My favorite shows this year had an advantage over every other show on the list, particularly the show that finished #1, in that I watched multiple seasons of them in 2012, and fell in love, so while I'm kind of judging only on episodes that were first on the air in 2012, let's be honest, that judgment is clouded, and when I devoured the entire 3 seasons of Walking Dead within the past 3 months, it was pretty much a given that it would win Vague Space show of the year. But not without a fight from Homeland, whose first season I watched over just a couple of weeks in August, getting me right and ready for the second season this fall. If I were being honest, the first seasons of both shows were superior to the current season. And for Walking Dead, for me at least, I even preferred the somewhat maligned season 2 to the one showing this fall on AMC. But despite Homeland's noteable shift from psychological terror thriller to implausible action thriller, I was sold enough on the characters from Season 1 and the awesome performances by Damien Lewis and Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin -- particularly this season for him -- that it really took an incredible show to dislodge it from the top spot. And that show, this year, was The Walking Dead. Like I might have mentioned in one of my recaps, I even knew which characters wouldn't survive through Season 3 (and there were many) and I still couldn't stop watching episode after episode. This is clearly the golden age of cable television if not the golden age of television in general. And both of these shows were brilliant this year.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) Life's Too Short (HBO) Louie (FX) Modern Family (ABC) Nurse Jackie (Showtime) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
This was the toughest competition of the season, as Nurse Jackie (2010's winner) edges out Parks and Recreation (last year's winner). Parks was pretty great again (although ratings have cratered, as they have for all of NBC's Thursday lineup) but Nurse Jackie was as good this season as it was in its first two seasons, even though there are still a few episodes left. This is a sober Jackie for the very first time, a necessary step in the arc of the show -- her drug abuse was getting worse and worse and affecting her family and work -- and it was going to have to end. Badly. Which it did when guest Billie Joe Armstrong died in her arms after an overdose. They handled the rehab rather well (although quickly) and have handled the "clean and sober" part equally well, as her husband has sued for divorce and custody of the kids, putting the rest of her life in danger in the absence of the drug use. O'Hara's pregnancy has been a welcome addition (I assume Eve Best is pregnant in real life, but either way it works). Getting Anna Deveare-Smith out on the floor as a nurse again was a stroke of genius. And the inclusion of Bobby Canavale was a wise decision to give Jackie a foil (with the twist that she befriended his addict son in rehab -- a juicy detail that I can't wait to see how it resolves). All in all, the show has focused more on the hospital than Jackie's family life (now that her husband has left her) and that has probably been for the good (he was always the weakest character). So in the end, Nurse Jackie beats out the great "Leslie running for town council" season on Parks and Recreation. Coming in third again was another solid season for Modern Family, edging out the 2nd season of the awkward but wonderful comedy of Louis CK.
I'm calling half-hour shows comedies and hour-longs dramas even though a show like Nurse Jackie is usually more drama than comedy (although not as much this year). But here are the nominations for 2011-12 TV Season in Review.
With all due respect to Girls and Veep, the new much-buzzed about HBO comedy block on Sunday nights following Game of Thrones, they are still too early in their careers (3 episodes in when I wrote this) to merit inclusion here but they are definitely starting out strong -- disjointed, too graphic (in the case of Girls), maybe a little too awkward (Veep) but both are very memorable and oftentimes awfully funny so I'm looking forward to what they will be doing in the coming weeks (and years... both have been granted 2nd seasons already). As for the actually nominated shows, I'll say some words here about the ones that aren't going to win -- Curb and Sunny are showing significant signs of age (Curb particularly) but can still put out quality episodes (the Pakistani chicken was this year). Life's Too Short was a frighteningly hilarious but short-lived BBC import (first season was only 7 episodes I believe, but it will be back for a second season) that featured some of the greatest laughs of any show this season -- Liam Neeson doing a comedy table read was frighteningly brilliant but also pretty much every perfectly embarrassing thing that Warwick Davis does was good. And of course I love everything Ricky Gervais does. Which leaves the battle for Best Comedy between 2011 Vague Space Show of the Year -- Parks and Recreation -- and 2010 Vague Space Show of the Year -- Nurse Jackie. Plus Modern Family and Louie. This battle will go down to the wire -- Parks and Louie are done with their seasons and Modern Family is about to be done but Nurse Jackie is only halfway through hers. We will find out the winner next week.
So here we are at the finals of the TV madness competition that started way back in early March. How did we get here? And why did it take so long? Let's get right into the matchup:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I certainly expected Buffy to be here, as pretty much anyone who knows me can attest to, but Sunny was a surprise. I thought I'd see Seinfeld here or maybe Letterman or the Daily Show or even Arrested Development but the more I got into this competition the more I realized how fond my memories of so much of the life of Sunny has been so it's no longer a surprise. And it wouldn't be an upset at all to see it beat Buffy here. As I write this I do not know who is going to win, and admittedly I ignored the voting (which has tailed off quite a bit as the competition has gone forward). The winner will simply be which show has the best 20 episodes ever, as that seems to be the fairest way to compare one vs. another. (I could do like the best 50 episodes ever but who has that kind of time).
And then there were 8. And by the end of this post there will be 4 6. Can you feel the excitement? Let's get right into it.
1 - Seinfeld vs. 6 - Arrested Development
On Monday night as research, I watched much of a 2-part Seinfeld from the later years (post Larry David), in which Kramer and Newman use a mail truck to ferry deposit bottles to Michigan while Jerry's Saab gets stolen by his mechanic (played by Brad Garrett), Elaine bids double what Pederman authorized for JFK's golf clubs to outduel Sue Ellen Mischke the bra-less wonder, and George struggles to perform an assignment for Wilhelm even after finding out the key is "Downtown", like the song. If that all sounds like ridiculousness to you, it was. And if it all sounds familiar and even leads to a little positive nostalgia (particularly the "Downtown" verses part at the coffee shop) it certainly was. But what was shocking to me, considering how well Seinfeld held up for so many years, is just how unfunny it was on Monday night, watching for whatever nth time I've seen this particularly weak two parter. And I probably never liked the stupid Kramer/Newman road trip even on my very first viewing, but after all these years, the show has definitely aged. Even a recent viewing of the best two-parter in show history, The Keith Hernandez, garnered nary a chuckle, but I felt more pleasant nostalgia for it at least. The point I'm trying to make is that at some point, all shows -- even as great as Seinfeld -- eventually hit the wall. Cheers reached it years ago and lost in the last round to the fresher and more repeatable (at this moment in time) Arrested Development, and I'm shocked to say I am seriously considering the same fait accompli here. And I don't even know what fait accompli means. I guess the truth is it's pretty well impossible to compare great shows from different eras and come up with a satisfying solution on all merits. I mean yes, Seinfeld was the greatest comedy ever for a long, long time. But also, I would watch just about every single episode in Arrested Development's canon for the nth time than watch a single second of Kramer and Newman getting golf clubs thrown at them by Brad Garrett, or really, most Seinfeld episodes, except for a few classics -- of which Arrested Development also has had many. I said at the beginning of this, the seeding was based on what I considered the "best" shows to be based on my viewing history with them, but because if that were the only criteria all the 1 seeds would be in the final four which would make this exercise less fun. As it is, all the ones and two seeds made the final eight except for Arrested Development so it's time for me to buck the trend and stick with my original mantra for evaluation in the tourney -- which show would I rather watch in re-runs today? In that case this matchup ends in no contest.
1 - Curb Your Enthusiasm vs. 9 - Modern Family 4 - Parks and Recreation vs. 5 - Nurse Jackie
Curb has a 6-4 lead over current favorite Modern Family in the voting, while Parks & Rec is dominating against Nurse Jackie, 9-0. That matchup is a little surprising, although despite the fact that Parks & Rec barely gets ratings on NBC for unknown reasons (too funny? Americans are busy watching the horribly unfunny "Two Broke Girls"?), it still dwarfs the ratings for a show on Showtime, even an award-winning and popular one like Nurse Jackie. I do love Nurse Jackie, and it was the Vague Space show of the year of 2010, but I also love Parks & Rec, which was show of the year in 2011. Honestly I could go either way but I'll give the win to what the crowd is supporting, a show that is just non-stop hilarity from start to finish for the 4 year length of the show, Parks & Recreation. In the other matchup, we have Curb, which has been around since 2000 or so on HBO, and Modern Family, only in its third season. They have been 3 brilliant seasons (although not quite as good as the first three seasons of Parks & Rec or Nurse Jackie, in my opinion), but it's not going to beat Curb. Pretty much every season of Larry David's show has featured bunches of episodes that were instant classics, particularly in the first 4 or 5 seasons. But even in later years, including this past Season 8 that was rather weak by comparison, the show still has moments of absolute brilliance that no other show on the air today can match (ie. Bill Buckner at the shiva).
Winners: 1 - Curb Your Enthusiasm vs. 4 - Parks and Recreation (vote below)
For this version of the annual Vague Space TV season review, I've decided to change the format a bit and make it similar to an Emmys or awards nominations process, with my panel of judges (the voices in my head) announcing the nominations first and the winners in a second post. Mostly, this is so that I can get two columns out of this one bit. But also because I found it really difficult to figure out which shows to include and which not to, particularly since many of my favorite programs appeared on the air last summer (True Blood, Weeds, Entourage) and haven't since. I can't even remember what happened on True Blood (something about werewolves?) so it's really tough to rank it among all the shows in my annual list, particularly against shows with new episodes airing right now. It's easier to just say True Blood is among the top 5 best dramas of the year and move on. Of course, this opened up another can of worms, particularly how to categorize the Showtime shows that will dominate these year-end awards -- Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara and Shameless, for instance. All are certainly more drama than comedy, but all are funny at times, and I know that Edie Falco won the Emmy for comedy actress last year so the Emmys consider it a comedy even if her character really doesn't do a whole lot that's remotely funny. But as a default, I'm calling half-hour shows comedies and hour-longs drama and moving on. It's not like anyone is still reading this introduction at this point anyway. Without further ado, click through for the nominations for the 2010-11 TV Season in Review.
I have to say that despite my lack of time this year to watch a whole lot of television -- or perhaps because I didn't have time to waste it on guilty pleasures that have populated my lists in years past (The Real World/ Road Rules Challenges, The Hills), this has been one of my favorite television seasons in recent memory. I'm pleased with every single one of the shows in my top 10 and would recommend them to anyone, even as the season winds up in the coming weeks. I had a hard time even keeping my list to a recommended 10 as there were a couple shows that had solid seasons (The Office, The Big Bang Theory, South Park, 30 Rock) that didn't quite make the list. In fact, I also excluded HBO's The Pacific, a great 10-part miniseries on World War II, mostly because I've only made it through 3 or 4 episodes so far, but also because I didn't want to bump any of the following shows from the list. The top 10 has comedies, dramas, reality shows, and several shows that seem an oddly wonderful combination of the three. There are network shows, cable shows, and pay cable shows. But mostly, it was just a great season for television. Maybe it's good that I couldn't watch more of it.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia continued its roll of absolutely hilarious episodes this week after a slight misstep in last week's episode. This show, which had taken a creative dive in season 3 and part of season 4, is back in full comedy force in its fifth season, and if you're not watching it, either you're missing the funniest thing on television right now, or you actually have some self respect. Me? I'm loving every episode. This week featured a breakup of the Mac and Dennis "team" when Dee points out that they spend every waking moment together, which is a bit unhealthy for two guys in their thirties. Mac doesn't really see what the problem is, but when Dennis spends an hour away from him picking out a movie to watch and then doesn't come back with Predator, as pre-agreed upon, a fight ensues and Mac leaves, breaking up the team. Mac heads to Charlie's, where he's disgusted by Frank's way of cutting his toenails (with a steak knife), while Dennis goes to Dee's, who doesn't want to watch the movie with him, since her cat got stuck in the wall.
Dennis: She’s in a little bit of a mood because a cat got stuck in the wall. Charlie: Cat in the wall, eh? Ok, now you’re talking my language. I
know this game. Alright catch me up to speed here, what do we got? Dee: Well, come on, you’re putting Cheeto fingers all over the wall. Charlie: Alright, let’s focus Dee, what’s the point of entry here? Dee: That’s the thing Charlie, I’ve been looking all around this goddamn place, I can’t find one. Charlie: Alright, I’ve seen this before, you know what happened? I bet
it flattened itself out, went right through a seam in your wall. Dee: I don’t think there’s anything in the laws of nature that would support that. Charlie: Cats do not abide by the laws of nature alright, you don’t know shit about cats!!
I went to a Halloween party this weekend dressed as Nightman, which was basically me in a black shirt and pants with some eye makeup... you know a normal day out. Aaron dressed as the Troll, while Chris, in an inspired, if very brief appearance, dressed as the Dayman, full codpiece and all. Chris only lasted about five minutes in the costume, experiencing too much pain in the groinal area to continue. But anyone looking for a last-minute Halloween costume idea, believe me, we were the talk of the party, if only because everyone who never saw "The Nightman Cometh" episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (one of their best episodes ever) had no idea what we were supposed to be. What I didn't realize is that the crew of the show took the "play" that they performed on a national tour this summer, performing the absolutely brilliant songs from the episode live in front of confused and delirious audiences. You really have to regularly watch the show, which has been absolutely on top of its game this season -- some of its best episodes ever, and that's saying a lot -- to understand the warped humor and wonder of a character who creates a play largely about a boy getting raped, in order to woo a girl who can't stand him and hasn't for years. Any show that ends with Danny DeVito, dressed as a Troll, saying "I think the rape scene went really well" is just warped enough to be a classic. Of course, any song that includes the lines: "You're a master of karate, and friendship, for everyone!" is just destined to be a hit.
If you don't watch the show, tune in Thursdays at 10 pm on FX. Really, seriously, it's the absolute funniest thing on television right now. Last week, the Green Man (another brilliant Charlie Kelly character) fought the Phillie Phanatic as the gang tried to attend Game 5 of last year's World Series. In previous weeks, Charlie admitted to a date that he's a "full-on rapist" (he meant to say philanthropist), they attempted a road trip and never made it out of Philly, and of course, they ruined the Waitress's life, again. And they show repeats at 10:30, so if you happen to see "The Nightman Cometh" coming up, make sure you set your DVR. It really doesn't get any better than this.