Category Archives: Best of 2009

Cultural Holidays: Season’s Readings and Greetings

While I think any regular readers of the blog will acknowledge that my capacity to separate myself from writing about television is limited to the point that any attempt to suggest a long-term vacation from Cultural Learnings is futile, the lack of new television and the increase in time spent celebrating Christmas with the family will mean that I (like just about every critic) will be taking some time off over the next few weeks.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a most happy of holidays, and hope that the season brings you everything you wish it to. I’ll likely be back with some “Year in Cultural Learnings” thoughts before the New Year (like I said, vacation fail), but it’s been a great year here at the blog and I want to thank all of you for reading, commenting, and contributing to an ongoing dialogue on the fantastic medium of television.

So, I’m off for the holidays, but I do want to be able to offer one last bit of reading. As such, here’s some links to my big features over the past few weeks, along with some added context on the lists involved. It’s a chance to catch up if you didn’t see the lists the first time through, or a chance to revisit them when annoying relatives have you locked in a back room afraid to venture forward.

[I’ll mention at this point that I certainly wasn’t the only person making lists this year, and media scholar Chris Becker has been doing an amazing job keeping up with the various lists at News for TV Majors.]

Articles

However, first I want to point out the relatively new “Articles” tab in the header above. This leads to (surprise!) Cultural Learnings’ collection of articles, where some of my more substantial or theoretical posts on television can be found. These range from the early months of the blog (where I coined the phrase sci-futility to describe the inevitable ratings decline of then-hit Heroes) to just a few days ago (when I made my yearly attempt to connect a major motion picture to television), so there’s plenty of reading material if you’re new to the blog and wondering if I ever do anything but review individual episodes.

This six-part series should really be titled “Television, the Aughts and Us” considering the great number of comments the pieces received. It was great to be able to get some other opinions on the various subjects, especially when it came to something like Part Five (which focused on the role of torrents in the consumption of television in the decade). While I framed the pieces as an individual experience in order to account for my critical blind spots (The Sopranos, The Shield, etc.), it’s important to get a diverse range of perspectives in order to really understand the decade. As a result, the comments have in many ways become part of the pieces, so I want to thank my various co-authors in pulling everything together.

Introduction

Part One (featuring 24, Alias and Gilmore Girls)

Part Two (featuring The O.C., Veronica Mars and Friday Night Lights)

Part Three (featuring Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Mad Men)

Part Four (featuring Survivor, The Amazing Race)

Part Five (featuring The Office, Arrested Development, and How I Met Your Mother)

Part Six (featuring The Wire)

Posting this series over three days created some backlash, especially when my Episodes list was posted independently to Fark.com and led to a large number of comments about various unrepresented shows. And the nature of making three lists simultaneously meant that I was making some concessions. I didn’t put Zack Gilford onto my performers list, or “The Son” into my episodes list, because Friday Night Lights was making the shows list despite only airing about 9 episodes in the calendar year on the strength of that episode. I knew Battlestar Galactica wasn’t making my shows list, so I chose to represent the show through its finale (which I am aware I liked more than most) because it felt the most representative of its polarizing season.

And there were other decisions that were influenced by my current frustrations with certain series. It’s hard to laud How I Met Your Mother when I’m just getting past the show’s treatment of Barney and Robin’s relationship, and as much as House’s season finale was a great movie-esque two hours of television the fact that the rest of the season has entirely ignored its implications sort of dampens its effectiveness. And attempting to create an objective bubble around these shows or these episodes would defeat the whole point of this list: they’re my opinions, and if I didn’t use my subjectivity in making these lists why would I even bother?

Which is why I loved seeing the feedback on Fark, and the feedback in the comments section, because mine is but one opinion. It was a great year in television, and the more perspectives we get on that the better.

The 10 Performers of the Year

The 10 Episodes of the Year

The 10 Shows of the Year

Thanks everyone for reading, and all the best over the holidays! I’ll likely be back for a few comments on Doctor Who: The End of Time over the break, and as always you can find me on Twitter if you somehow after reading all of this want to read more of what I have to say. All the best to you and yours this holiday season.

Myles

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The Best of 2009: The Shows of the Year

The Shows of the Year

December 21st, 2009

When you’re selecting the Top 10 shows of the year, you reach the point where you have to ask yourself: what would the year have been like if this show hadn’t been on the air?

And this criteria oddly kept a few shows off this list that I thought would have been here, shows which felt like they made a fairly substantial impact at the time but eventually felt defined more by a single episode than by the season as a whole, or by a single performer rather than the entire ensemble. And then there were shows which I love, shows that hold a special place in my heart and held special places within my End of Decade retrospective, but delivered seasons this calendar year which felt as if they were relying on rather than building on previous success. And then there were shows that I know are objectively better than some of the series which are on this list, but yet never felt integral to the year in television as we know it, that never felt as if they had made an impact on my experience with this medium over the past twelve months. Throw in the shows I just don’t watch, and those which just barely missed the cut despite meeting my criteria, and I’m sure there’s plenty of shows which you would contend should have a place on this list.

However, the shows on this list are a reflection of what was a really great year in television, a year where shows with intense fan support proved to withstand critical scrutiny and where shows with strong reputations delivered seasons that demonstrated intense control over their characters and their journeys. It was also a year where we recognize the joys of the Sophomore Season, where a network shows enough faith in a series to give it a second kick at the can and is rewarded with a creative explosion impossible to ignore. And it was also a year where, according to the list below, the network with the worst track record somehow managed to be affiliated with five of the best shows on television, demonstrating that there are some shows capable of transcending industry finagling to simply be great television.

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The Best of 2009: Episodes of the Year

Episodes of the Year

December 20th, 2009

[This is the second of three lists recognizing the best of 2009 in Television: Performers of the Year has been posted, and Series of the Year will be posted tomorrow morning. These other lists will recognize parts of some of the shows missing from this particular list.]

When you review individual episodes all year, you might presume that it’s easy to be able to then categorize those episodes for the sake of an end of year Top 10.

You would be right…and wrong.

See, on the one hand, I have a pretty good memory of individual episodes that really made an impact, ones which stood out from the pack and connected with me. However, on the other hand, comparing an episode of Lost to an episode of 30 Rock doesn’t feel particularly natural, and more importantly you can’t actually create a list like this in a bubble. You have to consider which shows are making it onto other lists, and whether the sum of their parts are perhaps more worthy of recognition than a single episode. And you also need to consider whether a single performance was more likely the cause of an episode’s greatness as opposed to its collective influence. Throw in concerns about nostalgia or proximity clouding your judgment, and you have just as large a challenge whether or not you write episode reviews for the heck of it.

As such, my Top 10 Episodes of the Year are not, perhaps, the best episodes that aired this past year, but rather those which either really connected with me, or felt incredibly important to their individual shows’ success, or those which are on the list so that I’m not so embarrassed as to have those shows represented on none of the lists I put together. It’s not an exact science, but it eventually created a list (which is ordered by air date, in case that isn’t clear) of ten television episodes that really stuck with me this year.

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The Best of 2009: Performers of the Year

Performers of the Year

December 19th, 2009

I am not capable of working magic, so I shall not attempt to rank every single amazing television performance of the past year and boil them down to only ten selections. It’s an impossible task that the Emmys are incapable of doing correctly even when they have numerous categories in which to highlight particular nominees, so who am I to try to cover all of my bases with just ten names?

The purpose of this list, rather than trying to represent every great performance, is to highlight those that had an impact on me, and to some degree to highlight those which might not be represented elsewhere on the list in terms of particular episodes or the series themselves (and since I limited it to one performer per show, in some instances I refused to make a decision and chose to represent them elsewhere). In some cases, this means singling out the one part of an ensemble that I enjoyed, and in others it means singling out obvious candidates because there may not have been room for their shows on other lists (although I could just be messing with your heads, who knows?).

Now, in selecting this list, I had two basic rules:

  • If they won an Emmy or some other major award, chances are I didn’t include them.
  • If I didn’t see it (e.g. Breaking Bad), I can’t award them for it.

The second rule is there for an obvious reason, but the first is a bit more complex. I know that someone like Toni Colette gave a great performance in United States of Tara this year, no doubt, but I also know that she already got an Emmy for it – I don’t really need to tell you she gave a great performance, and I am more likely to give her spot to someone who hasn’t won an Emmy, or who should have won an Emmy, or who might some day win an Emmy. This isn’t to say I’m avoiding all buzzworthy individuals, but rather to suggest that I tried to avoid the usual suspects (so, no Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, for example).

So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Top 10 Performers of the Year (in alphabetical order, by the way).

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