Thursday, November 22, 2012

'12 Television For Which To Be Thankful...

Every year I create a list of things for which I am thankful to remind myself that though this job can be stressful, it mostly entails sitting around and watching TV, so I have no right to complain. About anything. In fact, this year, overwhelmingly, the things I was ticking off on my general "Favorite Things" list were current seasons of shows I am covering, so I decided just to highlight them separately in a "2012 TV For Which To Be Thankful" compilation...

Dexter (SHO) - I was so unbelievably saddened and disappointed by last season's religious-fueled Dexter. I felt like the writers were tired and burnt out on ideas and therefore were willing to underestimate the audience in a way they never took for granted before. I was thisclose to giving up on what had once been my favorite show. But then season seven delivered a strong premiere that not only reinvigorated the show but actually started to answer some of my critiques since season one. It felt, for the first time, that the show was alive, and it felt, for the first time in a long time, that there was a clear plan. I love the emotional and psychological complexities being played with-- between Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) having to confront who her brother really is and what it says about her whether she can still love and accept him or not, all the way to Dexter (Michael C. Hall) being confronted with someone who is not only exactly like him but also completely understanding of him. I love that there is not one big bad this season, but rather a lot of little problematic people that, if left undetected by Dexter, could spell doom for him. I love that LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) should finally befall the fate the books delivered before the cover closed on the first. I love that Dexter is wrestling with so many themes (family, love, normalcy, justice, vengeance, his code, happy endings...) he did in the first season but with slightly renewed perspective, constantly to drive home the fact that he's not a true sociopath, and he has grown. The show is making me dive deeply into the psyche of a character like Dexter, as well as the psyche of someone who embraces him and his Dark Passenger, and that kind of thoughtful, not-just-on-the-page television is exactly what I want all my television to be.

Arrow (The CW) - I may have a weak spot for damaged, scruffy boys following their self-imposed code down a road of angry, independent action. Just look at the other names on this list for proof. This show has mastered the thematic parallel between Starling City and the island and the lessons to be learned (about life and/or people) in only a few episodes. The stunts are incomparable for a network television show. And of course, there's something to be said for a show that understands its core audience well enough to deliver shirtless workout scenes in the teaser in order to hook us in. But there is something so intriguing not only about the world and the character this show sets up but the level of performance it inspires, too. At any given moment, Oliver (Stephen Amell) is a multitude of men, a chameleon pretending to be someone for the sake of those around him at the moment, and that is something you rarely see in such detail this early into a genre series.

Supernatural (The CW) - It's never been a secret that I have loved and admired Jensen Ackles' character work for years now, and while I absolutely think this season of Supernatural has been imbalanced, it's hard to consider it unfairly imbalanced considering the strength of the story and the performances we have been given thus far. Once again the show has legs for a long time; it is proving, week after week with one minor exception (in my opinion), that it has a plan-- and not just a season-long plan but a longer-arcing one designed to deliver mythology and character/relationship growth only when earned, not simply to get the audience from Point A to Point Be. More than that, though, after so many years, the show has managed to breathe new life into old themes by complicating things with time and new friends (and foes). It has always been clever and complicated, but with Jeremy Carver at the helm, it is proving to be darker, richer, and more delicious than ever before!

Happy Endings (ABC) - The wacky antics of Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.), Max (Adam Pally), Jane (Eliza Coupe), Penny (Casey Wilson), Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), and Dave (Zachary Knighton) may feel a bit more situational this season, but their fast-paced pop culture-infused dialogue and snappy attitudenal humor never fails to make me laugh out-loud. Literally. This season specifically deals in so much change for so many of the characters, yet they manage to stay true to who they have been established to be, even when constantly revealing new truths to prove they're not just "joke, joke, joke, joke" (like the fact that Brad and Jane only first hooked up because she was drunk and wanted to hook up with someone else). They really are the new Friends!

Parks and Recreation (NBC) - Nothing fills me with more glee than Leslie Knope's (Amy Poehler) own sense of glee. Her smile is contagious; her laugh is infectious; her positive, can-do attitude makes me want to be a better person. She is able to smack the snark right out of me, even when she's followed by Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) dryly reinforcing all of my original thoughts and beliefs. And look at how far Leslie came-- from wanting to build a simple park and hung up on a real a-hole to being elected into the City Council and being engaged to the calzone king!

Scandal (ABC) - This is one speeding train I never want to jump off of-- even for an episode-- simply because to do so would mean to miss so much. This is one show you really have to pay attention to but which still leaves you with lingering questions as little bits of information unfold at a time. It's also a testament to trust actors put in writers and vice versa. Without having a lot of information about their backstories, the performances still manage to be rich and consistent. And Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is so much more powerful than I ever imagined in the beginning, perhaps single-handedly shutting down the argument that there is no network television centered on a strong, smart female character.

Homeland (SHO) - If this show never did anything else past that fifteen minute interrogation scene between Carrie (Claire Danes) and Brody (Damian Lewis), I would have been fine with that. That was a master class in writing, acting, and production in a way that means the television season is truly over, and they should be handed all of the awards. But it also created the unique challenge of topping itself with intensity and emotion, and the fact that it has shoved itself out of that self-entrapped corner is admirable in and of itself. 

Fringe (FOX) - Sometimes I just really like it when my theories about smart TV prove me right, and so far, Fringe's fifth and final season is going exactly where I expect it to. It's sad to say good-bye, made even more upsetting by the tragic things happening on-screen to some of our favorite characters, but it's a journey well-worth it when the pieces all finally come together. And I have to admit, I'm geeking out over the little things being referenced and returned, too!

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