Best and Worst of 2006: Joel's list
So, let's start with the Good Stuff, and then do the Bad Stuff:
Best sitcom episode of 2006: The "Slap Bet" episode of How I Met Your Mother. Sure, The Office's season finale, "Casino Night," was a riot, but because of the gripping climax to the Pam-Jim story, it wasn't wall-to-wall laughter. "Slap Bet" was, from the ridiculous slaps Marhsall and Barney gave each other to the whole mystery surrounding Robin -- or should I say "Robin Sparkles"? -- the episode was just one belly laugh after another.
Best semi-resolution of Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST): The aforementioned Office. Pam and Jim kissed. He told her that he loved her. She demurred. Is it over? Is the dynamic between them ruined? Many writers would not know how to handle this situation, but I applaud Greg Daniels and his crew for dealing with UST in such a refreshing way: first, they had Jim tell Pam how he felt, then they moved him to Stamford, where he met the much more available Karen. Now that he (and Karen) are back in Scranton, they're dealing with the triangle without making anyone look underhanded or unlikable. That's quite a feat to pull off.
Best use of the post-Super Bowl time period: The bomb episode of Grey's Anatomy. Just so full of tension, character development, and action, it was one of the best hours of TV on any broadcast network. Even seeing Kyle Chandler get turned into vapor at the end was a surprise. It was the episode that catapulted Grey's to mega-hit status, and it was a good fit with the hoopla that usually surrounds The Big Game
Best show I'm not watching: Friday Night Lights. When I saw the pilot over the summer, I thought this was going to be One Tree Hill with football at the end. Boy, was I wrong; every episode I've seen since then shows that executive producer Peter Berg and his staff have a knack for realistic characters and dialogue that I don't see in most shows on the air today. Problem is, I didn't watch any of it while it was on Tuesdays and I'm not sure I'm going to remember to catch it on Wednesdays. That just seems to happen with some shows; I like them, but not enough to make an appointment to watch or record them (see Everybody Hates Chris, 2005).
Best character that's the same name as the actor who plays him: Stephen Colbert. Actually, I like both Stephens: the blowhard, "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot" of The Colbert Report, and the comedian who has had such a brilliant year that it's hard to imagine the doubts we had about TCR when it debuted in 2005. Don't get me wrong, there are still some weak parts to "The Report", namely the interview segment (that's because the guests often have no idea how to handle Colbert's character coming after them). But overall, TCR had a better year than even its parent show, The Daily Show, which spent 2006 losing correspondents and seaching for replacements.
Honorable mentions: The early return of Scrubs, Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, the pilot for The Nine (more on that later), the Letterman-O'Reilly skirmishes, PTI, "Dick in a Box," "The Return of Chef!" episode of South Park, Oprah slamming James Frey, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, America Ferrera's performance in Ugly Betty.
Best example of a show falling apart before my very eyes: Gilmore Girls. It was going in a bad direction even before the show's creator and muse, Amy Sherman-Palladino, left this past spring; mopey Lorelai not telling Luke how she felt until she exploded in tears and anger, Luke not dealing with his Plot Device -- uh, his new daughter April -- correctly, too many episodes with Lorelai and Rory apart. Then on the way out the door, AS-P blows up the works by having Lor sleep with Christopher, leaving new EP David Rosenthal a big mess to clean up.
And Rosenthal's been doing a pretty poor job of it: the show's been so uneven in every single way, it hurts to watch it sometimes, especially knowing how the show was in its early years. Some episodes plod along, some feel like old Gilmore, some have close-ups and big silences you never heard before, some are so hyper it's dizzying. All the while, the Lor-Christopher relationship has rung hollow, Luke broods more than usual, and Rory has become an indecisive fop with annoying friends. Yick. Let's hope this is the last season for what used to be one of my favorite shows.
Best show to watch if you like to bitch and moan: Studio 60. I really, really, really want to like this show, and I often enjoy pieces of it. But Aaron Sorkin has been so up his own patootie with this show that every episode has equal amounts of things that infuriate me as moments of high comedy and drama. The preaching drives me nuts. The bad sketches drive me nuts. The disdain for any state east of California and west of New Jersey drives me nuts. But, for some reason, all of it keeps me watching. Don't know if it's because of the pure train wreck nature of the show or I think there's something there.
Best way to squander the careers of two fine comedic actors: Twenty Good Years. If you think "Have John Lithgow yell a lot" and "Make Jeffery Tambor timid and serious" are the keys to a good sitcom, then you're in serious trouble.
Best example of "the rule of six": Actually, I just made that up, but The Class did prove to TV watchers that having any more than six main characters is detrimental to the success of any sitcom. You can just tell which of the characters in that show, a promising but still-not-there-yet serial comedy, are superfluous: obnoxious reporter Holly and her "gayer than Monroe from Too Close For Comfort" husband. Take those two out and meld the storylines together a bit more, and you might have something there.
Best example of not living up to potential: The Nine. God, was that pilot great; more riveting than any network drama I had seen in many years. But the episodes after that, while good, just could not replicate the tension that was in the pilot. The mistake, of course, was concentrating on the aftermath and giving viewers very little of the hostage scenario that the show's premise was built around. It wasn't a sustainable model, and not enough morsels and surprises were doled out to viewers to keep them happy. If it returns in 2007 to wrap things up, I probably won't go back to it.
Dishonorable mentions: The decline of The Simpsons, distracting guests on ESPN's Monday Night Football, weather forecasters that sound shocked when it gets warmer or colder outside, the Rosie-Trump feud, Britney Spears' c-section scar, the fakery surrounding Last Comic Standing, the "Izzie cuts the LVAD line" plot (aka the Denny Debacle) on Grey's Anatomy.