Friday, December 10, 2010

2010's Top 10 Visual Aids

10) Human Target (FOX)
This series (which surprised me by getting renewed for a second season) is loosely based upon a DC Comic where the main character, Christopher Chance, takes the place of the people he's protecting using complex disguises. Since having a bunch of guest stars as the main character each week doesn’t bode well for a TV show, Chase became a guy who protects people by being good at everything: shooting, foreign languages, piloting planes, etc. Mark Valley is a charismatic lead as Chance and because the guy was actually in the Army, he looks totally natural holding a gun and other weapons. But the show’s main appeal is the amusing, frustrated comic chemistry between Chi McBride (Winston, Chase’s partner) and Jackie Earle Haley (Guerrero, a sort of reformed bad guy hacker). These two actors bring their characters bickering to a level that is a pure joy to watch. However, I’m not sold on the second season so far as the new show-runner a) completely dismissed last season’s cliff-hanger in like five minutes; b) changed the opening theme music and credits, which were a cool throwback to the shows I loved in the 70s and 80s and c) added two other regular characters that will likely take away from the screen time that McBride and Haley get together. The show will air after American Idol in January and February, so it might get a third season. And I might not care if it does after seeing the first few episodes of the second.

9) Lost (ABC)
Let’s get the finale out of the way: I disliked…no, no. Let me rephrase that:


(Whew, I feel better now. I better grab a bottle of water and take a couple of sips.)

(Okay, now I’m really better.)

Yet with my, um, distaste for the finale and the reveal that the sideways world was some sort of purgatory, I did enjoy much of Lost’s final season. I thought Terry O’Quinn did some rather fine work playing the evil incarnate on the island that had taken on the form of John Locke. The episode where we found out the backstory about Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) was easily one of my top five favorite of the entire series, even if it didn’t follow the usual Lost template. (The same can’t be said for the backstory about Jacob and his brother, oy.) And seeing Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Miles (Ken Leung) in what could have been a buddy cop movie in the sideways world (cough, cough, pardon me, puuuuuuuuuuurgatory) made me pine for an actual spinoff with those two actors in a buddy cop series. I’m pretty sure it would have been more Fraiser, less AfterMASH. I will honestly miss Lost when January rolls around. There’s rarely been a show that’s made me so enthralled, puzzled, scared and hungry (those Dharma Initiative food drops were like subliminal advertising for food for me) all at the same time. I’m doubtful that there will be show that I follow as fervently ever again.

8) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is yet another movie based on a comic book/graphic novel. The title character is a typical slacker in his early 20s, playing bass in a band (Sex Bob-Omb) and living in a tiny apartment because he’s broke. (He sleeps in the same bed as his gay roommate.) He falls for a messenger named Ramona Flowers, pursues her and quickly finds out that he has to beat her all seven members of her League of Evil Exes in combat if he wants to make things work. That summation probably makes you think, “That’ll never work as a movie.” Yet Pilgrim is perhaps the closest anyone has captured the actual feel of reading a comic book on the big screen. (Sorry Ang Lee—cool panel graphics didn’t save your craptacular attempt at The Hulk.) The way Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera) dives into the fights against the execs as if he’s playing a video game seems completely natural in the world director Edgar Wright has drawn from the original source material. I can honestly say that I haven’t had such an enjoyable, fun and rollicking experience in a movie theater in many years.

7) Bruce Springsteen - The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (Columbia)
Yes, I had this at the top of the Reissues, etc. section just a couple pages back. But it’s my list, so if I want to give this box a spot on another list I totally can do it. The wealth of visual material in this set is overwhelming. The documentary about the making of Darkness is top notch, yet it’s still the weakest part of the box. Watching Springsteen and the E Street Band perform the album in its entirety in 2009 is a thrill, even with the lack of an audience at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. That decision pays off big time as director Thom Zimny was able to put cameras on stage and film the band from different angles that wouldn’t be used in a typical concert DVD. (I especially liked the camera that swoops around Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt as they share the microphone during one song.) Combine that with a treasure trove of in studio performances from the Darkness sessions and an entire concert from Houston in 1978 and you have a collection that will be hard for any artist to top. I guess the box set ball is in your corner, Neil Young.

6) The Good Guys (FOX)
I only know one other person that’s watched this show from the creator of Burn Notice. My former co-worker Erich lives in Dallas, where the show is filmed, and he told me once that “If you want to know about Dallas, watch The Good Guys. It really embraces the city.” Alas, by the time you read this it will have aired its last episode. And that’s a shame, because it’s the first show since The X-Files that’s been on a network on Friday nights that I would consider staying in for. On the surface, The Good Guys is a standard mismatched buddy cop show. Colin Hanks plays the tightly wound, by-the-book younger partner, while Bradley Whitford plays the “I don’t go by the book, I go by my gut” older partner. Yet it’s much richer than that description. Every bad guy on this show has some sort of issue that is always hysterical—explaining at every turn why he’s vegan, worrying because he’s the second best assassin in the world, trying to keep his bed and breakfast clean, or worrying how he’ll keep their falafel restaurant open. And Whitford (and his amazing, straight-from-the-early-80s moustache) just chews through the scenery with an over the top performance as Foghat-loving, Trans Am-driving, beer-swilling Dan Stark. He delivers some of the funniest lines on TV week after week while laying out his creed about police work. Some examples include:

—“Evidence is like a bowl of soup. It goes cold you gotta heat it up again and scrape off the film that grows on top and dig in.”

—“I am proud of my willingness to lubricate myself for the cause of justice.”

—“Crime is like a woman, when she needs your attention you gotta pull your gun out.”

I am really going to miss Dan Stark. And his moustache.

5) Chuck (NBC)
In last year’s list I made a plea for folks to watch the third season of Chuck debuting in January 2010. That was a mistake. I should have said, watch season 3.1 that’s debuting in late April. Those six episodes, ordered after the initial 13 of the season had been mapped out, showed off everything that’s great about this action/comedy/sometime-drama-when-the-mood-requires-it. I’ve finally come to the acceptance that this show will never be a mid-sized hit. It always comes in fourth in its time slot. Of course, that’s like every other show on NBC, and since Chuck doesn’t get as pulverized as other programs the last place network puts on there’s a good chance it might make it to a fifth season. And that would be amazing after the Subway campaign to save it in 2009.

4) Terriers (FX)
Full disclosure: one of the regulars on this highly underwatched series, Jamie Denbo, is married to one of my good friends from college, John Ross Bowie. And honestly, I wouldn’t have thought about watching or DVR-ing the show if she wasn’t on it. Wow, am I happy that I did. It’s the best new American-made series of the year. (That distinction will make sense in three entries below.) I’ve always enjoyed the work of the star Donal Logue, yet the FX campaign that showed a couple of barking dogs made me think the show was about dog catchers or something. (And this is coming from a guy that reads a great deal about the TV business each and every week.) Whoever came up with that campaign at FX ought to have their genitals attacked by a dog. Terriers was not picked up for a second season, and that is a crime. Not as big as the crimes that Logue and his co-star Michael Raymond-James’ characters investigate as unlicensed private detectives, yet still very bad. Terriers is a loose and funny buddy show, starring two incredibly likable actors that you can buy instantly as friends. The season-long arc about rich and powerful men doing wicked things in Ocean Beach, California is compelling. Yet many of the episodes can be watched just as a stand alone story. It’s a show that’s perfect mix of the two, featuring heart on the sleeve acting by the entire cast. Their joy in acting on such a quality show comes through in each and every performance. Do yourself a favor and download it from iTunes or watch it online now. I promise you’ll get hooked.

3) Community (NBC)
I never imagined how much funnier this show would get when I placed it upon last year’s Top 10. Then came a note-perfect homage to Goodfellas, in which the study group became an organized crime syndicate controlling the supply of the school cafeteria's beloved chicken fingers. Two weeks later came “Modern Warfare,” which had a storyline about a campus paintball tournament that ended up spoofing every major action movie cliché of past 30 years. I don’t think I’m a good enough TV critic (actually, if you’ve read this list over the years, you know I’m as much of a TV critic as Sarah Palin is an author) to describe the awesomeness of those two episodes. Community’s second season hasn’t hit those heights yet, but it’s still the best network comedy to come along in many, many years.

2) Inception (Warner Bros.)
Okay, did the top continue to spin? Someone tell me. Please!!!!!!!!!!


Movies often seem to come from the recycling bin these days: how about a sequel? This TV show would be great to remakes? When’s Michael Bay creating another stupid franchise? Writer-director Christopher Nolan does a difficult thing with Inception. It is completely original, cut from a new cloth, and yet structured like a standard action movie so it feels like it makes more sense than it probably does. It’s popular art at its best, and I’m so glad I didn’t wait for it to come to cable like I did with Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight.

1) Sherlock (PBS)
I have exactly one book that I’ve saved from my days as a child—The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This tome (which is 1,122 pages long!!! Holy shit! I’m glad I looked at the book, I never would have thought it was that long!) has been packed and unpacked and moved through every single apartment I’ve had as an adult. The Holmes canon struck a chord that has seen me watch almost every film and TV adaptation. (I even went on a first date to see the Robert Downey Jr.-Jude Law take. Thankfully that stinker didn’t ruin what was otherwise a pleasant evening.) I can honestly say that this PBS version, brought into the 21st century by one of the producers behind the recent Dr. Who, is one of best I’ve ever seen. In this update Holmes—played by an outstanding Benedict Cumberbatch—exists in a world much like our own, where characters watch TV and listen to music and a killer can taunt Holmes by asking if he wants to phone a friend. Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman from the British version of The Office) keeps a blog instead of a journal and Holmes doesn’t smoke (he uses multiple nicotine patches to help himself think). Perhaps the most interesting change is that by today’s standards, Holmes comes off as extremely weird, bordering on creepy. His intellect, highly sensitive powers of observation and fixation on bizarre crimes makes him someone the cops don’t entirely trust. One of my favorite lines comes from one of Scotland’s Yard’s finest, saying Holmes “gets off on it. One day, we’ll be standing around a body and Sherlock Holmes will be the one that put it there... He’s a psychopath. Psychopaths get bored.” Later in that same scene Holmes explains, “I’m not a psychopath. I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.” The cliffhanger in the final episode makes me confident that this version of Sherlock will return. Don’t miss it when it does.

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