The new US TV season started last week, pretty much, with a couple of premieres starting without us noticing it, so even though we've not yet seen the finale of Dexter (which had better be lifechangingly amazing in order to justify the many weaknesses of the previous episodes), we've otherwise seen everything we wanted to see of the 2006-2007 season, and now I feel in a solid enough position to write some lovely obsessive lists! If you don't like it, blame Nick Hornby. It's all his fault. Bear in mind these are my opinions and might not be shared by Canyon. Warning, contains spoilers for shows that might not have aired in the UK!
Best episodes of the season:
10. Big Love - Take Me As I Am
The penultimate episode of Big Love's triumphant second season was as good as the previous episodes and the season finale, building on the dramatic fallout from the arrest of Hollis Green and attempted murder of Roman Grant, as well as Nikki's criminal relapse, Bill's desperate quest for a stake in the gambling operation, and Margene's growing confidence in her power over her husband. The thing this had over them, however, was Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ellen Burstyn, as mother and daughter, facing off during the latter's marriage to Philip Baker Hall. An acting and writing masterclass, with Barb's worries about the effects of her polygamous marriage intensified by the increasingly selfish behaviour of her husband and the mistreatment of her by her parental family. That the finale was not quite as good is no criticism, and if the world worked right, this would be showered with awards instead of inexplicably ignored. Probably by critics who watch Desperate Housewives instead, and are therefore beyond help.
9. The Office - The Merger
After weeks of set up, with the cast split between two branches of Dunder Mifflin, finally everyone was reunited. There might have been funnier episodes over all (we're rewatching the whole season now, so I will undoubtedly find my pick for funniest very soon), but the way the show reinvented itself is proof that beyond the humour is some remarkably astute and thoughtful writing. The elegant way the writers bring together Jim and Pam after the events of season 2 keep the relationship from growing stale. As a bonus, the writing team made the Crazies of The Internet tear out their frontal lobes and set fire to them; for that I will send them thank you cookies. Also notable, Dwight's overreaction to the arrival of Andy, with the coughing insults and outrageous toadying to Michael.
8. Battlestar Galactica - Exodus Part II
Though I was very unhappy with the majority of season 3, BSG justified its existence with the astonishingly bold four-part "mini" set on New Caprica. As if it wasn't enough that Ronald D. Moore and his colleagues had already pushed audience identification to the limits by turning Tigh into Al-Zawahiri/Bin Laden, and metaphorically transforming the fugitive humans into insurgents and suicide bombers (the boldest narrative trick of the season), they then blew our minds with a thrilling hour of dogfights, gunfights, suicide runs, last-minute rescues, and innovative FTL usage. Even more shocking/exciting/heartbreaking, in the middle of it all, Tigh does what he thinks is best and kills his traitorous wife. Perhaps it's cruel to be pissed at the show for not keeping that amazing energy going for the rest of the season, but the drop was more than precipitous. Nevertheless, it is a magnificent, Emmy-winning achievement (for FX, though sadly not for Michael Hogan as Tigh, or Jamie Bamber for Best Fat Suit).
7. The Thick Of It - Spinners and Losers
Armando Iannucci's political satire / profanity marathon pretty much saves the BBC from political irrelevance right now, though of course its future is dependent on how loyal Iannucci is to Chris "Nonce" Langham. This two-part special based around the handover of power from one PM to the next is the pinnacle of the TOI team's achievement. The pacing, writing, performing and direction are flawless. The genius stroke was making Peter Capaldi's monstrous Malcolm Tucker seem flawed and desperate and therefore almost sympathetic, though of course he survives by being infinitely smarter than everyone around him. Such a kindness from Iannucci is inconceivable in real life; Tucker's inspiration, Alastair Campbell is, of course, cloned from the worst and most useless parts of Satan's DNA, and as such is utterly beyond redemption.
6. Friday Night Lights - Mud Bowl
The year's best new show got better and better each week, only to reach a plateau of excellence in the antepenultimate episode. With the state championship within the reach of the Dillon Panthers, Coach Taylor risks it all by going all Kevin-Costner-in-Field-Of-Dreams by electing to play a crucial playoff match in a field, enlisting the town's help in making a viable pitch. The game itself plays out in the middle of a rainstorm, turning the field into a swamp, making the game almost impossible to play. While the team battle to prevent a forfeit, Tyra waits for lovestruck Landry to turn up and "help her with her homework", not knowing his car has broken down. Already the most exhaustingly suspenseful scene of the series, one final shocking twist sent my heart into overdrive to such an extent that Canyon could feel my heartbeat through my limbs. When the episode ended I needed a nap. Or ketamine.
5. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Monster in the Box
Season 6 of CSI might be the high watermark of the series, so season 7 had a lot to prove, and mostly it did a good job, even when drafting in Liev "Nasal" Shreiber for an interesting 4-part mini mid-season. The show didn't need it, but it was a nice enough diversion. The fans didn't care though. He was replacing an absent Gil, who had left just as the heinous-yet-inventive Miniature Killer sent him a memento of a crime yet to be committed. For a month we waited for the box to be opened, and when it was, the best episode of all CSI variants kicked off, featuring a masterful setpiece where the LVPD set a trap for the killer, only to find they have merely supplied another victim. Plus, episode writer/co-producer Doug Petrie managed to get his old Buffy cast member Harry "The Mayor" Groener a part as a wimpy husband/suspect! All in all, pure ghoulish perfection.
4. Doctor Who - Blink
It's patchy in quality, it can misjudge the silliness/entertainingness ratio terribly, it can sometimes fall horribly wide of its ambition, but when it's good, Doctor Who is the best British drama on TV. Who knew that it could surpass even that accolade? Steven Moffat redeems himself for the bizarre (yet inexplicably entertaining) Jekyll with 45 minutes of glorious invention, writing out the Doctor and Martha almost entirely, introducing both a new character (Sally Sparrow, played by surely companion-in-waiting Carey Mulligan) and the cleverest villains yet; quantum assassins that look like statues of evil angels. Conceptually bold and better directed than anything else in the entire series, it was total nerd joy.
3. 30 Rock - Fireworks
Tracy Jordan dialling a phone like a white man. Jack Donaghy creating a tribute to fireworks that scares the shit out of New York. Will Arnett trying to seduce Kenneth with the phrase, "Touch the peacock". 10 second internet sitcoms. Dr. Spaceman ruminating on the 60s. And, best of all, Tracy's dream of Maurence Povich, a bird-flipping Thomas Jefferson, and a horse from heaven. Funniest 40 minutes of the year by a landslide.
2. Heroes - Company Man / Five Years Gone
Okay, okay, I'm cheating. I just can't decide between these two episodes, mostly because they represent the best of the show, lacking all of the sloppy writing and plotting and variable performances. In these two hours not a foot was put wrong, and if the only thing you can say is that the setpieces weren't big enough, then you're not saying anything, because there isn't enough money in TV to do this show justice. Company Man was where the show leapt about 10 levels of excellence, and while it did that it also, as a side-effect, made Jack Coleman's Horn-Rimmed-Glasses Guy the show's best character. It also improved on the end of X-Men: The Last Stand as a bonus. Five Years Gone was possibly even better. Come on, it's Claremont and Byrne's Days of Future Past made flesh! Kind of. Yes, the season finale was superlame, but these two episodes more than make up for that. The new season started last night; I'm all a-dither to see if they can recapture the brilliance of these two superb hours.
1. Lost - Through The Looking Glass
Inevitably, Lost season 3 featured my favourite episode of the year, but most of my love for this season finale comes from how expertly the entire season had been leading up to it, and how cleverly it pays off things you didn't even realise were set ups. Several plot threads (Desmond's visions, Charlie's fate, Ben's mindgames, Locke's increasingly desperate attempts to stay on the island, Jack's slowly unravelling mind, etc.) are resolved in surprising or predictable (for the right reason) ways, without any part of it seeming forced or unsatisfactory. On top of that, Lindelof and Cuse and show director Jack Bender deliver enough nerve-wracking action to make any viewer happy. However, just to really show off their storytelling mastery, in the final 5 minutes they finally reveal their long-promised gamechanging narrative coup, and thus flip the show on its head in the most surprising (yet totally logical) manner. They even made Jack an interesting character again (I'm ignoring the haters who are disagreeing with me right now), and gave Hurley his coolest moment yet. I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I fidgeted around in my chair, I thought, "WTF?!!!??!?!" at the end, and I fretted about the fate of the islanders next season. A fantastic rebuke to the doubters, and manna for the fanbase.
Dang, it's nice to get that off my chest. Next up, best moments of the year, and some miscellaneous nonsense that will contribute precisely zero to the workings of the world.