Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ask DanielleTBD: Best (and Worst) TV Moments of 2013...

In the past few years that I have been working as a television blogger you may have noticed that my end of the year lists were plentiful. Best shows, best episodes, best characters, best couples, best moments, best surprises... I milked the crap out fandoms and relished the chance to rehash something that happened months earlier. But you may also notice that I stuck with "Best of" lists. This was because I was never a completely objective blogger. Going into a new show or a new season, I would review everything honestly based on story, production value, trends, and technique. But if and when I came across something that was just a mess, I would say it once in that initial review and then most likely never write about it again (I would often watch more just to confirm my initial opinion was still valid and on the rare occasion things actually did get better like oh so many promise, I would write a follow up review and alter coverage plans slightly). I generally tried to avoid the "worst" TV (in my opinion) for my own sanity and enjoyment of my job. I was lucky to have that luxury, and it meant I stayed positive enough (especially around the holidays) to avoid negativity that "worst" lists bring. You can never get back that hour that you originally watched Doomsday Preppers, and that's on you, but I won't steal more of your time by making you relive it. Though, I would often do a "most disappointing" post, but that's another story... 

To create these lists as accurately as possible, I would make notes all year as I watched TV. In one of the equally plentiful TCA notebooks provided, I would jot down everything from episode titles to specific lines of dialogue as I watched them on screeners or on-screen for consideration in my various end of the year posts. No one could accuse me of forgetting about something just because it aired in February and I had Santa on the brain in December! But for whatever reason (probably subconsciously I knew I wouldn't be professionally blogging much longer), 2013 was a year where I shortsightedly took those notes on Twitter. Sure, calling attention to awesome things the night they air is great for telling other people they need to tune in right then, but you try sifting through 10,000 (or so) Tweets now to find that original commentary! So when Twitter's own @boymetworld91 asked me earlier this week, "What was your best and worst TV moments of the year?" I admit I panicked a little bit.

Sure, Ben and Leslie's Parks and Recreation wedding needs to be at the top of the list-- a list which would also be comprised of Kristina Braverman learning she is cancer-free (Parenthood), finally getting Amanda's Nikita back-story and having it be so crazy and so tragic, the entire "Marry Prankster" episode of Happy Endings, the final Breaking Bad sequence, the bunker scene in Scandal where Olivia, Fitz, and Mellie came together to formulate a plan for the affair leak, Sons of Anarchy taking on a school shooting, Danny Castellano dancing on The Mindy Project, and Walter saying good-bye to his son on Fringe. But these are all moments within shows that matter. They may be short in length but they have had a huge impact on the characters, the audience, and the larger world of that show universe. This time around, though, writing on the freedom of my personal blog where I can quite literally play by my own rules entirely, I'd rather look at the moments that changed television this year-- changed the way we watch it, the way we think about it, and the way it may get made in the future-- for better and for worse. Moments like

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting Golden Globes. All eyes were on this comedy duo, and they did not disappoint. It helped that they were helming one of the wackiest award shows out there, where the talent quite literally gets drunker as the show goes on. From their first moments of stumbling up the stairs to their costume changes and GIF-worthy audience popcorn eating, they proved that they took the job seriously enough to want to keep you entertained (especially through the boring categories) but not so seriously that they were going to pretend to be people they're not. They seemed to be having genuine fun and that made everyone want to have fun with them. I can't wait to see what they do in 2014-- and 2015.

The best new series premiered on Netflix. I know everyone wrote about the way binge-watching is changing lives this year, and that is true. But it has also already been said and by sites much more prestigious than mine so there is no need to point out the obvious. But what I do want to point out is that we would not be binge-watching if the shows were crappy. There is still the luxury of turning something off after one or two episodes if it's not striking a chord with you (the difference is now that can happen in one afternoon, rather than over the course of a couple of weeks). Netflix knows that better than anyone; they can track who stops a movie mid-way through because it's not holding their attention only to never return or which shows sit in customers' queues forever but never actually get consumed. So when it came to unveiling original programming, they went sharp and they went smart. After obtaining the fourth season of Arrested Development, the press quite literally came to them, so they didn't have to worry about getting people to sit up and take notice of what they were doing, but they smartly didn't put all their eggs in Arrrested's basket, either. Instead they delivered at least three programs which were arguably even better than Arrested to prove they really know what they're doing. Netflix gave us House of Cards, The Fall, and Orange is the New Black this year-- all shows that I would individually put on any "best of" list, too.

Quiet TV was entertaining, too. The finale of Breaking Bad was a quiet hour of television. There, I said it, judge me if you must! But hear me out first because in this day and age of "dun dun duns" before every act break, let alone end of episode credits tag, the pressure is on television writers to create compelling works that audiences will not only want to stick around for but which they will absolutely need to talk about on social media. And what that does for most writers is create a kind of formula of inciting incidents popping up multiple times per episode and pushing up deadlines for big events to occur within both the timeline of the show and the season. But it doesn't always have to be that way and Breaking Bad proved that. The finale absolutely had big moments (and of course deaths), but it wasn't manic about getting there, and what that allowed for was a realism and a reflection for both the characters and the audience. Much like how the series played out as a whole, the finale had a sense of sheer intensity because you knew-- you just knew, you could feel it in your bones-- something big was coming around the corner but there was also the comfort of the calm by which things were unfolding. Breaking Bad (and another favorite "quiet" show of mine, The Killing) lingered on characters' faces and silent moments, trusting everyone in the process from the writers to the actors to the audience to be able to understand, feel, and be able to sit with the weight of what was happening in these heavy worlds. It was proof that sometimes when you have too much crazy shit going on in an episode you're just distracting the audience from the fact that what's going on really is just shit. Actually, if Hannibal didn't insist on juxtaposing these controlled moments with such shock value gore, even when presented in an artsy way, I would include that here, too. Well, maybe in season two. 

The Good Wife blew off its formula in season five. The Good Wife has always been procedural driven with character and relationship arcs underlying. Robert and Michelle King have done an impressive job of giving CBS and its audience what they think they want by continuing to raise the bar for the kinds of "cases of the week" the show explores but always while challenging them to want something deeper by expanding on what is going on for the characters as they fight for or against these particular cases in court. True to the title of the show, though, the journey is really Alicia's, though, and it is a complex one that sees the audience flip-flopping as much as the character on what the right decision might be at the time (Stay with Peter? Leave a marriage for Will? Start a new firm? Poach a client? etc). Right around the time most procedurals or "of the week" shows would start getting stale, though, The Good Wife refused by blowing the doors off Lockhart/Gardner and splitting apart the team-- not just for a change of physical scenery but to be able to use the character dynamics and histories in new and exciting ways. It was something I hoped Castle would have also done this year when they put Beckett in the FBI but alas that show proved it liked its network drama safety net and brought the show back to its usual formula only a few weeks later. The Good Wife, though, is helping to show networks the most compelling, let alone real, drama comes when there is no formula.

Tatiana Maslany is the lead and supporting characters on Orphan Black. Not since Eileen Davidson's Kristen/Susan/Sister Mary Moira/Thomas/Penelope split on Days of our Lives have I ever seen an actor take on so many roles in one show. But with no disrespect to Davidson (she did the best she could with insane material), never have I ever seen an actor do it so flawlessly as Maslany. Orphan Black could have been a silly, schlocky, Syfy B-movie esque mess if it didn't have a killer technical team and an even more amazing actor in its multiple roles, and that is exactly what they found with Maslany who slips so seamlessly into accents I legitimately thought she was British until I heard her speak on-stage at TCA. There is no one doing what she is doing right now-- on television or otherwise-- and that deserves to be recognized. She manages to steal the scene from herself, and she constantly rises to the occasion of keeping things that seem crazy on paper extremely grounded and at times gut-wrenchingly emotional (We all got a good giggle over Helena slurping Jello and mocking Sarah's day to herself but when Maslany was asked to portray Helena actually impersonating Sarah, she blended the physical characteristics of each individual character perfectly to tip to the audience that something was amiss without giving away everything immediately. Not to sound too scientifically creepy but Maslany should really be studied.

As for worst? Well, this isn't going to win me any friends, but I miss the days when The CW made shows about regular people. Actually, The CW is just an example I am using in what I consider a larger problem. I understand the need to seize a trend that worked once and try to milk it for more (Arrow), but in focusing so much attention on the superhero (and the male), they end up turning their backs on the core loyal demo that have been there since the beginning. Sure, women can and do watch shows with male leads (Supernatural is a perfect example) and thankfully there are strong women supporting the male leads on others (Arrow and The Tomorrow People), but it saddens me that the few shows the network is holding onto that reflect things we can and probably have or maybe even still will actually go through feel like they're just being burned off to make way for the new wave of flashier programming. Television is an escape for many but escapes come in all shapes and locales. Sometimes they really can be as sweet and simple as a Southern town in Alabama (Hart of Dixie) or a coming-of-age tale in a bigger city (The Carrie Diaries). Not everything has to be bigger, louder, faster, and right about now I'm really missing the days of the good ole WB and their relatable but still entertaining Gilmore Girls, The O.C., and even Dawson's Creek (which I admittedly did not love while it was on but now wish I hadn't taken for granted because these shows are not a dime a dozen anymore and I don't always need to watch something that is sensationalism or plot, plot, plot all the time).

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