The ‘Bitch Awards’ – Best/Worst Television Shows of 2011 (#5)

Welcome to our second week of the Bitch Awards. Last week we revealed our favourite (and least favourite) films of the year, and this week we’re turning our attention to a topic we know even better: Television.

Let’s start off with our number five picks of the year… Much like our film picks, we have a few disclaimers to explain our lists:

1) We have not seen every television show this year. Certain shows we’re big fans of and we’ve seen every episode of. Some we hated so much that we couldn’t even stomach a third episode. In the interest of being fair, however, we’ve screened at least 2-3 episodes of all of the shows on our lists (best and worst). So it is possible that some of these shows improved or decreased in quality over time.

2) Both new and old shows were fair game. We’ve identified the season so that it’s easier for you to track which batch of episodes we’re discussing.

3) For shows that aren’t new this season, we’re doing our best to evaluate the most current season alone. But sometimes they make our list because the current season is either woefully inadequate when comparison to seasons before, or is so amazing that it stands out and needs to be praised.

4) BEWARE – We’ve done our best not to be excessive, but spoilers are running around crazy here so we’re throwing away the alerts. It’s just really difficult to explain why we loved or hated these shows without talking about what happens in them. You have been warned.

We apologize in advance if we get snarky with anyone’s favourites.

And so, without further ado, let’s begin.

WORST

Cinephilactic

#5: Free Agents S1 (Canceled)

Courtesy of NBC

This was arguably my toughest slot to fill. The other shows in my “worst” lists are shows that I’ve seen a significant number of episodes of. Free Agents, based on an acclaimed British television series of the same name, was one of the shows that friends recommended and critics panned. Turned out that I sided with the critics on this one.

I see the potential for humour in the show. The two leads, Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn, are both clearly talented comedians, and there’s always jokes to be mined from workplace antics, especially when your two leads fall into the bed in the pilot and then spend the rest of the series trying to climb out of the problems it raises. So why so unfunny?

One problem is the the show thinks that sad men and hysterical woman are funny. My boss tried to sell me on the pilot by explaining how funny it is to see Azaria crying at inappropriate times (because his wife left him – funny!). And Hahn’s character is so bitter and uptight because her fiance just died – hilarious!

Perhaps I’m approaching this from an overly cynical place because I’m still bitter (years later) than the best workplace comedy (in recent years at least),  Better Off Ted, was unceremoniously canceled and kicked to the curb, but this just never tickled my funny bone. I chuckled a few times, but the situations seemed obvious, the characters unlikeable, and the supporting characters a wash (go back to Chelsea Lately Natasha Leggero and Mo Mandel…and take Whitney Cummings with you!).

# of episodes watched: 3

Laughs: Sporadic…and more of the pity variety

TVangie

#5: Dexter S6

Courtesy of Showtime

Sorry Dex, I love ya, but if this season is any indication – it’s time for you to pack it in. Yes, I know – the end date for Dexter is already in sight, but that isn’t enough to save the most recent season of Dexter from my worst list.

This has to be one of the weakest seasons of the show, even more so than the deplorable third season featuring  Jimmy Smitts’ Miguel Prado (Many will advise that you just skip this season and consider the entire thing a bad memory). What makes season six so bad? Too many filler episodes, not enough mystery, and just bad writing. Focusing on “religious prophet gone mental” Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks), the season started out strong, but lost its momentum on several occasions. Case in point, the worst episode of the entire series -‘Nebraska’. It was all over the place bringing back the Ice Truck Killer, Trinity’s son – the kitchen sink was in this episode, and ultimately it was clear that it was just serving to delay Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) discovery of Travis.

At the core of my critique of this season is that it’s just not very interesting. “Doomsday” is nowhere near as complex and engaging as Trinity (John Lithgow – in his Emmy Award winning role) was. I believe Dexter works when Dexter’s own internal struggles are running in counterpoint with the “big bad” of the season. Add into the mix,  the continuing threat of Dexter being discovered as a serial killer, and you’ve got some intrigue. This season was pretty sloppy with these elements to say the least. As I said, near the front-end of the season, we get an inkling of good setup -  Dexter acknowledges he doesn’t have a drip a spirituality, and his resulting interactions with Brother Sam (Mos Def) are quite interesting.  But that potential soon goes out the window for the sake of propelling the main Doomsday narrative. Yawn. A missed opportunity.

Furthermore, there are some moments sprinkled throughout that are supposed to be SHOCKING, but really, they’re not at all because they lack the substance required to care about these reveals. (i.e. Edward James Olmos’ Professor Geller was dead all this time and Travis was just talking to himself all this time? SHOCKING!… Please note my sarcasm.) And, of course in this regard, I have to mention the season finale,“This Is The Way The World Ends”. We find out that Dexter’s adoptive sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) actually has romantic feelings for him (ugh). If that weren’t huge enough, whilst on her way to declare her incestuous love (which I’m sorry, is just so so wrong; and yes, I acknowledge that identifying with a serial killer isn’t exactly right either…but really? Must we pile on all kinds of wrong?) she walks in on Dex plunging his knife into Doomsday’s heart.

So now Deb knows Dexter is a serial killer. I’ll admit, that’s a pretty significant reveal, but coupled with the incest stuff, it just feels like a Hail Mary on behalf of the writers to keep whatever Dexter audience is left out there after scaring them away for much of the season. One scene does not a season make. I kept thinking of the absolute shock of the final scene in the season four finale where Dexter discovers Rita (Julie Benz). Compare the two final scenes and tell me which one comes on top. Ever stop to wonder why? Rita’s setup was perfectly paced and intelligently presented. Conversely, this reveal felt tacked on, and the incest stuff overly-complicates the already complicated issue.

For a premium cable show – I expect more. It’s even more disappointing when you consider the stronger seasons of Dexter. I can’t blame the acting talent on this one – almost all the blame goes to the writers. We’ve seen these actors excel in previous seasons in these very roles, so why does this one miss the mark so significantly? Season six ranks lowest on my worst list as I try to cut the writers some slack as they weren’t anticipating an end date when this past season was penned. Let’s hope that with a series finale date vaguely established, they’re able to nail down a suitable, cohesive ending for a series that, despite its uneven seasons, is deserving of one.

# of episodes watched: 12

Returns: Fall 2012 on Showtime

Watch: Seasons 1, 2 and 4. The rest are completely skippable.

BEST

Cinephilactic

#5: The Good Wife S2/S3

Courtesy of CBS

The Good Wife is television for adults, and I mean that as a compliment.

This is a show that privileges smart, attentive viewers.Although it features stand alone cases, the entire show is built on an ever evolving plot (often centering around the conflicts between the lawfirm of Lawhart Gardner and the State Attorney’s Office). This isn’t grandma’s procedural where you tune in to see how they solve the case in 42 minutes or less and along the way someone in the office hooks up. This is the show that’s balancing eight different stories like pie plates on sticks and doing it so deftly that you barely notice the effort. It’s that good.

Now in its third year, The Good Wife is a rare gem in CBS’ crime procedural landscape – this is a show that actually garners the network critical kudos in the awards circuit. It’s not that there isn’t a place (or an audience) for the other shows on the network, but when it comes time for “best of” lists like this one or awards shows, like the Golden Globes, The Good Wife is one of the few network television shows that can compete with the cable bigwigs like Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men

And there’s a reason for that: the show is whip smart. It’s adept at doing “ripped from the headlines” stories just as well as Law & Order did, but with fully fleshed out characters. In the last three years we’ve watched protagonist Alicia Florrick (an alternately steely, winsome, sexy and vulnerable Juliana Margulies) move from a first year associate to one of its key litigators, due in no small part to the prestige of her high profile marriage to current State’s Attorney, Peter Florrick (shrewdly played by Chris Noth with just a hint of Mr. Big charisma). What no one knows is that SEASON 3 SPOILER Alicia booted Peter’s ass to the curb at the end of last season after she found out that he hadn’t just slept with a trollop, but also her only true friend at the firm, investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi in her Emmy winning role) END SPOILERS.

The high melodrama of the show’s premise is just the tip of the generic iceberg. The show manages to do it all: fascinating cases of the week, engaging characters, and plot twists that frequently come out of left field. This diversity is a key ingredient in what makes the show such a pleasure to watch, in addition to paying off its storylines, which slowly percolate over whole arcs (and sometimes entire seasons).  One of it’s subtlest, silliest pleasures is that if you watch regularly, you’ll see a host of repeat characters, including Dylan Baker’s creepy wife-killer Colin Sweeney, Michael J. Fox’s smarmy lawyer Louis Canning, and a rotating roster of judges ranging from Ana Gasteyer to Denis O’Hare that are so memorable Entertainment Weekly profiled them. And at the center of this malestrom, keeping the ship righted, is Margulies’ Alicia – a character that manages to be both plain enough to blend in and showy enough to grab your attention. It’s a great role for an amazing actress, and a show worthy of being seen by more than the single eye of the network it airs on.

Airing: Sundays @ 9pm Eastern (Currently mid-season 3)

Returns: Jan 8, 2012 @ 9:00 EST on CBS

Watch from: Season 1 (Start at the beginning and work your way through)

TVangie

#5: Damages S4

Courtesy of DIRECTV

I’ve been a fan of Damages ever since its first season. Employing non-linear narrative techniques, we often get glimpses of the season finales in the season premiers.  Through some slick editing, we see just enough to whet our appetites to keep us coming back for more. I admit, it’s a gimmicky way to get the hook into us, but the thankfully the show is so much more than its narrative form. The flashbacks/flashfowards and everything in between, never seem overly complicated or tiresome (as we have seen in many other shows) because the story itself is compelling, portrayed by a true A-list roster of talent. This has been the case for every season of the show, and season four is no exception.

Under the framework of a legal drama, the each season of Damages focuses on a high profile, often dangerous case, as attorney Patty Hews (Glenn Close) and her law firm carefully put the pieces together. This season, former protégé associate, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) brings the case to Patty, seeking her financial resources and legal expertise. You never know if these women are friends or not (consistent throughout the series) but trying to guess who’s got the upper hand is just part of the intrigue. This time around, they’re looking to take down Howard T. Erikson (John Goodman), a deplorable military contractor and religious fundamentalist. Without revealing too much about the plot, (your head as well as mine would spin if I attempted this) Erikson is working with U.S. government and has made some questionable decisions with regard to business in the Middle East.

I’m doing a horrible job at selling this show, but you just have to see these actors in action. Goodman is in top form and character-actor Dylan Baker rises to lead actor status as the brilliant, yet oh-so-evil, Jerry Boorman. You just want to see these guys trip up, but each episode is a riveting game of cat and mouse between the bad guys and the “good” guy lawyers. Close and Byrne are always magnificent and play well off of each other. It’s great to see that there are such juicy roles for women out there. But they’re not your one-dimensional, rise-to-the-top bitches. Yes, Patty is ruthless at times, but she’s not unintentionally cruel. She’s calculating and purposeful – and it’s great fun to watch. The legal jargon is presented truthfully, yet accessibly – I admit, it’s satisfying to follow the logic of the arguments and inhabiting the mind of a world-class lawyer. Pieces eventually fall perfectly together – and hats off to the writers for having the foresight to plot it all out ahead of time.

And that brings me to the other element which forms the foundation of the show – the superb writing team. The cliffhanger formula works as each episode baits you with just enough questions to keep you tuned in, but provides enough answers that you don’t feel duped or frustrated. Damages consistently delivers a gripping drama season after season, with excellent lead actors and sometimes even better supporting actors. (Read: Ted Danson, Martin Short, William Hurt – just check out their IMDB page and the list goes on and on) This season, in addition to all of the others, is well worth seeking out.

Returns: Summer 2012 (For its final season) on DirecTV

Watch: Season 1 and work your way through

What do you think of our “fifth” picks? Sound off in the comments!

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the reveal of our number four picks.