The Naughty and Nice of 2012 TV

Welcome to my second-annual Naughty and Nice of TV list!

In the spirit of Christmas, I have named the aspects of this year’s television that I’ve deemed gift-worthy and ones that deserve a lump of coal. To view “The Naughty and Nice of 2011 TV,” click here. And just for the record, my favorite television series of 2012 are Breaking Bad, Girls, Mad Men, Louie, Parks and Recreation, Survivor, Community, 30 Rock, American Horror Story: Asylum, and Billy On The Street.

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TV on my Nice List:

Parker Posey on Louie

Parker Posey breathed a thrilling and dynamic life into Louie and her turn in “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 1” and “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2” was an absolute joy to behold. At the end of a magical, haunting, whirlwind date, which included Posey’s Liz coercing Louie to try on a dress, providing a homeless man shelter for a night, and a near-orgasmic smoked fish tasting, the two end up at the top of a building. Liz is sitting on a ledge, and we, along with Louie, are thrown off-balance by her entrancing nature. What happens next, Liz’s soliloquy on the merits of living, took my breath away:

But the only way I’d fall, is if I jumped. That’s why you’re afraid to come over here. Because a tiny part of you wants to jump. Because it would be so easy. But I don’t want to jump; So I’m not afraid. I would never do that. I’m having too good of a time.

Louie_Parker_Posey

Liz’s lust for life sharply contrasts Louie’s fearful approach to the world around him. She opens him up to the possibility of living outside one’s comfort zone and continue’s Louie’s education in empathy. Though their encounter is fleeting, the impact he has on his life is profound. As the episode ends, the camera widens to reveal the vast New York City skyline. There is a world out there beyond Louie’s own pain, waiting to be explored; there are people out there waiting to have their stories shared. It is a truly beautiful moment.

The casting of Survivor: Philippines

Survivor lives and dies by its casting and a truly successful season gives us people to root for and people to root against. Thanks to its vibrant casting, Survivor: Philippines delivered in spades with its strongest edition since Heroes vs. Villains. Denise. Malcolm. Lisa. Skupin. Abi-Maria. Penner. These were people who were, to various degrees, here to play. The combination of a savvy and likable group of survivors who made both smart and stupid moves along the way made for thrilling television.

Surivor_Malcolm

Malcolm Freberg, on Abi-Maria Gomes

The final four players were the strongest final four in Survivor‘s history and all four overcame the odds as underdogs in their respective tribes. In Denise Stapley, you have a strong physical and mental winner who went to every single Tribal Council (a series first!) and emerged victorious. Her partner-in-crime, Malcolm Freberg, was the golden boy of the season, an über-fan whose likability factor was off-the-charts, both with the players on the island and with viewers at home.

Lisa Welchel (Blair from The Facts of Life) had one of the most complete character arcs on any show this fall, scripted or otherwise, overcoming her struggle for approval and acceptance that haunted her in her years since her teen stardom. Lisa transformed from an outcast suffering a #SurvivorBreakdown, into a player who ultimately realized she was playing a game and needed to make cutthroat moves to do so. Her bosom buddy, Mike Skupin, retuned to the game after famously falling into a fire in Australia, and proved to be no less accident-prone today.

Abi-Maria Gomes was a fully-formed villain, hilariously and frustratingly unaware of her own obnoxiousness. Jonathan Penner made the most of his third time on the show, playing with every ounce he had and playing with the meta-ness of it all, deftly manipulating Lisa to position herself as a creator of her own narrative, asking her, “What story do you want to tell?”

And then there’s Carter Williams. What Carter lacked in loquaciousness, he made up for with the Survivor quote of the millennium:

Penner, what do you want to do – [vote for] Katie or Penner?

Survivor: Philippines struck casting gold this fall and we can only hope for more contestant treasures in the spring with Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites. See you there, Malcolm!

The music of Nashville

Upon first glance, ABC’s new primetime soap boils down to the dueling country divas: the hot, young starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and the respected veteran Rayna James (Connie Britton). However, in its first eight episodes, Nashville presented an increasingly rich landscape inhabited by numerous characters with complex relationships. While not everything has worked (every scene related to the snoozy mayoral campaign tempted me to fast-forward my DVR), the strongest thread by far, the vibrant country music, has made the trip to Nashville worth it every week.

One particular standout closes out the show’s pilot, the smoky and seductive “If I Didn’t Know Better,” performed by Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio):

The series’ addictive musical tapestry is executive produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, who weaves a taut sense of history for each of the characters through the music they sing. Add to the mix, songwriters such as Elvis Costello and The Civil Wars, and you have a soundtrack worth spinning, from the Underwood-esque “Telescope,” to the acoustic singer-songwriter ballad “No One Will Ever Love You,” to the epic kiss-off duet between Rayna and Juliette in “Wrong Song.”

Mad Men‘s visual set-pieces

Put a gun to my head (please don’t) and ask me what is the most memorable scene on television in 2012 (please do), and I will respond immediately with Mad Men‘s Jessica Paré singing “Zou Bisou Bisou” in the show’s season premiere. The hypnotic image of a sultry Megan Draper performing for her new husband in front of all of his colleagues, instantly trended for fans around the country and the catchy tune became unforgettable. This moment was a coming-out for Megan and established the generation gap dynamic between her and her new husband, setting the tone for a darker, more visceral season of Mad Men.

This season was a Mad Men filled with so many indelible images: Peggy embarking on her new journey as The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” blared; Don peering into an open elevator shaft and into a deadly void of the unknown; Joan taking out her frustrations on a model airplane; Betty sneaking a bite of an ice cream sundae; Roger’s LSD trip. These were powerful images that masterfully spoke volumes about these troubled, unsatisfied characters.

Retta on Twitter: @unfoRETTAble

One of my favorite people I follow on Twitter is Retta, the QUEEN of television tweeting. Her live-tweets amassed such a fervent following that art imitated life: her character, Donna on Parks and Recreation, live-tweeted the fictional movie, Death Canoe 4 in an episode this past fall. Here are three of Retta’s hilariously choice tweets about Smash, Mad Men, and Girls:

In fact, Girls multi-hyphenate Lena Dunham has just asked Retta to live-tweet the upcoming season two of Girls:

Seriously, Retta is one to follow.

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TV on my Naughty List:

The wasted potential of The Mindy Project

I was really looking forward to Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project. And I gave her FOX comedy a shot. I really did. But after six episodes, I deleted it off my DVR for good. The lead, Mindi Lahiri, was a wholly unlikable character, who conveniently revealed a beating heart at the end of each episode, illustrating how she’s “growing” as a character. The supporting characters were thinly veiled strings of amusing quips at best and the Danny/Mindi relationship was at times too mean-spirited to watch comfortably. The tone of the show varied wildly and its pieces never amounted to a stable whole. I checked back in at the Christmas episode only to find an unappealing Elie Kemper ruin a perfectly good gingerbread house. No thank you. Best of luck to the future of The Mindy Project, especially in the midst of all its head-scratching casting changes: Anna Camp downgraded! Stephen Toblowsky out! That Jersey secretary out! That crazy nurse from episode two promoted! In hindsight, The Mindy Project‘s original title seems way more apt: It’s Messy.

Michonne on The Walking Dead

This year, I give my “Most Improved” Award to The Walking Dead. The AMC zombie drama recovered immensely after its horrific second season doldrums. This past fall, the show found a strong footing with a string of episodes that never broke its sense of forward-moving momentum. The didactic and dreary dialogue was excised in favor of higher stakes action, and there was a welcome shift from the threat of zombie violence to the threat of fellow human survivors. The stakes in the show have never felt higher.

However, The Walking Dead dropped the ball with the new character of Michonne. A full library of scowls and looks of disapproval does count as being a fully-developed character. And a staunch refusal to talk doesn’t make someone any more intriguing either. My main problem with The Walking Dead remains: I still don’t care about the characters (save Glenn and Maggie). The show expects us to care about the relationship between Michonne and Andrea (see: the face-off between the two in the mid-season finale, post-Governor brawl), but we as viewers know next to nothing about the eight months these two spent together on their own. And since we have no sense of history between these two women, it’s extremely hard to care about them or their falling out. We also know next to nothing about Michonne’s motivations, so her actions are neither heroic nor damnable. Michonne’s shroud of mystery is a frustrating aspect in an otherwise respectably solid run of episodes. Alas, a character cannot merely skate by on badass katana wielding alone. When I being to care about the characters, I’ll start to care about the show.

TWD_Michonne_Andrea

And while we’re discussing Michonne, The Walking Dead has GOT to work on its racial character tropes. It’s greatly disconcerting that the show kills off T-Dog, its one black male character, who barely had any speaking lines to begin with, in the same episode that it introduces Oscar, another black male character. And The Walking Dead does it again in its mid-season finale: introducing a fan favorite from the graphic novels, Tyrese, while killing off Oscar in the same episode. Greatly disconcerting.

The series finales of Desperate Housewives and Weeds

Kudos to Tina Fey and 30 Rock for ending its run on an extremely high note. This final season of 30 Rock is as strong as ever and not only has brought tons of classic one-liners (“My whole LIFE is thunder!”), but has worked in resonant emotional moments as well, such as Liz’s wedding and Colleen’s funeral. It’s a shame that Desperate Housewives and Weeds limped along past their expiration dates and went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

Desperate Housewives rode off so unmemorably into the sunset that I honestly don’t recall much about the final season at all: Tom and Lynette reconciled. Susan lost Mike. Bree was tried for murder, but wasn’t convicted. Gaby… became older? In the end, there was a cheesy epilogue that showed the women living happily ever after. What a disappointing and tedious final season. As for Weeds, I went into full-detail into its awfulness here. In a nutshell, Weeds implausibly jumped seven years in the future and there were hologram cell phones. Sure, why not.

Smash in all its hate-watching glory!

Golden-Globe Nominee Smash. Just let the ridiculousness of that sentence sink in for a moment. Get all those belly-laughs out. Good.

Where to even begin with this trainwreck of a show that we can’t stop devouring? The battle for the most annoying character on television? The seemingly endless parade of vapid love triangles? The stilted and hokey dialogue (“I CAN’T! I’M IN TECH!”)? The embarrassingly bad musical numbers both fantasy (Bollywood: need I say more?) and reality (Karen singing “Shake it Out” at a bat mitzvah while the teens in the audience literally SHOOK THEIR ARMS OUT)? Or how Katharine McPhee’s Karen is heaped praise upon like she’s the second coming of Christ (COME ON. Megan Hilty’s mom is Bernadette Peters, for crying out loud!)?

There’s a new showrunner at the helm for season two, who has promised that the creative wrongs have been righted, with Ellis, Leo, Frank, and Dev kicked to the curb, along with Debra Messing’s scarves, but this fragile bombshell could implode at any minute. And I’ll be there every week with popcorn eagerly awaiting that to happen.

Smash_Times_Square

Here’s to 2013!

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And because I just can’t get enough of Retta, I’ll leave you with one last tweet:

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Jofum’s TV Week in Review: A Couple of Goodbyes

In the past week, a couple of television series said goodbye to notable faces. So please take note of this SPOILER ALERT!, as I take a brief look back on three of the week’s television offerings…

The Walking Dead

Goodbye Shane! – This season, The Walking Dead has seriously tried my patience. Hershel’s claustrophobic farm sucked all the energy and tension from the series. Without a clear antagonist, the show has simply meandered along at a glacial pace. Rick Grimes and the rest of the thinly characterized company have fought to survive the zombie apocalypse, without really accomplishing anything other than stay alive. Sure, zombies are still out and about, but they have just acted as mere roadblocks for the characters to fight through rather than against. But recently, Shane (as brash and annoying as his character can be at times) stepped up to the plate to become the villain that the show so desperately needed.

Shane’s transformation from jealous best friend and lover to vengeful would-be-and-has-been-one killer has been one of the series’ most successful character arcs, though granted, there haven’t been that many to begin with. His clashes with Rick about the nature of leadership have been more compelling than any of the repetitive and heavy-handed philosophical musings on life and death. The climactic standoff between Rick and Shane, though inevitable, proved to be quite suspenseful and engaging. And even more interesting, is the reveal that anyone who dies can turn into a walker, not just someone who comes into contact with a zombie. As the series heads off into its final episode of the season, Shane’s death brings a clearer focus to Rick and the gang, who now have to fight off the oncoming herd of zombies and deal with the nearby human survivors. It’s sure to be a bloody finale with a high body count.

Desperate Housewives

Miek Delfino (James Denton)

Goodbye Mike Delfino! – When it was announced that this year would be the end of Desperate Housewives, I looked forward to the possibility that the series would with a bang. Unfortunately, this final season has been an overall disappointment, fizzing out over the course of the year. The major through-line for the season, the Wisteria Lane gang dealing with the fallout of the murder of Gabrielle’s step-father, has gived the housewives ample opportunities to clash against each other and strengthen their bonds, but has been sullen and dour as a whole.

The whole loan shark storyline, which ultimately became the demise of Mike Delfino, has been tedious at best. Past Desperate Housewives villains have at least been interesting, if not flamboyantly devious (see: Edie Britt’s psycho husband, Katharine Mayfair’s psycho ex-husband), but this loan shark is downright cartoony. As for Mike’s death itself, the shooting in broad daylight was certainly unexpected, but it didn’t carry much emotional impact for me. As Wisteria Lane pays respect to Mike Delfino in the episodes to come, I hope the series doesn’t wallow too much in despair. In the past, Desperate Housewives has been the most successful when deftly blended a sense of whimsy with the threat of violence. Here’s hoping the final hours can rekindle some of that excitement that endeared America to these housewives in the first place.

American Idol

Goodbye Gentle Giant Jermaine Jones and Shannon Magrane! – I must say, I could not be happier with this Top 10, who have earned a spot on the summer tour. This is a really well-rounded crop of finalists, quite possibly the most evenly matched group the show’s seen. In these past two weeks, the three clearly weakest and least versatile singers in the competition were thankfully sent home: syrupy balladeer Jeremy Rosado and the aforementioned disqualified felon GGJJ and the in-over-her-head, tries-too-hard, “I only missed one note” Shannon.

However, only Shannon was eliminated by receiving America’s vote. Based on this week’s bottom three of Shannon, Elise Testone, and Erika Van Pelt, I highly doubt Jeremy (who was sent home by the judges) received the lowest amount of votes over Elise. This now-familiar voting trend of sending women home before the men is highly disappointing. Here’s hoping the self-proclaimed “old ladies” can connect with the voting public. So Elise, that means that you cannot not be happy when your competition makes it though! We know you’re disappointed and bitter, but America wants to see lightheartedness and support from its contestant! Enough with the sour faces! Onward to Billy Joel week we go!

Sorry-Grateful: Desperate Housewives To End May 2012

I know what you’re thinking: “Desperate Housewives is still on the air?!”

Once you find out the answer is “Yes,” you immediately ask, “Who’s still watching that show?”

The answer to that query would be that last year’s seventh season averaged 11.9 million viewers, a far cry from its 23.7 million viewers in its first season back in 2004/05. So that audience of Desperate Housewives would consist of all those millions of viewers. And me.

This past Friday, ABC announced that Desperate Housewives would end this upcoming May, after eight seasons. Eight seasons of high drama, low slapstick, cat fights, and an ever-rotating line-up of lovers for Bree Mason/Van de Camp/Hodge. Eight seasons of  supermarket shootouts, tornadoes, crowded club fires, plane crashes, and neighborhood riots (and that’s just for November sweeps). Eight seasons of episodes titles inspired by Stephen Sondheim songs and lyrics (hence this post’s title, drawn from Company).

The cast of "Desperate Housewives"

Anecdotally, it would seem that those who once tuned into this soapy series gave up at one point or another. Even I sat out on the latter half of season three, when Mad Men’s Roger wooed Eva Longoria to win the Hispanic vote on his quest to become mayor of the Eagle State. (Where does Desperate Housewives take place, anyway?) And to be sure, Desperate Housewives will never again be the cultural zeitgeist it once was. I still remember the Good Morning America segment airing after the eighth episode of the series, after a worn-out Lynette experiences a mommy meltdown and fantasies about killing herself due to the stresses of motherhood.

But something in the series still strikes a chord even today. How many television series can we point to that feature an ensemble of seemingly well-rounded female characters? And how many series have attempted and failed at recreating Desperate Housewives’ signature blend of zingy, sassy one-liners (cue Eva Longoria!), tense and often violent crises, and heart-wrenching emotional moments? That is Desperate Housewives at its effortless best: pure campy fun.

Before we look to the show’s future, I’d like to quickly look back and acknowledge a strength of its past. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Desperate Housewives’ emotional weight lies squarely on the shoulders of Tom and Lynette Scavo. Perhaps it’s the every-couple aspect to Tom and Lynette Scavo that so resonates with the audience and has become the emotional cornerstone of the series. Perhaps it’s that Emmy Award-nominated Felicity Huffman acts the hell out of her dramatic pleas and confrontations. I will always consider one of the show’s shining moments to be in the fourth season finale. Tom confronts a cold-footed Bob and Lee on the merits of commitment, and in the process reaffirms his love for his wife. That despite a tornado tearing up their home, a secret lovechild, cancer, and everything else the show has thrown at them, nothing can tear them apart. I may or may not have shed a tear during this incredibly moving speech.

Now onto the upcoming season wherein Tom and Lynette have since split. (Oh, the perils of long-running serialized television!) I must admit, before the news that this would be the final season, I had my reservations about returning Desperate Housewives to my weekly rotation. At the Television Critics Association press tour this past weekend, showrunner Marc Cherry stated:

I wanted to go out when the network still saw us as a viable show and doing well in ratings. I’ve worked in TV for 23 years and I’m very aware of shows that overstay their welcome. I wanted to go out in the classiest way possible… Harder than creating a hit show is knowing when to end it, especially when you have such an amazing cast.

And just like that, I am returning to Wisteria  Lane one final time this fall. I was reeled back in: hook, line, and sinker. Bravo, Cherry and ABC.

True to form, there will certainly be a fair number of intriguing mysteries worth investigating in this farewell season:

  • Will Tom and Lynette reconcile and get back together?
  • Will Desperate Housewives see a ratings boost? While this is the final season, the series faces a formidable time-slot opponent in CBS’ The Good Wife.
  • Will there be a new ABC series to take the soapy reigns once Desperate Housewives leaves the tv landscape? Calling Good Christian Bitches Good Christian Belles G.C.B.!
  • Will Brenda Strong (Mary Alice) win an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance? Yes, Desperate Housewives is nominated in a category long-dominated by animated series.
  • And most important of all, will Vanessa Williams get a halfway-decent story line?