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 ‘The Office’

Comedy Night Done Right – Jan. 20th

Posted by Mr. Feeny on January 20, 2011

My unheralded return to the blogosphere will begin with a new feature. A Thursday night feature. Since NBC is experimenting with a three hour block of comedy (“Comedy Night Done Right”), I thought I’d honor the night accordingly. In case you’re busy on Thursday night, or you’re watching the new Thursday night behemoth, this will be your guide to the best the night has to offer. So, if you only have a half hour on Friday, this will tell you which comedy to watch on DVR or Hulu.

I’ll rank each sitcom, give a little summary (I won’t give a full recap of the episode or jokes, so as not to spoil anything), some great moments, and also tally the laughs. From least to most:  chuckles, laughs, wheezes, and ROFLs. Also smiles, but I figure if an episode’s enjoyable, you’re smiling all the time. So I won’t count those up. I’ll just put (++, +, -, — to indicate good or bad). Obviously, everyone will laugh at different things. But I think it’s a good barometer of the humor.

1. Parks & Recreation – “Go Big or Go Homes” (3.1)

I love the mockumentary style, so it was reassuring to know last year that as The Office started to slip in quality, another show took its place in comic brilliance. But not just that. Parks & Recreation also mastered comedic sentimentality. No sitcom does a better job right now of showing emotion. In this episode alone, there was a fantastic shift between energy and depression by Rob Lowe’s character and we also got a peak into some solid background for Adam Scott’s character and Leslie. And neither those moments, nor the more ridiculous ones (like Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness…don’t ruin his cult hero status by hitting us over the head with it), took away from the constant, subtle laughs. Best show this Thursday, maybe it will be the best all season.

Best Fake Foul Called By Tom: “That’s a foul for touching the basketball.”

Smiles: ++
Chuckles: 11
Laughs: 12
Wheezes:
ROFLs:

2. 30 Rock – “Mrs. Donaghy” (5.11)

When 30 Rock is hitting on cylinders, it’s a joy to sit through. And tonight the hits just kept coming. Not all the plots worked (Tracy thinking he’s going to die only served as another pawn in Jack and Liz’s fight), but the writing was sharp. Just don’t blink, or you migh miss some hysterical drop-in line. I also like that the whole episode played on the fact that Jack and Liz are never romantic possibilities. That’s very rare for two leads in a sitcom. Just great friends.

One of the Best Jokes: Early on in this Liz/Jack heavy episode, Liz apologizes for him getting caught up in another one of “Liz Lemon’s Adventures.” Jack: “My adventures! I am the protagonist!” I love meta jokes. Like when Danny (Cheyenne Jackson) returns after a long absence and Kenneth says “We forgot you work here!” And so much NBC lampooning.

THE Best Moment: Liz pretending to be Jack’s wife by putting on a Kennedy-esque accent and calling a press conference.

Smiles: +
Chuckles: 5
Laughs: 10
Wheezes: 1
ROFLs: 0

3. The Office – “Ultimatum” (7.12)

Let me first say that the order of this line-up is great. Specifically putting The Office before Parks & Recreation. They’re naturally meant to be together. Now, to one of the better episodes of the season. It was just a transitional episode, to get us to a point where Michael and Holly can reunite. But it was laced with several funny gags (mostly regarding resolutions) and also had a heavy dose of Michael’s endearingly pathetic love life.  But the subplot of Darryl, Dwight and Andy was just weird and stupid (a preview of the end of the season? They’re the three in-house candidates for Michael’s job). Still, a solid episode.

Best Moment: Michael coming down to earth and subtly telling Holly that he’s sorry and will make their friendship work. Michael’s non-cartoony moments are his best.

Smiles: +
Chuckles: 5
Laughs: 9
Wheezes: 2
ROFLs: 0

4. Perfect Couples – “Pilot” (1.1)

The only new comedy in the CDNR line-up. My initial reaction: just what TV needs. Another relationship sitcom featuring three couples. Has this been done before? And the opening is the same schtick Better than You (which I like) uses on ABC: how three very different couples handle the same situation. But I’ll tell you what gives me hope about Perfect Couples. It stars one of my favorite and under-appreciated comic actors. Kyle Bornheimer. I loved his half-season comedy Worst Week two years ago. Loved it. So I’ll watch this just for him. And early on, he’s the only one I’m laughing at (and originally, he wasn’t playing this part). There are a lot of recognizable faces. The Waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Double Agent from FlashForward, Lana from Greek. But no one’s as natural as Bornheimer. The material’s not breaking new ground, but as a highly competitive person, I can’t dislike an episode about Game Night. Always comic gold. Also the filming is a more modern upbeat style than many other sitcoms. Good change of pace for NBC. Just like the sentimental music montage at the end.

Best Joke: (cut to) Rex: “What is our best relationship skill?” Julia: “Nobody asked you that…”

Smiles: +
Chuckles: 7
Laughs: 9
Wheezes: 0
ROFLs: 0

5. Community – “Asian Population Studies” (2.12)

My favorite comedy of the season (yes, even more than Modern Family). It’s easily the most inventive show on television (in the first half of the season alone, they did a zombie episode, a space parody, and an entire episode in claymation). But this episode was lackluster. The idea of having a contest to pick a new study group member was solid, but the execution felt rushed. Also, too many previous plots seemed to come together for resolution, as if they wanted to start fresh next episode without any lingering problems. That took out a lot of the humor and made it much more plot-centric than usual. Epitomized by the underutilization of Abed. The ending seemed to indicate this was supposed to be a mock-up of a chick flick (that’s Community‘s gimmick), but it didn’t work. I liked the return of the “Troy and Abed in the Morning” show for the tag, though.

Best Character: Duncan. As he explained how his soberness has changed his sex life. Also, he keeps calling one student “Fat Neal.” Neal: “Neal’s just fine.” Duncan: “Not from an actuarial point of view.”

Guest Stars of Note: Malcolm Jamal Warner (Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show) playing Shirley’s ex-husband/current boyfriend.

Smiles: –
Chuckles: 6
Laughs: 3
Wheezes: 0
ROFLs: 0

6. Outsourced – “A Sitar is Born ” (1.11)

This show got panned when it debuted. And I, too, was initially lukewarm on the concept of a show set entirely in India. But the premise (a call center for novelty gifts) has provided a good background for an Office-Lite show, with zany characters and budding romances. A little heart too. So I’ll keep watching, though it’s not a homerun quite yet. As you can see from the chuckles and not laughs. A fine episode, with a main plot about a singing competition and another about fixing their hold music. Meh.

Best Voice: We heard a lot of them, and I liked Madhuri’s angelic voice. But as a character actor myself, I was also kind of impressed by Parvesh Cheena’s (Gupta’s) purposefully bad singing.

Smiles: –
Chuckles: 4
Laughs: 2
Wheezes: 0
ROFLs: 0

 

Advertisements

Posted in Mr. Feeny, Sitcoms | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“The Office” and “It’s Always Sunny…”: Targeting Mr. Feeny

Posted by Mr. Feeny on October 9, 2010

I haven’t blogged yet about either The Office or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia yet this year. But the writers clearly knew what I had been thinking. Or maybe they just assumed “he’s not reviewing our shows because he’s not enjoying them.” That’s partially correct. I’m also pressed for time. But unlike Modern Family, I haven’t been that entertained by the early outings of those two long-running comedies.

Until this Thursday. In an attempt to coax me out of my blogging seclusion, both shows knocked it out of the park with episodes about two of my favorite activities: radio and musical theatre.

Here’s a rare peak into my personal life. I work in radio, and in my spare time, perform on stage. I enjoy both tremendously. It’s no coincidence that I created a list of the Best Musical Episodes and also am a loyal viewer of Frasier and NewsRadio. Sunny‘s radio plot wasn’t as good as some of those show’s outings, and “Andy’s Play” wouldn’t qualify for my musical list…but it was still a fantastic night watching these two comedies.

Let’s start with the best episode of The Office in a long, long time. As you could guess from the title, Andy Bernard is in a community theatre production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. As soon as the episode opened with Andy singing, in costume, “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd…,” I knew we were in for a treat. But not just because of the music (though Ed Helms does have a very nice character voice, singing “Johanna”). This episode was fantastic because it focused on the relationships between characters. It reminded us that The Office, in its heyday, wasn’t about the antics of Dwight and Jim and Michael. It was about people working and living together.

The first part of the episode is spent with Andy trying to convince the office to see his play. I sympathized with him there. When I was in a show last year, not one person from my work came to see me. And this year, only one person from the radio station. It hurts, and Helms portrayed that well. But, eventually, everyone does come. They don’t have to. They could easily skip it (like most did when Pam had an art show…in what is one of my favorite Office scenes, when Michael shows up at the end). But everyone came, even Stanley. And even Erin, who was supposed to be babysitting Jim and Pam’s baby. She was the whole reason Andy wanted people to see the show…to win her back. Who hasn’t tried to impress a would-be lover? Helms nailed every minute of this episode, from his theatre acumen to his highs and lows with Erin (she’s coming, she’s not, she’s here, she’s going to be with Gabe…every moment was pitch perfect).

The writers could have easily made this more overtly funny. A casual viewer may not like it because they’re weren’t that many hearty laughs. But there could have been, if Michael slipped into his toddler-like state when he found out he wasn’t cast in the show. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all. But he actually behaved respectfully. And the only times he caused a disruption were by humorous accident. And at the end, he gave a great pep talk to Andy saying how awesome he was. It was just nice to see everyone hanging out together to support another member of the office.

There were a lot of funny moments, though. Darryl pointing out that they need to listen to the overture or they won’t recognize the musical themes later. Creed writing a critical review for no reason. Jim and Pam sitting in the wrong seats to avoid being next to Michael. Even Andy’s cell phone ringing on stage, which could have been stupid, was played well. I just loved this episode.

I enjoyed this week’s episode of Sunny almost as much. There were two plots. One, Mac wins a chance on the radio to shoot a goal at a Flyers game, and Charlie coaches him. Classic slapstick (pun intended). It was a realistic plot, with a Sunny spin (Mac wants to hit the goal so he could be a Philadelphia sports legend…always taking it to the extreme) that made it enjoyable to watch.

But the other plot was even better. Dee and Dennis decide they could do a better radio show than the one Mac listens to. They just yell and talk about stupid things and play sound effects, they say. If they had a show, they’d talk about issues. So they start a podcast…which inevitably turns into Howard Stern-like radio…complete with yelling, stupid things and sound effects. It also allowed several reoccurring guest stars to return. Reminded me of Kramer’s talk show in his apartment. The reason I probably found it so funny, though, were all the meta radio jokes that most of you might not enjoy as much.

This week’s Community, 30 Rock, The League and Outsourced…not nearly as good. But with 6 comedies on Thursday, I’m fine with 1/3 being funny every week.

Posted in Mr. Feeny, Reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted in CJ Cregg, Lists | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Lists, Moltisanti | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

CJ’s Best Characters of the Decade

Posted by CJ Cregg on December 14, 2009

Hugh Laurie as Gregory House

I use the same criteria as Mr. Feeny.  That is, when looking back, which characters will we remember in 20 or 40 years?  As a result, some of my personal favorite characters did not make the list.  I’ll write up my top 10 characters of all time when the insanity of finals are over.  Of course, my list here is colored by the shows I actually watched.  I have (brace yourselves) never seen an episode of The Sopranos, so even though I recognize that the show was a pretty big deal, I don’t feel justified adding a character from it to my list.  So here’s what I think are the most memorable characters of the 00s.

1) Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)-Bartlet for America, indeed.  A charismatic leader, principled person, and, at times, sarcastic snob.  Flawlessly portrayed by Martin Sheen, Jed Bartlet is the American president.  Prone to poetic monologues, Jed Bartlet is, however, undeniably human.  Viewers get to watch him struggle with tough issues and moral dilemmas from the realities of sending troops to war, hate crimes, and every other possible problem in between.  And this is the important part.  We get to see him struggle.  We understand his pain.

2) Jack Bauer (24)-This show is not in my regular viewing rotation.  Nonetheless, I remember working in the basement of my dorm (CRC what?) in college and constantly having to run away from that stupid ticking clock noise from 24.  In addition, Jack Bauer was constantly evoked in my political science classes when the subject of torture or harsh interrogation techniques came up, demonstrating that this character captured the imagination and interest of many young viewers.  I myself will tip my hat to Bauer and 24‘s writers for tackling difficult moral dilemmas.

3) Dr. Gregory House (House)House premiered in 2004 and has been going strong since then.  House’s severe and unconventional antics have made him famous in TVland, and Hugh Laurie is fantastic as the title character.  His struggles with illness and addiction make him a compelling person, and viewers are constantly waiting to see how far beneath House’s rough exterior they will be able to get.  Furthermore, wikipedia tells me that House was the most watched show in the world in 2008.  I think that justifies putting the best character from the show on my list.

4) John ‘J.D.’ Dorian (Scrubs)-OK, so Mr. Feeny is right that the ninth season of this show was just a really bad

Zach Braff as JD

idea.  But I find J.D. and most of his castmates touching and humorous throughout the previous eight seasons.  Premiering in 2001, Scrubs has been around for most of the 00s, making the main character an appropriate choice.  J.D.’s internal monologues, musings, failed relationships, and bro-mance with Turk make him a great character that has lasted throughout the decade.

5) Michael Scott (The Office)-Another show that isn’t on my weekly rotation, but the TV critic has to be cognizant of the fact that this is one of the most continuously popular shows on TV.  Mr Feeny does a better job of explaining everything that’s going on with this character, so I’ll just say that I think Steve Carell is funny.

I’m admittedly quite sad there are no women on my list.  Oh well.  What’s a girl to do?

But to restate, my personal list of favorite characters will look much different from this one.  You’ll have to wait to see that, though.

Honorable Mention

Barney Stinson (How I Met your Mother)

Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights)

Hurley (Lost)

CJ Cregg (The West Wing)

Posted in CJ Cregg, Lists | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

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.

Posted in Lists, Mr. Feeny | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

“The Lover” (The Office – S6:E7)

Posted by Mr. Feeny on October 23, 2009

Plot Summary: Pam and Jim find out that Michael’s been seeing Pam’s mom since the wedding. Also, Dwight tries to bug Jim’s office.

Great Moment: The lunch scene in the kitchen between Michael and Jim. First, because you can see their friendship blossoming. But then, when Michael reveals his lover, Jim’s mix of panic, anger and disbelief hit high notes. Capped, for me, when Toby walks in, says “Hey Jim,” and gets a “Shut up Toby! Not now!” in reply. Toby dejectedly murmurs “what did I do?” Toby just can’t win managers over.

What I Love: I’ve been catching up with The Office on Netflix. I love this show more and more. It’s really quite brilliant and hilarious…and is there a better ensemble comedy out there? What’s fantastic in this episode is the versatile acting. How three in particular (Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer) have so many layers. In this episode, we saw Jim as the prankster, the caring husband, and the angry manager…plus Michael’s friend. Meanwhile, I can’t remember seeing Pam get so upset and forward and belligerent to Michael…right after being so sweet. And Michael really made you feel sorry for him, as we so often do. He tried to keep the secret. And why can’t he just be happy, like he said in his great speech? The fact that it hurt him so much that someone he considers a friend wasn’t supporting him…very touching. I hope when this show ends, there is some grand gesture to show how much the people in the office actually do care about Michael. That’d be perfect.

Who I Love: OK, maybe not love. But I’m quickly getting a crush on Erin, the receptionist. The producers did a perfect job of casting a new cute actress to replace Pam in that role. But they added an endearing naivety and innocence that I can’t get enough of. The part where she slowly pushes away Pam’s candy so she can double-check with Michael was wonderful. I want an Erin-centric episode! (There is more Erin on Hulu…web exclusives)

Top 3 Gags/Jokes:

  1. Jim: “You’re messing with me.” Michael: “About what?” Jim: “You did not have sex with Pam’s mom.” Michael: “Oh, big time.” Jim: “What kind of car does she drive?” Michael: “She drives a green camry…” Jim: (bleeped): “Sh**.”
  2. Pam’s slow realization about who Michael is dating. When it finally dawns on her, we just see Michael’s awkward smile, and you see what Pam must see. Then she freaks out and starts screaming around the office.
  3. Michael: “You were right Jim. I should have never told her.” Pam: “What? You knew!?” Jim: “Um…barely. I…I don’t have all the facts. (in a gravely voice) ‘Frank and Beans’ (a joke between them).”

Posted in Mr. Feeny, Sitcoms | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

“The Promotion” (The Office – S6:E3)

Posted by Mr. Feeny on October 13, 2009

All of NBC’s attention these past months has been on two things. Jay Leno and The Office wedding. And in my opinion, they both disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. “Niagara” (S6:E4) is a great episode of this modern classic sitcom. It  focuses on individual character storylines, delivers some big lines, and comes through on the highly-anticipated marriage of Jim and Pam, in a uniquely Office way. And although I watched it in my own post-wedding attendance haze, I still felt it lacked something. It seemed to try too hard to find conflict and make characters buffoonish. Just didn’t feel as natural or real as many other episodes.

That’s why I’m going back a week to focus on this season’s third episode: “The Promotion.” That’s the best episode so far, and one of THE best of the series. Not the funniest, but one of the greatest in terms of storytelling and character development.

These are the Office episodes I most enjoy. Ones that rely less on the humor and more on the emotion and story. Every actor in this ensemble show constantly is able to convey their inner thoughts and feelings with just a look or a few words. That’s what makes it great. So when you have an entire episode heavy on significant glances or smirks or frowns, it’s almost always brilliant.

I was admittedly very nervous and skeptical about last week’s development. Michael and Jim sharing duties? Jim as a manager? Michael no longer THE boss? The writers were completely changing the fabric of the show. But hey, they’re about to marry off two main characters, which almost always is a “jump the shark” moment anyway, so why not?

At first, Jim seemed to be a completely different person in this episode. Humorless, straightforward, and acting like Michael’s superior (which you pretty much have to do to get on an even playing field with him). It was actually incredibly frustrating. Where did the fun-loving, sarcastic Jim go? Did he become the corporate suit he’s wearing as quickly as his office was built (seriously, how long did that take? There’s a full-size room where Creed’s desk used to be.).

But as the episode progressed, John Krasinski’s excellent performance showed the truth. Jim is simply trying to prove himself to everyone else. Plus himself. He realizes that he’s never been the manager-type. But he took the job because he needed to start moving upward. He needed to provide for Pam and the baby. So he bit the bullet, took a risk with Wallace, and now has to act and look the part. And clearly the only thing he knows about managing right now is to do the opposite of what Michael does.

Most of this episode’s focus was on Jim. We’ve seen Michael act like this before. It’s typical Michael Scott. Clueless, socially inept, childish, threatened, awkward. That’s Michael. And we’ve seen Jim’s act before too, just in other people. Pam or David Wallace or Charles Miner. Is that what Jim’s become?

Clearly not. It turns out he’s almost as overwhelmed as Michael has been all these years. Without realizing it — once again — Jim is following Michael’s path. He expected his relationship with his coworkers to be enough when it came to making tough decisions. “They like me, so they’ll accept what I have to say.” That’s all Michael’s ever known and wanted. To be friends with his employees. But Jim’s effort was shot down immediately. Every non-salesperson jumped on him for cutting their raise. Jim didn’t see that coming. A naiveity reminiscent of…Michael.

That’s what made this episode work so well. The two c0-managers completely switched positions through the course of the half-hour, illustrating how well they might be able to work together. Jim, although he’s the newbie, started the day feeling more competant than Michael. Because let’s face it, he always has been more on top of his game. But he’s never had Michael’s responsibilities. By the end of the day, though, Michael’s experience started to show itself. As did their friendship.

Was anyone else as taken aback by Jim’s honest criticism of Michael? It was almost cruel how Jim, fed up with Michael’s antics and unacceptance of the situation, cut him down for not being a good manager, decision-maker, etc. This was the most serious we’ve ever seen Jim and he clearly felt he needed to establish his authority in front of Michael. He then got his just-desserts when he couldn’t solve the problem and each one of his ideas failed. But, in typical Office fashion, Michael redeemed himself. I love this part of great Office episodes. Where you just have to smile and think “God, I love these characters.” Instead of rubbing in Jim’s failure, Michael just stood back knowingly. He then made a windsome comment about always having to make these decisions alone before and how much better it felt to have a comrade. Michael and Jim’s friendship is actually strengthening. I didn’t see that coming. Jim underestimated Michael. And Michael underestimated Jim.

And then, the perfect end to the episode. What has Michael been drinking  in that “World’s Greatest Boss” mug all those years to get through these tough decisions? Not coffee. Gin. Welcome to the club, Jim Halpert.

Posted in Mr. Feeny, Sitcoms | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

“The Meeting” (The Office: S6:E2)

Posted by Mr. Feeny on September 24, 2009

Plot Summary: David Wallace visits the Scranton branch for a private meeting with Jim, which freaks out Michael. Elsewhere, Dwight and Toby investigate a worker’s comp claim…and Pam tries to convince her coworkers not to go to their wedding.

Great Moment: Andy trying to make common everyday cheeses from the kitchen into a fancy cheese plate. Including Parmesan cheese and blue cheese dressing “from south of the border: Illinois.”

Weak Moment: I love Michael’s redeeming moments, when he surprises you. But I hate his selfish ones. The episodes where he does something to hurt others just to help himself. Especially when it’s someone as nice as Jim. It still bugs me that he drove that mom and pop store out of business last year. Thankfully, there was redemption at the end of this one….which is going to create quite the complications this season.

Top 3 Jokes/Gags:

  1. Michael asking Oscar what sensations and emotions he should expect during his colonoscopy (because Oscar’s gay).
  2. Michael: “So you and Jim are pretty close.” Pam: “Yeah. The pregnancy really brought us together.”
  3. Meredith: “I’ll just get all the other information the day of. I’ll text you.” Pam: “You are going to text me the morning of my wedding to ask for directions? ” Meredith: “Right.” Pam: “And you will eat whatever’s fanciest?” Meredith: “Unless there’s ribs.”

Posted in Mr. Feeny, Sitcoms | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »