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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Channel Surfing's Best of 2009

David Letterman issued a mea culpa. Kanye West bumrushed Taylor Swift. The Gosselins finally called it quits.

Beyond the TV headlines that help sell gossip rags, there was plenty of good ol’ fashioned writing and acting to absorb in 2009.

Being good couch potatoes, the Press-Gazette’s Channel Surfing bloggers didn’t stray far from the hypnotic glow of their TV sets. Here’s how they’ll remember the year.

Favorite drama

“Breaking Bad” – A strike-shortened first season set the table nicely. But Season 2 of “Breaking Bad” took Walt White’s delusion as a chemistry teacher-turned meth dealer to the next level by forcing him to confront the darkest consequences imaginable. Aaron Paul’s inspired turn as Jesse added much needed emotional layers to the show – a viewer investment capped by Walt coldly watching as his friend’s heroin-addled girlfriend choked to death before his eyes. – Thomas Rozwadowski

“Mad Men” – Season 3 of “Mad Men” started off slowly, but built to a crescendo that hopefully silenced even its harshest critics. Between Joan’s vase-throwing revenge on hubby Greg to the Don-Betty confrontation over his past life, “Mad Men” danced between the lines of flawlessness all season as it prepared for its dramatic conclusion. The intertwining of the season’s final episodes with the JFK assassination — and various business shenanigans at Sterling Cooper — left us happy and sad, crushed yet hopeful. Everything a good drama should do. -- Malavika Jagannathan

“Lost” – How can I explain how good "Lost" was in its fifth and penultimate season to anyone who's either stopped watching it or (gasp!) never even seen an episode? Well, I can't, and I won't try. Because "Lost" is a show that rewards the faithful by being the most engrossing, exciting, marvelous TV series currently on the air. With the new year comes the last season of this singularly remarkable show, and twelve months from now, you will see it again on this list. -- Adam Reinhard

Favorite comedy

"Flight of the Conchords" -- I can't help but feel reeeeeeeeeeeeejected like Murray Hewitt following the official announcement that "Flight of the Conchords" is indeed over. Though the Season 2 finale wasn't billed as a series ender, fans knew Bret and Jemaine's return to New Zealand likely meant their hapless New York City exploits were over. But I can't help it. I've still got hurt feelings ... I'VE GOT HURT FEELINGS ... ahem. Thankfully, Season 2 of the groundbreaking HBO comedy brought out some of the parody duo's best material and visuals -- "Fashion is Danger," "Carol Brown," and the aforementioned "Hurt Feelings" -- not to mention hilarious bits on epileptic dogs and Art Garfunkel. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to talk Mel down from the ledge. -- Thomas Rozwadowski

“Community” – Love Tina Fey and “30 Rock” as I do, it’s Joel McHale and the kooky cast of “Community” that've given me the most belly-aching laughs this year. McHale and his study group of fellow misfits at Greendale Community College -- including a revived Chevy Chase in his best comedic role to date -- are a ridiculous bunch. The freshman NBC show has a great balance of “Scrubs”-like feigned seriousness and wacky premises — and like “Scrubs,” our erstwhile hero (McHale) learns a good lesson each time about life. Secondary characters like Ken Jeong’s Senor Chang and John Oliver’s Professor Duncan are merely the cherry on top of this absurdly delightful sundae. -- Malavika Jagannathan

“Better Off Ted,” “Parks and Recreation” (tie) – The little shows that could. “Parks’’ started life as a poor “Office’’ clone in its first season, but hit the ground running last fall on a creative high. “Ted,’’ on the other hand, seemed like one of those brilliant shows that no one would watch, leading to quick cancellation. Luckily ABC saw fit to bring it back for a second go-round, and it’s only gotten funnier. -- Adam Reinhard

Favorite new show

“Modern Family” – ABC’s Emmy-nominated hit has something most smart comedies don’t strive for these days. Heart. Fresh, funny and not the least bit mean spirited, “Modern” doesn’t try to be anything but a great comedy that all ages and walks of life can enjoy. And seriously, how awesome is Manny? – Thomas Rozwadowski

-- Praised for its warmth as much as its humor, ABC's "Modern Family" appears to be getting all the buzz as TV's new Savior of the Sitcom. But for my money, NBC's "Community" has it beat on both counts. Sure, it plays the ironic detachment card often, thanks to its lead character (Joel McHale), a smarmy lawyer forced to attend community college after getting suspended. But the assorted losers and dropouts who comprise his study group resemble more of a true family unit than almost anything else on TV. -- Adam Reinhard

“The Vampire Diaries” -- "Diaries" isn’t exactly brainy fare, but it’s got that mix of romance, mystery, suspense and hot teens to make it a raging success. And, oddly enough, it’s the only new show I felt I couldn’t afford to miss each week. Maybe I am just a tween at heart, but “Vampire Diaries” definitely sank its fangs into me this fall. Best new show, maybe not, but definitely my favorite. -- Malavika Jagannathan

Favorite character

Joan Holloway, “Mad Men” – She’s the brilliant everywoman stuck under the misogynistic thumb of the male-dominated ‘60s. Yet while Peggy Olson typifies the rise to come for the modern working woman, Joan is the straw that truly stirs the drink (And on "Mad Men," they drink a lot). The only moment better than her triumphant return as office savior during the finale’s frenetic dash from Sterling Cooper? Why, cracking her detestable husband over the head with a vase, of course. – Thomas Rozwadowski

Alicia Florrick, “The Good Wife” – My two favorite characters in 2009 were both women, both wives, and both dealing with marital issues. But after much internal debate, the win goes to Alicia Florrick over my favorite desperate housewife, Betty Draper of “Mad Men.” The feisty Florrick, played to perfection by Julianna Margulies, is a heady combination of smarts and vulnerability on the new CBS drama that focuses on life after a sex scandal derails her politico hubby. True, it’s another one-case-per-episode lawyer show, but Florrick is captivating as she reflects but doesn’t copy the true-life experiences of wives like Dina McGreevey or Silda Spitzer. Plus, she’s got a great wardrobe and some killer calves to boot. -- Malavika Jagannathan

Abed Nadir, "Community" -- In a show stuffed with amazing character actors, Danny Pudi stands out as Abed, an amateur filmmaker with Asperger's syndrome. With probably the best deadpan since Keaton, Abed relates to every situation through a pop culture reference, for instance --"I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films, but you're more like Michael Douglas in any of his films." And hands down the funniest storyline of any show this season was when Abed not only dressed up like Batman for Halloween, but aped Christian Bale's strained voicework throughout the episode. Abed's the man. -- Adam Reinhard

Best “No F'n Way!’’ moment

The return of Zack Morris on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” – For a “Saved by the Bell” nostalgia buff, nothing beat Mark-Paul Gosselaar adopting his preppy persona while gripping a sneaker-size cell phone as Fallon geeked out with obscure trivia from the cheesy teen sitcom. B-ba-b-ba-b-ba-b, go Bayside! – Thomas Rozwadowski

Carrie Prejean’s outburst on “Larry King Live” – Sorry, but nothing tops ex-beauty queen Prejean accusing everyone’s favorite TV grandpa of being inappropriate when he asked a softball question about why she decided to settle with the Miss California pageant. When King stopped his line of questioning to take a call, Prejean took off her mike and threatened to walk off the stage. Ultimately, she stayed, and King continued to look flabbergasted. And so did we. -- Malavika Jagannathan

Most disappointing show

“Glee” – Jane Lynch’s antics kept me watching in the early-going, but after a while, the singing got a bit … how shall I put it … on my nerves. Popular as it might be, “Glee” could have been “Election” with a musical twist, but instead degraded into irritating and ludicrous territory one Journey song at a time. -- Malavika Jagannathan (sentiments echoed by Thomas Rozwadowski)

“Flash Forward” – No matter how hard they try, TV execs have yet to recreate the magic of “Lost.’’ “Flash Forward’’ seemed like it would be a valiant effort, even copying its sister show’s penchant for jumping around in time. But it lacks a firm rooting in basic humanity, leaning too far into all things mysterious and science-y, making for less-than-compelling viewing. -- Adam Reinhard

Favorite obsession

Seeing Brett Favre fail -- I'm not gonna lie. I watch Minnesota Vikings games about as obsessively as I do Packers games now. Yet while I've been forced to concede that my hometown team lost two games convincingly and Favre played lights out while sticking it to his old white-haired boss, I can't wait for the playoffs to start so I can see if the karma gods truly have my back. Now, that's not to say that I want Captain Audible to get injured or anything. But if Julius Peppers wants to jump on Favre and ride him into the turf like he's a rickety mechanical bull, that's just fine with me. Also, I'd like to see Brad Childress cry after Favre dresses him down on the sidelines -- preferably as the ol' gunslinger tries to defend a game-crippling interception in the fourth quarter of a divisional playoff game. Fingers crossed. -- Thomas Rozwadowski

"Top Chef" --“Top Chef” continues to rule my world. In 2009, we got a double-dose of Bravo’s cooking show with “Top Chef: Masters” airing over the summer, followed by the regular show’s best season of chefs so far. "Masters" was great because it pitted successful chefs against each other, for charity no less, and viewers got a peek into some of the greatest culinary minds in modern America (Rick Bayless, I love you). “Top Chef” continues to prove that real competition can win in the kitchen and in reality. -- Malavika Jagannathan

"The Guild" -- Our concept of what is and isn't television has gotten increasingly fuzzy, and it doesn't help when a web series like "The Guild" can be funnier and more original than half the shows on TV. But this wacky comedy about a group of strangers who are drawn together by the massive multi-player online video game for which they share an addiction is consistently inventive, well-acted, and hilarious. It recently wrapped its third season, and even a non-gamer like me is hungry for more. -- Adam Reinhard

Most tired storyline

Jay Leno's continued presence --
We get it, NBC. Jay Leno is on five nights a week and is stealing all the A-listers that no longer get funneled to Conan O'Brien's chair on the new "Tonight Show." ENOUGH WITH THE PROMOS! While national TV critics painstakingly attempt to dissect the Leno experiment in terms of ratings success and failure, I only care about what it means for the future of original programming, not to mention O'Brien's lost thunder as an NBC afterthought. Nice job, peacock. -- Thomas Rozwadowski

Cancer storyline on "Brothers and Sisters" -- I know it's cancer, so I shouldn’t be so cavalier about it, but it’s kind of, well, a downer. Every good primetime soap opera needs a medical drama to spice it up, but this one is especially boring because no one cares if Kitty Walker McCallister (Calista Flockhart) has cancer. She was far more interesting while attempting to start an affair in the park with a fellow dad than she is when trying to choose between chemotherapy treatments. Life is depressing as is, but television shouldn’t have to be. Cure her and be done with it! -- Malavika Jagannathan

The car crash
-- It's time to put the kibosh on TV car crashes. From "Mad Men" to "Brothers and Sisters" to freaking "Gossip Girl," plots that feature sudden auto wrecks got out of control this year. The worst part is, the crashes aren't even that serious, and no one is ever badly hurt. They only serve to advance the story. Note to TV producers: If you're going to use this trite cliche, at least do us the courtesy of bumping somebody off. -- Adam Reinhard

Hopes for 2010

“Lost” goes out with a bang – An even more important question than whether “Lost’s” series finale can possibly satisfy its fans: Will viewers be able to function in normal society after wasting every free moment theorizing about this glorious show for the past five years? – Thomas Rozwadowski

World Cup fever -- There’s really only one sporting event I care about next year — the 2010 World Cup. And ESPN’s newfound respect for the sport everyone else in the world cares about has me hopeful that we lonely soccer/futbol fans won’t just be watching retooled international feeds at 3 a.m. like in previous years. For next year’s event, the network actually plans to produce all of its World Cup content with a substantial ground crew in South Africa and offer nightly post-game shows. GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!! -- Malavika Jagannathan

Keep the comedy coming – Just look at the list: “The Office,’’ “How I Met Your Mother,’’ “Big Bang Theory,’’ “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,’’ “Better Off Ted’’ and promising newbies like “Cougar Town,’’ “The Middle,” “Community” and “Modern Family.’’ That’s 11 solid sitcoms looking forward. Hopefully, 2010 can keep the funny going. -- Adam Reinhard



What has happened to this blog since I left?! You guys actually enjoy "Parks and Recreation" (arguably the worst show on television) and "Community" (I'd rather be forced, a la "Clockwork Orange," to watch a clip show of Michael Scott's most uncomfortable moments on repeat than watch Joel McHale try to be funny) and yet you dis the holy heaven that is "Glee?" I mean, sure Rolling Stone is right when it dubbed the Fox sing-a-long, the "gayest show on television," but c'mon, it's gold, Jerry, pure gold!

I mean, even the "Vampire Diaries" got a nod?? Oh how the mighty have fallen.

-- Former Channel Surfer Sara Boyd

By Anonymous Sara, At December 27, 2009 at 4:05 PM  

There is so much good programming this year that I don't think any TV junkie can complain. I do, however, think my snatching a sole victory from Evan in Top Chef Power Rankings should've made Channel Surfing's best of 2009 list.

By Anonymous Mary, At December 28, 2009 at 3:12 PM  

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