2010 Year End TV Review: Scott Malchus

2010 was another great year of television, despite the fact that most of the new fall network shows were forgettable. While the big four seem to have a handle on coming up with new comedies, they still can’t develop innovative dramas to compete with the cable channels. Fox made an attempt with their excellent “Lone Star,” but viewers stayed away and the series was quickly cancelled (despite support from the network president). With Lost leaving the airwaves, it seems that if you want to watch something other than a procedural, you’ll have to tune to AMC, FX or HBO. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great cop, lawyer or medical shows (“The Good Wife” immediately jumps to mind), but the TV landscape is wide open enough that stories about all walks of life should be able to survive.

Best Drama: Friday Night Lights (Direct TV/NBC)

There was a lot of great drama on television this year (“Southland” was exceptional, “Lost” went out in glorious fashion, “Men of a Certain Age” was moving and effective), but I would be remiss if I didn’t place “FNL” at the top of my list, just where it has been since the show premiered in 2006. It’s hard to believe that this will be its last season. No other show has me cheering and laughing and crying week in and week out. Even during the cringe worthy moments (Julie’s affair with the TA) I can’t bring myself to raise the remote and fast forward through them. I’ve stated time and again on Popdose that this show is the most realistic portrayal of small town life I’ve ever seen on television, with beautifully written and acted characters, smart direction, and perfect music selections to create the mood of each scene (not to mention W.G. Snuffy’s poignant score). I love the Taylors; I love the community of Dillon, Texas; and I love Friday Night Lights.

Best Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)

A tough category. There are so many strong comedies on television right now, including NBC’s Thursday night lineup and ABC’s Wednesday shows. Of all of them, “Modern Family” makes me laugh the hardest; so hard that my wife and I have to rewind to hear the second and third jokes of each scene. With a great cast and insightful writing, “Modern Family” is a modern classic.

Best Reality: The Biggest Loser (NBC)

I generally hate reality shows on network television, however there is something truly inspiring about “The Biggest Loser” that grabs me every week. Here is a series about people seriously having to take back their lives otherwise they could die. The money at the end never seems to be as important as the health benefits they receive. Unlike most of the reality competitions shows, the inspiration that comes from watching “The Biggest Loser” occurs from watching every contestant, not just a select few. Obesity has overtaken our country and the men and women of “The Biggest Loser” prove that you can take back your life and that you are in control of it.

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A roundtable chat with Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson of “Made in Dagenham”

As the press day began for director Nigel Cole and writer William Ivory’s amiable historical comedy, we assembled entertainment writers believed we’d be doing separate roundtable interviews with the film’s best known actresses. When Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson entered the room together to promote “Made in Dagenham,” about a 1968 strike by female workers at a Ford plant located in a grimy London suburb, however, it was easy to be a little overwhelmed. Either one of them is worthy of a Russian novel’s worth of questions and our time would be limited.

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Like so many first-class English actors of her generation, Miranda Richardson is known for her ability to play all ends of the dramatic spectrum. In England, and certain geekier quarters of the U.S., she’s still extremely well known known for her work alongside Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry as “Queenie” (i.e. Queen Elizabeth I) and assorted other characters on Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s historical cult-com, “Black Adder.” Younger geeks, however, might know her better as magical tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter in the Harry Potter films. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, she has also done magnificent work playing a ruthless IRA operative in “The Crying Game,” a maltreated housewife in an Oscar-nominated role in Louis Malle’s “Damage,” a widely praised turn in the Oscar-winning “The Hours,” and a widow investigating her husband’s death on AMC’s recently canceled suspense drama, “Rubicon.” On the other hand, she’s also portrayed the character of Mrs. Santa Claus opposite Paul Giamatti‘s Santa in “Fred Claus.” Despite some resemblance, both physically and in terms of talent, she is not part of the famed Redgrave acting dynasty and no relation to the late Natasha Richardson. She is, in fact, the only actor in her family, which perhaps makes her all the more impressive.

Although Sally Hawkins has appeared in some 34 movie and TV productions since 1999, she broke into the consciousness of most of her fans with her Golden Globe winning performance in Mike Leigh’s 2008 “Happy-Go-Lucky,” in which she dominated the film as a relentlessly happy and, strangely enough, rather bright, elementary school teacher. It was probably an ideal role for a woman who really does come across as cheerful in person, with an approachable demeanor that certainly seems to fit the child of two children’s books authors. Currently starring on Broadway in a new production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Hawkins has continued to mix starring roles with a number of smaller supporting appearances, including a turn in Cary Fukunaga’s highly-anticipated new version of “Jane Eyre.” Her next leading role is as Irish radical politician and activist Bernadette Devlin in “The Roaring Girl” — assuming the real Devlin is not successful in her efforts to prevent the film from being made.

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A chat with Gale Anne Hurd, producer of “The Walking Dead”

Gale Anne Hurd, producer of There aren’t many producers around these days whose name can help sell a movie or TV show, but Gale Anne Hurd is the rare exception. Probably best known as one of the co-creators of “The Terminator” franchise, Hurd has been an important player in numerous mega- or merely major productions, including both “Hulk” and “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Abyss,” “Armageddon,” “The Punisher,” and the underrated 1999 comedy “Dick,” which starred Dan Hedaya as Richard Milhous Nixon and a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as a couple of teenagers who wind up bringing down a presidency.

Clearly one of the more hands-on producers around, Hurd is pleasant and businesslike when talking to a member of the show-biz press, but clearly has the gumption to deal with the biggest and most difficult of personalities, which is how I segue into the obligatory mention of the fact that she spent the part of the late eighties and early nineties being married to first James Cameron and then Brian De Palma. Moreover, she began her career working for one the most fascinating and effective producers in the history of the medium, Roger Corman, but more of that in the interview.

Still, nothing she’s done is quite like her current project, the zombie horror drama and comic book adaptation, “The Walking Dead.” The AMC television series, adapted from a series of acclaimed comics by Robert Kirkman primarily by writer-director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “The Mist”) is currently receiving maximum exposure on the web. The publicity train was only just getting started when I spoke to Ms. Hurd at a mammoth new San Diego hotel adjacent to the Comic-Con festivities last summer.

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I had typed my questions on my laptop, which I was afraid might be a little off-putting. So, after a quick greeting, I tried to explain why.

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AMC greenlights two new pilots…and, yes, one of them is “The Walking Dead”

Only days after further talking up their upcoming new series, “Rubicon,” at the TCA press tour, AMC has announced two pilot orders: “The Walking Dead,” based on the comic book series written by Robert Kirkman, and “The Killing,” based on a Danish TV series entitled “Forbrydelsen.” Both pilots go into production in second quarter 2010.

“The Walking Dead” tells the story of the months and years that follow after a zombie apocalypse, following a group of survivors who travel in search of a safe and secure home; the series…well, the comic book series, anyway…explores the challenges of life in a world overrun by zombies who take a toll on the survivors, where the interpersonal conflicts sometimes present a greater danger to their continuing survival than the zombies that roam the country. Kirkman has signed on to serve as an executive producer on the series, and Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “The Mist”) has signed on to write, direct and executive-produce. Other EPs on the project include Gale Anne Hurd and David Alpert.

“The Killing,” meanwhile, ties together three distinct stories by a single murder and as the detectives assigned to the case disagree about the best course of action, they chase down a variety of leads and suspects; along the way, there are major repercussions for the victim’s family, the detectives, the suspects, and the local politicians connected to the case. The series is to be written and executive-produced by Veena Sud (“Cold Case”), along with Mikkel Bondesen (“Burn Notice”) and Kristen Campo.

“’The Walking Dead’ and ‘The Killing’ are alone in their class in terms of the quality of the storytelling,” said Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vice president of original programming, production and digital content, in a press release issued by the network. “Both have remarkable talent behind them, and present that rare opportunity to raise the bar significantly within a genre. It is a very exciting next step in our continuing commitment to presenting smart, sophisticated storytelling with broad appeal.”

  

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TCA Tour: Breaking Bad

AMC may have broken its streak of perfection in late 2009 when their miniseries remake of “The Prisoner” met predominantly with either indifference or annoyance, but there’s plenty of reason to expect that the network will regain its good name in full in 2010.

For one thing, there’s the announcement that Kurt Ellis, the screenwriter behind HBO’s “John Adams,” is setting his sights on Warren Harding and developing the miniseries “Black Gold: The Teapot Dome Scandal.” Then, of course, there’s the fact that we’ve been chomping at the bit for Season 4 of “Mad Men” ever since the dissolution of Sterling-Cooper back in November, which means that we’ll pretty much forgive the network anything when the series returns later this year. Joel Stillerman, AMC’s Senior Vice President of Original Programming, Production, and Digital Content, gave us this one-liner: “Betty is off to Reno, Don is shacked up in the village, Sterling Cooper is held up in a hotel room, but maybe most importantly, Joan is back, and it should be another great season of one of the best shows ever.” Sounds good to me. More details are also emerging about the latest addition to AMC’s slate of original series, “Rubicon,” which Stillerman describes as “an incredibly compelling mystery that pays homage to the great conspiracy thrillers of the ’70s like ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor,’” adding, “We thought, if we could find a way to take that style of storytelling that has stood the test of time so well and spin it off into a serialized drama, we would have something really great.” Let’s hope they do.

But enough about the new kid on the block. Let’s talk about the network’s other high-profile series: “Breaking Bad,” which will kick off its third season on March 21st.

It will, I’m sure, not surprise you that there will be little in the way of revelations in this piece, what with the season premiere still more than two months away as of this writing, but I can tell you that, within the first five minutes of the panel, the discussion had already veered between a religion called Santa Muerte and a teddy bear’s eyeball, so, y’know, make of that what you will.

Like many dramas on TV, the cast members of “Breaking Bad” have almost as little idea what’s going to happen next as the viewers do, rarely knowing how things are going to unfold until they get the script for the next episode.

“That’s what makes it exciting,” explained Bryan Cranston, who plays the show’s cancer-ridden meth dealer, Walter White. “Just like you watching it, we are reading it, and the feeling has the same impact, as much surprise as you have. We often comment to each other, ‘Did you read it yet? Did you read it?’ ‘Yeah, don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me.’ ‘I’m only halfway through it.’ ‘Oh, yeah. Oh, my goodness. You are not going to believe it. You are not going to believe it.’ So you have that kind of anxiety and anticipation of what’s about to happen, so it’s never boring and always a surprise and a turn here and there.”

As expected, Cranston wouldn’t offer specifics about what Walt would be going through in Season 3, but he was willing to speak in general terms, at least. “There are actually a couple turns that happen emotionally, some physically,” he said. “I’m starting to completely accept the metamorphosis of my character. I’m breaking out of the cocoon and ready to become a different person, and that transition over time is one of the things that was the most compelling for me about wanting to do this show is that (creator) Vince Gilligan said he wanted to do something that he’s never seen before, and that’s, as he famously puts it, turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. And it hasn’t been done on television before unless someone can cite an occasion where you actually see a person completely change who he is by the end of the series or near the end of the series. I will be a completely different person from the milquetoast person you saw in the pilot.”

(You may recall that Cranston spoke to this issue when he chatted with Bullz-Eye in conjunction with the most recent TV Power Rankings.)

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