The Critical Masses' 2010 TV Column Part 1: The Perspective of a Crate-Digger

So we don’t have a television column here at Critical Masses, although we’ve discussed searching far and wide for someone who has good taste, tons of time, and doesn’t mind schlepping all over town for coffee and bagels for us senior staff members. (Chris is very particular about his lattes, just FYI.) But we all watch TV, whether or not we like to admit how much time we actually spend doing it. Therefore, Matt D. and I decided we like watching certain shows enough that the medium deserved a year-end recap. I’m not saying we’re experts or anything, but here’s an enthusiastic crack at a column about what TV shows we liked this year. C’mon back tomorrow for Matt’s recap.

I was all set to write this recap with a different #5 on the list – one of the honorable mentions, I can’t recall which – and I showed my preliminary rankings to my wife Julie, sure that she would share my enthusiasm for the choices as they’re all shows we watch and love together. However, the conversation went something like this:

JULIE: Seriously?

ME: What?

JULIE: Um… Lost!

And that’s when I remembered: Lost finished out its sixth and final season during the 2010 calendar year! Duh. Of course. So I’m not going to let the suspense simmer – Lost is number one. With a bullet. From the gun of Sayid Jarrah. Into Martin Keamy’s chest.

Or from Martin Keamy’s gun into Alex Linus’s head.

Or from James “Sawyer” Ford’s gun into a polar bear.

Or from Eloise Hawking’s gun into Daniel Faraday’s chest. In the past.

I can go on. We were a little obsessed. But you get it: there were a lot of bullets in a lot of body parts throughout the six seasons of Lost.

My point, though: Lost was the greatest show that graced our televisions. You know, IMHO. It was exciting. It was suspenseful. It was character-driven. It was a television show that made you research like a grad student: philosophy, physics, literature, religion – it was a show that made you smarter. It expanded your reading lists.

The story was awesome, too, and for us sci-fi geeks, the whole time-travel, sideways-flash, mythology-filled final two seasons were just what we needed. And the ending – the ending that divided the fanbase. Wow. The Critical Masses fanbase was even split. I fall into the camp that loved the ending – it was filled with so much hope. But I won’t spoil that here.

So in the year that the Best Show Ever called it quits, there can only be runners up. Here are four that I loved this year, and why Lost is better.

5. Burn Notice (USA)

Being a burned spy sucks. Being a burned spy stuck in Miami sucks even harder, especially when your wardrobe contains mostly sport jackets and very few shorts. Them’s the breaks for Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), with nowhere to go, and nothing to do but play A-Team to the down-on-their-luck victims (sometimes of their own stupid doing) of rich baddies. Westen’s joined by ex-Navy Seal Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell – hooray!) and on-again/off-again girlfriend and ex-IRA toughgirl Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar). Michael’s mom (Sharon Gless) smokes cigarettes and nags. And newly burned (by Michael and crew – woops!) operative Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) made nice with the team this season … until he realized they were responsible. Oh boy… but it’s all a recipe for super-fun, quick-cut, fast-moving action. In short: it’s a blast.

It’s no Lost though: The characters and chemistry are great, the story is fast and engrossing, and Westen’s voiceovers often provide useful tips on spy maneuvering, like breaking into warehouses without triggering alarms, building fake bombs that look real enough to foil the most seasoned weapons dealer, or bugging someone’s mobile phone with cheap items from Radio Shack. But in the end it’s a shoot-em-up spy game, really more akin to the A-Team than I’d like to admit. But hey – mindless entertainment’s OK if it’s done properly, right? And, you know, Bruce Campbell! In Hawaiian shirts! Constantly drinking beer!

4. Rubicon (AMC)

OK, first: Rubicon’s been cancelled. If it weren’t for the next show on this list, I’d be writing angry e-mails to the sons of bitches at AMC for dropping such an awesome show from their roster. I mean, I get it – it’s all about viewership and ad revenue, but too many good shows have gotten the network axe before their stories were told. Fortunately, Rubicon ended in such a way that I guess, if you squint at it right, it’s at a point where the questions are OK remaining questions. But the characters were fully fleshed throughout the show’s short runtime, revolving primarily around Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an intelligence analyst at the New York City-based government think tank, the American Policy Institute (API). Travers uncovers a conspiracy that involves government higher-ups and high-ranking American businessmen. I’m super-oversimplifying, but trust me, you will be hooked. Each episode is a slow burner, but you’ll find yourself transfixed by all the webs of intrigue. Sadly, we must be satisfied with thirteen fantastic episodes.

It’s no Lost though: And never pretended to be. Superbly written, Rubicon was definitely a character study of the small team of API analysts assigned to monitor terrorist chatter. Like Lost, it’s chock full of secrets, and layer upon layer of players in the big picture. However, the scale is much smaller, and, of course, based in a reality we can all understand. (I hesitate to simply say, “based on reality” – c’mon people, The Island is out there….) When Rubicon hits DVD and Blu-Ray, do yourself a favor and check it out. Think of it as a great miniseries.

3. The Walking Dead (AMC)

There is very little guesswork when it comes to AMC’s The Walking Dead – it’s a zombie show. About zombies. My quick take: it’s about time.

But what separates this zombie tale – adapted from the graphic novel of the same name – is the human element. Sure, cop in hospital wakes up from coma to find world has gone to shit, the undead roam the earth, he’s not sure if there are any other survivors besides himself, let alone if his family made it somewhere safe … sounds pretty run-of-the-mill. But once he rides into downtown Atlanta – on a horse – and realizes there’s a small contingent of functioning humans left, the drama and the tension onto which the writers latch stem from the emotional toll of survival in a world no one’s prepared for. It’s genius. And beautiful. And heartwarming. And terrifying.

It’s no Lost though: Well, first of all, it’s only six episodes long, so it plays like a miniseries. (Wisely, although AMC f’ed up with Rubicon, they’ve renewed The Walking Dead for 13 season-two episodes.) But the human element in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds is there. Characters are wonderfully fleshed out for such a short amount of time, and character is essentially what drove Lost. The scope is much smaller, though, but that’s not a knock – just a difference. I can’t wait for season two.

2. Fringe (Fox)

Oh Fringe – you’re my new favorite show.

Yes, it has distinct whiffs of The X-Files (not that that’s a bad thing), but it certainly doesn’t take itself quite as seriously, as evidenced by the genius interplay of its cast, particularly the madcap Walter Bishop, played by John Noble. But now that the show has laid its cards on the table this season – and the story is so fully formed and interwoven within itself that it’s probably only useful to list key talking points, like “alternate universe,” “fringe science,” “war between universes,” “alternate personalities replacing known personalities,” “high stakes familial bonds,” “human experiments,” “drugs” – it’s clear that there’s much more exploring to do and many more questions to answer. For example – will the alternate Walter Bishop succeed in destroying our universe? Will the budding romance between Walter’s son Peter (Joshua Jackson) and FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) rekindle following the realization that the alternate Dunham wooed Peter for nefarious ends? How will the alternate world’s Fringe Division cope without its Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick), and will their core team get much airtime? (They were awesome in their brief use this season, a fully formed character unit with amazing chemistry.) How will Walter use his new scientific conglomerate, Global Dynamic, to stem the tide of war? Will there be any more Leonard Nimoy? Or strawberry death rants?

It’s no Lost but: It’s awesome, and has made me forget about other attempts to sate the Lost fanbase, such as FlashForward, The Event, and V. It comes closest and perhaps equals Lost’s infatuation with heady scientific concepts – well, it at least equals the time-travel aspects of Lost with its alternate universe hypotheses. It’s got the characters, and the world-altering consequences of their actions. In short, it’s smart and exciting, even if it hasn’t psyched me into heading to the library to track down any ancillary texts that may inform its geeky gloriousness. All hail Fringe. And Fox, I know you moved it to Fridays come January, but please don’t kill it.

Honorable mentions: Being Human, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Futurama, NCIS

You were marketed to the Lost crowd, but you blew it big time: V, The Event, FlashForward


2 responses to “The Critical Masses' 2010 TV Column Part 1: The Perspective of a Crate-Digger

  1. Haven’t seen any of these shows apart from Lost, but I’m intrigued. If I can tear myself away from old SNL and X-Files reruns on Netflix Instant, I’ll check them out. Fringe sounds especially cool.


  2. Pingback: Five Years In: My First Year as a Crate-Digger, Reviewed |·

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