Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Video Killed the Moviegoer: 2006 in TV Land

In 1997 I went to 57 films. Not surprisingly, that was the same year I quit drinking, so I had a lot more time on Saturday and Sunday mornings than I used to have. I never hit that peak again, but it’s not because of my ability to stay out until 6 a.m.—it’s due to the quality of films and the quality of the film-going experience that have decreased over the last decade. The amount of times that I say to myself, “I’ve gotta see that movie” only happens four times a year now, maybe even less. (This year that list was Inside Man, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Snakes on a Plane and Casino Royale.) And with ticket prices nudging 11 bucks here in New York (along with a minimum of 7 bucks for popcorn and soda) sitting at home and watching one of the 250 channels I have on my digital cable seems a whole heck of a lot more appealing. So this year I decided to take a closer look at the 10 best things to come out of my 22” TV this year.

10) Psych (USA)
USA’s slogan the past two seasons has been “Characters Welcome,” and they’ve certainly proved that when they’re not showing 2900 hours of Law & Order: SVU. Psych takes an interesting premise (a man with an eye for details pretends to be psychic to work on police cases) and surprisingly delivers a funny show. James Roday’s “psychic” detective Shawn Spencer is a total wise-ass, but not so much that you get annoyed and want to change the channel.

9) The West Wing (NBC)
Is it wrong that I started liking this show long after most people said it started sucking? Or that the TV genius Aaron Sorkin (don’t get me started on how that man has botched the potential of Studio 60, arrgh) wasn’t even involved in its last season? As much as I enjoyed Sorkin’s brilliant SportsNight, The West Wing never really appealed to me. Too much high and mighty bantering about political maneuverings seemed like the perfect prescription to end my bi-annual battles with insomnia. This last season of The West Wing I stumbled upon looking for something else to watch when The Simpsons was over. The election battles between Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits characters’ to become the next president were crisply written and grounded in reality. The show got so interesting over its last few episodes that I started taping The Simpsons and watching The West Wing in real time. D’oh!

8) Lost (ABC)
Hmm, this was a difficult show to place. I debated on making it higher because of the great end to the second season or dropping it from the list because of the rather annoying and highly uninteresting third season that went for seven episodes this fall. Could this show have jumped the shark already? I did find myself fast-forwarding through chunks of flashbacks during three episodes this fall. Perhaps that’s because the flashbacks don’t seem to be required this year. There are enough loose plot threads to be explored (or better yet, wrapped up) that it seems a waste of the 44 minutes in each episode to be doing more flashbacks at this point. I discovered a website that listed the Top 50 Lost unresolved plot lines. Top 50! Come on Lost producers, let’s get some other stuff wrapped up before we introduce 18 new characters.

7) Directed by John Ford (TCM)
Turner Classic Movies is one of the best channels around, and that’s not because they always seem to show Operation Petticoat in widescreen once a month. The channel also puts on some of the best documentaries about movies and filmmakers anywhere. The latest documentary, Directed by John Ford, is a fascinating overview of the legendary director’s career. Peter Bogdanovich—a damn fine director is his own right—made the film in 1971 but it didn’t get shown beyond a few PBS fund raisers. So Bogdanovich recut the film over the past year, adding in new interviews with Clint Eastwood, Steve Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to compliment ones done 35 years ago with Ford, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Bogdanovich even kept the original narration from mister frozen peas himself Orson Welles. The result is a highly entertaining and intelligent look at the man who directed some of best westerns to hit the big screen.

6) Family Guy (FOX/TBS/CN)
I hated this show when it first debuted on Fox one year after the Super Bowl. So when it was canceled in 2002 I didn’t care at all. Then Cartoon Network paired it up with Futurama on Adult Swin and I slowly became hooked on this show’s bizarre humor and always spot on parodies of TV classics from the past four decades. Add in working with a couple of guys who know how to manipulate YouTube to find every great clip that aired on the show during its first four seasons and now I have to catch every new episode on Fox Sunday nights. Then I anxiously await highlights to show up on YouTube the next day. No wonder why productivity seems to be down on that first day back in the office.

5) The Tube Music Network
Hey, do you remember when VH1 Classic played all types of great videos 24 hours a day? Yes, those were great days, but they’re long gone. Those idiots at MTV Networks have taken a perfectly good channel and made it look like the VH1 of the late ’90s. Now all I see is Behind the Music: Guns n’ Roses and Classic Albums: Phil Motherfucking Collins Face Motherfucking Value. What a fucking joke. Where are my weird clips from Echo and the Bunnymen and Love and Rockets? Well, some of them seemed to have moved to The Tube. It’s not a copy of VH1 Classic, it’s something a bit odder. When a video block goes The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” Dido’s “White Flag” and then Led Zeppelin “Communication Breakdown,” you know that this is not a cookie cutter music video channel. I like the fact that never ever know exactly what I’m going to get when I put the Tube on.

4) Entourage (HBO)
This show about a superstar actor and his leaching pals keeps getting better and better. Emmy winner Jeremy Piven keeps perfecting the role of a lifetime as crazed agent Ari Gold, and the loads of guest stars (Martin Landau, Beverly D’Angelo, Ed Burns, Seth Green) playing themselves or charactures of other Hollywood types can sometime make your head spin with all the inside Hollywood chatter. And it didn’t hurt that a major plot point hinged on the making of a Ramones movie. Next summer can’t get here fast enough.

3) Sportsnet New York
Let’s see, a channel that does the Mets games that look better than they ever did before, has great announcers (Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling), includes extensive pre-and-post game coverage and shows great Mets games from the past? Sign me up. Seriously, how could I not spend 20 hours a week watching this channel? Sportsnet New York also allowed Keith Hernandez to morph into the most talked about analyst in baseball. Where else could I hear such crazy tidbits like he can’t drink Kaluha anymore because of one spring training with Ron Hunt; Hernandez stating he liked Eddie Vedder better as a solo artist; or repeatedly hear that the Mets had a reliever named Jose Feliciano. In 2007 I’m looking forward to Hernandez starting to booze it up in the first extra inning game he has to sit through.

2) 24 (FOX)
How does a show in its fifth season come up with its best work yet? It’s unheard of. Yet season 5 of 24 was one of the best 24 episodes of television I’ve ever watched. Every hour I kept getting more and more tense, sitting on the edge of my futon and wondering what crazy evil scheme was going to burst onto my screen. How the producers will get Jack Bauer get out of China and back to the U.S. to once again save us from terrorists should be interesting.

1) When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (HBO)
Years from now, when we look back on how the American government completely let down the folks of New Orleans, I believe this stunning four hour document will be used in classrooms around the country as a tool to explain how a great city was abandoned by it’s elected officials. Spike Lee might not ever make as important a film as this one. If you’ve seen it and it didn’t make you upset at all, then you must be and even colder son of a bitch than I am. Or you must be George W. Bush.

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