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 2010 Primetime Emmy Awards: The Post-Game Wrap-Up

First of all, I’d just like to say that it’s cruel of both “True Blood” and “Mad Men” to air new episodes on the same night as the Emmy Awards, especially when neither show is sending out advance screeners anymore. Yes, I’m a big whiner, and I don’t care. It’s 11 PM, the Emmys have just wrapped up, and now I’ve got to go blog both shows. I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it: this sucks.

Okay, enough of my bitching. Let’s talk about the Emmys.

As far as I’m concerned, Jimmy Fallon did a fine job as host. The “Glee”-inspired opening segment was awesome: Jon Hamm ruled that bit with his sweet-ass dance moves, but Joel McHale leaping in front the camera was pretty awesome, too, and once they switched over to the live performance, I laughed out loud at just how happy Randy Jackson seemed to be to get to play in front of the audience. Sometimes you forget that the guy’s got some serious studio-musician street cred.

The minstrel-in-the-aisles bit was hit or miss, but Stephen Colbert was hilarious, and I was pleasantly surprised at Kim Kardashian’s performance. Jimmy’s quick quip at Conan’s expense was pretty funny, too. I wasn’t as big a fan of the farewells to “24,” “Law & Order,” and “Lost,” mostly because all I could think was, “This kind of takes away from the seriousness of the farewells to the folks in the industry who really have died.” The segment with the “Modern Family” cast meeting with the network was hysterical, though.

And now on to the awards!

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Mad Men 4.4 – “I’m going to need a new secretary.”

This week’s “Mad Men” blog starts off in much the same way as this week’s “True Blood” blog: with a thank-you to the gentleman who so capably filled my shoes while I was at the TCA press tour. Kudos to Bob Westal, who – unlike the Beverly Hilton – actually gets AMC, thereby putting him in a far better position than myself to write up last week’s episode. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch the episode when I got home, but I also read Bob’s blog, which should ostensibly mean that I’m doubly prepared this week.

Rarely does a basic cable program which opens with the words “the following program contains brief nudity” ever disappoint me, so I was glad to see that particular phrase gracing the beginning of tonight’s episode. Based on Bryan Cranston’s comments about how he hates to direct episodes of “Breaking Bad” without having as much lead time to prepare for them as possible (to date, he’s only helmed season openers), I presumed that seeing John Slattery’s name in the directorial slot meant that we’d see little in the way of Roger Sterling, but damned if he wasn’t the second person to show onscreen. John, don’t work yourself so hard!

The national crackdown on smoking advertisements would seem to be cutting into what SCD&P can accomplish, but, of course, Roger’s telling everyone that “Don doesn’t think there’s a problem.” Meanwhile, there’s clearly a problem with Don, who picks up an empty bottle of Scotch, only to be informed that the reason it’s empty is because he drank it all. The “ladies” are looking for him to make business decisions, but he’s just looking for ice. The poor bastard: with everything going on in his personal life, he’s clearly hovering in the vicinity of a nervous breakdown, but he’s stuck having to be the big man on campus with the new firm. The moment he pulled out the photo out of the letter, there was no question in my mind that it would, by episode’s end, prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was only cemented by the bug-eyed look Don gave Allison when she saw the photo and asked if it was from the letter from California.

Pete’s in a grouchy mood from the moment he turns up this week, bitching about not being included in the Lucky Strike call, and things only get worse when Roger tells him that SCD&P is going to have to kick Clearasil to the curb. Lane attempts his version of putting salve on the wound by explaining the mathematics behind the decision, leaving Pete even more upset, but Roger tells him to throw himself on the grenade, as it were, for the good of the company. “This evening, if you can,” adds Lane. What a guy. “I hate this office,” says Pete, as he storms into his office, where he finds…Harry Crane? Yep, dude’s just hanging out, having a snack, and waiting to cheer down Pete even more with the news that his old nemesis, Ken Cosgrove, is marrying the daughter of the CFO of Corning. When Harry says that he’s going to the opera with Ken because they’re friends, Pete sneers, “Friends? Why are you always looking for a job?” Oh, Pete, you’re such an unlikeable little shit. If we’re supposed to feel sorry for him…well, sorry, but I don’t. With an attitude like that, you reap what you sow. But with that said, I did have to smile at his excitement at learning that he was going to be a father, and the scene with him and Trudy was genuinely touching.

After Lane battled back from being a British Businessman to offer Pete legitimate congratulations on his impending child, it seemed as though all was right in Pete’s world, so much so that he even agreed to join Harry for a lunch with Ken. Still, I sensed that something would go wrong at the luncheon. I just didn’t expect that, as soon as Harry went to take a phone call, Ken would be the one who came roaring out of the gate, pissed off at Pete. Not a surprise: Pete flailing to avoid being seen as guilty. Less expected: offering an apology that sounded at least 10% sincere. (I was only expecting 3% sincerity, tops.) Fast forward to Pete’s dinner with the in-laws. The kid’s clearly gotten his second wind with this kid coming, giving Trudy’s dad the smackdown. Calling him a son of a bitch was probably more polite than I would’ve been.

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Mad Men 4.3 – We’re Going to Have to Smoke the Dress

Howdy Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce-heads. Will Harris, your usual “Mad Men” blogger, has found himself here in beautiful Southern California and ensconced at the Beverly Hilton, where — as you may have noticed from his numerous posts — he has been covering the twice-annual conclave of the Television Critics Association (TCA). Ironically, especially considering last year’s Conrad Hilton storyline, the beautiful and very pricey Beverly Hilton does not, in fact, carry AMC and so the job has been left to yours truly.

Now, for some reason, whenever I sit in for Will on one of these posts, there’s always something stressing me out. Tonight it’s these weird twinges in my upper right teeth that I’m hoping are somehow normally associated with the new nightguard I’ve been trying out from the dentist and not an early warning sign of a toothy catastrophe of some sort. However, as Don Draper would no doubt remark over an Old Fashioned, we’ve all got our problems And so it is in spades for pretty much all the featured characters on tonight’s episode, which takes place around the New Year’s holiday of 1964-65.

As we begin, Joan Harris is visiting her affable gynecologist, who is concerned that she’ll be able to have a baby when her and Dr. Greg are finally ready. The doctor is wondering what Joan is waiting for as most newlywed females as positively ancient as Joan is would be desperate to have a baby yesterday, or so it seems to the kindly doc. There is also the obliquely referred to issue of not one but two abortions. One of the procedures was apparently performed by doc, though abortion would remain illegal in New York until 1970. An earlier procedure was performed by a woman who claimed to be a midwife. This isn’t great, but Joan got pregnant (and unpregnant) after that and besides, there’s always the wise words of songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans: “whatever will be, will be.” (I need to remember that about my teeth.)

Then it’s off to offices of SCDP where Don is planning a New Year’s get away to Acapulco, which always seemed to be swinging bachelor destination of choice on sixties sitcoms. Speaking of said sitcoms, Harry Crane, now quite the show biz insider, notes a 24 hour L.A. lay over in Don’s itinerary. Why not hang out at the legendary Brown Derby with Harry’s new acquaintance, producer Bill Asher? It’s not mentioned, but William Asher’s new program in ’64 was a sitcom called “Bewitched” starring Asher’s then spouse, the highly underrated Elizabeth Montgomery, as a witch whose magic powers were often employed in helping her advertising executive husband land and retain new clients. Occasionally “Mad Men” has what I sometimes call “McMahon &  Tate moments” after the firm on the show — usually when someone saves a presentation at the last second with a sudden inspiration. Don, naturally, will blow off that Asher meeting. This trip is all about freedom, after all.

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TCA Tour: Live from (the same state as) the Golden Globes!

Since I’m currently sitting in southern California with a bunch of TV critics and watching the Golden Globes, it seems a little ridiculous for me to do anything other than live blog the thing…well, the TV portion, anyway. I wouldn’t dare take away anything from Mr. Westal’s coverage of the film portion. With that said, however, I can’t exactly ignore the show’s host, Ricky Gervais, so I’m definitely planning to give him a shout-out whenever he offers up a great line.

I’ve never done this before, so be gentle with me…

8:01 PM: Gervais suggests that most people probably know him as the guy from the original British “Office,” then shakes his head and says, “No, you don’t, do you?” The highlight comes when Gervais suggests that “quality, not quantity” makes his version of “The Office” the better one, which results in Steve Carell’s mouthing of “I will break you” to Gervais.

8:02 PM: “I’m not used to these sort of viewing figures. Then again, neither is NBC.”

8:03 PM: “Actors: they’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” Hugh Laurie seems amused by Gervais’s remarks about he plays a doctor on television better than a real physician would, while Kiefer Sutherland is perhaps less so by the suggestion that some of the fights on “24” aren’t scripted.

8:04 PM: “Let’s get on with it before NBC replaces me with Jay Leno.”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy: Toni Collette, “United States of Tara.” Although I’m a little surprised that Tina Fey didn’t take home the award, I acknowledged in my nominations piece that I figured a lot of people might favor Collette. I guess it was an easy pick. It just wasn’t mine. I still think it’s John Corbett and the kids who are the real stars of that show.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television: John Lithgow, “Dexter.” I still haven’t seen his performance yet, and yet I still picked it. That’s how strong the buzz was. Glad to see it paid off.

8:29 PM: “We’ve seen some worthy winners…aaaaaaand we’ve seen some not so worthy winners.”

8:30 PM: After observing that one can’t officially buy a Golden Globe Award, Gervais concedes that he’s probably never going to be allowed to do the show again.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama: Michael C. Hall, “Dexter.” I think that, at three (TV) awards in a row, you can officially begin to suggest that Showtime is dominating the proceedings. Given the acclaim that this season has received, I’m not surprised that Hall beat out my pick (Hugh Laurie), and once you’ve factored in the fact that he’s battling back from lymphoma, who could complain, really?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama: Julianna Marguiles, “The Good Wife.” Holy crap! My dark horse pick took home the win! What an awesome line from Julianna about CBS keeping the faith by continuing to air quality drama at 10 PM. I announced to my fellow critics that I’d gotten this pick right, and I was accused of being Nostradamus. Somebody cue up “We Are The Champions,” please. I’d like to enjoy this victory as long as possible.

8:43 PM: Gervais bashes Paul McCartney by claiming that he shared a flight with the former Beatle, with Gervais in first class and Macca in coach because he’s “saving money.” After receiving several boos for his trouble, Gervais assures the crowd, “Uh, I think he’s still doing all right!”

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: “Grey Gardens.” No complaints. I picked “Taking Chance” for this category, but I picked Drew Barrymore for her performance in the film, so I can hardly argue with this selection.

8:59 PM: Gervais decries the boozing, brawling Irish stereotype, then introduces Colin Farrell. (Farrell admits, “When I heard Ricky Gervais was gonna be introducing me, I said, ‘Oh, balls…'”)

9:09 PM: When Helen Mirren said, “Life,” then paused, I was really hoping she was going to follow it by saying, “Don’t talk to me about life.” But she didn’t.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Kevin Bacon, “Taking Chance.” Same situation as above. I wanted to see Chiwetel Ejiofor take it home for “Endgame,” but given how much I loved “Taking Chance,” I’ve no complaints.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Drew Barrymore, “Grey Gardens.” Exxxxxxxcellent. Someone here just referred to the performance as “her first acting award,” and there’s a certain amount of truth to that, as she offered up more in “Grey Gardens” than most people would’ve expected that she had in her. You know, I’ve watched “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” a lot of times, but that reference to “Jeff Spicoli’s girlfriend” flew right over my head. Anyone…?

9:22 PM: Gervais notes how actors want to be ever-changing and constantly moving, then says, “Please welcome Rachel from ‘Friends’ and that bloke from ‘300.’”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy: Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock.” You can never go wrong with Alec Baldwin, I guess. But I still wanted Steve Carell to win it, if only to hear what Gervais had to say about it.

9:36 PM: God love Zachary Levi and Amy Poehler, but…really? Those were the best jokes you could provide for the stars of two of NBC’s best shows? The network needs all the help it can get!

Best Television Series – Drama: “Mad Men.” This is a category where there were no losers, but with that said, I really couldn’t imagine any other series than this one taking home the win. Look at the beard on Jon Hamm..and the breasts on Christina Hendricks! I couldn’t believe the music kicked in so quickly on Matthew Weiner, but as someone here said, it’s a basic-cable network. That doesn’t buy you much time, no matter how much acclaim your show gets.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television: Chloe Sevigny, “Big Love.” The only thing more upsetting than her win is her dress. I kid. Well, about the win, anyway. (I love Rose Byrne, but after seeing her today at the TCA panel for “Damages,” I was beginning to wonder if she was even capable of smiling anymore.) Seriously, though, that dress is horrid.

9:48 PM: Gervais sips from what is almost certainly a glass of real lager, then struggles to get a laugh from his “Catwoman” joke…which is probably almost as much of a struggle as it took to get Halle Berry into that dress she’s wearing.

9:57 PM: Am I the only one who was just creeped out by DeNiro’s bit about Scorcese having sex with film?

10:00 PM: Great clipfest for Scorcese. Methinks it might be time to go order a copy of “The King of Comedy” from Amazon.

10:12 PM: The lager’s back, as Gervais admits, “I’ve had a couple, I’m not gonna lie to you.” He then blames the alcohol for anyone he might’ve offended, after which he quickly offers up the most incredible introduction of the night: “I like a drink as much as the next man…unless the next man is Mel Gibson.” And just like that, Ricky Gervais is officially the best host of the Golden Globes EVER.

10:16 PM: James Cameron wins for “Avatar,” and Dileep Rao’s Golden Globes party suddenly gets kicked up a notch. I only mention this because he went to that party instead of having dinner with me. You got lucky, Rao!

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy: “Glee.” That’s going to be one happy set when I go visit it tomorrow. Nice shout-out from Ryan Murphy to Miss Barbra Streisand and the show’s “fake sexy teen cast,” as well as the dedication to everyone who ever got a wedgie in high school. Aw, that’s so sweet of you to include me, Ryan…

Well, that’s it for the TV awards, but I have to hang in there to see if Ricky Gervais has anything else left to say…or anyone else does, for that matter. Like, say, the governor of California…

10:34 PM: Damn, even Schwarzenegger can’t resist getting in a jab at NBC!

10:35 PM: Gervais really must be scared of Mickey Rourke if the best he can offer up is, “I haven’t gotten a bad word to say about him, mostly because he’s got arms as big as my legs.”

10:42 PM: I hope the kazillion ads they’ve shown for “Parenthood’ actually earn the show some viewers. I really liked the pilot. I can’t say the same for “The Marriage Ref,” partially because they haven’t produced a screener for us yet, but mostly because of my feud with Jerry Seinfeld. But that’s a story for another time.

10:52 PM: Do you get the impression that, were it not for Chrysler, we might’ve been stuck listening to the Golden Globes on the radio?

10:55 PM: What? Straight into Julia Roberts and Best Motion Picture – Drama without a last appearance from Gervias? Gyp! Oh, well, at least “Avatar” won. Congrats again, Mr. Rao. I just hope that party was worth it…

10:59 PM: Ah, there we go. “If I had one wish, it would be for peace on earth. No, wait, can I change that? It would be for everyone to watch ‘The Ricky Gervais Show,’ on HBO on Feb. 19th.” Way to end on a plug, sir.

So there you go: my first-ever live blog. I hope it made for at least a semi-entertaining read, and stay tuned for Bob Westal’s movie portion of the proceedings, coming soon!

  

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