Sad news for all self-respecting soap fans. Jeanne Cooper, Katherine Chancellor, is gone. Hers was a wonderful life, and she left a legacy of amazing work. Let’s see her in action and getting her due (with a classic acceptance speech!). Good night, Ms. Cooper.
ARGHHH!!! While I think that the beloved, the exceptional, the leader of the soap pack One Life to Live mostly ended on a high note, can I vent? Yes, the week began with current favorites and past loved (and hated) ones battling it out at the gates of Heaven and Hell. Yes, Gigi and Rex and Shane got their happy ending. Yes, Matthew stepped up to be a father to Baby Drew (nice nod to history) with Destiny. And the Fraternity Row retrospective was about as perfect a way as I’ve ever seen of celebrating the fans and the creators of a soap. But I can’t help but be frustrated! We all know that the Mannings and John McBain are en route to Port Charles, but how does (and will) that show deal with the cliffhanger that Victor Jr. is really alive and the prisoner of the crazed Allison Perkins? I don’t know, and I am saddened by the confirmation of what fans always knew. Unlike sister show All My Children, OLTL was ready to make the leap online and would have had stories ready as soon as Monday. But will we ever see them? Prospect Park, take a step back, regroup, get it together, recognize that you might have to present Llanview and its denizens on a smaller scale. But bring this soap back to all of us who will gratefully tune in to see what comes next.
It’s a little late (and we’re doing it a little differently), but let’s take stock of the year that just was in television.
BEST EPISODE (COMEDY): Community – “Remedial Chaos Theory”
If any episode of this past season should be taught in screenwriting classes the world over, this is the one. It’s essentially an exercise in utilizing the same established groups of characters in variations on the same situation and revealing their truths while crafting moments of comedy, romance, action, and horror (maybe its’s just me, but Pierce’s troll doll gift is the stuff of nightmares, and if I were Troy, I would also try to swallow it, thus destroying my larynx). Community is a unique show that operates on its own beautiful wavelength. The current hiatus is troubling, but I have to believe that a group of writers and actors who know their characters so well that they can tell an audience all that needs to be known in 3-minute vignettes when other shows can’t accomplish this feat in a season’s worth of work will, like the Phoenix, rise again.
BEST EPISODE (DRAMA): Mildred Pierce – “Part 5”
Okay. So lots of people thought it was slow moving (translation: boring), but I loved this mini-series. Kate Winslet’s Mildred met every challenge life put in her path, except for the terror that was her own ungrateful daughter. The final episode drove this point home. Mildred is successful as is the horrid Veda, now a classical singer. But Mildred, desperate to share in this importance and thus justify every choice she’s ever made, looks up and marries her wayward lover (Guy Pearce’s Monty), buys his house, and proceeds to shower Veda with gifts that even Mildred can’t afford. Losing her grasp on her hard-earned fortune, maybe Mildred can finally take comfort in Veda’s acceptance and gratitude. This hope is dashed when she finds her demon spawn naked in bed with Monty. Yes, Mildred reconnects with her ex, and there is the suggestion that she’ll start over baking the pies that first brought her prominence. But Veda is gone, and the sight of Mildred cursing her daughter and simultaneously chasing Veda’s departing car completes the tragedy of a woman whose mind for business is undercut by the misguided desires of her heart.
BEST SOAP OPERA: One Life to Live
Facing cancellation alongside sister soap All My Children, OLTL made every effort to go out with its head held high. If you missed this fantastic ensemble breathing life into romantic, gut-wrenching, and even humorous scripts, shame on you! But for those who watched, we saw the truth of Rex’s paternity finally revealed, a double wedding undone by an assortment of DNA tests, the reemergence of Tess (and her surprisingly exciting relationship with Ford), Shane’s bullying, Gigi’s “death” (which gave the ailing Clint a new heart), Destiny’s teenage pregnancy, and matriarch Viki finally coming to terms with her alters. But nothing tops the “Two Todds.” While some of the plastic surgery and brainwashing hi-jinks were a little zany (even for a soap), no performances matched those of Roger Howarth, Trevor St. John, Kassie DePaiva, Florencia Lozano, and Kristen Alderson. That these creative people and so many more will continue to work is a given. That it won’t always be together, playing these characters, is a crime.
WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR: The cancellations of All My Children and One Life to Live
Words more eloquent than mine have already described how the unceremonious dismissal of these two long-running classics in favor of two lifestyle shows equals the loss of beloved friends for so many. The hope for a new life online via Prospect Park is also seemingly dashed. In this day and age, there are always ways to go back and revisit favorite storylines and discover those one might have missed. But as of right now, the promise of new adventures in Pine Valley and Llanview is gone. And as the end of General Hospital doesn’t seem that far behind, it is simply a sad, sad state of affairs for the soap fan.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane
This pick narrowly beats HBO’s Bobby Fischer doc, which was a compelling study of an obsessive, self-destructive genius. But this study of the tragic fate of mother Diane Schuler, her daughter, her nieces, and a car of strangers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time stayed with me for days after viewing. What happened? The evidence said that Aunt Diane was drunk, was high, and drove her vehicle into oncoming traffic the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway. But what led this devoted mother and aunt to such a fate? Schuler’s surviving sister-in-law and husband grasp at straws to explain the horror, but there is no absolving explanation. And the film tells us that such is life. Nightmares become real, and we will never understand. All that we have are the words of forensics’ expert Werner Spitz to Diane’s family: “I sincerely hope that you find peace with this.”
BEST SHOW TO SURVIVE THE LOSS OF A MAJOR CHARACTER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
The departure of Christopher Meloni’s Stabler left a void that seemed impossible to fill (and after avoiding it for so long, now I guess I have to start watching True Blood). Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish, enjoyable as they are, do not have the same chemistry with Mariska Harigtay’s Olivia (although she and Pino have their moments). That being said, SVU has featured a host of compelling mysteries and powerful guest turns (the T.R. Knight episode was far-fetched, but Treat Williams was amazing in the show’s indictment of the long-term injuries suffered by NFL players). Dan Lauria’s turn as a sexually abusive coach might have aired before Jerry Sandusky was synonymous with Satan, but syndication will link the two events in viewers’ collective memories. And in the Russian mail-order bride episode, series regular Dann Florek arguably did his best work of the entire series. So while USA’s endless marathons cannot help but make one wistful for the days of “El and Liv,” the show is more than holding its own with its new cast members and consistently intriguing stories.
WORST SHOW TO SURVIVE THE LOSS OF A MAJOR CHARACTER: The Office
Steve Carell’s departure signaled a turning point in the world of Dunder Mifflin, but I was optimistic that the show would find a way to reinvent itself in the wake of Michael Scott’s goodbye. Many a sitcom has done it before. Sadly, The Office is floundering. James Spader’s Robert California adds little to the action. But the bigger problem is Ed Helms’ Andy as boss. Andy had carved out a niche as a lovable dork when simply one of the many desk jockeys. Now, as Michael’s successor, the character has been stuffed into the mold of the former manager. Several strong Jim subplots along with Darryl caught between the office proper and the warehouse are not enough to lift the series in the face of Andy’s loss of identity and the pointless sabotaging of his relationship with Erin. I’m still watching but rarely enjoying what was once appointment television.
WORST SERIES FINALE EVER: Entourage
I was never a diehard fan of this show (but then again, was anybody?). Still, I enjoyed the some of the early episodes (loved Drama and Turtle finding Nirvana – translation the kiddie table at a Bat Mitzvah to feed their munchies). But the series was long past what you might define as a prime (remember when it became the Jamie-Lynn Sigler half-hour during her real life romance with Jerry Ferrara?). So the show limped towards the finish line. But you know how it is; you’ve watched a show and its characters over the years, so you want to see how it all ends. But Vince’s sudden engagement? A reconciliation between Ari and his suddenly named wife that was supposed to read as some supreme sacrifice on his part? And Sloan in that red dress waiting to fly away with E? Stupid, stupid, and lame (let’s hope the movie gets lost in production limbo; probably won’t happen, but a girl can pray).
WORST COLLECTION OF SO MUCH TALENT IN ONE PLACE: I Hate My Teenage Daughter
Tony Award winner Katie Finneran? Emmy Award Winner Jamie Pressly? Chad Coleman from The Wire? And Eric Sheffer Stevens, one of the highlights of the last few months of As the World Turns? All on one of the lamest new shows of the season? Someone get these people a better creative team behind them and craft something worthy of our screens!
BEST WTF MOMENTS: Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire is an imperfect show with a too large cast. Now that cast has been trimmed. But damn! The murder of Angela Darmody and her female lover was shocking and tragic (there goes my hopes for Angela and Richard Harrow becoming the great love story of the series). The revelation that Jimmy’s twisted mother, Gillian, had her way with her son before he ran off to WWI? Makes sense given their relationship and something we all thought would happen. But that it already had puts their entire relationship in a light demanding a second viewing. But nothing topped Jimmy’s murder at Nucky’s hands, especially when it seemed like Jimmy was in a position to survive to Season Three. From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense. There was no other way out for Jimmy, and now Nucky is a complete gangster. But does the show rebound from the loss of arguably its most compelling character, arguably the true lead of the first two seasons? Time will tell.
BEST CHARACTER: Leslie Knope – Parks and Recreation
The figurative First Lady of Pawnee organized an amazing Harvest Festival, fought the flu, decided to run for City Council, and most importantly fell in love with Ben. But whatever Leslie is doing, she does it well. The ability to be right almost all of the time would not endear Leslie to the other characters and the audience in the hands of a lesser actress. But at the heart of Amy Poehler’s performance is optimism, wisdom, and kindness. Always efficient and never aggravating, Leslie is currently the funniest and most likable woman on TV.
WORST COUPLE: Barney and Robin – How I Met Your Mother
Back in Season Five, they finally made if official, but the writers quickly lost interest in what was and could have continued to be a nice contrast to Ted’s romantic dreams and Marshall and Lily’s super sweet marriage. Last season’s finale hinted at a second exploration of the duo. But so far we’ve only seen either Robin or Barney wanting to reconnect when the other is not ready, new partners, a secret hookup, and a pregnancy scare. In other words, every rom-com cliche you can imagine when that’s never what the couple was. Robin is likely Barney’s mystery bride from the flash forward in the most recent series premiere, but let’s hope the getting there starts to show much, much more originality.
MOST AWKWARD MOMENT IN SPORTS: Joe Paterno is Fired
I am not about to equate the loss of a job with the horrific abuse inflicted by the afore-mentioned Sandusky. Still, all sports channels and most major news outlets devoting their air time to what once seemed inconceivable, the dismissal of a legend, made for riveting TV. There is no more classic and familiar and tragic story than a supposed hero who is revealed for the scared little man he always was. His blind eyes wrought pain on so many who are only now getting a voice. Yet, who cannot help but feel something at Paterno’s downfall whether it’s shock or schadenfreude or simply sorrow. And I stayed awake until well after midnight, as I’m sure many of you did, watching the fallout.
MOST AWESOME MOMENT IN SPORTS: The Cardinals Win It All
As a Mets’ fan, I have no business celebrating this victory (although I was gleeful when St. Louis sent the Phillies home earlier than anticipated). Not that I have some great love for the Rangers either, but I was behind them at the start of the World Series, which shaped up to be the competition that ratings are made of. Then, as it so often happens, we had Game Six. The Rangers seemed on their way to the title. Then the Cards took control of the game. Then Texas was back on top. Then St. Louis tied the thing up. After many an extra inning, St. Louis emerged victorious. Now I was far from the Russian fans turning on Drago in Rocky IV, but at the start of Game Seven, any fan worth their salt had to feel that the Cardinals and their fans deserved this win. And they got it. You won’t see me rooting for them when baseball resumes, but game respects game, and for one night Pujols, La Russa, and the rest earned my applause.
Best wishes to this recently discovered soap couple (on my part at least!). Guiding Light’s answer to Luke and Laura might not be as famous, but the courtship is a dream come true for romantics the world over. And despite some bumps on the way to the altar, any wedding that ends with… well, just watch.
Um… yeah. They fucked it up royally again. If you thought last year was bad (and it was), you ain’t seen nothing yet. Once again, no clips of the talented actors who were competing for the hardware. Indeed, no clips at all of soaps from the past year. Plenty of time for Oprah though and a “we just invented it second lifetime achievement award.” I really have nothing against Oprah, but she wasn’t even there! Yet Celine Dion took up what felt like two hours to sing her a song played out from the moment it hit the charts. Perhaps if the producers had used that time to show us the actors at work, we might have been able to recall why or how Brittany Allen, formerly of All My Children, took home a trophy. And what was with all the ties? Every other category had two winners! Find a way to make a choice for crying out loud!
On the plus side, it was awesome to see General Hospital’s Laura Wright finally get some long overdue Emmy love, and the absent Michael Park’s win (he’s currently on Broadway in the revival of How to Succeed) was kind of a sweet sayonara to the departed As the World Turns. But overall, last night’s show gets my vote for the worst televised award show of all time, a title it will likely hold until next year’s debacle, if the thing even makes it to air with only four soaps and too many talk shows left.
While today’s announcement of a new talk fest for Katie Couric taking General Hospital’s time slot might not seem as dire as the recent cancellations of One Life to Live and All My Children, the news is not good. In some ways, it’s worse. ABC is teasing GH fans with the possibility that their show will survive. But let’s be real here. GH’s days are numbered.
I’ll be honest; General Hospital is not the show it was in the glory days of Luke and Laura. It’s moved far away from the death of B.J., Monica’s breast cancer, and, most famously and tragically, Stone’s losing battle to AIDS (yes, I had Robin’s Diary back in the day). But all the mob shenanigans aside, GH is arguably the soap that has caused me to shed the most tears (and now I’ll cry again when it leaves the air). And a lot of them are on account of the little moments (Robyn Richards’ Maxie sobbing to Georgie and Dillon that she was unworthy of B.J.’s heart, Jason’s recent quiet breakdown on Elizabeth’s steps after the death of their son, and a blind Stone seeing Robin one last time). Then there are the fun bits (the Nurses’ Balls, the Quartermaine Thanksgivings – before they eradicated the family, and nearly all of Robert and Holly the first time around). The history, the possibility, all sacrificed at the foot of a talk show that’ll probably flop in a few seasons. I get that there are bigger problems out there, but the prospect of saying farewell to three classics within the span of little more than a year is heartbreaking for daytime devotees the world over.
Today’s announcement of the Daytime Emmy nominations yielded some joy (hooray for Colleen Zenk, Laura Wright, and Emily O’Brien!). But come on! All One Life to Live gets are nods for the currently enjoyable, but often aggravating, Bree Williamson and Brian Kerwin of the overacting and dashing out of scenes like a freight train (but I will admit that his showdown with Kim Zimmer last week was pretty powerful stuff)? I won’t even waste adjectives on All My Children’s Brittany Allen. It’s encouraging to see webisoaps Gotham and Venice take their places at the table, but all in all, it just feels like another depressing day for beleaguered soap fans.
Bad news followed by worse. ABC announced that it’s cancelling not one, but two of their daytime dramas, the stellar One Life to Live and the troubled but long-running All My Children. While most soap fans expected this blow, it still stings. And to replace it with a cooking show, The Chew, and an “I want to change my body and change my life” reality show, The Revolution? Yeah. Because we really need more of those. At least the network showed OLTL a modicum of respect (they have until January, 2012 to wrap things up; AMC will be a memory by September, that cruelest of months for soaps fans that saw recent cancellations of Guiding Light and As the World Turns). And if we learned anything from those shows, it’s the sad fact that another network swooping in and saving the day is next to impossible. Sound off, people! Are you as bummed as we are?
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…
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.
As the year comes to a close (and before we count down our favorite episodes of 2010), let’s pause and look at the characters, some returning and some new, who made the biggest impressions:
5. The Study Group, Chang, Dean Pelton, Duncan, basically everyone on Community: Okay. I really tried to pick just one representative from this stellar cast. First I was going to go with Troy based on his awesome maturity in the dark birthday episode or Annie getting lost in the character dictated by her fake ID. Then I thought back to Shirley defending her faith against Abed’s epic religious movie and Jeff and Pierce, in the same episode, hitting a particularly poignant note when Jeff came to collect his older friend after an ill-advised Senior Citizen joyride. Pelton’s attempt to teach Jeff a lesson in inventing a class on conspiracy theories gave him some of the best moments in the “shootout” climax (and I loved Britta getting her freak on in Fluffy Town). Chang popped and locked as the rest of group tried to pry Jeff away from the fellow lawyers who were never his real friends. And an animated Abed searching for the meaning of Christmas was wildly funny and unbelievably touching (also give props to Duncan for his self-absorbed Christmas wizard). We’re in an age of lots of strong comedy ensembles, but the students and staff of Greendale, week in and week out, are at the head of the class.
4. Adam Newman (The Young and the Restless): As played by Michael Muhney, Adam Newman, son and black sheep of one of Genoa City’s most powerful families, is what makes soaps great. He’s a villain with a conscience. In 2009, he inadvertently caused his stepmother to lose her unborn child, worked to encourage a hysterical pregnancy to cover his tracks, and kidnapped his own niece to keep the lie going. Then he fell for grieving mother Sharon, his own brother’s ex, and the guilt just grew. In 2010, the walls closed in on Adam, thanks to an “intervention” where nearly every character on the canvas railed against him for his crimes. Written into this corner, Adam faked his own death and left town. And that’s when he stood out the most. When Adam was gone, the show was lacking. Every time somebody flashed back to a conversation or confrontation with Adam, I found myself thinking he can’t come back soon enough. Adam’s return, and the circumstances that kept him out of jail, allowed him to mix it up with his enemies and call them on their hypocrisies (it’s a soap; everyone has blood on their hands). Now Adam, against all odds, is reunited with Sharon, who has never been better paired, and while he’s facing a murder charge engineered by his vengeful father, he’ll get out of it, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
3. Agent Nelson Van Alden (Boardwalk Empire): Boardwalk Empire is the best new show of 2010, and there are many characters, some fictional and some factual, to choose from. Do we pick Nucky Thompson, the cool, controlling boss of Atlantic City? Or his one time protege, the hotheaded Jimmy Darmody? Then there’s the lovely and intelligent Margaret Schroeder and a young Al Capone learning the ropes that he’ll climb to infamy. These, and many more, could have made their way onto this list, but Michael Shannon’s zealous Prohibition agent takes the prize. Van Alden wasn’t always front and center, but when he was… holy hell! Whether smirking at the sight of busted barrels of green beer, or whipping his back while lusting for Margaret, or awkwardly dining with his barren wife, or engaging in one of the most disturbing sex scenes in recent memory (and now Nucky’s former lady friend, Lucy, is expecting his child), Van Alden and his actions haunted my thoughts as the credits rolled. But nothing stands out more than his murder of partner Agent Sebso. The audience knew that Sebso was in bed with Nucky and murdered the witness who would have sent Jimmy up the river. But Van Alden only suspected, and that was enough for him to lead Sebso to an outdoor religious service and drown him in front of the entire congregation. He’s not playing with a full deck, and in a world populated by murderous gangsters, Van Alden is the most dangerous character on the show.
2. Peggy Olson (Mad Men): I came this close to selecting Don Draper for his lost weekend arc, but I have to give a slight edge to the continuing metamorphosis on his former secretary. No longer the mousy girl pining for Pete and frequently serving as Don’s emotional punching bag, Peggy took charge of the reinvented agency and the season. On the personal front, she kicked a lame boyfriend to the curb, started hanging out with a female photo editor who obviously wanted to be more than friends, and ultimately took up with a liberal artist. She also had to cope with the news that baby daddy Pete finally impregnated his wife. But it was in the professional realm that Peggy made the biggest impact. She made the pitches that Don couldn’t, stripped naked to assert her authority with Stan, the smug new art director, and signed Topaz as a first step towards keeping the young firm afloat. And of course, there was the Glo-Coat commercial that netted SCDP a CLIO. It was her brainchild, but Don took most of the credit. This led to a confrontation four seasons in the making. Peggy called Don out for his abuse, finally rid herself of former lover Duck, and ultimately came to a new understanding with her boss. Peggy allowing Don to be vulnerable took all of her strength. Credit Elisabeth Moss with a performance that better get some love come Emmy time.
1. Paul Weston (In Treatment): Gabriel Byrne took his troubled therapist to new heights this season. As always, he listened with an unmatched intensity to his patients. But it was during his own sessions with new therapist Adele that Paul most impressed. Initially, Paul goes to Adele seeking a refill for his Ambien prescription. Among other things, his belief that he is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, weighs heavily on his mind. It’s not that much of a stretch; his father died of the same ailment. But it soon becomes clear that Paul is using the possibility of the sickness to excuse his lack of effort in his personal relationships. Adele recognizes this, but her attempts to force Paul to go deeper in order to understand why he sometimes succeeds as a therapist but rarely as a man, only lead to Paul putting Adele down and then trying to convince her that a romantic relationship outside of her office might be all that he needs. In short, Paul came off as manipulative, if not more so, than any of his past or present patients. In the end, he appears ready to make some positive changes, but to get to that point, Paul sank very low. And I hated him, and loved Byrne’s performance, during every minute of it.