Monday, January 19, 2009

2008 tv...

As long as I'm doing the list thing, and the 2008 thing, and apparently the thing thing as well, here are my favorite TV shows from last year. I know I said I wasn't going to do best of or favorite lists, but apparently I lied, because these are the shows I liked the most-

1. Terminator- the Sarah Connor Chronicles- There was no reason to expect much of anything from this spin-off of the popular movie franchise, but it turned out to be some pretty compelling TV. The stories take some of the most interesting elements of the Terminator movies and expand on them, particularly the implications of time travel, and the morality of killing to avoid the deaths of many in the future, plus the whole idea that this one character, John Connor, has been robbed of his childhood to be groomed to be the leader of the future revolution, all based on this insane idea that freedom fighters and cyborgs have come back from the future to stop/start the oncoming human-machine war. The acting is uniformly pretty top notch, especially the more-or-less painfully attractive Summer Glau as the good-guy robot who's basically devoid of emotions but occasionally reveals a spark of humanity, or something, under her cold exterior. And the action is good, and well-balanced with the story and character development. And there's story and character development. Did I mention how beautiful Summer Glau is? This is a really good show.

2. Breaking Bad- I've always really liked Bryan Cranston, the comedic character actor best known as the dad on "Malcolm in the Middle" or the dentist who converts to Judiaism for the jokes on "Seinfeld." Here he gets to show off his more dramatic side as a terminally ill science teacher who starts a meth lab in order to provide money for his pregnant wife and disabled child after he dies. This scenario is enough to make for a pretty compelling narrative, but things get even more interesting when Cranston's character teams with a deadbeat ex-student who has drug dealing experience, and everything quickly turns to shit. It's a fascinating meditation of death, mortality and morality (subjects that seem to drive a lot of media these days), as well as the financial pressures of late capitalism on what used to be the middle class, plus there's enough dark, subtle humor to keep things entertaining as the drug dealing venture becomes increasingly dire, as when the two men are stuck with a rival dealer chained up in the basement of their meth lab, and have to figure out whether they're going to be able to kill him or not.

3. Pushing Daisies- Bryan Fuller emerges from the TV abyss every few years to create a show, previously "Dead Like Me" and "Wonderfalls," that's kind of incredible and relevant and which gets cancelled far before its' time. "Pushing Daisies" is no different. Aside from being about something that's important (again, death and mortality), aside from having style (something seriously lacking on most TV), aside from being cleverly and wittily written, aside from having an amazing comedic ensemble cast (Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenowith, Ellen Greene, Swoozie Kurtz, Stephen Root, even "Repo Man's" Sy Richardson shows up for several episodes as a deadpan coroner), aside from...seriously, that wasn't enough to get people to watch this? Or for ABC (the same network that cancelled "Max Headroom," "Sledgehammer," "Twin Peaks" and a bunch of other innovative TV shows I liked) to keep it going for just a little while longer? I guess we'll have to wait another couple of years for Fuller's next one or two season wonder...

4. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia- I was late in coming to this ultra-lowbrow sitcom, something about it (possibly it being ultra-lowbrow) turned me off, but I decided to give a shot last year and wound up watching the first three seasons in about two days while I was sick, and I fucking loved it. This show is just wrong, but it's wrong in a way that's right, just the super sick, gutter-level anything-goes desperate kind of humor. It doesn't always hit the mark, but when it does, such as this season's opener, about cannibalism, it's pretty side-splitting. Plus, Danny DeVito.

5. Metalocalypse- I was also late in coming to adult swim's death metal cartoon, despite being a huge fan of creator Brendon Small's "Home Movies" (which is admittedly totally different). My mind was changed when I saw a rerun of an episode featuring Dr. Roxxo, the cocaine sniffing rock n' roll clown (who seems loosely based on David Lee Roth). After that, my heart was open to the story of the world's most popular, and brutal, death metal band (turns out I really like death metal and black metal- who knew?). This season, every episode seemed in end in a violent massacre of some kind, usually pretty hilariously. Plus we got to see the bleak Norse enviorns where my favorite character Toki grew up. Toki also beats the shit out of some frat dude in the season finale, it's pretty funny. And fictional band Dethklok actually has some great songs (mostly all performed by Small).

6. The Venture Brothers- This show is basically specifically designed for people with my interests and sense of humor. The third season wasn't as great as the previous two, but I still pretty much love everything about "the Venture Brothers." And it's got voice acting by James Urbaniak and Patrick Warburton. And the music is by JG Thirwell of Foetus. Presented in glorious Extra Color.

7. Batman- the Brave & the Bold- This new cartoon series actually manages to do something that's totally beyond "the Dark Knight" and Grant Morrison's recent Batman comics- be fun. It strikes a near perfect balance between the light, sci-fi heavy Batman comics of the 1950s and 1960s (from which it also takes much of its' visual style) and a more sophisticated view of the character (influenced no doubt by Batman- the Animated series and JLU cartoons, I would also say Steve Englehart, Marshall Rodgers and Terry Austin's run on the comic). The choice of guest characters is particularly inspired, and seems to come from a knowledge of and love for the DC comics universe. You've got the current Blue Beetle, a golden age styled Green Arrow, Aquaman (back in his awesome green and orange costume), Red Tornado and Plastic Man, it's all good stuff. Though I doubt any comics-derived cartoon will ever rival "Batman- the Animated Series" for my affections, this certainly comes close, and is a worlds above the bland "the Batman" cartoon of recent years. Fun. Awesome.

8. Moral Orel- Though the final season of this adult swim series kind of petered out towards the end, the first episodes were unbelievably bleak and brutal, particularly the season opener, which commenced things with the Mountain Goats' "No Children" ('I hope I cut myself shaving today, I hope it bleeds all day long...'). This series started off as a one-joke parody of fundamental christianity, but once it tapped into the core desperation of its' adult characters, it became much, much more. Was the finale kind of disappointing on purpose, I wonder, to underscore the general theme hopelessness?

9. Peep Show- I had to seek out episodes of this UK series online. It's one of my favorite things that's ever been on TV, if not my favorite. After killing and eating a dog and pissing on a wedding party in a church last season, this year's episodes deal with the horrible co-dependency between main characters Mark and Jez, how they just can't seem to escape one another, no matter how hard they try. Again, the humor is bleak and brutal, but hilarious, and almost painfully relatable at times.

10. various negative pleasures- 90210, True Blood, VH1 celebrity reality shows- I watch a lot of shit because I don't like it. Which I guess means I actually do kind of like it, but that's sort of the push and pull of negative pleasure. 90210 is stupid and fun just like the old 90210 was. True Blood is infuriatingly stupid but sometimes it's hilarious in its' mediocrity, and it has a lot of sex and nudity, and apparently I will watch a TV show just for some sex and nudity. I don't know why I watch VH1 reality shows. I despise Bret Michaels but I can't stop watching Rock of Love, Rock of Love Charm School or I Love Money. And Celebrity Rehab, there's some shit, whatever. I won't call them guilty pleasures, because I don't feel any guilt for watching them, but they're definitely negative pleasures, because they sort of make me want to gouge my eyes out because I can't look away...

And that's it. More films of 2008 coming soon. I think I'm going to break a hundred on that one. Eventually I'll get bored with it but for now I can see it the tally reaching 120 or more films. Does anyone even care? Do I even care if anyone cares? It snowed in New York today, so that was kind of nice...

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