Fall TV Pilot Challenge 2014

Each fall, TV pilot season brings with it equal parts trepidation and excitement for me. Okay, maybe not “equal.” The truth is, even the best round of pilots features way more zeroes than heroes and thus, it’s tough to get TRULY psyched up given the atrocities the networks throw at us. But I do love TV and I really love a challenge so each fall, I attempt the “TV Pilot Challenge”: I watch them all. ALL OF THEM. Even the ones I know will bring me to the brink of wearing an aluminum hat and becoming a sewer person. And is my way, I attempt to use this difficult time for good by reviewing them all in short order to help you use your free time more wisely than me. So let’s get to this, going from the best pilot (and any subsequent episodes I might have seen) to the worst. And by “worst”, I mean quite possibly the worst of all time. SIDE NOTE: For an extra look at these wonderful TV offerings in addition to some other opinions besides my own, check out the latest episode of the Mad About Movies podcast. It's a good one.


Black-Ish (Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis-Ross, Laurence Fishburne) ABC is no stranger to terribly titled sitcoms (See: Trophy Wife, Suburgatory, Selfie) but Black-ish might take the cake. They’re practically begging people in all demographics to stay away. But as it turns out, Black-ish is actually a smart, light-hearted, and humorous show featuring solid writing. It seems like a cop out to call it “The Cosby Show for the 21st century” but I think that’s exactly what the show is going for and I’m okay with that. The episodes following the pilot show promise and have demonstrated an ability to put a modern spin on classic family sitcom tropes. Grade: A- The series record has been set in my household and I doubt that’s being retracted anytime soon.

Marry Me (Carey Wilson, Ken Marino) This was the last pilot to air prior to this writing and turned out to be well worth the wait. I found the chemistry between Wilson and Marino to be quite enjoyable and the setup more than entertaining. Marry Me also has one thing going for it that every other pilot is missing: it’s quick. Marry Me feels like it would fit in a 30 Rock-The Office-Parks and Recreation comedy block and oh, how I miss that lineup. Grade A- This is a very modern sitcom and as long as the writing stays sharp, I’m in.

Jane the Virgin (Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Brett Dier) Okay, I know what you’re thinking. I can hardly believe it myself. A CW show with that title can’t possibly be any good, right? THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT. Turns out Jane the Virgin takes a soap opera-level concept (a twentysomething do-gooder virgin is accidentally artificially inseminated and shenanigans ensue) and turns it into a quirky, genuinely heartfelt dramedy that works on nearly every level. Honestly I might have put it at the top of my list if I wasn’t sure it would make all of you immediately click away. There’s a bit of a Pushing Daisies feeling to this one and man oh man, would I love a Daisies resurgence. I’m shocked by how good this is. Grade: A- There’s a very good chance this ends up getting CW-ed but until then, I’m intrigued.


The Flash (Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin) Whoa, two CW shows back to back? Is this real life? Whatever is happening at CW Headquarters (I assume they’re based somewhere in Iowa), I like it. The Flash is much more light-hearted and even a bit cheeky compared to its big brother Arrow but that works for the material and the setting. And honestly, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air as compared to the edgy, dark superhero kick that we’re on right now but sometimes it’s nice to see a superhero have fun. The Flash is much closer to Smallville than Arrow and that’s a good thing in my opinion. Grade: B+ As with Jane the Virgin, this could definitely go all CW quickly but I’m in until that point

Gracepoint (David Tennant, Anna Gunn, Virginia Kull) Gracepoint has drawn criticism because it is based on (really it’s a remake) a British series called Broadchurch, a show I haven’t seen and therefore can’t compare it to. I will say, I’m not quite as into Gracepoint as I expected to be. The premise is fantastic (a 10 episode mini-series about a murder in a small town with almost every character considered a suspect) and there’s a tracking shot early in the pilot that is gorgeous. But it lacks the life that I would expect a murder-mystery-event to bring to the table. In fairness, I think it might just be one of those shows that is better when binged on all at once rather than week to week. Grade: B I’m intrigued but I’m not obsessed like I want to be

Scorpion (Elyes Gabel, Katherine McPhee, Robert Patrick) I’m no fan of the CBS drama. They’re all very formulaic, very bland, very “TNT day time programming” to me. There’s a good chance Scorpion ends up going that route soon but the pilot (and the handful of episodes I’ve seen since) tried to dance lightly through the clichés and put together a couple of action set pieces that looked better than most anything on network TV. Moreover, while some of the ancillary characters need to burn in a TV fire, there’s a measure of real heart within the main storylines that’s missing in most of these shows. Grade: B A fairly throw-away show but sometimes that’s exactly the kind of entertainment I need

How to Get Away with Murder (Viola Davis, Alfred Enoch, Billy Brown) The closing chapter of ABC’s “Shonda Rhimes Night” (following Grey’s Anatomy which is somehow STILL A SHOW and Scandal), How to Get Away with Murder features a fantastic actress (Davis, duh) at the peak of her game and an interesting concept. Unfortunately, that’s all it has going for it. On its own, the pilot is fairly decent. But when you add in the following episodes, you see that the massive flaws in the first hour only get worse. I actively HATE most of the characters in this show and while the cases Davis’ character takes on each episode can be fun, the connecting story line is one that I can tell will drag on for years and never pay off. This is not for me. Grade: B- I tried

Madam Secretary (Tea Leoni, Keith Carradine, Zeljko Ivanek) I expected to hate this one but Leoni was likeable enough to carry me through. Madam Secretary badly wants to be Sorkin-esque but it’s not quick or smart enough to handle those ambitions so instead it sort of settles down into a nice, comfortable bed of CBS-ness. It’s not bad and if the writers figure out a way to rid themselves of some of the more cringe-worthy characters (I’d start with the media-savvy aides that ostensibly will bring in the young crowd but instead sent me into a blind rage) and too-familiar plotting, there’s a chance Madam Secretary could become The Good Wife: White House. Grade: B- Not great but I might check back in next season to see if it’s improved


Gotham (Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz) The idea is interesting (a pre-Batman Gotham City featuring Jim Gordon as a newly-minted detective and a pre-teen Bruce Wayne just after the death of his parents) and of course I’m a sucker for superhero stuff. Plus, McKenzie is a genuinely good TV actor and sleazy Donal Logue is exceptional. But I must say, this one needs to get better fast or I’m out at season’s end. The plotting and characters need work but my biggest issue is the tone. Gotham is posing as fun, week-to-week entertainment but in reality it’s exceedingly harsh and dirty and that just doesn’t play very well on network television. Grade: B- I’ve got one foot in…

Selfie (Karen Gillan, John Cho) Ugh, seriously ABC, these titles have got to stop. I get a little grumpy even saying the word “selfie” let alone watching a show with that title. Gross. Selfie has two things going for it, though. One, it has good bones, as it is a (loose) modern retelling of My Fair Lady/Pygmalion. Second, the leads are excellent and wholly likeable. To get through the pilot, though, you really have to hold those positives close and hope everything turns out alright. There are more pop culture references in the first five minutes of this show than the average sitcom goes through in an entire season. It’s almost nauseating. I was cautiously optimistic that the good pedigree would will out but the second episode led me to believe the show would be getting dumber before moving forward and thus, I’m probably out. Grade: C+ Somewhere, someday, you’ll get a good project to work on, John Cho

A to Z (Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti) I wanted to like this one and in fact, I actually did kind-of-sort-of like the pilot. But in the middle of the second episode I quit and I doubt I’ll ever go back. This is a major disappointment because the main characters are both likeable and relatable and the leads are delightful. But every second that A to Z features literally any other cast member is akin to a very brutal form of punishment. This is a master class in sabotaging your own material with characters that literally no one can relate to and certainly no one could love. Grade: C+ You guys know how bad a show has to be for me to quit half way through an episode?

Red Band Society (Octavia Spencer, Charlie Rowe, Nolan Sotillo) In the first 10 minutes of Red Band Society, I started walking around the neighborhood looking for puppies to kick. During the middle 20 minutes, I sat sulking in the corner glaring at the TV. And in the last 10 minutes, I started to see a parallel universe in which this show wasn’t terrible and could actually succeed. Unfortunately I think it’s that last 10 minutes that’s a mirage, not the first 30. Red Band Society feels like a show that was written by a bunch of 40 year olds while watching the second season of Glee in 2010. It is painfully outdated and trying wayyyyy too hard to be cool and that’s a shame because somewhere in there you could probably pull together a pretty decent teen drama. Grade: C Is this the best we can do for Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer?

Mulaney (John Mulaney, Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad) I readily admit that giving this pilot any grade higher than a D is related entirely to my bias toward creator and star John Mulaney. Mulaney is a singularly talented comedian, both as a stand up and a writer, and there will come a day when he will become a true star in some way or another. Mulaney though…not so great, John. The second episode showed a great deal of improvement and if it gets the chance to run 10 or 13 episodes, I think it could become actually good. It’s basically Seinfeld for 2014 because John Mulaney is, well, (young) Jerry Seinfeld for 2014. But I doubt it’ll get the chance. Grade: C Check out his “New in Town” stand up set or Google the Stefon sketches from SNL for a true taste of John Mulaney

NCIS: New Orleans (Scott Bakula, Lucas Black, Zoe McLellan) There’s nothing overwhelmingly BAD about NCIS: New Orleans. It’s passable, harmless, and judging by the ratings, it’ll be on the air for at least 10 years. My problem is the complete and total lack of anything even sort of resembling originality. Bakula and company end up working a case that I’m certain has been done on NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Bones, Castle, or virtually any other network procedural of the last 20 years. It’s comfortable, which is why it’ll be successful, but it’s also egregiously lazy and derivative. Grade: C- The New Orleans “culture” within the show is pretty bad, too


Cristela (Cristela Alonzo, Maria Canals-Barrera, Carlos Ponce) I get what ABC is doing with Cristela. This is a fairly cheap show to produce for a time slot (Friday nights) that doesn’t really matter, it adds to the diversity of the network, and it gives them an opportunity to get in business with an up-and-coming comedian in Alonzo. That doesn’t mean it’s good (it’s really really not) or that it’s for me (it’s really really REALLY not) but I can at least see why it got the green light, which is more than I can say for most of the following shows. Grade: C- Those accents though…

Bad Judge (Kate Walsh, Tone Bell, Ryan Hansen) This show feels like a joke. Literally. Like two mid-level executives at NBC who both hate their jobs made a bet regarding who could get the worst sitcom on the air and one of them won BIG TIME. I just can’t believe this made the air. Bad Judge is unfunny and tasteless but perhaps its biggest sin is it isn’t tasteless enough. I’m not saying I’d enjoy it but you can sell Bad Judge if the judge in question is actually bad; a character in dire need of redemption is doable. But “bad” for this show means Walsh drives a stoner van, has gentlemen visitors in her chambers, and doles out “comical” punishments. Ha! Grade: D There’s no way this one makes it to January

Stalker (Maggie Q, Dylan McDermott) You know who doesn’t need to be allowed a public presence anymore? Stalker show runner Kevin Williamson, the genius behind the Scream movies and The Following. Williamson loves two things in this world: Torture porn and sensationalizing serial killers, which of course go hand in hand. Stalker is horrific, ugly, and twisted in the worst sense of the word. Moreover, even if the content itself wasn’t fairly repugnant, the writing is TERRIBLE and the actors seem like they couldn’t care less. Grade: D We’re done now, Dylan McDermott

Manhattan Love Story (Analeigh Tipton, Jake McDorman) The characters of Manhattan Love Story are so one-note as to be incapable of growth or development and the conceit (the audience can hear the inner monologue of the two main characters) is so painfully limited that even if this somehow did succeed, there’s no way it could be held together for 10 episodes, let alone two or three seasons. And how does the show use this storytelling trick of letting us into the minds of our young heroes? Within the first minute of the show, we learn the male lead likes breasts and the female lead is obsessed with purses. Uncanny insights! Grade: F The term “active hatred” would apply here


The Mysteries of Laura (Debra Messing, Josh Lucas, Laz Alonso) Look. I get that we all enjoy a little junk food. Whether your junk food is a bad movie, an embarrassingly catchy pop song, or a lazy formulaic TV show, we all have our weaknesses. I try not to judge people to harshly for their junk food tendencies. It may not be for me but if it works for you, then that’s fine. If The Mysteries of Laura works for you, it is NOT fine. Forget the fact that the writing is some of the worst you will ever see on network television. Forget the fact that Debra Messing is thoroughly unconvincing in this role. Forget the fact that the only way the show can make Messing’s character look good is to make it clear that literally everyone around her (including her pre-school aged kids) are terrible human beings. Put all of those VERY SERIOUS flaws aside and focus on the stupidity of the entire premise of the show: “Debra Messing has a job AND she’s a mom! What?! She does both, you guys! For the first time in the history of the species, a woman is attempting to balance both home and office! Haha, can you believe this?! Tune in Wednesday to see all the crazy shenanigans that pop up!” It takes a LOT to offend me but that’s one of the most offensive messages a network TV show has sent our way in a very long time. NBC is telling America that they believe you are stupid and if you’re watching and enjoying this show, you are confirming their belief. So stop it. Stop it now. Grade: An “F” is too generous DON’T BE STUPID

A Bittersweet Farewell to The Office

Up until a few weeks ago I thought I was prepared for the end of The Office. The show had run its course and like most people I would have preferred to see it end a couple of years ago before it started to truly decline. But in preparation for the event I've been going back through and watching the entire series, from episode one to episode 187, and now I find that I'm not nearly as ready to let it go as I thought I would be. I'm afraid I'm going to cry quite a lot tonight. It started inconspicuously in late March of 2005. I was still at Harding nearing the end of my first senior year and I made time for exactly two TV shows: Arrested Development (I may have been the show’s only regular viewer in the state of Arkansas) and Lost (I also watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien but at the time the NBC affiliate in the area replayed the show at 1 am and I usually watched it then). Beyond these entries, I watched nothing but sports and re-runs of 90s sitcoms and The X-Files. Certainly there was nothing that stood as appointment viewing for a 22 year-old who had so many better things to do than watch TV like go to social events shoot baskets alone in the gym and study play video games. But something about the promos for The Office caught my attention. The show seemed, to put it simply, weird and having had my eyes opened up to the world of quirky/weird/offbeat/different television by Arrested Development, I was intrigued. For six weeks I made sure I was home on Tuesday nights (I think the pilot was on Thursday and then the show jumped to Tuesdays) and delved into the lives of the employees of Dunder Mifflin.


Anyone who has watched The Office since the beginning knows that that first season, six short episodes that replaced (I think) a show called Committed well after midseason, is not very good. Or at least, it’s not very funny. Looking back, I’m honestly surprised that the show got a second season. The first season serves as a solid foundation for the show that The Office would become but all six episodes are fairly bland and there is a sense of hesitance that runs through it all. Those episodes are sort of an experiment, testing the boundary between the accessible sitcoms of the day (Everybody Loves Raymond, Two and a Half Men) and the extreme wit of Arrested Development and the result only above average (at best). But there was something about that season that held my interest and brought me back for season two. It was here, in those first two episodes of season two, that my intrigue turned to love and I felt like I was being rewarded for sticking around. The first episode brought the importance of The Dundies into my life and the second episode marks the beginning of the phenomenon that is, “That’s what she said.” I was hooked.

Over the next three seasons, The Office hit a stride that very, VERY few sitcoms have ever been fortunate enough to find. From the beginning of season two through the end of season four, I don’t think it ever had a misfire. Maybe the occasional “down” episode but never one that truly stuck out as a miss. The stroke of genius came in the writer’s ability to make normal, relatively realistic people seem tremendously funny. Sure, some of the characters were outlandish but everyone who has ever worked in an office environment has been around a Dwight-type or had a boss similar to Michael. I’m on record as saying Arrested Development is the greatest sitcom of all-time but I will readily admit that much of the humor is drawn from the characters’ abject insanity and ridiculousness. Not so with The Office. By making the characters seem real, the viewer became more and more invested in their lives and came to truly care about what happened to them, similar to the way people cared about Ross and Rachel. In essence, you came to The Office for the jokes (and seriously, the level of comedy in seasons two through four is off the charts) but you stayed for the relationships.

Jim and Pam became the new Ross and Rachel but with a much greater level of intimacy between the characters and the audience (thanks in large part to the documentarian aspect of the show). It wasn’t so much, “will they or won’t they” as it was, “please Lord, let this happen soon ahhhhhh!!!” Dwight, perhaps more than any of the other characters, was a caricature of an annoying coworker but even still, you found yourself pulling for him, while also relishing in the sense of living vicariously through Jim as the latter tormented the former. It was kind of a form of therapy for anyone who had a Dwight in their own office. And then of course there was Michael, one of the (in my opinion) five or ten greatest characters in the history of the sitcom. If you were like me, you jumped back and forth in the early years between loving and hating him, sometimes in the same episode, and finally coming to accept him for the person he was, herpes and all. (That’s one of my favorite underrated storylines, by the way.) Michael gave new meaning to the word “uncomfortable” and yet you couldn’t help but love him and his evolution as a character brought with it some of the show’s most poignant moments. And that’s not even taking into account the literal thousands of incredible sequences involving the glorious side characters.


The Office lost its way a bit at the end of season five and I think from there on it transitioned more and more into the mode of the common sitcom that floated from week to week but was still capable of throwing out a great episode from time to time. That is to say, there were no more long plateaus of total brilliance like we got from season two to four but four or five times a year you could bet on a serious spike that reminded you of what the show meant to you. It got old at times and The Office definitely struggled without Michael Scott around to guide but while some viewers fell off, I remained steadily invested. The disastrous eighth season that was particularly painful and a complete waste of time but I couldn’t tune out because of how much the characters had meant to me over the years. I’m glad I stayed because even if season nine hasn’t been up to par with the show’s prime, it has contained some joyous moments that have inhabited the spirit of those earlier episodes if nothing else.

As we approach the final episode of The Office and I reflect on all 187 episodes, my mind has been flooded with literally thousands of great memories. All of the cold opens. (All of them.) A couple dozen pranks. “That’s what she said.” Schrute Farms. Michael’s dance on the booze cruise. The Pam and Jim flirtations. “Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.” Andy’s wall punch. Michael’s hatred of Toby. Gaydar. The majesty of Creed. But perhaps my favorite thing about The Office is the community that it created. In the video I posted yesterday, Rainn Wilson mentioned that he could sit down and watch the show with his mom and his son and everyone could enjoy it. And that is probably the show’s most redeeming quality. To put a smart, witty show on the air and have it succeed for nine years is a feat in and of itself; but to make that show accessible enough for just about anyone to find something to grab on to is another thing entirely. In our early days, my wife and I bonded over our mutual love for The Office and being able to join in her weekly watching parties was a huge boon. When season five debuted, one of my coworkers left mini office supplies encased in Jell-O on the desk of every Office fan. In awkward social situations I could always bring up the previous week’s episode and bet on that breaking the ice. It’s a show that everyone could watch and while maybe not everyone did watch (the ratings were never as good as people think they were), there was always someone from every walk of life who did watch and that sense of wide-ranging community is something that I’m not sure we’ll ever get again given the trend toward television segmentation.


So as we say farewell to The Office, a show that brought about more of an emotional connection than any program I’ve ever had the fortune of watching, I’ve cobbled together a list of my ten favorite episodes, a task that proved almost impossible when I got down to it. Feel free to share your own favorite episodes or moments and pay no attention to the man over in the corner bawling his eyes out for the entirety of this finale.

10. The Client (Season 2, Episode 7) While Michael and Jan Levinston are out making a pitch to a client, the rest of the office stays late for a table reading of Michael’s screenplay, Threat Level Midnight. This was an episode that allowed the brilliant side characters that fill up the show to come to the forefront and it’s also the episode that got a lot of viewers (or at least myself) invested in the Jim and Pam relationship.


9. Livin’ the Dream (Season 9, Episode 21) Andy leaves the office to pursue a career in showbiz and Dwight finally claims the manager’s chair. This was a throwback episode that reminded me of how incredible this show really was when it was at its best. It also supplied a fitting end for Andy and a perfect exit plan for Dwight.

8. The Deposition (Season 4, Episode 8) Michael and Toby travel to New York for a deposition relating to Jan’s lawsuit against Dunder Mifflin. Few episodes of The Office have brought me more laughs than this one and it doesn’t really matter how many times I see it. We also get a glimpse into the heart of Michael Scott and I’m not sure this isn’t the moment that you begin to see him as a real human.


7. The Job (Season 3, Episode 23) Michael, Jim, and Karen all interview for a corporate position and in the end (SPOILER ALERT) Jim realizes he loves Pam. The “will they or won’t they” aspect of The Office came to a dramatic end in literally the final seconds of the season three finale and it was GLORIOUS.

6. Stress Relief (Season 5, Episode 13) Dwight performs an overly realistic fire alarm and Michael forces the office employees to roast him. This may seem like a somewhat random episode but to this day when I think of Michael slamming his employees and finishing every sentence with, “BOOM. Roasted.” I crack up.


5. Initiation (Season 3, Episode 5) Dwight takes Ryan on a “sales call”, Jim swaps chairs with Karen, and it’s Pretzel Day in Scranton. When I set out to make this list, I probably had eight or nine of the episodes picked out and this wasn’t one of them. I had forgotten how great it is until I watched it again a couple of weeks ago and realized just how much goodness was jam packed in here.

4. The Injury (Season 2, Episode 12) Michael accidentally cooks his foot on a George Foreman grill and Dwight has a concussion. This is the episode that caused me to fall in love with the show. I really, really liked it at this point but the idea that Michael could cook his own foot and not understand why people thought that was weird pushed me over the top.


3. Goodbye, Michael (Season 7, Episode 21) Michael leaves Dunder Mifflin for his new life in Colorado. In all honesty, this might not be all that great of an episode but it is so wrought with emotion that I cannot help but fawn over it. Saying goodbye to a beloved character, especially while the show continues on without him/her, is tricky business and I think The Office completely nailed it here. *Tears*


2. Niagara (Season 6, Episode 4) Jim and Pam finally get married in spite of a whole host of problems. This one pretty much speaks for itself so let me say that still to this day if I happen to catch the end of this episode I will tear up. It is a perfect, poignant celebration of not just Jim and Pam but the show itself. Love, love, love it.


1. The Christmas Episodes (Seasons 2, 3, 5, 6, 9) Yeah, I cheated, but come on, how do you choose between all of The Office Christmas episodes? “Benihana Christmas” (Angela and Pam host separate parties, Michael brings two waitresses to the party) is probably the best of the bunch but “Christmas Party” (Michael turns the gift exchange upside down) is also quite formidable and how do you top the awkwardness of “Moroccan Christmas” (Meredith drinks too much and Phyllis drops a big secret)? The episodes from seven and eight are only okay but this year’s entry, “Dwight Christmas” (Jim convinces the office to let Dwight deliver his form of Christmas) was a glorious return to form. All of them are brilliant episodes and I think stand as hallmarks of The Office universe. My wife and I watch all of them every year while putting up the Christmas decorations and it’s a tradition that never gets old. Of all of the things I’m going to miss about The Office, I think what I’ll lament the most is that there will be no new Christmas episode to look forward to every year.


Honorable Mention: The Target (Season 9, Episode 8) – Angela hires a friend of Dwight’s to kneecap Oscar The Return (Season 3, Episode 13) – Andy freaks out, Dwight returns to Dunder Mifflin Scott’s Tots (Season 6, Episode 12) – Possibly the second most awkward episode ever behind… Dinner Party (Season 4, Episode 9) - …This one Sexual Harassment (Season 2, Episode 2) – That’s what she said

Seven Years of 30 Rock

Last night, literally dozens of people tuned into NBC to watch the series finale of 30 Rock, one of the more underappreciated and thoroughly brilliant sitcoms the world has ever known. I say “underappreciated” because, despite its 94 Emmy award nominations and the buzz that gripped social media leading up to the finale, it never reached the masses the way it should have. In a few weeks, The Office will leave the air as well and the public outcry will be immense because, even though the show peaked several years ago, it found a wide and diverse audience that 30 Rock never did. Just about everyone I know watches or at some point in its run did watch The Office whereas very few people in my everyday life have watched 30 Rock. Even I, a self-appointed master of identifying funny things, didn’t grab onto 30 Rock immediately, a lapse in judgment that haunts me to this day. I’ve thought a lot over the last few weeks about what I wanted to write in regards to this end of an era but I confess I’m not sure I could do this show justice. In the beginning, I was going to make this entire week about 30 Rock with one day devoted to the 10 best episodes, another to the 10 best lines, another to the 10 best guest appearances, etc. (And I guess I may come back and do a little bit of that this weekend if I have the time).To prepare for this, I watched the entire series from start to finish and made notes on the highlights but in the middle of season three I gave it up because season three of 30 Rock is possibly the greatest season for a sitcom EVER and to pull a few loose moments from it would be to pull threads out of a cashmere sweater (or something that’s more luxurious, I’m a t-shirt kind of guy). It’s basically perfect. Instead, I’m just going to simply highlight five of the elements of the show that made 30 Rock such a treat to watch week in and week out.

NOTE: There are a TON of outstanding 30 Rock-related articles and lists out there that I strongly encourage fans of the show to browse through. Vulture has the definitive collection of such articles here. I particularly enjoyed this and this.

5. Originality Watching an episode (or a season) of 30 Rock is an experience unlike any other. It clearly draws influence from many of the best sitcoms TV has ever given us (Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, The Simpsons, and even The Mary Tyler Moore Show) without ever coming across as a replication. It is not a direct descendant of any of those programs. Instead, it seems to have learned under the tutelage of each of these great comedies and then shaped that knowledge for its own uses. In essence, 30 Rock is the child of those great shows all mixed together in a comedy lab until it gestated into the perfect sitcom for the 2000s. It pushed the envelope and took chances (the second live show is, in my book, one of the five best episodes the show ever did) that made it stand out from the crowd.

4. Guest Spots If you’ve ever seen an episode of 30 Rock, there’s a very good chance you’ve caught a guest appearance. I would hazard to guess that no sitcom in the history of television has brought in so many “names” to fill supporting roles and moreover, I would say that no show has ever used these resources the way 30 Rock has. When I began my complete series viewing a few weeks ago, I started making notes about the best guest appearances and cameos but they came so frequently and with such excellence that I gave up quite quickly. Steve Martin plays an eccentric billionaire with a secret. Matt Damon is a pilot with an emotional disorder (probably my favorite guest spot though I am biased toward Damon). Jon Hamm is a gorgeous doctor who happens to be brutally stupid. Will Arnett is a closeted gay adversary for Alec Baldwin’s character and he always shows up at just the wrong time. Oprah Winfrey, Brian Williams, Al Gore, David Schwimmer, Salma Hayek, Elizabeth Banks, Tim Conway, and the list goes on and on. 30 Rock has drawn Oscar winners, politicians, musicians, stand-ups, and just about any other performer you might think of, to the point that it might take less time to list out the performers who DID NOT do a guest spot at one time or another.

3. Characters If I were to make a list of my ten favorite TV characters from the last 25 years, the list would pretty much become a Who’s Who of 30 Rock and Arrested Development characters with Michael Scott and Ron Swanson mixed in for seasoning. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is one of the greatest female characters ever on television and an important one at that. Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is the perfect straight man and if you’re not a Baldwin fan (as I wasn’t), his magnificence in this role WILL change your opinion of his talent. Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is a one-liner machine who delivers more bang for the buck than perhaps anyone on the show. Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) is the quintessential narcissistic blonde actress and she comes through with some of the show’s most memorable moments, usually involving an absurd joke or a complete meltdown. But it is the supporting characters that really take 30 Rock to new levels. Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer), the writers, and my personal favorite Dr. Leo Spaceman (Chris Parnell) always seem to strike the right chord in relation to the leading actors, providing insanity when Liz is trying to get things under control and stability with Jenna is having a rage stroke. Even the best shows usually bring around an ill-fitting supporting character from time to time but 30 Rock always seems to hit the nail on the head when it comes to crafting terrific entertainers.

2. Writing Comedic Styling If there was some organization out there that kept track of sitcom stats like baseball stats, 30 Rock would undoubtedly lead the hypothetical league in jokes per second. In watching the entire series through again, I was not only reminded of some of my favorite bits the show has done over the years but also made aware of many more I’d either missed initially or just forgotten due to the sheer volume of comedic excellence. In just about every episode, 30 Rock brings the jokes from start to finish and often piles one joke on top of another so that you have to really pay attention. Nothing was off limits, either, and the show continually pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to joke about, especially when it came to race, gender, and religion. Even still, nothing (or at least very little) about 30 Rock was ever presented in a harsh or overly vulgar manner. One of the reasons why shows like Family Guy and South Park can get away with their content is because they make fun of everyone. 30 Rock does the same but it is never mean-spirited, a difference I've always appreciated.

30 Rock has a sketch show sentimentality with a sitcom-like devotion to story that never gets in the way of a great joke. That is to say, over seven seasons, there are plenty of story arcs that carry over from week to week and season and season but during the episode, the writers have the liberty to take it wherever they see fit, no matter how over the top, as long as it’s wrapped up in a way that fits with the overarching narrative. Moreover, one of my favorite things about 30 Rock is the presentation of obvious jokes. The show always gets credit for its wit and the jokes that require thought but in some ways the ability to take the joke that everyone knows is coming and still make it laugh-out-loud funny is even more impressive and 30 Rock does that like no other. And if all that wasn't enough, the show consistently delivered genius lines that have found a permanent place in my vocabulary, along with thousands of other fans.

1. Consistency Of all its many strengths and merits, the thing that truly sets 30 Rock a part from the rest of the pack is its enduring consistency. Over the course of my TV watching career, I would say I have come to truly love six shows: Boy Meets World, Friends, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock. Plenty of other shows have a place in my heart but none of them hold as much value as those six. Aside from Arrested Development (again, unfair to put it in the equation), each of these shows has, at one point or another, taken a dip in quality…except for 30 Rock. The Office and Boy Meets World should have ended a couple of seasons earlier, Parks and Recreation wasn’t very good until the middle of its second season, and Friends fizzled during its middle years (though I think the final season is great). But for seven seasons and 139 episodes, 30 Rock endured, a remarkable feat given how popular its cast and crew has become and how long its run has been. The back half of season five isn’t quite up to par with the rest of the episodes but even still, there’s not a single episode of the show that I wouldn’t gladly watch again…and again…and again. Every week, Liz Lemon and company would show up and make me laugh for 22 minutes, sometimes to the point of tears and/or pants wetting (“I’m Lizzing! I’m Lizzing!”). To do so for seven seasons without ever throwing out a legitimate dud is a feat that few, if any, sitcoms have ever managed to pull off and just knowing that those guaranteed laughs won’t be around on Thursday nights anymore has made the TV landscape a little darker than it has been for the last seven years.

Those are some of my favorite things concerning 30 Rock. If you’ve been a fan of the show, feel free to share some of yours in the comments. And if you haven’t been watching over the last few years, the first six seasons are on Netflix Instant and I highly recommend giving it a shot. Thanks for reading. Now I will return to my Comedy Bunker and cry until the new season of Arrested Development debuts.

Friday Night Lights: A Retrospective on the Best Network TV Show Ever

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post is long. Like, super, ridiculous, "should be in some sort of academic journal that no one reads unless they are forced to come up with another reference for a paper" long. Even still, there are a thousand things I love about Friday Night Lights that I didn't have time or space to write about. The incredible music, the gorgeous cinematography, the fact that it has made me a lifelong fan of a number of the performers, etc. I'm sure I've missed some important notes along the way. If you're a fan of the show I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you loved, what I missed, etc. Also, for those who haven't watched this show but still have nothing better to do than plow through this column, I did my best to avoid spoilers, with the exception of what happens in the pilot. So delve in at your own risk and go watch the show for yourself regardless. It's just the best. 

Right off the bat, I must confess I came very late to the Friday Night Lights party and my wife likes to give me grief for this. When this show popped up on our “Shows you might like” Netflix Instant interface, she immediately added it to the queue and started watching. She preached its virtues for months despite my protestations that I didn’t believe the show could be any good and made many FNL converts out of our group of friends. Still I resisted, digging my heels in even deeper and refusing to give it a chance. In my defense, it should be noted that my wife has horrible taste in movies and TV dramas. She balances this with excellent decision making when it comes to music and food, but we do not always see eye to eye on TV/movies. Our DVD shelf is littered with wretched programming that I tend to hide away when we have company and often I’ll find a new recording on our DVR that boggles my mind with its awfulness. If the CW has a new show, you can bet my wife will be tuning in.  I, on the other hand, stayed away from FNL for three reasons:

1.) I hate high school dramas. HATE THEM. If there is a stronger word for hate that is invented in the future, I hope that someone from that time period will go into this post and insert that word in place of hate. My disdain for high school-related TV shows cannot be stressed enough.
2.) As an impassioned, obsessed, self-appointed sports expert, I had never seen a TV show that had done the sporting side of their sports-related drama correctly. A few have come close, but most of the time, when a TV show ventures into the world of sport, it’s an unmitigated disaster.
3.) Everything about FNLsuggested that it would be off the air by the middle of the first season and man, it can be tough to buy into a show that you know isn’t going to last. (See: the serious ratings dip for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.)

Eventually, though, I started hearing recommendations for FNL from other sources and decided I had to give it a chance. I started my FNLjourney last year, after the show had already ended, and I have spent a fair amount of time over that period hating myself for not being a full-fledged member of the bandwagon from day one. I have a personal history of being ahead of the curve when it comes to great TV shows and to have missed on this one hurts my pride. What I found when I finally started digging into the show was that the drama contained within FNLwas much more significant and REAL than any high school related show I’d ever seen, that the football scenes were incredibly well designed if not always realistic, and that, like Firefly, even if the show had been cancelled after 10 episodes, it still would have been incredibly worthwhile. Through a combination of the rabid support of a small following, a creative agreement between NBC and DIRECT TV, and the lack of ratings-grabbing content in the NBC stable, FNLmade it through five seasons and 76 episodes and became what is, for my money, the best network drama ever. It felt wrong to love a show as much as I love this one and not write something about it.

So what follows is a somewhat haphazard look at what made Friday Night Lights such an incredible achievement to force those of you who haven’t watched it yet to get on board while simultaneously providing a feather for the proverbial hat for any longtime fan who had the good sense to embrace this show long before I did.
NOTE: For this piece, I drew extensively from an oral history of the show published on Grantland last year. You should really check this sucker out

How many times have you watched a show and thought to yourself, “I like this show but (this actor) drives me nuts” or “If (this actor) was replaced by someone else, this show would really be good?” I do it all the time and I tend to fixate on those flaws after a while. Even shows that I love and stay locked into for years often come along with a bad actor or maybe one who just doesn’t quite fit. Sometimes these situations work themselves out and the misfit finds an acting groove but regardless, it’s something many shows have to contend with. 24 is one of my favorite shows of all time and I will swear by its virtues until my dying day. But Kim Bauer (Elisha Cuthbert) is one of the biggest beatings in recent TV history. Her character is awful, sure, but it’s partly due to Cuthbert who, bless her heart, just cannot hang with the intensity of the narrative or Kiefer Sutherland himself. It happens.

Show creator  Peter Berg and casting director Linda Lowry had three serious issues to contend with in casting Friday Night Lights:

1.) The majority of the characters are kids, a death knell to many a movie or TV show. Sure, most of the important actors were in their early twenties when they were cast to play high-schoolers but still, young actors are about as big of a wildcard as you can get in the making of a hit show.

2.) FNL is essentially an ensemble and given the tight budget a show like this is handed, virtually ALL of the actors were completely unknown. Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor) was the lead in Early Editionbut I think he and almost everyone else would like to strike that from the record. Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins) had one episode of Kyle XYunder his belt. And Minka Kelly (Layla Garrity) was working as a scrub nurse, for goodness sake. It didn’t quite come down to taking people off the street but that’s not far from the truth.
3.) The cast almost completely turned over after three seasons. As with any high school-related show, the issue of what you do when the kids graduate was a big one and the decision to bring in a new class was as dangerous as it gets. How many high school shows have attempted this and failed? Answer: ALL OF THEM.

Considering all of these challenges, what Berg and Lowry did in putting the cast of Friday Night Lights together is almost unheard of. Needing to fill spots for a litany of important characters and armed only with the “name value” of the dude from Early Edition, they meticulously combed through thousands of audition tapes and selected the right person for EVERY. SINGLE. ROLE. I’m not sure that feat completely registered for me until season four when “the new class” rolled in. Having grown insanely attached to the characters from the original cast, I was wary of these new interlopers and their different school and their lack of proper respect for Coach Taylor. And by the end of the first episode I was once again hooked. That just doesn’t happen, guys. You don’t take a handful of characters that everyone loves deeply, phase them out, and the replace them with a new set that is possibly even more relatable. Those newbies, also a batch of complete unknowns, all hit their marks beautifully and immediately made the show their own. I feel good in saying that in casting the 50 or so characters that really mattered over the course of five seasons, the only misstep Berg and Lowry made was Gracie Bell and her seriously unfortunate forehead.

The first point for which FNL must be commended for is the pilot. More often than not, pilot episodes suck. There’s really no other way to put it. Many of my favorite shows have miserable pilots. (See: Community.) It’s just an expected thing in Hollywood. The pilot is designed to paint a picture about what the show will be in the broadest stroke possible, in the hopes that a wide ranging audience will come back for the subsequent episodes. Very few shows come out of the gate with a bang and those that do stick with you for a very long time. The pilots for Arrested Development, which set the stage for the many absurdities that were to come perfectly, and The Shield, in which we see the clash between good cop and bad illustrated with ruthless flair, are two examples that stand out as immense successes.

Friday Night Light’s pilot is the best I’ve ever seen and it is even better looking back at the whole of the show’s run. Berg (who directed the pilot) was able to do more with five minutes and perhaps 10 lines of dialogue than most dramas can cover in a half season in terms of laying character ground work. By the first commercial break, you feel as if you know exactly who all of the key players are and how their on screen lives will play out. You can play “High School Label Bingo” with this cast and in quick succession mark off all the important boxes. “You’re the drunk, you’re the jock, you’re the golden boy, you’re the whore…” and on down the list. This allows the viewer to immediately begin making connections to the character of his/her choice and moreover, each character is almost instantly tagged with the appropriate label that they carry with them and the baggage that comes along with it. Within five minutes and very limited exposition, you know all you need to know about Tim Riggins to understand his starting point.


Moreover, this sense of familiarity that you get from the pilot sets you up perfectly for the script to be flipped, which is exactly what Berg set out to do. In that Grantland article, Berg says he intended to set up Jason Street (Scott Porter) as some sort of all-American, golden boy… “and then demolish him.” In 40 minutes, Street goes from a small town hero on a sure path to the NFL to a vegetable. You can feel it coming and you know something is afoot but it’s still a shocking, sobering turn of events. In so many ways, what happens to Street is just an allegory for what will happen to the entire cast over the course of five seasons. Berg places each of his characters in these little cookie cutter boxes and then proceeds to break them out in a way that very few shows are capable of. But speaking specifically for the pilot, the drama that unfolds in the final five minutes is gripping, engrossing, and rife with a level of emotionalism that you just don’t feel in a pilot. The cuts from the game to Street’s surgery to the gathering of the players outside the room, all backed by one of the greatest voiceovers EVER…it’s an exquisite episode that immediately sucks you into the show whether you want to be or not.

This point is very personal for me. As I said before, the portrayal of sports in TV shows is usually a cringe-inducing experience for me. I grew up in sports, I work in sports, and if there is any worldly thing I love more than movies and TV, it is sports. Because of this, anytime a show ventures into the sporting world, I key in on every single flaw. I notice if the jerseys are the wrong color, if the equipment looks cheap, if the court has been shrunk, etc. I often (and perhaps unfairly) hold sports movies to a much higher standard than I do, say, a movie about journalism.

I cannot remember a TV show that handled its sporting content with as much respect as FNL does. The on-field action is consistently stellar and only slightly “moviefied.” That is to say, pretty much everything that happens on the field is within the realm of possibilities. The clock may not always run in real time and certainly, the Dillon Panthers lead the world in last second victories but it all looks real and I can’t really think of anything that happens that you would have to call completely bogus. It’s much more than the appearance of the game action, however. The true value of sport cannot be found in just the winning or the losing; it is found in the playing, in the work, in the preparation, and in the aftermath. That’s where most sport-related shows miss the mark: they’ll show the triumph of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, but they struggle in delving into the concept of growing through the process of playing a sport.


FNL, on the other hand, thrives in this department. Football is used as a conduit to show the struggles, the victories, and the growth of a set of boys as they become men. This allows not only for character development and plot exposition, but it also gives FNL a sense of sporting authenticity that you very rarely see. Winning and losing is balanced by the concepts of brotherhood, responsibility, maturity, the facing of adversity, etc. that come along with sport. You get to see just how important a coach can be to a player and the difference one man/woman can make in the lives of dozens of others. And sure, we’ve undoubtedly romanticized the value of sport but regardless, it’s a feeling imbedded in each and every sports fan and no show puts that on display better than FNL.

I think all three of these topics fit together nicely in regards to FNL. In the aforementioned pilot, Tim Riggins raises his beer in toast and simply says, “Texas forever.” That’s a sentiment that I, as a born and raised Texan, can easily embrace and I’m definitely not alone in that. Very few states (or nations, for that matter) have as much pride as we do and while that’s got to be a total beating to the rest of you (which I completely and totally understand, by the way) it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. That said, so many Texas-related movies and shows fall into one of two camps: either they’re disparaging toward our state (I'm talking to you, Courtney Kerr) or they’re so Texas-centric that no one else can embrace them. The 2004 version of The Alamo is one of my favorite films but there’s no way anyone from outside the state of Texas could enjoy it. FNL paints an accurate picture of small town Texas without fervently (and annoyingly) preaching its merits to “outsiders” or treating its subjects as a bunch of backwater, goat roping hillbillies. That’s quite a rare combination.

One way in which this fair treatment of Texas culture is illustrated is in the presentation of faith within FNL. Whether you yourself hold any sort of spiritual beliefs or not, the majority of the humans in this state would count themselves as “Christians” or “believers” if you were to conduct a census. That percentage jumps up quite significantly when you venture into small town Texas. As such, most of the characters in FNL hold some sort of faith and many actively engage with that faith on some level. Minus a somewhat strange tangent for Layla Garrity, you can’t consider any of the characters Bible thumpers or people who express their faith in a Tebownian fashion, but the sentiment, the presence of faith and spirituality, runs through many aspects of the show. Church going is a way of life, the players frequently engage in the obligatory pre-game prayer, etc. and I think the showrunners did an excellent job of showing that without preaching for it or against it.

I’ve made no secret of my own faith, either in my personal life off the internet or in this space here. I’m a Christian and I work for a church. That said, I don’t need the overt expression of faith or spirituality in a movie or TV show in order to get on board. In fact, more often than not it makes me quite uncomfortable as it is usually displayed in a way that either demeans anyone of a different faith (or no faith) or, much more common, demeans the faithful themselves as dimwitted or foolish for being spiritual. Within the confines of FNL, Christianity simply IS. It’s a part of life on the show because in small town Texas it most certainly IS a part of life and FNL not only allows that to exist but casts it in a light that I would think even the most staunch Christian and the most staunch atheist could accept. I have no idea what Peter Berg’s personal faith is and frankly, I don’t care as it pertains to this show; what he (and everyone involved with the show) chose to do with FNL was to keep it genuine, and genuine calls for a fair, balanced approach to this topic. And as a real student of this subject, I'd say that's a rare feat.

FNL took this presence of Southern/Texas/Downhome sensibility to another level whenever it chose to tackle the concept of family. I am keenly aware that to this point in this column, I have described some aspect of this show as, “the best I’ve ever seen” or something similar. I know, but I’m going to do it again and this probably won’t be the last time. There have been any number of TV shows over the last 20 years that have focused in heavily on the family dynamic and many have done so quite well. But very, VERY few have ever taken it on with the fierce accuracy or balance the way FNLdid. Good or bad, family plays into almost every ounce of our being in some way or another and FNL showed that brilliantly. Any number of difficult things happen throughout the course of the show’s five seasons: divorce, death, unplanned pregnancy, alcoholism, and on down the line. You name it and the show handled it at some point. And in almost every case, the role of family comes into play in the way each issue is tackled and that’s not always a good thing (and for many of the characters, it’s NEVER a good thing).

FNL takes the concept of family to a whole other level, though, when you start to look at the role of surrogate family within the walls of the show. I have always gravitated to characters (and the movies and shows in which they exist) that form surrogate families with those around them to replace the lack of relationships they have with their biological family. Boy Meets World contains one of the best examples of this as Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) literally became a part of the Matthews family over the course of the show’s seven seasons. As a teenager I became keenly aware that, for me at least, the concept of “family” is much more fluid than just blood and quite frankly, the bond of blood doesn’t hold a candle to the bond of experience. FNL plays directly into this on a consistent basis. Players form familial units with other players through the challenges of football; Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips) steps in as a caretaker for a teenage girl he doesn’t really even know; and at the forefront of it all, Eric and Tami Taylor become the parents for a host of kids who come through their programs, some of whom have no one at home to guide them and some who have great home lives but simply need that extra bond. It’s not as if this is a new concept to television, but it is handled with a subtlety and nuance that most shows do not have.

Recently I read a review of The Princess Bride and told the reviewer that for me, the best thing about the movie is that it’s difficult to choose my favorite character. “I think it’s probably Inigo but Fessik is glorious and oh, then there’s Miracle Max…” Watching all 76 episodes of FNLinvolved having that exact discussion with myself 76 times. Ask ten FNL fans who their favorite character is and you’re likely to get ten different answers. Contrast that with other great network TV dramas. Who’s your favorite character in 24? If it’s not Jack Bauer the only other acceptable answer is Chloe. What about The X-Files? Mulder or Scully, right? (And be honest, if someone answers Scully you judge them a little.) There’s no clear cut answer with FNLand that is a testament to the strength of every person who happens to pass through Dillon, Texas.

This is where FNL really separates itself from the pack. You could create a show with all of these other elements; you could cast perfectly, shoot a killer pilot, and handle all of your various subjects in uncanny fashion. But if your characters aren’t great, your show will eventually (or immediately) fall flat. And by great, of course I mean, “Otherworldly good in such a way that you will spend the rest of your life trying to decide which one is your favorite.” Tami Taylor is one of the strongest female characters you’ll ever see on screen. Few characters progress and mature the way Billy Riggins does. Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan) perfectly personifies that kid that everyone knew growing up who just needed to catch one break in life. The desire to root for a given character has rarely been more universal than it is for Tim Riggins. And Coach Taylor…well, Coach Taylor might just be the best person in the world, fictional or otherwise. That doesn’t even take into account Layle, Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons), Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki), and a literal host of others who might very well be the best character on any other program.

Finding a weak link amongst these characters is a tall order. For the sake of this piece, I spent quite a bit of time looking back on and sorting through all the characters looking for a miss, for a character that doesn’t measure up to the standards set by the rest of the field. I came up empty. If I had to pick a player from the original cast who doesn’t quite fit, I guess I would choose Smash Williams (Gaius Charles) who I consider to be a little shallower than the rest, but even still, Smash is a superb creation. With almost every other show that I love or have loved through the years I can go through and pick out at least one character that I could live without. The aforementioned Kim Bauer is a total wreck, Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis) whipped the fire out of me on Mad Men, and Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate) routinely destroyed any sort of momentum The Office managed to create for itself last season. But from both a quality and quantity standpoint, FNL is essentially flawless in this department across the board.

These are rich, weighty characters that we’re dealing with here and that, combined with the aforementioned strength of the pilot, creates an atmosphere that almost forces you to buy in, to INVEST in the characters and by proxy, the show. And it only gets better from there. FNL does in one, maybe two, episodes what some shows that I love have struggled to do over the course of several seasons. The characters are meticulously and ingeniously crafted and perhaps even more ingeniously written from week to week. I (and everyone else I’ve ever spoken to about the show) care about the residents of Dillon, Texas in a manner that should probably be reserved only for close personal friends and immediate family members. I had trouble sleeping one night because in the episode I finished up with that night, Tim Riggins found himself in yet another batch of trouble and I couldn’t help but worry about him no matter how idiotic that may sound. That sense of family and brotherhood that FNL builds between its characters is extended lovingly toward the audience and after a few hours you feel as much as part of Coach Taylor’s team as anyone actually wearing that uniform.

Moreover, the relationships formed between the characters stand as some of the most compelling examples of human interaction that I’ve ever seen. Saracen cares for his challenging grandmother; Billy Riggins takes responsibility for Tim Riggins who in turn takes responsibility for Becky Sproles (Dora Madison Burge); and Tyra finds familial stability through her admittedly awkward relationship with Landry. At the forefront of it all is the relationship between Eric and Tami, a “marriage of equals” if ever there was one. Over and over these characters are put in tough, real-life situations and time and time again, they cling to each other, sometimes willingly, sometimes begrudgingly, but always they come together. Through it all the characters are enriched both individually and cumulatively and as such, their relationship with the audience is deepened week by week.

It’s also important to note the “goodness” of essentially every character that exists in the FNL universe. To a man, and woman, the people of Dillon have incredibly good hearts and a serious streak of morality runs through the town. That’s not to say that every character makes the right decision every time or that everything that takes place in the show is "wholesome." In fact, when watching FNL you consistently find yourself begging one character or another to not screw up again. But you never question their hearts or their inherent goodness. (Except for JD McCoy, of course. I think we can all agree, that little turd can just die.) That’s a refreshing characteristic in a show of this depth when compared to the other high quality shows of the day. If you asked me to name the best show currently on TV, I would say it’s a toss-up between Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy. My admiration for both of those shows and the characters within them is unquestionable and I thoroughly appreciate their many merits. But the fact of the matter is, every character on those shows is a terrible person. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) might be the best character currently on television, and I love him, but he’s a miserable human being and that’s not up for debate.

Contrast that with Coach Taylor: he’s a hard man with an intensity akin to that of Draper and a man who is quite honestly an incredible pain to live with; he’s not a guy that you want to cross. And yet, over and over again, Coach Taylor comes to the aid of anyone who happens to come across his path. You need a place to crash when you get kicked out of your house? There’s a sleeping bag in the garage. Your dad was just killed in combat? Guess who’s there to provide comfort. You need someone to be a character witness at your trial? Boom, Coach Taylor in the house. He doesn’t always want to be the good guy; there are plenty of times when it is abundantly clear that he would like to do nothing but focus on the upcoming football game which will, you know, decide whether or not he has a job next year, and yet he goes to aid of his third string quarterback because, at the end of the day, he’s the world’s greatest man. And sure, that sort of morality would never fly in the dark and shady world of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce but in the world of FNL, Coach Taylor stands as the anchor for everyone else and his goodness often holds the whole thing together.

As far as heterosexual males who do not have hormonal imbalances go, I’m probably in the 99th percentile of “frequent movie criers.” There are any number of things that can tear me up: kid stuff, war stuff, sports stuff, especially dog stuff, you name it and it’s likely that at some point I’ve gotten choked up about it in the context of a movie. If my life was The Sting and the director of an emotionally impactful film was Johnny Hooker, I would be described as an easy mark. For a long time I fought this affliction but now I embrace the madness (or the sadness, as it were) and don’t shy away from that which makes me weep because more often than not, the payoff for emoting is worth it.

This weekend I finished making my way through the FNL series. I cried. No, that’s not the correct term. More like, I wept like a small girl whose puppy had just been run over by a garbage truck…on her birthday. That’s fitting, considering I’ve given more tears to FNL over the course of my viewing than any other TV show or movie I’ve ever had the pleasure of involving myself with. No network TV drama that I’ve ever seen has been as affecting, as personal, or quite simply, as GOOD as FNL is. Sure, there are some missteps along the way (*cough* Season Two shenanigans*cough*) but every show goes through some growing pains and the writers did an amazing job of getting themselves out of the various jams that come up over the course of five seasons. FNL stands out as special, as an example of just how much you can accomplish with something as dumb as a TV show.

There’s a distinct and lingering impact that FNL leaves on its viewers. At a wedding last year I mentioned it in passing to a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while and we were immediately swamped by a set of passerbys who desperately needed to join in the conversation and compare experiences. It’s like we’re all members of this little club that went through a serious ordeal, some of it great and some of it heartbreaking, and to pass up the opportunity to discuss it would be a crime. I now spend time thinking that if Coach Taylor had been my coach for literally anything I would a professional at whatever he was coaching me at right now. I have debated with other viewers whether, at heart, we should consider ourselves Panthers or Lions. And if and when my wife and I are blessed with a male child, there’s a better than zero chance that his middle name will be Riggins. From episode one to episode 76, FNL is as good as it gets, a show that I will undoubtedly watch over and over again, and one that I honestly feel has left me a slightly better person than I was when before I watched. (Now how’s that for hyperbole?) Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose. 

TV Recap Part One: End of Year Report Card

I don’t devote too much time around here to television analysis. This is, after all, a movie site. But if truth be told, I probably spend more time each week watching TV than I do movies and if you count sports then the balance is definitely shifted in the favor of TV. I’m somewhat picky about my television selections, though. I’ll watch a bad movie (see: The Sitter) if I think it’ll make for a good review or if there’s just nothing better to watch but I will not tolerate bad TV shows. I’ve been known to bail on a show mid-episode if it isn’t holding water and there have been many times that I’ve come very close to abandoning shows I’ve watched for years when they take bad turns (see: Lost). But good TV…that I can watch all day.

Today’s feature is part one of a two part series, the second of which will run next Friday. With the school year coming to an end and the vast wasteland of summer programming on the horizon, I felt it only fair to grade the shows I watched religiously each week, report card style, and next week we’ll take a look at the shows I plan to catch up on through the summer.
NOTE: Mad Menand Game of Thrones have not had their finales yet so despite the fact that they’re probably the best two shows on television, they will not be included in this entry.
Community (Season 3)
Someday someone will write an incredible expose on Community and how it managed to almost completely avoid a relevant audience while simultaneously serving as television’s smartest, boldest sitcom. Season 3 was a triumph on virtually every level. While the first two seasons often fluctuated between sly successes and near misses, this year’s offering was the most cohesive, reliably brilliant season yet. It’s just too bad no one watches it. There should be a place in this world for a show that can do a multiple universe episode, a self-aware Glee knock-off episode, and a Ken Burns Civil War spoof in the same season.
Grade: A+
Justified (Season 3)
I would contend that Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy are all better shows than Justified. But other than Don Draper, no show on television has a better lead character than Raylan Givens. Season 3 was like a smorgasbord of Raylan being Raylan and that, right there, makes for a fantastic year of television. Justified is an insanely likeable show and one that is seriously rewatchable, which isn’t always a quality you find in hour-long dramas.
Grade: A
Parks and Recreation (Season 4)
If Community is the smartest sitcom on TV (and it is) then Parks and Rec is still my favorite. I’ve been championing this show from the beginning and I’m thrilled that it’s been given an opportunity to grow and evolve. There were a handful of episodes this year that weren’t up to par from a comedic standpoint but where Parkscontinues to excel is in the development of its characters. I care about Leslie Knope and her cohorts more than I expect to when watching a sitcom. The campaign storyline that took over the show for the final few episodes was excellent as well. Also, Ron Swanson is the greatest character in the history of sitcoms. Mark it down.
Grade: A
Saturday Night Live (Season 37)
I must tell you, dear friends, I think this was the best season SNL has put forth in years. (And before you even start, I won’t have any of that “Saturday Night Live hasn’t been good for decades” nonsense. In fact it has been quite good again for quite some time now, only it’s become hip to bash on it no matter what.) The young talents Lorne Michaels added over the last few years have begun to flourish (particularly Taran Killam) and the show attracted a killer set of hosts that thrived for the most part. The season finale, hosted by Mick Jagger, was one of the best all-around episodes the show has put together in the last decade. Seriously, friends, this season was fantastic.
Grade: A
New Girl (Season 1)
I must admit, I despised the first two and a half episodes of New Girl. And I really mean “despised.” I was stoked about the show and ready to jump in head first. But that pilot…yuck. I very nearly gave up. But about half-way through that third episode, the dynamic began to shift and before long, I’m not sure I wasn’t looking forward to New Girl more than any other sitcom each week. It was genuinely hilarious week in and week out. Even more impressive, I started watching the show because I love Zooey Deschanel but by the end of the season, her character was probably the third or fourth most important to me in terms of investment. Can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2.
Grade: A-
30 Rock (Season 6)
If there was a “Comeback Show of the Year” award for television, 30 Rock would be a unanimous winner. When a sitcom begins to show signs of decline, it rarely recovers. Usually we’re treated to a year, maybe two, of lackluster programming while the given show slowly wanders toward the light. Make no mistake: Season 5 of 30 Rock was really bad. The front half was solid but the final 10 episodes or so were borderline unwatchable. This time around, however, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and the rest came back with a bang and put together a glorious season that fits right in with the previous seasons with great, ridiculous plot points and the fresh comedy that marked the show’s early years.
Grade: A-
Big Bang Theory (Season 5)
It’s still shocking to me that this show found a home on CBS. A network propagated almost entirely by weak, gutless programs that shy away from higher intelligence somehow stumbled across one of the smarter shows on TV and allowed it to flourish. Big Bang isn’t nearly as brave as Communitynor does it deliver the highs that Parks and Rec does but it is just about as consistently funny as a sitcom can get. The evolution of Sheldon has also been fascinating.
Grade: A-
Boardwalk Empire (Season 2)
In virtually every way, Boardwalk Empire is a magnificent show. It features impeccable acting, incredible dialogue, powerful plots, and gorgeous sets. The only thing it doesn’t feature is excitement. It’s just so boring. It’s not a painful boredom, mind you, it’s just that I have trouble getting pumped up for the next episode when the previous installment seemed so very long. It is a wonderfully well-made show, though, and one that deserves all the attention it gets. I just wish it would quicken the pace from time to time.
Grade: A-
How I Met Your Mother (Season 7)
The evolution of HIMYMis fascinating to me. It’s never been a continuously brilliant show in my opinion. Most seasons, you’re going to get 18 consistently good episodes highlighted by 5 hilarious and/or genius episodes that stand out above all the rest. This season there weren’t really any stand out episodes. At the same time, however, the tone of the series overall has become much more serious and while many of my friends who have watched the show don’t like the new direction, I actually really dig the more mature narrative. That said, if we don’t figure out whom Ted’s wife is within the first 10 episodes of Season 8, I’m going to lose it.
Grade: B+
Modern Family (Season 3)
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but at some point, Modern Family ceased to be outrageously funny. To be fair, it has always strayed closer to a family comedy than a cutting edge sitcom aimed at younger demographics but some of the earlier episodes were packed with quality laughs. But at the same time, while it isn’t nearly as funny as most of the other sitcoms I watch, I must say that the characters are still great and I still really enjoy each new episode. It does suffer from too much Claire, though. Less Claire, more Phil.
Grade: B+
The River (Season 1)
The fact that The River couldn’t find an audience is a real bummer to me. It wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t in love with it on the whole, but it was different and intriguing and probably the closest we’ve come yet to replacing Lost. On the other hand, it wrapped itself up nicely and stands as a solid choice for a quick viewing if you’re ever looking for a short summer viewing.
Grade: B+
Suburgatory (Season 1)
Much like New Girl, I didn’t really love the first few episodes of Suburgatory. But as the supporting characters came into their respective own, I thought the show really took off and found a nice groove for itself. This was also a show that probably wasn’t allowed to take many chances as it had to prove itself to ABC and its audience before being allowed much slack (whereas New Girl had the familiarity and likability of Zooey to use as currency until it found its stride). I wasn’t in love with the final few episodes but I think this is a show that has a great deal of potential moving forward.
Grade: B
Grimm (Season 1)
If there’s a guilty pleasure selection on this list then Grimm is the prime suspect. I tuned in to the pilot episode because I’m a nerd and the concept reached out to my nerdier tendencies. But I really didn’t expect much. Maybe it was because of these low expectations but if truth be told, I genuinely enjoyed the show’s freshman season. As far as procedurals go, you could a whole heck of a lot worse than what Grimm brings to the table and I think NBC is smart to bring it back in late summer.
Grade: B
Alcatraz (Season 1)
Alcatraz is a perfect example of what happens when a show takes a killer idea and then tries to set itself up for a five season run instead of making Season 1 so good that it earns a five season run. This could have been a GREAT show if only it would have worked to keep an audience rather than attempting to string everyone along. It was also inconsistent and while I think it’d be an excellent pickup for Netflix, Hulu, or another non-traditional television source, it doomed itself on network TV with an uneven approach to its opening season.
Grade: B-
Bones (Season 8)
I can’t exactly tell you why I watch Bones. I’m not really into procedurals and more often than not it doesn’t bring just a whole to the table in terms of quality story telling or character development. But it is a fun show and I guess that counts for something. This season wasn’t as consistently decent as the show has been in the past but it did provide some solid highlights and the truncated nature of the production schedule probably didn’t help it out. I’m coming back for another season but I will need that season to get it together quickly in order to keep me around.
Grade: B-
Raising Hope (Season 2)
About halfway through this season, I began to fear that Raising Hope had already peaked. That fear was realized even further in the two-part finale which was one of the worst hours of television I saw this year. Show creator has a history of pushing his shows into jump-the-shark moments and I’m very much afraid that finale was it for Hope. In truth, even before that debacle the sophomore season wasn’t up to the standard set by the outstanding first run and I don’t have a whole lot of hope moving forward.
Grade: B-
Parenthood (Season 3)
Here’s the thing about Parenthood: If you picked out every element (story, writing, characters, acting, etc.) of the show one by one and classified it as either “good” or “bad”, it would basically result in a 50-50 split. I love about half of the characters and I hate the other half; I think about half of the plot points are fantastic and the other half are painful; I enjoy about 20 minutes of every episode and the other 20 minutes makes me want to punch a puppy. Over the course of this season I probably told my wife that I was going to quit watching the show at least a dozen times. It is probably the most frustrating show on television and I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be back for Season 4.
Grade: B-
The Office (Season 8)
*Sigh* For years, The Office was my favorite show on television and it wasn’t even close. Then it hit a rough patch. And then it had an eighth season. I don’t think this season was horrible as much as it was misguided. That said, it is definitely a show that I watched because I’ve watched it for seven years and I’m not quite willing to stop. I do believe that it can be fixed (ditching James Spader is a good start and completely nixing Catherine Tate would be a massive step in the right direction) but it has a lot of ground to make up at this point.
Grade: C+

A Personal History of "Arrested Development" and Why New Episodes Matter

For those who missed it entirely, Arrested Development was a sitcom that ran on Fox from 2003 to 2006. It was utterly brilliant, my pick for the funniest show of all-time, and a trend-setter that was unfortunately a few years ahead of its time. Over the years, its fan base has grown to an incredible size and for years, rumors have run rampant concerning an Arrested Development movie. This weekend, series creator Mitchell Hurwitz announced that not only would the movie happen, he also planned to shoot a short (10 episode) fourth season that would update audiences on where the characters have been since the end of the third season. I am absolutely giddy over this news. Arrested Development is my favorite show of all-time and one that I take ownership of as I was one of the VERY few people who watched it religiously from the very beginning. What this column amounts to is an ode to the show and its impact on television and maybe a dash of, "please, please, please get excited about this project" mixed in for good measure. Enjoy. 

In November of 2003, I was a college junior living in Themiddleofnowhere, Arkansas. I watched exactly three TV shows that did not involve sports:

1. Friends - Nearing its end, Friends was still must-see-TV for about 100 billion people;
2. Late Night with Conan O'Brien - Conan was the only talk show host that I or any of my friends watched (a fact that still holds true);
3. Reruns of The Simpsons - I can't tell you when the last time was that I watched a new episode of The Simpsons but from 2001-2005, I watched at least one rerun every weekday.

Within the next year, I would add shows like Lost, 24, and Scrubs to my viewing schedule but in 2003, that was the extent of it. And really, what else would you expect? I had classes, friends, social activities, and a list of other things to get to each week; I was never in my apartment during primetime hours, there was no such thing as a DVR (top five invention ever, by the way) and besides that, there was nothing on network television that appealed to me. The truth is, in 2003 there was very little that television had to offer that was aimed at me, the 20-25 year old, white, educated, male. I was too old for teen dramas (though I would have totally watched Boy Meets World if it was still on the air at the time) and too young for the various C.S.I. and Law and Order-type shows. Sitcoms were in bad shape, not so much dying as simply stale. Sure, people watched shows like 8 Simple Rules, Yes Dear, and According to Jim but no one really cared and young viewers were almost non-existent. Friends, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond had all long-since peaked and would all finish their runs within the next two seasons. Reality TV had taken over and whereas these days, most of the really awful reality shows are relegated to vh1 and Bravo, 2003 was a different story. (Seriously, go look at the lineup from that year. DISGUSTING.) I wanted nothing to do with network television and sitcoms in particular and that was the general consensus among almost everyone I knew.

At some point that year, I started seeing advertisements for a new comedy called Arrested Development. Even in the ads, you could tell that something was different here. I can't remember if they ran trailer-like ads for the show or just the typical, "Watch Arrested Development" blurbs but whatever Fox did, it worked on me. As its debut date neared, I found myself becoming genuinely excited for the premiere though I was completely unsure of what to expect. That was part of the allure then and it's a component of what would make the show so great: you never knew what to expect. For perhaps the first time ever, I made a personal appointment to sit and watch the show's pilot.

Very few TV shows have the ability to suck you in from the first episode. I generally make a point to not judge a show based on the pilot because pilots are inherently flawed and often terrible. Arrested Development, however, was the exception. The pilot is a perfect introduction to the world of the Bluths, the large family at the center of the show, and by the end of the episode, I was completely hooked. It was funny, witty, and above all, exceptionally smart. The characters were well-defined, each of them complex in their own right yet resolute in their various absurdities. I'm not sure I've ever seen a sitcom that didn't have at least one character that wasn't quite as likeable or that got on my nerves. Arrested Development was that show. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose my least favorite character from the show, I'd probably just end up breaking down and weeping because they're all INCREDIBLE. It would be a Sophie's Choice for me and I'm only half kidding.

The writing was even better than the characters and the amazing actors who played them. The jokes flew left and right but unlike any other sitcom I'd ever seen, they weren't left sitting out there for the studio audience to pick like so much low hanging fruit. Rather, they were thrown out at a rapid pace, layered one over the other so that it was very possible to miss them if you weren't paying close attention. There were plenty of jokes that anyone could get but the best ones, the ones that really stuck with you, forced you to think for a second before laughing. Arrested Development was the first show that actually respected me, that treated me like I was smart. Whereas Friends took each joke 95 percent of the way toward the audience (not to bash on Friends; best sitcom of its type in my opinion), Arrested Development only went half-way, beckoning the audience to jump in and make the rest of the trip on their own. I felt smarter when I caught a tiny joke that CLEARLY the censors hadn't understood and it was if the show's creators and cast gave me a tiny wink each time, a "knowing nod" or a kudos for catching on.

Somehow, though, the show never became pretentious or so cool that it was no longer cool. That's a vital and often overlooked part of what makes Arrested Development so special. We live in a society that makes a routine out of propping up something that we consider to be "underrated" so much that we eventually get sick of it and turn, calling it "overrated." It happened with The Office, not to mention almost every band that has ever had a crossover hit. Something is cool until it realizes that it is cool and then it gets douchy, losing its coolness. That never happened with Arrested Development because no matter how "inside" the jokes became, the show was never condescending or snobby in its coolness. Maybe more importantly, it never missed. Three seasons brought us 53 episodes and not once was there a misfire. At times, the showed seemed to toy with jumping the shark and then somehow made a joke out of jumping the shark (this actually happened in an episode and it's one of the most glorious moments in the history of television) and kept right on truckin'. If I were to draw the "career" trajectory of Arrested Development on a line graph, the line would start with the pilot episode somewhere around "95 Percent Awesome" and never drop below that mark. (It would actually be a pretty boring graph, come to think of it.) 53 episodes, all of them incredible. No other show has ever or most likely will ever do that.

Each and every week, I would think the show had peaked and each and every week they'd come back with a better, more absurd episode that blew me away. If I had to do something on Sunday night, I'd record the new episode on my VCR (that really was a thing at one time; Google it) and run home to watch it as soon as I could. I annoyed the crap out of everyone around me about how good Arrested Development was and literally begged my friends to watch it. When the first season came out on DVD, I immediately purchased it and threatened bodily harm on the family members of two friends until they both agreed to watch it. We ran through the entire season in less than a weekend and they were both hooked.

And that is perhaps the most frustrating part of the Arrested Development experience: everyone who watched it loved it...but no one watched it.

While I had been preaching the show's merits from the beginning, no one seemed to care. The ratings were poor and Fox (in their infinite wisdom) had no idea how to market a show that was smarter than anything that had EVER been on network television. Make no mistake, this was a tough sell but Fox still botched it. Arrested Development could have been the cornerstone of a comedy lineup but Fox couldn't figure out how to make that work, nor could the network surround it with the right shows. The excruciating thing is that no other network at the time would've taken a chance on a show like Arrested Development and yet Fox was the worst network when it came to allowing a show to grow an audience. That's kind of a nasty catch-22 there; Arrested Development would have had an opportunity to thrive at NBC but at the time, NBC would never take a chance. In its three seasons, Arrested Development received 22 Emmy nominations, winning six. That would have been enough to give it some breathing room at another network but Fox didn't care about Emmys. In the third season, the show was given "one last chance" to draw ratings (which the show again played off of beautifully) and then promptly put the remaining new episodes up against the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Summer Olympics. It was then promptly cancelled. I cried for a week.

The truth is Arrested Development was the guinea pig, the first of a new brand of sitcoms that paved the way for everything to come but couldn't survive the fight. It was innovative in a way that neither the masses nor the networks were ready for. It was simply ahead of its time. The Fox network of today probably would give the show a real chance to find an audience rather than backing away from it so quickly and moreover, more viewers are primed for the show's brand of comedy, due in large part to the number of shows that can trace their origins directly to it. There is no Office, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, or (especially) 30 Rock without Arrested Development. That may seem like an opinion but I'd be willing to claim it to be scientific fact because it's the absolute truth in my mind. All of these shows (and many others) belong to a new brand of sitcom that has the audacity to treat the audience like they might actually have brains capable of thinking through a particularly clever joke. That doesn't happen without the influence of Arrested Development.

Since it went off the air, Arrested Development has gone from an unseen show that a small group of us complained about being cancelled to a cult favorite to a show that reaches across a wide subsection of television viewers. In college, I knew four other people who watched the show. Now my extended group of friends is full of those who have caught on through the magic of re-runs and Netflix. "If only they'd come along sooner!", I often think. Sports people often compare Arrested Development to the career of Michael Jordan, saying that the show ending after three seasons was like Michael Jordan's last shot against the Jazz in '98, hinting that if it had been able to stay on the air, perhaps it would have ended like Jordan's run with the Washington Wizards. But I have always been quick to remind these people that Jordan had another comeback, too, in which he returned from his baseball (read: "gambling") hiatus and promptly won another three championships. We are now about to find out whether Arrested Development will come back to win championships or to look fat in a Wizards jersey. But either way, I'm just grateful for the possibility of experiencing greatness one more time.

The End of "24," "Lost"

NOTE: This entire post is full of SPOILERS. If you haven't seen the end of "24" or "Lost" and ever intend to see either, I suggest you get busy watching instead of reading this dumb blog.

Last week marked the end of not one but two significant eras. (Three if you want to count Simon Cowell but let's pretend that "American Idol" isn't the big player in my life that it really is.) "24," my favorite hour long TV show ever, and "Lost," at one time my favorite show ever, both came to a conclusion within 24 hours of each other. This is quite a trying time for me, as you can imagine, so I would appreciate your leniency as I try to fight through this rough patch in my life. (Sympathies may be extended in the form of Whataburger gift cards.) These shows were big parts of my Entertainment Life over the last few years and it seemed only right to pen a goodbye just like about a billion other bloggers have done over the last 10 days.

First, "24." When it debuted in 2001, I think most people expected this show to fail. I mean, it was on Fox so the odds of making it out of the first month were pretty low to begin with. The idea of a plot that unfolds in real time was completely unheard of and required a great deal of slack from the network. These doubters came up against an unbeatable enemy, however, in the form of Jack Bauer. Jack is an absolute unstoppable force of a character that kicks every other TV action hero in the face. The ultimate flawed good guy, Jack Bauer does only what he thinks is right no matter what the consequence or what must be done to achieve that rightness. Break a bad guy out of prison, shoot a man's wife, or take a bullet himself, it doesn't matter as long as America is safe at the end of the day. And no one, and I genuinely believe this, could pull off Jack like Keifer Sutherland did. His gravel-voice combined with a menacing "I'm Not Afraid to Shoot Your Family if I Think it Will Make You Talk" look are perfectly suited to Jack's no nonsense style.

I came to the "24" party late and watched five seasons worth of episodes in about three weeks. I barely stayed awake at work because I would stay up until 3 a.m. watching hour after hour unable to turn the dang thing off. In the entire 8 year run there were hardly any breaks in the action as each hour was just as crazy and suspenseful as the one before. It was all ridiculous and out of control, of course, as we saw several presidential assassinations near completion, multiple nuclear bombs set off on US soil, and a litany of fantastic battle scenes that could never happen in real life. One of my main points of emphasis for a movie or TV show, however, is that the story stays within the boundaries of the reality it has created for itself and "24" does that. By the end of Day 8, you believe that Jack Bauer can do ANYTHING. If he'd started flying at the end of a day or shot Superman-like beams from his eyes, you'd believe it could happen! In my mind Jack's legal middle name is "Freaking" because that's how bad guys should have referred to him. "We have to surrender! That's Jack Freaking Bauer out there!"

Day 8 of "24" was by far my favorite. It was the most outlandish, I admit, but hey, if you've stuck with this craziness this far, why not send it off with a bang? This season Jack was completely free to do what he wanted. No CTU, FBI, or Secret Service rules to deal with, just get the job done at whatever cost. He was so single minded and determined as to be reckless and nothing was standing in his way. The dude was just off his leash and if bad guys ever wanted someone on his leash, it's Jack Freaking Bauer. The finale was completely fitting of the man and the show as a whole. Watching Jack run away into the sunset, alone and unattached, was the way "24" had to end. Regardless of any future movie installments, Jack had to be free, had to be on his own, and had to have a purpose (in this case, hiding from the government and Russians). There's no sitting on a porch, playing Bridge, drinking lemonade for Jack Bauer. Ever. He lives the way he did for 8 seasons of this show or he dies. There's no in between.

When the ads for "Lost" started popping up in 2004, I thought it looked terrible. The basic idea of the show seems like something that should have been made by Syfy, not ABC. I expected it to be cancelled before three episodes had been aired. For some reason, though, I found myself at home on a Saturday night with nothing to do (because I was too awesome to have plans) and happened to catch a second showing of the pilot. Few shows have gripped me as quickly as "Lost" did. In fact, no show has ever grabbed hold of my attention the way this one did. I was pretty well obsessed from that moment on and could hardly stand to wait a week (or Lord forbid, a summer) to find out what was going to happen next. The writing for "Lost's" early years is some of the best I have ever seen in a TV show. The characters struggling, bonding, and fighting together reflected humanity in a way that I personally find completely unique. Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Hurley, Locke, etc. etc. were people that you could gravitate toward and latch on to. And the actors, to a man, brought their A-games to their roles.

For all its magnificence early on, however, "Lost" went through several rough patches. Season 3 started and finished well but in the middle you could feel the writers spinning their wheels, unsure of how to dig themselves out of the holes they wrote themselves into. With an end date in sight, Season 4 returned the show to its former glory and, in my opinion, made up for its mistakes. Season 5, though, nearly ruined the entire experience for me. The story arcs, the time travel, and the failure to answer any questions brought me close to the point of quiting entirely. If I hadn't already invested four years of my life, I would have been out.

The real problem, though, didn't really hit me until the middle of Season 6 (and maybe not entirely until the finale). At some point, the writers became obsessed with asking questions, with creating water cooler talk. In that, they lost the humanity of the show and of the characters therein. The actors themselves didn't seem to really care anymore. (Matthew Fox especially was in total mail-it-in mode for the better part of three years.) The last half of this season, and the finale in particular, brought all of that back. Jack and company were allowed to be the main focus of the show and again they shined. As the finale drew to an end and one by one the group reunited, I was reminded of why I loved this show in the first place. I was emotionally reconnected to those characters, those people, as I had been before all the time travel foolishness. I loved that the characters were brought back together to go into the Afterlife and personally I loved that Ben was on the outside looking in. Ben always needed the island and it made sense that he wouldn't be ready to let it go. While I certainly didn't get all the answers I wanted, I felt that, like "24," the wrap up was a fitting end. 

While there have already been attempts to recapture the magic of "24" or "Lost," (especially "Lost") all have fallen far short of the yard stick used to measure the impact of these champions. (Just look at "Flash Forward.") The truth is, both of these shows will never, ever, be duplicated (at least not with any success). They are the best, most unique shows the last decade had to offer and at least one writer will sorely miss their presence come January. A whole hearted "thanks" to the people behind both shows for the hours upon hours of entertainment, speculation, and even the frustration that you have provided over the years.

I'm naming my first kid Jack Bauer and my second one Hurley,