When I’m not watching movies…I’m probably working my way through a television series. These are my favorite television programs that I have watched the first half of this year. It’s a mix of both old and new, from the States and the U.K.
Hands down the highest quality drama on tv the first half of the year. I remember seeing the teaser commercials for this, didn’t really know much about George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, I’m not the biggest high fantasy lit fan, so I came into it with moderate expectations. How those expectations were exceeded. This is the first drama since Lost that has gotten to me so emotionally. Martin and the people at HBO understand you have to give a damn about your characters and then the worldbuilding can happen. This series, based on the first of four books, follows the members of the Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen. There’s a lot of political intrigue, espionage, a whodunit style story, and just basic character development that adds up to a television series that makes me blot out all other distractions when I watch it. HBO proves once again that, if you have a property you want to develop for television and want to have creative freedom to make it the best, you go to them. Never in a million years would the networks have the guts to take the risk on a show that is this amazing.
I never really cared for Fred Armisen on SNL, but every time he popped up in other shows he was funny. He finally has his own project, starring alongside Carrie Brownstein (formerly of Sleater-Kinney) in a character-based comedy sketch series lampooning those urban hubs of liberals. I am a bleeding heart liberal myself and lived for a year in the Seattle-influenced community of Bellingham, WA, which probably why I laughed my ass off so hard at every episode of this show. You can tell that Armisen and Brownstein intimately known these archetypes, and they love them enough they can lampoon them. From the overly aggressive and overly pierced street cyclist to the humorless feminist bookstore owners to famewhore music hipsters, Portlandia is a show that is more than about Portland. It’s about Seattle, Austin, the East Village, hell even my own Hillsboro Village. Kyle Maclachlan also appears throughout the series as the hilarious Mayor, a perfect capture of the middle-aged, upwardly mobile Gen X-er.
This is a television series that does not get anywhere near its due for basically creating the modern television comedy paradigm. Garry Shandling stars as Larry Sanders, host of a fictional late night talk show. His two key players are Artie (Rip Torn), the show’s ruthless producer and Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), his constantly jealous and self-doubting sidekick. The show was a mix of video taped footage of Larry and his guests in front of a live studio audience and then single camera behind the scenes stories. Ricky Gervais admits in interviews at how inspired he was and how this influence The Office, which in turn would basically set the tone for NBC’s comedies. You also have characters who are immensely unlikable yet somehow endearing, which continued in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development. Larry Sanders is one of those great uncomfortable comedies and it may take awhile to readjust your brain from network tv that wants every character to be “relatable”. I can’t relate to many of the characters on this show, but its funny, and isn’t that what counts in a comedy? All six seasons are streaming on Netflix, you have no excuse not to watch.
Season 1 were the baby steps, with some moments of inspired brilliance. Season 2 was a full on marathon of genius. The show has found its legs and it delivers every single episode with the best comedy on NBC’s Thursday night line up. This season found us with Apollo 13 on a KFC shuttle simulator, the Halloween zombies, a conspiracy theory laden night school, stop motion animation psycho therapy, Dungeons & Dragons done by people who know what they are talking about, an homage to A Dinner With Andre, and a two part paintball war that started off with Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and ended with a full on Star Wars finale. Simply said, Community is the most pop culture friendly show on network tv, and has the best cast comedy right now. Danny Pudi for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy at the Emmys. *Drops mic*
Forget MTV and its lame ass American adaptation of Skins. This year, the real deal came back swinging. We got an all new cast (as is the custom every two years), and this had to be the best. The high drama, soap opera stories were pulled back and some of the cinematography was down right cinematic. In this third generation, we had Frankie (Dakota Blue) as the lynch pin, a girl who preferred dressing androgynously, so in turn drew the bullying of her fellow classmates. The thing I love about Skins, is how each character gets a spotlight episode, and after each of those episodes it is much harder to hate them. The show delivers on humanizing every single kid, so that you can sit back and realize, “Wow, adults fucking suck.” The highlight of this series was Mini’s episode. Mini is the Scottish Queen Bee of the school, but when you pull back the curtain you see she comes from a home where mom teaches her the goal is it to use your body and your looks to make sure you hold on to a man, or he’ll leave like dad. The moment where Mini gives in to the pressure of her boyfriend to have sex is absolutely heart breaking.