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 ‘Monk’

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 ūüėČ 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.

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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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Here’s What Happened

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 17, 2009

USA decided to dive feet first into the world of original cable programming. They wanted something a little off-beat, something to distinguish itself from the rest of television’s offering. So they came up with a quirky detective show.

But they knew this unique character couldn’t be lovable unless they found the perfect actor. That’s where the odd Italian cabdriver from Wings came in. Tony Shalhoub had only gotten small parts since that comedy ended, with bit parts in the Men in Black movies and a starring role in the failed Odd Couple-esque sitcom, Stark Raving Mad. But something about Shalhoub attracted the producers and they hired him. That’s when everything started to change. (I hope you realize I tried to do one of Monk’s patented explanatory monologues)

Monk proceeded to dominate the cable landscape for 8 years, becoming one of the decade’s¬†iconic television characters (see my list here). The detective comedy consistently beat most of its cable competition, not just on Fridays but on all days. Even with its shortened and sporadic seasons, Monk became must-watch viewing for millions of Americans. And it earned Shalhoub three Emmys.

The beauty of Monk is that, unlike the serial dramas on network TV, we the viewer usually had the pieces we needed to solve the mystery ourselves. We got to be armchair sleuths. Even if we knew who the killer was, we could guess the motive, or how it happened. Mixed in with a ton of humor and unique awkward situations every week to put Monk in, it was the perfect Friday night show.

Monk holds an interesting place in my television repertoire. It’s like mashed potatoes. I would never think to call mashed potatotes one of my favorite foods. I have many more dishes I’d mention first. But I always enjoy mashed potatoes. And more often than not, I want them on my plate. It’s just not the type of stand-out food you think of when putting together your cravings list. But it’s always reliable. There are other comparisons that would work. Like a friend you always have fun with, but don’t consider one of your best. Or a movie you can watch over and over on TV but don’t actually own (Die Hard, for me).

Monk probably won’t end up on my Top 10 shows of all-time. I haven’t seen every episode. I don’t obsess over what happens in each episode like I do with LOST or 24. But I never am disappointed. I can always sit down and enjoy an hour of Monk before moving on to do something else. It’s been one of the most reliably entertaining shows on television since its 2002 debut.

That’s why I was incredibly surprised how much Monk‘s series finale affected me. I’d been putting off watching the last two-part episode because I didn’t want the show to be over. But I finally watched it yesterday…and was blown away. Although the series itself won’t land on my top 10 list, its finale would. One of the most perfect series finales I’ve ever seen (once our decade lists are done, I’ll definitely do one of those).

First of all, the show ended on Episode 125. How perfect is that? A sublimely balanced number. While not even, I’m sure Monk would have liked it. 125 just has an even feel.

Next, the finale — AND SPOILERS BEGIN NOW — actually answered the series long question: who killed Monk’s wife Trudy? When Monk gets closure at the end, so does the audience. Now we know. He can move on with his life off camera and we can try — and fail — to find as purely entertaining a show.

Third, it had some big guest stars. Craig T. Nelson as the villain. DB Woodside as Monk’s doctor. Even Ed Begley Jr. as the dead body (he literally had one scene in the two-parter).

Fourth, the finale allowed the actors to reach new heights in acting. Primarily Shalhoub, who not only was able to play “poisoned, dying Monk” to perfection, but then mixed it seamlessly with all-encompassing rage. We got to see Monk lose it, as he attacked and beat senseless Nelson’s character. Never before had Monk shown that much true emotion. And really, only this could have brought it out.

That’s the next part that made this great. They stayed true to the characters. We knew Monk wouldn’t kill Nelson. He wanted to. We could see that. But there’s a line he won’t cross, as much as he longed to avenge Trudy’s death. It harkened back to a previous season premiere, when Monk found the man who was hired to plant the car bomb. He was dying, and Monk was alone in the hospital room. He cut off the killer’s medicine and said “this is me making you suffer.” The patient was in excrutiating pain, and you could see Monk’s pleasure at hurting the person who hurt him. But then he let go and said “and this is Trudy letting you live.” He is always in control, even with a gun pointed at his wife’s killer.

Lastly, the writers left us in a good, sensible place. There was some development. Randy became a police chief and moved in with Sharona. Captain Stottlemyre found his new wife (another Trudy, introduced previously in this excellent final season). And Adrian changed. Back to the slightly OCD Monk of before. Twelve years earlier, when he was able to cope with Trudy. He no longer cared as much about everything being straight and in place. He wore a new outfit. Monk is still obsessive, but not the way we saw him. That was Monk with something weighing him down. Now Monk’s happier, connecting with Trudy’s daughter, and he’s able to live his life again. We took a journey over the past 8 years, and the ending couldn’t have been more satisfying.

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Feeny’s Best Characters of the Decade

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 14, 2009

I¬†agree with several of Moltisanti’s choices¬†on his list of the decade’s greatest characters.¬†Two especially were formative television characters who defined the decade. That’s upon what my lists will be based. Not great characters from critically-acclaimed but hardly viewed shows. Rather, characters that will forever be remembered as coming out of and representing this decade. Frankly, Don Draper’s on the shoulder of that. Great character, multi-layered, widely talked about. But will people think of him when they think of TV characters from the 2000s? Like they think of Lucy for the 50s. JR for the 80s. Homer for the 90s. I don’t think so. He’s a great television character, but not “Of the Decade.” There’s more to that classification.

In 40 years, when you think back, these will be the five characters you remember.

1) Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) — But Molitisanti and I will definitely agree on the top character of the 2000s. Largely because of the impact he had on other characters of the decade. The Shield, The Wire, Damages, Dexter. None of them could have captured audiences had Tony Soprano not introduced the idea of a sympathetic villain. This is a murderer. A law-breaking, modern day mobster who chokes his associates to death, cheats constantly on his wife and bullies everyone around him. But, it’s also the only life he knows, and the best way he knows to provide for his family, which he actually does care deeply about. The hypocrisy is rank, but the drama is golden. And Tony Soprano used it to be the most important television character of this decade.

2) Jack Bauer (24)¬†— I really can’t say it any better than Moltisanti did. Jack is an action hero with feelings. The best seasons (one, three, five, seven) somehow are able to develop Jack’s character in the span of a day, as we see him experience the entire range of human emotion. Just brilliant (except season 6…terrible…I will never stop mentioning that).

3) Jed Bartlet (The West Wing) — How many Americans this decade would have preferred him as their president? Even though we disagree on most issues, I have to admit, I’d vote “Barlet for America.” And that was the beauty of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing creation. You knew where this fictional character stood on EVERYTHING. Over the course of seven seasons (all but one in this decade), Bartlet made known his beliefs on everything from war to health care to judges to abortion to immigration. He seemed like a real politician. But what makes this character great is the personality behind it. The fact that Bartlet’s a trivia nut, that he once considered the priesthood, that he cracks jokes every chance he gets. He was the perfect balance of personality and power. Add in one of the most compelling storylines of the decade — hiding his MS and then fighting it in office — and Bartlet will forever be remembered as one of the greats. When Martin Sheen dies, they might put his casket in the capital rotunda.

4) Adrian Monk (Monk) — Where else on TV has an OCD character not only been the star, but one of the most popular characters in all of television? Typically, these are supporting or passing persons in the run of a series. But Monk put this uniquely quirky and obsessive character right in the forefront and let the magic happen. You never really pitied Monk. You laughed at his idiosyncracies and rooted for him to overcome obstacles. From season to season, his growth was slight. But he often did come face to face with his fears and usually overcame them…if just for that instance. In the hands of a lesser actor, Monk could have become a stale mockery. Instead, he was one of the most beloved characters, truly of this decade (2002-2009)

5) Michael Scott (The Office) — This one is going to get a lot of negative reaction, especially for those lovers of the British original. But frankly, I’m sick of that. Having now caught up on the entire series, Michael Scott is just as fantastic a character as David Brent. Better, I’d say. You can clearly see that this man is overmatched by his job, but at the same time understand why he has it. You can see why he has no girlfriend or family, but also understand that he should and would be a great husband/father. He’s far more layered than most sitcom characters, and much more than you’d think after just a few episodes. You truly need to see Michael Scott throughout the series to understand his motivation and personality. And there are few characters this decade, including those on this list, that I get a warmer feeling about when they find redemption. Those scenes are incredibly touching in The Office, only because of how invested we are in its lead character.

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