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June 4, 2009

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The Golden Age of Television

This poll of TV critics on the best television shows, performances, etc., of the past decade reveals a handful of things:

  1. The decade’s almost over, folks. The Naughty Aughties. We hardly knew ye.
  2. This decade’s been a golden age for scripted drama. Here are the nominees: “Friday Night Lights,” “Lost,” “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos,” “The West Wing,” and “The Wire”; the just-missed list includes “24,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Big Love,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Deadwood,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House,” “Rescue Me,” and “The Shield.” Neither list includes “Six Feet Under,” “Rome,” “Dexter,” “ER,” “Boston Legal,” “In Treatment”… fill in your favorite drama here. (Not all of these are my cup of tea, but they were all contenders.)
  3. When you look at comedies, the drop-off in quality is a lot more sharp. Here are the top shows: “30 Rock,” “Arrested Development,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Daily Show,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “The Office.” The runners-up? “The Big Bang Theory,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Frasier,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” “The Simpsons,” and “Two and a Half Men.” Now, I really like “Flight of the Conchords” and “Freaks and Geeks,” but even compared to “Arrested Development,” they’re blips. And once you remember that you’re talking about the 2000s and not the 1990s, most of the rest of the good shows fall off that list too.
  4. I’m sorry, but the dramatic actor category is all messed up. All of the “Just Missed” actors are better than everybody in the category except Gandolfini. Ian fucking McShane, people. Ian McShane. This is worse than giving Emmys to James Spader.
  5. We need more recognizably great comic actresses. Tina Fey’s created our generation’s Homer Simpson in Liz Lemon, but otherwise, the waters there look thin. No love for any of the ladies on “Arrested Development”? Or the voice actresses from “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” or “King of the Hill,” all of whom were consistently great?
  6. Either Variety or the TV critics’ association doesn’t care about writing or direction. Kinda weird.

Via Kottke.

Posted June 4, 2009 at 6:42 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Television


1) So, that episode of Mad Men where Don just fucks off to hang out with the bohemians in California? Might have been my favourite episode of TV ever. I dunno' why. But I've been wondering lately if we're experiencing a bit of a dip now - i.e. that Mad Men is the end of a solid run. For a while it was sorta' amazing how much good TV there was. Now, I dunno. I guess I mean new shows.
2) I *love* Tina Fey, but I dunno if calling her our generation's Homer Simpson is fair. I think her 'relatability' has a lot to do with class, education and race. But speaking of comic actresses, it always bugged my that Fey beat out Mary Louise-Parker for an Emmy. Parker's work in Weeds is insanely good. I get Fey is probably more important on a cultural level, but yeah, MLP switches from funny to heartbreaking in a flash.

Yeah, I've said it before, but I think the winding down of Lost and the uncertain future of Mad Men and Friday Night Lights (among others), plus the fact that HBO isn't clearly dominating the cultural discussion with a great new drama every year, make it a kind of twilight moment right now for television.

At the same time, there's a weird twisting of memory happening in those lists, with a big black hole between 2000-2004. I think Friday Night Lights seems better than it is because it's happening NOW, while Deadwood or Six Feet Under, which both ended a few years ago, get less respect. At the same time, a whole lot of people and shows are getting nods for the work they did in the nineties, not now -- e.g., The Simpsons, Frazier, Friends, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, etc.

For #2, let's be clear; Tina Fey is not Homer Simpson; Liz Lemon is. More precisely, Homer Simpson has been gloriously divided into Liz Lemon and Tracy Jordan. Or Liz Lemon is Homer and Jerry Seinfeld's (or Chandler Bing's) baby. Something like that.

As for the class and race stuff, let's not forget that Homer Simpson is a bunch of thirtysomething Harvard guys' idea of themselves (admittedly, crossed with their dads). But I think their common relatability has to do with the blending of the complexity of their characters with the purity of their desires. Tracy Jordan works the same way; Homer-wannabes like Eric Cartman or Peter Griffith fail precisely to the degree that they do not.

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