There is just over 24 hours left to go in the Cultural Catchup Project’s Reader’s Choice poll to decide which show I will be watching first, and it’s not quite coming down to the wire. As it stands, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have a commanding lead with 42% of the votes, doubling the nearest competitor (The Shield) which is down to 21%. The Sopranos and Newsradio (at 19% and 18% respectively) are in a close battle for 2nd, but have very little chance at catching up to the leader at this stage in the game.
Now, however, is your chance to vote or try to change the course of history (or, more accurately, to potentially sway this meaningless poll in your favour). While I considered a run-off vote to give those the 3rd/4th place shows’ voters a chance to recast for one of the other series, I don’t have the time to pull that off properly, so I’ll leave it up to those who aren’t having the poll go your way: if you want to change the result, tell your Twitter followers or reach out to someone who has a lot of Twitter followers and try to pull the poll in your favour.
I am at the mercy of your democratic choice, and look forward to the results, whatever they may be. So, vote away, and I’ll be posting the results early Friday morning – the poll closes at 11:59pm ET tomorrow, April 8th.
The 2010 Cultural Catchup Project: Reader’s Choice
April 3rd, 2010
Over the past twelve months, I have been collecting various TV on DVD sets. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon: I tend to impulse purchase a lot of television series on DVD due to various sales, and doing so has led me to discover shows like How I Met Your Mother, which I picked up for $22 one summer and led to the show becoming one of my personal favourites.
However, the sets I’ve been collecting as of late have been for a different purpose: rather than purchasing them to discover something new, the sets were purchased to “catch up” on something old. As I’ve written about in the past, I really only started watching television regularly in 2004, which meant that there were quite a large number of shows which started before that date which I never got around to watching.
This means that I have what I would call television blind spots, popular or critically-acclaimed series that I simply haven’t seen enough of in order to reference them. Now, it’s impossible to avoid having some blind spots, especially from a historical perspective; I know that I’m not going to be able to catch up on all of the sitcoms and police dramas from the 70s and 80s, so I will leave that to those more interested in those eras. However, as someone really interested in the more recent rise of the serial drama series and who feels like they missed out on some great television in the 1990s, there are certain blind spots that have proven problematic. I had to avoid reading Decade in Review pieces in order to evade spoilers, I’ve missed out on the true impact of certain guest acting gigs for former cast members, and I’ve had to deal with being a television critic and a television scholar who hasn’t watched these iconic (or at least “important”) television series. While I’m thankful that neither scholars or critics have ostracized me as a result of these unfortunate grievances – often because they too have embarrassing blind spots – I think it’s time I did something about it.
So in the next four months, as I transition from the end of my Master’s Degree at Acadia University to the beginning of my PhD at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I’m going to eliminate these blind spots. I’ve got five series on hand that I want to try to get through before August rolls around, and my plan is as follows:
Focus on a single show at a time (with one exception).
Watch the show(s) at whatever pace works with my schedule
Write about the show(s) each weekend
Now, in terms of #3, I don’t intend on reviewing every episode – while I might review a single season if I’ve got enough to say about it, and I might even focus on a particular episode if it’s considered especially noteworthy, my goal is to make observations about the shows as a whole. Sometimes these could be analysis of how effective certain stories are or my opinion regarding certain characters, and other times they could focus on narrative form and structure or more “academic” subjects of analysis. Sometimes they might be observations about the show itself, and sometimes they might be observations about watching the show, or observations about watching the show after having evaded spoilers for so long. I want to keep things pretty open because there is some interesting diversity amongst and within these series, and I want to be able to respond to them contextually if at all possible. I’m even open to writing two pieces on a single weekend if it better reflects my viewing experience.
However, while my most recent catchup projects (Big Love, Breaking Bad, Fringe) were chosen due to their pending returns, I don’t particularly have an opinion on which show I watch first in this instance: all of the shows have already ended their seasons, and if I’ve managed to avoid substantial spoilers for this long I don’t think that a few more months is going to kill me. As a result, rather than picking one at random, I’ve decided to let my readers (and those who get to this piece through my attempts to widen the voting pool) choose what they want me to watch first.
Newsradio (1995-1999) Why I Haven’t Watched It: I know almost nothing about the show, if we’re being honest: I knew it had Phil Hartman in it, but it was “before my time” television wise – picked up the Complete Series for $30 sometime last year, been collecting dust ever since.
The Shield (2002-2008) Why I Haven’t Watched It: The show wasn’t airing in Canada when it began, and FX’s low profile kept it from my radar up until a few years ago. I’ve been slowly collecting DVD sets on the cheap, and just finished off the collection this past fall.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) Why I Haven’t Watched It: Firefly was my first real experience with Whedon, and I don’t really know why – I’ve seen “Once More With Feeling,” and I’ve seen bits and pieces of other episodes, but I was always too cheap to buy the DVDs and catch up…until this Winter.
Angel (1999-2004) Why I Haven’t Watched It: Considering that I haven’t watched Buffy, I always felt that watching Angel would probably be a bad move.
Note: I am under the impression from previous discussions that it is best to watch Buffy and Angel chronologically, so I’m including them as a single poll option. However, otherwise, things are pretty straightforward: tell me what you think I should watch, and you might have the pleasure of reading analysis of that show every weekend for the foreseeable future. If you want to expand on your vote, I think PollDaddy has a comment option, but also feel free to expand on your choice (and try to influence others in the same direction, if you so choose) in the comments section on this post. Do make sure to vote in the poll as well, though, as I will not be taking comments into account when I make my decision – democracy rules.
The poll will be open until Thursday, April 8th, at 11:59pm Eastern Time – this will give me time to watch and write about the show’s Pilot for Saturday in order to kickstart the 2010 CCP (Cultural Catchup Project).
Last year, the big story in the Outstanding Drama Series category was the presence of three shows that broke down barriers for cable: Showtime’s Dexter was the channel’s first ever nominee in the category, and both FX’s Damages and eventual winner AMC’s Mad Men were the first ever basic cable series to make their way into television’s biggest category.
This year, the story is a little bit more muddled, as the return of a popular vote-only category raises questions about whether Dexter and Damages can make it back into the big dance competing against the juggernauts like House and Grey’s Anatomy. For shows like Damages and perennial nominee Boston Legal, that relied on showy episodes to sway the blue-ribbon panels, their popular support remains untested, which could lead to some surprises.
Mad Men is a lock to return to defend its title after a strong second season, while Lost’s popular support and the quality of its fifth season should be enough to grab a nomination. The real suspense will come down to whether some shows sitting at the edges might be able to make it in: Breaking Bad had a strong second season, aired very recently, and Bryan Cranston won Best Actor last year and is likely to be nominated again; The Wire broke the Top 10 with its final season, so perhaps The Shield could do the same; new shows True Blood and The Mentalist try to overcome mixed critical responses with their impressive ratings; 24 has been out of the running for a year, and even then was pretty well out of the running with its drop in quality.
Personally, my heart is with Battlestar Galactica, which is in its final year of Emmy eligibility. However, that’s a long shot that’s quite tough to predict when it’s going to come down to popular vote, and until my heart starts giving out Emmy Awards I guess Ronald D. Moore and company are out of luck in the big dance.
If you’re the kind of person who is reading this article, there are certain hopes you have in life.
They were once personified by Lauren Graham, critics’ darling and star of Gilmore Girls, who went seven seasons without an Emmy nomination. Then, you had The Wire, a low-rated but critically acclaimed HBO series that despite being hailed as the greatest series of all time failed to garner any non-writing nominations. And then there’s Lost, which after winning an Emmy in its first year out faltered due to its genre elements getting in the way of its taut and well-constructed drama, only returning in 2008.
The last decade or so of the Emmys have been defined less by who was winning (dominated as it was by The Sopranos and The West Wing), and more by who wasn’t even getting invited to the dance. In the internet age, this is to be expected: internet chatter is always more focused on the negative than the positive, and when the Emmy system is a complex unknown to most people assumptions are made and grievances are aired. The three above examples, and countless more, will go down in the annals of message boards or blogs as those shows which represented a black spot on the Emmy Awards – and, unfortunately for the Academy, their record is getting spottier every year.
But hope is not gone for a show like Lost, or shows like Battlestar Galactica and Friday Night Lights, for the Academy is making another change to its nomination structure: they’re taking all Drama and Comedy series and acting categories into six horse races. Once reserved for a tie, the six-way battle is now the standard, and to quote Academy president John Shaffner this move “exemplifies the academy’s awareness of the amount of great television and fine individual work that is seen across the enormous spectrum of the television universe.”
Of course, what Shaffner is really saying is much simpler: “Dear Internet fans, *Insert Favourite Show* now has a better shot at being nominated, aren’t the Emmys relevant again?”
And sorry, Mr. Shaffner, but this wasn’t the only change, and your statement is an inherent contradiction of the OTHER methods taken by the Academy today. While the Emmy system was before extremely complex,(which I try to explain here), they’re going back to the drawing board: gone are the Panels that made up 50% of the final standings, replaced by, in the case of series, nothing but the popular vote of the entire membership and, in the case of acting races, by small, selective sections of the membership.
Which is officially the most egregious example of “one step forward, two steps back” that I’ve ever seen.
If you’ve been following along with Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule[Full links available at the intro post], you will have surely noticed that there are shows I watch that didn’t make the list. I could have just ignored this fact, but in writing the various pieces that comprise this epic journey through the year in television I had to, for my own benefit, justify my decisions.
Here are my reasons for not including various shows on the list, and feel free to comment with any shows you think I unfairly left out of the time capsule for one reason or another.
The Shield (FX)
Last year, it was The Sopranos that had me left behind as the rest of the world of television criticism discussed its ending and the show’s role in shaping a decade of television. This year, I missed out on The Wire and The Shield both, and at a certain point I had to make a decision about which one I wanted to rectify first. The Wire won, which leaves the Shield’s highly acclaimed seventh season, and the six which came before it, on my catchup list for 2009. I reserve the right to dig up the time capsule, should its genius not be overstated.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
I fell behind on a fair few shows last year, but Breaking Bad is the one that feels like the biggest mistake: I could take not finishing off the first season runs of Reaper or Eli Stone, but this is a show that won Bryan Cranston an Emmy, had a really compelling pilot, and has earned a great deal of critical acclaim. The show is returning in 2009, and I do hope that I’ll find time to watch the shortened first season in time to see if season two might find a spot in 2009’s time capsule.
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
After starting out with a great deal of promise, Grey’s Anatomy’s fifth season quickly devolved into a bizarre experiment on how far Shonda Rhimes could push her audience. It wasn’t just the scandalous departure of Brooke Smith, or even Denny’s ghost rising to bring Izzie to a point of emotional breakdown, but rather that the show has at the same time introduced some elements (like the arrival of Kevin McKidd to the cast, or the guest appearance by Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)) that should have made a difference and have been either squandered or terribly conceived. I’m willing to put a show that shows potential but doesn’t live up to it in the time capsule as a lesson, but right now I don’t want anyone following Rhimes’ example.
Of the fall shows that emerged from the 2008 season, FX’s Sons of Anarchy is the one you know the least about, and the one that you should have been watching (I too was behind on the show, and caught up during December). Labeled as the spiritual successor to The Shield, the show introduces us to a world we don’t understand and a code they claim is anarchy and yet is maintained through a strict set of rules and guidelines.
When the show truly took off is, not coincidentally, the point at which it threw the rules out the window and embraced a side of itself which was entirely unburdened. “The Pull” may not be the single best episode of the show’s first season, that title perhaps belonging to the season finale which Alan Sepinwall pegged as one of the best episodes of the year, but it was the one that made me a believer. Continue reading →