Tag Archives: 2010

Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Heart” (The Good Wife)

“Heart”

Aired: March 16th, 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.]

As odd as it sounds, I think the focus on The Good Wife’s complexity is often an oversimplification.

I appreciate that the series engages in ongoing serial narratives, and that it serves as a character/workplace drama along with its legal procedural elements; I love moments when these two worlds collide, like when Alicia finds herself hearing conversations about her husband on FBI tapes she’s investigating for another case. The interplay of these various spheres is a key part of the series’ success, and certainly what sets it apart from the majority of network procedurals.

However, The Good Wife would not be half as successful as it is without the ability to tell compelling procedural stories within that framework; while the show can sustain episodes without the structure of a weekly case, that it chooses not to places immense pressure on those cases to deliver. Sometimes they are fairly generic, but other times they feature compelling judges (like Ana Gasteyer’s “in your opinion”) or compelling attorneys (both Mamie Gummer and Michael J. Fox made an impact in this area) which elevate the episodes regardless of serialization.

“Heart” stands out for me out of the series’ output this year because it holds considerable meaning without overindulging in serialization. The way we’re dropped into the chaos of the emergency trial, and the way Martha Plimpton entirely steals the show with her newborn baby, are what I remember most strongly from the episode: the case was scrappy and distinctive, makeshift and yet emotionally resonant, and the writing was strong throughout. However, in reality, the episode was hugely important to the central love triangle between Alicia/Will/Peter, and even marked a key turning point for Peter’s campaign (which has become a cornerstone of the second season).

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Sweetums” (Parks and Recreation)

“Sweetums”

Aired: February 4th, 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 choosing between great episodes of great shows in order to make it on this list, Parks and Recreation probably posed the biggest challenge. The show’s second season was a revelation, and its back half had numerous highlights, and choosing between them was more difficult than I had imagined. In most similar instances, I had a gut instinct that drove me in one direction, something in particular I wanted to be able to recognize about that show or that episode over the course of the past year.

With Parks and Recreation, there are simply so many options – I recently watched through the entire second season on Netflix, and admittedly have also seen the first six episodes of season three, and the sheer bounty of greatness made this decision difficult even while disqualifying the Season Three episodes which won’t air until early next year (one of which would definitely be a contender).

I ended up choosing “Sweetums” because it does a number of things which were key to the season’s success. While “Telethon” is the best individual vehicle for Amy Poehler and perhaps the best reflection of the entire ensemble, “Sweetums” highlights the wonderful, complicated relationship between Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope, a relationship which helped set Season Two apart from the show’s earlier episodes. Their tete-a-tete over Ron’s ability to drive after drinking brings out the best in both characters, whether it’s Ron’s whiskey-fueled harp building or Leslie’s “O Captain, my Captain: Ron Swanson, A Swan Song” eulogy; at the heart of their friendship is a sort of begrudging respect for the other’s fundamentally different approach to their life, and “Sweetums” laid the groundwork for Ron’s belief later in the season that even if Pawnee could use less government, it could not exist without Leslie Knope.

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The Stealth Launch: Lie to Me and Caprica Return on Short Notice

The Stealth Launch: Lie to Me, Caprica Return

October 4th, 2010

This week marks the return of two series which were supposed to remain on the bench for a bit longer.

FOX’s Lie to Me was originally scheduled to return in November, but its third season will slot behind House (where it was last season) starting tonight at 9/8c.

SyFy’s Caprica, meanwhile, wasn’t going to return until January, but the decision was made to pair the conclusion of the series’ first season (10/9c) with the return of Stargate Universe on Tuesday.

As someone who was compelled by Caprica, and who finds Lie to Me to be a solid procedural, I should be excited by these returns. However, both because of a general lack of promotion in one case and a sheer lack of warning in the other, these series risk being missed by their prospective audience. While there is some value to flying under the radar, and it is possible that reduced awareness could lead to reduced expectation, I can’t help but feel that these series are being put in a position where sooner is not necessarily better.

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Lone Star Lament: Kyle Killen Discusses the Series’ Rise and Demise at Flow 2010

Lone Star Lament: A Q&A with Kyle Killen

October 1st, 2010

While the online narrative about Lone Star‘s demise considered the show as an example of the divide between cable and network, or as a sign that critical praise actually hurts television series, I personally chose to take something positive: although I was sad to see the show progress into the rest of its first season, which I think had the potential to be a very good television series, I was pleased to see that creator/writer Kyle Killen seemed to be approaching the cancellation with a sense of purpose (in putting himself out there to promote the series between the first and second episodes) and class (by resisting any sort of vitriolic response to its cancellation).

As a result, I was extremely excited for Killen’s appearance at Flow 2010, a television and media conference at the University of Texas at Austin; not only would it give us a chance to learn more about the series, but I could also see whether or not my impression of Killen (pieced together from interviews, tweets and some press tour quotes) would hold in person. During the Q&A after a screening of the series’ pilot, Killen was honest about the show’s failure, open to more complex discussions of the series’ gender representations, and realistic about the way the television industry operates. While the show’s failure identifies much of the cruelty in terms of how the industry evaluates a series’ success, Killen rose above the victim narrative and focused on what he learned from the process, what he wishes he could have achieved, and how he feels about how the process unfolded.

The result was a glimpse into a world of disappointment that, even after learning that we’d be screening the pilot instead of the unfinished third episode, was not close to being disappointing in and of itself.

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Cultural Conferencing: “The New Criticism?” at Flow 2010

“The New Criticism?” at Flow 2010

September 30th, 2010

I am currently awaiting the arrival of a late night bus which shall take me to Chicago and to a plane which will deliver me to Austin, Texas (my first time in the city/state) for the 2010 Flow Conference at the University of Texas – Austin.

This is exciting for a few reasons. First of all, Flow is unique in that it is about conversation more than presentation: instead of having attendees present formal papers, each panel member submits a short response to the panel’s prompt which then form the basis of a discussion which includes participation from the collected scholars in attendance. Conferences are usually all about conversation anyways, with the time before and after panels often more beneficial and interesting than the panels themselves, and Flow formalizes that process within its topics, and I am very much looking forward to witnessing some fantastic discussion over the weekend.

However, I will also be presenting myself as part of a panel convened by Jason Mittell (who I often link to) on “The New Criticism? Academia, Journalism, and Digital Critics.” It’s spun-off from a blog post Jason wrote back in March, which focused on the blurring of critical categories, and admittedly discusses my own position within the erosion of traditional boundaries. As a result, I was very interesting in continuing this conversation, and am excited to continue the conversation with others who come at the question from different perspectives – along with Jason and myself, the conversation will include The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray, The New School’s Laura Crestohl, and UCLA’s Sudeep Sharma, and I am extremely excited to expand on Jason’s post (and my own writings on the topic) this weekend and perhaps into the future as well.

It’s going to be an extremely exciting weekend, and I look forward to plenty of discussion, debate, and analysis in the days ahead. In the meantime, though, readers can join in the conversation: the panel is at 9:45 on Saturday (October 2nd), and if you’re on Twitter you can follow the #Flow10 hashtag where members of the audience of this and other panels will be tweeting. You can also head to the Flow Conference site, where you can read the position papers from each of the panelists which will be used to spark conversation. In the short term, however, you can check out my own position paper below the fold.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series

Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series

August 29th, 2010

Despite being the biggest awards of the evening, I’ll admit that this is one of my least favourite categories to analyze: yes, this is where things should become even more interesting, but more often than not this is where the complacent power of inertia kicks in worst of all. While a good actor being killed by a bad submission has nuance, and a great submission can truly change the nature of a category, there is a sense with the Series awards that the episodes themselves are more or less irrelevant. If they submit tapes that resemble the series’ cultural influence, then it will be enough to make this a race of hype vs. hype rather than actuall quality.

Of the legitimate competitors for these awards, there is nothing that would cause me to become outraged or anything – while there are certainly some contenders which I would prefer, it’s more a question of which series have the quality to go beyond the hype, and whether or not the voters will actually see through those layers to find the actual most outstanding series on television.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Acting in a Drama Series

Lead Acting in a Drama Series

August 26th, 2010

The Lead Acting awards on the Drama side this year are polar opposites: one has a clear frontrunner and a slightly tired set of nominees, while the other category has a ridiculously packed lineup of potential winners where no clear frontrunner exists and where I’d be happy with anyone winning the trophy.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Acting in a Comedy Series

Lead Acting in a Comedy Series

August 25th, 2010

There is nothing particularly progressive about the Lead Acting awards on the comedy side: with Modern Family’s cast choosing to submit in supporting across the board, and with Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison both submitting poorly, the big comedy battle of the year really isn’t relevant here, which means that we’re left with less interesting battles.

Or, more accurately, some less heartening battles: the reality is that these awards are unlikely to go to new faces, with previous winners dominating both fields. I’d like to believe that someone like Amy Poehler or Jim Parsons could walk away with these awards, but only the latter really has a chance, and even then something big, boring, and potentially enraging stands in his way.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Supporting Acting in a Drama Series

Supporting Acting in a Drama Series

August 23rd, 2010

The complete lack of a frontrunner in neither Supporting Actor nor Supporting Actress in a Drama Series isn’t particularly surprising: these categories are always fairly stacked, and so predicting them is always a bit of a crapshoot.

This year, though, the lack of a frontrunner should prove particularly interesting, and potentially quite frustrating for the majority of television viewers.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age)
  • Martin Short (Damages)
  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
  • Terry O’Quinn (Lost)
  • Michael Emerson (Lost)
  • John Slattery (Mad Men)

On the Actor side of things, it’s a problem of too much talent: while many are right to complain about John Lithgow getting dropped down to (and winning) Guest Actor from Supporting on a technicality, I think this category is better for his absence, as it allows people like Aaron Paul (still looking for his first Emmy win for this spectacular work on Breaking Bad) to have a legitimate shot at the trophy instead of appearing as also-rans. However, when he’s alongside someone as respected as Martin Short, and when former winners Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson are riding the momentum of Lost coming to its conclusion, Paul still seems like a small fish in a big pond (Slattery, as good as he is, is simply not going to be the Mad Men actor to break the series’ drought in performance categories).

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2010 Creative Arts Emmys Predictions: Guest Acting

2010 Creative Arts Emmys Predictions

August 21st, 2010

Each year the Creative Arts Emmys are a celebration of the unsung heroes, albeit a celebration which remains largely unsung: few ever really get to see the awards, and so there’s a certain lack of fanfare. However, with the Guest Acting awards given out at the show and with the battles between shows like Glee and Modern Family unfolding for the first time, it’s a good early indicator for how the big awards will fall.

I’m still grappling with the idea of doing predictions for the big awards, and waiting until the Creative Arts ceremony is over is a good reason to put it off for another day. So, let’s take a look at the Creative Arts awards, and go from there.

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