Last week, we brought you our favorite movies of last year (finally saw Inside Llewyn Davis, by the way, and yes, it would have made the cut). This week, we change channels to focus on TV. We’re doing things a little differently this time out, with separate top 10 lists for new shows and returning favorites. Though there were a lot of new shows I enjoyed over the past year, I’ll admit I couldn’t stretch them to 10; instead, I’ve got 8, while Paul’s just crazy enough to have a full 10.
As always, there are shows we couldn’t get around to: I haven’t seen Rectify, Top of the Lake, Broadchurch, or The Wrong Mans, all of which I’d hoped to see in time for this list. Oh, and to absolve him of all guilt, I should mention that Paul has never seen Breaking Bad. Wait, I don’t think that absolves him.
PAUL: 10. HANNIBAL (NBC)
I wasn’t particularly interested in a television adaptation of the Thomas Harris characters. But names like Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, and Bryan Fuller pulled me in. It’s one of the most visually stunning and hauntingly…haunting shows ever to make it to network television. It’s also one of the most shockingly violent and grotesque. All positives in my book. But I can’t put it any higher on my list because it’s crushingly depressing.
On this, the eve of 2013, Paul and I begin to look back at some of our favorite things of 2012. First up, our ten favorite TV series.
Also, let’s give a slow clap to Paul, who struggled through severe illness just to get these words to you, dear reader. A speedy recovery to you, sir!
PAUL: 10. PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC)
Season 5 gets out of the office a little bit, with Ben and April in Washington D.C. (with an evil robot congressman). Ron gets a new love interest (the always lovely Lucy Lawless). Tom starts a new business. And Andy finds a new career.
AJ: 10. GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
What Game of Thrones did in its first season was nothing short of exceptional, a 10-episode narrative that goes down as one of the finest accomplishments the medium has seen thus far. And while the second season struggled at times to recapture that majesty, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. The scope and breadth of George R.R. Martin’s world remains impressive; the cast, especially Peter Dinklage as the kind of noble imp Tyrion Lannister, continues to knock out high fantasy material that would crush lesser actors; and thrilling hours like “Blackwater” remind us that this is the closest thing we have to a Lord of the Rings on TV. And it’s a whole lot nastier and sexier, too.
Don Draper is a serial philanderer. Walter White is a meth kingpin. Nicholas Brody is a (possibly) reformed terrorist. Nucky Thompson is a gangster. These are not men who do good things. Why, then, do audiences hate their wives so much?
Don, Walt, et al. are enormously popular with viewers, and rightfully so. They’re not necessarily good people, but they’re not strictly bad people either; they’re contradictory, complex, nuanced, comprised of all the elements that make for great drama. If, like myself, you enjoy reading reviews or seeking out online reaction to each episode, though, you’ve probably noticed a worrying trend. Though many applaud the behavior of these characters, all murderers (save Don) and adulterers (save Walt), they’re a lot less willing to afford their wives the benefit of the doubt. Look, I’m not here to be the Moral Police; I’m not interested in discussing the pros and cons of infidelity, especially considering most of these characters’ wives are guilty of same. (Sidenote: I, uh, hope we can all agree murder is bad.)
And it’s not like I don’t get the appeal. I don’t watch Breaking Bad just because it’s a devastating portrait of a man sacrificing everything he holds dear at the altar of power. I also watch it because it is freaking awesome when Walt pulls off the perfect heist. How giddy did the classic “RUN” moment make me? Answer: very. And at the end of the Mad Men season finale, when Don gave the honey at the bar the patented Draper Stare…goddamn. As a viewer, I know full well how thrilling and visceral it can be to watch these men do their dirt. The problem is when you view them as the heroes of their respective stories and any attempts–especially by their wives–to curb or question their behavior as hindering their quest, whatever you think that is. The numbers show that not a whole lot of people actually watch Breaking Bad, and I know that its small but loyal following contains some of the sharpest TV viewers around. But the Internet would also lead me to believe that a bunch of folks would be okay with a show where all Walt does is make meth, kill people, and become the most awesome greatest badass superhero on the planet.
I originally posted this on my personal Tumblr, almost word-for-word, last night. Paul was aghast (rightfully so?) that I didn’t use it for the blog. So here we are.
During the Joss Whedon Reddit Q&A yesterday afternoon, one user asked, among other things,
I would love to know anything about your personal motivations for being such a strong feminist, as well as your other positions on atheism, etc. Has being vocal about these positions ever been professionally difficult for you or caused you to lose work?
Joss answered (emphasis mine),
As for my political bent, it comes from how I was raised — and my own very strong sense of being helpless and tiny and terrified (that goes away, right?). The only trouble it’s ever caused me is that once you take a stance as a person, people are always using that as a yardstick in your work, which can be kind of limiting.
I’ve been thinking a fair bit about this lately, especially in terms of Joss’ work, because who am I kidding, that’s all I ever think about. Joss is a known feminist, and since I started watching his shows at the tender young age of 11, his work opened my eyes to a lot of things. After you see the blonde cheerleader walk down the alley and fight back, it’s a lot harder to accept the weak-willed sex objects and victims that populate not just horror, not just genre fiction, but every type of fiction (not to mention advertising). Sexism became a lot easier to recognize, and much more difficult to tolerate, after I started watching Buffy.
As Joss alludes to, though, he is so well-known for his feminism that there are those who measure everything he does by it. I remember one essay in the great collection Finding Serenity which chided Joss for the supposed anti-feminist message of Firefly; I also remember being overjoyed when another essay rebuked it in the following collection, Serenity Found. Firefly was a profoundly humanistic show, one of its best qualities being that it found the strengths and weaknesses in every character, male or female.
If you missed it last week, we rolled out our top 10 films of 2011. Now, here are our top 10 TV shows.
PAUL: 10. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE (FOX)
I’ve been slightly more forgiving of reality TV than a lot of people I think, but just barely. For the most part, the genre is vapid and soul-crushing and devoid of anything even remotely interesting. So You Think You Can Dance has been the brightest shining exception to that rule. While I still consider season 4 to be the series’ high watermark, this year’s season 8 introduced us to at least two, possibly three or four of the best dancers to have ever graced the show’s stage. I can’t quite explain what it is about this show that does it for me: I’ve never been particularly interested in dance, of any style, before this. But there have been moments watching this series that have moved me more deeply than just about anything ever has. There is something spiritual, something transcendent about the alchemy of human motion and music blending together. I’ve been moved by demonstrations of athletic prowess or feats of strength and dexterity. And I’ve been moved by the spirit of rock or the voices of angelic singers. But nothing has ever equaled the cosmic, deific inspiration I’ve felt watching someone like Alex Wong, or Mark Kanemura, or Melissa Sandvig, or a dozen others from the past eight years. When the right dancers meet the right choreographers and the right music…there are no words elegant enough to do it justice.
Key Episode: “Week One: Top 20 Performance” (8.6) …specifically the Melanie & Marko routine performed to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Turn to Stone”
AJ: 10. SUBURGATORY (ABC)
I can’t say there were many new comedies this year intriguing enough to even check out. I found Free Agents mildly amusing before it was axed, I probably won’t return to Up All Night unless it starts raking in the hosannas, and I stuck with the ungainly New Girl as long as I did mostly because I like Zooey Deschanel’s face. The less said about 2 Broke Girls or Whitney, the better. Thus, Suburgatory is the clear cream of the new funny crop. That isn’t to say the show is perfect. The central premise, that architect George freaks out about his 15-year-old daughter Tessa’s maturity and so moves them from the big city to the bizarre suburbs, is more fit for a 90-minute movie than an ongoing series, and the show can occasionally be far too broad in mocking suburbia. But even with those caveats, there’s something special about the chemistry between Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy, who banter like they’re Gilmores, and the dialogue can be razor sharp. Not to mention the fact that Alan Tudyk plays a very tanned, very opportunistic dentist. It might not be a great show just yet, but it’s definitely one worth watching.
Key Episode: “Thanksgiving” (1.8)
On the new episode of Gobbledygeek, Paul and AJ told you about all the things you should buy this Christmas season, and now here’s a comprehensive guide! (Including a few items that weren’t even mentioned on the show.)
Note: Most links and prices are from Amazon.
READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline
Hands down one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in recent memory. It’s like my admittedly overdeveloped nostalgia gland were milked and distilled onto the page. This book is my geeky, pop-culture DNA printed in ink. ~ Paul
Mad Men fans, rejoice! In recent weeks, the show’s future seemed up in the air as talks between network American Movie Classics and creator Matthew Weiner seemed on the brink of collapsing due to the kind of ordinary Hollywood bullshit negotiating that derails many a project. AMC wanted two cast members cut and more product placement; Weiner wanted neither, plus more money. Weiner even decided to take a ski vacation during negotiations, and just as he hit the slopes, AMC announced that Mad Men would officially return for a fifth season in 2012. Though they didn’t say as much, the implication was clear: “We can get all mad about men with or without you, Weiner.”
Though popular shows changing showrunners isn’t abnormal, Weiner occupies a rarified position among showrunners. He doesn’t just run the show, he is its creative voice. It would be like Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Joss Whedon, or The Sopranos without David Chase. In fact, for the last two seasons of Buffy, Marti Noxon was the showrunner–which some cite as the reason for those seasons’ relative weaknesses–but Whedon was still involved, and his voice and guidance was evident in every major plot twist or character development. What almost happened with Mad Men is that Weiner wouldn’t have been involved at all; not to be hyperbolic, but it would have been like removing Orson Welles from Citizen Kane three-quarters of the way through and replacing him with, say, Frank Capra. That’s not to say the movie still wouldn’t have been decent, but the ending would have been markedly different and it certainly wouldn’t be revered as possibly the greatest film ever made. In essence, we would have seen an ending to a story about the people of Mad Men, but not the ending to the story we’ve been watching for the last few years.