The Critical Masses’ 2010 TV Column Part 2: Matt D. Likes To Watch

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. – Ryan

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Matt D. here with my 2010 TV recap column.

I got rid of my cable television in 2010. I don’t miss it. Anna and I weren’t watching enough television to justify the $50-$60 a month price tag and with the amount of television we were watching on demand through Netflix, it didn’t make sense to be paying for 300+ channels including HBO and Showtime.

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped watching TV. Now I watch my TV shows through alternative means, whether it be through iTunes or Netflix or the public library or through file sharing, which is probably the way everyone is going to watch television one day. I try and go the legal route whenever possible, but sometimes I do what I have to do. I’m not bragging. I’m not proud of the levels to which I sink for entertainment.

On a lighter note – here’s what’s been keeping me entertained this past year:

Warning: This list is not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

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5. Saturday Night Live (NBC) – Let me get a few things straight. I’m not going to try and convince you that SNL has been good this year, especially since the start of Season 36, which began in September. The first show was hosted by former cast member Amy Poehler. Poehler is always funny, so when she’s in the building and you’re still starving for laughs, you know something isn’t right.

I don’t blame the guests. Robert DeNiro has stopped by Studio 8H, as have Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, and Jane Lynch. Not to mention last year brought in Betty White, who was a pleasant surprise and also brought back several of the show’s former female cast members that have really made SNL worth watching during the last decade.

I don’t blame the cast either. The new featured players are all funny, as well as the “new” repertory players, Bobby Moynihan and Abby Elliot. Jason Sudekis is great, especially his Joe Biden impression. I love Bill Hader. Fred Armisen is one of the funniest guys on the planet right now, even if his Obama impression does suck. I miss Will Forte, but I never felt like he was holding the show together. As for Kristen Wiig — ohh … Kristen Wiig. It’s probably time for her to move on since lately it feels like every one of her characters is a variation on Gilly. It wasn’t always like that with her. Wiig’s impressions used to be a whole lot more diverse. She’s a very funny lady and I feel like she’s being misused by the real culprits behind why SNL has been kind of a stink-fest lately…

The writers. That’s where I’m pointing my fingers. SNL needs new writers. That’s it. End of story.

Still, no matter how bad things get, I keep watching it. I’ve been watching it since I was a teenager, when the stars of the show were Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Chris Farley. I watched it through the bad times and I guess this is one of them. Maybe the excuse “I’ve always watched it” isn’t a very good one for why I continue to watch – but … that’s the best I can do.

I guess I expect SNL to eventually be relevant again – maybe the next presidential election or when the newer cast members get more comfortable in their roles. This isn’t the first time that the show has gone through an awkward transitional stage. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Let’s just hope it doesn’t last as long as the show’s very first awkward stage, which pretty much lasted through the entire 1980s.

Speaking of which, Netflix has entire seasons of SNL available to watch instantly beginning with Season One up until the early 2000s. That includes some of the worst seasons in SNL’s history, 1980-85. If you think SNL sucks now and you haven’t seen what the show became in 1981 after Lorne Michaels left, check it out. If you can’t stomach today’s SNL, go back and watch some episodes from the original Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players or the late 1980s through 1990s episodes, when SNL was at its peak.

4. Bored to Death (HBO) – There aren’t a lot of smart, funny shows on television, so thank god we have Bored to Death – as well as Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I’m excited to hear is returning for another season. I loved this show when I had Cable TV and am currently catching up on the second season, which began in September.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar, in Bored, Jason Schwartzman basically plays the same character he did in Rushmore — and basically 900 other movies — only without a really sinister side, as too much white wine and pot have turned him into a man-child of sorts. The premise of the show is that Schwartzman plays an unlicensed private detective/struggling writer/assistant to Ted Danson’s character – a highfalutin magazine editor … but, really, none of that’s really important. The premise is just a convenient excuse to have Schwartzman get into a variety of implausible situations – infiltrating a dominatrix’s dungeon to erase her hard drive or being held hostage by a pair of thugs and engaging one of them in a discussion about Oscar Wilde. Jobless English majors should love this show and, after watching it, might even consider becoming a private investigator themselves.

Schwartzman isn’t the only one playing “himself.” Zach Galifianakis basically plays the same sad-sack character he’s played in every other movie he’s been in, while Ted Danson is Sam Malone, only a lot older and a little grayer. I suppose that enjoying the work of Galifianakis and Danson is sort of a prerequisite for enjoying this show, as I think Bored to Death would be a tough sell if you hate those two actors.

Casting all this aside, the show’s a lot of fun and consistently funny because of its excellent writing. The guest stars are usually pretty good too, including Kristen Johnson (3rd Rock From the Sun), Kristen Wiig (SNL, as previously discussed), and Kevin Bacon playing himself.

I’m enjoying Season Two even better than the first. There seems to be more of a running plot throughout Season Two, while with Season One each episode seemed more or less self-contained and it was a lot easier not to get hooked and to just allow yourself to tune it in or out.

I think this show would have been higher on the list, but I’m still midway through the season. I have some catching up to do. I also just read that Bored to Death has been renewed for another season, which is super duper.

3. South Park (Comedy Central) – A lot like The Simpsons, South Park has morphed over the years from being a fairly simple cartoon about a couple of kids living in a small mountain town (in the case of The Simpsons, a middle-class nuclear family living in Springfield) to a self-referential, pop-culture skewering beast of a show that thrives on humanity with all of its shallowness and paranoia. As long stupidity continues to reign supreme and as long as Trey Parker and Matt Stone remain in touch with what’s going on in the world — much like Saturday Night Live — there will always be room for South Park.

This season’s targets for parody included Facebook, the Tiger Woods “scandal,” medicinal marijuana, Intervention, NASCAR, Jersey chic, and the shake weight. One of the more interesting episodes, however, was the show’s 200th episode, which once again revisited the Muhammad cartoon controversy. With the Muhammad episode, Comedy Central showed a complete lack of spine by refusing to show an image of Muhammad — even if that image was Muhammad dressed in a bear costume.

2. Dexter (Showtime) – I love Dexter. I’ve been watching it since Season One. The story lines are always captivating, the characters are wonderfully multidimensional, it’s funny, it’s really well directed. This past season has not been great, but I have hope that the next season will be better since this is the first time that the show has not lived up to my expectations – I’m thinking Season Two in particular.

The whole concept the show has been running on this past season – a rape victim taking revenge on her assailants – is an intriguing one. I did not find Julia Stiles, who plays the victim, to be on the caliber, acting-wise, of Jimmy Smits or John Lithgow. On the other hand, Peter Weller and Johnny Lee Miller were great in their guest roles.

My main complaint is that the whole season felt like a diversion from the overall story of Dexter, his relationship to his sister Debra and son Harrison. I understand that the writers wanted to have Dexter deal with the death of his wife Rita and figured the best way to do this was to have him “save” Lumen to get over Rita’s murder. Still, I think they could have handled this element of the overall story without putting everything else on hold.

Oh well. It’s still one of my favorite shows and I know I’ll be watching next winter when Season Six begins. I think an interesting development next season would be for Harrison to begin showing some signs that he may be harboring his own Dark Passenger – something that’s been tackled in the book.

That makes my #1 show for 2010:

1. Lost (ABC) – As much as I complained about the series finale when it aired, if I’m going to be really honest with myself – if I’m going to look deep into my heart and ask myself, “What was your favorite TV show of 2010?” – I would have to answer: Lost. Or LOST. Goddamn motherfucking – pardon my French – Lost.

If I could crib from my fellow writer here at Critical Masses for a moment, while Saturday Night Live, South Park, Bored to Death and Dexter are all great shows … none of them are Lost. Not just this last, teasing, frustrating season – but Lost, the whole kit and kaboodle, from A to Z, la dee da – LOST.

As I’m typing this I’m actually watching the Season One finale of Lost. Jack is seated at an airport bar and a woman named Anna Lucia saddles up next to him. I look over toward my wife Anna with a knowing glance as our friend Corey, who has never seen Lost and is watching it through for the first time, watches on unknowingly. Corey is oblivious to Anna Lucia’s future role in the series. A few scenes ago she gasped as Michael’s raft crashed on the beach as the castaways attempted to push it into the ocean. Soon, Hurley will be picking pieces of Arzt off of his body. Ah … the memories – to go back in time. When we didn’t know all the secrets of The Island … oh wait! We still don’t!

Actually, I showed up a little late to the Lost party. I watched all of Season One on DVD after it aired and started watching regularly around the middle of Season Two. That didn’t matter a lick as Season Six was unveiled I hung on every each episode and – when it was all said and done – I was disappointed.

Watching from the start, however – and I’ll try and be a little ambiguous for those of you who haven’t watched the show all the way through – I’m starting to appreciate a little more the whole “island” storyline. I feel as though, as absurd as some of what happened seemed, what occurred in Season Six was what the creators of the show had intended from the start. As for the other part, I think it was a case of the writers painting themselves into a hole. One of the major recurring themes of Lost was faith versus science. Much like fans of the X-Files once found themselves divided between those who wanted to see Mulder and Scully “get together” and those who wanted them to keep their relationship platonic, there was a division between Lost fans – those who wanted a rational explanation for what was going on and those who just wanted to believe. I fell into the first camp. I set myself up for disappointment.

Congratulations to those that managed to be neither a “man of science” or a “man of faith.” You probably enjoyed the ending of Lost.

But in spite of everything, Season Six of Lost was better than a lackluster season of Dexter, an uninspired year of Saturday Night Live. While Bored to Death is a lot of fun – it’s no Lost. As for South Park, for every knock-out episode, there’s an episode featuring Eric Cartman’s alter-ego “The Coon,” or something equally benign.

So, there you go. Lost wins.

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So what do I have to look forward to in 2011? Well … Lost is over — although there was a really cool epilogue included with the Season Six DVD that I dug.

Let’s see … there’s Big Love‘s final season — a show which almost made my Top Five. There’s a new season of Weeds. The season which aired in 2010 was pretty lame, but it ended on quite a cliff-hanger. Then there’ s Dexter and Bored to Death, both of which have been renewed for a new season. Not to mention another season of The Walking Dead.

So, what do you think? Would you like to see more TV talk here on Critical Masses? Leave us some feedback and let us know. Better yet, are you interested in writing about TV? Shoot us an email at criticalmassesmedia@gmail.com.


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10 responses to “The Critical Masses’ 2010 TV Column Part 2: Matt D. Likes To Watch

  1. bored to death sounds awesome.

    that’s a good interpretation of lost i think – i fell into the man of science + man of faith camp, and perhaps that’s the reason i wasn’t disappointed.

    you wanted to see mulder and scully get together? heathen. so ancillary.

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  2. Sorry. You misunderstood me. I did not want to see Mulder and Scully get together. What I meant was I fell into the “man of science” camp … or at least the “man of science fiction” camp in regard to Lost. I wanted some kind of explanation for the island’s origin — it didn’t even have to be completely set in reality (example: time travel) — just *something*. I kind of blame the show for this, since the writers had gotten quite good at explaining all sorts of extraordinary things through science (example: magnets, polar bears). This really got turned-up a notch in Season Five when time travel became a big part of the show.
    When Season Six started, I expected more explanations. That’s what I had become accustomed to — everything has a logical reason for happening. Instead, Season Six started introducing all these new “magical” elements that I was supposed to just accept at face value. It’s like the show suddenly turned a 180.
    After the fact, and especially re-watching the series, I understand that Season Six was probably how the writers envisioned the show ending from the start and everything else that happened — freighters, time travel, etc… — was kind of a big tangent.
    Still, it was a great ride.
    Whew.

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  3. haha! good. i can imagine people at home watching an episode of x-files and afterward sighing and saying, ” i wonder if those two star-crossed fbi agents will ever realize their love for one another.” i for one wish it’d never happened.

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  4. I think the X-Files is cool. I’m watching it now on Netflix … I only saw bits and pieces the first time around … but I don’t imagine I’ll make it to season six or seven or whenever Scully and Mulder — you know — “do it.”

    Apparently the show gets pretty bad at some point — or so I’ve been told.

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  5. I’m with Matt about Lost. Whether they meant to go with the “faith” angle all along and lost the thread or jumped ship at the end because they had no “science” explanation for everything, I ultimately think Lost ended up a bit of a mess in the end. Some awesome storytelling along the way, but a little bit of a failure overall.

    I know it’s not had as long of a run, but I actually think Fringe has been much better at establishing premises and following them through consistently. I don’t know if I’d ultimately come down this way, but I often feel like it’s the better show.

    I’ve never watched X-Files!

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  6. Oh, and SNL.. Yea, it’s weird… it’s such a cultural institution… such a long history that’s it’s kind of interesting to watch whether you’re laughing or not. As if, when it’s not entertainment, it’s anthropology. And I agree with you about Wiig. I continue to persist in liking her even though all of her characters are annoying (i.e. variations of Gilly as you said).

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  7. Check out the second season of Bored to Death when you have the chance. I think you’ll be surprised how much more consistent it is. I was pretty entertained by the first season, but I thought the second season was brilliant.

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