The following conversation took place last week. Ben was at work. Erin was at home on a snow day.
BEN: What have you been up to?
ERIN: Well, the third disc of “Dexter” came in at the library.
BEN: Really? Perfect day for it. I’ll understand if you watch an episode or —
ERIN: I finished the disc.
BEN: Oh. Huh. How many episodes are left?
ERIN: Just one.
BEN: Just one.
ERIN: Jussssst one.
BEN: Do you know when it’ll come in at the library?
ERIN: I just bought it off iTunes.
BEN: Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was interrupting something.
ERIN: Yeah. I should probably go.
And that pretty much captures our TV-viewing habits in 2009: We discovered a new series (like, say, “Battlestar Galactica” or “Mad Men”); Erin watched ahead without Ben; betrayal and hurt feelings ensued; Erin rewatched the episodes with Ben; everyone lived happily ever after.
The big TV-related news of 2009 is that we took the plunge and bought a digital converter … four months after the switch (but only three months after everyone under the age of 82 had gone digital). We’ve never been big “live” TV watchers. Aside from “Lost,” “The Biggest Loser” and “30 Rock,” the only live shows we’ll catch are the occasional “Jeopardy!” or Channel 64 Sunday afternoon movie (especially if it’s something good like Murder at 1600 or terrible like Jeepers Creepers).
Before we get to the best TV of 2009, let’s dispense with the worst.
THE WORST TV OF 2009
“The Jay Leno Show.” There are many reasons to hate this show. The simplest is that it’s not funny. Just as simple is the show’s distasteful blend of celebrity worship with sniggering mean-spiritedness toward average Joes and fat children who want to become ballerinas. (Seriously, Jay made a joke about that.) But right up there with both those is that it’s emblematic of a cynical, bottom-line mentality that a show can be as terrible as need be so long as it saves the network money. Would we rather see more terrible pilots like “Kath & Kim” or “Eli Stone”? No. Would we like Leno to talk a long Jaywalk off a short pier? Yes. Please. (Regrettably, this seems destined not to happen. Patton Oswalt chimes in here with an indelible line: “Jay Leno is like Nixon, I don’t like him.”)
“Flight of the Conchords,” Season 2. It pains us to say this, given how much we loved season 1. But the sophomore effort of “Flight of the Conchords” was, with the exception of a couple episodes and a few standout songs (like “Carol Brown” and “Sugalumps”), a disappointment. Maybe one season was enough, guys.
Helen from “The Biggest Loser.” Yes, we are total suckers for this show, although we’re a bit concerned that raising the stakes every season means bringing in even more morbidly obese contestants than the last go-round. (Mike, a season 9 contestant, clocked in at 526 pounds.) But Helen was the epitome of a selfish, back-stabbing reality TV villain … and the person she stabbed in the back (besides America) was her own daughter. Bravo, Helen. Truly an inspiration. (By the way, should we ever visit the Biggest Loser Campus — and studies show that marriage can lend itself to weight gain — we will pray to get Bob as our trainer. Jillian scares the holy fecal matter out of us.)
That was cleansing. We now feel ready for the best TV of 2009.
THE BEST TV OF 2009
5. “Dexter.” We have not yet seen season 4, which deeply disturbed one Mr. Link. If, as we’ve been told, John Lithgow does indeed bare all, then we’ll have a great deal of courage to muster before watching it. Season 3, however, brought us a powerhouse performance by Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado, who forms an unlikely bond with Dexter in their pursuit of justice. The show is well-written, funny and edgy. We’ll take more of filthy Vince Masuka’s office repartee any day of the week. And now we have the final episode of season 3 in our iTunes library until the end of time.
4. “Mad Men.” Another show we’re not quite up-to-date on (although the Mad Men Power Rankings have made us aware of season 3’s major plot points). What’s so compelling about “Mad Men” is that while none of the characters are especially likable (the balls John Slattery being an exception), we still feel strongly invested in them. Love him or hate him, Don Draper is a brilliantly written character. Season 2 found us pulling even more ardently for the show’s women to get theirs, be it up-and-coming Peggy or torrid Joan (whose snub at the end of “A Night to Remember” is genuinely heartbreaking). And give it up for Jimmy Barrett, who graced two of our top five shows, plugging Utz potato chips in one and wearing a jumpsuit as LaFleur’s lackey in the other [see #2].
3. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “30 Rock” (tie). The two best comedies on TV right now. As “Sunny” pushed into even more outrageous and offensive territory (season 5 featured such gems as “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens” and “The Gang Wrestles for the Troops”), “30 Rock” remained the best ensemble comedy network TV had to offer. Charlie Kelly and Tracy Jordan are both good for at least one laugh-out-loud line an episode. In fact, let’s play a fun game: “Who Said It?”, starring Charlie and Tracy. Pick which character said what line. (Answers at bottom of post.)
- “I love this cornbread so much, I wanna take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant.”
- “Live every week like it’s Shark Week.”
- “I can’t explain it, all right? There’s some sort of weird chemical reaction that happens when you combine catfood, beer and glue. It makes you feel, like, extremely sick and tired and you’re able to fall asleep.”
- “Look at the door, dude. You see that door right there? The one marked pirate? You think a pirate lives in there?”
- “What are you gonna do, hit him? No, that’s a terrible idea, I’ll tell you why: it doesn’t unbang your mom.”
- “I’m gonna kick some ass! I’m gonna rise up, gonna kick a little ass! Rock, flag, and eagle!”
- “Remember that e-mail we got from those Nigerians who need our help getting that money out of Africa? We did it! I got the check today.”
- “Affirmative action was designed to keep women and minorities in competition with each other to distract us while white dudes inject AIDS into our chicken nuggets.”
- “Yes, my good man, I’ll have the milk steak, boiled over hard, and your finest jelly beans … raw.”
- “Tell her that you want your privates and her privates to do a high-five.”
2. “Lost.” Season 5 brought us time travel. Yet even as the writers cranked up the pseudo sci-fi geekiness, “Lost” remained grounded in character, with some genuinely surprising developments this season. Ben, for one, hated Sawyer back in season 1, yet found him and his reincarnation as “LaFleur” to be the season’s most sympathetic, second-most-intriguing character. (Jeremy Davies’s turn as Daniel Faraday was season 5’s standout.) Ben Linus remains a figure of endless fascination, though we suspect very bad things are in store for him after he (seemingly) killed Jacob in the game-changing finale, “The Incident.” How will season 6 begin? Will everyone return to the beach, in the wake of the Oceanic 815 crash? Or has history rebooted for good after Juliet’s decisive act? We, for one, will probably wet our pants multiple times in anticipation of getting answers to these questions.
1. “Battlestar Galactica.” We are unashamed to let our geek flag fly over BSG. We tore through the first four seasons on DVD, then watched most of season 4.5 with fellow BSG addicts, the Andolinas. Like many, we had mixed feelings about the finale; regardless, it made for great conversation and, like “Lost,” kept the focus on character, even in the midst of intergalactic warfare. (The face-off between Gaius and Cavil in the CIC was a thing of beauty, fitting for a show that went straight for the philosophical jugular.) BSG was ambitious, nuanced and intelligent, as subversive as anything on TV. Add Gaius Baltar to our list of favorite television anti-heroes, right up there with Omar Little and Ben Linus. And Starbuck fans can take solace in the fact Katee Sackhoff will be the newest member of CTU in the upcoming season of “24.”
There are many shows we did not get to: friends have raved about “Modern Family” and “Breaking Bad” (though we suspect “Glee” is not our cup of tea), while we’ve got much catching up to do on, among others, “Big Love” and “True Blood.” It helps, in a way, not to have real TV; more time — and less distraction — to watch TV-on-DVD, our preferred modus operandi.
And now we count down the days until February 2…