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.
I've a huge fan of zombies. Well, not the zombies themselves but pictures featuring zombies, and certainly zombie apocalypses and all that shit. 28 Days Later is one of my top 10 favorite movies ever. So I was definitely intrigued when AMC put on a series about the zombie apocalypse called The Walking Dead, which was an instant hit. But I didn't watch. The series got rave reviews, had dedicated fans, and was a frequent feature on the Howard Stern channel programs "Geek Time" and "Jon Hein's TV Show" and I really wanted to watch. But I never did. During the hell that became my incarceration on my couch while recovering from a toe surgery that has ruined my life, I did check out a couple episodes of season 2 and it was good, but I didn't know the characters or the arc of the story and it seemed like every scene was this group of disheveled survivors walking slowly around in the woods, hoping not to get bitten. I didn't go back. Then Season 3 premiered a few weeks ago, setting viewership records and getting more rave reviews and just for the fuck of it, I started taping it, figuring it would remain on my DVR with all the shows I intend to follow but never actually watch (cough Revolution cough). Then after the hell that was my life in the past 2 weeks with Hurricane Sandy, no power for a week, experimental treatments for my toe that forced me off the drugs that were stopping the pain (and didn't work, by the way), and then, of course, because shit ain't been shitty enough lately, I threw out my back from either the treatments or the shitty ass motel bed I slept on up north one night when I didn't have power and needed to be up north for the treatments but every hotel in the tri-state area that had power was booked so I slept on a what was basically a cot and then my back was out for a week, last week, and I was about as miserable as I could be and I sat in pain and unable to move in front of my TV and watched the first 5 episodes of Season 3 of The Walking Dead. And it is fucking awesome. Why didn't anybody tell me? Oh wait, never mind, they did.
So in May when Vague Space gave out its awards for best television programs for the 2011-2012 season, Showtime series Nurse Jackie edged out Parks & Recreation for best comedy program and Showtime series Shameless beat out Game of Thrones for best drama program, quite an impressive feat for the "other" pay cable station (bettering HBO). Now, after spending the past 3 weeks gorging on the 1st season of Showtime drama Homeland, I might be inclined to say that the cable net has the best three programs on in all of television and I'm not entirely sure Shameless would have beaten out Homeland for best drama. I was really impressed with the series, particularly the hour-and-a-half closing episode that wrapped up a self-contained season but also brought up scores of unanswered questions about the future of the series. And honestly, what more could you ask for? Game of Thrones -- despite its splendor and great set pieces and terrific acting -- did not come close to such a fulfilling ending of a self-contained season. Homeland got it right and I'm not surprised at all that it beat out veteran Emmy winner Mad Men for best drama series in this year's awards a week ago. Season 2 debuted last night and I didn't watch yet but I strongly encourage my readers to find the program on Hulu or DVD if they don't have Showtime or on on-demand if it's still available for Season 1 (DirecTV ended its offering when Season 2 began) and watch. You'll be surprised at how fast you go through the season (I think it was only 10 episodes) and how quickly you'll want to watch the next episode once the first is complete.
A month agoBuffy the Vampire Slayer was named the winner of TV March Madness, crowned as the greatest show in television history, to much controversy among my friends (none of whom ever watched the show). I'm not one to say I told you so, but I guess I need smarter friends...
Buffy the Vampire Slayer by a mile. More than twice as many papers, essays, and books have been devoted to the vampire drama than any of our other choices—so many that we stopped counting when we hit 200. Buffy even has its own journal: Slayage, a publication of the Whedon Studies Association (named for the show’s creator, Joss Whedon), which features titles like “Real Vampires Don’t Wear Shorts: The Aesthetics of Fashion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Killing us Softly? A Feminist Search for the ‘Real’ Buffy.”
While the resulting numbers are by no means exact, Gary Handman, the Media Resources Center’s long-time director and website curator, said the result sounded about right to him. “There is so much written about Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he said, adding, “it’s bone-breakingly weird.”
While not a fan of the show himself, Handman speculated that academics were intrigued by the devotion of its fans. (NPR’s All Things Considered tackled the question of academic interest in Buffy back in 2003.) Handman couldn’t name a television show with more written about it than Buffy, though he said The Wire seems to be catching up. He also suggested Star Trek and The Sopranos as popular choices among the titles we didn’t consider. “Oddly,” he said, “Mad Men doesn’t have a lot written about it.”
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.
In the Active Shows category, we have this final four:
1 - Curb Your Enthusiasm vs. 4- Parks and Recreation 2 - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia vs. 6 - Weeds
OK, let's start with the easier matchup here. Although Weeds squeaked by the last round, it's not going to beat out one of the greatest comedies in the history of television, Always Sunny. So I'll save any words for Sunny for its next matchup, which will likely prove more difficult. Which brings me to the other battle, a contest between one of the greatest comedies in the history of television (Curb) and the best comedy on the air today, Parks & Rec, which is about to conclude a 4th straight stellar season, something that few shows in history can claim. On the one hand, it's a bit unfair that Parks has to compete with a show with such a strong and lengthy history as Curb but on the other hand, Parks has yet to hit its "decline" phase so when stacked against some of the more recent seasons of Curb, it looks a bit better. The reader polling on the matchup was pretty much even so that's no help either. Curb has been on the air since premiering on HBO in 2000 with "The Pants Tent" (which actually followed a pilot starring Larry David in a "show within a show" format that I guess got them to pick up the series). "Ted and Mary" is episode 2 and already Larry is going shopping with Mary Steenburgen's mother and so we were pretty fast into classic episode category. Really good stuff. Season 1 also has "Beloved Aunt", which of course is spelled correct here and features one Kaitlin Olsen as Cheryl's sister in her pre-Sunny days. And the finale was the brilliant "The Group" in which Larry "admits" his incest survivors' story and we realize that this show has no bounds. But the thing is through 8 seasons, ending with "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox" this past fall, Curb Your Enthusiasm has only filmed 80 episodes. Classic, perfect, in some cases unbelievably hilarious episodes, but only 80 of them. Parks and Recreation has only been on the air since 2009, but as a network comedy they've packed in the episodes to such a point that they're already at 64 episodes and counting. So the whole thing is a lot more apples to apples than expected. And Parks' 64 episodes have not only been brilliantly hilarious but also have shown a warmth and appeal that Larry's bizarre run-ins with reality do not share. In the end, though, maybe because Parks has had to push all that greatness into such a small place while Larry's quality has lasted for well over a decade (and much longer, if you include Seinfeld), I couldn't quite pull the trigger on the upset.
Winners: 1 - Curb Your Enthusiasm vs. 2 - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (vote below)