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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The Walking Dead 1.6 – TS-19

There’s been a lot of discussion about the similarities and differences between Robert Kirkman’s comic and Frank Darabont’s television adaptation, but for the most part, I’ve embraced the changes that have been made. For instance, Kirkman would never insert a flashback into his story, but tonight’s season finale opened with one, going back to the early days of the outbreak when Shane attempted to rescue Rick from the hospital. We all know how that turned out, but I was a little surprised to see the military acting so callously – shooting anyone they came in contact with regardless of whether they were infected or not. To be fair to Shane, he had no shot of getting Rick out of their alive with all those machines, but even though he was kind enough to block the door with a hospital bed to keep the walkers out, that doesn’t make up for his adulterous betrayal.

Back in the present, Dr. Jenner welcomes the survivors into the CDC facility, but on one condition: that everyone submits to a blood test, just to make sure no one’s infected. Once everyone checks out, Jenner takes them on a tour of Zone 5, and before long, the survivors are laughing, drinking wine, and generally just enjoying themselves for the first time in a long while. Jenner isn’t impressed, and neither is Shane, who feels like they should be getting the answers they came for instead of getting wasted. But he doesn’t like what Jenner has to tell him – that most of the scientists left to be with their families when the outbreak hit, and others just committed suicide – and so Shane decides to wash his sorrows with a little booze.

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Actually, it was probably more like a lot of booze, or he would have been smart enough to walk away after discovering Lori perusing the building’s makeshift library all alone. At first, it seemed like he was just trying to apologize for the way he’s been acting lately, but the more that Lori pushed him away, the more aggressive Shane became. He swears that he didn’t lie about Rick being dead and couldn’t do anything to save him (which is true), but forcing yourself on someone isn’t exactly the way to their heart, and Lori let him know it by scratching his neck. He definitely looked sorry about it the next day after he sobered up, but the damage was already done. Plus, it’s not like his feelings have changed any, and you can bet that Shane is going to become more of a liability the longer he’s around. Just wait until Dale tells Rick about what he saw in the woods.

Most of the survivors were nursing a hangover the next morning, but they still wanted some answers, so Jenner decided to show them what he’s been working on. TS-19 is a test subject who was bitten and then agreed to let the scientists record the infection process to better help their understanding of the virus. Oh yeah, and it just so happens to be Jenner’s wife. He’s still mostly in the dark on what the virus even is, but he does know that resurrection times vary (as quick as three minutes or as long as eight hours), and though it restarts the brain stem, the brain itself remains inactive. Apparently, the French were the closest to figuring out the cause, but they ran out of time when they started losing power in their area.

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Does Nikki Finke know about this?

Just a bit of post-Halloween cheer directed in high style by Greg Nicotero with some fun cameos by Frank Darabont, Eli Roth, and comedy writer/stand-up comic Dana Gould as the Wolf Man. As you can read in the interview with Nicotero we posted Saturday, he’s the effects maestro responsible for the gore and what not on AMC and Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead,” which may be responsible for my either fleeing from the show out of my notorious squeamishness or becoming an alcoholic regular viewer. Fortunately, our own Jason Zingale is able to watch the thing stone cold sober, I believe, and just started blogging the show regularly.

As AICN’s Quint notes, Nicotero — whose responsible for all kinds of brilliant effects work in all kinds of movies and now on television — is the real deal when it comes to geekitude. We salute him.

  

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The Walking Dead 1.1 – Days Gone Bye

ALSO: Check out our interviews with author Robert Kirkman, director Frank Darabont, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and stars Andrew Lincoln, Jon Berthnal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steve Yuen and Norman Reedus.

I’ve been aware of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” for quite some time now, but I was always hesitant to read it because the idea of a zombie comic that never ended seemed boring as hell. Turns out it was the complete opposite. After AMC announced that they had commissioned a pilot based on Kirkman’s book (and directed by Frank Darabont, no less), I finally decided to give it a try, only to end up tearing through the 60-plus issues in a matter of months. Suffice it to say, I was hooked, and have been a dedicated reader ever since. It also changed my feelings about the upcoming television series, however, as I was now inclined to be somewhat protective of the source material. But after watching the pilot episode, it’s clear that fans won’t have to worry too much, because “The Walking Dead” is not only in good hands, but it translates perfectly to TV.

The show didn’t waste any time in setting its graphic tone, either, with sheriff Rick Grimes shooting a little zombie girl in the head while out searching for gas. Of course, the world wasn’t always swarming with the walking dead, and we get an appropriate flashback to the days before the zombie outbreak when Rick was just a normal police officer alongside his partner and best friend Shane. But after Rick gets shot in a firefight and falls into a coma in the hospital, he awakes weeks later to discover he’s all alone. The hospital is completely empty save for a few dead bodies lying on the ground, and when he goes outside, there are piles of carcasses all over the place. An unsettling sight for sure, but not nearly as frightening as seeing a decayed upper torso that’s still crawling around on the ground.

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If Rick doesn’t seem that concerned with figuring out how a dead person can still be alive, it’s because all he cares about at the moment is making sure his wife Lori and son Carl are still safe. But there’s no sign of them at their house, and before he can look anywhere else, he gets a shovel straight to the face, knocking him unconscious. When he comes to, Rick finds himself tied to a bed post and in the company of a man named Morgan (the always awesome Lennie James) and his son Duane, who are immediately concerned that his bandaged wound is more than just the gunshot he claims it to be. Rick eventually convinces them that he’s not only still human, but has no idea what’s going on, so Morgan fills him in on the basics: people are dying and coming back to life (whom he refers to as “walkers”), and the only way to kill them is by hitting or shooting them in the head. But gunshots make noise, and noise attracts walkers – hordes of them, in fact, including Morgan’s dead wife, who continues to haunt him and his son by roaming outside the house where they’ve set up camp.

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A chat with Greg Nicotero, make-up and effects wizard of “The Walking Dead”

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With 124 make-up credits and 64 effects credits to his name so far, Greg Nicotero is one of the busiest and most respected make-up and effects professionals in Hollywood. Originally inspired to take up special effects after seeing “Jaws,” he broke into the business working for the legendary gore-effects maestro Tom Savini on zombie-master George Romero’s 1985 splatter opus, “Day of the Dead. ”

A few years later, Nicotero had decamped from Romero’s Pittsburgh’s to show-biz’s Los Angeles and formed the multi-award winning KNB Efx Group with friends Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger. Aside from his intimate involvement in such effects heavy films as “Sin City,” “Kill Bill,” “Minority Report,” “Serenity,” “Spiderman 3” and, yes, “Ray,” Nicotero has also branched out into directing, helming the second unit on Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” and making his own short subject, a funny and endearing homage to several generations of classic movie monsters, “United Monster Talent Agency.”

When I met with Nicotero and last Summer’s Comic-Con, however, it was to promote the already highly buzzed new AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” which reunites Nicotero with writer-director Darabont in an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning comic book series. Premiering Halloween night, the show will be taking a more dramatic look at the cannibal zombie mythos originally created by George Romero in his 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” combining slow-moving zombies with the kind of in-depth characterization and complex yarn-spinning that’s making the onetime “vast wasteland” of television into something more like the last refuge of classical storytelling.

There’s only one problem. I’m kind of scared to actually watch the thing. You see, much as I admire the craft of someone like Greg Nicotero, I’m not exactly the usual gorehound media-fan for whom the more, and more realistic, cinematic gore he can create, the better. There was no point in hiding it.

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