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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CAPRICA: Cancelled

By now you’ve probably heard about the cancellation of Syfy’s Caprica, the flawed but still compelling BSG prequel. When the first half of the premiere season came to a close, I talked about what was working and what wasn’t. This newest batch of episodes didn’t completely right the ship, but you could sense the writers were trying to get a handle on the various stories they wanted to tell. And given time, the end result could have been magical. Too bad we won’t get a chance to see it.

CAPRICA: Taking stock

Those of you watching Caprica have likely seen the mid-season finale. I only wrote about the pilot episode, opting then to soak in this first installment of the Battlestar Galactica prequel and ultimately determine what’s working and what isn’t.

Working (Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales): As the tormented patriarchs of the core families, these veteran actors are incredibly well cast. Arguably, Stoltz, as genius Daniel Graystone, has more to work with as he balances the loss of daughter Zoe combined with his quest to bring her back to life, his often strained marriage to Amanda, and the threat of losing the success he’s built. Morales, as lawyer Joseph Adama, initially played the stages of grief admirably after losing his own daughter and wife in the same terroist attack that claimed Zoe. Once he discovered there was a virtual version of his daughter trapped in cyberspace, he neglected his work and the son who would become BSG’s “Old Man.” Some of the fire went out as he plugged into a virtual world. With that chapter of his journey apparently closed, at least for now, Joseph needs to get back to sparring with Daniel, blaming Daniel, and possibly entering into an uneasy alliance with the other grieving father. Watching Stoltz and Morales in the early episodes called to mind the best BSG political and philosophical debates where both sides were right and both sides were wrong. These actors are doing some of their best work in these complicated roles.

Not Working (Polly Walker): An accomplished and exciting actress, this categorization isn’t entirely her fault. Her Sister Clarice is an ill-defined character, initially presented as a mother figure with an agenda to Zoe’s bereaved friend, Lacy, then a commune dwelling polygamist with radical religious inclinations, then a relapsing drug addict, then Amanda Graystone’s “friend” with lesbian overtones, and finally, awkwardly coming full circle, a terrorist at war with those in her own movement. Walker has done her best with the material, but without a through line her performance seems disjointed and the character does not work. The writers either have to get a handle on Clarice’s role in the story or cut their losses with the schoolteacher/self-appointed prophet/junkie/bisexual/terrorist (you see the problem?).

Working (The Trinity): When Alessandra Torresani’s Zoe was bumped off in the pilot episode, I thought she’d stick around as the Zoe Avatar for the foreseeable future if for no other reason than her face was on all of the advertising. When Daniel made the fateful decision to implant her essence into the U-87 Cylon model, and the Avatar program was apparently lost only to reappear trapped in the robot before the final credits, I’ll admit I wondered how this was going to work. Pretty damn well as it turned out. Through a series of camera tricks that constantly switched from the first Centurion to Zoe and back again, the Trinity that is Zoe, the Avatar, and the robot was revealed. Now Torressani still got the chance to play Zoe as something a little more flesh and blood, at least in the virtual sense, via secret meetings with Lacy in the virtual playground that is V-World and an ill-advised and ill-fated courtship, also virtual, with Daniel’s lab assistant, Philemon. But the moments that really stood out were Torressani unable to speak and sometimes even move as Zoe hid in the robot and watched her parents’ grief and her father’s business machinations unfurl around her. The penultimate episode, “Ghosts in the Machine,” was a tour-de-force for the young actress as Daniel, suspecting Zoe’s presence, proceeded to psychologically torture his daughter in order to draw her back to him. Torressani played horror, resolve, hatred, and affection with little more than her eyes to work with. The fate of Zoe is up in the air until the series returns (sure Daniel can rebuild the robot, but is the Avatar lost for good)? Probably not, but even if it is, I highly doubt that Torresani is finished as the actress has far too much to add to the show.

Not Working (Amanda Graystone’s sudden visions of her dead brother): Paula Malcomson, as Daniel’s wife and Zoe’s mother, is a welcome presence on-screen simply because she looks her age and looks lovely. For the first few episodes, Amanda progressed logically – grief-stricken after Zoe’s death, horrified by the implication that Zoe engineered the bombing, but finally pulling it together to support her husband on television and persuade him to fight for his crumbling empire. Then in the last three episodes, Amanda started seeing visions of her dead brother, which piqued Clarice’s interest, revealed her past stay in an institution and suicide attempt, fell to pieces when Daniel’s business rival labeled her husband a murder, and finally stood ready to fling herself off of a very high bridge. I get the feeling that the writers decided to change directions with the character midstream, and the effect was incredibly jarring. Had Amanda been painted as a neurotic on the verge of a nervous breakdown even before Zoe’s death and started to see her dead daughter and toyed with the notion of suicide even before the finale, you’d have a different but far more consistent character than the successful wife and career woman who morphed into a wet eyed, chain-smoking mess in the blink of an eye. Moving forward, pick one Amanda (I’d personally go with the borderline insane version just because there are more storyline possibilities), and take it from there.

Working (Sam Adama): Joseph’s gangster brother and young Willie’s favorite uncle is a fascinating character. Shown murdering a government official in the pilot, stripped to the waist, bearing his Tauron tattoos, this is not a man to make an enemy of. While his brother spent the early part of the season in grief and anger, Sam stepped up to the plate, took Willie under his wing, and while he kept his young charge out of school in smoky backrooms frequented by men of ill-repute, Sam also passed along advice that would serve the future Admiral well once the Twelve Worlds were decimated like staying on a path once you’ve started (so that’s why Adama followed Roslin’s hunch to Earth). Sam is also homosexual, an accepted sexual orientation in this civilization. He is not a stereotype. In point of fact, he’s probably the toughest man on the canvas. Where Daniel gets others to do his dirty work and Joseph is the indecisive predecessor of his grandson, Lee, Sam rolls up his sleeves and gets things done. He would have killed Amanda as revenge for his murdered sister-in-law had Joseph not backed out at the last minute. Sam’s crimes will undoubtedly catch up with him, but let’s hope his final act is a long way off. Actor Sasha Roiz is creating a bold, complex character that challenges and reinvents the notion of masculinity in any time and any place.

Not Working (Too many characters too fast): One of the joys of BSG was how the ensemble naturally grew even though they were stuck on that ship. Pilots, knuckle-draggers, resistance fighters, and previously unknown Cylon models gradually came to the forefront. By the final season, every character earned the ending he or she was given. Now my problem with Caprica isn’t the characters themselves (late arrivals such as Tomas Vergis and Barnabas Greeley, the rivals of Daniel and Clarice respectively), are intriguing. It’s the way they’re pushed into the spotlight so quickly, often getting large chunks of entire episodes when we’re still learning their names. The denizens of virtual New Cap City are the best example of this. Their first taste of screen time essentially consisted in devoting an entire episode to their alternate reality. Visually, an amazing piece of work, but who are these people and why should I care about them? Here’s an example from BSG that the creators should look to – Cally. Now while she was never my favorite character, look at her evolution. She started out as a somewhat nondescript deck hand whose single most memorable moment in the first season was biting the ear of a man who tried to rape her. Over the course of the show she became more of a major player (surviving on Kobol, shooting Boomer, marrying Tyrol and bearing a child, pushing her husband to start a labor union, and finally becoming unhinged upon discovering who and what the man she loved really was). Cally’s last episode, which ranks among one of BSG’s best, hits all of the right notes because we’d taken a journey with the character instead of having her jammed down our throats So I say to Caprica, slow it down. We’ll care more if we get to know these people first.

Not Working (Bear McCreary’s Pre-Finale Score): McCreary’s work on BSG might be the most inspired score of any television program ever (I have the soundtracks for all four seasons on my iPod.) But where BSG was a mix of classical, new age, primal beats, hard rock, and even opera, the Caprica score was merely a variation on the main theme and a few somber incidental tracks. It wouldn’t be so frustrating if viewers didn’t know that McCreary is capable of so much more. Now in all fairness, the music for BSG’s first season is my least favorite of the soundtracks, a far cry from the epic nature the score would achieve in the later seasons, especially Three and Four. So as I watched and listened, I hoped that McCreary would start to flex his musical muscles as the series progressed. And then…

Working (Bear McCreary’s Finale Score): Here he got his mojo back. Even prior to the closing montage, pounding beats, tragic strings, and haunting vocals worked to heighten the action. Moving forward, I hope that we get to hear the skilled experimentation with genres that made the music as important a player as any of the actors on Caprica’s sister show.

Caprica is unique and thought-provoking, but it’s still finding its way. When the show returns, and based on the quick preview clip last Friday night I believe it is even if I’m not sure when, let’s hope that most of the kinks are worked out, the writers get a handle on who these characters are and how to more gracefully weave them into the action, and the music keeps getting better. I can’t see myself loving this show with the same fervor with which I worshipped BSG, but who knows?

CAPRICA: Daddy Issues

Caprica has come. The prequel to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica kicked off Friday night with a two-hour pilot/movie. As a rule, pilots are not really my thing as they beat viewers over the head with who the characters are, their allegiances, their conflicts, what lies ahead, etc. In fact, I have skipped many a pilot the first time around and jumped in an episode or two later once the writers and the actors have relaxed into the show (a recent exception to this rule was the fabulous Modern Family pilot, which seemed sure of itself right out of the gate). But my BSG love is still strong, my curiosity piqued, and I was there Friday night “before the fall” to see the birth of the Cylons.

The pilot introduced the Graystone and Adama familes. Daniel Graystone and his wife Amanda are wealthy scientists of the Gaius Baltar variety (there lakefront house recalls Baltar’s pad from the BSG miniseries). These masters of the universe have everything one could want except the respect of their angry, brilliant teenage daughter, Zoe. She is not some rebel without a cause. Zoe, along with her best friend, Lacy, and her boyfriend, Ben, spend their nights in a virtual nightclub full of sex and human sacrifice. But they are not there to party but rather to bring a yet unspecified change to their virtual and real worlds. Zoe has even managed to create an avatar, a perfect copy of herself, destined to mother the toasters and, in turn, the skin jobs (more on that in a bit). Rapidly, real-world Zoe perishes, courtesy of a terrorist attack orchestrated by Ben, and along with the many victims are the Old Man’s mother and sister. Left to pick up the pieces is lawyer, Joseph Adams (not yet Adama; he’s still denying his Tauron roots). Joseph and Daniel unite in their grief, and when Daniel discovers Zoe’s avatar he decides to play god and implant her essence into a synthetic body. Joseph, initially horrified by the plan, is ultimately swayed by the prospect of reuniting with his own lost loved ones. To that end, he enlists his underworld connected brother, Sam, to steal a vital piece of technology from a rival firm, and Daniel sets out to bring Zoe back to life. Daniel is left devastated when his efforts seem to fail and he apparently loses the virtual Zoe forever. He re-groups and creates the first Centurion, but in a final twist, Zoe is trapped inside the metal body and contacting Lacy for help.

Overall, I’m excited to see where this series goes. In addition to debates about what is real and the possiblity of copying a soul, Caprica argues for a terrorist act and asks whether right and wrong are absolutes. Weighty issues of this sort mingle with more intimate glimpses of grief and familial love, notably a tender love scene between the suddenly childless Daniel and Amanda and a bedtime story where Joseph reclaims his family name for young Willie (the second scene was beautifully underscored by Bear McCreary’s Adama/Apollo theme from BSG). After the controversial BSG finale, a friend of mine noted that for all the action sequences and political maneuverings, Ronald Moore’s space opera was ultimately a series of love stories. Some ended happily (Baltar and Caprica, Athena and Helo, Tigh and Ellen), others not so much (Adama and Roslin, Apollo and Starbuck). If I were to identify a singular, universal theme in the prequel, it’s how fathers and their children relate to one another. Daniel, who failed Zoe while she lived, becomes obsessed with resurrecting her. But the avatar wants to do more than fill a void in Daniel’s heart and absolve him of his guilt. To that end, she hopes his experiment fails, and it is not yet clear whether she somehow sabotaged his intentions. Regardless, Zoe is now trapped in a design of her father’s creation like so many who are ensnared by their parents’ desires or expectations. BSG often had the Cylons stating that they were the children of humanity. How fitting that this is literally realized in the prequel and how intriguing to think that what will ultimately destroy the colonies and most of its denizens is a father trying to reach his daughter with disastrous results. On the flip side, the scene between Joseph and Willie is that of a father acknowledging his mistakes. Unlike Daniel, he knows he can’t recapture what once, or maybe never, was. But he’ll try to do better. Caprica promises more of the religious discussions that colored so much of BSG‘s later seasons (to the dismay of some fans; honestly, I liked where the series went as it progressed). This might turn off admirers of pre-New Caprica only, but a new legion of fans can be recruited, anyone who ever battled a parent and tried to find purpose in the face of a loss. And the overabundance of attractive, angsty teens, somewhat lacking aboard Galactica, won’t hurt either.