Bill Hicks once opined (and I agree): Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye. That being said, the fact is that dramatic moments of all shapes and sizes were played out this year on the small screen, from the sublime to the ridiculous (most of it being more in the latter category). The year began with the writers’ strike which went on for about ten million years and impacted our lives in all kinds of ways. After a Busboy drought (no Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert) the daring duo returned to the screen early in the year sans writers – and, surprise surprise, were pretty much as hilarious and entertaining as ever.
The writers’ strike, among other things, ensured no new season of 24 would take place until 2009. I don’t know about you but I was fine with that decision; much as I missed Jack B’s constipated facial expressions (and sour-faced / annoying / but you gotta love her - sidekick Chloe) I was fine with not seeing a show this year where presidents were snuffed out. (And then we recently got a little taste of Warrior King JB on 24: Redemption to warm us up for next year)
The overwhelming TV presence this year was politics. But let’s get to that later. First I’d like to spotlight the best new show of the year, Alan Ball’s True Blood. Lip-smacking good. Here’s some fun; tonight (New Year’s Eve) you can catch a True Blood marathon on HBO 2 starting at 6pm. Bon Temps, Louisiana comes alive (in a manner of speaking) with this vampire romance between sweet telepathic Sookie (Anna Paquin) and sexy undead Bill (Stephen Moyer). Best characters: Sookie’s conflicted, demon-ridden, wisecracking best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) as the coolest, cutest, freakiest, most interesting short order cook ever. What else would we expect from Alan Ball, who created Six Feet Under and wrote the film American Beauty.
Other great shows this year, in no particular order:
-Always necessary – The Daily Show, The Colbert Report. The Colbert Report’s week in Philadelphia covering the heated Pennsylvania primaries was outstanding. Colbert at the Liberty Bell telling the guide “Let me tongue the crack of liberty.” Colbert singing the National Anthem with John Legend, beautifully. Hillary Clinton fixing the digital screen in order to prove she can handle any crisis, only to have Obama appear on it soon afterward by satellite (Colbert: Won’t Senator Clinton be glad she fixed that).
-CBS Sunday Morning – for the most part, educational and entertaining (except when they go off on boring tangents).
-Gossip Girl – a moral drama of the highest order, with the consistently best dialogue of any show methinks. Remember Blair trying to keep her cool when meeting her mother’s new boyfriend for the first time; “I am Grace Kelly – Grace Kelly is me.”
-Lost – best moment so far in a show chockablock with great moments: Ben turning the frozen wheel that made the island disappear. Say what?!?!?!
-Ugly Betty – eye candy with a moral lesson thrown in. And love, love, love Marc St. James (Michael Urie), the bitchy but soft-hearted assistant to diva ediatrix Wilhemina Slater (Vanessa Williams). Another reason to watch; Betty’s younger brother Justin (Mark Indelicato). His best scene ever (Season 1) – acting out the play Hairspray to passengers on the subway. Receptionist Amanda (Becki Newton) also hits many high notes. This show is blessed by brilliant casting.
-30 Rock – All of a sudden it’s all about Tina Fey. Well my altar to her went up years ago when she broke into the boys club at SNL. I’ve been a fan of this show since the beginning, believing (and rightly so, it appears) that if Tina Fey created it, it must be golden. And then there’s Alec Baldwin. My dream man.
-The Soup – I don’t dare chance a weekend without a bowl of spicy soup from Joel McHale and his sick crew. What’s great about this show is that it is a collection of the best moments of all the worst TV shows. McHale’s banter makes me chortle. Although I am getting a little tired of mankini. And when is Spaghetti Cat getting his own spin-off?
-SNL – When they’re good, they’re very very good, and when they’re bad they’re horrid. Sometimes both in the same show. But consistently great (even in bad skits) are Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Casey Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, and Kenan Thompson. Amy Poehler, girlfriend, I’m going to miss you! Of course SNL had a huge year with all of Tina Fey’s Palinizations and such, of which more later.
-Hardball with Chris Matthews – you want to hate him, and sometimes you do. But maybe it’s his Philadelphia accent (my hometown too), maybe it’s because when he gets excited about something he practically foams at the mouth, but he’s hugely entertaining and I logged many hours of this show during election season.
-Countdown with Keith Olbermann – sometimes it seemed as if his voice was the only one speaking truth to power this year. Although he did go overboard many a time. Still, I love him madly and he’s earned a place at the top of my must-see-TV list.
-The Rachel Maddow Show – she’s smart as a whip, cute, and engaging. Her interview last night with tainted Illinois Senatorial candidate Roland Burris was a don’t-miss and if you did miss it, check it out here.
I have not caught the train on these yet but I know I have to soon:
The Sarah Silverman Program
Really good shows on the fringes of my radar, to be further investigated:
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Tracy Ullman’s State of the Union
Reality TV Rubbernecking:
-Project Runway – this year was not so great, but Tim Gunn always delivers. He’s like the teacher you always wanted to have in high school.
-The Pick Up Artist – unbelievably bizarre reality show where a guy in what looks to be a flea-bitten furry top hat who calls himself “Mystery” teaches a bunch of geeks how to score with hot chicks. Mystery has his own language which is endlessly entertaining, my favorite being DHV-ing. This means ‘demonstration of higher value’ – in other words you’re supposed to work DHV’s into your conversation with the babe you want to snag. It’s like a reality tv show in Bizarro World. And Mystery himself, purportedly the biggest catch on the planet, obviously has a hair loss thing going, always wearing strange head coverings. What’s with the goggles? Possibly weirder than him are the sad losers that hang onto his every word.
-America’s Next Top Model – Child! This show can come up with some fun moments. Like when Tyra lapses into ethnic phraseology. Or when she spontaneously bursts into song on lines like ‘noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker.’ Is it me or does everyone behind her (Paulina, Miss Jay, etc) squirm a bit when she does this? Love that Whitney, a plus-size model, won the top prize this year. Love that Isis, a transgender model, was part of the homegirl gang recently. Lady Miss Tyra marches on, dashing barriers right and left!
-Living Lohan – in which Dina Lohan shows us why she should have had her tubes tied prior to getting married.
-Sunset Tan – the best thing about this vacuous show was the Olly Girls (Holly and Molly), two platinum blonde airheads and former Girls Gone Wild. They were fired and…hired back. Because the producers know what makes for good (AKA bad) TV.
-Paris Hilton’s My New BFF – in yet another sign of the approaching apocalypse, this show went on the air in the fall. The winner was Brittany Flickinger (can that be someone’s real name?). Everyone’s favorite: Onch, the girlboy. Stalker material: Vanessa, the runner up. Wikipedia gives us a gorgeous chart which explains why each contestant was eliminated. (At the elimination ceremonies, Paris would gaze sadly at the ousted hopeful and dismiss them with “TTYN” – talk to you never).
-Rock of Love – Season 2 of this unbelievably sick show began in January and ended in April with Bret Michaels, a R&R has-been if I have ever seen one (and talk about hair loss) choosing Ambre Lake from a bevy of skanks to be his (gag me) rock of love. This show never disappoints in complete and total ickiness. You practically contract a sexual disease from watching it. By the way, Ambre didn’t last – I know you’re as surprised as I am – Bret launches a new season of this trainwreck Sunday night January 4 with Rock of Love Bus. Apparently he hops between two busfulls of so-called hot mamas while touring.
-Rock of Love Charm School – in which Sharon Osbourne was the plucky headmistress to a bunch of losers from both seasons of Rock of Love. Although she’s supposed to be teaching them to become ladies, she’s got them dressing in sexy jailbait schoolgirl uniforms. Sharon’s great though. And this show provided many hilarious moments with Lacey, Rodeo, Megan, Heather and the gang.
-A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila – I crown this show to be the one most like licking an ashtray. It was positively rank. And why anyone would choose Bobby over Dani is beyond belief. Seriously! If Tila had chosen Dani, I like to think they’d be living together in Florida in semi-marital bliss. Notice you haven’t heard from Dani since the show ended, which has to be the true test of a real person versus a made for tv skank. I wont even bother to go there with the spinoff show Domenico did. Just the bits I saw on The Soup were enough for me.
-Ryan Seacrest. He’s everywhere. Why?
-Britney Spears. Starting the year with no hair, stabbing cars with umbrellas, ending it with cheese grits cooked over the stove by dad and big hits (fazed cookies too I bet).
-Lindsey Lohan. Apparently now a card-carrying member of the Daughters of Bilitis, big Obama supporter although she later referred to him as “colored” (ouch!), and the real story behind her episode arc on Ugly Betty may never be told.
-Rachael Ray’s never-was Dunkin Donuts commercial due to her wearing a ‘terrorist scarf’ that looked like something a crazy Muslim would wear. I ask you. Can you think of someone less American than Rachael Ray? Because I can’t.
-Word of the Year: Meme. According to Wikipedia, a meme comprises a unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices; such units or elements transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The etymology of the term relates to the Greek word mimema for mimic. Memes act as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures. Well trust me; its still the word of the year.
Political Asylum TV:
During the long-ass American Idolatrous Popularity Contest between HRC and BHO, I logged about 3 hours of MSNBC almost every week night. If I wasn’t home, I taped it. This had never happened to me before; watching news in this fashion. All of which led me to really believe that the lanky, cool junior senator from Illinois who refused to play dirty could pull this thing off. After watching him for many months, and canvassing, and doing everything I could to get him elected, I had absolutely no doubt in my mind on November 4th that he would win. What I did not realize was that he would win so big.
Some real numbers:
-Voter turnout increased by more than 13 million people this year, compared to 2004.
-The Associated Press reported that 136.6 million Americans voted in the presidential election, which is a 64.1 percent turnout rate out of more than 208 million registered voters. What a concept; we’re actually acting like a democracy!
Some wonderful moments over the long road to El Casa Blanca:
-McCain ‘suspending’ his campaign and canceling on Letterman. No one will ever make that mistake again, n’est-ce pas?
-Hillary’s 3 AM wake up call commercial in which the phone rings about fifty times before some half-seen female with glasses answers it, meant to scare the bejesus out of us. Somehow I bet Obama would have answered it on the first or second ring.
-The never-ending discussion over the Bradley Factor keeping white voters from voting for a black candidate. No one talks about it now that we have the Obama Factor.
-John McCain’s insincere smile. It always looked to me like he was suddenly remembering to smile. And the body language between him and Cindy was – well I am not going to go there.
-Cindy McCain’s plagiarized cookie recipe.
-The so-called terrorist fist bump practiced by Barack and Michelle Obama onstage when he announced he was the presumptive nominee.
-John McCain’s confusion about how many houses he owns. And cars! Must be fun to be that rich.
-The debates – McCain wandering around onstage and getting in Tom Brokaw’s camera shot.
-Joe the Plumber, the everyman that was suddenly world famous thanks to McCain, and turned out not to even be a plumber, owed back taxes, had newsmen camping on his lawn, and got a book deal. I’m waiting for the reality TV show. (Hey Joe, where you going with that plunger in your hand?)
-McCain and Palin stoking the fires of fear, ignorance, racism and violence at their sparsely attended campaign rallies trying to make Obama rhyme with Ayers. Trying to paint Obama as a scary unknown communist Muslim. And then McCain being surprised when a woman says she doesn’t trust Obama because he’s an Arab.
And then there’s Sarah Heath Palin. Oh the beauty of it. I doff my hat to McCain or whoever had the foresight to pick her as his running mate. Loyal readers will know that I have run on and on about this particular subject so I will only mention a few of my favorite things here:
-Her first moment in the spotlight, the RNC Speech where she you betcha-d her way into America’s heart. While daughter Piper studiously licked the hair on baby Trig’s head in the audience. While baby Trig was the special needs human football that had to be trotted out in the middle of that loud, germ-ridden arena so we could all admire SP’s motherly dedication to him. As that poor little thing slept through the whole shebang, unaware he was a symbol now and not a child.
-Her debate with Joe Biden. The May I call you Joe? moment where she tried to seem both vulnerable and charming behind the barracuda smile.
-The Charles Gibson interview where he asked if she believed in the Bush doctrine. After a long (for TV) pause where you know SP was frantically racking her brains for what the hell was he talking about, she quipped, ‘in what respect Charlie?” and a whole string of Charlie Charlie Charlie as if that would negate the fact that the emperor (empress in this case) had no clothes.
-The Team of Mavericks. The definition of maverick is an unbounded range animal, one who does not abide by rules. Okay then!
-Thanks but no thanks. The true story of the Bridge to Nowhere.
-Katie Couric trying to pin SP down as to what, if anything, she reads. And not succeeding.
-The turkey death clip that surfaced post election of Palin chattering away as turkeys are slaughtered directly behind her.
-Palin assuring us of her qualifications for a job one heartbeat away from the Presidency because she can see Russia from her house.
-Tina Fey out-Palining Palin and the classic moment when they switched places at the podum on SNL.
And then the final nail in the Bush coffin took place recently when an Iraqi journalist threw not one but both of his shoes at GWB during his farewell press conference in the green zone. Bush later shrugged it off saying, that’s what people do in a free society. Oh really? They throw shoes at world leaders to express their absolute horror, dislike and complete disdain?
From the ridiculous to the sublime… the best TV moment of the year was Barack Obama’s Election Night Speech at Grant Park. In which he said, Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long . . . As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too . . . And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.
So ends my 2008 subjective diatribe about the year in television. I know I’ve run at the mouth quite a bit here. Feel free to comment away, and Happy New Year!