2012 Televised

Farewell, 2012. Here’s what I watched, for better or worse. Let’s dig in!

BEST DRAMA: Mad Men

After a lengthy absence, everyone from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was back in full force. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to label Season 5 as the best of this outstanding series (I often go between Seasons 2 and 4 depending on the day), but this was indeed an amazing collection of moments as our characters hurtle closer towards the denouement that will be 1970. From “Zou Bisou Bisou” to Lane and Pete exchanging punches in the conference room, from acid trips to Hare Krishnas, from the prostitution of Joan to the suicide of Lane, each episode had the impact of a Ben Hargrove (or should I say Dave Algonquin) short story.

BEST DATE: Louie and Liz – Louie

Talk about acid trips! This was a Woody Allen filmscape turned inside out and upside down. Rooftops (from which I really wanted Liz to jump), dressing rooms, and can we all just take a moment and revel in the orgasmic splendor that was the detour to Russ & Daughters? It was never going to end well (as later episodes showed, maybe?), but what a night in Manhattan that I never wanted to end.

WORST USE OF A CLIFFHANGER: NCIS

Now I love me the escapades of Gibbs and his team, and I was on the edge of my seat during Season 9’s finale. But when the show returned, a summer’s worth of momentum evaporated in five minutes. Here’s the thing. Everyone knew that all of the actors negotiated new deals, so no one was going the way of Sasha Alexander’s Kate or Lauren Holly’s Jenny. But spread the revelations out a little bit! Bang! Ducky’s fine and Jimmy’s right there with him. Boom! Abby and Gibbs make it out of her lab with just a few bumps and bruises. Blammo! Ziva and Tony are killing time in the elevator, and she’s able to get a cell phone signal and speak to her father in Israel! And that piece of glass in McGee’s side? He’s fine after the commercial break. Don’t get me wrong. Season 10 is going strong with “Phoenix,” “Gone,” and “You Better Watch Out” among the highlights. But this was a waste of suspense on par with the Moldavian Massacre fallout.

BEST CHARACTER: Hannah Horvath – Girls

Played to utter perfection by series creator Lena Dunham, aspiring writer Hannah is without question “a voice of a generation.” Smart and funny but also self-absorbed and lazy, everyone has either been or known a Hannah at some point in their lives. She’s both the cool kid you want to hang with and the needy relative you desperately avoid. I can’t say I approved of every move she made in the show’s spectacular first season (weird as Adam is, she did him wrong by agreeing to move in with Elijah), but I understood that Hannah is driven by both fear and desire (like most of us). She is the most complex and the most compelling character to emerge this year, and I’m longing for January to see what she does next.

BEST EXAMPLE OF “EVERYTHING CONNECTS”: Boardwalk Empire

It’s more than a bit of throwaway dialogue from Lansky to Luciano. Boardwalk Empire faced a monumental task. Would the show work without Michael Pitt’s Jimmy? Admittedly, things got off to a slow start. Despite an awesome final ten minutes that had me longing for the next episode, the show still produced one of the most boring hours of television all year. But in the home stretch, wow! Eddie’s shooting tied into Chalky’s paltry narrative when his almost son-in-law, Samuel, is the only doctor available. Margaret’s quest to bring prenatal rights to AC paves the way for her to abort the late Owen’s child. And the strained relationship between Nucky and Rothstein allows Capone (and, probably, Van Alden) to stake their own claim to the boardwalk. Just great storytelling that fills one with hope and anticipation for Season 4.

WORST STUNT CASTING: Christopher Meloni – True Blood

So I pretty much stayed clear of these vampires and werewolves in the Bayou, but the announcement that Stabler was joining the cast sucked me right in. And I’ll admit, as crazy and overcrowded as Bon Temps is, the show gets to you, and I’ll be watching again next season. Still, Meloni was utterly wasted as vampire Guardian Roman. Why cast him if he’s only there to bide time until Denis O’Hare’s Russell steps to center stage as the most sadistic vamp going? I’m sticking with the show, but what a waste of a tremendous actor.

BEST COUPLE: Leslie and Ben – Parks and Recreation

Despite the conclusion of Leslie’s successful campaign for councilwoman and Ben’s gig in D.C., they found their way back to one another to build a life in Pawnee. Can we just stop and marvel at the proposal in their new house, a moment that Leslie wants to freeze in time to remember for always? I dare say that nothing was more romantic all year. Without question, this couple will defy the sitcom odds. They’re together, they’re happy, and there is no threat of the magic fading. From Leslie’s attempt to join their families with her unity quilt, to their encounters with a hated Eagleton architect, to a gift from Ben to Leslie in the form of VP Joe Biden himself, each and every note was exquisite.

WORST SECOND ACT: Homeland

A bit of a cheat on my part. I still have to watch the last five episodes of Season 2. But there’s a reason the going’s been so slow. After a freshman season showered in deserving accolades that took the characters to the point of no return, this show has backpedaled to the point of absurdity. From post-shock treatment Carrie being sent to Beirut (and conveniently finding Brody’s damning confessional tape) to the afore-mentioned Brody sitting in on video feed of Abu Nazir’s near destruction only to be granted the opportunity to text his former captor of the impending danger, this is one twisted pretzel of a mess. While the performances are still strong (and Carrie interrogating Brody was all kinds of amazing), Homeland seems to have found its voice at the expense of the audience that adored it in the first place.

BEST COMEDY: 30 Rock

Season 6 and the bulk of Season 7 will stand as one of strongest final bows of any sitcom ever. Liz became The Joker and wed as Princess Leia, Jack and Avery said goodbye after he fell for her mom and made a TV movie out of their whole affair, Tracy took steps towards respectability and becoming his own version of Tyler Perry, and Jenna and Paul tried a “sexual walkabout” before making their way to the altar. They slammed The Wiggles, featured Jon Hamm in blackface, and sent Elaine Stritch’s Colleen to her final resting place in hysterical style. I’ll really miss this show, but it’s going out on top.

…and

BEST TRIBUTE: “One Moore Episode” – Portlandia

Yeah. I’ve would’ve risked my job and utility service to continue watching Battlestar. An eager James Callis (“but you need to listen to me!”), a disgusted Edward James Olmos (“I command because I have the discipline to command!”), and a clueless Ron Moore (“flying the freak all over the place” ), set this geek girl’s heart on fire. The Doctor Who shout out was the icing on the cake, but “Be careful. Psychologically. It’s television.”

Bring it on, 2013!

EMMY 2012: Directing for a Comedy Series

Now we come to our last comedy prediction (no disrespect to guest actors and art directors, but there’s only so much time on this blogger’s hands!). So who’s going to be honored as the best director of a television comedy? Let’s see…

DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

Robert B. Weide, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Lena Dunham, Girls
Louis C.K., Louie
Jason Winer, Modern Family
Steven Levitan, Modern Family
Jake Kasdan, New Girl

Okay. So the New Girl pilot basically soured me on the whole series, so I can’t pick Kasdan. Curb was a disappointment (and “Palestinian Chicken” was right up there with the Bill Buckner episode in terms of absurdity). Modern Family walked away with this award last year (but in all fairness, neither Levitan or Winer were the victors). Still, this is really a battle between C.K. and Dunham.

At the heart of Louie’s “Duckling” is the conviction that laughter is the the universal language. If we would take the time to listen to it, there’d be a lot less conflict in the world (sounds kind of hippy-dippy I know, but what other message can you draw from the sight of a man chasing a bird in a war zone and thus stopping the fighting for a few moments?). I’d like to see C.K. win something, and I think he has a better shot here than in the Lead Actor race. But then there’s Dunham. The season finale of Girls tied up no loose ends but rather set new plots in motion (Jessa’s marriage, Adam and Hannah breaking up, Shoshanna losing her virginity, Marnie starting to look for what lies beyond Charlie, etc.). Everything went down within the confines of a beautifully quirky wedding ceremony, which was capped off by Hannah’s subway mugging, long walk home, and lonely wedding cake breakfast on the beach. My pick is Dunham because her efforts topped off a brilliant first season and made me want the next batch of episodes ASAP.

Up next, the Dramas!

EMMY 2012: Lead Actor – Comedy

Let us continue with our predictions and hopes for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards. Here are the gents vying for the title of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

COMEDY ACTOR

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory
Larry David as Himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm
Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan in House of Lies
Louis C.K. as Louie in Louie
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock
Jon Cryer as Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men

As I already mentioned, I am not a Big Bang fan, so I can’t really judge Parsons as Sheldon (loved his guest stint on iCarly; does that count?). Sad to say that I am familiar with Cryer on Men. Whether you’re Team Charlie or Team Ashton, it is such a thoroughly unpleasant show that I can’t see the wisdom in awarding anyone associated with it any kind of award. Add to that, we live in a strange universe where Steve Carell never took home the trophy for his work on The Office, and yet somehow Cryer has a Supporting Prize for playing Alan Harper. Guess who I really don’t want to win. Despite my lack of knowledge regarding Parsons’ performance, I would not be surprised if he is declared the winner for the third year in a row (and I can’t say he shouldn’t win).

The nomination for Don Cheadle strikes me as a worthy acknowledgment of a show still building buzz. No argument that Cheadle, a phenomenal actor who first came to my attention with his Emmy nominated portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. in HBO’s The Rat Pack, should have an award for that performance and many others. I doubt he gets one here, but perhaps the nod will enhance House of Lies’ profile. As for Larry David, this was a very weak season for Curb. In past years, particularly Season Four’s Producers arc, I would have bet money and given anything to see David win for playing this version of himself. Now, I still might bet the money, but my heart is with another comedian doing the self-portrayal thing and doing it damn well.

Louis C.K. is the genius behind one of the funniest shows currently on the air. Louie mixes the comedian’s observational stand-up with slice of life vignettes that are alternately hilarious, dark, or just plain surreal. Whether defending masturbation on Fox News, recalling the filming of an ill-fated sitcom pilot, or just riding the subway, C.K. as Louie is our guide through a New York City that doesn’t quite exist but seems oh so familiar. His is a subtle performance. With the exception of those scenes where Louie is actually performing his act, much of the humor stems from Louie responding or reacting to what transpires around him. But when you consider that C.K. is writing and directing all of these episodes, he seems even more worthy of a win. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but this would be one awesome upset.

And then there was Alec. It looks like 30 Rock is going to go out with a bang. This most recent batch of episodes featured many of the true LOL moments of my TV season. Baldwin, as always, was great  (“traumatized” by the mugging, wrestling with his feelings for Diana, dealing with Avery’s return, etc.). I don’t know if he had a moment to rival Tracy’s therapy session from Season Two or the “the Four Jacks” from Season Five, but he’s someone I never count out (and I’m not going to say that he doesn’t deserve the award because his work speaks for itself).

I have a feeling it’s going to be Parsons again, but my fingers are crossed for C.K. Who are your picks?

EMMY 2012: The Comedies

So the 2012 Primetime Emmy award nominations are out. With a few exceptions, which I’ll elaborate on in the very near future, this is a solid list. Between now and the September 23rd telecast, let’s take a glimpse into each category (who should would, who will win, and who was left by the wayside). We’ll start with the funny!

COMEDY SERIES

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Girls (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
30 Rock (NBC)
Veep (HBO)

Right off the bat I’ll admit that I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory. Is it a deserving nominee? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s a topic best left to a more avid fan. Now as far these other five bad boys are concerned, I watch ’em all (although in the case of Curb, it’s out of habit rather than desire or excitement). Don’t get me wrong. Back in the day, Curb was a wonder that arguably rivaled “parent show” Seinfeld in terms of its audacity and intricately structured plots. But the move to New York coupled with the loss of Cheryl kind of made the show a drag. Liked Michael J. Fox in the season finale, and the car periscope episode scored laugh after laugh from my couch. But overall, the show has run its course. And the absence of Community and Parks and Recreation from this category honestly makes me resent the fact that the show is still on the air. Still think Larry David is a genius, but I would love to see him helm a new project.

Next up, another modern day genius, one of my heroes and yours, Tina Fey. 30 Rock is getting ready for its victory lap, and I only have high hopes given the strength of this past season. When most shows are starting to run on fumes (oh, The Office! how I used to love thee so!), 30 Rock is firing on all cylinders. From Liz ‘s Joker versus Jack’s tuxedo wearing superhero to Kelsey Grammer’s one-man show about Abe Lincoln, from Jenna breaking up the Woggles to the introduction of crazy Hazel, from the Avery Jessup TV movie to Tracy learning the lesson of Leap Day William, and from James Marsden as Criss to Jon Hamm in blackface. I don’t think it’s going to claim the prize, but I will not be the least bit upset if Fey and Co. make their way onto the stage.

From seniors to freshman, next we have Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns as what I assumed was going to a Sarah Palin-esque opportunist. Well fictional Vice President Selina Meyer is definitely out for herself, but she’s no dummy. In fact, Selina is the anti-Leslie Knope. Where Parks and Rec’s heroine truly wants and believes she can make a difference, Selina just wants the President to return her calls and for the tabloids to shift their focus from her inadvertent racist remarks and unplanned pregnancy (luckily, in Selina’s world, she suffers a miscarriage that she describes as a “heavy period”). Louis-Dreyfus is backed by a strong ensemble, the standouts being Anna Chlumsky’s (remember My Girl?!) Amy, Tony Hale’s Gary, and Matt Walsh’s Mike (best moment of the pilot? Mike hoping for the death of Tom Hanks to lead the news cycle to cover Selina’s latest faux pas). It’s a little twisted to be sure, but Veep has the makings of a classic workplace comedy. I doubt it will receive the Emmy for these first eight episodes, but it’s nice to see it in the mix.

That brings us to the show that will win and the show that should win. Now let me be clear; I am in no way a Modern Family hater. Is it the best show on television? No way. But it’s well-acted by an ensemble with great chemistry, and it features some of the best child actors ever on the small screen. Too often the three branches of the Pritchett and Dunphy clans are islanded in separate plots. But when everyone comes together, the show can be a riot (“Aunt Mommy” starts with a night out featuring too many drinks and morphs into the family members dancing around the possibility of Claire carrying a baby for Mitch and Cameron). Episodes like that keep me watching, and obviously Emmy voters are in love with the show. So if I were a betting woman, I’d put money on the show to three-peat. But I’d rather see another newbie claim this title.

Girls is star/creator Lena Dunham’s exploration of what it means to be young, brilliant, and nearly broke in Brooklyn. Hannah and her friends straddle the line between what they are, what they were, and what they want to be. It’s not a typical comedy, and it’s not quite a drama. In fact, Girls might be the only reality show in an era when the airwaves are saturated with them. This is what “growing up” for an immature generation used to instant gratification while thumbing their nose at “real world” responsibilities is all about. Does aspiring writer Hannah come off as a brat when her parents cut her off? Sure, but you get her bewilderment because she comes from a family unit that insisted she could do something spectacular. From her parents’ perspective, it’s taking too long and costing too much. Her best friend, Marnie, seems to have it together (a job, a boyfriend, etc.). The end of that relationship coupled with her subsequent resentment of Hannah’s suddenly serious relationship with the complicated Adam, reveals Marnie as one of those girls who needs to be the winner of the group and kind of freaks out when she isn’t. Their friend, Jessa, is the free spirit confronted with the fact that her carefree and careless actions have consequences. So she ends the season running away into what she thinks is maturity, an impulsive marriage. And Jessa’s cousin, Shoshanna, just wants to get laid (she does). It’s messy, funny, uncomfortable, and glorious. In short, there’s nothing quite like it on TV right now. I want to see Girls win. I suspect it won’t, but let’s hope the Emmy recognition puts it on everyone’s radar.

So what do you think? Who do you want to win? Stay tuned as we delve into the other categories!

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: As I was saying…

So the eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm has come and gone. I already expressed my dismay with this season’s first few episodes, and with the exception of the final LA based show featuring the demise Jeff and Susie’s dog, Oscar (and his missed last meal), an indictment of pig parkers, and the revelation that the move East is Larry’s way of avoiding a charity picnic, the season began on a groan-inducing note. But I had hopes once the location shifted.

Curb’s initial NYC offering was hardly a classic, but it had guest star Ricky Gervais, like Larry David, playing a more obnoxious version of himself and sparring with Larry at every opportunity. This was followed by Larry and guest star Rosie O’Donnell competing for the affection of the same woman. Some nice baseball gags and a surprising cameo by All My Children vet David Canary did not add up to anything more than a slight amusement. This was followed by “Car Periscope,” which actually gets my vote for the best episode of the season. The titular invention cleverly figured into the plot, loved The Fugitive parody (but not as much as Larry’s disbelief that Jeff had seen The Sting II and not the original classic), and the whole thing was highlighted by strong guest turns from Aida Turturro and Grant Shaud. Sadly, next up to the plate was “Mister Softee,” one of the worst episodes in Curb history (45 final seconds of Bill Buckner getting to be a hero of a different kind to the entire city is not enough to redeem Larry’s trauma in the face of an out-of-nowhere childhood memory and the utter ridiculousness of his car transformed into some sort of a super vibrator). The season ended with Michael J. Fox once again proving that he possesses the best sense of humor ever in the face of a debilitating disease. Add to that the “fabulous” son of Larry’s new girlfriend, the best decorative use of a swastika, and Larry once again running away in the face of charity (this time to Paris), and you had a good finale. Not amazing or even great. Just good.

And with that, I’ll stand by my initial assessment of the season. The stinkers outweighed the gems, and while the show is still able to manage a few solid episodes and laughs here and there, shouldn’t David throw in the towel before the show becomes a total shadow of its former self? I vote yes, yes, and yes.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Time to Curb It

Had Curb Your Enthusiasm ended after its fifth season and the near-death experience of Larry David the character, a hero in his own mind, it would have gone down as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Everything up to and including that particular season went beyond funny. More often than not the episodes were dazzling displays of how something as simple as whistled Wagner leads to the accusation that Larry is a self-loathing Jew to a denied trick-or-treater to a house vandalized with toilet paper to a second confrontation (Larry’s previous opponent is revealed as the father of the delinquent in the making). Mix that in with a misunderstood proposition and an anniversary gift that never materializes, and you’re back to Larry surprising his wife, Cheryl, with strings in the foyer and then using those same musicians to stick it to the Wagner-hater one last time. Now maybe that seems complicated, and in lesser hands it would play that way on-screen. But David and Co. were firing on all cylinders, working without a net, and rarely faltered. Had the show bid adieu after Season Six, the show would’ve exited our collective consciousness starting to show signs of wear, but then we would have missed out on early Leon and perhaps the funniest final minute ever of a season finale (Larry completely ensconced with the Black family). Season Seven undid that moment with Larry’s almost instant attempt to rid himself of Loretta (although for some reason Leon remained), but we did get the Seinfeld reunion, David and Jerry Seinfeld improving it up like two fighters in their primes, David as Jason Alexander as George, and a Leon/Michael Richards sequence that removed most of the ill will incurred by Richards’ racist tirade from a few years back. The series really could’ve, should’ve ended there. But now we have Season Eight, and while I’m watching and waiting for the much hyped move to NYC, so far, two episodes in, it’s a total slog.

Let’s start with the on-screen divorce of Larry and Cheryl which parallels David’s real life marital breakup. Now while I understand that the show is meant as a heightened reflection of David’s own life, sometimes a writer shouldn’t include every aspect of his or her own reality in the fictionalized version. See, I always believed that despite her complaints and frustrated, bewildered expressions in the face of her husband’s anti-social behavior, Cheryl loved Larry, and moments like the afore-mentioned anniversary present showed the audience that the feeling was more than mutual. Add to that, Cheryl’s requests were often as unreasonable as those of her spouse (remember the wire from Season One?), and as a result we could understand how Larry’s home life influenced all of his interactions. Now, even though they’re seemingly having an amicable divorce, Larry without Cheryl comes off as just plain petty for the sake of being so, and if no one is that invested in him, how can the audience be expected to follow suit? Also, the lessened screen time for Cheryl Hines leaves a large gap in the show that no amount of the talented Susie Essman can replace.

You could argue that Leon is playing the role of Larry’s surrogate spouse (this past week saw Leon mistakenly identified as Larry’s abusive partner). But I’m over Leon. Nothing against J.B. Smoove, who is talented enough that you kind of wish David would pour his talents into a new vehicle for him. But in the Curb universe, Leon’s presence makes no sense. Why does he get to stay on without his family and why would Larry of all people tolerate a freeloader? This is an obvious instance where the performer is liked so he’s kept on at the expense of a character and a situation that just does not ring true. Speaking of minor characters pushed to the forefront, Marty Funkhouser is another example of someone who works as a punchline here and there. But now that he’s getting entire subplots (looks like his own divorce will play a part in Season 8), the character’s limitations are all too apparent.

An overused character here or there could possibly be forgiven if the plots were still up to par. But they’re not. The current season premiere featured a menstruating girl scout as a prelude to a stranger offering Larry her tampon to stop his bloody nose. You saw it coming a mile away, and there was nothing funny or believable about it. This past week was even worse. A battered women’s shelter in Larry’s swanky neighborhood? And nearly every resident advertising this information to every man trying to buy a pint of ice cream? Mix in the really outdated comic device that all African-Americans look alike, and you’re left with nearly 30 minutes that felt like three hours.

There are those who say that Seinfeld was never quite as good once David left. I would disagree. Some of the post-David episodes are my favorites (“The Susie,” “The Comeback,” “The Bizarro Jerry”). But even if you think otherwise, even if you think the dark finale, which I’d argue has aged very well, was a letdown, that was a show that knew when to let go when it was still on top (and you know NBC would still give Jerry Seinfeld anything that he wanted to return to the fold – and The Marriage Ref does not count). David is an unbelievably talented writer and without question a superior actor to Jerry. But it’s time to let Curb go. Pull a Ricky Gervais; let one creation go and start something new. Perhaps I’ll retract all of this in a few weeks once this current season comes to a close, but right now, things are looking, prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay, pretty bad.

Telephoria’s Favorites: 2009

In honor of Futon Critic’s annual best of list, Telephoria weighs in with a few favorites. Spoilers abound!

CRIMINAL MINDS – “100”

My guilty pleasure as far as procedurals go (and particularly addictive in rerun blocks on A&E and ION Television), this episode, the crime drama’s one hundredth (hence the title) brought to a head the BAU’s search for serial killer George Foyet a.k.a. “The Reaper.” As the team recounted recent events to their supervisors, flashbacks revealed how Foyet ultimately located Aaron Hotchner’s ex-wife and son. Each member of the team told their part of the story, and it was pretty clear that none of their lives were about to end. But after a fast paced chase to Hotch’s former home, Foyet did claim a final victim: Hayley Hotchner. While never a major character, Hotch’s wife was a presence from the pilot, and her demise gave actor Thomas Gibson a chance to play rage (when beating Foyet to death), tenderness (when reuniting with his young son), and anguish (when cradling the body of his late wife) within the space of a few short minutes. All and all, it was a heart pounding hour with a gut wrenching climax.

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS – “The Death and Funeral of Colleen Carlton” (tie)

It’s nearly impossible to single out one episode of a daytime drama since even the those featuring an event like a wedding or a birth or a death often feature other plots working on various levels, some just beginning, some wrapping up. I’ll admit that Y&R had better years, but two interconnected hours stand out. First, in what was almost a standalone episode, we saw Colleen Carlton drowned after her final heroic act, trying to save the life of her injured kidnapper. Friends, family, and former lovers appeared to the girl, telling her not to be afraid, but during those last moments underwater when her deceased father, Brad, beckoned her to the light, the room got mighty dusty. Colleen’s death set in motion storyline for years to come: the gift of her harvested heart to her family’s hated rival, Victor Newman, who inadvertently caused the young woman’s demise. But her memorial service, arranged as a celebration of her life by her bereaved Uncle Billy, saw most of Genoa City come together to praise a life cut short. The final shot, the guests releasing balloons while Colleen’s mother sang a gentle lullaby, would melt the iciest heart. Colleen’s final portrayer, actress Tammin Sursok, was not as appreciated or well-utilized as her predecessors, Lyndsy Fonseca and Adrianne Leon, but Colleen’s death and the communal mourning that followed paid tribute to a core character likely gone forever.

COMMUNITY – “Environmental Science”

It took me awhile to warm up to this freshman show. Hot shot lawyer Jeff having to enroll in his local community college because of a fraudulent BA didn’t completely wash. But after getting past this setup, viewers were treated to the burgeoning friendships of a misfit Spanish study group, notably Alison Brie’s uptight Annie and Danny Pudi’s pop culture savant Abed. “Environmental Science” saw Jeff make a deal with the devil of sorts: befriend the tyrannical Senor Chang in an effort to pass the afore-mentioned Spanish class. Ultimately, to get back into the good graces of his amigos and rid himself of the increasingly clingy Chang, Jeff arranges for the estranged Senora Chang to attend a performance by Celtic group Greene Daeye (not to be confused with), and while the band plays on, the Changs reunite on the dance floor, fellow Spanish student Shirley triumphs in her marketing class (with moral support from Chevy Chase’s Pierce), and Abed and lab partner/best friend Troy coax lab rat Fievel out of hiding while singing “Somewhere Out There.” A funny yet moving sequence, it ultimately sold me on the show as a whole.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – “The Table Read” and “Seinfeld” (tie)

This was not the strongest season for Larry David’s examination of bad manners among Hollywood types. However, it was arguably the most hyped with the promise of all members from the iconic Seinfeld quartet appearing for a mock reunion within the Curb universe. Those episodes that featured Jerry, Jason, Julia, and Michael tangling with the co-creator who only dragged them together in a scheme to win back former wife and now aspiring actress Cheryl featured the season’s best moments, especially in the final two installments. “The Table Read” is most notable for the titular event which truly felt like a brand new Seinfeld episode as well as Jason Alexander’s inventive and repulsive uses for Larry’s pen. But nothing topped the confrontation between Michael Richards and J.B. Smoove’s Leon, an uncomfortably hysterical sequence of mistaken identity where David allowed Richards to atone for his past racist tirade by turning the joke on the man who will forever be Kramer. The final episode, featuring Jason Alexander’s pretentious book on the craft of acting, makes the list simply for the sequence of Larry David playing Jason Alexander playing George, a mind boggling few minutes of meta comedy. Plus, Larry gets the girl in the end. David and Seinfeld are arguably the only writers who got to conclude a landmark television show twice, the way they wanted and the way the viewers wanted. Pretty, pretty, pretty, good!

IN TREATMENT – “Walter: Week Six” and Oliver: Week Seven” (tie)

The sophomore series of this highly addictive actors’ master class featured any number of stellar episodes. While the sessions of career driven Mia and in-denial cancer patient April received most of the kudos, I was more partial to those half hours focusing on crumbling CEO Walter and unloved soon-to-be child of divorce Oliver. Walter’s strongest moment came in his penultimate episode. John Mahoney, so long associated with the affable Martin on Frasier, shed that skin for Walter’s suits and long repressed feelings of guilt. Now, following a suicide attempt, he broke down like a baby and clung to his therapist, Paul, for fear he might fall off the face of the earth. It was all the more rewarding to hear him agree to continue therapy in his final episode. Oliver’s ending was less uplifting as his unbelievably selfish mother prepares to move him from the only home he’s ever known to forward her ambitions, and his equally self-absorbed father does nothing to intervene. Yet Paul gives Oliver a slim reed to hang on to with the promise that while their sessions are ending, Oliver can call Paul whenever he needs to talk. What follows is a test run: Paul dialing Oliver’s cell from the other end of his office. Reluctant at first, Oliver gradually gets into the spirit of the thing and tells Paul what he imagines his new life will be like, problems and all. Oliver’s fate is uncertain, but Paul’s commitment to the boy, the only adult with Oliver’s best interests at heart, is without question.

SCRUBS – “My Finale”

I have mixed feeling about the reincarnation of this wonderful show (is it a spinoff? a continuation? a dream sequence?). But those doubts aside, Scrubs Original Recipe came to a sweet, satisfying conclusion. Most every loose end was tied up (although I’m pretty sure we still didn’t learn the Janitor’s name), but there are two indelible images from John Dorian’s last day at Sacred Heart. As J.D. exited the hospital, nearly every patient, co-worker, former lover, and friend from his tenure lined the hallway to send him off. Also, a hopeful fantasy sequence where J.D. watched what he hoped his life would be in grainy footage projected on a blank wall: marrying Elliot, sharing Christmases with Turk/Carla, Cox/Jordan, and their respective children. And while the tears flowed, who didn’t crack up at J.D.’s imagined delight of the overwhelming joy he and Turk would feel should their children grow up and decide to wed, the ultimate reward for their bromance. From the beginning, Scrubs blended the absurd with the possible, and as J.D. walked into the night, both he and the viewers felt confident about his future.

MODERN FAMILY – “Coal Digger”

Unlike Community, this show had me from the pilot, Arrested Development crossed with The Office plus heartwarming final voiceovers (usually courtesy of Ed O’Neill’s patriarch Jay) that are never saccharine. I’m going with “Coal Digger” because, for most of the episode, it promises on what was only hinted at in the closing moments of the pilot: the entire clan trying to survive an evening together under one roof to watch a football game (who would’ve known that gay son Mitchell’s flamboyant partner, Cameron, was such a sports’ nut; he even dresses their adopted baby as a referee, which Mitchell mistakes for the Hamburglar). There’s already tension in the air because of a scuffle between Jay’s new stepson, Manny, and Manny’s “nephew,” Luke, but that’s nothing compared to the discovery that a remark by Luke’s mother, Claire, started the fight. Seems she thinks Jay’s bombshell Colombian bride, Gloria, is nothing but a “coal digger” (at least that’s the way Luke heard it). While Claire’s clueless, but well-meaning husband, Phil, tries to broker peace between his “two girls,” Jay grapples with insecurities about his physical appearance. Watching him confide in Cameron and Mitchell that he’s no “Erik Estrada,” but asking if they would still check him out if he were “in one of their clubs and the Righteous Brothers came on” is only topped by Cameron’s admission that Jay is totally his type, much to Mitchell’s horror. Awkward conversations give way to forgiveness, and the tag of Cameron and Jay sharing tips on snapping a football (and Mitchell telling Claire he’s never eating again) drives home the point that while loving, this family is far from functional.

MAD MEN – “My Old Kentucky Home”

Looking back at Season Three, most viewers would go with the unfortunate fate of Guy Mackendrick or the Ocean’s Eleven style season finale, but I’ll go against the grain and select the third episode from a stellar third season. Roger and Jane Sterling’s Kentucky Derby party introduced two men who would play key roles as the season unfolded: enigmatic Connie, later revealed as megalomaniac Conrad Hilton whose need for control would place a noose around Don Draper’s neck until the final episode, and charming Henry Francis who would ultimately lead Betty Draper out of her loveless marriage by filling the void left by her soon-to-be deceased father. Other threads also began in this episode: Roger realizing he’d gotten a child instead of a partner via his marriage to Jane, Joan starting to understand that not only had she married her rapist but as inept a medical professional as ever wielded a scalpel, Peggy grabbing what she wants as a woman and as a professional, and Pete and Trudy ever more in sync, demonstrated by an expertly choreographed Charleston. With the exception of the tragic Sal Romano, every character and plot arc to come is subtly set into motion in this episode, and upon the conclusion of the season, one must admire how skillfully the table was set without the writers tipping their hands too soon. And any episode that features the line, “I’m Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana,” deserves a shout out.

THE OFFICE – “Niagara”

One of the most anticipated television events of the year did not disappoint. Jim and Pam’s nuptials were everything a fan could have hoped for. Opening with a projectile vomit bit (pregnant Pam’s regurgitation sets off a chain reaction) and closing with a contented Jim smiling at the camera over his bride’s shoulder, every second was classic Office, one part cringe inducing, one part hilarious, and one part poignant. Whether it was Jim inadvertently letting the cat out of the bag at the rehearsal dinner that Pam was with child (to the horror of Pam’s conservative grandmother) or Andy tearing his scrotum while trying to impress crush Erin with his dance moves or the final sequence of Jim and Pam exchanging vows under the falls intercut with their office-mates dancing down the aisle a la one of 2009’s most memorable viral clips, everything clicked. And I’m of the mind that while Jim bought those tickets the “day I saw that You Tube clip” in order to give Pam the wedding of her dreams, part of him also knew that the co-workers he grudgingly respects would also want their moment in the sun. Jim’s the classic god guy, and in this episode the good guy (and everyone in his orbit) won.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA – “Daybreak”

I could have included any episode from BSG 4.5 on this list (with the possible exception of “Deadlock”), but I’m going with the divisive finale. When The Sopranos famously cut to black, part of me was unsatisfied (although after re-watching the finale and the enitre series, it is a perfect ending, albeit on an intellectual level). BSG took the opposite route. From the opening flashbacks “before the fall” (especially Roslin losing her entire family to a drunk driver), this was an affair for the heart and soul. Every human emotion was tapped before the colonial fleet finally reached what they would call Earth. But before that momentous event, we saw the ailing Roslin bid what she thought would be farewell to a speechless Doc Cottle, Apollo and Baltar calling each other out for their respective self-absorptions (the former’s wrapped up in Starbuck, the latter’s in himself), and a tense brig confrontation between a devastated Helo and a bitter Tyrol (Helo still had Athena if not Hera, but the Chief was now a shell of a Cylon). When the Old Man resolved to rescue the missing child, the sight of Roslin, barely able to walk, cross the line to be with her new family, turned something in Gaius Baltar. The second hour saw the overgrown child with too many appetites, unconsciously responsible for the fate of the Twelve Colonies, become a man to the delight of Caprica Six. The attack on the Colony was nothing short of awesome, whether it was the sickbay barreling into the Cylon stronghold or a horde of Centurions now on the humans’ side. The ill-fated Boomer, who lost the life Athena ultimately got, finally made a choice, no longer manipulated by her programming or Cavil, and returned Hera to her rightful mother before meeting a violent end. The race back to Galactica, complete with the jaw dropping sight of the Final Five a la opera house visions in the CIC was only the first taste of a sequence where most would forget to breathe: Baltar’s sermon, a shaky truce, Tyrol’s realization that Tory murdered his wife and his subsequent strangulation of the killer, Cavil’s suicide, and Kara’s final jump of the ship was enough for ten series’ finales. Then, the BSG team dialed it back and treated viewers to a pastoral planet where our heroes could truly, finally lay down their burdens (I confess; I always suspected they were in the past). Next came the waterworks: Kara dropping her dog tags into Sam’s hybrid bath, the entire fleet flying into the sun, Starbuck and Apollo saying goodbye to their shared father figure before the former vanished into thin air, Adama and Roslin’s “wedding” while in flight, Baltar’s tearful admission to Caprica that he “knows about farming,” and finally Adama laying out the cabin in his mind while watching over his lost love’s grave. Even the tag set in our present worked as an ironic reminder that the master can become the servant in terms of technology. Having watched this episode numerous times, I’ll admit that a few factors don’t add up (and I’m not talking about the Hand of God, the actual deus ex machina, since that was in motion from Season One). Who or what the resurrected Starbuck was is somewhat unclear. Why Lee would never see his father again was vague. And while always an Athena/Helo shipper, had their happy ending been denied and Gaius and Caprica were left to raise Hera, some of the prophecies from Season Two might have made more sense. But that first Friday night, I had no such quibbles, so in awe and awash in tears at expertly choreographed action sequences combined with an array of moving character beats. Every performance (especially those of Mary McDonnell, James Callis, and Grace Park) was transcendent, Ronald Moore’s dialogue pure poetry. Nothing will ever match the experience of that first viewing or discovering the plot twists in the series as the whole. But there are enough compelling characters and relationships to return to BSG again and again in the years to come. So say we all.