Category Archives: 2008 Television Time Capsule

The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Friday Night Lights – “New York, New York”

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“New York, New York”

Season Three, Episode Eight

Airdate: November 19th, 2008

Entering into its third season, which a majority of you probably haven’t seen yet thanks to the strange DirecTV exclusivity, Friday Night Lights had two main goals: to say goodbye to its graduating players who no longer felt organically tied to the Dillon Panthers, and to recapture that sense of magic that made the first season so special. With 11 of its 13 episodes finished airing, the season has managed the second goal quite well, and is on its way to achieving the first.

[To respect the fact that most of you haven’t seen these episodes (they start airing on January 16th on NBC), I’ll put the rest below the fold – Myles]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Mad Men – “The Mountain King”

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“The Mountain King”

Season Two, Episode 12

Airdate: October 19th, 2008

There are a lot of problems with choosing “The Mountain King” as the episode of Mad Men to enter into our 2008 Television Time Capsule. There are a lot of subtleties you lose in such a decision: you lose the slow escalation of Don Draper’s emotional distance, the subtle dissolution of Don and Betty’s marriage, and the various nuances that define the series’ ability to take a season and make it feel like a lifetime in the best way possible.

But I feel as if “The Mountain King” is the best example of Mad Men’s best qualities: the inner turmoil of Don Draper, here revisiting his past and the woman who helped him assume the identity of his fallen comrade, was never more vulnerable than it was here. If he was lost in a world he didn’t understand in “The Jet Set,” this episode finds him in one that feels almost too comprehensible: it has simple tasks, simple pleasures, and there is a moment or two where we actually question whether Don is going to return to his old life, and there is not a single moment where we question that Don is at the very least going to return to Sterling Cooper with a different outlook on life.

The episode makes this list, though, because of both its thematic consistency and a single moment of stunning television. For Peggy, this was the episode wherein she made her big move: she closes the Popsicle account with a healthy dose of religious imagery (one of the season’s recurrent themes with the introduction of father Gil), moves into Freddy Rumsen’s office, and achieves a triumphant victory, it seems, for the role of women in the show’s universe.

But what Matthew Weiner makes very clear in the episode (co-scripted by Robin Veith) is that the show isn’t about blanket statements: in contrast to Peggy’s success, Joan (a fantastic Christina Hendricks) is trapped in an impending marriage that in this episode turns violent, and Betty feels so devalued by Don’s departure that she lords her moral superiority over others and shares her grief with her daughter. If Peggy takes control of her own destiny, we discover at episode’s end that Joan has lost control of her own, as her fiancée rapes her on the floor of Don’s office, and that Betty doesn’t even know where to begin.

It was perhaps the most human we had ever seen Joan, in particular, and it’s a sign of the show’s diversity: as we ponder Don’s future, celebrate Peggy’s success, and enjoy the comic stylings of Bertram Cooper’s marvelous sister, we nonetheless depart the episode in absolute disgust at Joan’s fate. While the show is often more subtle than what we saw in the season’s penultimate episode, it was never more powerful in my eyes.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Battlestar Galactica – “Revelations”

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“Revelations”

Season Four, Episode 10

Airdate: June 13th, 2008

When Battlestar Galactica ended its third season, it had left two primary questions for the fourth and final season to answer: who is the final Cylon, and when will humanity reach Earth. By the end of “Revelations,” it had answered one of these questions, but it had more importantly done what the season had been somewhat slow to do: to take the third season’s cliffhanger and elevate it to the show’s grandest scale.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the fourth season was a failure in this regard, but the reveal of four of the final five Cylon models was always going to remain small until the entire fleet knew their identities. While episodes like “The Ties that Bind” show the ramifications of this not-at-all simple fact on certain individuals, and the entire season dealt with the internal psychological turmoil (or discovery), it never felt like the season could really take off until more people were aware of their identities.

And in “Revelations,” this became true: as the show ramped up the interest in discovering the final Cylon model, resurrecting D’Anna and bringing the question of Otherness between humanity and Cylons into greater focus by bringing the two sides into a tenuous alliance, it seemed like the ideal time to throw all caution and secrecy to the wind and reveal their identities to the entirety of the fleet.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Lost – “The Constant”

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“The Constant”

Season Four, Episode Five

Airdate: February 28th, 2008

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog, or watched Lost’s fourth season, that “The Constant” makes it into Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule. The story of Desmond Hume’s altered state, trapped between his time on the island and a period years earlier shortly after his breakup with Penny, the episode is the very definition of what made the fourth season of Lost one of its best.

The reason is found in the episode’s seamless integration of heavy science fiction subjects (radiation-driven time travel) with the show’s most powerful love story. Ever since his flashes began, Desmond has been the character most often directly involved with the science fiction, and on some shows such characters feel like tools, less characters than tools of exposition. But at the same time, Desmond unrequited love with Penny has been one of the show’s most enduring storylines.

The two storylines meet in near perfect harmony in “The Constant.” They each alter one another in the right way: the element of time travel is made more understandable when their relationship is caught in between it, while their relationship, although already compelling, becomes even more remarkable when it is able to transcend both space and time.

While there may be some disagreement about whether or not the show’s finale delivered on the season’s promise, I don’t feel as if anyone could argue that its most emotional moment called back not to Jack and Kate’s flashforward but rather this episode’s pivotal moment, the phone call that will go down as one of the show’s most powerful sequences.

YouTube: The Phone Call

And, as a result, “The Constant” shall enter the Time Capsule as a sign that Lost has continued to evolve: always a science fiction show driven by its characters, those two parts of its identity had never been in such stunning partnership before this episode. As we prepare for the show’s fifth season (which starts January 21st on ABC), I have perhaps an unreasonable confidence that this is the benchmark towards which Lindelof and Cuse will again strive.

Let’s hope I’m right.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule: An Introduction

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Faced with the task of memorializing 2008 as a year in television, there have been two major trends: either accepting the challenges facing the industry in 2008 and focusing on the positives which emerged, or eviscerating the industry for falling out of its golden age and squandering its potential.

I don’t envy people who truly have to do this job for a living: in a year of failed pilots and declining ratings, it must be tough to sum it all up from a critical perspective without the same kind of freedom that this blog affords me. The Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule is an attempt to elide the year as a whole altogether: yes, it is tied together by some vague idea of recognizing that which was memorable in television, but I have no obligation to step outside my own station in doing so.

But I can’t pretend that writing this feature didn’t make me think about the broader implications of the industry, or that I didn’t read numerous other year-end features that influenced me to some degree in the process. This has been, even if we ignore the qualifications of good and bad, an interesting year for the medium of television, and I can totally see how some would begin to view the year as somewhat of a disappointment.

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