Film Critic, Lit Theory Junkie, Pop Culture Aficionado.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
TV in the 2000s or How Let's name ABND's Best Drama Series
Best Drama Series
To say I don't watch too many dramas is an understatement. Maybe this is in part due to the fact that networks rarely stray far away from doctors, lawyers and cops (notice only one of the 8 shows I am about to mention fall into one of those categories), so while everyone this decade was entranced by a mob family (which I hear I really should give it a chance), a plane crash (which I'm scolded for not having given it a chance), McDreamy, all the CSIs and all the Law and Orders, I found a couple of shows that struck a nerve: a blond girl, an AdMan, a rag-tag fleet and a shark-lady lawyer are for me the best drama series this past decade. Find out why:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon's gift to the world came in the figure of a slender blonde girl from California who was a regular misfit (and occasional cheerleader) by the day but who was the 'Chosen One' by night (and also sometimes during the day). "Into every generation a slayer is born" might have ticked off a lot of people who don't see genre as a valid way to make quality TV, but for us geeks every season of Buffy gave us a newfound respect for the writers and actors in this show who took a metaphorical premise (demons in high school) to a new level, making Sarah Michelle Gellar a star (and spawning, among others, current TV staples both in front of the screen: Bones's David Boreanaz, Robot Chicken's Seth Green, How I Met Your Mother's Alyson Hannigan and behind it: BSG/Caprica's Jane Espenson, Grey's/Mad Men's Marti Noxon) way before Twilight, True Blood and every other vampire franchise that paired a young girl with a vampire as her romantic interest was even being gestated. Buffy's mix of humour, pathos, camp and drama can best be summed up in the episodes that have cherished by fans years after the show went off the air: 'The Body' gave SMG a chance to show her acting chops as Buffy dealt with the death of her mother, 'Once More With Feeling' will always be the 'musical episode' every TV show who ever attempts one will be compared to, and the Emmy-nominated 'Hush' (an almost-silent episode) is a master-class in writing and acting. For blending all of these aspects together and breaking new ground in terms of what it means to have a strong female role and spawning a franchise that extended to a spin-off show, several comic book titles, novels and infinite amount of forums around the internets, Buffy should be considered one of the greatest achievements in TV of the decade.
Is there a show on the air more elegantly crafted than Matthew Weiner's two-time Emmy winner Best Drama Series Mad Men? It may be the time period (1960s NYC) but the allure of the show doesn't stop there. Following the elusive and mysterious Don Draper as an Madison Avenue advertising man, Mad Men feels at once like a look back to simpler times and a stern look at how nostalgia itself does wonders for hindsight. Tearing apart the American quaintness of the period (with scathing social commentary ranging from critiques on femininity, marriage and class), the show in the three seasons it has aired, has shown that the American dream might have been at its most nightmarish while it rode high on the Camelot myth. Punctuated by nation-shattering events (Marylin's death, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK's assassination, the riots in the South after MLK's murder) the show has never lost track of its nuanced and well-paced style, favoring character studies over plot developments, creating simmering build ups rather than explosive melodrama. Emmy nominated thesps John Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery, along with (sadly snubbed) January Jones and Christina Hendricks keep us entranced by these characters as they have been moving through the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, a time of change in America, not of course, without looking slicker and more glamorous than any other ensemble cast on television this past decade.
In a Hollywood world intent on remaking, rebooting and recharging failing and fading franchises, we should all look closer to Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica to see how it can be done. Taking the premise of the 1970s show of the same name (where a group of cylons - self-aware and intelligent robots - annihilate the entire human race save for one Battlestar), Moore's show took the concept, tweaked it (cylons in this version have managed to look like humans) and carefully constructed an allegory of America in a post-9/11 world dealing with issues of terrorism, suicide-bombers, torture, faith and spirituality in a way that never seemed derivative or exploitative. While many took issue with how the series was resolved, there's no denying that for 4 seasons (and two made for TV movies), BSG was one of the most engaging television series to grace the screen. That it featured a great cast (including Oscar-nominated Mary McDonnell & Edward James Olmos, as well as Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Katee Sackhoff and Tammoh Penikket didn't hurt either as they each brought a visceral vulnerability to characters that, in hands of lesser writers and actors, might have been lost in between the cylon/human fights and all the spaceship stuff worthy of a good Sci Fi show.
Not since Ally McBeal had I cared more about lawyers and their crazy shenanigans. But while that David E. Kelley worked the whimsy into courtrooms, Damages takes a slightly more terrifying and electric look at what happens behind close doors (mostly, in random alleys and under tables). From the first frame of the pilot you're hooked. But you stay for the great writing, editing and acting. Close and Byrne play to their strengths as Patty Hewes and her new associate Ellen Parsons, the former evoking the great crazy-ladies of Close's Oscar-nominated past and the former playing the ingenue (though as season 2 showed, us - not for long). With only two seasons under its belt I considered not placing it so high up, but its first season was so perfectly crafted and gripping that I couldn't not think of it as one of the greatest pieces of television I have seen this past decade.
Six Feet Under (a great cast, pitch-perfect dialogue and a somber and macabre mood sprinkled with dry humour made this a gem of a show - I'm sure it'll rank higher once I finish the entire series - confession: I'm only on season 2), Big Love (because this is what families are: a mixed-bag of crazy held together by the common filial bond of marriage(s)), Skins (showing that the Brits do it better - and sexier and edgier - this show gives us a glimpse of high school life without sanitizing it), Alias(sorry Zoe, I know this isn't the JJ. Abrams show you wanted me to shout out, I never truly watched Felicity) (not only for giving us Jennifer Garner, but for creating a fast-paced female centered show that rarely sacrificed storytelling for big bangs).