Telephoria’s Favorites: 2010

Time to count down our favorite episodes of 2010, the ones that stuck with us when all was said and done. So without further ado…

HONORABLE MENTION:

THE OFFICE – “The Delivery”

Not the strongest of days for the Scranton crew (although Season Seven is finally starting to pick up some steam). Still, the birth of little Cecelia Marie Halpert featured an unraveling Jim, a mad dash to the hospital, Pam breast feeding the wrong baby, and the sweetest Andy/Erin moment to date. Long awaited, it was classic Dunder Mifflin.

10. SHERLOCK – “The Great Game”

This re-imagining of the classic mystery series (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson, respectively), did not substitute 21st century technology for plot but rather used it to enhance familiar stories and make them seem more relevant than ever. The season finale saw Holmes investigating a slew of seemingly unrelated crimes all engineered by the sinister Moriarty (a truly scary Andrew Scott). Funny, thrilling, and closing with a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting more right now.

9. PARKS AND RECREATION – “Telethon”

I haven’t yet blogged about this show because it kind of crept up on me during NBC’s Thursday night line up. Little by little, it won me over, so you can imagine my displeasure when NBC bumped it for Outsourced. Thankfully, Leslie and Co. are on their way back. This episode, penned by series star Amy Poehler, focused on a diabetes fundraiser so lacking in talent that Andy’s band, Ron’s skill at caning a chair, and ultimately Leslie’s recollections of her favorite Friends episodes had to fill the void (all because Tom is delayed in bringing guest of honor Detlef Schrempf). This zaniness combined with Mark’s doomed proposal to Ann gave every character a moment to shine, and if you’re not watching yet, tune in as soon as it’s back on the air where it belongs.

8. CAPRICA“Things We Lock Away”

Gone too soon. Sure Syfy burned off the remaining episodes of this Battlestar Galactica prequel, but lost is the opportunity to delve deeper into the origins of the Cylons and the spiritual divide between monotheistic and polytheistic humans. I enjoyed most of the first part of the first and only season, but “Things We Lock Away” stood out. Zoe and Tamara, after a particularly brutal fight, come together to reshape V-World, and Amanda became a spy in the Willow household. But it’s her husband Daniel, manipulated into killing business rival Tomas Vergis and then calling on the Adamas to wash the blood away, who best suggested the compromises these characters could and would make in service of their own needs, their own survival. Think of the magnitude of suffering witnessed on BSG. And while Caprica lacked the action sequences of its predecessor, how fascinating and terrifying to contemplate that it was the result of the whims of a few longing to reclaim parts of their pasts and work them into their futures. Shame we won’t get to see more of that.

7. FUTURAMA – “Lethal Inspection”

Science Fiction of a far lighter variety, ostensibly this was the story of robot Bender seeking revenge on the inspector who sent him out into the world flawed, unable to download into a new body, and therefore mortal. What followed was a road trip where Hermes aided Bender in his quest for answers and ultimately helped his friend to focus on living for whatever time he has rather than dwell on the fact that it’ll all end someday. Food for thought to be sure, but then came the revelation that Hermes himself saved Bender from the scrap heap, valuing the little robot’s life over policy, and he accompanied Bender on his journey to keep the secret. Not quite “Jurassic Bark,” but pretty damn close.

6. COMMUNITY – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

I loved the character work of “Cooperative Calligraphy,” but this was such wild take on Christmas specials that I have to rank it. Abed, abandoned by his mother and their tradition of watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, descends into a stop-motion fantasy and learns the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a feeling that translates into video games, liquor, and, ultimately, just being with the ones you love. You have to appreciate the skill that crafted the episode and the heart at its center.

5. BOARDWALK EMPIRE – “A Return to Normalcy”

I almost went with “Nights in Ballygran,” the episode that really made me a fan, but the first season finale did what all season finales should. I can’t wait for the show to come back. I want to see Nucky and Margaret in the next phase of their relationship, Van Alden coping with his and Lucy’s unexpected baby, and Jimmy scheming with the Commodore and Eli to take back Atlantic City. I tuned into Season One in large part because of the hype, but I’ll be back for Season Two for the promise of what’s to come.

4. KIDS IN THE HALL: DEATH COMES TO TOWN – “Dead Man Walking”

How great was it to have KITH back on our screens, doing the kind of intricate comedy that SNL barely remembers? This series about a small town plagued by murders and secret lives climaxed with morbidly obese hero Ricky battling and defeating Death during a public execution (bow down to the genius that arrived at such a conclusion). But the entire outing was obviously the troupe having fun, shocking each other and the audience, and let’s hope they have similar projects planned for the near future.

3. AS THE WORLD TURNS – “Finale”

The final months could have been stronger given the length of time between the cancellation notice and our last glimpse of Oakdale. Still, that last episode was satisfying. Tom and Margo were solid while Katie and Chris were just starting out. Carly and Jack prepared for a new child while Janet and Dusty celebrated Baby Lorenzo. Paul and Emily got their happy ending, and Barbara and Henry danced the night away. Maybe Lily and Holden, like Luke and Noah, remained estranged, but reconciliation seemed in the cards in an unseen future. But it was patriarch Bob Hughes, retiring at long last and reflecting on a life well-lived, who quietly summed up the journeys of these characters (and that of the loyal audience). An ending is always a beginning. Goodnight, ATWT.

2. IN TREATMENT – “Sunil: Week Seven”

Yeah. It’s the twist that stayed with me. Paul’s sessions with Sunil were an elaborate con. The patient knew how to push the right buttons to force his therapist to punch his ticket home. As a result, you have to re-watch every Sunil episode in a different light. And that’s good television.

1. MAD MEN – “The Suitcase”

Nothing else matched it. Peggy and Don’s all night duet addressed all the love, resentment, gratitude, and frustration between mentor and protege. Low blows (Don using the fact that he quietly supported Peggy post-pregnancy as an excuse for taking her for granted), laughs (they found Roger’s memoir and learned about Cooper’s… surgery), and punches (both witnessed on TV and pathetically delivered by Don and an equally drunk Duck) were just the prologue to the main event. Don admits what he’s known for the entire episode (Anna is dead), and he cries to Peggy who picks up the pieces and assures him that he is known by someone else who loves him in her own way. About as perfect an episode as you’ll ever find, and I’ll wager that Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss are assured Emmys for their efforts.

So here’s to 2010. Let’s hope 2011 is as exciting and rewarding.

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Best Characters of 2010

As the year comes to a close (and before we count down our favorite episodes of 2010), let’s pause and look at the characters, some returning and some new, who made the biggest impressions:

5. The Study Group, Chang, Dean Pelton, Duncan, basically everyone on Community: Okay. I really tried to pick just one representative from this stellar cast. First I was going to go with Troy based on his awesome maturity in the dark birthday episode or Annie getting lost in the character dictated by her fake ID. Then I thought back to Shirley defending her faith against Abed’s epic religious movie and Jeff and Pierce, in the same episode, hitting a particularly poignant note when Jeff came to collect his older friend after an ill-advised Senior Citizen joyride. Pelton’s attempt to teach Jeff a lesson in inventing a class on conspiracy theories gave him some of the best moments in the “shootout” climax (and I loved Britta getting her freak on in Fluffy Town). Chang popped and locked as the rest of group tried to pry Jeff away from the fellow lawyers who were never his real friends. And an animated Abed searching for the meaning of Christmas was wildly funny and unbelievably touching (also give props to Duncan for his self-absorbed Christmas wizard). We’re in an age of lots of strong comedy ensembles, but the students and staff of Greendale, week in and week out, are at the head of the class.

4. Adam Newman (The Young and the Restless): As played by Michael Muhney, Adam Newman, son and black sheep of one of Genoa City’s most powerful families, is what makes soaps great. He’s a villain with a conscience. In 2009, he inadvertently caused his stepmother to lose her unborn child, worked to encourage a hysterical pregnancy to cover his tracks, and kidnapped his own niece to keep the lie going. Then he fell for grieving mother Sharon, his own brother’s ex, and the guilt just grew. In 2010, the walls closed in on Adam, thanks to an “intervention” where nearly every character on the canvas railed against him for his crimes. Written into this corner, Adam faked his own death and left town. And that’s when he stood out the most. When Adam was gone, the show was lacking. Every time somebody flashed back to a conversation or confrontation with Adam, I found myself thinking he can’t come back soon enough. Adam’s return, and the circumstances that kept him out of jail, allowed him to mix it up with his enemies and call them on their hypocrisies (it’s a soap; everyone has blood on their hands). Now Adam, against all odds, is reunited with Sharon, who has never been better paired, and while he’s facing a murder charge engineered by his vengeful father, he’ll get out of it, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

3. Agent Nelson Van Alden (Boardwalk Empire): Boardwalk Empire is the best new show of 2010, and there are many characters, some fictional and some factual, to choose from. Do we pick Nucky Thompson, the cool, controlling boss of Atlantic City? Or his one time protege, the hotheaded Jimmy Darmody? Then there’s the lovely and intelligent Margaret Schroeder and a young Al Capone learning the ropes that he’ll climb to infamy. These, and many more, could have made their way onto this list, but Michael Shannon’s zealous Prohibition agent takes the prize. Van Alden wasn’t always front and center, but when he was… holy hell! Whether smirking at the sight of busted barrels of green beer, or whipping his back while lusting for Margaret, or awkwardly dining with his barren wife, or engaging in one of the most disturbing sex scenes in recent memory (and now Nucky’s former lady friend, Lucy, is expecting his child), Van Alden and his actions haunted my thoughts as the credits rolled. But nothing stands out more than his murder of partner Agent Sebso. The audience knew that Sebso was in bed with Nucky and murdered the witness who would have sent Jimmy up the river. But Van Alden only suspected, and that was enough for him to lead Sebso to an outdoor religious service and drown him in front of the entire congregation. He’s not playing with a full deck, and in a world populated by murderous gangsters, Van Alden is the most dangerous character on the show.

2. Peggy Olson (Mad Men): I came this close to selecting Don Draper for his lost weekend arc, but I have to give a slight edge to the continuing metamorphosis on his former secretary. No longer the mousy girl pining for Pete and frequently serving as Don’s emotional punching bag, Peggy took charge of the reinvented agency and the season. On the personal front, she kicked a lame boyfriend to the curb, started hanging out with a female photo editor who obviously wanted to be more than friends, and ultimately took up with a liberal artist. She also had to cope with the news that baby daddy Pete finally impregnated his wife. But it was in the professional realm that Peggy made the biggest impact. She made the pitches that Don couldn’t, stripped naked to assert her authority with Stan, the smug new art director, and signed Topaz as a first step towards keeping the young firm afloat. And of course, there was the Glo-Coat commercial that netted SCDP a CLIO. It was her brainchild, but Don took most of the credit. This led to a confrontation four seasons in the making. Peggy called Don out for his abuse, finally rid herself of former lover Duck, and ultimately came to a new understanding with her boss. Peggy allowing Don to be vulnerable took all of her strength. Credit Elisabeth Moss with a performance that better get some love come Emmy time.

1. Paul Weston (In Treatment): Gabriel Byrne took his troubled therapist to new heights this season. As always, he listened with an unmatched intensity to his patients. But it was during his own sessions with new therapist Adele that Paul most impressed. Initially, Paul goes to Adele seeking a refill for his Ambien prescription. Among other things, his belief that he is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, weighs heavily on his mind. It’s not that much of a stretch; his father died of the same ailment. But it soon becomes clear that Paul is using the possibility of the sickness to excuse his lack of effort in his personal relationships. Adele recognizes this, but her attempts to force Paul to go deeper in order to understand why he sometimes succeeds as a therapist but rarely as a man, only lead to Paul putting Adele down and then trying to convince her that a romantic relationship outside of her office might be all that he needs. In short, Paul came off as manipulative, if not more so, than any of his past or present patients. In the end, he appears ready to make some positive changes, but to get to that point, Paul sank very low. And I hated him, and loved Byrne’s performance, during every minute of it.

Andrew Koenig (1968-2010)

The news broke over the weekend that Growing Pains actor Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek’s Walter Koenig, was missing. Now comes the tragic report that Koenig the younger is dead, likely a suicide after losing a battle against depression. Of course I remember Koenig as Mike Seaver’s friend “Boner” Stabone, and I knew that he was “Chekov’s” son. Beyond that, I knew nothing, although I suspect more and more details about a life cut too short will emerge in the coming days. What can one say? My thoughts are with his family and friends, and I hope that Andrew’s soul is at peace.