Friday, December 30, 2011

An Open Letter to Ron Swanson

Dear Ron Swanson,

First of all, thank you for not openly rooting against me. I've seen the treatment many of your least favorite people have gotten, and I know that I am fortunate enough to be on your good side. Or at least not on your bad side.

Next to my wife, I enjoy my time with you every week more than anyone, from your wacky yet manly quotes. You have truly inspired me to be a crankier person, because you have the same outlook on life every day: people are annoying. If they are not there to help you, then they should not be there at all, and to me, this is a profound way to live.

Every one of your quotes could be on a t-shirt, and I would want to wear one of those shirts every day of my life. A different one every day. It would have the quote on the front, and then the back would be your mustached face.

And let's talk about that mustache. Not since Magnum PI has a mustache fit a person so well. It's almost like its own character. But that would take away from the character of Ron Swanson itself.

It's a crime that you have never won on award, and it's a travesty that you have never even been nominated for an award. I feel like the only reason is because people fear that you will burn their crops and salt their fields should you not win. And this is just not something voters want to deal with.

But most importantly, Ron, I want to thank you for arming me with vague threats and frankness that I could use on my students. Now, there's a good chance that I probably shouldn't have told one Latin students that, and I quote, "had carved him a coffin from a tree that grew in his own front yard," yet I digress.

When in doubt, if people think I like them and they try to get to close, I do what you told me, Ron. I call them by the wrong name.

Gruffly,
Chris

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Open Letter to Bill Henrickson

Dear Bill Henrickson,

Thank you for showing me a world of polygamy. At no point during the parading of your family did I think this was a good idea; to be fair, I didn't think it was a good idea before you showed me either. All I saw was a tough life full of anger, spite and jealousy. Also, you were gunned down in the middle of the street for your life choices. At least Tony Soprano was gunned down in a diner.

You could not manage your three wives and 5 children, and in fact, one of these children made out with one of your wives. That does not seem like a healthy relationship to me. But then again, I'm not a polygamist.

You lost your father and mother, your brother disappeared randomly, never to be heard from again, you lost your business (both of them) and you lost your best friend. Hey, but you became a senator, so that was fun.

Marriage is a sacred bond, Bill, and when you marry, you vow to give your entire self to your wife. How can you give your entire self 3 times? Isn't that three selves? Maybe my math is poor, but I don't see how three wholes equals one whole (with the exception of the Trinity, of course. Are you calling yourself God, Bill?). You must forsake one wife to lay with another, and everyone is ok with this? At what point do you realize that what you are doing is not the ideal, and that your children are going to end up crazy?

Moreover, you have now given me hope for Mitt Romney. If he is elected next year, I hope he is able to walk up to the podium and introduce his wife. Then introduce his other wife. Then introduce his third wife. And everyone stands in disbelief. But not me, because I have you, Bill Henrickson, who has prepared me for what is to come.

Kindest Regards,
Chris

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Rosie Larson

Dear Rosie Larson,

I'm sorry that I don't know who killed you. I really tried to find out, I swear to you. But I followed your innocent teacher for 3 straight days, when it turned out he had nothing to do with the kidnapping or murder at all, and it was a pointless, and mostly boring chase. Then I took a day to follow the two detectives investigating your murder looking for one of their children. Turns out he was with his father, who was married to a Cylon in another show. Also, that same detective's new fiancee was also a Cylon. This lady sure has a thing for toasters.

But believe me, Rosie, I wanted more than anything to find out who killed you. I wanted to know because of your father, who took this harder than anyone I've ever seen. When you watch Law and Order, you never see the devastating effects on the family that a murdered child has; your father showed me his soul. And it was crushing.

I wanted to find out because it always rains in Seattle. And that makes it depressing. And that makes me depressed, mostly because, Rosie, all I wanted to do was know who killed you.

I had so many ideas. Was it Senator Charles Widmore? His daughter, the assistant to the top Mayoral candidate? The slow and dimwitted associate of the Larson Moving Company? The janitor in the high school sex dungeon? One of the two detectives? Leoben? The Trinity Killer? It has to be someone, right?

I fully expected to find out in 13 days, because that's how long these things take. But apparently the Powers that Be had other ideas, and it was not to be so. We were instead forced to watch narrative incohesion at its finest, where not even a Willing Suspension of Disbelief was enough to keep me from thinking this was one of the worst creative decisions in recent television memory. It was not enjoyable to watch the search for your killer, Rosie. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge there would be justice.

Now I'm hoping there will be justice done to Veena Sudd for wasting my time.

Livingly,
Chris

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

Why do a year end post? Well, mostly because everyone else is doing one, and I don't want to seem like an idiot because I didn't do one. But why should you listen to me? After all, you won't find any MTV shows on here, or reality shows, or anything else at the top of the Nielsen ratings.

But mostly this list makes me feel important. What kind of a TV blogger would I be if I didn't write this article? Where would I get my own personalized sense of importance, thinking that I could tell everyone what the best shows on tv are? And especially, where would I get the idea that you even care what I think?

This is the brilliance of Top Shows Lists: They are arbitrary. I could put whatever I want on here, and it doesn't matter. It's my list. I could put the Killing on here, but then I would lose all credibility, since it doesn't belong on anyone's list. Except for most infuriating show with no ending and a half-witted showrunner.

A couple of caveats, though. Not all of these shows are family friendly. I dot believe that only shows that are suitable for families are the only redeemable programs on the small screen, nor do I think that if a show contains sex, violence or language that it is unredeemable.

Second, I have not yet watched Homeland, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy or Justified, so when you ask why these weren't on the list, it's because I am not yet caught up. No other reason.

Also, these are just dramas, and I will say a little bit about comedies as well at the end.

So here we go.

1. Breaking Bad
This was a no brainer. With no Mad Men in 2011, Breaking Bad was the runaway favorite to win this award (despite what the Hollywood Foreign Press says with the Golden Globes), and Vince Gilligan continued his masterpiece. Season 4 saw Walter White continue his moral decline, and we saw Walter become one of the most unlikeable protagonists in television history. Even Tony Soprano acted with his family's best interests in mind on occasion. Walter, on the other hand, put his whole family in danger, wife, 2 children, brother-in-law and his kinda-son Jesse Pinkman of course. We saw Walter take down a Mexican cartel almost singlehandedly, we saw him make 1.6 million dollars, and saw Skyler lose it almost as quickly. There is no show on TV that is as brilliant in its writing, acting and directing than Breaking Bad.

2. Game of Thrones
How do you describe HBO's adaptation of George RR Martin's epic fantasy series? Let's let Adam Scott from an episode of Parks and Recreation handle that: It’s a crossover hit! They’re telling human stories in a fantasy world.“ Human stories like family strife, loyalty, betrayal, kingship, more betrayal. A fantasy world that included white walkers, dire wolves, and of course dragons. Game of Thrones might have been consistently the fastest 60 minutes on tv each week, and when it ended, you wanted more immediately. Put it this way, there are few shows that I get mad at while watching, but not because of stupidity or poor writing, but because I'm actually angry at certain characters for behaving in a way that is contrary to good. That is the sign of a good show.

3. Friday Night Lights
Dear Coach Taylor, You have taught me so much in the 5 years that you coached in Dillon. The way you helped Smash Williams every night so that he could play college ball. The way you vouched for Tim Riggins while in prison, even though he repeatedly skipped your practices to go to Mexico, drank all the time and then ran a chop shop. Breaking the headlights of the guy your daughter was sleeping with. Referring to Landry repeatedly as Lance never got old. What you did with Vince Howard, you saved his life, man. You saves his mother's life. You won 2 state titles in 5 years with 2 different schools. But it was what you and your wife Tammy meant to each other that I'm going to take away the most. You never doubted your love, and you never doubted her. And when it came down to it, you gave up the chance to coach the number one high school in the nation with the number one quarterback in the nation to move to Philadelphia (which is a crappy city) for your wife. You, Coach Eric Taylor, are a great man.

4. Boardwalk Empire
The Sopranos set in 1920s Atlantic City. Compelling, fascinating, crushing, and emotionally charged. Steve Buscemi somehow works as Nucky Thompson, to the point that I don't see Steve Buscemi any more, but rather Nucky.

5. Dexter
So many things about this season were fascinating, none moreso than Dexter's search for religion. Season 2 put to rest the idea that Dexter Morgan is a sociopath, since he clearly feels and worries about others. So his search for meaning and for the possibility of an afterlife fit right into his ongoing search for himself (which is when the show is at its best). Mos Def, Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks were excellent additions to the cast (even if the Geller mystery was never really done very well and everyone suspected he wasn't real from the opening episode). Moreover, we got Angel back and refreshed, not being bogged down by LaGuerta. My biggest problem on the season was that they abandoned Dexter's religious angle as soon as Brother Sam died, and that made it feel unfinished.

6. Person of Interest
The only freshman series on this list, Jonathon Nolan's Enemy of the State/Big Brother drama stands out as something that is worth watching every week and which builds upon its mythology without hammering you with it. Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson are perfectly cast and equally mysterious, and both of their own personal motivations are not perfectly clear. Nor are their pasts. But you know that they will both be smarter than those they are trying to save and the people they are trying to save the victims from. The case of the week works, especially since there are still a few serial elements to the show.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Networks vs. Cable

Now that year-end top TV lists are coming out (mine will be coming in a few weeks), there are a few interesting trends to note. People base their opinions not so much on what shows earn the most amount of viewers or are talked about constantly at water coolers (for offices that still have water coolers, obviously this would not fly at the Coors Brewery, where people gather around the kegs of beer). These shows are matters of opinion and, for the most part, are reflections of a shows calendar year.

The lists will be filled with shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, Friday Night Lights (note: these are all dramas, as comedies are a completely different animal). No list will include The Killing unless, of course, it is written by Veena Sudd herself, where she will continue to compare her own copied show to The Sopranos and The Wire.

The main theme that will run through most of these lists is that there are very few network shows included in them. Networks have fallen aside in the last few years, and especially with the departure of Lost from the schedule. There is no more 24, no Alias, no West Wing. In fact, a network show has not won a Best Drama Emmy since 2005, and in the last 3 years, only a total of 6 network shows were nominated for the award (out of 19).

So what has happened to the network shows, and why is all the creativity on cable channels (Showtime, HBO, AMC, USA, FX, etc)?

The main reason is creative control. In general, cable channels are allowed to have more freedom in terms of theme, language and dialogue. Networks are not allowed to swear, the roughest words being ass or bitch. This gives a sort of realism to the cable channels that allow for the writers to push the envelope. Language does not make a show good, though, but he maturity of the dialogue means that they are going to attract more mature viewers and thus give the writers the ability to write to these viewers and not pull punches. Similarly the themes on cable channels are usually much more mature than networks, whose main goal is attract viewers and entertain them.

Seasons on cable channels are also only 13 episodes and run consecutively, as opposed to the networks, in which run 22 episodes broken up from September to May. This allows the show to become more focused and weed out some of the filler. There are very rarely fluff episodes designed to fill an order. Every minute is precious on a cable channel, and every minute fits into an overall story. Networks, on the other hand, are forced to come up with B storylines to keep the episode count up, and these storylines are oftentimes stale and pointless, and serve in just angering the audience rather than captivating them.

The audience of most network shows, while larger, isn't interested in tuning in every single week or wanting to devote part of their brain to remembering characters or situations. They want to be entertained, and they want to be entertained in an hour and have a satisfying conclusion to their devoted time. This is why shows like CSI, Criminal Minds and NCIS succeed: a problem arises, complications occur, and it is all solved in an hour. Shows like Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Whitney succeed because their viewers are idiots.

Cable shows, on the other hand, have a more complex job and story to tell, and in the best examples, a small piece of a first episode of a season may not pay off until 10 episodes later. But the audience is devoted to the show, possibly obsessed, and this gives the writers the freedom to go at their own pace and to let things cook before serving. Fewer people get these channels than the free to own network ones, so ratings don't have to be as high, and usually aren't. Money is made in other ways, especially through dvd sales and recognition through awards.

This is not to say that network shows don't have a benefit or spot in society. CSI, Criminal Minds, SVU, these are all shows I enjoy on a regular basis. They are entertaining procedurals, and there is something to say for shows that will wrap up in that hour.

But I would never rank them among the best shows on television (with the exception of Lost when it was on, which may be the greatest network show of all time). There is nothing more satisfying than the season finale of Breaking Bad every year, when each tiny and seemingly unimportant clue or piece of dialogue pays off in a big way. It's the difference between reading Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Both are good, but LOTR is ever so much more satisfying and complex.