Something that most who know me know is that I am sort of addicted to television. It wasn’t always this way, there were times in my life when I was all about films. Now, don’t get me wrong I still love films, I watch a ridiculous amount of them; old, new, foreign, comedy, drama you name it and chances are I’ve seen it. Still, over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in television as a medium. It used to be that actors started in television before they could work their way up to a movie career, now-a-days that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m not sure if it’s because the actors are more drawn to the scripts rather than the medium, but television now has clout. And with so much out there I can sort of see why.
So, here are my top picks of 2009, in no particular order. You don’t have to agree, in fact on a lot of them I’d be surprised if you did, but I always did have eclectic tastes.
I know a lot of people who say they have lost patience with this show, but I know more who think it’s the best thing to grace the small screen in a long time. For my part, I can’t get enough. It’s true that there was been fewer answers than new mysteries revealed, but I don’t count that as a bad thing. I don’t need to know what’s going on every second of the time, I trust that in the end everything, well most, will be explained. And, the end is nigh. After a time traveling good time of a season five, Lost is back in 2010 with its final chapter, and I can’t wait. Sure, it’s confusing, sure it has a penchant for killing off my favorite characters (still not over Daniel Faraday and I full on cried for Juliet), and sure you’re never quite sure who to root for, but that’s all part of its charms.
Oh, True Blood, the anti-Twilight. The vampire series for people who are actually aware of what vampires are supposed to be. I have never read Charlaine Harris’ books and to be honest I don’t think I particularly want to. I’ve nothing against the source material (how could I if I haven’t read it), but I do know that it differs enough from my beloved series that I would only be annoyed. What’s particularly interesting about True Blood, though, is not its differing vampire mythology… a stake kills them, the sun burns them up, they have aversions of silver, but rather like garlic… it’s its differing human mythology. Set in a world where vampires are known about openly, thanks to a synthetic blood source called (surprise) Tru Blood, and struggling to obtain civil rights we are given a whole new set of issues. Prejudice abounds, vampire blood, V, is a expensive and coveted drug, and those who engage in, ahem, relations with vampires are lovingly called fangbangers. And it doesn’t stop there; between a serial killer in season one and some sort of demi-god… thing in season two there’s just too much drama to not be constantly waiting for more. Sunnydale may have a Hellmouth, but poor Bon Temps, LA isn’t doing much better.
There are a lot of different shows on this list, dramas comedies, angsty soaps, but done of them quite come close to the unabashed fun that is Glee. There are a lot of gimmicks that one can use to make their show interesting and different, and centering it on a high school glee club complete with full musical style soundtrack could definitely be one. But, this show is so much more than a gimmick. For one, there are some really great, and true, characters. We find that stereotypes might hold up superficially but underneath the surface everyone’s a bit more complicated than all that. Yeah, there’s social commentary, but more importantly there is singing and dancing and drama. Did I mention singing? Plus, some of the most outrageous plotlines on TV, all wrapped up in a glossy package. So, yeah, there’s no way a group of teenagers are going to pick up a piece of sheet music and suddenly be performing better than the original recording artists, but really who cares. No one is interested in watching rehearsals, and when the supplementary content is this much fun no one seems to care much either.
It may seem ridiculous to include this frothy show in any ‘best of’ list, but I disagree. There are a lot of teen dramas out there, as there have always been, but somehow Gossip Girl manages to be several things at once. First and foremost it is mindless entertainment about scandalous people with scandalous lives. Someone is always scheming against someone else, someone is always trying to take control of society, and someone is always hurting someone else. And whether or not we like to admit it, we all like a little bit of that. But at the same time Gossip Girl is about a little bit more. It’s about paying the price for popularity and becoming someone you never thought you’d be, it’s about accepting yourself as yourself despite all the expectations that have been heaped upon you all your life. It’s about finding out who you are independently of the social circles you always frequented. And it’s about what you can learn when, like so many shows before it, people from different circles somehow get thrown together. I watch all sort of television shows, and they are not always good ones, but every once in awhile there is a show from the list that people dismiss as worthless froth that manages to hold its own, and so far as I am concerned, Gossip Girl is it. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to watch it, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.
The Big Bang Theory.
I am not the biggest fan of sitcoms. Oh, in middle school I was just as into Friends and Seinfeld as everyone else, but considering my favorite show of high school was Buffy the Vampire Slayer I think it’s safe to say that my tastes shifted slightly. I think I just started thinking they were all a bit inconsequential. No real stories ever got told and their main purpose was really a few laughs, the problem was… once Seinfeld ended I couldn’t ever find many. Not to mention the fact that I’ve gotta be laughing pretty damned hard to drown out the tinned laugh track. So, I didn’t really give watching The Big Bang Theory a second thought until my best friend told me I had to watch it. The thing about this show is that it takes something that everyone feels; shyness, unpopular, inadequacy, and twists them to the extreme. Okay, yes, it’s about nerds, self-confessed nerds at that, with specific jobs and hobbies and likes but it’s clearly supposed to cater to the nerd in us all. And everyone is one, and will be even when it’s not hip anymore.
Ask me any other year of this show’s three year run and I wouldn’t have put it on this list. I like Torchwood because it’s ridiculous, with ridiculous characters somehow saving the world by jumping into bed with each other and waving guns at alien sex mist. But somehow when they decided to forego the usual thirteen episode run in 2009 the created something far better. Stripped away was the usual romping, substituted for… well, actual plot. And the five part miniseries, Children of Earth was good. At times it felt like the Torchwood team was taking a backseat to a much more political story. What exactly does a government do when faced with making a terrible compromise? It was depressing, and horrific, at times violet, sometimes scary, and completely unnerving. The alien race, the 456, was the villains but we were our own antagonists. And perhaps best of all, when the hero of the story tried to fix everything he personally lost more. A downer, sure, but spectacular television.
It seems like every year when the Emmys roll around you just have to sit back, relax, and wait for 30 Rock to take over. Honestly, it’s boring when the same thing wins year after year, but it’s not hard to see why this show gets the attention it gets. When I first watched Tina Fey’s little gem I wasn’t all that impressed. It was a bit slow, I didn’t get the characters, and the plots felt only so-so. It wasn’t until I sat down with a DVD copy of the first season that I started to appreciate its brilliance. Quite honestly, it’s just very well written. The jokes are subtle and yet somehow overtly funny at the same time. The characters are quiet parodies of themselves, and no one escapes ridicule. But beyond all of that what can always be counted on is complete and utter one of a kind ridiculousness. There’s a lot of ridiculous out there, sure, but 30 Rock does it right; mixing clever scripts with lovably silly characters, and some great acting.
I was looking forward to this one from the get-go, mostly because, well… it’s Joss Whedon and I, along with a sort of ridiculous amount of people, worship at the shrine of all things Whedon. How could another show by the creator of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly possibly be bad? Well, when it started even I had to admit. It was good, but not Whedon good. The concept, people whose minds are wiped so they can be imprinted with another personality as pretty much a toy for the wealthy, was infinitely interesting. The acting was good, though even as a fan I will admit that Eliza Dushku was the least believable and should probably stick to playing the badass. There was just something… missing. And it remained that way for five episodes. They were fine, but not great. And then things kicked into gear. The channel had wanted a more approachable and less high concept opening and asked for easily resolvable stand on their own episodes, big freaking ass mistake because as soon as things started linking together Dollhouse really started to stand on its own. The ratings were never that great, but impressively enough Fox gave this show another shot with a second season. Sadly, it’s over after the initially ordered thirteen episodes but fans have been promised conclusion to the story. That’s all I can ask for really, and anything beyond the first season I’ll consider a gift. The biggest mistake of all? Not airing the unbelievably awesome, post apocalyptic, Felicia Day headed episode “Epitaph One”.
How I Met Your Mother.
This was another best friend recommendation, which falls into the same sitcom category of why-I-didn’t-watch-from-the-get-go. This show is your basic five thirtysomething friends living in New York City. Two are a married couple, one’s a womanizer, one’s commitment-phobic, and the other’s an idealistic fellow looking for ‘the one’. On paper How I Met Your Mother is just like six hundred other shows that have come and gone as quickly as I can say ‘same old’, but what makes this show different is its narrative style. Basically, the hired two actors, a girl and a boy, to sit on a couch looking half bored and sometimes shocked, a listen to their dad tell them about how he met… well, their mother. And, pretty much, the elder Ted Mosby is an incredibly unreliable narrator, which is really just sort of hilarious. Plus, like any good show, all the characters are genuinely likeable. Okay, so it doesn’t hurt that Neil Patrick Harris is in the cast and is inherently awesome, nor that Alyson Hannigan (any Buffy alum gets automatic awesome points) appears, or that I’ve been amused by Jason Segel’s spasticity since Freaks and Geeks. Put these characters in less capable hands and… well, I don’t know to be honest, but who really cares because this show is hilarious.
What can be said about this show’s realism? Probably not much. Initially it was about a terrorist group called The Pattern conducting the most bizarre science experiments on the world and the FBI agent to absolutely needs this one scientist from the loony bin enough that she is willing to track down his son who’s cooling his heels in Iraq to get him out. Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that and involves said FBI agents boyfriend who’s infected with some sort of chemical… No, see, that’s the problem with talking about Fringe because it’s so ridiculously complicated that giving a tiny synopsis would turn into several pages. Instead I will illustrate it’s strong points. For one, I enjoy complicated sciency things, whether they be science fiction or otherwise, for another; I never though I would be able to look at Joshua Jackson and see anyone other than Pacey and I wasn’t even a big fan of Dawson’s Creek, but somehow he pulls it off. I like his character, I like Olivia, the FBI agent and her no-nonsenseness, I like Astrid the, pretty much, lab assistant, but above that I love Crazy Scientist Man, who’s name is obviously not Crazy Scientist Man and instead Walter Bishop. He’s pretty much the poster child for brilliance driving you insane and not dealing with what you have or have not done in the past. He’s quirky to the point where I could understand if someone was fed up with it, but I’m not and as long as he keeps delivering lines like ‘I haven’t had a rootbeer float in seventeen years’ or ‘Peter, they said I could ride in back with the body!’ I’ll still be watching.
I adore this show. I often feel like if it was shown on proper American television then the FCC would overload and blow up. I think that’s reason enough to try it, but (alas) MTV has decided to try the ‘American Version’ route instead. This is a shame, really, because there’s no way it will be like the original. It revolves around a group of seventeen year olds studying for their A Levels at Roundview College in Bristol, England. Here’s another teen drama dealing with teen issues, but unlike Gossip Girl it’s really not all that glossy and it doesn’t deal with the super rich and privileged. Instead they try to show the most realistic view of teenage Bristol life they can. They deal with real issues to real people, have a set of very young writers (average age twenty one) and cast actors who really are teenagers. So diligent are they in keeping their ideals of teen life that after two years they got rid of all the characters from the first two seasons of the show and introduced all new ones, also studying for their A Levels. It’s not about any one character, it’s about a time in a life. Its point is to be real, and whether or not they succeed entirely they have created a very gritty and true piece of television.
This is the second show on my list that has been unjustly cancelled. Pushing Daisies is a dazzlingly original story about a pie maker called Ned who has a gift; he can touch dead things and they come back to life for one minute. Once that minute is up he must touch them again and they’ll be dead permanently or else death will take something of equal value. He uses this talent for two things; first to keep the fruit for his pies fresh forever, and secondly to wake the dead to help his private investigator friend solve cases. The system seems to be working well until a girl he’s meant to touch turns out to be his childhood love, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles. He keeps her alive, the funeral director dies instead, and romance ensues. The catch is, of course, they can never touch again or else she’ll return to the land of the dead, forever. It’s a crazy enough plot to catch my attention but I stayed for the adorable quirkiness of this delightful show. Everything is painted slightly fifties, outfits are carefully picked, names are often alliterated and doubled up, even the morgue is a candy red and white striped. The piemaker’s shop, the Pie Hole, is actually shaped like a pie. I’m sorry, in case you didn’t hear; the pie shop is SHAPED LIKE A PIE! It was a charming show that had far too few episodes, but like a long line of cancelled shows before it, we wont hold it against it.
Those who know me will not be surprised to find Doctor Who on my list, but they will probably be surprised to know that it almost didn’t make the cut. I am, after all, reviewing my favorite shows of 2009, and while the BBC did roll out five specials for us in the gap year between series four and five only three of them actually aired in 2009. And at least two of them really weren’t all that good (the jury is still out on ‘End of Time Parts 1 and 2’… I need to process). But, I love this show. It’s ridiculous at times, completely over the top, scientifically… well I won’t even go there, but somehow on most levels it works. And how can it not really? It’s pretty much about space tourism. A friend of mine once said, “But, it could go on forever!’ and yeah, it could. I think that’s half the point. It’s funny, and creative, and often times heartbreakingly sad. But, also, it’s always changing and making room for new possibilities.