted in Lists, Mr. Feeny | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

CJ’s Best TV Shows of the Decade

Posted by CJ Cregg on January 5, 2010

OK, friends.  Time for the big one.  Which TV shows will we remember many years from now as some of the best of the decade?  Which ones truly captured the American public?  Here are my humble musings.  This is, of course, not the same as my personal list of favorite shows, but unsurprisingly, colored by the shows I like the best.

The very first American Idol

1) American Idol-I don’t know if anyone really watches American Idol anymore, but chats with some of my family members suggest that they do.  I clearly remember the beginning of my college career, though, when it was all anyone talked about.  Much like Survivor is to the “extreme reality TV” genre, American Idol is the decade trendsetter of the “reality competition” genre.  A mix of drama, talent, and kicking people off of things are the trademarks of this genre, and American Idol started it all with Kelly Clarkson.

2) Survivor-I readily admit to never having actually watched this show (and I call myself a TV blogger), but Survivor kicked off the “extreme reality TV” craze with a bang.  And what could be more 2000s than extreme reality TV?  (I say extreme because MTV’s the Real World premiered in the early 1990s as what is undoubtedly reality TV, but I think Survivor is a different genre.)  Survivor inspired numerous spinoffs (like I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here or the Amazing Race), and I distinctly remember it being the most talked-about show in the beginning of my high school career.

3) CSI-I must have bad taste, because my top three shows of the decade are all shows I never really watch, but CSI in all of its various iterations are constantly at the top of the ratings charts.  This is THE crime procedural.  Mr. Feeny explains it more eloquently than I can, perhaps because he’s actually watched the show, but people love this stuff.  And this is the trendsetter.

4) Lost-Few shows have taken the American public on such a thrill ride as Lost.  Moreover, no one I know just casually watches the show.  The people that do watch are hooked.  And the show is designed so that you can’t watch just one episode.  In fact, Lost may be the winner in the contest of ‘shows I picked up on DVD and watched all the seasons in a ridiculously short time.’  You can’t do it otherwise.  And though I could whine about how the show has gotten too confusing, and what the heck is the smoke monster anyway, I’m anxiously awaiting the final season to see how the writers will wrap it up.

5) The West Wing-I think people will remember this show.  I really do.  It was (for the most part) fantastically well done, and a balance of relationships and politics gave it a wider appeal than it otherwise might have.  It’s also my favorite show ever.  I’ve raved about it other places, so I’ll spare you, loyal readers, here.

6) Desperate Housewives-This is one of the most watched TV shows in the world, according to economist Charles

Desperate AND juicy

Kenney.  Premiering in 2004 and currently airing season 6, Desperate Housewives was a real crowd pleaser.  I remember the race to the TV room on Sunday nights my freshman year of college to watch the first season.  Kind of like a modern-day “Feminine Mystique,” shows that explore the secret lives of housewives are now commonplace.  Do you think Bravo’s multi-locale and extremely popular The Real Housewives of… would even exist if not for ABC’s Desperate Housewives?

7) The Sopranos-Yah.  Never watched this show.  But lots of people did.  And talked about it a lot.  And loved it.

8 ) Sex and the City-I have to admit, this show kind of uncomfortably straddles the decade divide.  But I think the SATC movie will help this show be remembered in this decade.  What else can we say about SATC other than it made 30 the new 20?

9) The Office-A show that is still going strong and shows no signs of quitting.  It has a very loyal fanbase and the dialogue and shot style has taken hold in other shows as well (see The Modern Family).

10) 24-Everyone knows who Jack Bauer is.  Even if you never watch the show.

Honorable Mention

Scrubs

House

How I Met your Mother

Friday Night Lights

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Moltisanti’s Best TV Shows of the Decade

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on December 31, 2009

1. The Sopranos

The best. Ever.

David Chase’s deeply perceptive realist drama attracted audiences with the promise of mafia intrigue. In reality, however, the mob was a supporting character in this study of modern American family life. It covered immense thematic ground—everything from generational conflict to the power of parents to our inability to cope with death to, well, the elusive meaning of life. Though set in a specific time period, this is a show that makes universal commentary on human nature. Its ideas and characters can be placed in any context at any time throughout history and still be valid. That’s the mark of great art, and that’s why it’s the best show I’ve ever seen.

2. Mad Men

Heavily influenced by The Sopranos, both stylistically and thematically, Mad Men has slightly less ambitious goals. And when I say slightly, I mean it attempts to capture the changing social fabric of America in the 1960s. So, yes, it’s still an ambitious show, and so far, a near-perfect one. Novelistic in its emphasis on specific themes, stylish beyond anything on TV and, like The Sopranos, touched with dark humor, Mad Men is the finest entertainment on television today. It’s already established itself in the pantheon of great television. Depending on how the next few years turn out, it could move even higher.

3. Arrested Development

Arrested Development is the funniest show I’ve ever seen. Its smart rapid-fire comedy was too, well, smart, for a mainstream TV audience, but its style makes it one of the most re-watchable shows I’ve ever seen. Will Arnett made my best actors list, but all the major players here (and the many guest stars) are brilliant. There are too many wonderful plotlines to mention here, but, if you haven’t seen it, go get in on DVD now. You won’t be disappointed.

LD

4. Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is a close second to Arrested for “best comedy of the decade” honors. Its dissection of every day annoyances as seen through the eyes of the perceptive (some might say tiresome) David retreads ground from Seinfeld (albeit with edgier plotlines and more vulgarity). The show’s loose, improvised style lets its talented cast shine. Let’s hope David keeps it on the air for at least a few more seasons.

5. Deadwood

David Milch’s Deadwood is about the creation of a civilization—and the compromises, the odd alliances, the brutality, and, sometimes, the human decency that accompany it. Written in a unique, almost Shakespearian style and anchored by several strong performances, Deadwood is a powerful, gritty Western with a lot to say about human motivation.

6. 24

Save for a disastrous sixth season, 24 has been one of the most consistent shows on TV this decade. Season one is arguably the most compelling season of television of all time, and it’s ending proved that the writers were willing to push the envelope of network TV conventions. Six seasons later, the show is still going strong, coming off a series-saving seventh season that proved that it is still the most compelling hour on TV. He may not be the absolute best character, but Jack Bauer will be the defining character of a troubled decade marked by terrorist threats and muddied rules of engagement.

7. Friday Night Lights

FNL is a powerful portrait of middling, average people weighed down by expectations and visions of grandeur. Its plot is the stuff of classic literature — characters with lofty ambitions and dreams operating in an imperfect world muddled by personal flaws, social divisions and tragedy. It’s a show that captures the redemptive power of sports — for both fans and players. So, next time you wonder why people get so invested in athletics, watch this show, and you’ll understand.

8. The Office

The British version is great too, but I’ve only seen a few episodes, so I’m sticking with the one I’m familiar with. Steve Carrell is the reason this show makes the list. Michael Scott does mind-blowing things, but, as Feeney noted, we’re still sympathetic to him. The supporting cast is great as well, and, the show brilliantly captures the drudgery, personal conflicts and politics of office life.

9. Lost

Great characters make Lost a top 10 show

After a scintillating first season, this show went downhill. Not quickly, but steadily. Based on what the writers have been saying about their commitment to getting back to character development in the final season, I’m optimistic about the end of the series. Still, Lost offers lessons to writers and TV execs everywhere. It’s the characters, stupid. Sure, the mysteries of the island made the show that much more addicting, but the series’ ability to craft a handful of deep, compelling and conflicted characters made it a success.

10. The West Wing

Maybe I’m just bitter that it beat The Sopranos at the Emmy’s multiple times, or maybe it’s because I don’t love Aaron Sorkin’s writing style, but I was never enamored with this show. Still, this was a strong series for a long time that gave us a unique inside look into the workings of the White House. It’s a fascinating premise, especially for political observers, and, for the most part, it was a solid show.

P.S. I know, I know. The Wire is missing. Before any of you David Simon acolytes lose your heads, rest assured that I have the DVDs and have started watching it. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it will easily make this list. Once I finish the series, I’ll amend the list and give the show it’s rightful due. So, sorry West Wing, you’ll soon be a goner.

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TV’s Best Animals of the Decade

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 30, 2009

Admit it. You’re sick of the usual Decade Lists. Actor, Actress, Show, Character. Everyone’s doing that. But how many are narrowing down the best animals of the decade? There’s clearly a high demand for it. And so, I supply. But, I admit there are many shows I have not seen. So if one belongs on this list, let me know!

1) The Polar Bear (LOST) – So you’re sitting at home in 2004, getting into this new show about a plane crash. It’s looking like a dramatic Gilligan’s Island, with some interesting characters. This should be pretty basic but enjoyable. Just kick back and…Holy Crap! Sawyer just shot a polar bear! They’re on an abandoned tropical island in the Pacific. How the heck did a polar bear get there? And thus a mythology was born. Fans becoming obsessed with the secrets of the island, the meaning behind everything. Mysteries that have continued for over five years. Of course, the polar bear question has been answered (mostly). They came through that weird frozen room with the wheel during a time shift and island relocation. See, simple. Oh, and that’s how one ended up in the Sahara desert too. The comic book? Um…well…Dharma. That’s all you need to know. (Oh, and numbered rabbits were a close honorable mention on this list).

2) Spongebob (Spongebob Squarepants) – I really hate that he’s on my list. But I couldn’t leave him off. The cartoon debuted in 1999, becoming a phenomenon this decade…and a sponge is an animal. It would have been unthinkable, actually, to leave him off, since he quickly became one of the most popular cartoon characters of this generation, spawning constant references, costumes and even outrage from religious groups. Tell me. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? The fact that you know the answer…and in song…tells you he belongs on the list. 

3) The Cougar (24) – No, not Courtney Cox. THE Cougar. Any 24 fan knows exactly what I mean. Even if I didn’t mention the show, just saying the word “cougar” brings back memories of the stupidest sideplot in 24 history. Kim (Jack’s daughter) staring down a cougar in the woods and taking refuge with some crazy guy. Kim’s whole plot had nothing to do with the season, so the cougar really just serves as a symbol of how bad it got. But even for that, it’s at the top of the list for animals of the decade.

4) Pie-O-My (The Sopranos) – He wasn’t featured in a lot of episodes. But what a central figure Pie-O-My was to the 4th season of The Sopranos. First off, what Godfather-loving viewer didn’t instantly think “uh oh, mobsters and prize-winning horses do not mix”? I was expecting some part of Pie-O-My to end up in Tony or Ralph’s bed. But that horse meant more to the story than just a symbolic gesture. Tony invested himself in that horse, more so than the money. He was his baby. He practically cradled it when it was sick. So when Ralph supposedly burns down the stable and kills Tony’s newfound love, what else is he going to do but strangle him to death? One of the most shocking and unsettling moments in The Sopranos run…and it was all because of Pie-O-My.

5) The Goat (How I Met Your Mother) – I have to admit. I still don’t really get the point of the goat. It was a running tease on HIMYM throughout all of last season. And they’ve referenced it several times this season. But the actual pay-off…I don’t remember. I think I was disappointed. But the fact that I still remember the goat tells me it deserves a place on this list.

Honorable Mentions: Brian on Family Guy, The meerkats of Meerkat Manor, The West Wing turkeys, Sharks, Eddie from Frasier, anything the late Steve Irwin tackled.

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Feeny’s Best Actors of the Decade

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 29, 2009

I hate going last. My list is now just a hodge podge of theirs. But believe me…mine’s the definitive list. If I used emoticons, this is where I’d type 😉 In seriousness, though, I think my cohorts forgot one major actor on the list…just like they did for characters.

1) Martin Sheen (The West Wing) – Just further proof that the Emmys don’t know what they’re doing (disregard this argument for Tony Shalhoub). In seven fantastic years as President Bartlet, Sheen never once came away the winner. His costars did. Even Alan Alda did for his end-of-the-series run. But never Sheen. And that’s ridiculous. He was the best actor on the entire show. He mixed pomposity with compassion, resolve with confusion. You saw everything the most powerful man in the world must go through on a daily basis…and still thought of Bartlet almost as a friend or father. I waited on bated breath for every time he would respond to a crisis or lesser dilemma. And that was because of Sheen, not Sorkin.

2) Keifer Sutherland (24) – I’d just like to once again thank Keifer for sponsoring this blog. We couldn’t do it without him. (He is the only person on all three of our character and actor lists…we are clearly on the take…thus nothing else needs to be said).

3) Tony Shalhoub (Monk) – My comparison of Monk to mashed potatoes is becoming more and more accurate. Not only did both my colleagues leave him off their best characters list, neither gave credit to Tony Shalhoub, the man behind the OCD. I guess his three Emmy awards didn’t catch their eye. I’m not saying that needs to be a qualification for being on this list….but it’s THREE! And a yearly nomination to boot. That’s not the Emmy voters just being their usual repetitive self. Shalhoub deserved it. His lovable and sypmathetic character seemed incredibly natural. Almost as if you were watching a reality show about this obsessive detective.

4) James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) – Tony Soprano would not have been the character of the decade without the superb acting of Gandolfini. He’s what made you root for the bad guy. You’d kind of like to hang out with T. That’s because Gandolfini pulled off the always difficult task of making a gangster seem human. You understood all of Tony’s motivations, from the big kills to the minor gripes. And every glance was extremely telling. Probably the best actor on my list in terms of subtlety.

5) Nathan Fillion (Castle, Desperate Housewives, Firefly) – If only Fillion were better known, or his shows lasted longer. Then you might have to call Fillion the actor of the decade. His work is always superb (and underrated, because of his goofy smile). And, he played a large part in a ton of shows. I was hesitant to include him in my Top 5, actually, until I started watching the final arc in Buffy the Vampire Slayer today. He made his appearance as Caleb and was just astoundingly great. Every word he utters is commanding…you want to and have to listen. If Buffy‘s not your cup of tea (idiots), try his season on Desperate Housewives, or the short-lived and much-adored Firefly, or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, or in his current hit Castle (boy does he deserve one). Oh, and if that’s still not enough proof he belongs on this list, how about the fact that he was in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, which had two seasons in this decade. We can’t ignore our blog namesake.

Honorable Mentions

-) Michael C. Hall (Dexter) – I’ll go even further than mention Hall. Even as the show has declined, and Dexter’s character has gotten dull and repetitive, Hall’s acting has not. He’s just as believable as the normal guy forcing his way through interactions as he is as the serial killer slicing up victims. You see the true spirit of his dark passenger constantly.

-) Hugh Laurie (House) – What Laurie does so well (besides his American accent) is let you see the inner workings of House’s mind. You know how he arrives at every conclusion. Even those in his personal life. And as a testament to his work, he’s a likeable curmudgeon, unlike so many grumpy doctors on TV.

Guest Star of the Decade

Zeljko Ivanek (24, Damages, Heroes) – I had to make a special spot for this guy. I love him. One of the finest actors of the decade, without a doubt, but his lack of being a series regular kept him off the main list. I anxiously await the credits on my favorite dramas, hoping to see his name. Of course, at this point, he’s pretty much been on all of them. He was Andrei Drazen in 24‘s first season. He was a regular during Heroes’ third season. And he won an Emmy for his supporting role in Damages. But look at his lesser credits. He was Juliet’s husband (the guy killed by a bus) in LOST. He held House hostage in one of last season’s best episodes. He was even the bad guy in the series premiere of The Mentalist, the #1 show last year. Add in a role in the miniseries John Adams, some guest starring spots on programs like ER and True Blood, and reoccuring turns on The West Wing, The Practice, and Homicide/Law & Order. I’m not sure if anyone worked as much as Ivanek in television these past ten years. And he did so with such conviction. Always a pleasure. Sadly, I haven’t seen him in anything this season.

/

Moltisanti will surely note the absence of Hamm. He’s probably next on my list. But I never saw the layers of Don Draper that others see. To me, he’s stiff and rather dull. I don’t see much variety in his character. Moltisanti also may wonder why Soprano is #1 on my character list with Bartlet at #3, and yet Sheen is #1 and Gandolfini #4. Tony Soprano meant more to television as a character than Bartlet did. He’s much more lasting and impactful. And I thought they were both fantastic actors. But Sheen’s portrayal of the somewhat flawed and belabored president, especially in the middle seasons, really stood otu for me.

As for the others on their lists: Will Arnett’s probably the best actor on Arrested Development, but it’s too much of an ensemble show for me to select  just one. And while I think Kyle Chandler’s acting is fantastic in Friday Night Lights, it doesn’t quite match up to the others on this list.

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Moltisanti’s Best Actors of the Decade

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on December 28, 2009

1) James Gandolfini – The Sopranos

There’s not really much competition for the top spot here. Gandolfini captures the contradictions of Tony Soprano perfectly. From his strongest moments as a mob boss to his weakness as he wears down under the constant pressures of his job and his family as well as his deep-seated insecurity, Gandolfini is perfect. Unfortunately for him and his acting career, he’ll never be seen as anyone other than Tony Soprano. Still, there are worse ways to go down in TV history.

2) Ian McShane – Deadwood

Commanding. That’s the one word that best describes McShane’s performance as saloon owner and town shot-caller, Al Swearengen. Swearengen is a study in leadership, albeit corrupt leadership. He knows when to hold a hard line and when to compromise, and McShane is equally enthralling in Swearengen’s vicious moments and his more vulnerable ones. Overall, it’s as close to a flawless performance as you’ll find.

3) Jon Hamm – Mad Men

Hamm dominates scenes as Don Draper. Sure, he’s cool, but he also displays all of Draper’s struggles (both at work and at home), including his ongoing identity crisis, with ease. And though it’s a well-known performance, it’s by and large an understated one. Sure, there are the flashy moments (“The Wheel” monologue comes to mind) where he shines, but he does more with looks and expressions than almost any other actor on this list.

4) Will Arnett – Arrested Development

Comedic actors often get slighted when it comes to rankings. It’s odd considering their work is often just as challenging as dramatic actors. So, the best comedy of the decade, hell, maybe of all time, needed a shout out somewhere before the best shows list. Will Arnett is uproariously funny as wanna-be magician Gob Bluth. It certainly says something that he stands out among a cast of hilarious actors.

5) Kiefer Sutherland – 24

Like CJ, I was scared to leave Jack Bauer off this list, even if the actor playing him may not always be sober enough to come after me. As I noted in the best characters list, Sutherland makes sure Jack Bauer is more than a one-dimensional action star. He’s a noble hero grappling with immense personal anguish as he faces down impossible moral quandaries. Sutherland fits the role perfectly, and, like Gandolfini with Tony Soprano, will go down in history wedded to this role.

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