Tag Archives: 2010

Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “The End” (Lost)

“The End”

Aired: March 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.]

Last year, in making a similar list, I put Battlestar Galactica’s “Daybreak” on it, and as one would expect it proved somewhat divisive. The fact of the matter is that I loved the poetry of the BSG finale while acknowledging some of its shortcuts, and in many ways the controversy surrounding it only made it more likely to find its way onto a list like this one; my investment becomes stronger when I feel as if there is a groundswell to reject the finale entirely based largely on principles of television viewership which I don’t entirely understand. This is not to say that I start a crusade to change their minds, but rather that I become very interested in discovering where they’re coming from.

It’s almost scary how much of a carbon copy the reaction to “The End” has been for me. Last week, when Dan Harmon snuck in a dig at Lost’s sense of “payoff” in the Community Christmas episode, watching my Twitter feed’s reaction was a microcosm of larger opinions: some laughed along, the joke confirming their pre-existing dismissal of Lost’s conclusion, while others became legitimately angry at the off-hand dig. Personally, I laughed, but only because I don’t feel as if I am particularly defensive of “The End” (even if I totally understand why some people are).

I loved “The End,” which should be obvious considering that it’s on this list, but I love the fact that people hated it perhaps even more. I think that Lost, as a television series, will be remembered not so much for its story but for how its story was told; as a fan, this disappoints me, but as a critic and scholar it makes the series’ legacy far more important to the future of television. “The End” was a finale that was never going to please everyone, and so Lindelof and Cuse’s decision to not even bother trying was admirable, reckless, and ultimately one of the most affecting episodes of television of the past year.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Modern Warfare” (Community)

“Modern Warfare”

Aired: May 6th, 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.]

I liked episodes of Community more than I liked “Modern Warfare.”

When I first watched the episode it couldn’t live up to the mountain of hype, and my general lack of emotional connection with the specific films being referenced meant that I didn’t have the same thrill that others might have found in the episode. I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed most if not all of Community’s first and second seasons, but the episode was not as life-changing as it seemed to be for others.

And yet there was no single episode of Community more important than “Modern Warfare” this year. It was evidence that this was a world which could sustain these flights of fancy, that Greendale could become a paintball battleground without losing that which made the show tenable. It was indulgent and self-reflexive without being reflexively self-indulgent, never stepping back from the parody and yet never allowing that parody to swallow or bastardize the character arcs caught up in this conflict.

The show achieved higher highs, and perhaps even took greater risks as the year went on, but I feel pretty confident that none of it would have worked as well were it not for the confidence and goodwill gained from the day that Greendale went to war.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “White Tulip” (Fringe)

“White Tulip”

Aired: April 15th, 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.]

Fringe did not end up making my series list, a fact which I attribute to two things.

One is that the list was made while Fringe was still amidst its third season experimentation (deadlines and all that), and I think I was concerned (without cause, really) that it couldn’t stick the landing – I knew the show had been much improved this year versus last, but without knowing how they intended to strike that balance it made selecting the show as one of the top 15 (in what has been an overall strong year for television) more challenging than choosing already complete seasons.

The other, however, is that “White Tulip” has been stuck in my head since it aired in April, an episode emblematic of the series’ improvements to the point that I knew it would end up on this list (and thus recognize the show for its improvements). Amidst growing complexities relating to Peter’s true origins, and Walter’s growing sense of grief over the truth he’s held from his quasi-son for over twenty years. “White Tulip” by all appearances prepares to tell a normal story at a time when the “other side” is growing more prominent within the narrative. And yet the resulting “stand alone” episode is evocative, powerful, and resonant in ways that – going back to yesterday’s focus on The Good Wife’s “Heart” – most praise of the show glosses over in favor of its more serialized elements (which have been in fine form this year as well).

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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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