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,