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 sopranos’

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 »

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.

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

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.

Posted in Lists, Mr. Feeny | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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.

Posted in Lists, Moltisanti | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Moltisanti’s Best Actresses of the Decade

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on December 26, 2009

1) Edie Falco – The Sopranos

I’ve already detailed why Carmela Soprano is one of the best characters of this decade. One of the main reasons she made that list is because of Edie Falco, who is equally understated and show-stopping throughout the six seasons of The Sopranos. Most will point to her duel with Tony in season four’s “Whitecaps” as her best performance, but it’s the smaller, quieter moments, when you see her wrestling with the disappointment in her husband (and, at times, her children), her struggle with her own limitations, and her maternal sense of responsibility where Falco shines the most.

2) Glenn Close – Damages

As Patty Hughes, Close is chilling and brutal. However, as I noted in the best characters list, this could easily have been a one-dimensional villain. Close, however, complements Hughes’ villainous side with hints of vulnerabilities and emotion. Her ability to command a scene is unparalleled.

3) Allison Janney – The West Wing

I’m not a huge West Wing fan, but during my years of watching the show, Allison Janney always stood out.  Unfazed and in

command, she, as Mr. Feeny noted, was the perfect actress for the high-paced Aaron Sorkin-penned Bartlett White House.

4) Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer

I wasn’t a regular viewer of this show, but every time I did watch it, I was mildly entertained by the plot and wildly entertained by Kyra Sedgwick’s turn as a spunky, tough detective. It’s possible that I was just brainwashed by all the promos I saw during the NBA playoffs, but, for now, I’m confident saying Sedgwick was one of the best of the decade.

5) January Jones – Mad Men

Betty Draper may be a slightly adapted version of a character we’ve seen before: the stifled 1950s housewife struggling to cope with suburban ennui. But, credit the show’s writers and January Jones for making sure she doesn’t turn into a cardboard cutout of a character. Betty has developed over the course of the show into a slightly more assertive woman and certainly a less naive one. Still, however, she’s held back by her own delusional childlike nature, her unhealthy relationship with her now dead parents and the social confines of an age where divorce was far from commonplace. Jones never overacts and often captures Betty’s unhappiness, fear and anger with just a look. In my opinion, Jones has delivered one of the most underrated performances of the decade.

Posted in Lists, Moltisanti | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Best Actresses of the Decade

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 17, 2009

Continuing our list of Decade Bests…and to show I don’t hate women after I kept them out of my Best Characters list…here are the five actresses who shined above all others from 2000-2009. Technically, I guess if someone was on a mostly 90s show but had an amazing season this decade, that could count. But I don’t think we’ll run into that. Unlike my character list, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the performances that defined the decade. Just the ones that really stood out.

I see the actor/actress lists more like a sports dynasty. Were the Yankees the best team of the decade? They won the first and last World Series and performed well almost every year in between. The Patriots? The Lakers? Every year’s a little different,  but a dynasty is created. That’s the case with this list. Great actresses boost their significance to the decade by being spread across multiple shows and platforms. Which is exactly what THE Actress of the Decade did.

1) Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock) — There is no doubt in my mind that Tina Fey was the biggest actress of the 2000s. Let’s look at it chronologically. First off, she had nothing on her TV resume before the end of the 90s and now she’s one of the most famous actresses in the country. She ascended to the top of Saturday Night Live’s pecking order early this century, quickly becoming a fan favorite. She transitioned that success into the incredibly popular movie Mean Girls (which she wrote…as she did most skits on SNL). And after leaving Saturday Night Live, what did Fey do to keep up? Created and wrote 30 Rock, a hilarious comedy that has won the Emmy every year since it’s creation, and given Fey two individual nods. Oh, and if that’s not enough, Fey became even more popular with her spot-on impression of Sarah Palin during the 2008 election…also earning her an Emmy. She might be the funniest actress since Mary Tyler Moore…and is definitely the best female writer. It’s Tina Fey’s world and we’re just watching it.

2) Edie Falco (The Sopranos) — How do you play the devoted wife of a killer and not seem like a naive sap? The way Falco did. Carmella always knew what was going on. She saw through Tony’s BS and chose to stay with him, because she herself had problems. But Falco fought to make her character strong, not just a victim of circumstances. Every decision Carmella made, be it small (getting her kid’s form signed) or large (having or not having an affair), Falco showed the power inside her character. Scenes with Gandolfini were always riveting, and unlike some other acclaimed dramas, I never screamed for the lead female character to get off the screen (ahem, Mad Men). The whole range of human emotion could be seen in Falco at any given moment. A flicker of her eyes could tell you what she was thinking. Fantastic dramatic actress.

3) Allison Janney (The West Wing) — The actual West Wing — and all of DC for that matter — is a boy’s world. And fast paced scripts from Aaron Sorkin seemed almost intended for those good old boys. But CJ Cregg was just as much a part of the decision making and fast talking as anyone else in that White House. And that’s thanks to Janney. She managed to find in Cregg the difficult balance of professionalism and compassion, often finding pet concerns or uncovering painful realities that she, as a political outsider, struggled with. When she disagreed with a decision, she let it be known before going about her job. I still don’t like the writers’ decision to promote her to Chief of Staff, but even in that role Janney evolved and gave CJ a new outlook. She almost became Leo. If you need proof that Janney belongs on this list, watch “The Long Goodbye.” The only episode of the series where one character goes off and has an entire episode just to her or himself. The acting in that episode alone is one of the best performances of the decade.

4) Glenn Close (The Shield, Damages) — I love Glenn Close’s masterful performance in Damages but was hesitant to include her after just two seasons. Then I remembered she was in The Shield, which I heard fantastic things about…plus it earned her an Emmy (as did Damages). A pair of Emmys is a good place to start for being one of the best TV Actresses of the Decade. I can’t speak on her Shield performance, but as Patty Hewes, Close dominates every scene she’s in. You can’t take your eyes off her. You never know what she’ll say next or, more importantly, how she’ll say it. The most common phrase can become a biting judgment. Her eyes will turn you to ice, her smile make you squirm. It’s actually very similar to her role as Cruella de Vil…only much more dramatic.

5) Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) — After three seasons, it’s criminal that Britton hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy. Especially in an awards association that relies so heavily on critics over viewers. As Tami Taylor, Britton exhibits every single quality that makes the others on this list award-winners. She has the resolve of Close, the complexity of Falco, the compassion of Janney. Even some humor…though not on Fey’s level. Plus, she improvises a large part of her scenes with Kyle Chandler, showing her natural acting chops. She makes her role as a small town coach’s wife and school principal seem about as realistic as a show can get. And as anyone who acts knows, “not acting” is one of the toughest skills there is.

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

Best Characters of the 2000s

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on December 13, 2009

It’s that time. The end of the decade, which calls for lists, lists and more lists. Over the next few weeks we’ll be giving you our take on the best TV characters, actors, actresses and shows of the 2000s. A few ground rules before we begin, however. Obviously, some TV shows started in the 90s and ended in the 2000s, so we’re only going to count the shows who’s most notable years were in this decade. For instance, shows like “Frasier,” “The X Files” and “The Practice” are 90s shows even though they ended in this decade. “West Wing,” on the other hand, which started in 1999, is a 2000s show. It’s not a science, but between the three of us you should get a pretty good sense of the best of the best for this decade.

Without further ado, here we go. First up: characters.

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

1)    Tony Soprano – The Sopranos

With Tony Soprano, David Chase has done what the world’s best realist authors did time and time again: place a well-known character type into a world of complexity (aka the real world). Prince Andrei in War and Peace was a heroic warrior on a quest for personal glory who struggled to cope with the smallness of everyday responsibilities. Similarly, Tony is the classic mafioso thrust into the confusing, humorous and unpredictable world of modern American family life. The result is a powerful, albeit painfully insecure man, who struggles to live up to the expectations of his character type.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper

2)    Don Draper – Mad Men

Don Draper is one of the richest, most multilayered characters I’ve ever seen on television or in film. In a vacuum, he’s compelling as a suave ad man living as anonymously as he possibly can with a wife and two kids. But, as a stand-in for an America with a fragile identity coping with wracking societal changes, he’s one of the best and most fascinating characters of the decade.

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer

3)    Jack Bauer – 24

Say what you want about 24, but it’s undeniably compelling entertainment. At the center is a character who in less capable hands could have turned into a paper-thin Steven Seagal-like action hero. Instead, Jack, who most definitely is an action hero, is one grappling with not only physical pain, but also intense emotional anguish. Kiefer Sutherland is riveting in this role, and the character is a perfect adaptation of the noble hero to the messy times we live in. Instead of being a white knight, Jack is forced to get his hands dirty, skirting moral lines and making impossible choices. But he always answers the call and accepts the consequences. He’s a character everyone wants on their side, even if it’s not PC to admit it.

Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano

4)    Carmela Soprano – The Sopranos

It came down to her and Moltisonti for the last Sopranos spot, and as much as I wanted to give my namesake his due, Carmela is the more complete character. Like Tony, she has ideas about how things should be, but struggles to make things fit tidily in a world filled with arrest warrants, cheating husbands and troublesome kids. She’s a good mother with ambition, but she’s held back by social expectations and her own personal limitations. Still, she attempts to break out of her confines in various ways throughout the series. Her development over six seasons is subtle, but fascinating.

Glenn Close as Patty Hughes

5)    Patty Hughes – Damages

Give Glenn Close credit for this one. This is a character that could easily have become a caricature. But, Close, by subtly revealing Patty’s human and even vulnerable sides, gives us a well-rounded portrayal of the most chilling character of the decade.

Posted in Lists, Moltisanti | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »