Category Archives: 10 of ’10

Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Duets” (Glee)

“Duets”

Aired: October 12th, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list, click here.]

I have written more about Glee this year than probably any other show – it’s the only network series other than The Office which I reviewed on a weekly basis, a fact which sometimes might seem at odds with my generally critical approach to television. Sometimes, we associate reviewing with appreciation: we write about Mad Men because we love the show and think it deserving of detailed analysis.

And yet, for me, reviewing is about more than just appreciation (as my readers at The A.V. Club have discovered whenever it is suggested that I am unfit to review The Office since I have fallen out of love with the show). Reviewing a television series is about the search for understanding, dissecting our own appreciation or lack of appreciation for something in order to better understand how it fits into television as a whole. I may no longer love The Office, but I really enjoy writing about it, as I want to understand why I fell out of love, and where the show might go from here in response to a general sense of criticism stemming from a weak sixth season and the impending departure of Steve Carell.

I review Glee because it’s a show that I think needs to be talked about in order to understand what it’s trying to accomplish. Something like The 3 Glees theory is not intended to condemn the series, or even define the series; instead, Todd’s theory offers an explanation for why some viewers may find the series erratic, and why some of its characterization may deemed inconsistent by finding three distinct authorial voices amidst the series. I write about Glee not because it’s one of the best shows on television – it didn’t come close to making any lists I made relating to that subject – but because I really enjoy exploring why it’s not (as opposed to simply how it’s not).

And it’s something that I feel reached its apex with “Duets,” the series’ finest episode over the course of the past year. After spending most of 2010 picking apart why it is that Glee failed to live up to its potential, I found myself standing face-to-face with an honest-to-goodness, and actually honest, episode of television that I’d be willing to put among the year’s best. Perhaps it was just the element of surprise, the novelty of suddenly having to write about how much I unabashedly enjoyed an episode of the show, but as the year has lingered “Duets” has remained in my head not unlike a catchy song; accordingly, it rounds out my Top 10 episodes of 2010.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “The Suitcase” (Mad Men)

“The Suitcase”

Aired: September 5th, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

The atypical nature of nearly every episode on this list was not really something I planned, but “The Suitcase” sort of feels like the apex of that particular trend. On the one hand, it’s everything you expect from a Mad Men episode: it’s moody, it’s emotional, and it features two amazing performances from Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. This is nothing out of the ordinary, and in those terms the episode is par for the course as far as Mad Men‘s “formula” for great television.

However, from the perspective of story and character this is anything but typical. Mad Men‘s entire fourth season was built around the differences between appearances and reality, of the way in which Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had to invent an imaginary second floor in order to convince clients they were the right agency for the job, and “The Suitcase” makes the logical leap to explicitly connecting this to Don Draper’s personal subterfuge. In an intense battle with the most important female presence of his present, he reveals the wounds felt by the loss of the most important female presence in his past, and the result is perhaps the year’s finest hour of dramatic programming.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “A Study in Pink” (Sherlock)

“A Study in Pink”

Aired: July 25th, 2010 (BBC)

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

In making my various lists, it was difficult to determine just exactly what Sherlock is. I decided at a certain point that TV Movies/Miniseries wouldn’t be included in my lists, which means that Temple Grandin and The Pacific will just have to settle for their respective Emmy Awards, and yet what do we call Sherlock? Sold as part of Masterpiece Theater in the United States, and yet very much sold more as a series in Britain (and Canada as well, more or less), its weekly format suggest a short-run series while its running times relate more to Prime Suspect or, to use an American example, Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone movies.

However, whatever term we end up using to define Sherlock, I’m comfortable considering “A Study in Pink” as a 90-minute pilot for a television series, and thus comfortable with considering “A Study in Pink” one of the 10 best episodes of the year. It’s the one installment in the series which feels as if it needs its running time, using the additional room to great effect in drawing its two lead characters, finding its point of view, and creating a charming yet haunting world in which Sherlock Holmes can enter the twenty-first century.

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My Top 10 TV Series of 2010

My Top 10 TV Series of 2010

December 23rd, 2010

I wasn’t going to make this list.

I did a Top 15 shows as part of The A.V. Club’s Top 25 Shows of 2010 list – which is really fantastic, and features my writeups on United States of Tara and Cougar Town – earlier this month, so I technically thought about what my Top 10 was, but looking back on it I didn’t like it. Knowing that the list was going to be aggregated, I think I steered clear of series I knew didn’t have a chance, or at the very least ranked them lower than I might have otherwise, and the result was a list that wasn’t wrong so much as it was unrepresentative of a broader view of the year in television.

And yet, since I have this particular outlet and have been in a list-making mode of late, I did put together a Top 10. It’s largely the same, although I’ve made a few changes to make it slightly more representative. This does not imply that series were elevated above their station in order to add a sense of diversity: there is no hierarchy here, and I consider these 20 series to be on more or less similar levels (outside of those shows which I clearly label within the writeups as the finest within their respective genres, which should not come as a surprise to anyone).

And I like the sense of diversity. These shows aired in different countries, at different times of year, and on a wide range of networks, and represent the ten shows which make me very glad to have been both obsessed with and paid to write about/study television in the past year.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010 – “Fly” (Breaking Bad)

“Fly”

Aired: May 23rd, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

When I first noted that I was limiting this list to a single episode per series, someone (it was either Jeremy Mongeau or Timothy Yenter – you should be following both) noted on Twitter something approximating “Heh, you should pick “Fly” to screw with people’s heads.” I should have saved the tweet, because I had already decided on “Fly” at that point, and got a good chuckle out of it.

I am aware that not everyone will agree with this choice. Those paying close attention may have noticed that, in going in chronological order, I passed over the sheer intensity of “One Minute,” and in picking “Fly” I’m ignoring the stunning pair of “Half Measures” and “Full Measure.” I love all of these episodes, just as I loved Breaking Bad’s third season as a whole, and yet some part of me gravitates to “Fly.”

You may have also noticed that I am attracted to episodes which are somewhat different – in fact, to this point, everything but “Sweetums” could be defined as distinctly atypical for the show in question, suggesting that I’m easily distracted by gimmicks. And yet with “Fly” the gimmick is the lack of distraction, the degree to which the show is stripped down to its most basic qualities in an effort to find something that might have otherwise gone unseen. The result is a fascinating glimpse at what it means to be contained, what it means to be contaminated, and definitive proof that Breaking Bad is simultaneously one of the darkest and one of the most hilarious shows on television.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” (Party Down)

“Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”

Aired: May 21st, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

Along with Better Off Ted, I find it’s easy to forget about Party Down. Its short ten-episode seasons mean that it airs during a very concentrated period of time, and the transience of all but its central characters means that it doesn’t have quite the same cumulative impact of other series. Combine with the fact that the show did take a bit of time to get itself settled following the exit of Jane Lynch and the arrival of Megan Mullally, and that the show was sadly canceled earlier this year, you have a show which might not immediately spring to mind as a 2010 highlight.

However, “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” has resonated with me more than the series itself, for reasons which largely relate to its structural distinctiveness. You’ll find that this is a consistent criteria for a list like this one: rather than leaning towards prototypical episodes of a series (like, for example, Constance’s wedding in the case of Party Down) I tend to lean towards those which are trying something different. In this case, “Birthday” is both one of the series’ most postmodern episodes (what with Guttenberg, he who has been elevated by the Stonecutters, playing a version of himself) and one of its most naturalistic, with the caterers becoming partygoers in their own right. It is silly, as the show often was, but it leans more heavily on a version of reality which I found compelling and, more importantly, resonant.

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Cultural Crowdsourcing: The Top Scenes of 2010

The Top Scenes of 2010

December 17th, 2010

So, the Top 10 Episodes of 2010 series will be taking a hiatus as I head into paper mode over the weekend (which means it will finish on Christmas Eve, in case you hadn’t done the math), but in ruminating on the subject I wanted something to spur some discussion over the weekend.

And, I think scenes are the way to go. While every episode is technically composed of various scenes, there are often scenes which make an impact distinct from their larger context and linger in ways we wouldn’t normally expect. Sometimes they are conversations which seem to resonate beyond the episode into the series’ larger context, whereas other times they are simply scenes which make us laugh or feel some sort of emotion whenever we think about them. Others, meanwhile, are simply incredibly inventive or exciting – there are just an infinite number of criteria, and so I figured this is a job for all of us rather than just myself.

So, I’m going to start with five, and then I very much encourage you to nominate your own selections in the comments. There are, however, two rules:

1) Avoid Detailed Spoilers

There are some shows people haven’t seen, and so I would appreciate (and I’m sure everyone would appreciate) that you don’t go into explicit detail with spoiler-heavy analysis. If you think something (whether it be a death on Dexter or a major event on Lost) could be construed as a spoiler by someone who hasn’t seen it, see if you can’t use other signifiers (episode title, omitting character names) which could at the very least limit the damage.

2) This is Not a Contest

I don’t think we’re going to have this problem, as you’re all pretty civil, but this is not some sort of elimination contest to decide the best scene of the year – rather, it’s a chance to collect an assortment of scenes that people really enjoyed. Like I said, don’t think it will be an issue, but I wrote that I was going to have two rules, and then discovered that I really only had one rule, but decided that the impact of there being two rules may be in some way helpful. Also, whether or not anyone comments on the inanity of this particular paragraph will test and see whether people bothered to read the rules in their entirety, which is always fun.

One final note: I participated in a feature going up at The A.V. Club next week which recognizes scenes of this nature – I wrote about a couple of scenes there, and so I’ll be sure to link to that when it goes up next week. It also means that I likely didn’t include certain scenes here because I’ve covered them elsewhere in other capacities (whether in A.V. Club Features or in my Top 10 Episodes list). My list also tends to lean towards comedy, but “scenes” can mean pretty much anything you want it to be, so don’t feel limited by that.

Five of the Top Scenes from 2010

Fairy Janette performs “Iko Iko” – Treme

[Sorry for the awful quality – better than nothing?]

Treme had numerous high points, but for me the scene which most reflected the infectious spirit which it both embodied and disembodied over the course of its first season was Kim Dickens’ Janette drunkenly dancing in the streets of New Orleans trying to turn cars into carriages with her wand and absent-mindedly belting out “Iko Iko” at the same time. The scene doesn’t become anything sinister, nor does it seem at all self-destructive: it is just a woman, freed of her responsibilities, letting loose and bringing passerby into the revelry – when Janette responds to the teenager that she’s “Me,” it’s sad and beautiful at the same time, which seems to be Treme‘s modus operandi.

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