2011: The Highs and the Lows

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 EVEREntourage

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.

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THE OFFICE: It’s Spader Time (Kind Of)

After mourning the departure of Steve Carrell (and watching an array of candidates interview for the job), word came down that James Spader gets the gig. Kind of. In short, Spader’s unconventional, obscenely confident applicant is the new Michael Scott for all of five minutes before working his way up to Sabre CEO (thus freeing up Kathy Bates to focus on Harry’s Law). On the one hand, I like this decision. Spader impressed during the season finale, and if you haven’t seen Secretary, do so this instant. It also leaves room for a familiar face (Andy, Darryl, Dwight, or maybe even Jim) to take Michael’s role. Could revitalize the whole show. But if I’m being honest, when I had heard that another finale guest star, Catherine Tate, seemed poised to join the Dunder Mifflin team, I was curious and kind of excited to see what she would bring to the table, having to deal with (and as crazy as) the rest of the staff. Maybe I just wanted to see her suggested masseuse and a “Zen” office as a reality. In any event, I am looking forward to the season premiere. Kind of.

THE OFFICE: Who’s the Boss?

Really belated on my part, but just a few quick words about the season finale of The Office. I found it enjoyable (even if the cliffhanger was a bit of a cop out). The guest stars (in particular James Spader, Ray Romano, and, even though it was like a minute, Jim Carrey) stood out. The stunt casting was well-balanced with Creed, the manager from The Twilight Zone, an oblivious Angela planning her nuptials while her coworkers contemplated bursting her bubble (how much can’t you wait for that wedding episode next year), and another chapter in the Andy/Erin romance (just get them together already!). The show still has to work hard in the wake of Steve Carell’s departure, but I’m feeling pretty good about its evolution. And if Catherine Tate gets the gig, I’m curious to see where things go.

THE OFFICE: World’s Best Boss

In the end, Michael Scott, he who always yearned to be the center of attention, bows out quietly with little pomp and circumstance. Validated by Holly, who did not appear in the flesh, Michael is able to make the break from the people who were not his family. Holly is his only family. Right.

He still needs something to drink out of, but when Michael tossed out his “World’s Best Boss” mug, it was the culmination of a journey from wanting to earning. From the first Dundies to the roast, from Dunder Mifflin Infinity to The Michael Scott Paper Company, the man left his mark.

The beginning of the gift-giving perfectly touched on how Michael actually viewed his staff (affection for Phyllis, a warped respect for Kevin, nothing but contempt for Oscar, etc.). Nothing for Toby said it all (loved meeting Rory), and when Michael listened in on the Pam/Kevin shredder debate, you almost believed that he wouldn’t go. But Holly’s voice, and the revelation that this was actually his last day, sealed his fate. We could talk about Gabe, the sudden stalker, and Scranton’s intriguing collection of erotic cakes, but all of this was meant to create a sendoff that was just another day, albeit Michael’s final one, at the office.

Michael as Erin’s mom slightly annoyed me if only because I want Andy and Erin back together ASAP. And things on the Andy front were also problematic. Deangelo went from being a jerk to a doofus to a madman in the space of three episodes. This won’t work long-term. But give The ‘Nard Dog props for coming into his own as a salesman simply by promising to do the work (and he knew as much when Deangelo tried to share the credit).

The entire sequence with the letter to Dwight, his disgust morphing into the realization that Michael did indeed value him, was beautifully played by Rainn Wilson. And a little paintball war goes a long way towards healing any wounds. But the clock just kept ticking (gotta give Pam credit for taking in The King’s Speech though).

Michael threatened to give the show away during his last meeting. Despite the impending lost, everyone still knew how to blow him off. Except for Jim. John Krasinski and Steve Carell essentially rehearsing their goodbye got the waterworks going. But the prospect that Pam would remain the one name unchecked on Michael’s list? They wouldn’t really go there, right?

Of course not. After tearing off his microphone, Pam appeared for her wordless goodbye. And it was perfect. Sometimes there are no words, no need for words. Words can’t describe Jenna Fischer as the receptionist who became a wife, mother, office manager, and, in some ways, Michael’s most trusted confidante watching him fly away home.

The tag with Deangelo set the stage for Will Ferrell’s inevitable exit. And I think the series can go on, maybe even experience something of a rebirth in the wake of Carell’s departure. But that’s not for tonight. God’s Speed, World’s Best Boss.

NBC Thursday Highlights

It was a strong night for NBC’s comedies (well, except for The Paul Reiser Show, which might have been good, but I turned it off after 30 seconds to check the weather). Let’s take them one by one:

Community: This reminded me of those Golden Girls episodes that hinged on recreated flashbacks (the girls recall money-making ventures, Valentine’s Day disasters, birthdays past, etc.). It’s a storytelling device that works well because it manages to showcase the characters in a variety of situations and perhaps provide some back-story without using the space of an entire episode. Such was the case with Community, as the study group recalled a year even more complicated (if that’s possible) than the one we’ve seen each week. The highlights were without question the Jeff/Annie and Pierce/Abed lingering looks montages, and I got a kick out of Dean Pelton bursting in wearing an array of inappropriate costumes (that was a gag that went on just the right length of time; they took it further than you expected without killing the joke).

The Office: Definitely an improvement from last week, but did anyone else feel that Will Ferrell’s Deangelo was a completely different, albeit more likable, character? Maybe we’re supposed to believe that he was posturing in order to assert his authority and now, after a settling in period, he’s relaxed with the group and is grateful to learn at the foot of Michael Gary Scott. Or maybe the writers just decided to change the character midstream. In any event, I liked nervous Deangelo terrified at the prospect of hosting the Dundies, and his coworkers’ tips culminated in an amusing King’s Speech parody. Erin dumping Gabe in front of everyone was cruel, but I think it served two important purposes: it paves the way for Erin and Andy to reunite, and I actually pitied and kind of liked Gabe for the first time all season (so there’s hope for his character down the line). And the Seasons of Love tribute combined with what were obviously Steve Carell’s real tears? All I can say is that next week is going to be rough.

Parks and Recreation: Leslie being paired up with Tom via the dating site really took me by surprise, and their lunch was as amusing as Ben inviting Leslie to join him at the mural was sweet. I also love that Chris’ no dating in the office policy kind of sets him up as an oblivious, even good-hearted villain along the path of the Leslie/Ben courtship. But without question, this episode was all about the Ron/Chris cook-off. From Chris’ efforts to describe a turkey burger’s appeal, to the trip to the health food store (which Ron likened to a zoo), to the stop at Food and Stuff (where Ron gets his food and most of his stuff), and finally to Chris having to admit that Ron’s burger was the superior sandwich. And let’s not forget newlyweds Andy and April. April was right to suggest that Andy get the pinwheel, but those crows were pretty awesome sauce, too.

30 Rock: Let’s just put it out there. Steve Carrell, worthy though he might be, is never going to win an Emmy for The Office. Because how can he compete with Alec Baldwin playing four incarnations of Jack Donaghy (Past Jack was my favorite because everyone talked like that in the 80s). The over-sized episode dragged in parts (Jenna’s storyline was basically an excuse to use Jane Krakowski’s pregnancy to the show’s advantage), but Tracy’s inability to sully his good name (and Jack’s obvious solution) stood out in a sea of guest stars (I gotta give props to Michael Keaton’s doomed maintenance man and Ken Howard’s perpetually smiling Hank Hooper). And through it all, we saw every aspect of the Jack/Liz relationship, a platonic partnership for the ages.

Great night all around. Thoughts?

THE OFFICE: The Beginning of the End

…and what was more emotional? Michael’s candlelit proposal to Holly (in “the rain”) or his coworkers shock and sadness over his impending departure? Michael Scott is getting ready for his final bow. There’s gonna be laughs. But probably more tears.

THE OFFICE: At the Movies

Okay. Far from a typical Office episode. We always knew Michael had aspirations to be a film auteur, but why had we never seen the Scranton gang shooting the myriad of scenes, why would Angela take part in “The Scarn” dance sequence, did Jim really think that his role as Goldenface was the best way to win Pam’s heart? But all of that aside, “Threat Level Midnight” was hysterical. Darryl as the president, Creed as Cherokee Jack, and the death of Toby, the animal rapist, were some of the highlights. Loved Jan, Karen, Helene, Packer, Roy, and who I’m pretty sure was Ryan’s Hobbit friend, Troy, making their obligatory cameos. On the one hand, it’s kind of pathetic that Michael would spend the better part of his adult life on a clichéd rehashing of every action movie ever made (the awesome Rocky IV/mop training sequence aside). But what a comedy! And Michael, with a little help from Holly, got that in the end. Sometimes what seems like the most important thing in your life is really just an opportunity to laugh and get on with it. I don’t know about you, but after the day I’ve had, the laughter was just what I needed.

Telephoria’s Favorites: 2010

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

HONORABLE MENTION:

THE OFFICE – “The Delivery”

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

10. SHERLOCK – “The Great Game”

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

9. PARKS AND RECREATION – “Telethon”

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

8. CAPRICA“Things We Lock Away”

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

7. FUTURAMA – “Lethal Inspection”

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

6. COMMUNITY – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

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

5. BOARDWALK EMPIRE – “A Return to Normalcy”

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

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

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

3. AS THE WORLD TURNS – “Finale”

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

2. IN TREATMENT – “Sunil: Week Seven”

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

1. MAD MEN – “The Suitcase”

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

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

Merry Thursday Night

In short, NBC’s Thursday night rocked it out. Community’s Rudolph homage started slow but finished particularly sweet. Coming off of a week when the study group hurt each other more than they helped, the gang bands together to support a lonely Abed and find the meaning of Christmas in their friendship. Loved Jeff-in-the-Box! Nice to see Pierce as the last teddy bear standing after a few weeks on the sidelines. Got teary eyed at the final image of the friends morphing back to their true form in Abed’s tiny TV screen. A little dark to be sure, but ultimately very satisfying.

30 Rock went for total dysfunction. Liz’s quest for a drama free holiday leads her to Jack’s attack zone, and guest stars Alan Alda, Elaine Stritch, and Elizabeth Banks played off of each other well from the first drink to the hospital room. Tracy remembers the power of laughter, and Paul and Jenna find their way back to one another courtesy of an inspired costume idea. Poor Liz has to take a bus home with a parrot, but methinks there’s a wedding in the cards which means more Colleen and Milton (so glad he got that kidney!). Bring it on.

Over on The Office, always known for stellar Christmas outings, things were… sigh. Darryl and his daughter, Jim and Pam exchanging gifts, and Holly… please let this be Michael’s endgame. Great direction by Rainn Wilson. Just a feel good end to the entire night. Creepy snowmen and all.

Thursday Night Done Right

A strong night for NBC’s comedies (I’m not counting Outsourced; even though Parks and Rec is on its way back, I’m still bitter). Community celebrated Troy’s 21st birthday with a night out on the town. We saw Jeff and Britta getting smashed, Abed hit on by Paul F. Tompkins, and Pierce unable to even make it into the bar. All funny. But add Shirley trying to conceal the fact that she was once a sloppy barfly, Annie, courtesy of her fake ID, playing the anti-Annie, a drifter from Corpus Christi, and Troy growing up enough to stay sober and drive most of the gang home, and you have the most character driven episode to date. Now don’t get me wrong. I love all the pop culture references and parodies. But it’s the moments like Pierce finally asking Shirley for help or Troy walking Annie to the door of her apartment on the bad side of town and making her feel good about just being Annie that make us care about the characters. Not laugh out loud funny, but really, really well done.

Over on 30 Rock, things were far more zany. Liz uses Kenneth as a therapist which sets off a chain reaction of painful childhood memories for the pair (who really should share more subplots) and eventually Jack. Jenna wants Paul to make a sex tape; he wants her to meet his parents. So they break up. But who doesn’t think he’ll be back? Tracy supports his “son’s” ill-advised theme restaurant. Who wouldn’t want to dine while two Godzila’s (got to drop the second “l” for trademark purposes) attack each other? And any show featuring a boy who sees a pig as his surrogate father, sells the pig, and finally eats the pig to make his way to a low paying job on the Number Four Network deserves props.

Last, but far from the least, The Office began with Michael realizing that China is on the verge of ruling the world. It evolved into a battle between Michael and Oscar as to who is the smartest man at Dunder Mifflin Sabre. Now I like Oscar as a character, and he is brighter than most of his coworkers. But we’ve all known people who can’t help but show off all the minutiae they retain. So even if Michael’s final speech about the American spirit was a tad heavy-handed, it was nice to see so many co-workers in his corner. Darryl schooling Andy on the proper times to text yielded the most laughs. Best moment? Andy texting Dwight during Michael’s initial China speech to ask if he was seeing it. While they were all in the same room. And the heart of the episode was the Dwight/Pam conflict. Dwight skimping on lights, toilet paper, and soap (not to mention the roach billboard) drove Pam to seek new office space. Dwight calling her bluff led to Pam’s confession that the failed artist, the failed saleswoman, does not want to screw up again. So Dwight let her win. And it was an act of compassion.

Good times all around.