The Best and Worst of 2007: Joel's list
But in a year of abject mediocrity, some highlights and lowlights poked through. Like last year, I'm going to make up categories instead of doing traditional "Bests" and "Worsts." It hurts my brain less...
Best "I told you so!" show: 30 Rock. Like most people who saw last year's pilot, I thought the show wasn't all that good. But something about it made me continue to watch. Was it Alec Baldwin's performance? Probably. But there was something else there, a quality that told me -- and a few other patient folks -- that if the show was allowed to hit its stride, it could be something special. Now that it's being hailed as the show with the "most laughs per minute," and winning awards left and right, I'm happy that I stuck with the show from the beginning. It's one of the smartest shows on the air, cleverly making fun of everything from product placement to politically-correct network initiatives (I'd love to see David Schwimmer come back as Greenzo) to the war in Iraq. It's one of the shows I'll miss the most if the strike continues.
Best "You told me so!" show: Life. I really hated the pilot for this show. Damian Lewis' sprung-from-prison detective Charlie Crews had too many quirks and tics, and the procedural plots were too standard-grade, to make me think the show could work in the long term. But after reading all the comments of praise that accompanied Rich's reviews (along with my brother's glowing reviews themselves), I decided to give the show another chance. And I'm glad I did; Crews' tics have been toned down, and the mysteries -- especially in the episode "Farthingale" -- were twisty and interesting to watch. NBC picked it up for a full season; let's hope that it comes back even if the writers don't come back until next year.
Best finale that I could hope for, given the circumstances: Gilmore Girls. Amy Sherman-Palladino left the show after the sixth season and blew up the works on her way out. New show-runner David Rosenthal took almost two-thirds of the season cleaning up the mess, giving nothing of the old Gilmore for longtime fans to hold onto. But, the season finale -- which was obviously written to double as a series finale, because the chances Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel were coming back were slim at best -- tied up loose ends and settled relationships well enough to satisfy even the most ardent fan. Did Luke and Lorelai get married? No. But there was enough of a "things are going to work out" vibe as the series concluded that it left me more satisfied than I could have imagined at the beginning of the season.
Best job of living up to expectations: Pushing Daisies. Unlike 2006's most-anticipated shows -- Studio 60, The Nine -- PD followed up its spectacular pilot with episodes that deftly balanced the sweet and sticky (a duet of "Birdhouse In Your Soul," anyone?) with the dark and twisted (bodies buried in snowmen, cheating spouses, dirty medical examiners). There were a few missteps, including the revelation at the end of the last pre-strike episode, but those offenses were minor. Let's hope Bryan Fuller finally has a hit on his hands.
Best recovery from an awful season: Scrubs. Season six of the veteran comedy was awkward and -- for the first fifteen or so episodes -- not particularly funny. But, starting with the musical episode, Bill Lawrence and company ended on... well, I can't call it a strong note, since they almost threw viewers back into a J.D. / Elliot coupling, but at least the episodes were entertaining. Season seven has started off well, mainly because the zaniness factor has been ratcheted back and we're getting reacquainted with the characters again. Opinions on the season have been decidely mixed, but after last year's stumbles, I welcome what Lawrence has done this year. Hopefully we'll get a final episode.
Honorable mentions: Stephen Colbert's entire year, but especially the "WristStrong" initiative; the improvement of the new correspondents on The Daily Show; The Simpsons Movie (it's so strongly connected to TV, I decided to include it); The Office (mostly... see below); Scott Baio is 45... and Single (it's the best of a bad cable reality bunch); It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (especially Charlie's "Day Man / Night Man" songs); The Riches; Chuck; Reaper (though it fell off a lot after the pilot); the "Showdown" episode of How I Met Your Mother; Drew Carey's transformation into a damn good game show host.
Best reason why half-hour shows are only a half-hour: The Office's hour-long episodes. It just seemed like most of the episodes were half-hilarious, half-filler, didn't it? And the structure seemed to be the same: first half was like a typically-funny Office episode, but in the second half, the writers run out of comedic gas and go for the broad and silly. The fun run, the kidnapping of the pizza delivery kid, Michael driving his car into a lake: all of those plotlines could have been sliced out without anyone missing them. I was very happy when the show went back to a half-hour; I wonder how those episodes will play out in syndication?
Best reason to agree with Dr. Perry Cox: Scrubs' cantankerous doctor hates Hugh Jackman, and after watching Viva Laughlin, I can start to understand why. What a disaster: bad acting, bad characterizations, bad writing, and a musical gimmick (stars singing along with the soundtrack) that was awkward at best. In a season where networks didn't pull the trigger as quickly as in the past due to the strike, Laughlin got canned after two episodes (aired over two days). That tells you how bad the rest of the episodes were going to be.
Best job of forcing people to get some sleep: The WGA and the AMPTP. The first casualties of the writers' strike were the late-night shows, who had to immediately shut down. Without a steady diet of Stewart and Colbert, Letterman and Conan, Leno and Kimmel, etc., the pickings on TV were pretty slim. Seinfeld reruns? Two and a Half Men? Family Guy? Why bother when all of that is on DVD? Local news? Too much fluff and shocked weathermen. Even without writers, the recent return of the late-night slate is a welcome sight, even though I'm not sure what it'll do to help or hurt the writers' cause.
Best way to make the public hate a show before it ever airs: Play promos for it repeatedly during a sporting event. FOX has been a culprit in the past -- who can forget Ron Silver bellowing "Her father is the district attorney!" all through the baseball playoffs a few years back? -- but TBS' constant promotion of Frank TV during this year's Division Series and NLCS bordered on viewer abuse. Poor Frank Caliendo... I think those three promos of him doing his Al Pacino, George W. Bush, and John Madden impressions are what his vision of hell looks like. It sure wasn't pleasant for the rest of us.
Best way to piss off loyal viewers: Kill off your main character, make her go through limbo and profess that it's the most unique plot ever written, then bring her back to life without any residual damages. Hook up two characters that previously said that they never saw each other "that way." Take your strongest and most likable character and spin her off into a show that makes her look like an indecisive wimp. All of that happened this year with Grey's Anatomy and it's spin-off, Private Practice. Shonda Rhimes was just too in love with her characters this year to realize she was going down a bunch of bad plot roads. From what I've heard, she's fixed some of what she wrought in the 2006-07 season (Izzie and George are broken up, for instance), but I wouldn't know, since I gave up on the show -- one I watched since day one -- last May.
Dishonorable mentions: ESPN's continuing destruction of Monday Night Football; Big Shots; Cavemen's original, racial-joke-laden pilot; the news channels' blanket coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death; the entry of Sanjaya into my consciousness even though I don't watch American Idol; Larry King asking Jerry Seinfeld if his series was cancelled; Seinfeld's torturous Bee Movie promotion; Michelle Ryan's wooden acting on Bionic Woman; Viva Laughlin (it was so bad I had to mention it again).