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: Supporting Actor and Actress – Comedy

Lumping these categories together is in no way meant to disrespect these talented nominees by not awarding them their own, respective posts. However, my issue with each category is essentially the same. So rather than repeat myself, allow me to speak my peace.

SUPPORTING COMEDY ACTOR

Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett in Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell Pritchett in Modern Family
Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy in Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker in Modern Family
Max Greenfield as Schmidt in New Girl
Bill Hader as various characters in Saturday Night Live

SUPPORTING COMEDY ACTRESS

Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory
Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey in Desperate Housewives
Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy in Modern Family
Sofia Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett in Modern Family
Merritt Wever as Zoey Barkow in Nurse Jackie
Kristen Wiig as various characters in Saturday Night Live

Twelve nominees. And six of them are from Modern Family.

Let me reiterate that I like Modern Family. The cast elevates the sometimes formulaic writing, but it is an outstanding cast. And it is an ensemble show. But no one wants to step up to the Lead table. Maybe it’s good for morale on set, but it freezes out so many other worthy nominees. Just off the top of my head: Donald Glover and Danny Pudi from Community, Adam Driver from Girls, and Aziz Ansari and Nick Offerman from Parks and Rec (personally, I’d swap out Burrell and Stonestreet for Glover and Offerman). Burrell as Phil never fails to delight, but if there’s a lead actor on Modern Family, he’s it. And Stonestreet has had better seasons. As for O’Neill and Ferguson, I accept their nominations (only O’Neill submitted it, but both were awesome in “Baby on Board,” especially Ferguson when the adoption fell apart). But these actors need to take stock of who’s driving storyline each season and submit themselves accordingly (just a guess, but Gloria’s pregnancy has the potential to make O’Neill more of a leading man than he has been in seasons’ past). Sadly, this is a trend that shows no signs of changing, and it also excludes Nolan Gould and Rico Rodriguez (then again, I don’t want the Modern Family boys taking over the entire category).

Things are a little more balanced on the ladies’ side. Bowen and Vergara are only taking up two slots. But like Burrell, Bowen is a leading actress (Phil and Claire dominate more episodes than not). If Bowen switched to lead, Gillian Jacobs of Community, Zosia Mamet of Girls, Jane Krakowski of 30 Rock, or Anna Chlumsky of Veep might have received an invite to the dance.

As far as the other nominees are concerned, I love Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, but I still have mixed feelings about SNL performers getting these nods; talented as they are it is not the same thing as someone who nurtures one character though a myriad of plot twists. I have not seen enough (or any) of Bialik and Greenfield to fairly gauge their chances. Wever is something of a dark horse, but Joosten has a real shot at nagging the prize posthumously.

I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite. Here I am complaining about the glut of Modern Family nominees, and here they are taking up the bulk of my post. So who takes home the trophies? Someone from the Prtichett-Dunphy clan seems to make the most sense. I’d like to see O’Neill and Vergara emerge the winners, but I think Burrell and Bowen will repeat. I’d write in votes for Glover and Jacobs if I could, but I guess you have to play within the bounds of the system.

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!

MODERN FAMILY: What a treat!

You know a holiday episode of a TV show, any TV show, works if the viewer wishes she could be a part of the festivities. Dysfunctional as they were, I wanted to be at the various Sopranos‘ Thanksgivings and Christmases (for the food if nothing else). I would have attended any number of Office Christmas parties to date if only for the lifetime supply of unbelievable anecdotes (off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Meredith’s hair alight and Michael’s subsequent intervention). And Festivus? The Airing of Grievances? The Feats of Strength? Enough said.

In a roundabout way, I’m trying to say that tonight’s Pritchett/Dunphy Halloween House of Horrors was awesome. Despite a few false starts, the entire clan ultimately got into the spirit of the thing (Gloria’s witch – accent and all, Cameron as the disembodied head, Mitchell as the evil scarecrow, etc.). I’ve had neighbors with houses like this, and for a moment I just wanted to be ten, in search of a sugar rush, and hanging out with Frankenstein Manny, gargoyle Jay, and corpse couple Phil and Claire.

The episode surrounding the ghoulish centerpiece was solid, unquestionably one of the strongest of the show’s sophomore season. Claire’s need to keep Halloween her holiday in the face of an ever-evolving family dynamic gave Julie Bowen a moment where Claire is both crazy and poignant. Gloria speaking “American?” Kudos to Sofia Vergara. Cameron’s tortured tale of Halloween Past built slowly and strongly to an amusing climax for Eric Stonestreet. Phil and his suddenly divorced neighbor felt a bit forced (have we ever even seen Jerry before?) and was essentially an excuse for Phil to try to make out with Claire at inappropriate times. Still, gotta love Claire telling Phil that he’s stuck with her in the cemetery that was once their front yard. The only part of the episode that completely fell flat was Mitchell’s workplace costume drama (why didn’t he just pull away from the building and find some public restroom to change his clothes upon realizing his faux pas?). I’d have bought Mitchell late for work before Mitchell, literally, as Spider-Man. As it was the only plot that wasn’t wrapped up in any way at the end of the show, you got the sense that even the writers grew bored and just wanted to get to the haunted house.

But that one misstep aside, I really enjoyed the episode. And I’ve been looking for a costume. Maybe I’ll go as Mother Teresa. You know. Back when she was hot.

Premiere Week: What I Watched

Quite the week for new and returning shows! I can’t recall a Fall TV season in recent memory where so much debuted at once, and I knew I’d never catch everything right out of the gate. So I stuck with my favorites from last season and sampled a few new shows. My thoughts:

Sunday

Boardwalk Empire: Maybe it has the unfair advantage of being an HBO show, but nothing else came close to this period drama.

Monday

How I Met Your Mother: Last season had its ups and downs, but a lot went right here. It looks like Ted is finally going to meet his future wife (at least by season’s end?), Lily and Marshall’s efforts to have a baby already yielded humorous and tender moments, and when Barney took note of Robin’s sundress… please tell me they’re getting back together to rectify a missed opportunity from Season 5.

Dancing with the Stars: I thought “The Situation” was one of the better dancers. That’s right. I said it.

Hawaii Five-O: I mainly put it on to see Athena/Boomer (and she didn’t really have a whole lot to do in the pilot aside from stripping down to her skivvies). But I was pleasantly surprised by this show. Beautiful locations, well-executed action sequences, and a fun performance by Scott Caan added up to a show I’ll probably watch from time to time (though I doubt it will become appointment television).

Tuesday

Raising Hope and Running Wilde: I’m not just lumping these two shows together because they made up FOX’s 9 o’clock hour. Raising Hope is an improbable show centered around a white trash family coming together to care for the title infant, the child of their young son and a recently executed criminal; Running Wilde is on the opposite side of the spectrum as a ridiculously rich playboy tries to win back his true love, an idealistic activist. I don’t find either premise that believable (Raising Hope has a slight advantage, but it’s slight). But both shows feature a lot of talented people before and behind the camera. And if I’m being honest, the premise of Community didn’t have me at hello. But once that show grew past its initial contrivance, it became a must see. So here’s hoping these new comedies similarly find their way.

Wednesday

Undercovers: This spy drama is not short on attractive leads (Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with oodles of chemistry, but the pilot was underwhelming. Maybe there were too many changes of scenery in the first hour and not enough character development. Maybe this is one of those pilots that simply sets the stage and doesn’t really convey where the show can and will go. But I enjoyed it enough to give it a few more weeks to get into its groove (and I think this might be a show that could do with some more serialized arcs regarding the couple’s past and present spy exploits).

Modern Family: Last season, I loved this show from the start (and its recent Emmy wins were tres sweet). No question that the highlight of the season opener was Cameron, Mitchell, and Jay trying to assemble a princess castle for little Lily. Line of the night? Jay talking about building a bookshelf with Mitchell: “That was my Vietnam — and I was in Vietnam.” The Dunphy station wagon subplot and Gloria having to compete with Manny’s maybe girlfriend were not as laugh out loud funny, but both hit their tender beats, and I’m so happy to have this show back.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: I only saw the second hour of the season premiere, but… whoa! A little girl trapped with two video game addict parents? Her mom thinks she’s a pod person because of a brain injury? And that’s before she gets raped by a pedophile masquerading as a child rights advocate (guest star Henry Ian Cusick of Lost fame). Compelling and disturbing never gets old.

Thursday

Community: A wonderful return for last season’s other great comedy. Besides a fabulous guest spot by Betty White (she really can do no wrong), this episode quickly dealt with the fallout from the finale’s Britta/Jeff/Annie “triangle” by essentially doing an entire “will they or won’t they” sitcom in like 15 minutes (Jeff and Britta pretending they were in love, Abed arranging a wedding, the reveal of the Jeff/Annie kiss, etc.). In the end the gang basically reaffirmed their friendship and prepared for another semester/season of college hi jinks (and the promise of “the two Changs” doing battle for the former Senor’s soul and control of the study group bodes very well for the show’s sophomore season).

30 Rock: While last season ended on a high note (Liz found Carol, Jack finally chose Avery), the season premiere was far from the best 30 Rock ever. I like Matt Damon, but he paled in comparison to some of Liz’s other onscreen lovers (notably Jon Hamm and Michael Sheen). Still, Carol’s crying jag during The Barefoot Contessa was amusing, and there’s no way I’m tuning out before October 14th’s live episode.

The Office: Nice return to form as Steve Carell prepares for his victory lap. The opening recalled some of the show’s best ensemble moments (I found myself reminded of the “fire drill” that opened “Stress Relief”). While I was dismayed to learn that Erin hooked up with Gabe over the summer (poor Andy!) at least it seems like a realistic roadblock in their relationship. Pam trying to impress Jim by pranking Dwight was both funny and sweet, and if Michael Scott has to go, at least it seems he’ll go out with a bang.

Friday

Medium: This show is hardly groundbreaking, but it is well-acted and the mysteries can be intriguing. What the season premiere lacked in plot (the real murderer was obvious in the first 10 minutes), it more than made up for with a zany opening sequence featuring Paulie Walnuts himself, Tony Sirico, as a restless ghost and a Freaky Friday ripoff that gave Patricia Arquette and Maria Lark a chance to swap roles. Not surprisingly, both actresses subtly channeled the other’s character (guess that’s what comes from seven seasons of playing mother and daughter).

So what did you watch? Any thoughts on what will be the next breakout hit/bomb? Or was it just a little too much to take in at once?

MODERN FAMILY: Keep Dylan, Lose Driver

Last night’s Modern Family was nowhere near a slam dunk in terms of incorporating the Special Guest Star (a really, really blah Minnie Driver only interacted with the Dunphys). Yet the episode worked on other levels. Keeping with the Dunphys for a moment, their dysfunction has been apparent from the pilot, but an absurd set of coincidences took it to the next level in this outing. It was a bit contrived that so much went wrong at once (the Porta-Potty, the empty liquor bottles, Dylan and Haley’s ultra dramatic break-up and makeup), but it gave us the sight gags of Luke in his boxers while Alex chased the rat and Phil “concluding a little business” in the makeshift restroom. This sequence of events also set the stage for maybe the least saccharine closing monologue to date courtesy of Claire. She acknowledged that she was happy with her choices and loved her family, but the frustrated desire that her old friend could have seen them at their best rang true. And Dylan is recurring gold. I’m not saying I’d want entire episodes built around him, but in small doses he’s the ideal amount of goofy/cool (and he goes to Anne Hathaway movies alone because she’s “every woman”).

Of the B plots, the weaker of the two focused on Cam and Jay. Their “moon landing” prior to the racquetball game set up some good one-liners for Cam, but it didn’t really go anywhere unless you count Jay’s later moon landing with another gym member and subsequent horror. Every money moment was in the Mitchell/Gloria/Manny story. The interactions between Mitchell and Manny, especially when the truth came out about Gloria’s car accident, further drove home the point that while all the kids are good, Rico Rodriguez is the standout and can more than hold his own with any of his adult costars (and how great was he when stuffing his mouth full of cupcakes?).

While it’s still finding itself, Modern Family is a definite hit, and it should be around for several seasons. I think that’s what excites me most. They have to work some kinks out, but once it hits its stride, classic episodes will abound. But ixna on more Minnie Driver, kay?

Guests of MODERN FAMILY

Last night’s Modern Family was far from the funniest in the show’s young life, but it had its share of moments. In the Dunphy household, Phil’s kidney stones provided two of the night’s best laughs: a suffering Phil’s cry of “That’s cancer” before reminding Claire that when she was bearing their children “you threw my smoothie at me.” Luke’s confession that he broke a glass coffee table, which somehow led to their former maid’s deportation, paid off when Phil appeared ready to strike his son only to be felled by his weakened state. And while the robot was probably meant to garner the bigger laugh, I loved Phil’s scheme to use Claire’s infatuation with the local firemen to his advantage by guilting her into a week at circus camp. How I would have loved to see some of the other family members visit Phil at the hospital (we only got the tag where Phil was forcing his rediscovered love for card tricks on a desperate to escape Cameron).

Lily’s daddies’ antics were somewhat one note, Mitchell wanting to instill a sense of independence in the baby by letting her cry through the night and Cameron in physical agony at the sound of their daughter in distress. Cameron’s insistence that Lily loved the colors and sounds in “Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Scarface,” seemed disturbingly probable, and the sight of Mitchell using a chair to drive Cameron from Lily’s room was a good visual gag after Cameron compared himself to a Mama bear protecting its cub.

Benjamin’s Bratt’s guest appearance as Gloria’s ex, Javier, was an inspired bit of casting. Bratt possesses the right amount of charisma to make one understand how Gloria, Manny, and ultimately Jay could be taken in by this “bullfight artist.” Had they made Javier’s visit more central to the episode instead of one of three subplots, the theme set up in the teaser (the kids being told to act more like adults) might have had more resonance. Phil also taken in by Javier, Claire putting on that low cut top for his benefit, and Mitchell jealous while Cameron flirted with the visitor are beats they should have played.

From the first episode, I’ve thought this show one of if not the best of the new season, but a problem has emerged: the episodes that feature big name guest stars, with the exception of the half hour featuring Shelley Long as Jay’s ex, falter because these performers only interact with one branch of the family tree (Elizabeth Banks out for drinks with Cameron and Mitchell, Edward Norton playing a private anniversary concert for Phil and Claire). I’m not suggesting that the show needs guest stars to make it enjoyable; the strongest outings thus far such as “Coal Digger” and “Fizbo” focused only on the regular cast, and the writers are already starting to come up with interesting combos as far as the family is concerned (Claire and Manny’s heart to heart, Gloria taking Alex shopping, etc.). Continue that trend with the guest stars. Next week’s outing, which will feature Chazz Palminteri as an old friend of Jay’s that Mitchell is convinced is a homosexual, sounds promising in terms of plot and character interactions. We shall see…

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.