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Best and Worst of 2006: Joel's list

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 4th 2007 4:07PM
How I Met Your Mother: Slap BetI'm going to dispense with traditional "Best" and "Worst" lists and just use the tried-and-true journalistic method of "made-up categories." Why? Well, firstly, everyone's sick of seeing "Best" and "Worst" lists by this point, considering every newspaper and magazine did one over Christmas week. Secondly, to be honest, the list would end up looking like everyone else's. How much of a limb am I going out on, for instance, to say that The Office was one of the best comedies this year? Exactly!

So, let's start with the Good Stuff, and then do the Bad Stuff:

GOOD 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.

BAD STUFF

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.

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Cindy Gibson

'The Class' is one of the shows that I wait all week to see. It assures me of a good laugh.

I really enjoy Studio 60 also. It is very different then most of the shows on this season and though a couple of the shows seemed mundane, I hope it stays around another season.

March 26 2007 at 7:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lane Wright

Although your "rule of six" does have some holes in it (having six main characters didn't seem to keep "Friends" from being somewhat successful, to say the least), it's interesting that the producers of "The Class" seem to have taken your advice and dropped Holly from the show. (I've heard that Perry might still show up, though I'm not sure why he should.) And the characters do seem to have been more integrated in the last couple of episodes.

As for "Studio 60," I have to admit to being a big fan, and I have none of the problems with the show that others seem to. Aside from a glitch or two in an episode or two, I find it brilliantly written, intelligently acted, and a total joy to watch each week. Train wreck? Not in the slightest.

January 23 2007 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rachel

HA! MNF was awful to watch. During certain games I had to actually turn the volume off because it pissed me off so bad to hear their "guest stars" talk.

I did get a laugh when Jay-Z came on and was WAY more into watching the game from the box than answering their questions. He had to start almost every question off with, "Ummm..." because he was trying to think about what they had just asked him while he was trying to watch the Cowboys score. Loved that.

January 17 2007 at 2:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sam

Props for the dig at ESPN, but I cannot stand PTI. Joel, what do you see in that show!?

January 08 2007 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alicia

I was wondering if any even rememebered the Gray's episode after the Super Bowl. Fantastic TV right there...

As for S60... I didn't watch the other Aaron Sorkin shows. (One of them was West Wing right?) BUT there is something there... and well if you don't like it, don't watch it.

January 05 2007 at 9:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

As great as "Slap Bet" was, I have to remind you about an episode that aired just before it: "Swarley" (Swarles Barkley anyone?).

HIMYM has been on a freakin' roll this year, avoiding the sophmore slump each and every week. Hats off to the writers on this show, they consistently come up with some of the funniest lines I've heard in forever. I hope this show is around a very long time. It deserves to be.

Loved the approach you took in reviewing 2006 Joel. A nice way to rise above the ordinary Best/Worst list we are used to seeing. Plus, I agree with just about everything on your list!

January 05 2007 at 9:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shaun

"The Simpsons are not as great as they used to be"..
Has been said from about the 8th season on...The Simpsons still is the BEST comedy writing on television, I hope what Matt Groening said was true about the 18th season "I really feel the Simpsons has hit it's "HALF-WAY POINT"!!! Even episodes that I thought were less than stellar I have since rewatched and can say there is no such thing as a "BAD" Simpsons Episode..

January 04 2007 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adam Finley

"But Aaron Sorkin has been so up his own patootie..."

Let's watch the language, Joel.

January 04 2007 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

At last! Someone who gets the essence of the horror and wonder that is Studio 60. Reading this site, I was beginning to think it as just Me. Does Bob Sassone even talk to you?

January 04 2007 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joseph Bua

I predict Studio 60 gets pulled from the schedule before May sweeps and the rest of the episodes get aired during the summer.

It is so not what I wanted to see happen.

But, I have given up on it.

Interesting, Courteney's show will probably last longer than Matthew's.

January 04 2007 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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