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2010 Year End TV Review: Jason Zingale

It was an especially transformative year of television, at least for me, as my TV viewing diet underwent a bit of restructuring. Once-favorite shows began collecting dust on the DVR (sorry “Burn Notice,” but you’re losing your sizzle), and in the case of a few (like “Chuck”), were deleted altogether. Consequently, NBC’s “Community,” which spent most of its freshman season on the fringe of receiving similar treatment, is now the highlight of my Thursday nights. That’s because while shows like “Burn Notice” and “Chuck” are pretty much running on dead fumes at this point, “Community” has just begun to hit its groove. “How I Met Your Mother” also bounced back from an off-year with some of its funniest episodes to date, “Glee” and “Castle” continue to be as guilty as they are pleasurable, and the new season of “Top Chef” might just be the best yet. But none were able to crack my Top 5, which goes to prove that while there might have been a few misses this year, the hits were a lot more memorable.

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1. Terriers

Clever, funny, dark and provocative, “Terriers” may have wowed critics with its flawed characters and rich storytelling, but that didn’t change John Landgraf’s recent decision not to renew it for a second season. I don’t blame the FX President for the low ratings (most networks would have given up after only a few weeks), but I do blame the rest of America for failing to tune in to the best new show of the season. Yes, you heard right. Although I enjoyed “The Walking Dead” and the overrated “Boardwalk Empire,” the buddy detective drama delivered better acting and writing week in and week out. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James had unparalleled chemistry as the scrappy private investigators (the titular terriers, if you will) caught in the middle of the case of a lifetime, so it’s a shame that we won’t get to tag along on any of their further adventures – especially since the season finale left things wide open. Another brilliant but cancelled television show that, ten years from now, will still be missed.

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2. Modern Family

It hasn’t even completed its second season, but “Modern Family” already seems destined to become a comedy classic. It’s that good, and anyone who says otherwise should get an X-ray to see if their funny bone is broken. Of course, considering that it’s one of the most-watched shows on TV, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t agree. But for those who still haven’t experienced the funniest half-hour of television, it’s about time that you do, because there isn’t a single show that even comes close to matching the number of laughs in an average episode. And although the writing staff certainly deserves some credit, it’s cast members like Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara who make every joke that much funnier. Even the kids are funny, and that’s saying a lot from someone who isn’t particularly fond of child actors. It’s almost unbelievable the way the show fires on all cylinders so consistently, but that’s what separates a great show from a good one, and “Modern Family” is nothing if not that.

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3. Sons of Anarchy

The third season of FX’s outlaw biker drama may not have been its best, but after a sluggish start, the series redeemed itself by getting back to the kind of top-notch storytelling that fans have come to expect. Many of those fans were quick to criticize the ambitious Ireland subplot that dominated most of the season, but along with fleshing out some of the club’s back story, it also set the stage for what turned out to be a killer finale. Many of the supporting players got lost in the background this year, but Charlie Hunnam gave the performance of his career, guest stars Paula Malcomson and James Cosmo proved themselves worthy additions to the cast, and Ally Walker put the finishing touches on what might just be the best TV villain in quite some time. The show may have stumbled a bit along the way, but no matter how you felt about the season as a whole, those who stuck around for the long haul were given plenty of incentive to come back next fall.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.13 – NS

It was another special 90-minute episode of “Sons of Anarchy” tonight, but I honestly didn’t expect any less from the season finale, which opened with the typical montage, this time scored to an upbeat pop song while the club enjoyed a cheerful breakfast feast at the clubhouse. The festivities didn’t last long, however, as Gemma is becoming increasingly worried about Jax’s deal with Stahl after discovering a case file on the IRA council in his cut.

She’s still staying mum on the subject, but after Clay tells her about their expanding business relationship with the Irish, Gemma decides to try and save Jax’s skin before any more harm is done by turning herself in. Not that it will do her any good. Stahl has already exonerated Gemma of all the charges (apart from fleeing custody, which has landed her a few months under house arrest), so there’s really nothing she can do. Nevertheless, Gemma promises Stahl that deals like the one she made with Jax never work out because there’s no trust, and it’s going to end badly for one of the parties involved. If only Gemma knew just how right she would be…

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With the hours ticking away until Jimmy is out of SAMCRO’s reach for good, Clay visits Otto at Stockton to set up a meet between him and Lenny the Pimp. Lenny agrees to reach out to his Russian contacts, but warns Otto that while they’re certainly not loyal to Jimmy, it’s going to take a hefty sum for them to flip on him. And as Clay soon learns, he wasn’t kidding, as the Russians ask for $2 million in exchange for Jimmy – money that the club simply doesn’t have. Thankfully, those boxes that Chucky has been trying to show someone for days just so happens to contain $5 million in counterfeit bills. It’s apparently from his time working for Henry Lin, and though he was supposed to destroy it, he decided to keep it instead.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.12 – June Wedding

Well, the boys are back in town, but they’re not celebrating just yet. In fact, Jax barely has time to unpack before Stahl comes looking for an update on Jimmy. When she learns that he’s been given safe passage to the States in exchange for Abel, she realizes that it means Jimmy is under the protection of the Russians. Luckily, SAMCRO happens to know someone with ties to the Russians – First 9 member Lenny “The Pimp” Janowtiz, who’s currently spending his days in a maximum security prison – so Jax asks Stahl to set up a meeting between Lenny and Otto in order to get some info on Jimmy’s whereabouts. And they better hurry, because Jimmy has already made a deal with the Russians to give them a piece of the IRA gun trade while he heads on a permanent vacation to South America.

Of course, Gemma is still worried that the club is going to catch wind of Jax making deals with Stahl, although he seems pretty confident that it’s all going to work out in the end. She’s not, however, and lets Unser know about her concerns. Unser offers to look into it for her, but Gemma tells him that she would rather he just focus on finding Tara. Plus, Gemma’s never been afraid to get her hands a little dirty, and before you know it, she’s kidnapped Stahl outside the police station and threatened to tell her superiors about the fake statement that was fed to her if she doesn’t put an end to the deal she made with Jax. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

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And as if anyone needed more problems at the moment, Tara is still missing. Worse yet, the Mayans are planning to kill Salazar as retribution for ordering Alvarez’s assassination, and Jax is worried that Tara might get hurt in the attack. Clay warns Alvarez that they need to capture Salazar alive in order to prove that Jacob Hale is dirty, because if they don’t, Hale will likely be voted the new mayor of Charming and his changes will put an end to the Mayans’ heroin trade. I’m not too sure that Alvarez is even scared of Hale, but he agrees to join SAMCRO in the hunt when they come across some new info about his possible whereabouts. The search comes up empty, but they do find a pair of dead bodies – Salazar’s girlfriend and an innocent bystander. (You didn’t think they’d actually kill Tara, did you?)

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Sons of Anarchy 3.11 – Bainne

It was always going to come to this, but I don’t think anyone wanted to admit it. After his showdown with Father Ashby last week, Jax is seriously considering leaving Abel behind in Ireland so that he may grow up in a life that doesn’t involve guns, pornstars and murder. But before he makes his decision, he at least wants to make sure that his son is in good hands. When Jax arrives at the orphanage, however, the head nun tells him that Abel has already been adopted and refuses to reveal any information about the couple. Gemma isn’t particularly happy about this revelation and decides to hold one of the other babies at gunpoint until she gets some answers. It was a pretty sadistic thing to do, but the nun clearly believed that Gemma was capable of following through on her threat, so she gave Jax the couple’s name and the hotel they’re staying at in the interim.

Jax convinces Gemma to let him stake out the situation on his own, and when he follows the couple from the hotel to an outdoor market, he gets a chance to observe just how well they’re caring for Abel. It’s probably the first time we’ve seen Jax smile all season long, and although the thought of letting Abel go brings him to tears, he ultimately decides that it’s in his best interest. Of course, Gemma doesn’t agree, and will do whatever it takes to convince him otherwise – even if that means revealing Tara’s little secret.

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Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much control in the matter, as the decision is pretty much made for him when they learn that Jimmy O has murdered the couple and taken Abel hostage after torturing (and then killing) Sean Casey for information on his whereabouts. Jimmy just wants safe passage to the United States and is offering Abel’s return in exchange. The IRA council agrees to Jimmy’s deal, but on one condition: that SAMCRO kills him when they get back to the States. And as an added bonus, the IRA offers the Sons the chance to expand their gun trade by making them their main contact for the Northwest region. And apparently, Father Ashby is also part of the deal, as he’s agreed to go as Jimmy’s hostage in trade for Abel. Jax seems to think that means Ashby has signed his death sentence by getting in the car with Jimmy, but I feel like we haven’t seen the last of him yet.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.10 – Firinne

Tonight’s episode marked a pivotal turning point in the season, as truths were revealed and more than a little blood was shed. But before I get to all the Irish-based drama, it’s probably best just to get the Charming stuff out of the way. There’s not a whole lot happening apart from Tara and Margaret’s recent kidnapping, and while they wait to find out what kind of demands Salazar is going to make for their safe return, Tara takes the opportunity to ask about Margaret’s tattoo. It seems that Margaret used to be quite the groupie, and even began dealing drugs for the guy she loved. They even OD’d on heroin together on Christmas Eve of all days, and although she survived, she keeps the tattoo as a reminder of her mistakes.

It was another nice moment between the two women, but it’s a little silly to think that it took an event like this for Margaret to open up to Tara – especially considering how judgmental she was of her in the early days. Of course, none of that will matter if SAMCRO can’t meet Salazar’s demands, and while they have no intention of killing Alvarez as requested, Kozik suggests they ask Alvarez to help them create the illusion that they have. The Mayan boss isn’t too pleased about SAMCRO making a house call, but after Kozik practically begs for his help, he finally agrees. The only problem is that the $250,000 that’s supposed to be in Alvarez’s safe isn’t there, so they’re going to have to come up with the ransom money another way.

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Meanwhile, over in Belfast, Father Ashby has received word about the attack on SAMCRO and visits Jax with news from the IRA. If the Sons can prove that Jimmy was involved in the car bombing, the task of killing him will no longer fall on the club. But first, they need a confession from one of his men, and Jax knows exactly where to start. When McGee overhears Clay talking about the possibility of traitors within SAMBEL, he warns Liam to get out of town, but not before throwing him under the bus in order to save his own skin. With Liam on the run, the Sons turn to the only person who might know something about his whereabouts: Cherry. She tries to protect him at first, but after Gemma convinces her that Liam had a hand in Half-Sack’s murder (at least indirectly, anyway), she tells SAMCRO about the money she found in his jacket and where he’s probably hiding out.

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“Sons of Anarchy” rides onto the Apple iPhone with new mobile app

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“I think you’ll dig it. If not, what the hell, it was only a buck.”

That pretty much sums up creator Kurt Sutter’s feelings on the release of the new “Sons of Anarchy” app for the iPhone and iPad, and while it’s hard to imagine any fan of the show not drooling over the prospect of getting more background info on the show’s rich mythology, the fact that it only costs 99 cents makes it well worth the risk. Or you can just take my word for it, because I’ve spent some time with the app over the last 24 hours, and it’s something that most fans would gladly pay more than a dollar for.

The core of the app is dedicated to exploring SAMCRO’s roots, offering back stories on everything from the origins of SAMBEL, to the history of the IRA and its relationship with the Sons of Anarchy. There’s also a Bonus Material section that includes pictures and scripts from deleted scenes of recent episodes, with ones for the season premiere and Episode Five already available, as well as access to direct feeds of Sutter’s personal blog and the official production blog, which are ripe with behind-the-scenes info.

The app itself has a simple yet slick interface that accommodates future updates, and this is where it really shines. Though there are only two story sections available at the moment (the aforementioned “Belfast and SOA” and “The IRA”), the app is scheduled to be updated every Monday and Wednesday – although presumably only when the show is in season – with brand new content that often supports the episode airing that week. Future updates promise more deleted scenes, sections on SAMCRO’s early years and John Teller, information on the bikes of “SOA,” and cast bios.

It’s like a digital Bible for the diehard “Sons of Anarchy” fan, and although there are a few issues that need to be fixed in a future software update (the lack of an icon letting you know when new content is downloading makes it seem unresponsive), it’s nothing too major. More shows should really adopt this model when creating their official app, because while you don’t necessarily need it to watch the show, it gives you the inside track on what the writers know and makes for a much richer viewing experience.

Click here to buy the “Sons of Anarchy” app on iTunes

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Sons of Anarchy 3.9 – Turas

After Jax learned about Father Ashby’s plans to have SAMCRO kill Jimmy O at the end of last week’s episode, I didn’t even consider what that meant for his deal with Agent Stahl. In short, it’s not good, as the promise of bringing Jimmy in to her bosses is the foundation of Stahl’s entire investigation. And if Jimmy dies, so does their deal. That leaves Jax scrambling to convince the rest of the club that they shouldn’t kill Jimmy, and luckily, he manages to do just that without anyone being the wiser. He’s also having some serious trust issues at the moment, and asks Stahl to dig up information on Ashby to better understand why the good priest would be putting his family in the middle of a war they have no stake in.

Jax still wants to talk to Jimmy to hear his side of the story, though, and when they learn that he’ll be in attendance at the drop-off spot for a new batch of guns being transported by SAMBEL across Ireland, Clay volunteers SAMCRO to help out. It’s exactly what Jimmy was hoping for, because it gives him a second chance to take care of them once and for all. The plan is to ambush them at a police checkpoint, but when the Sons get through with no trouble, McGee and Liam are left scratching their heads. At least, that’s what Liam would like McGee to think, but he’s still very much in on the plan. Jax doesn’t trust Liam one bit, either, and tells Juice and Happy to keep an eye on him, although they don’t do a very good job of it. I don’t care if he’s taking a shit – they should have followed him into the woods. If they had, they would have known he was the one who set off the car bomb after the rest of the guys got locked inside the barn by Jimmy’s recruits. Quite miraculously, the only injury among SAMCRO was some shrapnel that hit Opie, but there were several SAMBEL guys who were killed in the attack, including Chibs’ nephew, which he didn’t take too well.

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Obviously, Jimmy was never going to show up, and he used SAMCRO’s absence as an opportunity to raid Maureen’s house and take Fiona and Kerrianne back home with him. But when Trinity hears the ruckus from downstairs in the store, she grabs a gun from the cash register and fires a shot at Jimmy’s right-hand man, giving Maureen time to stab Jimmy in the hand and allow Gemma to turn his gun on him. But Fiona won’t let Gemma kill him because she claims doing so would only result in her family being massacred by the IRA. And it’s probably true, though that doesn’t exactly bode well for Jax considering he needs to kill Jimmy if he wants Abel back.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.8 – Lochan Mor

Well, the Sons have finally arrived in Ireland, and to celebrate the occasion, tonight’s episode was a supersized 90-minute edition with a cool Celtic version of the “This Life” theme song to boot. Unfortunately, that also means that Charming is going to be a dreary place for the remainder of the season, although the writers are clearly trying to make it somewhat interesting. For starters, it gives Tig and Kozik plenty of time to kiss and make up – especially now that Tig has had his license revoked due to his little stunt at the end of last week’s episode. We also now know that their beef goes back eight years, and it has something to do with a girl, which Chucky so eloquently confirms with the quote of the night: “Judging by their level of malevolence, there’s gotta be at least one vagina involved.”

And when they’re not bickering like an old couple, Tig and Kozik are going to be pretty busy trying to keep the peace in Charming all on their own, because there are still plenty of bad guys lurking about – particularly Jacob Hale, who will do anything to get SAMCRO out of his town. At the moment, however, he’s more concerned with convincing Lumpy to sell his boxing gym so that he can begin building his hotels. Hale hires Darby to put the pressure on, but when Lumpy refuses the offer, Darby returns the money because he doesn’t want to kill the old man. Hale in turn finds someone else to do his dirty work, but it seems strange that he’d get in bed with Salazar considering his MC was the one responsible for killing his little brother. He doesn’t see it that way, of course, but that’s just out of blind hatred for SAMCRO. Of course, Salazar wouldn’t have done any damage if the prospect that Tig left in charge wasn’t such a pussy, but the experience was obviously enough to convince him that the life of an outlaw biker wasn’t for him, as he left his cut and gun and rode away. Good riddance.

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I can’t wait to say the same about Tara’s pregnancy drama, because this is easily the weakest storyline at the moment. Why doesn’t she just tell Jax and get it over with? We all know she isn’t going to get an abortion, even though her supervisor Margaret seems to think it’s a good idea, and though she asked to schedule an appointment while at the abortion clinic with Lyla (yep, she’s pregnant too – SAMCRO is certainly a fertile bunch), she’ll change her mind eventually. And if she doesn’t, well, that’s going to be a pretty big secret to keep from Jax after he returns from Ireland with Abel, they reconcile their relationship, and she starts having regrets about not keeping the baby. The whole thing is just ridiculous, so let’s move on.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.7 – Widening Gyre

It may have seemed like a foregone conclusion after last week’s episode that SAMCRO would be heading for Belfast this week, but since they have to wait until Oswald’s charter plane leaves for Manchester, they’re stuck in Charming for one more day. And as it turns out, it’s for the better, because after a member of the Grim Reapers turns up dead, SAMCRO has to step in and stop them from seeking revenge on the Calaveras. Afraid of striking back without checking with Alvarez first, Clay decides to approach the Mayan president directly to act as a mediator. But while Alvarez admits that he still needs the Calaveras in his pocket because they serve a purpose, he agrees to let SAMCRO question Salazar about the assassination. Salazar begrudgingly gives up the man responsible, but Alvarez punishes him as well, stripping him of his patch and putting someone else in charge.

Salazar isn’t at all pleased, and after they made a point of showing his reaction to Jax telling Alvarez that they were going to be out of town for a week, I just knew that he was planning some kind of retribution. And now that they know that Tara is Jax’s old lady, you can bet that they’re going to go after her, especially with the club halfway across the world. Still, it feels a little too soon to be doing another subplot involving an attack on one of SAMCRO’s women after Gemma’s kidnapping/rape last season, so here’s hoping that Salazar is taken care of before anything bad happens to Tara.

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After all, it’s not like she hasn’t already been through hell these last few weeks. She was held at gunpoint by Cameron while Half-Sack was killed and Abel was kidnapped, she became an accessory to murder when she helped Gemma kill Amelia the caretaker, and on tonight’s episode, she walked in on Jax to discover that he had just banged a porn star. Opie believes that Tara is too resilient to let something like this make her want to give up on the relationship, but she’s still not happy about it and has moved out of Jax’s house for the time being. Gemma suggests that telling Jax about the pregnancy may change his mind about his plan to “protect” her, but she wants to keep it a secret until she decides what she’s going to do with the baby, and makes Gemma promise not to tell anyone.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.6 – The Push

The life of an outlaw biker apparently doesn’t include vacation time, because the Sons always seem to busy with a variety of different jobs, crises and whatnot. So it was nice to see them relaxing a little bit in the clubhouse for the first time in a long while, even if it was to take care of a little paperwork. Along with the welcoming of three new prospects to the club (who are so unimportant that I don’t think we even got names for any of them), the charter also had to vote on transfer requests for Happy and Kozik, the latter of whom was denied by Tig because of their history with one another. We still don’t know why Tig doesn’t trust him, but Kozik doesn’t waste any time in proving his worth, getting right to work helping SAMCRO jack the van transporting the Mayans’ heroin for Stockton prison.

Instead of just selling it off and making some quick cash, however, Clay decides to use the heroin as barter in order to repair their relationship with the Mayans. In an effort to end their bloody war, Alvarez agrees to a truce that gives the Grim Reapers from Lodi the responsibility of transporting the drugs through Charming and SAMCRO a cut of each payload. In return, Alvarez just asks that the Sons take care of the surviving Calaveras member in the hospital – a seemingly simple job that Tig and Kozik manage to screw up. This will surely come back to bite them in the ass, and I’d even be willing to bet that Kozik will be the one who takes the heat for it in order to prove to Tig that he can be a team player when he needs to be.

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Meanwhile, the club’s lawyer comes to visit Gemma in the hospital and inform her that the U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to take the death penalty off the table if she confesses to both murders. Though it’s not exactly the best outcome, she agrees – that is, until Jax brings her a prepared statement that will seemingly clear her name. She can tell right away that it came from Agent Stahl, and though the last thing Gemma wants is to have to trust the woman who framed her in the first place, Jax convinces her that it’s the best thing for the club. The statement is actually pretty close to what really happened, except for one small detail: Gemma fingers Stahl’s partner/fuck buddy as the ATF agent who shot Edmond.

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